A round of blackouts just happened in California…and you can rest assured it won’t be the last. Preparing yourself and your home for the next one is important and requires you to understand exactly what your energy usage at home looks like. Having that insight will allow you you to make educated decisions as to what you need to keep yourself operational during these events.
Love it or hate it, PG&E and various other external variables have led California to the state the electric grid is in today; hence, making sure your home and properties are protected to operate without the grid is a necessary upgrade if you are in a potentially impacted region.
Now before you go ahead and assume the solution is purchasing solar, a battery storage system or even a backup home generator, we need to first understand how your home utilizes energy throughout the day and what your goals are when a future blackout occurs. In this case we are going to walk through the analysis you need to do before deciding to prep your home either for “electricity bill savings,” “energy resiliency,” or “energy efficiency”
This high level analysis period should only take you a maximum of 3 hours to complete end-to-end, and will arm you with valuable information going forward to make simple decisions as to what is and isn’t useful for your home going forward when it applies to energy generation and efficiency solutions.
Understanding how your home uses energy
Throughout the year, your energy bill fluctuates due to weather, changing lifestyle, and usage of the home. To dive into and really understand your home 365 days out of the year can be a time-consuming task that, even I wouldn’t subject myself to, which is something software analytic tools are there for. However, for your purpose we need to simply understand a high usage day at some point through the year.
To get to that stage, we need to first get access to your home’s interval data. If you are living in California, that should be easy enough to get access to.
Now, I realize that most people barely even know what they pay for electricity on a monthly basis, so here’s an easy way you can get access to interval data from your utility company – with PG&E being the example shown here.
Step 1: You must be using a digital billing system with your utility company. Most PG&E customers do pay their bill online, so this should be available to you already.
Step 3: Make sure you download your Interval Data & Past 12 Months Electricity Bills.
Step 4: Now that you have your interval data and utility bills, we need to pick one month out of the year that is worth analyzing to find the maximum amount of energy you have consumed in a day. This allows us to design and prepare for a “worst case” situation from which we can then work backwards from as opposed to expecting a lower daily usage and not being able to deliver enough power to run critical systems at your home.
Step 5: Look at the past 12 months of electricity bills and pick the month with the highest electricity bill. (Do not confuse or include gas charges with your total bill.)
Step 6: Plug in your data into this simple Google Sheet to quickly see which month is your highest usage.
Step 7: Now that we have picked a month, we need to open up the interval data you downloaded and find that 30-day time period and copy and paste the 30 day intervals into the Google Sheet to quickly find the day with the highest kWh usage. The sheet will also share with you the highest kW demand in your interval period, which will be useful later when looking for inverters for solar or evaluating backup generators.
Step 8: Now that you have the day you used the most energy, paste that day’s details into the graph section below the interval data in order to visually see how your home uses energy throughout the day.
Step 9: Optionally list in the section below what major appliances and equipment you have so that you can streamline conversations with companies that support you with energy efficiency and generation solutions as they can quickly pick out what you need to meet your short term needs.
Now, this is a very high-level analysis and doesn’t factor for the ever-changing weather conditions, lifestyle changes and equipment degradation that all impact your usage patterns and projected usage. The goal of this exercise is to help you understand your energy usage so that you can make educated buying decisions in a very saturated market full of unique and innovative energy generation & efficiency technologies.
Buying too much or too little of any of these solutions can impact your wallet and result in not achieving the exact results you wanted. Many times, companies will look to sell you a cookie cutter solution, but from experience, when it comes to energy generation & efficiency it tends not to be the exact same system over and over again.
Now on to the fun part: understanding how to use this information
Okay, so now that you have gone through organizing and inputting your data in we can begin the process of understanding exactly what you can do with this information when exploring one of the three major avenues, which may or may not be mutually exclusive.
Energy Efficiency: Focus on reducing energy consumption and load [reduce your max kW load at any given time].
Electricity Bill Savings: Focus on reducing the amount of energy consumed from the grid.
Energy Resiliency: Typically, decisions are driven off of what all you need to build out (storage and/or backup generator) to operate grid free for some duration of time.
Now when you open the “results” tab within the Google Sheet you should see a few simple results (note that the tab “Results Interval Data” is a part of the “results”).
Here are the key pieces of information you now have:
- How much energy you use in a day.
- The max amount of power you require at any given moment.
- A chart outlining how your energy usage throughout the day.
From each of these key pieces of information we can infer and understand a few things about our home when considering optimizing or building out some infrastructure to achieve one of the three goals we mentioned above.
How much energy do you use in a day (the energy usage chart)
This information is extremely useful for evaluating the number of solar panels you would need on your roof to support your full day worth of energy usage. This also can help with scoping the size of a backup battery.
The maximum amount of power you require at any given moment
This is useful for both bill savings and when building in energy resiliency to your home. When you see the peaks in power draw, those are typically driven by heavy load equipment (HVAC, EV Chargers, etc) there are plenty of high level smart devices and solutions that can help you with reducing this peak load and, in turn, save you money. When considering solar, storage, or a backup generator, the amount of power you need delivered to your home at any given moment is a critical detail when picking an inverter or a generator.
The energy usage chart and its value
Simply the chart is a visual way to evaluate how your energy usage is throughout the day. Since you know and understand your lifestyle, you can infer at what times of the day your AC is turning on by looking at peaks in energy usage in those 15 minute intervals or realize that your EV was plugged in at night to charge when electricity was cheaper. These simple lifestyle changes can result in reducing your electricity spend on a monthly basis.
Conclusions about energy usage and future outages
Before going out and looking for solar companies to bid or looking to backup generators, make sure you understand how your home uses energy. The last thing you want to do is over-purchase or under-purchase when looking to achieve your core goal. There are many ways to save on electricity costs, reduce energy consumption and ensure that your home is operational even when the grid goes down. However, those who don’t understand their home energy usage will be completely in the dark, both figuratively and literally.
Swarnav Pujari is the Founder of TouchLight, a company that helps properties break free of the grid with its Virtual Battery, and an Energy Contributor at The Rising. He also operates The Impact, an informative and witty weekly sustainability tech newsletter.