One year with solar

Home solar install

In late June or early July of 2015, the grid-connected solar at our house was switched on by Xcel Energy (I’ve lost the precise date). By July 19th of 2016, I had twelve months worth of electrical bills during which the panels had been producing for the entire month. Here are some thoughts and data.

  • Our install included APsystems microinverters that malfunctioned on systems installed throughout the state. That meant the during the “sunny” months, the panels were limited to producing about half of their potential. The inverters were reprogrammed in May of 2016. In total, the system produced about 77% of what it was expected to over the course of the year.
  • Even with that hiccup, the system produced 3,367 kWh, or 17% more than our house used over the 12 month period.

usagesolar

  • We used 14% less electricity during the year than the previous year. I think some, but not all can be explained by the real-time metering that came with the system. I’ve spent far too many minutes (hours?) looking at the dynamic egauge chart, thinking about reducing peaks and total usage. (The winter of 2016 was warmer than 2015, but the summer was about equally hotter, so I’m calling weather factors a wash)
  • I need seasonal energy storage. July production was 6.5 times January production. I’m curious to see if next January is any better now that the inverters are fixed. We use electric heat in a small attic space, which means our electric usage in winter is probably above normal.
  • Our neighbors used more of our solar energy than our house did. Xcel has two meters on our home now, so over time they can track what is being provided to our plugs from our system, what is being provided by their grid, and how much energy is being exported. Over 12 months, our solar array delivered 25% of the kWhs our house used, and the grid delivered 75%. To put it another way, other grid users got 75% of the kWhs our solar array produced, while we only got 25%. This is primarily a function of when our house uses the most electricity (morning and nighttime) compared with when the array is producing (midday). The effect is most pronounced in the winter when it is dark both when we leave and when we return home.

sourceofelectricity

  • Our system produces when energy is most expensive for the grid operator.
  • Including the payments we made to finance the system, we paid about 13% less in total for electricity in this 12 month period than the period prior.
  • Putting solar on your roof is a great way to start conversations with your neighbors! People are curious, and love to ask how it is working, how much it cost, and who installed it.
  • After the sun comes out, snow slides off in a couple of days.

LRT plans, past and present

The Transportationist posts this 1988 LRT plan developed for Hennepin County.  Obviously, the SW LRT route has moved and the “south” alignment has become freeway BRT.  Also note the dotted line, which I assume means tunnel.

In this plan, Minneapolis, especially the most dense parts, is well served by high-quality transit, with the exception of North.  In real life, if Bottineau goes with the LPA, 3/5ths of the regions high-quality, “fixed” guideway transit improvements won’t really serve Minneapolis at all (I’m including freeway BRT in the count of 5 since it’s been “converted” from the planned LRT. I’m also not counting Northstar).

I sold my car

Today we sold our family’s second car. Since taking a new job last year, my car mostly sat in the driveway. I can get to work really easy on the bus or on a bike (and the same for my wife, to a slightly lesser degree) and parking costs made me think twice when I considered driving to work.

The sale was an emotional experience. I loved driving the car, and I’ve always liked driving. I got my learners permit when I was fourteen (Iowa let ’em drive early) and as with most teenagers (at least back then) , the car signaled freedom to me. My feelings about driving have moderated some since, but I’ve retained much of the original nostalgia and excitement, especially when starting a road trip. I’ve learned a lot about the impacts on our cities and climate reliance on the car creates since that initial love affair, but in the end, the strongest reason we had to ditch the second car was cost.  Hundreds of dollars a week is a strong motivator.

But this wasn’t a simple matter of deciding to ride the bus more. A large number of factors has to converge to make it possible for a family of three with two jobs outside the home to make do with one (private) vehicle.

  • Working in the hub of a hub-and-spoke transit network. We have lots of bus routes that are fairly competitive with a car because my wife and I both work in or near downtown. This wouldn’t be the case if we worked in the suburbs, inner ring or outer.
  • We found a great daycare nine blocks from our house.  You can walk there easily in most weather from our house or take the bus/bike.  The location and density of daycare centers should not be overlooked if your goal is to encourage alternative modes.
  • Minneapolis is walkable and fairly bikeable.  The city does a pretty good job making it feel safe and easy to walk and bike places.  Destination density (stores, food, etc) is tolerably high in some neighborhoods, although it could definitely be better.
  • New technologies.  We feel better with one car knowing their is a car-sharing service that parks a car a few blocks from our house.
  • We have the resources to rent a car when we need it.  Even if we do this once a month for a week, we still save a lot versus owning.

We really depend on automobiles a lot.  If we want to change that for whatever reason, or if we want to be sensitive to the needs of those who can’t afford a car, then it’s about way more than providing transit.

The look

I’ve been playing around with theming of the site a lot lately, but I think I’ve settled on something I like.  Legibility and simplicity were the main goals, and I’m satisfied I’ve gotten there.  Many of my readers use feedreaders, so this was a little self-indulgent, but I love to tinker.

If you’re curious, the theme is a heavily modified version of Twenty Eleven.

Should local transit just be built by the states?

One of my new favorite snarks, Lisa Schweitzer at Sustainable Cities and Transport, discusses whether local transit funding shouldn’t just “devolve” to the states.

Federal involvement in transit also has led to a heavy capital bias in transit investment, prompting local and regional agencies to build transit projects, again and again, that they can’t afford to run with any frequency. This leads to a wider geographic coverage for transit–which probably still isn’t wide enough to deal with spreading regions–and with lower frequencies than really make for high service quality. (And sprawl is bad, bad, bad, evil and terrible! The worst thing ever! There? Will that sentence keep some of you land-use people outta my grill for the purposes of this post? Can I talk about something else now? Thanks.)

Transit has been on the teeter-tottery edge of those issues and criticisms for a long time. Why can’t New York pay for its own subways? Or Los Angeles? Or anywhere? That’s why we have local taxes and general funds, right? If you want transit, don’t go holler at the feds. Make it happen if you want it. Perhaps there would be a greater chance of that self-helping if leaders know that the buck really began and stopped with them, and they might instead be much more careful to match investments to operations.

The US Congress is overly dominated by rural interests, and many of us for years have argued that this creates a hostile environment for transit funding in the first place, as many rural senators wonder: “what’s in it for my constituents?” and the ineffectual spreading of scarce resources around to systems that aren’t particularly viable or worth investing in. Porky McPorktown.

The key drawback to devolution? Locals might not have the stomach for a local gas tax to replace the federal one.

So if places like California, New York, Illinois, and Minnesota were running their own budgetary shop, they could keep the revenues they are currently sending to Portland and Memphis and Charlotte.

Here’s the glitch: these donor state are only fiscally better off with Federal gas tax elimination or erosion if those donor states prove capable of passing a gas tax on its residents equal to or better than the 18 cents a gallon [- whatever the Feds give away to other jurisdictions]. And I’m not seeing that happen, at least not in California. Maybe in Minnesota. Maybe in New York, or Massachusetts. Maybe.

Watch “Liquid Assets”, help raise awareness of Minnesota’s critical infrastructure needs

Along with BluePrint Minnesota, Minnesota APA is working to increase awareness about our State’s infrastructure needs.  They are raising funds to produce a local version of “Liquid Assets”, the trailer for which can be seen above.

The full documentary explores the history and challenges of our water infrastructure, and is a great reminder of the importance of systems we usually take for granted.  So watch the trailer, head over to BluePrint Minnesota and help out if you can.

NYC DOT Commissioner in Minneapolis March 30th

New York City is becoming well known for it’s emphasis on improving pedestrian and bicycle mobility and accessibility, as well as innovative transit projects.  Just search Streetsblog.org for any transportation-related term, and you’ll find a wealth of projects and forward-looking thinking.

On March 30th, the Twin Cities will get some access to a decision-maker behind some of those improvements.  NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan will be giving a presentation at Open Book at 3:30 pm on March 30th.  From the TLC website:

For Elected Officials, Transportation Professionals, and ULI Members:

Please accept our invitation to a presentation by New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

NYC is increasing mobility and reinventing urban streetscape at express speed. Once car-clogged Times and Harold Squares are now interactive plazas. Innovative cycling designs traverse all boroughs and the goal is to double bicycle commuting by 2015. Bus shelters, bicycle parking, traffic calming, Summer Streets, new parking policies, bicycle wayfinding, bus rapid transit, Safe Streets for Seniors, the landmark Street Design Manual…NYC is on fire to improve the quality of life through sustainable streets.

Come to engage with Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and your local colleagues.

Co-sponsored by Transit for Livable Communities and the Urban Land Institute

Registration is required for the event.

NYC gets first separated busway, why not Southwest Minneapolis?

Image: NYCDOT

Streetsblog seems pretty excited about the proposed new busway on 34th Street in New York City.  Rightly so as it is the city’s first separated busway, and would cut travel times across the city by 35%, according to the Transport Politic.  It’s not bus rapid transit (BRT), since it is still slow according to Freemark, but it does bring a number of welcome improvements.  Bus travel lanes are separated from normal traffic, pedestrians should be safer thanks to refuges and wider sidewalks, and the middle of the route includes a block-long pedestrian plaza.

I written here before and even entertained a guest who talked about what it would take to improve transit in the crowded Hennepin/Nicollet transit corridors of Minneapolis.  The key improvement of the NYC proposal, mode separation, would be a major boost to travel time, rider experience and a market signal on par with LRT or a streetcar.  So could it work?

Hennepin Ave with a crude busway model

There seems to be enough right of way.  Including parking, there are 6 lanes along most of Hennepin between Franklin and Lake Street.  This looks to be similar to the situation in New York City.  The key difference is that in NYC, the street is a one way.  Two lanes of traffic travel in the same direction, with a third lane mid block for parking and deliveries.  So if you kept Hennepin two-way, that would mean one lane of travel in each direction, with three lanes at the intersections (I suppose for turn lanes).  Much of the on-street parking would be lost, but some would be retained mid-block, perhaps one third of what currently exists.

So could Hennepin survive with a single travel lane in each direction?  The traffic engineers would have to weigh in on that.  If you highlighted Hennepin as a transit corridor, you could potentially reduce car trips and move cars to alternate routes.  This highlights a weakness of Minneapolis.  New York City is still a highly connected grid.  In Minneapolis, many of the connections to downtown and beyond have been severed by the I-94 corridor, so any attempt to reduce the access by car on one of the few remaining connections is bound to be met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But that’s not to say it wouldn’t be possible.  Perhaps Lyndale becomes the main north-south car route through the area, and Hennepin is reconfigured to focus on transit and bicycles.  Car space would just be reduced, not eliminated, and the busway would only really need to go to Lake Street.  Drivers would soon adapt, and maybe even ride the bus a little bit more.