Monday, July 29, 2013

I’ll be loyal to any brand that deserves it

It’s been an exciting month on the appliances front.

Our Samsung refrigerator (less than 2 years old) has been behaving badly for months. The freezer frosted up constantly, the freezer glides weren’t working correctly, and Samsung was being a real pain to deal with. Lisa and I finally did good cop/bad cop and got Samsung to send a tech to do a warranty repair, and two weeks ago the tech finally replaced a freezer glide and admitted that it was defective. Problem solved.

Two hours later, the Kenmore gas dryer (well over 15 years old) stopped heating up. Lisa’s dad (a mechanic) had been planning to visit later in the week, so we waited for him to show up to start taking things apart. The first YouTube video for the dryer model showed how to check the various electrical components in the back of the dryer for continuity, including a fuse. Bingo. The fuse was busted, Sears had the $16 part only 6 miles away, and now the dryer works.

So we decided to tackle the GE gas range (8 years old). The oven had been whooshing since the winter, and had been getting slower and slower to get up to temperature. And the burners had been pulsing if the oven was on at the same time, which didn’t look right at all. Some web research suggested that it could be the oven igniter, and some further web research turned up some pretty clear video and photos about how to replace the igniter. Amazon had the part for $26 (far better than $93 direct from GE for the identical part), and the second time they shipped it to us the igniter arrived intact. And now our range works.

Yesterday we discovered that the large Frigidaire window air conditioner (7 years old) taking care of our entire first floor had gotten its drain plugged up, and had damaged some floor, some wall, some carpet, and the window. We’re not fixing the air conditioner; replacing it seems like the better plan.

A house can be unending problems, and that can get terribly overwhelming. But the satisfaction of reducing the list of problems and fixing some of those problems ourselves is enormous.

Solar, part 3

A company called SolarFlair is doing the Solarize program for Newton and Brookline, and offering much better base pricing and a 10-year labor warranty rather than SunBug’s 5-year labor warranty. The base pricing goes down to $3.69/watt with SunBug if enough people sign up, while SolarFlair starts at $3.69 and goes down to $3.14. Of course, I don’t live in Newton or Brookline. I wonder how SunBug got the Solarize Medford contract. Perhaps the adders for better panels and other upgrades cost a lot more with SolarFlair.

Aside from the massive uncertainty built into the SREC program (a 5kW system might be worth anywhere from $8000 to $25,000 in SRECs over the next 10 years, or possibly even less than $8000), it turns out we cannot get an enforceable long-term agreement with the city to be able to trim the city-owned shade tree if it grows too tall. Any future city government would be able to unilaterally revoke any such agreement or permit.

And we’d need to add snow guards lower down on the roof to deal with the tendency of solar panels to release their snow cover in one big whoosh, since that avalanche of snow from our roof configuration would be coming straight down at our front steps and our poor abused garden.

The final numbers as I understand them: We could spend about $24,000 up front for a 4.9 kW system, get $3900 back in a state rebate, $1000 back in a state tax credit, and $6000 back in a federal tax credit. That’s a net cost of $13,100. We’d generate about $600/year to $800/year in electricity at today’s 14 cents per kWh. We’d also earn $1000 in SRECs per year, or maybe $1500, or maybe $600, or possibly less or more. Conservative numbers would be $1200 per year payback, and that assumes we don’t have shade problems. If electricity prices go up a lot and the state fixes the SREC price support to be a true floor, the payback could be much better. But the conservative numbers don’t justify the costs right now.

The way to make the economics work are to put up more and cheaper panels, and treat the credit on the roof work as a deduction from the solar. So we spend $20,000 up front, get $4000 back in a state rebate, $1000 back in a state tax credit, and $8000 back in a federal tax credit. That’s a net cost of $7000. At $1200 per year payback, that looks worth it. Barely. And that’s not worth the continuing headache.

Next year solar costs will be different, the SREC program will be different, and some of what I’ve learned will no longer apply. And so it goes, round and round the sun.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Solar, part 2

Well, we got our quote from Sunlight Solar. They are substantially more expensive than SunBug’s proposal, but I also learned a bit more about SRECs and solar finances.

Both companies agree that SunPower panels are much better than everyone else’s panels at the moment. SunBug wants to use the previous generation panels, and Sunlight Solar wants to use the current generation panels.

Sunlight Solar projects about 7% less production than SunBug, which seems reasonably consistent to me given the number of variables.

SunBug said that there’s a price floor of $300 on SRECs. Sunlight Solar says that there is no floor, because the last chance auction isn’t guaranteed to work. Turns out that’s true, which substantially changes the finances. And I’m not thrilled about SunBug lying to me on a huge issue like this. Some folks in the industry think that the last chance auction price of $300 is going to act as a ceiling rather than a floor, and that $150 per SREC is a more likely long-term price. That’s a loss of about $8000 over 10 years from SunBug’s numbers.

And even worse, the current unpredictable SREC scheme is only guaranteed to be available for systems that are approved for interconnection by December 31. After that, systems will likely earn even less with SREC 2, whose rules aren’t set. SunBug won’t guarantee installation by December 31, and is lying to customers about the implications of that deadline.

Meanwhile the city is not being at all cooperative about potential future shade problems from their tree. I would have expected them to understand this issue, since they’re pushing the solar program city-wide and many houses have city-owned trees at least in front.

I still want to install solar if it’s financially reasonable to do so and if we can clear the other hurdles. But the forecast isn’t very sunny.