Monday, June 16, 2014

Spring 2014

Since my marriage to John 20+ years ago, May & June have been busy months for family celebrations. This May we celebrated my Mother-In-Law's 80th birthday with a surprise party.  It was a fun time with lots of family & friends, and she was really taken off guard too!  Then there was Mother's Day in mid-May, Memorial Day, John's birthday on the 31st, and Father's Day which was celebrated yesterday.

John's Dad Bill & Mom Joyce, John, and John's sister Laura.
John's birthday, relaxing after dinner on the deck,
watching the birds, enjoying the view.  5/31/14

The view from John's parents' deck during his birthday dinner,
looking out toward Laura's pastures and barn.
Mt. Rainier is behind the clouds in the distance.  5/31/14

And, this May & June have been unusually busy too with John finally getting the street rod that he has wanted for as long as I've known him: a 1968 Nova SS.  It's what he had in high school.  And, it just arrived this morning!

John and his new toy, just off the auto carrier,
fresh from Wisconsin.  6/16/14

A double-decker auto transport trailer pulled up in front of our house.
John & the driver listening to the Nova's engine.  6/16/14
Now John will be doing a few "little" things to make it his own.  He'll start by reducing the stiffness of the clutch, and changing over to power steering and brakes.

May is also a time when we've got lots of blooms in the yard.
Azaleas by the barn.  5/12/14

A look into my shade garden.   5/12/14

Also, as an update to last year's post, we won't be building the mother-in-law apartment off of our barn due to septic system issues.  Our current plan is to stay in our current house for as long as we can physically handle the steps.

Happy Summer Solstice everyone ... coming up on May 21st at 3:51 AM PDT!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Solar Panels: One Year Later

We get questions about our solar array fairly often.  So, I hope this blog post answers some of them.  Our 3.36 kW array has been converting sunlight to electricity for just over a year.  Puget Sound Energy (PSE) hooked it into the grid in late April 2013.

Our Barn/Garage with 14 south-facing solar panels.   April 2013  

These panels do not replace our need to purchase electricity from PSE; they only supplement our power needs.

At its most productive, during the summer's long hours of sunshine, the array earns up to $22 each day. However, it's much more informative to look at a year's worth of data to get a realistic view of the payoff.

One year of power generation, by month (May 2013 - April 2014)

In the past 12 months our array generated over 3650 kWh (per PSE).  It has earned about $2100 (5% from a reduction on our monthly bill, and 95% from Washington State's Renewable Energy Cost Recovery Program at $.54/kWh).    The chart below provides a monthly comparison between our electric bill as though we didn't have solar, and the amount we earned each month from the array.  (Note: Although the Renewable Energy Payment is received in a yearly check, I broke it down monthly for this chart.)

Month Bill if No Solar Solar $ Earned
May 13 $52 $224 
June 2013 $56 $271
July 2013 $71 $307
August 2013 $61 $224
September 2013 $63 $182
October 2013 $57 $121
November 2013 $68 $89
December 2013 $118 $55
January 2014 $73 $68
February 2014 $80 $106
March 2014 $47 $165
April 2014 $47 $223

As you can see, our earnings exceeded the cost of our usage for all but 2 months.

In addition, we received almost $5800 as a tax credit on our federal return.  And, we saved about $1650 in Washington State's sales tax waiver.

At this rate, we should break even after 7 years of power production.  We will earn the equivalent to a savings interest rate of 2.6% at 10 years; or 3.2% at 15 years; or 4.4% at 20 years. That's a decent long-term financial investment, but certainly not the best.  For me, however, our investment in sustainable clean power trumps the mediocre financial returns.

Here are some details about our 3.36 kW Photovoltaic Grid Interface System:
  • Spec'ed out and installed by Western Solar, 2 year installation warranty
  • 14 mono-crystalline solar modules from Itek Energy, 240W each, 10/25 year workmanship/power warranties
  • 7 Blue Frog Solar micro-inverters, YC-500 (1 micro-inverter per two panels), 25 year warranty
  • APS Energy Communication Unit (ECU), 3 year warranty
  • We do not have a bank of batteries, the power is fed directly into the grid
Other components include the junction box, combiner panel, breakers, meters, mounting hardware, etc.

The ECU is networked so that we can monitor the health and production of our array via the Internet.  The bar graph above is from our ECU.

I've made the information on our ECU public.  If you'd like to see both real-time and historic production data from our solar array, click on this link: Carlson Solar Energy Monitoring and Analysis or on the photo of our barn/garage in the right-hand column.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

First Post of 2013

Now that 2013 is more than half gone, a blog post is way overdue.  Lately, life has seemed to be mostly about planning, helping and maintaining ... with a couple of fun events thrown in for good measure.

We are planning for the possibility of adding a 1,000 sq. ft. mother-in-law apartment to our current property.  This is where John and I would live for the rest of our lives.  The apartment attaches to the back of our garage/barn and will be fully wheelchair accessible (if/when needed in the future).  The plan is to rent our current home to caretakers for when we travel. 

Rendering from architectural software.  There will also be a wrap-around covered
porch for cement slab.  (I could not show the covered porch with my software.) 
The barn is existing and the addition is toward the back of the property.
We started taking action to make this happen last winter.   In the process of having a new septic design drawn up, we found that we needed an easement for our current drain field.  Unfortunately, our neighbor hasn't been forthcoming with that easement despite a verbal agreement.  So, at this point, we are moving forward no faster than a herd of turtles with little more than architectural plans to show for our efforts.

John especially has been spending time helping his family in Yelm, taking his Dad to doctors' appointments and helping his Mom around the yard.  Then, in March, our brother-in-law Rick passed away after a heroic battle with colon cancer.  We joined with John's sister Laura, Rick's family, and his many friends and colleagues last month to celebrate his life at his Kelley Park Ranch in Yelm.  I was honored to help with the decorations, as John assisted with preparations and parking for the event.  I will always remember Rick with fondness and count it a privilege to have known him.

Rick Kelley (1954-2013)
Drawing by Chalene Swankie, July 2013
One of the past vacations we took with John's family was a cruise to Alaska.  So, it seemed fitting that the family take that same cruise again in June, with Rick with us in spirit.  For me, it was a happy reminder of his joy as he experienced Alaska grandeur and beauty for the first time.

Panorama of Misty Fjord outside of Ketchikan, AK.  June 14, 2013
This also seems to be the year of major improvements and maintenance around our home.  We installed a solar array on our south-facing barn/garage roof.  We estimate that it will provide about 1/3 of our current electrical needs and pay for itself in about 7 years (through electrical cost savings and federal & state incentives).  In addition, our house needed a new roof, as well as fresh stain and paint.  Other maintenance activities included some serious downsizing, garage sales, digitizing photos, and donations as we prepare to move into a smaller dwelling.

Solar array installed on our barn/garage in April 2013.
Last weekend, after more than a year in the making, some of my family traveled to Washington State for our summer picnic.  Traditionally, it's held in Southern California where I grew up.  But, this year, they came to our place in Washington State and camped out.  I really had a wonderful time with everyone -- including several of my brothers, cousins, a nephew and their families -- from 62yrs to 5wks old.  We just turned our property into a campground and said "make yourself at home" ... and they did!  I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again at Thanksgiving time.

The part of my family that was here for our summer campout/picnic on July 28.
All related by blood or marriage on my mom's side
 -- brothers, nephew, cousins and their families.
The youngest, my great-niece Nona Rose,
meets the eldest, my 1st cousin John.  7/28/13
My husband John is enjoying his 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Firebird (think "Smokey and the Bandit").  But, he wants to sell it so that he can eventually get the same car he had in high school, a 1968 Chevrolet Nova SS.  In addition, he still has his laying hens for eggs, and a smaller vegetable garden this year with corn, peas, squash, pumpkins and tomatoes.  I have a garden too, but I just seem to raise just enough strawberries to feed our resident slugs and snails :).  Except for staying in Yelm to help out with John's family, our RV has mostly remained parked.  I'm hoping to use it for travel and exploration soon.

John's current hotrod that he wants to sell.
"Smokey and the Bandit" -- 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Firebird

I'm also happy to report that John's scans continue to come out clean almost 3 years after his cancer surgery.