Mar 04, 2007

Recently I posted about solar power and a company called Citizenrē. It turns out I had a few inaccuracies in that post. Maika Hoffmann, a member of their sales team, was kind enough to contact me and give me a clearer picture of Citizenrē and what they do. Rather than try and re-hash everything, I'll just copy and paste the relevant portion of the email: STATEMENT: "For a pretty small security deposit ($100/kW, with a 5 kW minimum)" REALITY: The smallest system size is 2 KWp. Also, regarding the deposit: "The Security Deposit is $500 for all REnU systems with a nameplate capacity of 5 KWp DC or less, and for REnU systems with a nameplate capacity larger than 5 KWp DC it is $500 plus 10 cents per Wp DC for every Wp DC greater than 5 KWp DC." (FRA Terms & Conditions, Section 7.2. Security Deposit) STATEMENT: "cover the costs of equipment and installation by paying per kilowatt as you normally do." REALITY: With the current offering, the panels will be rented for the length of the contract. As far as the customer is concerned, it will seem as if they were "paying per KWh as they normally do". However, it is important to keep in mind that this is really a rental rate. Citizenre is a solar service provider, not a utility. The price per KWh is determined as follows: Citizenre utilizes the average rates published by the utilities to the utility commissions. This means they look at the gross sales published by the utility and divide them by the number of KWh distributed. Unfortunately that means the KWh price includes those base fees and taxes. That being said, as a self generator, the customer will avoid those charges in the future. Citizenre considers this aforementioned average cost as the true cost of the electricity though, and so the rental rate is based upon it. STATEMENT: "let you lock in a per-kilowatt rate that will never go up" REALITY: The longest contract duration is 25 years. STATEMENT: "will be lower than what you’re currently paying your electric company" REALITY: A lot of utilities charge tiered prices, with a low baseline rate and incremental price increases for higher consumption. As Citizenre uses an average price, people with low energy consumption can actually find themselves paying more with Citizenre, because Citizenre's rate is higher than the baseline rate. On the other hand, Citizenre's offering works great for customers who do get charged in the higher tiers. As a matter of fact, if a particular customer is really only concerned with saving money, a partial system that brings their net consumption with the utility down to baseline prices would be the cheapest. Personally, I believe spending a bit more to lower emissions as much as possible are always worth it though. STATEMENT: "Presumably, if you’re generating more than you’re using and some of it is going back into the grid you’ll be getting money back on that as well." REALITY: The system size is determined based upon the customer's historical usage and/or an energy audit. Many net metering laws only require the utility to credit the customer for self generation, but not actually buy back the power. In addition, the customer pays Citizenre based upon the energy production of the system. Hence, if anything, it will always be under rather than overengineered. Finally, Citizenre's offering is really best explained at The solar calculator in the bottom left corner lets customers check whether their utility is within Citizenre's service territory, and what the rental rate would be. Clicking on the FAQ icon in the bottom right of the site leads to a page with a thorough overview of the entire life cycle of the service. I checked out that solar savings calculator, and put in my own info. According to it, my current electric rate is 16.7¢ (per kW, I assume), if I were to get a Citizenrē solar panel system, they would lock that rate in for the length of my contract. They estimate that doing so would save me $257.35 over 5 years, or $8,931.06 over 25 years. If I were to invest that money and receive the 'investment grade bond yield average of 9.44%' I'd have nearly $20,000 at the end of that 25 years. I would also, 'eliminate 116 tons of CO2, 378 lbs of NOx, 998 lbs of SO2, 24 lbs of PM, 9 lbs of VOC, and 46 lbs of CO. That is equivalent to taking approximately, 20 automobiles off of the road, or planting 341 trees'. If the numbers hold, it definitely seems like a good deal. I did a little math of my own. Assuming that my electric rate remains at the current 16.7¢ for the next 25 years, and that my electric use also stays at the same level, I'll be spending about $30,000 during that time period. In reality, I'll obviously be spending more than that. Buying a solar panel system that would meet those needs would (based on my estimates helped by this website) would cost about $40,000. If that's actually the case (though I'm sure my numbers are horribly inaccurate), Citizenrē actually seems like a pretty good deal. Of course an even cheaper and more efficient way of doing it would be to get a bunch of investors together and just build one huge solar array somewhere that's hooked into the grid and just sells the power back to the utilities.
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