Solar Power: Beauty in the Details

02.06.12

Larry's recent mention of our infinitesimal, unbelievably insignificant yet wholly remarkable energy bill from PG&E has got me all charged up! (big pun intended) We are celebrating our fifth year of farming electrons from both our grid-connected solar-electric arrays at Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. Our novel, floating arrays have performed magnificently with little need for maintenance other than an annual scrubbing to remove pollen and dust. We have real-time monitoring of all aspects of our system: we can see how much is being generated, how much is being used by the winery, what’s going to or coming from the utility company to balance the continuity equation, and, importantly, we can keep track of our performance over time.

Representing three-quarters of a megawatt of generation potential when the sun is in just the right spot, these systems have satisfied our primary goal every year since we first flipped the switch: 100% of our electricity is provided for completely and sufficiently.

To put it that simply, however, is as potentially misleading as is a single numerical score assigned to a wine as if to collapse its myriad complexities and openly interpretable qualities into one convenient, if nonlinear, index. What? I mean to say: it will take more words than I’m allotted to explain the various charges on a utility bill and how net-metered renewable energy generation is accounted for, let alone the greater regulatory issues related to it. Suffice it to say, our energy bill is assessed on an annual basis and it represents the net sum of energy charges and energy credits.

It’s true that our solar photovoltaic systems offset 100% of our electricity charges on an annual basis, with the exception of a small fee for the privilege of having a meter (that’s what Larry was referring to). However, we generate only about 90% of the energy we need to run our business, meaning that we still need to import about 10% of our energy. So why didn’t we build a bigger system to satisfy our noble goal? Because size (the number of solar panels) of our system was limited by the California Public Utilities Commission to zero our charges, not our usage… and that is a subject of a another blog.

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