Our Consumption Habits

Invariably, the first 2 questions we receive when introducing solar to folks are the same:

How do the panels handle hail? (we are in Texas afterall) and what would it cost to run my 2000 square foot house?

The answer to the first is that the panels are warranted against a direct impact of

1” hail and the incidence of damage is miniscule.

To the second question, we reluctantly but accurately have to answer, it depends. This is not a dodge, a sheepish sales tactic or our lack of understanding. It is quite accurate and must follow with an investigation of what the customer’s energy consumption actually is. This is where it gets quite interesting.- sometimes pandora’s box kind of interesting.

To refresh, there are some basic principles that inform this conversation. In the solar industry we are used to talking about power and energy as very distinct phenomena. In common parlance, things get overlapped and often lead to confusion. Think about the difference between an energy drink (like Red Bull, astimulant) and an energy bar (often a source of protein). The terms are confusing. She is a powerful leader, he has good energy… We characterize our experience in these terms very often.

In the context of electricity and specifically as it relates to your home, it is very specific and needs to be kept distinct. Think of a light bulb. A 13 watt LED bulb draws 13 watts of power the instant you turn the switch. And it continues to draw that amount of power as long as the circuit is intact. That’s power: 13 watts. Now run that bulb for an hour- you get 13 watt hours. That’s energy. 13 Wh. When you take a look at your residential bill, you are charged in units defined at kilowatt hours (kwh) That’s a lot of LED bulbs by the way.

As you go around your house you can add up the power you may draw as individual circuits or appliances are turned on. You can just talley them up. There are many that may escape attention (ghost loads), because there is not much going on visibly, yet there is still power being drawn. Your TV likely is drawing power to stay warmed up so that is comes on instantly when you want it. Be thorough to take stock.

And then there is energy and this is the key metric for most residential settings. It is a combination of the power you are drawing and for how long. As you use more power your consumption goes up, but more impactfully, the longer you run those loads, the more your energy consumption goes up.

Now there is no real magic here. Running your whole house for 1 hour is the same energy consumption as running 1/24 of you loads for 1 hour. But the rub, is that no one manages their household this way and better said, it is quite rare for folks to manage their household from an energy perspective that is thorough and time based. We have grown up not really concerned with that or equipped with the right tools to see what the actual effect our habits have on energy consumption.

Like many of you, I grew up with the blanket admonitions to turn lights off, don’t waste energy, all the while I had no real conception of how the walls that surrounded were managing heat, or how efficient the appliances really were. We believe, management does not hinge on guilt, but can thrive when one is equipped with tools to visualize in real time how much power and energy we are using. For this we install Lighgauge Monitoring on all of our solar system and even on building with no solar. You can see, at circuit level, what you are using and where the energy is going.

And this gets us back to our first, or second, question. How much does it cost to run my 2000 sf house? While I will unpack other dimensions of this question in a following blogpost, we much first recognize that the house is specific, you habits are specific and the way you manage your habits in your house are even more specific.

So we begin to inquire, analyze and recommend how your habits measure up to your expectations or even to general averages. In the end, we can speak confidently from a set of regional averages and rules of thumb, but that partly misses the point, that our experiences are all our own. Our habits needs to be recognized. The solar system we will design and implement for you is specific, even though it draws on the generous, available power of the sun, your solar system will be an integral part of your experience, which is inherently unique and tailored.