“Gimme Shelter” with Daniel Gehman: Let Me Feed You

Ok, so I have a new goal. By the time I’m 55, my home will generate enough electricity to not only re-charge my electric vehicle, but also to sell the excess back to my local utility. Please understand that I’m well on my way already—there’s a photovoltaic system on my roof that was designed to provide about 85 percent of my annual demand. Why stop at 85 percent? Well, at the time, the theory went that since any energy generated at my place in excess of what I could use would flow back into the grid—from where my utility company could essentially sell it to my neighbors—there was no financial motive to produce more than I could use.

In the three years my system has been operating, this is pretty much how it has performed. Then an interesting phenomenon occurred. This spring, my wife, who operates a home-based business, was away for several months. In the first 30 days, my energy consumption matched, almost to the kilowatt-hour, the amount produced, resulting in a zero power bill. This happened again in the next month. In the third month, that meter must really have been spinning backwards, because I posted a credit! This became quite a motivator—sport almost—and I tried to double down on my conservation efforts to see how long I could stay in the black.

This week in Los Angeles, the City Council agreed to consider a feed-in tariff program for the Department of Water and Power. If approved, it could foment a large move into “distributed infrastructure,” which is very much a harbinger of the future. Roofs of buildings, large and small, could be retrofitted with solar arrays that generate many more watts than the facilities need, with the overage being sold back to DWP. In the cases of large warehouses with low power demand, this could add a nice little punch to the bottom line. It will help stimulate “green” business and manufacturing, too, and will inevitably push us closer to a massive paradigm shift.

Expect the utilities to squeal. After all, this will cut into their revenue stream. However, the potential of credit back for the PV systems will make the cost of their installation defensible for many more people, even some single family homeowners.

Like me. If DWP goes for this, our other California energy providers will follow. I have already reduced my electric bill dramatically; I would love to eliminate it completely, and have it instead become a modest revenue stream for me. (It probably won’t hurt re-sale value, either.) There’s 4.5 years left to accomplish this goal. Let’s get cracking!

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at DanielG@tca-arch.com)

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