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Mon, Jul

My Journey To Solar Independence: The Highs, Lows & Lies - Why It’s Not For Everyone

CLIMATE

SOLAR ENERGY - I have always been a person who gravitates to things that make sense. Similarly, I dislike waste. So isn’t it a waste when we get all this sunshine in Southern California and we don’t convert it to usable energy? Solar has therefore been very attractive to me.  

However, beginning on this journey to solar energy independence about 2 years ago, I did not realize how much I had to learn. There were hardly any resources, just a bunch of solar companies trying to sell things with zero regard for the customers overall system and a whole lot of ignorance even among the installers of the solar systems.  

Let’s start with the lay of the land. I have never had a desire to connect to the grid. While connecting to the grid is a lot simpler and doesn’t require battery components, we saw this push for “net metering” play out. Who got shafted in the end? The homeowners and consumers.  

How did they get shafted? First, financially: homeowners were put on “zero down” financing and ended up in debt for 30 years to pay off overpriced panels that ended up precipitously dropping in value. At the same time, Southern California Edison and other utility companies, who promised that the savings in electricity and the money homeowners would get paid by the panels, changed the rules midstream.  

Suddenly they started charging rates way higher during the time of day with most usage: 4 to 9 pm. Before the change, many homeowners may have had a zero bill or even a check from Edison, or at the very least, a low bill. After all, their solar setup was designed based on that and homeowners were warned not to get something too big. So most systems were designed to offset at zero. Suddenly, with the “time of usage” change and higher rates, everyone now had a bill. This, on top of the payment for the solar panels, which I liken to indentured servitude.  

If that wasn’t bad enough, years after this wave of solar panel installations on homeowners’ roofs all over the country, people are experiencing roof leaks they never had. It was especially evident this year (2024) with the heavy rainfall we experienced. Turns out that these inconsiderate installers drilled wherever they felt like, with no care for the homeowners roofs and potential problems just to quickly get the job done and move to the next home to take another paycheck.  

I am glad I waited and did my research, building my system slowly. However I was still sold an underpowered system by the number one online bundler. It seems they just wanted to just move units without processing my exact energy usage which I gave from the start.  Your power bill is a good ballpark number but there are other considerations beyond kilowatt hours such as usage of equipment or appliances that pull a big initial draw to start up. Also they like to sell 12V systems but don’t ever tell you that many appliances will drain down 12V systems. 24V at least is the way to go.  

As long as you know your KwH usage you can figure out how many panels, inverters, solar controllers and batteries you need. But really there is no DiY option because everything out there wants your money first before any kernel of info is given back.  So does everyone need to go through a trial and error situation? Probably because everyone’s situation is different and what people really need is an “owners Rep” of sorts.  

Without writing a novel, I can say that as long as you have enough batteries, panels and inverters you can be completely energy independent from the utility company. However it is a long and tedious and expensive undertaking. The government may paint this as the future and that everyone can do this, but as the years have played out, it seems the utility companies just got richer. The reality is solar and its components need a lot of energy (more than you think) to power a household unless you want to live under constant rationing of your energy usage. Wiring matters, batteries and components matter, because there will be some loss of energy as it travels through the components.  

In the macro picture, I do not see solar becoming a norm. It is simply not affordable for most people. The desert gets great sunshine but coastal areas with May Gray and June Gloom may suffer in production. While I have managed to make it work for myself, I can also conclude that it is unrealistic to adopt for most Californians and Americans. 

(Marc Ang ([email protected]) is a Southern California based community organizer, the President of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance in Orange County and founder of Asian Industry B2B. He has a heart for promoting quality education, practical societal solutions, business-friendly legislation, charitable causes and law and order. Marc has made front page news on LA Times and New York Times for his activism and leadership in the SoCal Asian community. He is also the Vice President of the American Independence Party in California. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” was released in 2022 through Trinity Broadcast Network.)