My first serious residential solar installation was grid-connected. I discovered some issues that I hadn’t expected.

The first problem was that the local utility was offering a generous rebate for new installations. Why isn’t that a good thing? Well, my experience is that, when such rebates (or tax credits) are available, solar installers react by raising their prices, knowing that customers will base their purchasing decisions on the “after rebate” price they’re quoted. Forgoing the rebate means paying more for the system than the price would have been had there been no rebates available. Not surprisingly, though, the rebates come with strings attached. In this case, they limited the capacity of the system I could install based on historical use. I had recently bought my first electric vehicle, so my historical usage was a poor predictor of my actual use going forward, and I ended up having to install an inadequate system. The theory is that this protects the utilities from too many cogenerating homeowners robbing the utility of revenue, since at the time a 1970’s-era tariff required the utility to purchase cogenerated power at retail rates.

The other surprise was that I thought that I would feel free to use my solar power guilt-free. Ever since I was a child (a very long time ago), I’ve been environmentally aware and have limited my electricity use to conserve fossil fuels and, later, to limit the environmental consequences of carbon emissions. Yet, once I had my system running, I realized that every watt-hour I generated was potentially available to the grid to displace a watt-hour of carbon-emitting fossil fuel derived electricity. If I decided to squander some energy, the utility would then replace it with dirty power and my profligacy would still result in environmental damage. Even though I was generating completely clean juice, I was still powerfully compelled to conserve.

That will change with the island place, where we’ll be completely isolated from the dirty power grid.


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