For five months now I’ve had solar panels on my roof. But while that’s the most visible part of my effort to make my own, climate-friendly energy, it’s only half the battle. The other is electrification and batteries. Electrification—switching to electric appliances—because renewable energy from the sun does little good if a home’s stove, water heater and HVAC run on natural gas, a fossil fuel. And batteries because we use most energy in the evening when there’s least sun, so to be truly self-sufficient, we need to store day-time solar energy for when we’re ready to cook, watch TV and have lights on.
That’s where “load shifting” comes in. It means taking demand off PG&E’s grid during times when everybody wants it, and when PG&E (and other utilities) are most likely to turn on “peaker plants”, which burn fossil fuels. These power plants can quickly provide as-needed electricity but are bad for the climate. On the other hand, if enough people tap into their solar power fed batteries instead, peaker plant emissions don’t happen. Plus, you don’t pay top dollars for evening electricity from PG&E. Working from home these days, I typically cover my daytime needs with power directly from the solar panels, charge up the battery in addition and still have extra to feed back into the grid. After sundown my system switches to using power from my battery, and I rarely run out before the sun refills it the next day.
It certainly helps that the electric appliances that replaced my natural gas-powered ones are very efficient. For example, instead of heating the air in the house by burning natural gas, my electric heat pump extracts warmth from the outside air and moves it inside, in return pumping colder air out. I also have really good insulation, so warm (or cool!) indoor air stays in and the HVAC runs a lot less.
With all this, my electricity bill has actually been negative—PG&E owes me! Does that mean I am making money? Definitely not, or not yet. That’s because in spite of the tax credit and some rebates on electric appliances I had upfront costs, and it will take some years to see a return on investment. That’s where one problem lies if we want all-electric solar homes to become the norm and an easy choice for everybody. It certainly helps that since 2020, new California homes up to three stories high must have solar panels, but what about existing homes? Leasing instead of buying is an option, but some say it comes with its own downsides. “Solar loans” and other financing options can be a good deal,, but it takes research and initiative—certainly not something people can prioritize when they are just trying to make ends meet.
The City and community could certainly play a role here. What if San Leandro offered subsidized loans? New roofs are the ideal time to add solar. Maybe San Leandro could create an incentive for solar when a new roofing permit comes into the planning department? Or discount the permitting process, which is quite pricey? Maybe there could be a pool of vetted installers, ideally local, to help find a contractor? A San Leandro focused outreach campaign around a shared goal of [x] solar roofs by 2030? What are your ideas for driving a transition to solar? Let us know!
Also, mark your calendar for the East Bay Green Home Tour on June 6 and 13. My home, including the solar system, heat pumps and battery, will be featured on June 13 at 11:40AM!