Rooftop solar and your PECO bill

This post will explore the PECO power bill, before and after going solar. Be sure to check out the “Interesting Issue” near the end of this post.

Looking at a sample of page 2 of a PECO electric bill before going solar, you’ll see 

  • one meter reading showing monthly usage (451 kWh in our sample)
  • one fixed Customer charge of $8.44
  • three charges based on usage for Generation, Transmission & Distribution.

If you’ve gone to PAPowerSwitch and selected another electricity supplier, then you would see Generation & Transmission combined onto one line, with the rate set by that supplier.  

On your first month with solar, it will be a bit complicated for two reasons.

  1. PECO charges the installer for the new meter (part of your payment to the installer), and then PECO gives you a credit on your bill. The amount is between $300 and $400.
  2. You’ll therefore be billed part of the month with the old meter, and the remainder with the new meters.

You’ll see a bill like the one below with 3 meter readings:

  1. Old meter reading, partial month’s usage before switch to solar (sample: 81 kWh)
  2. New “in” meter (also called general service) for electricity you used from PECO (sample :232 kWh)
  3. New “out” meter, for electricity your rooftop system sent to PECO (sample 340 kWh)

plus a Customer charge of $8.43 (or 8.44, not sure why it varies a little).

What this means:
The energy from solar that was sent back to PECO was 27 kWh more than the amount received from PECO (340 – 232 – 81). This surplus 27 kWh will be banked towards next month’s use. You are billed just the Customer charge of $8.43 for the month.

 

To make it more complicated, for this particular bill, the 27 kWh surplus resulted in a  “Renewable Energy Credit” of $2.15 because the bill happened to be in May which is the month when PECO zero’s out the banked distribution of kWhs. They call this “settlement.”

This plus the credit mentioned earlier, for the meter, results in a total credit of $327.06.  Given that the customer charge was $8.43 the bill ends up with a credit of $318.63 that will be carried over to the next month. The image below is Page 1 of the May bill.
Note the “Message Center” which describes the “banked distribution” and the “settlement.”

The following months, when your grid-connected system is in full swing, you’ll see a bill like the one below:

  • 2 meter readings:
    “In” meter, for electricity you used from PECO,  (sample 287 kWh)
    “Out” meter, for electricity your rooftop system sent to PECO, (sample 525 kWh)
  • Customer charge $8.43

In the example, 238 kWh more electricity was sent to the grid than you pulled down  (525-287) . The surplus will go into your “banked distribution” and will be added to next month’s “out” meter reading to determine next month’s bill. If the total of these two is more than the “in” meter, then no charge, if it is ever less than the “in” meter, then you will see the three charges for generation, transmission and distribution for the extra kWh’s used.  This rollover and comparison will occur each month until the next May. In May, PECO will zero out the surplus “banked distribution” with a check or a credit on the bill.


INTERESTING ISSUE – There is one piece of usage information that is not visible on the PECO bill: How much electricity was actually consumed by the loads in the house. Since solar energy is used by the house loads first, PECO does not see this energy so can not meter this energy.

On the 13-Month Usage chart shown above, compare the usage for the prior year’s month of June, before the solar installation, to June of the current year which was after the solar installation. The current year is significantly lower than the prior year. This is because the big usage in June is the air conditioner, and the air conditioner tends to be on during the day when the sun is out and power is being generated by the panels. This is a clear picture of the value of solar because the electricity for the air conditioning load never had to enter the electrical grid. The electricity was consumed right where it was generated.   

The load information is not lost to the homeowner as it is being tracked by the monitoring system from the solar company which is used to track the output of the solar arrays.

This data in combination with the information available on the PECO bill will allow a full picture of the energy flow.

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May 20th update on our 1st group of solar installs

Two more homes have their panels connected to the grid and generating electricity for a total of three!

See the updated chart below listing the steps required to fully implement rooftop solar, along with the status for each of our 12 initial households.

Green = number of households that have completed each step
Red = number of households not yet completed.

Dara Bortman from Exact Solar is managing each of these steps to ensure a smooth process.

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Where are we with our 1st group of solar installs?

Kicked off last October, by the end of February, we had 12 area households step up for rooftop solar installations. Two and a half months later, 3 homes have panels on their roofs. One of these is connected to the grid and generating electricity.

We’ve learned there are quite a few steps to the installation process. See the chart below listing the steps required to fully implement rooftop solar, along with the status for each of our 12 initial households.

Green = number of households that have completed each step
Red = number of households not yet completed.

Dara Bortman from Exact Solar is managing each of these steps to ensure a smooth process.

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Solar at the edge of the woods

Hearing about the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program, and like me, having dreamt for over 30 years of solar panels powering her home, this resident of Marion Lane in Mt Airy went to a discussion at Germantown Friends Meeting last January.

She was impressed with Mark Bortman of Exact Solar and easy explanation of the process of joining the clean energy revolution. The discussions after Mark’s presentation really helped to cinch her decision to invest in rooftop solar, and, as the story goes, she signed up on the last day of the program.

photo: Exact Solar

The system of 19 panels cost her $15,000, with the final cost about $10,000 after the federal tax credit. It is designed with a 4.94 kW capacity generating about 5100 kWh per year, which is pretty good for a flat roof with some shade. There are even 2 panels on the tiny front roof, at the far end of this photo.

Why did she spend such a large chunk of her retirement funds into something on her roof that she never really saw? She tells me in one word: Climate.

The system should pay for itself over time with the greatly reduced PECO bills. The solar installation covers 100% of her electric usage except in the winter.

 

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Solar in our Midst

Pole Mounted Solar for the backyard

A friend in Flourtown really wanted to go solar, except that she had a tiny roof and two beautiful gigantic spruce trees near her house which made it difficult.  However, she also lived at the end of a street and her backyard faced a field with trees in the distance. She decided to put up a 12 panel solar array mounted on a pole.  With the assistance of a solar installer, she worked through all the details including trenching the cable back to the house, and she now has a very large, and to some, beautiful, structure in her backyard. It is invisible to the street.

The system is rated for 3.5 kW (kilowatt), which means at peak sunlight she would get more power than she currently needs, even with the planned electric car and the high efficiency heat pump she hopes is in her future. Over  the course of the year she should see a net contribution to the utility grid with a check from PECO, our local power company,  to pay her for that extra power that has gone from her house to power other people’s houses.

On October 5th, 2016 she turned on her own personal electrical power plant. This is similar to solar on a rooftop, but feels more substantial when it sits in the back yard. The panels, US made by CertainTeed, are wired in series and lead into a giant inverter on the back of the pole with a meter showing power generation.  

On December 13th at 9:30 AM, when this picture was taken, it was generating 492 watts as the sun rose over the trees, increasing to 860 watts by 10 AM on a grey day.   Note that this was very near the winter solstice — in other words, hardly optimal “sun” time. 

There is an “eye” on the top of the panels that is watching the sun and it will tell the mechanism behind the panels to adjust the panels so they are at an optimal angle to the sun. This system does bidirectional tracking (east/west plus more/less tilted to the sky). This cost for this about $2200 more, but should increase output by 33%, estimated to generate about 4690 kWh the first year. 

In June, expect to see sunflowers planted along the walkway, that have known how to track the sun for eons. The solar panels reset to the southeast every night, ready for the sun to come up the next day.

This is a small system capacity by any standard, but felt enormous as we stood beside it, towering beside the decades tall spruce trees. In an effort to merge this large object with the landscape, the owner added landscaping around the panels to soften their visual impact, using only native plants, most of which will provide food to butterflies and bees, come warmer weather. Shocked by the size of the panels, the owner reached out to her neighbors to reassure them that the new plantings would mostly cover the backside of the panels, but most didn’t seem to be bothered by the visual, and instead complimented her.

The inverter, by Fronius, converts the direct current (DC) that is produced by the solar panels to alternating current (AC) that is needed for all the electrical loads inside the house.  The AC current is sent down a wire inside a conduit which goes underground then through the basement to a meter in the front of the house. 

This meter is paired with another meter that comes in from the power company. One meter calculates the energy being sent out to the power company and the other tracks the power coming into the house from the power company. There is also a very important shut off box that is needed to cut the power from the solar panels in case of a fire or other emergency.  She is working with the local fire house to figure out the best way to notify fire fighters about this box. It may be a sticker next to her “Save my pets” sign on her front door, already addressed to them.

We saw a cool tracking app made by Fronius, the company that made the inverter. This homeowner is now not only a tree-hugger but also an inverter hugger, saying she loves her Fronius! I can see why; the phone-based application shows the energy generated in the past few days, as well as the cumulative the CO2 reduction, the money saved, and equivalent trees planted. The EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator shows that generating 4690 kWh with solar panels is like reducing 3.3 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, or not driving 7899 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle, or switching 117 incandescent lamps to LEDs, or the carbon sequestered by 85 tree seedlings grown for 10 years. 

The cost of the system was just under $20,000.  She will get 30% of this back when she files her taxes because of the federal tax credit that is in place until 2019. She will also receive a small amount of money for the solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) from the power company, a monthly savings on her electric bill since she won’t have to buy the electricity from PECO, plus an annual check for all the surplus energy that she generates.

She figures 8 to 9 years for this system to payback, but the real payback has already happened.  She loves her panels, loves her inverter and is very happy knowing she’s making her own clean power.

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Solar on Wissahickon Avenue

A young tradesman had been looking for DIY kits to install solar on his own rooftops when he came across posters for the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program. He went to an educational meeting, assuming he’d meet many homeowners in his age group, all concerned about climate and wanting to participate in the clean energy scene, only to  discover that he was the youngest in attendance; that most of the others were property managers only looking for a financial incentive to install solar.

panels

He signed on to the program, got Exact Solar to install the panels in July of 2015, and now proudly sports 13 panels on their second and third floor roofs on Wissahickon Ave in Mt Airy.

This 3.3kW system cost them a total of $12,500. The 30% federal tax credit helped. As did a 10 year solar loan from Admiral Bank for the balance, which works out to a payment of about $100 per month.

Their peak usage month has been June. On a sample month, this family’s PECO bill showed usage of 205 kWh, and generation of 182 kWh. The bill reflected this, and only billed them for generation, transmission and distribution for 23 kWh.

sample-bill

He thinks that all new construction should have solar in it’s design. I agree! What’s not to like?

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Roxborough home with rooftop solar

Yesterday, I learned of another home in the northwest that had rooftop solar installed last summer, as part of the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program organized by the Clean Air Council & Sustainable Business Network last year, with Exact Solar & Solar States as the two preferred contractors. which resulted in about 15 homes with solar on their rooftops.

If you’re one of these area residents, and would like to share your story, please contact Meenal at nwphlsolar at gmail.comfowler

This 10.66 kW system is on a gracious 3000+ square foot, 3 story home on Fowler Street in Roxborough, with almost 40 panels spanning the 4 roofs.

The family is very happy with the installation, especially the monthly bill of about $7 during the months when they don’t use the air conditioner.

The total cost was $32,000, which reduced their taxes the following April by about $9,600, thanks to the 30% Federal tax credit.

Curious about a solar installation for your home? Write us with your address and we’ll do a quick check on whether solar is possible on your rooftop.

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Second in the series of local solar installations

Area residents happy with their 1+ year solar installation recently spoke at their neighborhood group. We learned of this, and met up with them to learn more.

This family was part of the 2015 Solarize Northwest Philly pilot program organized by the Clean Air Council & Sustainable Business Network last year, with Exact Solar & Solar States as the two preferred contractors. which resulted in about 15 homes with solar on their rooftops. If you’re one of these area residents, and would like to share your story, please contact Meenal at nwphlsolar at gmail.comstory2

Residents of Cresheim Road in Mt Airy, they had their solar panels installed June 2015. They’ve been happy with the installation. Though they discovered they needed a new roof, the roof replacement was well coordinated between local roofer Russell Roofing and solar installer Exact Solar.

The system cost them about $17,000, paid in two chunks. The first payment of about $12,000 was made when the job was completed. The balance was paid the following spring, when they used the 30% Federal tax credit to finish paying Exact Solar the balance of about $5000 owed them on the installation.

The 21 panel system was sized to generate about 92% of their electricity usage, about 5940 watts. Though their bill peaked at $127 when both the air conditioner and dehumidifier were running, the most recent bill has been about $8. Having lived a full year with this installation, they report seeing many months with just the minimum $8 charge.

To occasionally check on the electricity being generated by the rooftop panels, they open up the Solar Edge app on their phones.

Curious about a solar installation for your home? Write us with your address and we’ll do a quick check on whether solar is possible on your rooftop.

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Solar in the Northwest

I’ve been hearing about solar panels since I was in high school, over 3 decades ago. But yesterday, as a member of the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op, I interviewed a Mt Airy couple who have had solar panels on their roof for a year and a half now. Both were eager to talk about their experience.

They raved about their installers. Showed me their 2 electric meters; one for electricity coming from PECO and the second one added to track the electricity that their rooftop was pushing back onto the grid.

I asked where all their other equipment was that I’d read about: the inverters and batteries and such. And realized that when a solar installation is grid-tied (meaning not off-the-grid), it’s a lot less involved. All they had were the 13 panels on the roof, and the second meter. No other equipment on the porch or basement.

For 7 months of the year, I learned, this system produces in excess of the household’s consumption. During this time (April thru October), their bill is about $7 per month. The other 5 months, it triples to about $20 per month.

They have monitored their production and consumption via an online application, and once noticed a spike in their usage. Concerned that someone was tapping into their system, they drilled into the data and discovered usage during one month, in the wee hours of the night.  A month that coincided with a visit from their teenage granddaughter with all her electrical devices!

When asked why they invested in this solar installation, it was simply… Why, for the common good! Sitting on their serene back porch, I realized the beauty of this. There was no need to explain the horrifying effects of climate, nor of the immediacy of action required.

Weavers Way Co-op and The Shalom Center have teamed up to get more solar installed in Northwest Philadelphia, by forming the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op, explained on the flyer here. We all benefit from increased reliance on renewable energy and it is important to develop community-based initiatives that increase its use.

Know that a solar photo-voltaic (PV) system generates clean electricity using a free energy source that will never run out and never go up in price. The fuel requires no mining, no drilling, no mountain-top removing and no transporting, doesn’t require burning or processing, and is never in danger of spilling, emitting, or polluting. In fact, the clean energy produced by your solar energy system emits no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and helps reduce global climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels and the volatile fossil fuel market. As with all manufacturing, there is some waste in that process.

When will solar become the norm, so that every Philly structure with the solar potential achieves this potential? To get to this tipping point, we’re sharing stories from people who already have solar installed at their home or workplace. Each installation will be summarized on a Solar Facts sticker, shown below, for easier comparison.

Solar-FactsAs you’ll see, the 30% Federal tax credit really made this investment affordable and economical. I remember when we got an estimate 11 years ago, a 2kW system was priced at $18,000. And there was no Federal or State incentive that we could apply for. That’s going from $9 per watt to $2.8 per watt!  With the industry scaling up, and government policies to support & encourage us all, this one example looks to be a third cheaper than what we were quoted.

Want to join NPSC? Or simply share your story? Please contact NPSC via Barbara Bloomfield at (215) 247-9204 or barbbloomfield2 [at] aol.com.

What is it that’s keeping people from installing solar on their rooftop? Some of the responses we’re heard are:

  • We’re tenants.  Have your landlord contact NPSC.
  • We’re in a condo. Have your condo association contact NPSC.
  • We have plenty of sun, but are short on cash. The Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op is looking at financing, perhaps thru the Free Loan Association of Germantown(FLAG). Please contact NPSC.
  • We have too many trees and not enough sun. No solar potential. I hear you. Keep the trees. Maybe you’d like to lend through the Free Loan Association of Germantown for other solar installations.

The Earth needs YOU!

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