Electric Car Procured!

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I bought the 2017 Car of the Year Chevy Bolt-with-a-B!  (As opposed to the Volt-with-a-V).

I love it!  But that shouldn’t be a surprise, because every electric car owner seems to love their electric car!

What cars did I consider and not buy?  Here are my personal reasons.  Your mileage may vary:

  • I did not buy a new BMW i3 because the i3 has less range, is more expensive, and the styling is too funky.  The i3 feels like the end of the last generation; the Bolt the beginning of the next generation, with much more range.  The i3 with Range Extender (REX) gives range but isn’t all-in in electricity.  Owners really hate having that internal combustion engine kick in.
  • I did not buy a cheaper used BMW i3 because they are too expensive for the prior generation of technology.  Sellers haven’t come to terms with the new reality of the Bolt.  Plus the infotainment system is important to me and the Bolt has CarPlay to work with my iPhone.
  • I did not buy a Nissan Leaf even though the leases are so low because I am not crazy about the styling and I wanted a better infotainment system.
  • I did not buy a new Tesla S because it’s way more car than I need, because I like small cars, and because I’m just not the type of guy to spend that much on a car.
  • I did not buy a used Tesla S even though they can be had certified pre-owned for about $44,000 and dropping because it felt like the car of the future in 2012
  • I did not wait for the Tesla Model 3 (even though I have a deposit on it) because I’m impatient, because the $7,500 federal incentive may not be available by then, and because I’m roughly number 350,000 on the waiting list.  It could take until 2019 to get one.
  • I did not buy a new 2017 Volt even though it’s a highly respected car because I like smaller cars.
  • I did not buy a used Volt even though they are incredible bargains ($14,000?) because I wanted something new and exciting.

Risks I took in buying a Bolt EV

  • I risked that this brand new car won’t have any serious first-model-year bugs. I’m hoping with Chevy’s 10 years of experience with the Volt, and the relative simplicity of electric cars, it will be ok.
  • By buying instead of leasing, I risked that this car will have decent resale value.  Cars like the Tesla hold their value pretty well.  Cars like the Leaf and the Volt depreciate very quickly, in large part because of all the 3 year leases coming due.
  • I risked that Trump won’t eliminate the $7,500 federal tax credit before I get to take advantage of it this time in 2018.

It was a difficult choice, but I am really enjoying the Bolt and can’t wait to drive it again!  It’s an amazing car… 238 miles of range, lots of gizmos, very zippy, great handling.

 

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Batteries with your home solar panel system: worth it?

The way home generation works is: while you are at away at work during the day, your house is gathering midday solar energy and feeding it into the grid.  Then, when you return home and at night, you are sucking the energy back from the grid.  It’s like a daily deposit and withdrawal from a bank.

This is pretty good.  But it’s not as good as being more “off grid” and using as much of the charge you create in-house.  (In short: the value you get from feeding into the grid is less than the cost of taking from it, the power you get from the grid isn’t as clean as your pure solar energy, and there are efficiency losses.)

The eventual answer is to have a battery system like the Tesla Powerwall* at home alongside your solar system to gather the juice by day and squeeze it out again by night, with minimal transfer with the utility.

So is it worth getting a battery system now?  The short answer is no, not yet, but yes, eventually.  This is because battery prices are falling quickly.  At the moment they are still just too expensive for the ROI to work out.

It’s definitely possible to add a battery later to your system.  I was told to give it a couple of years as economies of scale kick in, and then reconsider.

* Incidentally, the Tesla Powerwall is fancy looking but not the most respected battery system out there.  It’s expensive, has Apple-like proprietary interconnects, and I’m told doesn’t contain all the components needed, so while it looks sexy on its own, it will be surrounded by other devices that wreck that look.

 

Solar vendor selected!

We have selected a solar panel installer, and signed the paperwork, and are officially underway!

Cost: The cost of solar will net out to about $11k to cover roughly 100% of our electricity usage including charging one car. (This was less than the initial estimate.) Break-even point is about 7 years.

pickmysolar: Our experiences with pickmysolar.com have been “AAA++ would buy again.” They exist to insulate consumers from the pain of dealing with many solar companies. They explain everything, put together your project specs, send it out to solar contractors, and bring you back the best to choose from. They receive a referral fee from the solar vendor. They were very professional and everything has gone smoothly. Recommended.

PickMySolar received 8 bids and from that they presented 3 to us.  The costs for solar were $16,000, $18,500 and $20,200 (before tax incentive).  The winner, Illum solar, had the lowest bid, high quality components and a good reputation.

Reroofing: If your roof is old then it’s wise to do it before you add solar. Many solar companies came from the roofing business so most are set up to do both at once. And it may be cheaper to do both at once from the same vendor. In our case the extra cost of doing the roof $3,500 was less than it would have been if done alone. (It might end being more depending on the state of the roof under the existing shingles.)

Specific cost breakdown:

$16,085 for solar project ($11,259.50 after 30% tax credit)
+ $3,500 for roof job
+ $600 for car charger outlet
= $20,185 gross costs
– 30% tax credit of $6,055.50
= $14,129.50 net cost for roof job, solar and charger

Here is what the bid looked like, if you care to see the components used:

170114-bid-screenshot

Electric car charger: We are getting our solar people to add our car charger outlet for our future electric car.  Your regular 120 volt outlet is considered Level 1 and it’s slow.  The outlet they are installing is basically a 240V outlet, considered Level 2.  It’s basically just an outlet like you’d have for an electric clothes dryer. The “charger” unit is not really a true charger but which basically passes the current through to the car where the real charging circuitry resides.  The solar installer is charging $600 (not including the charger itself which will be another $500 roughly).  Yeah, I could save a couple of hundred by getting my own electrician, but wha’eva.

Technicalities for those considering solar panels:
– Our system is for 5.3 kW of generation and 7,570 kWh / year.
– This has 25 year warrantee on the equipment and 20 years on workmanship.

Next up:  Plans and permits are starting, then roof job when we have a stretch of dry weather, then solar installation. It could all happen quite quickly, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to find a competent dealer in the Bay Area to sell me a Bolt EV!  Hmm… should I buy or lease??  Should I bail on the Bolt and just get a used Volt to tie me over until the Tesla Model 3 comes out?

Adding solar increases your house value

Most home improvements do not have a positive ROI in terms of your house’s resale value.  But adding a solar system does — as long as you own rather than lease it.

You can Google for yourself “How much does solar increase house value?” and find tidbits like this:

  • Installing 5kW of solar panels adds an average of $29,555 to the retail value of a medium-sized home”
  • solar energy is an investment that potentially pays a 200%+ return – far an excess of most any other financial vehicle you can imagine.”
  • “Going solar consistently offers higher ROIs than almost any home improvement you could ever make”
  • “FHA and Fannie Mae agree: A solar panel system adds value to your home (if you own the system)”
  • NYTimes reports on Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s conclusions that”… buyers were willing to pay a premium of $15,000 for a home with the average-size solar photovoltaic system (3.6 kilowatts, or 3,600 watts), compared with a similar home without one.”  See the full PDF report.

Finally this article takes an interesting angle.  It analyzes home solar installation from a pure investment perspective: “Solar: A High-Yield, Low-Risk Financial Instrument for Your Investment Portfolio.”  Money quote: “Solar thus serves as an intelligent and expedient choice for economically prudent individuals concerned about their financial growth.”

This is of course on top of the energy cost savings.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me!

Roofing job qualifies for 30% federal solar tax credit

Here’s a helpful fact: in the United States, the part of a roofing job affected by the solar installation qualifies for the 30% tax credit – if it’s done as part of the same project!

This means that a big chunk of the roofing job will get a heavy 30% discount if done as one project!

Note that this is a tax credit, which means that you have to earn enough income to pay enough taxes to get the credit on those taxes.

Received initial solar project estimates

Here is the initial estimate I got from a solar marketplace people.

Instead of dealing directly with installers, I am trying out pickmysolar.com which runs a marketplace. They collect my project information, send it out to installers to bid on, and make recommendations to me, then follow through to make sure I’m happy. They get paid a referral fee from whichever vendor I choose. So far they seem helpful and above-board.

This system they put together is designed to have me pay $0 in electricity including 100% of electric car charging.  Here are the estimates:

bids

The best estimate so far is $13k but they expect the bids to come in at $11k. (Prices have been plummeting on solar.)

What is the cost savings?

At this cost, the break-even point for this project is 6.5-7 years.  The total savings over 25 years is indicated above to be $62,190, accounting for a 5% annual increase in electricity costs from the utility company (which may be a tad aggressive).

How does this affect home value?

Aside from the energy savings, solar directly is said to adds to a house’s value. A quick Google search says a 5kW system such as mine adds nearly $30k of value to a home. That’s roughly 250% ROI on capital improvement alone, before we even start saving on electricity and gas! This is also notable, because most home improvements have negative ROI.

See also: Adding solar increases your house value

System design

Here is what the initial system design looked like, with 20 panels spread across three planes of our roof:

170115-roof-image-wide

• The 9 southeast panels in the photo should generate 315 kWh/month, but this is the less valuable morning energy. The 8 southwest panels collect 286 kWh/month of the more valuable afternoon and early evening sunlight. You get more credit from PG&E for feeding energy into the grid at this time.

• The 3 northeast panels in the photo are not high ROI and we’re not recommended.  They were there to accommodate a greater electric car commute distance than I’m actually doing.  We took them out of the bid.

• Solar systems are normally warranted for 25 years and have an expected 30 year life. They are said to be reliable and low-maintenance.

• Solar panels seem almost too good to be true.  Are there any downstream costs?  The main future hidden cost that I learned is when you eventually need a new roof.  Extra labor will be involved in removing and re-installing the panels when replacing the roof. I read that some installers provide a one time allowance for this, doing the job for $500.

• We indeed do need a new roof. Many solar installers can take care of that, or subcontract that as part of the deal. (Many solar installers started off as roofers.)  I requested this as part of the bid from solar companies and may complement this with other bid from roofing-only companies.

 

Excursions into Electricity

I am looking into getting both rooftop solar and an electric car!

This was inevitable for me — I’d been thinking about it for years and waiting for the right time.  But it catalyzed by an desire to take back a bit of control after an out-of-control election year.

I’m also hoping to cash in on 30% federal incentives on solar installation, and $7,500 federal incentives on efficient cars, plus $2,500 from California, where I live.  Our president-elect denies the reality of climate change and is looking like an opponent of anything that will catalyze transition to cleaner fuel and transport.  I want to try and get in while the going is good.  
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Why this blog?

I’m learning a lot in the process of researching electric cars and rooftop solar, from the perspective of a homeowner in the San Francisco Bay area.  All this stuff is pretty new and I had a lot of basic questions — questions I get from friends when we discuss it.  I thought I would capture my learnings for the benefit of old and new friends who have the same interest.

First question: BMW i3?  The brand new Chevy Bolt?  Used Tesla S?  Or wait for the Tesla 3? I think I have decided…