Friday, August 10, 2012

Solar Panels 1 year in

A year ago this week we had our solar panels turned on, so its fitting to write a follow up answering the question of how well they worked.  The short answer is close to exactly as estimated, it provides the electricity we need in our house and is on track to pay for itself in under five years.

First up the raw numbers for one year of production:

The panels generated*: 5952 MWh
We used:                       5085 MWh

The most one day generation was on June 1st at 33.441 MWh
The least one day generation was on January 21st (Excluding days the power went out ) at 18Wh

Below is a screenshot of our panel generation over the course of the entire year.

As we are generating a significant amount more than we use over the past year we have picked up a few electrical appliances including an AC unit for our main floor and a small electric heater (smaller gas bill yeah!).  I expect next year our production will be more in line with our usage.

During the summer months we generate more electricity than we use and each month we get a credit from our electric company.   This credit not only pays for our winter usage (where we use more than the panels generate), but also the $6.43 monthly fee for being connected to the grid.  Due to getting the panels installed in the latter half of summer we didn't have a ton saved up for this winter, but with the light winter we only had one bill at $11 in January.

Over the year we have a number of neighbors inquire about the panels and been told several even got quotes for panel installation themselves.  The feedback has been very positive and I haven't heard anything negative.  In fact most people don't seem to notice them so going with the all black panels was a good choice.  Even a guy that runs a wind farm and is very much into panels didn't notice them when he stopped by, nor did the sales guys that go door to door trying to get me to switch electrical providers.

From the payback side so far the panels have minted three SREC's (over quarters: Q42011 Oct-Dec, Q12012 Jan-Mar) and just like initially estimated we are on schedule to mint six each year.  Electrical costs have also risen ~4% from last year and minus the $11 from January all our electric bills have been covered.  The only "excitement" is that there is oversupply in the SREC market for 2012 so assuming that continues every year from now on it will only add an extra seven months to my original estimate for our panels to pay back putting it sometime in 2017 on the conservative side.

Overall the panels performed nearly exactly as I estimated they would after taking into account sun light, orientation of the house, the lat/long of the house, angle of the roof, efficiency of the inverters, and historical and legal requirements on electrical rate change.  The first month I couldn't help but peek at the numbers all fo the time, but after a few weeks I amusingly realized that they there wasn't going to be some crazy day where we generated twice the normal amount and the day to day change was fairly boring and predictable.

*This is the post conversion and transmission loss number

Monday, August 15, 2011

Solar Panel Installation

After deciding to get solar panels a few months ago we then had to wait six weeks for the Mass rebate to get approved. In that reguard signing the paperwork was a bit anti-climatic, but once it was approved work began on our roof and before long we were producing power.

Throughout the process I took photos to catalog the install.

The first day the installers mounted the beams that the panels would be attached to.
And the next day they mounted the micro inverters to the beams and ran the initial wire connecting them up. Rather than having one central inverter our system had a micro inverter attached to each panel. The big advantage is that if one panel gets some shade or goes down it doesn't take down everything it is connected to.

On following Monday morning an eighteen wheeler delivered a palette containing our 30 Schüco 185 watt solar panels to our house.

Over the course of the day they first tested each panel and then installed most of them up on our two roofs.

The last two panels were left off until the electrical work is done (the electrician was on vacation when this was happening). On the upper roof the left four beams were trimmed and got black boots. The two beams on the right of the upper roof have been trimmed, but the boots have not yet been installed. The boots really make a big difference minimizing the visual impact of the solar panels.

Before we can connect the solar one of the tasks we had to get done was to upgrade our electrical system. The existing main electrical box was only 60amps which the regulation wouldn't allow for the panels to be wired into it. While there is an extra cost in performing an electrical upgrade this was something we knew we would have to do one day when we bought the house.

The nice new electrical 200amp electrical box with the old box now as just acting as a sub panel.

Meanwhile our electric company replaced our outside meter with a net meter (so it could go backwards) and the solar electrician began running wires from the panels down to an external emergency disconnect and another new meter that will measure the solar production. From the solar meter the wiring ran into the house and attached to the new main panel.

With everything all wired the system was turned on for a few minutes to make sure all of the panels were working and we got to generate a tiny bit of electricity before it was turned back off to wait for the electrical inspection.

With the construction finished we are very pleased with how the panels ended up looking. When we first started looking into solar panels we spent a bunch of time wondering if they would end up being an eye sore. I am very happy with the results and how day to day really unless you look up you probably wont notice they are there. Our worries about our neighbors hating them were unfounded and multiple neighbors have inquired about the panels and the feedback has all been positive.

After we had the electrical inspection and approval from our electric company we finally got to turn on the panels full time. The data from all of the micro inverters is gathered and published up to the cloud via the Enphase Envoy unit (the little pill box not yet attached to the wall in the photo of the electrical box). With the data up online it has a number of fun graphs and all sorts of real time data. There is a public site for our house where much of the recent data is available. The real value of uploading the data is that they continuously analyze the production data and notify me if anything seems wrong such as if a panel stops producing.

After much debating if we should even get panels I am glad we did. The install went smooth, they look nicer than I expected and this months electric bill arrived today lower than any before.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Solar Panels

Like every new home owners after buying a house we found a way to spend a bunch of money on it only a few months later.

Earlier this year after playing around with 1bog's solar estimate tool I learned about various rebate, tax, and credit incentives that Massachusetts has for those who install solar on their roof including:

* Federal tax credit for 1/3 of the install cost
* Mass State $1000 tax credit
* Mass State rebase which for our install worked out to be around 25%
* Solar panels wont be included in your estate tax for 20 years
* In Mass when generating power from solar for every megawatt you get one Solar Credit which the utility companies buy to fill their quotas (The program will be running until 2020).
* And of course with solar panels our electric bill will be dramatically less (we estimate it will go down to the minimum of $6.95 a month).

Once you combine those together you can project that the system will pay for itself in around five years and over the following fifteen pay for itself again just in electrical bill reductions. And finally if/when we sell our house we can ask for more because we will have solar panels so we should be getting back our initial investment once again. Not too bad of a way to put money into your house.

We got various quotes from solar installers and discussing it with friends and family I got a ton of questions with some skeptics about the payback. Fearing making a major mistake I generating all of the projections to double check the numbers myself. Just a few of the things I ended up looking up was the average electrical percentage price increase in Mass, average number of hours of sunlight for my town, the angle of our roof, angle of house to the sun, and the efficiency of the panels and inverters and even looked up the tax and rebate laws to make sure they applied. Running all the numbers it came out to pretty much the same as the estimates in the installers quotes (theirs were more conservative than my conservative estimates!) so we decided to go ahead and install panels on our roof.

The installer is a local company Brightstar Solar that had been very patient with our questions. The system we decided to go with will put 30 Schüco 185 watt solar panels (the photo up top). We went with the Schüco panels partially because of aesthetics and also because they hit the best bang for your buck.

The past few weeks they have been at our house installing the panels. I took photos of the process and will follow up with a post of the whole install.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Unofficial Agricola Rule Book

Last Christmas I received as one of my presents the board game Agricola. Agricola is a good game and for a long time was the number 1 board game on It has a lot of pieces, cards, boards and a rule book. Unfortunately the rule book is pretty horrible. Using the default rule book you can't sit down with some friends and play it for the first time learning as you go (I tried twice). I ended up sitting down and playing the game by myself (there is a one player version) to figure out the rules. This isn't to say that the rules are really complicated just badly laid out. Agricola as a game is no more complicated then Puerto Rico. It is not laid out to help you setup the table the first time you play. It is not laid out to let you learn each part of the game as you are playing and lastly it is not laid out for easy reference as you are playing. So if you have never played the game you have to read the entire manual before playing the first time. Not very fun.

A while back I played the game Pandemic and the rule book for that game was absolutely fantastic (as was the game, we played four times that night). The rules where well done and easy to reference. Seeing just how well one could make a rule book I spent a few evenings and made an unofficial rule book for Agricola. Hopefully those who found the game confusing will find the instruction book useful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

World Smallest Transformers

In 2003 Takara released a Transformers toy line that has been dubbed by the fans World Smallest Transformers or WST for short. They are fully transformable two inch tall versions of a bunch of the classic 80's toys. Due to the size and small parts they were only ever sold in Japan. Not too many were made and they were very hard to come by and to make matters worse they were sold in unmarked boxes so you never knew which toy you received. Also there was a different ratio for each toy in the master box making it difficult to collect them all while in the process getting a ton of the common ones. Googling around I was unable to find the ratio's for each toy, so I have put together a list of the toys with the ratios so the data will always be on the Internet.

Wave 1: (2003)
GTF 01A Convoy A (aka Optimus Prime truck cab) 8/48
GTF 01B Convoy B (aka Optimus Prime trailer) 2/48
GTF 02 Lambor (aka Sideswipe) 12/48
GTF 03 Starscream 6/48
GTF 04 Bumble (aka Bumblebee) 12/48
GTF 05 Soundwave (with Jaguar aka Ravage) 6/48
GTF X-1 Skywarp 1/48
GTF X-2 Bumble Red Version (aka Cliffjumper) 1/48

Wave 2: (2004)
GTF 06 Convoy Anime Version (aka Optimus Prime truck cab with blue windows) 12/48
GTF 07 Megatron 8/48
GTF 08 Meister (aka Jazz) 2/48
GTF 09 Prowl 6/48
GTF 10 Alert (aka Red Alert) 6/48
GTF 11 Thrust 12/48
GTF X-3 Streak (aka Silverstreak) 1/48
GTF X-4 Convoy White Version (aka Ultra Magnus cab) 1/48

Dengeki Hobby exclusive Smallest VSX Giftset:
VSX Convoy (variation of Anime colors)
VSX Megatron (aka Megaplex)

Wave 2.5: (2004)
CSV Starscream (from Series 1) 12/48
CSV Soundwave (from Series 1) 8/48
CSV Megatron (from Series 2) 12/48
CSV Convoy Anime Version (from Series 2) 6/48
CSV Meister (from Series 2) 6/48
CSV Hot Rodimus (aka Hot Rod) 2/48
CSV Convoy Container (aka Optimus Prime Anime Trailer) 1/48
CSV Thundercracker 1/48