Lowering Brad’s Power Bill

27 kw of solar panels, 3Tesla Powerwalls and a power bill still over $300. What went wrong?

We are at a weird time of year when we are using very little heating or a/c, if any. Bills are usually low. Brad’s have never been low. First of all, the power company changed the rules. They added a bump in the basic fee for grid-tie. Second, they lowered the pay rate. He has a basic rate of $80, plus numerous taxes, and they only paid him around $13 for his excess power. This is happening all over the country, folks. Still, the bill was “only” $378 that time. It has been as much as a thousand. The pricey Powerwall batteries are not very big, but they really help.

Part of the problem is the “facility”. When I moved here, the house was a simple A-frame affair, owned by a retired Naval officer named Les. Chuck then bought the place and turned it into a facility for his corporate entertaining. Many was the time I heard live bands and fireworks, but did Chuck invite me over? I never actually met the guy. Then came Brad. He wanted a place he could raise animals and the place had plenty of room. Sure, there was more than he and his roommate need, but it is a great place, with rolling acres and fishponds. The power bill was absolutely sensational, averaging around $800 per month. What the heck?

I said that Chuck had enlarged the place and outfitted it for entertaining. In addition to the main house, which is probably 3 bedrooms, there is the pool, the smokehouse, the boat house and the garage. The 5 car garage also sports 3 bedrooms, a banquet hall, a gym, an office and, and, and. There are multiple bars and kitchens, sporting at least 6 refrigerators and 2 freezers. Yeah, you could host a heckuva party. To tame the temperature, there are 5 central air systems plus a window a/c in the office.

Start adding that up and you could see why there might be a big power bill. Here’s the thing, the last time I visited, Brad’s phone app indicated a continuous load of around 4kw. The kitchen uses gas, so food prep was not an issue. Water heater is gas. Nobody was doing dishes or laundry. None of the heat pumps were running. A PC and the window unit were running in the office. The pool pump was running. 4kw? My place runs about a tenth of that.

A neat solar installation at Brad’s

First thing I noted was that the timer on the pool pump was broken and the motor was running continuousely. 1kw. That leaves 3kw. I suggested to Brad that he buy a Kill-a-Watt meter to check those fridges. Alternatively, he could watch his app and start flipping breakers to see where the power was going.

I would just about bet that one or more of the refrigerators or freezers has a bad defrost circuit. Many years ago, when rates were cheaper, I had 2 different fridges with bad defrost and either could add $70 to the power bill. They’ll either freeze up and run all the time, which isn’t too bad, or the defrost heater and the compressor both run all the time. That”ll really get you. Also likely, the thermostats could be set wrong.

My recommendations:

Fix the pool pump. Set it to run only during the day to use up that grid tie power. Daytime is the only time the sun is trying to turn the pool green, anyway.

Check all of the refrigerators and freezers for proper operation and temperature. I recently bought a 3 pack of fridge thermometers to keep track of my fridges for about 10 bucks. (I don’t know any country folk with one fridge.)

Get a programmable thermostat for each of the heat pumps. Disable the “Emergency Heat” coils. During cooling season, run the temperature way cool during the day and back off at night. During heating season, run it very warm during the day and back off at night. Thermal mass of the house can store some of that temperature. The battery will last longer during the night before switching to grid power.

Call the solar guy and have him turn OFF the SELL or GRID-TIE Function and then call the power company to tell them you don’t want to pay them to take your electricity anymore.

Brad will save on heating, cooling, pool pumping and the $80 grid tie fee. I’ll let you know when he gets everything done. If he still is using too much power, he can add more battery.

–Neal