Solar Panels: One Year Later

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Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Two years I underwent an adventure to Explore the Savings of Solar Power. We turned out to be perfect candidates and we moved forward. It took a few months to research. Then it took some time to find the right installer. After the winter was done, the installation could begin, and it was completed just around Earth Day last year.

I've written a number of posts on solar power overall. They may be worth reviewing if you think solar power might be right for you.

Conveniently this Earth Day gives me the perfect opportunity to write about what it's like having solar panels for one year.

As a review, in Rhode Island there's something called "net metering." Rather than being off the grid or storing power in a battery, our electricity meter turns backwards as we produce power to give the grid and forward during the night (or cloudy days) as we use power. The plan is to move that meter backward. We can't control the sunlight, but we can control how much energy we use.

Fortunately, there were really no significant surprises. The most eventful thing that occurred was a very little bit of snow where I thought, "Should I buy a telescoping broom to clean off the snow on the panels?" Fortunately, the weather turned better and it melted in a day or two.

The other big thing was that we actually produced more power in the summer than we used. That may sound like common sense since it's the longest days of the year with the most powerful sunlight. However, air conditioning takes a lot of power, so usually the meter moves back the most in the spring and fall.

I was just looking at my National Grid bill and they do a good job of giving you an Electric Usage History over the last year. It's particularly great if you happen to be a blogger writing about electric usage over the last year.

  • April 2015 - We used 387 kWh. I think that during this billing period we just starting to get online with the solar power.
  • May 2015 - November 2015 - We used 0 kWh. Unfortunately National Grid doesn't report negatives here. However, this means that we paid $0 for electricity. In reality we were actually receiving credits that carry over to future months.
  • December 2015 - We used 59 kWh. The shorter days combined with the cold meant more heat and energy usage. This cut into our credit by a few dollars.
  • January 2016 - February 2016. Each month we used ~240 kWh. This is the first significant use that cut into credits by a good deal. I think they were like $20 or $30. So we didn't need to send a check, we just watched the credits slip some.
  • March 2016 - April 2016 - We are back to using 0 kWh as we produce more power with the longer days. This last month, April, we built up $73 in credits as we were on vacation.

Our credit balance today is ~$270... and May should be another credit building month. It's nice to not have an electric bill, but it's worth remembering that we have a HELOC bill that replaces it. We won't really break even on this for another 6 years and then we'll start to see the financial benefits. I know that some think that's too far in the future to plan, but we have no problem with planning for college or retirement, right?

If credits continue to build like they have, maybe we'll look into getting an electric car someday. I'm putting that idea on the back-burner for now as I haven't had a chance review electric SUVs with 4-wheel drive and other things that we want in a car. Also, our cars are just a couple years old, so I won't mind if we drove them for another decade.

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Posted on April 22, 2016.

My Gift to Mother Earth: Solar Power Completed

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Fifteen months ago, a little after my second son was born, I was doing a routine exercise of reviewing my necessary expenses. I like to go through and see where we are with spending and if there's any place we can save money. It's hard to save money on car and house payments. Short of a refinance those payments are going to be set by the choices you make at the time of purchase.

I got to our utility bill and I realized there might be some room there. We've switched to high-efficiency light bulb and have so much insulation that it amazes home inspectors. We picked all the low-lying fruit. I knew there was Earth Day article to write in a couple of months, so I thought, "What if I looked into solar power?"

Then I got busy. Funny how that happens when a new child is born. It got to Earth Day and I hadn't made any progress in calling any solar companies. I wrote an article about exploring the savings of solar power which represented everything I could learn in a few hours of internet research.

Unfortunately, what I learned is that it is really difficult to give people advice on solar power. Each state has its own cost of energy. If you pay a lot, solar makes more sense than if it is cheap. Each state has it's own aid programs for those choosing to go with solar power. Great aid from your state goes a long way to making the math work. Details about your home positioning and roof condition matter greatly. There's just so much that goes into it.

I ended the article with the following:

"As I follow the rabbit down the hole, I hope to have updates on how to save money with solar power. Right now, it's time for me and my dog to enjoy a little of this Earth Day. As usual, hit the comments and pass me any good questions or information that you have on going with solar."

As regular readers know, I followed up with a number of articles. I broke down how it works, and found a calculator helping me with when I'll break even (around 7 years). I went through projections with my solar installation company.

On Saturday of this past week, my solar system got turned on.

I write this on Tuesday and we've generated 72.5 kWh of electricity in a few days... one of which was just pouring rain. Last month we used 598 kWh of electricity in total. I'm hopeful, we'll generate more than we use and earn a credit. That's always the plan for the spring months when electric use is low and the generation is high. In summer, when the air conditioners kick in, we'll end up using more than we generate and use those credits.

The solar power company estimates that we'll save the equivalent to hundreds of trees every year. If that's accurate, it will have been one of the best things I could ever have done for the environment. Not a bad way to save money, is it?

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Last updated on April 21, 2015.

Find Your Treasure at a Freecycle Event

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In case you missed it, today is Earth Day. I don't know how it's possible to have missed it, but then again, I live in San Francisco. If there is one thing I learned quickly about the area when we relocated from Boston, it's that they take their recycling seriously. I don't survey the nation on their waste disposal system, but I'd guess that few have a composting bin for pick up each week on trash day.

Most years, I try to use today to write about the environment. (You can read some of my past posts: Four Lazy Ways to Save the Environment and Happy Belated Earth Day.) Sometimes I don't succeed since being environmentally friend often costs a little more money. So rather than regurgitate some information about buying CFLs or better yet, these new Dimmable 6 Watt (50 Watt equivalent) LED Bulbs that will save you money over a number of years, I thought I'd tell you a little story about a person who changed his environmental ways last weekend: Me.

Over the years, our home, like many others, has gathered a large amount of "stuff." We try to have a yard sale every couple of years to pair down the stuff that we don't use as much. It's not a great return on time spent, but our place is always a lot cleaner. With our last yard sale we opened up enough room to get an elliptical trainer. (That was well worth the day of cleaning). At the end of every yard sale, there is the stuff that didn't sell. Sometimes I'm just shocked that people would pass up the awesome stuff that I'm making available to them at a deeply discounted rate. The question becomes: What do we do with this stuff?

The easy answer for many is to donate it Goodwill for the tax deduction. Since we take the standard deduction, this doesn't get us any value (except for cleaning up the home). My theory was always to just box it up for the next yard sale - different people will want different things. My wife spotted an advertisement for a local Freecycle event. I don't know if it is related to this Freecycle or not, but since the term is trademarked it likely is. In my head, I thought this was going to be a colossal fail. The idea of bringing our stuff, that no one thought was worth 50 cents, to a place with a bunch of other people junk (ours is "stuff", theirs is "junk" naturally), spending the Saturday with it didn't have much redeeming value to it. And when my wife tried to sneak in my extra DVD of the Matrix (I bought one at a yard sale without realizing that I owned it), I called foul. "Some of this stuff has actual value", I claimed.

It turns out that I had the wrong impression of the event. It was run far differently than how we expected it to be run. There were tables and people simply dropped off their junk in the appropriately marked section and walked away. Other people picked up stuff that they liked or had a use for. The rotation of stuff was pretty quick. With so much stuff coming and going, it was hard not to find something worthwhile. Someone left a bunch of CDs with such awesome music as Garbage and Fiona Apple. My wife and I came out of there with about 5 CDs each. One of the keys to this pickup was that it didn't take up a lot more space. We rip our CDs to our computer and store them in books, so CD easily fit the bill. My wife also saw an interesting book that she liked that will go on Paperback Swap when she's done reading it.

When we realized how it worked, we went back home to get more stuff for a return trip. (My wife was in a real cleaning mode that day). When we dropped off our second batch of stuff, my wife literally tripped over something. I stopped her immediately, "Honey, it's a dog bed, but it's actually a suitable size for Jake." Jake has two dog beds currently. He has the one that we got when he was a puppy which is far too small for him unless he curls in a ball. We have a larger one that is his size, that he snubs. This one was the size of the larger one but in the style (has little walls) of the one he liked. I grabbed it evaluate it's condition. I have to admit that I felt a little odd about a used dog bed. I mean there could be fleas, right? Plus we treat our dog almost like he's a person and we don't cheap out on something like a dog bed that's low-cost and would get a lot of use. However, we have been unable to find anything like the smaller one anywhere. For the price of free and with it being in good condition it was worth a shot.

Aside from when I get his leash for a walk or trip to a dog park, I don't know if I had ever seen Jake so happy. He brings it from room to room so that he can sleep on it. He brings it upstairs to bed with us and bring it downstairs in the morning. Sometimes he'll just sit on it and give us this goofy smile. Whatever drug is in that bed, I want some.

Next year my spare DVD copy of the Matrix will be at the Freecycle event. It's too bad it wasn't The Terminator, so I could end with an "I'll be back" joke.

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Last updated on April 23, 2011.

The Importance of Clean Water

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Each year on October 15th, thousands of bloggers from around the world get together to blog on one topic. The topic changes from year to year, but it always has goal of raising awareness with something in the world. This year the chosen topic for Blog Action Day is simple: water.

There are quite a few ways to tie personal finance into water. I could give you tips to save money on your water bill. I could tell you about the evils of buying bottled water (both from an environmental and financial standpoint). I could write about... well, those are the only two topics I can think of. However, you've probably read those things a hundred times in the past. Instead, I'm going to ramble on about water in general for a few paragraphs. If you'd rather read about personal finance and water than my ramblings, there might just be a treat for you at the end of this article.

I'm a jerk when it comes water. I turn a faucet and fresh water comes out. I must have done that thousands of times in just the last year. Not once did I think about what effort was put forth to make that happen. Not once did I think about how lucky I was for that for to happen.

What makes me a jerk about water has my attitude towards conserving it. It's not that I don't try to conserve water, I do. I was just never taught the reason why we conserve water. I remember a commercial when I was growing up in the 80's. The message was something like, "Water is our most precious resource. Each day we consume millions of gallons of water and not a drop is ever added to the Earth's supply." I'm not the type to talk to inanimate objects like televisions, but (excluding sporting events naturally) this probably as close as 10 year old Lazy Man got. First, the Earth somewhere between 70 and 72% water. Second, is water ever really completely consumed or is it just recycles through processes of evaporation?

About the only way that I'm not a jerk about water is that I'll drink it from the tap. Unlike some, I don't require that it be filtered. Unlike some, I don't require that it be bottled. I don't even require that it be cold. From tap, to glass, to mouth... that's the way I roll. Straight up, no chaser.

Maybe the above doesn't make me a complete jerk about water. I think a lot of us take water for granted... I rarely see anyone celebrate the act of getting tap water as it works about as close to 100% of the time as you can reasonable get. Am I a jerk because I wanted that 30-second television spot to explain that there's a difference between water and usable water? Perhaps.

Usable water is really what we need. When I go on vacation in Aruba, I notice that one of the most important things on the island is the water desalinization plant. If you drive around the island, you really can't miss it. It is ginormous. It has to be as the island typically gets very little rain a year. I can't imagine how much power it takes to extract the salt from the sea water. You want another example of usable water? Watch CBS' hit reality show, Survivor. The most important thing in the show is to get a way to make fire. Boiling the water is the only way to make it potable (drinkable). If they still allowed luxury items, a LifeStraw would probably be second only to a lighter.

So what can you do to help? Fortunately Blog Action Day has a few suggestions:

As promised, here are those personal finance tips about water: Save Money on Your Water Bill and 5 Reasons not to Drink Bottled Water.

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Last updated on October 14, 2010.

Paperless Office: The Secret Savings

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In a conversation with a friend today, it came up in the conversation that we rent a 3-bedroom place. (I don't know how this hadn't come up in the past). Almost as soon as I mentioned it, I thought to myself, "We don't need 3-bedrooms... we could save money if we went with something a little smaller." This lead me to reflect on why we went went for a 3-bedroom place. When I looked back on the decision it was a combination of getting a dog (who has quickly grown into a big dog) and the fact that we used our office quite often.

What has changed? Well our dog hasn't shrunk. It turns out that we use our office less. Why? There are at least four reasons:

  1. We use less paper than we have in the past - We aren't completely paperless... truthfully we aren't even close. However, we deal with less paper than we did 3 years ago.
  2. Our office is further away - It's a bit of a winding staircase to get to our office. I'm not going to play the Lazy card here, but the dining room table can serve as a desk and its closer.
  3. Laptops are our friends - In the past we'd trek up to the office (okay, I'm playing the lazy card now) to use the desktop. However, a laptop is small and convenient enough that it can do 99% of what we need... no office trip required.

I've known for some time that going paperless has its advantages. It's environmentally friendly. It is easy to backup your your data remotely. You don't have to physically store the paper. However, I never thought that saving the need for a whole room (and the associated the money savings) is perhaps the biggest reason to go paperless.

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Posted on October 6, 2010.

Happy Belated Earth Day

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Having a name like "Lazy Man" means that I lose a lot of potential media attention. Many of the bigger websites will think twice before linking to a website feature me. I've often thought that I should re-brand myself. However, every now and again, the Lazy Man name works to my advantage. One such time spanned the last few days. While I was deeply engaged in a combination of family issues and the NFL draft - two of my highest priorities - I missed the opportunity or an Earth Day post. On the bright side, I think there's great value in reminding people about Earth Day after the actual day has passed. It's not like there is only one day to think about the environmentally responsible.

On some Earth Days, the topics to write about come easy to me. This time it didn't come easy. I came close to mentioning the little things we do to help the environment such as recycle about 75% of trash (the other 25% is simply extremely difficult or impossible to recycle in my area). However, I decided it was best to leave it to the experts and give you a couple of sites and articles to read:

  • While I try to be a good human, I'm not The Good Human... so humbly ask that you read The Good Human - Seriously, it's worth reading every day... and twice on Sundays.
  • One of the better articles I read this week was a great analysis about shutting off a computer to conserve power

If you didn't like any of those articles, I remind you to check out previous articles I've written:

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environment

Posted on April 25, 2010.

Four Lazy Ways to Save the Environment

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It's Earth Day and I'd be remiss if I didn't take a minute to recognize that. While I typically focus on financial topics here, there are other important issues I care about. The environment is one such issue. All the money in the world is worthless if there's no world left. I know that's a bit of an extremist view. I honestly don't know the state of the environment throughout the world, but my common sense says that we need to start acting now. With that in mind, here are some tips that will help the environment... be careful a couple of them might even save you money.

  • Re-Use - Re-usable cups for your morning coffee reduces trash. Substituting bottled water for water from a Brita in a re-usable bottle saves the environment and money. I like Thinksport Sports Bottles for both hot and cold beverages. Bringing re-usable shopping bags is another great way to re-use. I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg of ways to re-use - I got more ideas from watching Enviromom on Nightline and following up on the Enviromom website.
  • Corkscrew Bulbs - Those wacky looking bulbs, known CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs) are great ways to save energy (and money). There are similar products that can also do this, like photoluminescent exit signs "“ perfect for making sure your office obeys building regulations and helps the environment.
  • Eat a Low Carbon Diet - No, not low carb, but low carbon. The idea is to eat locally, grown foods. If you logically think about it, importing food requires some kind of fuel. The further you import the food, the more fuel you'll need. See Eat Low Carbon for more ideas.
  • Recycle - As Lazy as I am, I can usually sort our where I put my garbage with little effort. I realize that for some people, recycling is more difficult, but for others it's easy.

This is space where I annually pitch The Good Human. David is a great writer who not only writes about sustainable living... he lives it everyday.

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Last updated on January 26, 2011.

 
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