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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Journey to Solar – Part Five, Installation, Inspection and Flipping the Switch

The day was finally here we had been waiting for – installation day.

Our solar panel system is fairly large (7.2kw) so installation actually took two days.

Installation was a breeze. The hardest thing was keeping my dogs from freaking out while a crew of people stomped across our roof.

Now that it’s all done, our home looks like this:

SolarCollage

If we were overly concerned about hiding our system, we could have limited it to the panels on the side of our house that are virtually undetectable. I had a hard time even photographing them – in the photo to the left above. Because of the elevation of our house, you can barely see them from the street.

Our main concern was generating as much solar power as our roof and the orientation of our house would allow, so we decided to maximize our roof space by using the area over our garage as well.

Those visible panels don’t bother me at all. Where some may see “unsightly” panels, I see beauty (not to mention big energy savings – cha ching!). It’s all in the eye of the beholder after all.

Unfortunately, once our installation was complete, we couldn’t just turn on the system and start generating our own power. There were still more steps to the process.

First, an independent inspector had to come out to the house to review our entire system and submit a report to the utility company.

Fortunately, the inspector was here within the week, our installation passed with flying colors, and he filed his report quickly with Southern California Edison (SCE).

Solar City had warned me that SCE was taking about three weeks on average to clear solar systems for operation. I was pleasantly surprised, when just about a week after inspection, we got the go ahead from SCE to turn on our system.

Now that we had the thumbs up from SCE, I called Solar City and they walked me through a couple of steps. First, I needed to turn on the switch on my inverter – which is in the garage and looks like this:

solarinverter

Next, I had to connect the monitoring device (that communicates information from the inverter to Solar City) to my wireless router. This allows me to monitor my solar generation online through Solar City’s SolarGuard program. It also allows Solar City to monitor my system to ensure it is running smoothly and operating at full capacity. If there are any issues, Solar City will alert me and fix the problem.

After a few minutes on the phone, we were in business. Solar energy started flowing into our system!

We are a few weeks in to generating our own power now. It feels so good to know we are running our home from the sun. It gives me one more reason to smile on beautiful sunny days like today.

And saying goodbye to large electric bills for the next twenty years or so is going to feel pretty good too.

We are coming to the end of this journey but there is still one more step – the results! I’ll report back in a few months and let you know how it’s going.

Thank you for following me on this journey up to this point. Hopefully I inspired a few of you to consider powering your home from the sun too. If you have any questions about the process, just leave a comment below or send me an email. I’d love to help you begin your own journey to solar…

Related Posts:

Journey to Solar – Part One, Making the Decision

Journey to Solar – Part Two, Financing

Journey to Solar – Part Three, Auditing and Evaluation

Journey to Solar – Part Four, Rebates and Approvals

Ecofessions: Episode 3 – I Faked It

The latest in my ongoing series, Ecofessions, where I confess to all the things I do that are not so green. Here is Episode 3:

Related Posts:

Ecofessions: Episode 1 – To Color or not to Color

Ecofessions: Episode 2 – I Used a Plastic Bag

Wordless Wednesday: The Ocean Begins at Your Feet

I met with Jeff Coffman from Clean Green Technology yesterday for an upcoming story I’m writing for OC Metro magazine.

I can’t wait to share all the exciting solutions they have for cleaning up our storm drains, and ultimately, our oceans.

In the meantime, I wanted to share my favorite quote from Jeff yesterday –

“The ocean begins at your feet.”

Which reminds me of this image that is on all the storm drains in my neighborhood.

Drains to Ocean Image

Because as much as good people like Jeff are devoting their lives to cleaning up our oceans, it ultimately depends on all of us.

“How inappropriate to call this planet earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Journey to Solar – Part Four, Rebates and Approvals

We finally got our solar panels installed last week. They aren’t operational yet…more steps in the process I will write about later.

But first I need to catch up on the process so far.

In my “Journey to Solar” series, I wrote first about the decision to go solar. Next, how to pay for it. The third part of this series discussed the engineering and energy audit process.

Next in the series is step four – submitting rebate applications and applying for approval through the homeowners association.

Government rebates (local, state, and federal) are still available. They can save you up to 50% off your system – but you’ve got to file the paperwork correctly and in a timely manner. Luckily, Solar City prepared everything for us. All we had to do was sign and send back the papers. They even factored the rebates into our final cost so we don’t have to wait for reimbursement. It was a piece of cake.

The homeowners’ association approval, on the other hand, was not so easy. Through a combination of issues, the process took way too long.

Here’s the thing about the association approval, it’s simple a go-through-the-motions approval. In California, an association’s power to deny or alter solar applications is limited.

The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 protects a homeowner’s right to install a solar energy system by limiting an HOA’s ability to object to such installations through its CC&Rs.  The Act does permit CC&Rs to include provisions that impose reasonable restrictions on installations. “Reasonable” restrictions included those that: 1) do not significantly increase the cost of the solar system, 2) do not significantly decrease the system’s efficiency or specified performance, or 3) allow for an alternative system of comparable cost, efficiency and benefits. “Significant” is further defined as those restrictions that increase the system’s cost by over 20 percent or decrease the system’s efficiency by over 20 percent.

Basically, the HOA can not deny your application. They can require you to make changes, provided that those changes do not increase your cost by more than 20% or decrease the power of your system by over 20%. But while the HOA can not deny your application, you still do need to go through the formal approval process. A California couple learned that lesson the hard way, when they had to remove panels not approved by their association in advance of installation.

For us, HOA approval meant filling out the application, submitting our plans, and getting the signatures of our neighbors on all sides of our house (front, back, left and right side).

Two of our neighbors are the easy “where do I sign?” and “thumbs up for solar” type. They signed right away. One neighbor I’m a little afraid of so I put it off, and put it off, and then finally made my husband go knock on their door. Luckily, he caught the husband in the garage and he signed right away. No questions asked – phew! Just one more to go.

The last set of neighbors was a little more challenging. They needed “time to think about it” and were concerned the panels would be “unsightly”. They wanted to take a picture of our house, print it out, compare that to our plans, and draw the panels from the plans onto the photo (no, I’m not kidding). After that, they could assess just how “unsightly” the panels would be and decide if they would sign off or not.

We said okay and gave them time and our phone number. We delicately explained that their approval was a courtesy more than anything and that we wouldn’t be offended if they checked “do not approve” on the project.

About a week later, the last set of neighbors called and said they were ready to sign. They are and older couple, actually quite sweet. I feel a little bad because I think we caused an argument between the two of them – when the husband signed off on our plans, the wife was grumbling in the background about the “unsightly” solar panels that would soon be on our roof.

We got out of there quickly, and with a last thank you, we had the signatures we needed and were able to submit everything to the association.

Unfortunately, we submitted our application at the end of November, just before the holidays put a delay on everything, including HOA meetings. Our application was not presented to the board until January. After that, it took weeks of calling for me to finally get an answer.

In the end, we were approved with no modifications or adjustments and were able to proceed with installation. While we were hoping to have the panels installed before the end of the year, we are only about a month off and happy that this step of the process is behind us.

Installation was a breeze – I’ll cover that in part five. Then, inspection, approval, and the last step, turning the switch from fossil fuel to solar energy. Can’t wait!

solarcityinstall

Related Posts:

Journey to Solar – Part One, Making the Decision

Journey to Solar – Part Two, Financing

Journey to Solar – Part Three, Auditing and Evaluation

It’s More Than Just a Game

I know they say “it’s just a game”, but right now it doesn’t feel that way.

It’s my own fault. I just got too wrapped up in the Superbowl this year.

The Forty-Niners have been my favorite team my entire life. Here I am dressed up for game day, back in the 70’s before any of the players on today’s Niner team were even born.

SCAN0058

One of my most vivid memories growing up is watching football with my dad. The Niners were our team. Even when I no longer lived at home, we would talk almost every Sunday of football season and rehash the game.

When the Niners won the last playoff game against Atlanta and were headed to the Superbowl, I cried…a lot. At that moment I realized, it was more than just a game for me. It was about life, and loss, and childhood memories, and just wishing more than anything that I could call my dad.

Yesterday morning, I was so ready for the game. I had all my good luck charms – my lucky pajama bottoms (that I wore each time the Niners have won a playoff game in the past couple of years), my Jerry Rice jersey (that I had worn the last time the Niners won the superbowl), and my dad’s 49er hat.

I even found my little forty-niner jersey from the photo above. We put it on our dog Fang (the dog that was my dad’s and now lives with us). We were ready for the game. I was convinced that my dad was smiling down and the Niners would win.

Niners

Sadly, that did not come to pass. Their comeback was just not enough.

But as I was cleaning up last night, when everyone had left the party and the house was quiet, instead of sadness, I felt an odd feeling of happiness and gratitude.

I thought about all the friends and family who have supported me and my Niner craziness this season. I thought about the room full of people cheering on the Niners – not because they really cared but because they care about me. From my daughter making 49er cupcakes, to my husband getting me red and yellow flowers; to friends who painted their toes Niner red and gold, or made me an authentic 49er king cake, or sent me a video from the Superbowl of Joe Montana saying hi to me; these people were supporting me.

That is what I love about the game, how it brings family together, how it brings friends together, how you support your friends by cheering on their teams. That is something that would make my dad smile for sure.

So despite the crushing loss (that yes, still hurts), it is a win in my book in the end.

And of course, there’s always next year.

Go Niners…