3/4/2018 -- Electric Riding Mower
I have happily moved on from my old backfiring gas-leaking Troy-Bilt Bronco riding mower and now have on order a Ryobi RM480ex electric riding mower. While I am looking to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, probably the biggest environmental benefit of this tractor, and one I am deeply excited about, is the greatly reduced noise levels. It is silent while just driving it around and much quieter than tranditional gas mowers when actually mowing.
The Ryobi RM480 series (there is a RM480e and a RM480ex) is the first consumer electric riding mower that is both a quality product with sufficient run time and comes in at under $3,000 putting it in a realm that is at least starting to be competitive with traditional gas mowers. I'm really looking forward to it's arrival. I should have it by mid March.
Would I rather have a mower built by John Deere or another experienced tractor production company? Would I rather have an electric mower that uses Lithium-Ion instead of Lead-Acid? Sure, and if/when those become actual options, I will consider them.
Here is an online review of the RM480e (I am getting the RM480ex which has a bigger battery, but they are otherwise the same product): Ryobi RM480e Review by Pro Tool Reviews
1/27/2018 -- Rooftop Solar Monitoring
Monitoring for our rooftop solar system was activated late in the day on 1/19/2018. With a few days of data now available, I have put together a page that provides a brief overview of how the system works and what information it provides: APSystems EMA Overview
12/28/2017 -- Interconnection Inspection
Installation of panels and wiring was completed in the last week. Final interconnection inspection completed today. No issues. System is ready to be activated. Setup of monitoring hardware and system turn on scheduled for Saturday, 12/30/2017.
12/7/2017 -- Solar Hardware Delivered
Solar panels, inverters, rails, and related hardware was delivered today. Installation should begin on Monday.
11/30/2017 -- Solar Install Begins Soon
Rooftop solar hardware has been ordered. Initial installation work expected to begin on Sunday, 12/3/2017.
11/20/2017 -- Solar Approvals
We now have Net Metering approval from KCP&L and solar installation approval from the Codes Administration and Fire Department of Lees Summit. Wentz Solar will soon be ordering all of the hardware.
10/25/2017 -- Stand Up Republic
While I very much would like to get back to donating specifically to environmental causes -- Sierra Club is next on my list for good work they have done lately -- the threat from the Trump brand of populism has the horizon growing ever darker. Donald Trump doesn't just represent a threat to the environment, but a threat to American ideals and institutions as well. Therefore, this month I donated to Stand Up Republic. Led by conservatives Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn, they reperesent all that is good about the Republican party while rejecting the vileness that Trumpism has brought to it.
10/22/2017 -- Attic Sealing and Rooftop Solar Paperwork
Worked on air sealing the attic this weekend. Got as much done as we are going to get done. Some areas we couldn't get to, but we did cover a lot of it including some notable areas like sealing the corner above the front room where wasps were previously getting in and making horrifying buzzing sounds around the front room air vent.
In rooftop solar news, Wentz Solar has prepared all of the city and utility paperwork. We have it signed and notarized and it's back in the hands of Wentz Solar to submit to the city. Once that paperwork gets approved, it will be time for Wentz to order the solar panels, inverters, and related hardware.
10/12/2017 -- Rooftop Solar Project Begins
Signed contract for rooftop solar today. First step is getting initial paperwork for city and utility completed. When that process completes, the hardware can be ordered, and it should take no longer than about 4 weeks after that for the project to be completed.
10/9/2017 -- Moving Forward on Rooftop Solar
We decided to move up our rooftop solar install date to this fall. We are currently in the process of getting contract and financing finalized.
10/4/2017 -- Possible Solar Tariffs
Possible solar tariffs have us thinking of moving up our rooftop solar install date to this fall instead of next spring. We will make the call on that soon.
In other news, we have most of the supplies we need to do the attic efficiency work. Just waiting on a cool weekend.
We haven't donated to any environmental organizations in a few months, because we have had a few other expenses and have donated to hurricane relief efforts. But we will get back to environmental donations as soon as other expenses settle down.
9/9/2017 -- Rooftop Solar Proposal Approved
Received word today that our rooftop solar proposal was approved by the HOA ARC. This is very good news, as when this all started we were expecting a harder time getting approval.
9/4/2017 -- Attic Efficiency Plans
Spent time this holiday weekend researching and discussing efficiency improvements that can be done in the attic, other than just adding insulation. There were multiple possibilities. The following are the ones I'm most likely going to proceed with:
- Air seal the attic. This involves moving back the insulation and using expanding foam to better seal all possible leaks between the attic and the interior. Likely culprit areas include anyplace where something runs through the 2nd floor roof, like ducting, vents, wiring, and recessed lighting. (For recessed lighting, you can't seal those up, as they often need some ability to breath, but you can buy recessed light covers that can be sealed while still leaving some empty air space for the lights, so long as you use efficient bulbs like LED.)
- Investigate metal ductwork to ensure it is adequately insulated. I suspect the metal duct in the attic has insulation on the inside, but if not, adding insulation to the ductwork should help.
- Add insulated covers to the attic fan and attic entry. At present, both have no means of insulation. For the attic fan, then plan is to build a cover using wood sides and an insulating foam board top. The reason for using wood sides is that the foam board is actually rather expensive, and the sides won't need it if fully buried in attic insulation.
In addition, I'm still also considering the following possibilities:
- Add another 6 inches of insulation. At present, there is roughly 12 inches equivalent to R-30. An extra 6 inches of the same insulation would take it up to R-49.
- Add radiative barrier to the rafters.
- Add solar powered attic fan. (This is ONLY advisable after air sealing the attic; otherwise, you can end up evacuating conditioned air from inside the house which is counterproductive.)
The last two are largely just to make it cooler in the attic in the summer, since there is duct work up there, and since I go up there from time to time. I've started doing some temperature tests to see how hot it gets in the attic. Today the temperature got up to 91 degrees (F) outside while the attic got up to 125 degrees (F). And that's not worst case, as it got cloudy in the afternoon. Over 30 degrees temperature difference leaves a lot of room for improvement.
8/31/2017 -- Rooftop Solar Proposal Submitted
Today we received the basic design layout information back from Wentz Solar. With that in hand, we finished and submitted our rooftop solar proposal to our HOA.
8/20/2017 -- Electric Riding Lawn Mower
I've been periodically looking for electric riding lawn mowers. Mean Green has been around for quite awhile, but their mowers have very high prices and probably are not worth it unless you are using it for a commercial service. However, a new option has entered the market that looks like a great option. The Ryobi RM480e Electric Riding Mower.
The Ryobi RM480e is sold through Home Depot for around $2500 and comes with a 3 year warranty. The price is still a bit high, in the neighborhood of the fancier zero turn gas powered models, but it's the first one in the ballpark of reasonable that is electric, a riding mower, and equipped with enough battery capacity to mow a full yard. Reviews are mostly good.
Sufficiently impressed, and considering that my gas mower is getting old and requiring periodic repairs, we will be looking to replace the gas mower with an electric mower shortly after we get our rooftop solar installed. It's generally thought that gas mowers produce a lot more air pollution than modern vehicle engines, so this will be a nice step in meeting our Paris climate goals, especially when we can charge it off our solar. Assuming some other manufacturer doesn't come out with a nicer product in the next 6 months, it's a good bet I'll be mowing my yard with a Ryobi RM480e later next year.
8/19/2017 -- Rooftop Solar Design Visit
Today Hugh Wentz of Wentz Solar and his designer Steve visited our house to review our roof, breaker box, and discuss the solar design options with us. We decided to start with a single layout option that balances size and aesthetics. If the layout has to be revised to pass approval, they agreed they would do another layout at that time for no extra charge. We should get the design plans within about a week. After we get the design plans back, assuming we are happy with it, we can finish and submit our proposal to the HOA.
After some discussion, we also decided to go with panels on the south and east roofs, but probably not the west roof. This isn't 100% yet, but it's the current direction. They also were very supportive of the idea of making all piping/wiring as hidden and/or subtle as possible, with lines likely running through the attic where possible.
I also learned today that Hugh is changing the company name from Wentz Alternative Energy to Wentz Solar. So I will be referring to his company as Wentz Solar from here forward.
8/16/2017 -- Rooftop Solar Design Scheduled
Design meeting for the rooftop solar installation is scheduled for this Saturday, 8/19/2017. This is where the "designer" comes out to the house, collects all the information he or she needs to complete the design, layout, and paperwork for the system. It takes maybe a couple of weeks afterwards for them to complete the multi-page design documents with all the details.
8/12/2017 -- Solar Panel Glare Study: Part 2
The rig for studying possible solar panel reflections off our roof is complete, and we know have a good idea of where the problem areas are.
The roof model is fairly accurate, 1:39 scale. The flashlight on the bar is actually a little more complicated than it looks, and it used to represent the sun. It can swing from "east" to "west", and it's elevation can be changed to match winter, summer, or anywhere in between. For the light, we remove the flashlight reflector and use a fresnel lens to provide a blanket of parallel light to represent sunlight.
The study involved using the model to identify possible problem areas, and then taking that information and refining it by reviewing the scenarios in the actual neighborhood, analyzing roof visibility, obstructions, and window locations.
Our conclusions from the study is that we have a small potential problem area with the east facing roof and one neighboring house that can be avoided by not installing panels too close to the front of the east facing roof. There is also one possible issue with the back of one neighboring house on the west roof that can occur in the winter time. This can be avoided by not installing panels on the back of the west roof (which has light partially obstructed by chimney anyway), and if necessary, installing a short baffle on one of the west roof ridges. The south facing roof has zero issues.
8/10/2017 -- Solar Panel Glare Study
We have seen some concerns regarding the possibility of residential solar installations causing sun glare issues for neighbors, including within members of our own HOA. We consider this a reasonable concern and have voluntarily engaged in a glare study of our house and the surrounding neighborhood.
After considering a variety of ways we could potentially do this, we ultimately decided to go with a scale model to provide the best visualization for ourselves and for our HOA proposal. Our model will be a reasonably accurate 1:39 scale model of our roof with a sunlight rig capable of shining focused light on the roof from the range of angles the sun can be at throughout the day and from winter to summer. After adding reflective material to the model roof to simulate solar panels, we will more closely review the areas where a glare can be cast across and downward potentially hitting a neighboring house.
We will use the results from this study to help determine the final solar design with Wentz. The most likely solution to any areas capable of causing problematic glare will be just to avoid installing panels in those areas of the roof.
Our model and sun rig are not complete yet, but the image here is an early look at our roof model. The roof model was developed using measurements from within the attic and from analysis of overhead images of our roof. I'll post another update with more pictures and results when the model and study are finished.
Sun inclination information we are currently using for our sun rig comes from: Sun Earth Tools website
8/3/2017 -- Rooftop Solar Design
Continuing to refine plan for rooftop solar install with Wentz Alternative Energy. Wentz has agreed to the plan of doing design work this Fall in preparation for installation in the following Spring. The design work will include several possible layout plans. We can then use the design options for negotations with the HOA over the winter, hopefully getting approval for one of the plans so installation can begin in the Spring without delay.
Design includes a 5 to 6 page computer aided drawing showing where panels will be on the roof, what wattage the panels are, where the electrical conduits will be, where the shutoff switch will be, location of microinverters, wire sizes, and pretty much everything needed for power company and city to preapprove the system. We will provide this information in our HOA proposal as well for their approval.
7/12/2017 -- Solar Discussions
Spoke with Tim Ely about his efforts to install rooftop solar in his neighborhood. As a recap, he had the more difficult problem of his covenant explicitely not allowing solar panels. For confidentiality, I don't want to go into too much detail about his situation, but I can say he generally saw pretty good support from neighbors who would answer their door and talk to him. As part of getting the solar panel restrictions removed from his neighborhood's covenant, he was trying to get two thirds of his neighborhood to support the action. His bigger problem was people who simply wouldn't answer their door or otherwise could not be contacted.
Never did receive any response from the city Fire Department. However, I did receive a call back from Jason Holsman's office. Apparently they adjourned in May. The bill, SB109, made it onto the calendar but did not come up for a vote. Compared to prior years, this was progress, but still not what we would hope for. They intend to reintroduce the bill next January.
I've started working on the rooftop solar proposal for the HOA ARC but I need more detail from Wentz before proceeding.
I was also thinking of getting into the Community Solar thing this month, but I've reconsidered and decided it is better to hold that money in reserve right now for Wentz. I haven't nixed the Community Solar plans, but they will be pushed back a few months now.
7/8/2017 -- Community Solar
No reply from Missouri Senator Jason Holsman yet, so I left a message at his office. I also sent a letter to Tim Ely (from the Fox 4 KC news report I mentioned previously) to see if he is open to discussing his efforts with us. Finding out the level of support within his neighborhood would be of particular interest.
We are in talks with Wentz Alternative Energy and are looking to perform the first steps this Fall, which need to be completed so we can finish a proposal for the HOA. Our goal is to get any negotiations with the HOA completed and the proposal approved over the Winter so we have no obstacles to begin installation in the following Spring.
Energy Sage has information on Community Solar, which is another avenue of supporting clean energy that is worth investigating. From there, you can find community solar projects you can invest in. One available now that looks enticing is a Community Solar project by Arcadia Power. After Cari and I conclude our rooftop solar project, or if our rooftop solar gets stalled by politics, we will start looking at making investments in projects like these.
6/30/2017 -- Solar Hurdles and Fox4 KC News Report
Sent email to Missouri Senator Jason Holsman to inquire about his efforts to institute Solar Access Right laws in Missouri. We do not yet know whether or not we will personally have any difficulty getting our HOA to approve solar panels for our roof, but this matter is of general interest, and people in other local neighborhoods have faced significant challenges in recent past.
As an example, see this Fox4 KC report from January 24, 2017: Lee's Summit homeowner fights for right to install solar panels
6/26/2017 -- Confirmed Solar Installer Selection
Confirmed that Wentz Alternative Energy will be able to perform our rooftop solar installation. Original estimates were for systems from 24 to 34 panels. We will go for more rather than less so long as it meets Architectural Review Committee (ARC) approval. Further discussions are needed, but our installation will most likely comprise of black framed Upsolar panels with APSystems microinverters.
So far we have received no request for rooftop solar discussions from the ARC. Assuming that remains true, we will send the ARC a proposal same as any other home modification project.
6/21/2017 -- Review of Sunlight on Rooftop
Reached out to city and Fire Department about rooftop solar regulations and recommendations. Still trying to get confirmation from Wentz Alternative Energy if they will be good to go for doing our installation. I'm going to be documenting this process rather heavily for the benefit of other interested parties, so expect to see a lot of details on the rooftop solar over the coming months.
Here's a quick look at our available rooftop at first light, noon, and last light of the day during summer. House faces south. South facing is best, but there are viable areas for panels on the south, west, and east sides. Note the tree shading that is starting to obscure the west roof at the end of the day. Tree shading is a big consideration. For the most part, we don't have any issue with that. The shading on the west side only reaches the roof about an hour before sundown. The chimney is also a possible obstruction, but it actually doesn't block much. I have many more images of the roof under different conditions, but the ones here are probably the most interesting.
I don't have enough pics here to show it fully, but the different faces receive lighting in the summer roughly as follows:
- South roof: Begins to get light at dawn, gets strong light from 8am to 4pm, loses light at 7pm.
- East roof: Begins to get light at dawn, gets strong light from 8am to 1pm, loses light at 4pm.
- West roof: Begins to get light around 10am, gets strong light from 1pm to 7pm, loses light at dusk.
6/18/2017 -- Reaching out to HOA on Solar
Initiated first contact with the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) today to discuss rooftop solar installation.
6/15/2017 -- Solar Installer Selected
We have decided that our first choice for rooftop solar installer will be Wentz Alternative Energy. We are currently in the process of getting back in touch with owner Hugh Wentz to begin plans and will be talking with the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) of our neighborhood soon to start the process of obtaining approval.
6/10/2017 -- Our Paris Pledge
Today we officially launched our Paris Pledge. We are excited to join thousands of states, cities, businesses, and universities and millions of Americans in supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and doing our part to meet those goals.
6/4/2017 -- Donations
Made donation to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today to take advantage of $5 to $1 matching of donations provided by concerned business leaders including Tony Fadell (former Apple iPod Division VP, founder Nest Labs), Meg Whitman (President and CEO, Hewlett Packard, former President and CEO of eBay), and Matt Rogers (founder Nest Labs).
Prior to June, 2017
We are not going to itemize activities prior to June, 2017, but we have been supporting important organizations through donations, including donations to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), and the Solutions Project 100% campaign. Our purchase of a Tesla Model S in March, 2016 was also a huge commitment, both to Tesla, a company building the solar, grid storage, electric vehicles, and electric vehicle infrastructure that we will need to meet future environmental goals, and to higher efficiency transport for ourselves and our family.