Community Choice Energy
Dec 7, 2018 at 5:28 pm #3567951
The other night at our annual Sierra Club Holiday party we learned that Ventura County California, the county that suffered both last year’s Thomas Fire and this year’s Woolsey Fire, became the first county in California to make 100% renewable energy the default choice in their county’s community choice energy plan. This means when people in Ventura County go to pay for electricity, they will have a choice among various percentages of renewable and fossil fuel energy sources, and if they don’t make any choice at all, they are opted in to the 100% renewable choice. Not even Northern California made 100% the default and now they’re all like, What?? So Cal did it before us?? So expect to see more counties in California do this.
A few years ago at the annual Sierra Club party we learned about Community Choice energy for the first time. At that time it was a pilot project in one Northern California city and was being looked at in another. It’s growing. I hope Santa Barbara County gets this soon.
We also learned about plans to push for new local housing being 100% electric. They make better electric appliances than they used to in the 1970s. The gas we get in Santa Barbara County is all fracked gas, so with a combination of 100% electric homes and the ability to choose 100% renewable energy, and then add in a plug-in electric vehicle, it will become possible for some people to opt out of oil and gas entirely.
It’s a small thing, but it’s hopeful and it shows that even in today’s political climate it is possible to take positive steps toward cleaner energy.
I still don’t know how I feel about all the giant wind and solar farms in the desert, but maybe some day people will wake up and put the solar farms on top of buildings, parking garages and parking lots instead of wrecking the desert.Dec 7, 2018 at 6:01 pm #3567957W I S N E R !Spectator
I would imagine that the air conditioners of the more southern and inland portions of Southern California are going to be a serious strain; some people’s energy costs are insane in this regard. Ventura has it good in this regard (being on the coast). If people could ditch the AC and lower their baselines I suspect that 100% renewable in homes would be far more achievable.Dec 10, 2018 at 5:21 pm #3568322
Only a sliver of Ventura County is on the coast. Most of it is inland.Dec 11, 2018 at 6:20 pm #3568504Ben H.BPL Member
@bzhayesLocale: No. Alabama
My friend in La Habra, CA (pretty far inland) is 100% solar and has plenty of roof space to spare (his hoa limited him to 100% solar production) and that is with charging two Tesla’s and AC on a fairly large house. I’ve become convinced (in SoCal at least) we have capacity for almost all of our power needs with just the roof tops.Dec 11, 2018 at 6:34 pm #3568510
What about AC after the sun goes down?
I would think during the day when the sun’s shining they’d be driving the Teslas so they aren’t available to charge.Dec 11, 2018 at 8:14 pm #3568529Ben H.BPL Member
@bzhayesLocale: No. Alabama
Currently power demand on the grid drops in the evening (driven by drop in industrial demand), but certainly an all solar grid would require considerable power storage capabilities. There is a campground in Sequoia NF I visited once along a river that they pump the water uphill during excess demand and run it through a hydroelectric plant during high demand.
To answer your question more directly, my friend uses the grid as a storage bank. He sells power during the day (during peak demand) to the grid and buys it in the evening.Dec 11, 2018 at 9:52 pm #3568543
With a small percentage of alternate power, it’s easy to use the grid as your storage. As you start getting closer to 100% alternate energy it becomes more difficult to supply demand at all times. But over time we can figure out how to do it.
For AC, you could have a water storage tank and freeze it when you have excess power. When you’re short on power blow air across it to get cooling.Dec 11, 2018 at 9:58 pm #3568545Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
It’s a complicated subject. I am not familiar with the Ventura County program but I would guess that if one chooses the “alternative” energy option the cost is going to increase. Perhaps around 10% would be my guess. How many people are willing to pay 10% more? I bet it is less than we think. Now if Ventura County gave each of those who opted in for the “alternative” energy program a lawn sign that read “I am green I use alternative energy” the take rate would probably be much higher, as people want to be seen as “green” more than they care about actually being “green.”
Covering our deserts with solar panels and wind farms isn’t a good idea. The fragile environment can’t handle super large solar and wind farms without damage. Large scale solar farms would probably cause localized cooling of the ground and at the same time reduce rainfall. Not to mention displacing wildlife and killing the sparse vegetation that no longer can receive sunshine. Windmills kill a lot of birds to include raptors.
I live a mile away from several thousand windmills, and several solar farms. Last week it was raining and I drove through the area… not a single windmill was turning and it was raining… so no energy was being produced. Actually since everything was idle the farms were consuming electricity instead of producing. But then the architecture enhances the view — NOT.
How would you like to live in this housing tract? Look closely there are a bunch of houses in the bottom of the picture.
I would imagine that the air conditioners of the more southern and inland portions of Southern California are going to be a serious strain; some people’s energy costs are insane in this regard.
and Ben H said,
To answer your question more directly, my friend uses the grid as a storage bank. He sells power during the day (during peak demand) to the grid and buys it in the evening.
Both are true statements, but with some caveats…
The biggest challenge is electrical demand during peak periods, which is usually 5pm – 8pm in southern California. This is the time people are coming home from work/school and turning on appliances. I have a device (volunteer program) that SCE can shut off my AC unit during periods of peak demand, which is almost always 5pm – 8pm when there is a “power event.” AC units aren’t necessarily a serious strain… only when everyone turns them on at the same time.
I live in the hottest desert in the US, the lower Colorado and, of course, we have AC. Three years ago I considered a 5kW solar system that would have cost over $30K. For the same amount of money I was able to install a high efficiency Seer 25 central HVAC unit, install R-60 insulation in my attic, new insulated attic ducting for the HVAC system, replaced all my windows and sliding patio door with double-pane units, and create (isolate the living space from the living area) an envelope. Before this work our monthly electric usage over a 5 year period area averaged 1,117 kWh per month. Afterwards, over a 12 month period it averaged 579 kWh per month, even though we had an electric oven/range and electric clothes drier.
So is 579 kWh per month a lot? When I was doing my research only four states had average residential consumption of under 600 kWh per month: California, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont. Louisiana was highest at almost 1,200 kWh per month. The average residential bill in Calif was IIRC 567 kWh per month. IIRC the national average was 908 kWh per month.
So yes, I use more electricity than Craig, but my house is twice as big (which I like), where I live we have blue skies almost everyday (e.g., good air quality), little light pollution (last night I was observing the Orion constellation from my backyard (try to do that in LA), we don’t have traffic jams and spend hours each day sitting in traffic, we have little noise pollution, and a low crime rate. All of this is why I left LA over 40 years ago. There are trade-offs for almost everything. A mild climate with astronomical real estate purchase prices is not a good quality of life if one chooses the LA area.
The average residential solar installation in Palm Springs is around 5,000 watts. Assuming it is at full output at 5pm (unlikely), let’s take a look at some consumption. The average central air unit consumes 3,500 watts. A Tesla 3 charger 2,500 watts, an electric stove/oven can use up to 3,000 watts, and a typical clothes drier averages 3,000. If one comes home and plugs their Tesla into the charger, turns on the AC, does a load of laundry and cooks dinner all at the same time they might be using 11,000 watts versus a 5,000 solar array — not good at a peak period! But as Ben stated, solar is like a piggy bank… during the day you fill it up and at night you take it out.Dec 13, 2018 at 11:38 pm #3568855Casey BowdenBPL Member
@clbowdenLocale: Berkeley Hills
The average central air unit consumes 3,500 watts. A Tesla 3 charger 2,500 watts, an electric stove/oven can use up to 3,000 watts, and a typical clothes drier averages 3,000. If one comes home and plugs their Tesla into the charger, turns on the AC, does a load of laundry and cooks dinner all at the same time they might be using 11,000 watts
Isn’t this the same logic of those that carry 80-L packs which weigh 7 pound empty?Dec 14, 2018 at 10:00 pm #3568983
“I would imagine that the air conditioners of the more southern and inland portions of Southern California are going to be a serious strain” True. And throughout the sunbelt, solar almost matches peak power demands of AC and the arrive-home, shower / cook / wash peak of 4-8 pm, but with a delay of a few hours – this is driving a need for batteries, pumped storage or demand-side management in which the utility can cycle your water heater or AC.
There is a growing realization that solar energy is more valuable during the late afternoon and evening. If tax credits, and purchases of excess power were structured accordingly, more installations would face further west and more often that solar energy would “trim peaks” and avoid the most expensive peaking power units (less efficient, single-cycle gas units in many markets). Certainly when utilities are installing their own solar systems, they’re pitching them further to the west to maximize value rather then to the south to maximize kWh. Private developers are motivated by federal tax credits to produce the most kWh’s, regardless of timing. The (former?) California scheme of reimbursing homeowners for excess power based on the utility’s maximum avoided cost would motivate better PV orientations.Dec 14, 2018 at 10:09 pm #3568985
“When I was doing my research only four states had average residential consumption of under 600 kWh per month: California, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont. “
After years of using a figure of 630 kWh/month as an average household’s electrical consumption, my utility (Kenai Peninsula, Alaska) now uses 550 kWh/month for planning purposes. While appliances have long been getting more efficient, that was offset by bigger TVs, more computers, bigger homes, etc. Finally, efficiencies are trumping increased use, especially as fluorescent and LED lighting replaces incandescents (reducing lighting demands by 80%).
It may seem odd that people use so little in a cold climate with long dark winters, but mostly we heat, cook and dry clothes with natural gas (propane / fuel oil / wood in more distant locations). Our winters have gotten so much warmer due to climate change, some winters we don’t have a winter – no sub-zero F temps which we always used to see and not many hours much below freezing. Yet our building codes require 2×6, well-insulated walls, vapor barriers, etc. One big difference is our air conditioners. Every home has them – they’re called windows. On a 65F day with 20 hours of daylight, just open the windows. And all summer long, those windows are also all the lighting you need.Dec 14, 2018 at 10:17 pm #3568987
I was looking at my electric bill (yeah, I do have to pay) and it was $220 instead of the usual $130 (the house sleeps 5, garage loft 3, and cabin 4 so pretty efficient) and for a moment I didn’t understand – did the AirBnB guest leave a 1000-watt heater running all month? And then, oh yeah!, Kristin got a plug-in Prius recently. She buys almost no gasoline (6-8 gallons of gas every other month to go 1500-2000 miles) because she plugs it in at home and work so as to be about 80-90% electrically powered. We’re saving more in gasoline than the additional electricity. And the carbon emissions from a combined-cycle natural gas plant (90%, plus 10% hydro) are considerably lower than burning gasoline in an IC engine.Dec 16, 2018 at 7:04 pm #3569145AK GranolaBPL Member
How does the Prius handle on icy roads, David? I have thought about getting one but my Corolla handles poorly on our increasingly icy (instead of snowy) roads. I’m betting the Prius will be equally slippy. Our electricity is probably more costly too, negating any savings in gas costs for an EV. I drive such short distances, an EV would make sense, if I could find one that has winter worthy handling.
We added attic insulation and put in new windows, and our heating costs dropped by a third. We also burn less wood since the house stays warm longer. LED lighting in some rooms helped the electric, but I hate the quality of the light, so we haven’t changed out in the most used common areas. Mostly we are achieving energy reduction by living in a small house, which I like, and coordinating vehicle use. No single-item grocery store runs. If we ain’t got it, we don’t need it. I bike or walk to work in spring summer fall. I admire winter bikers, but am not up to battling the wacky drivers on the ice. Occasionally I’ll walk to work during the winter months, but it just takes too long in the snow.
We had someone assess our costs for home solar hot water, and the time in recouping the cost would have been something like 30 years. In the coldest areas of our country, alternative energy still doesn’t make sense. But we are getting warmer, and fast, so perhaps in a few more years of a warming climate, we’ll be able to use less energy that warms the climate. Always looking for new ideas.Dec 16, 2018 at 9:38 pm #3569162
Karen, I’m driving most of way towards you later today (to Cantwell near Denali). Golden Valley’s electricity prices are really close to ours in Kenai, I believe a bit less now because the price of oil is down.
I don’t mind our Corolla in the snow, nor the Prius. I change over to studded snow tires each fall. If there’s more than 4-5 inches of new snow, the Prius drags across it a bit – usually that’s just to get out the driveway before I’ve snow-blown it. They both have ABS and VSC – Vehicle Stability Control and the 2018 Prius does a bunch of other stuff for you (lane departure warning, auto-dim brights for oncoming traffic, nav system, etc). It’s pretty flat in our area, but there are a few slopes to or from other people’s houses that, right around 32F, you need to plan your momentum carefully. Or we just take the RAV4. And 4WD only helps you start from a stop and go up steep icy hills, it doesn’t help you stop, turn, or deal with a moose on the highway. For moose, I’m rather liking low-slung aerodynamically-shaped cars – they seem to deflect the moose meat up and to the sides rather than the more abrupt impact on a van or high-centered SUV/truck. Not just in the 3 moose-car incidents in my household, but among friends and from what I see on the highway.
One benefit of most (all?) EVs and PHEVs is the remote start which is included at no cost instead of an expensive option. It’s included so you can pre-heat or pre-cool your car on shore power and not deplete the battery, but you get the luxury of a comfortable car when you get in. And, “there’s an app for that” so you can do it from your phone.
An EV makes even more sense in SE Alaska where the power is cheap, the road systems small, and weather milder. But it can pencil out on “The Railbelt” as well. I’m pushing to have all the Railbelt utilities to offer rapid-charge stations at intervals throughout their service areas so that Homer-Anchorage-Denali-Fairbanks trips are viable and, if it makes sense in their system, to offer time-of-use EV pricing. For my utility, we’d still be ahead if we reduced our $0.22 retail rate to $0.15 for EV electrical use over a member’s historical usage around the clock and even cheaper if after 9 pm.Dec 16, 2018 at 9:44 pm #3569163
And for areas without natural gas (i.e people heat domestic hot water with propane, fuel oil or electricity), like Fairbanks, there’s a creative use of PV panels I like to point out:
Install a mess of panels, run them in series to 60, 98, 120, or 180 volts DC. Run that DC voltage to the element of an second electric water heater (it doesn’t care if it’s AC or DC or what its voltage is as long as it is less than 240 volts). Then, when the sun shines, you’re making hot water, or at least pre-heating hot water at no cost. You avoid the expense of an inverter, interconnection switching, a second meter, batteries, etc. It’s the panels that have gotten so much cheaper more than the other components of a full solar system and this approach uses only the panels and one run of wire.Dec 26, 2018 at 12:40 am #3570079
They’re starting to build 100% solar electric homes in my area, too.
Here’s the thing. You can what-about and find exceptions to the idea of 100% green energy very easily. But the more green energy you can set up, the more that is leftover for people who actually do need air conditioning after the sun goes down or whatever exception you have. And the more demand you create for renewable energy, the more minds will be put to the task of figuring out better ways to deliver it.
I work at the university (UCSB) and they started putting solar panels on the top floor of every parking garage. Nobody wants to park on the top floor because then your car is in the sun. Well, now the top floor is in the shade, and people with electric cars can charge with the sun from the solar panels and now it’s not so bad to park on the top floor.Feb 28, 2019 at 8:57 pm #3581032Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Seems here in the Las Vegas valley single family homeowners are more rapidly opting for rooftop PV solar power, either to own outright or to “rent” the panels from a company like SunRun.
I WISH the 3 cities in the valley would change construction codes and require triple pane windows and 6″ exterior studs for more insulation. SUMMERS AIN’T GETTING COOLER!
BTW, where do I see 6″ studs as standard? In “upscale” homes above $800,000., that’s where. We Plebeians are stuck with 2X4 exterior studding.Feb 28, 2019 at 9:05 pm #3581033
Maybe it’s better to have 2×4 walls, then insulation board on top of that, either inside or outsideMar 6, 2019 at 10:43 pm #3582125Sarah KirkconnellBPL Member
@sarbarLocale: Homesteading On An Island In The PNW
So…..I saw this thread by accident and my thoughts:
As some know, we live mostly off grid now on our homestead. But we have limitations due to how far north we are.
For example – we run on propane (we have no natural gas for this area). You can run a stove top when the power is out with propane. I will NEVER go back to electricity run appliances after this. This winter showed me how much we could run without electricity…as long as the man in the big truck filled us up.
We run solar, which powers a lot – but NOT IN WINTER. When faced with 8 hours of “daylight” and it is cloudy all day, the panels barely work. Those 8 hours of daylight is really 4 hours of strong enough light in the deep winter months. We just crossed 11 hours recently (I chart it daily for planting purposes) and you can’t even get good growth on seedlings till it hits 10 hours. 11 is a higher chance of success (this is saying you don’t run supplemental grow lights).
But an issue living this far north is that even with our forest clearing (we have dropped 400+ trees in 11 months to restore a healthy forest), that while our house is now host to a 30 foot swath of no trees around it (fire safety is #1), due to the hill behind us, we don’t get morning sun early enough 7 months out of the year. Our shop, once built this year, will have a full house array on the roof – but even then we cannot produce enough to run the whole house in winter. And cost wise here, you have to go into it knowing you will not make money on it. It has to be a personal thing. I run our greenhouse on solar panels and batteries (it can run grow lights, fans and so on – but not heat). We also now have enough wood bucked and split, curing, that will last us for years due to removing said trees (we had the state DNR approve of our Fire Wise plan – for every 30 trees they only want 1 to 2 standing).
Our vehicles are paid off. A 2014 Ram 1500 extended we use on the farm and as our every day car. It sits 5 adults. The other is a 19 year old 2000 Xterra that is lifted and has a lot of body damage (from 4 wheeling). My other vehicle is a diesel Kubota tractor that goes a sweet 12 miles an hour. If we get another vehicle it will be an older, pre computerized, non electronic diesel. We used to have a Benz we ran on bio diesel. And yeah, it will be a truck most likely. Something we can work on easily. It’s not hard to make bio diesel.
We kind of made a 180 with our lives last March.Mar 6, 2019 at 10:54 pm #3582130
you get some electricity from the grid in the winter?Mar 7, 2019 at 12:20 am #3582151Sarah KirkconnellBPL Member
@sarbarLocale: Homesteading On An Island In The PNW
Yes. However, once we go to a full array on the shop’s roof (once built) we will not have it grid tied. The problem is you cannot go off grid if you are tied in, and selling the excess power back. We will have the system set up to run more like a generator. We have our concepts and ideas – and have been working on them, on a smaller scale.
So yes, we do have electricity here, we have limited how much we use though. We treat it like a rare commodity. We keep it cold here in winter. The house we bought with the land was thankfully well built by a contractor (he did most of his own work) and the house is sun filled.
I cannot justify buying a new car. The footprint of a car is bad enough, and buying new is painful to me. An electric car simply has too much of a footprint – from the batteries to the unclean electricity often used (and sorry, hydro power is unclean in its own way and is in bed with Satan as much as oil and coal are).
We have considered wind mills as well, as we have a lot of wind here (we face the open water, one low ridge over) (we are on an island).
Our next project to go with the shop is to install a 13,000+ gallon water storage system. We currently run two tanks, each 1100 gallons, that we use for irrigation on the farm, which is rain water. One is by the house, one is in the fields, and can be easily connected for moving water, using gravity. Kirk was in Australia this past year for work and his coworker took him on a tour of homesteads and he came back with us having more water on hand (though we have a solo well here). They all use water systems to catch rain. We have also toured some of the other islands here locally, where many of the farmers/homesteaders only use water catchment, and don’t have wells anymore, due to salt water intrusion. We live 2 miles from the main fault line that runs through the island, that last opened in 2001. We’d like to not be reliant on our well due to this. With a properly done catchment system, we would have water in the event of a big earthquake.
Yes. I know. My tin foil hat wearing is pretty tight these days. Not ashamed of it.
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