Thoughts on Inflation

Like others, I have been reading and experiencing about inflation. It seems like everything but GPU graphics cards are going up. Everything from prices at the pump, grocery shopping, and eating out are all going up. In short, these are the commodities that are needed to sustain life.

Normal people do not stock up on extra food and gasoline, not in huge supplies any ways. Most of us typically buy and use them as we need them. Therefore, price increases in these categories of goods are most likely caused by supply constraints and not by excess demand.

When central banks around the world sees high inflation rates, their immediate monetary policy change is to increase interest rates. This increases the cost of borrowing and impacts on cash flow. For example, you tend to use your credit card less and therefore you end up buying less. There will also be less investments and ventures. People will tend to save more.

If the current inflation is a result of supply constraints of key commodities necessary to sustain our current way of life, then a forced demand reduction means a pare back to our quality of life. The increased interest rate will have a dampening effect on items other than food and energy, at least not immediately.

It will eventually reduce demand on the essentials when people are indirectly impacted through layoffs due to lower business activities in other areas. This means people will have to buy less food and consume less energy. A lower quality of life.

Okay. Why raise interest rates then if it is going to do more damage than good? Unfortunately interest rate is the only main lever that central banks have. Interest rates will have to increase to the point where demand of the essentials are align back to their corresponding supply levels. This means to fight this type of inflation, we will necessarily see a recession in the economy and our livelihood.

The alternative is to allow for inflation rate to go uncheck and await for supply to naturally fix itself. I do not think this will work as high inflation effectively act as a brake to economic growth for everyone. The central banks now face a difficult decision. Let inflation create hardship for all or raise interest rates to cause pain for some (less than all), and reduce demand on the essentials. I fear they will have no choice but to choose the latter. As a result of this choice there will be a further widening of our social class gap. The rich will be more prepared to weather through the increase in borrowing costs. They may even seek opportunities to increase their social status. The poor will have to deal with making ends meet with less necessities.

In short, things will get much worst before they get better. When inflation is tamed, and I think this will be some time considering the current Ukrainian war, sanctions, and logistical issues, the poor will be less well off than the rich in the next cycle.

Let me know your thoughts on my thoughts.

Frequency Shift Power Control

If you follow my posts in the Solar category, I mentioned Frequency Shift Power Control. What is this? I will try to answer it in this post and explain why this is important in the context of full house backup and grid connectivity is lost during a power outage.

There are two types of inverters in my house. The Schneider inverters are the hybrid inverters that charge and discharge the battery and manage the battery power in conjunction with grid power. During normal operations when the grid is connected, the Schneider inverter can consume or send electricity to the grid.

The other type of inverter is the SolarEdge inverter, which is a solar inverter. Its job is to convert DC power from the solar panels into AC power which your house needs.

Having both hybrid and solar inverters connected on a common AC bus is known as AC coupling.

First, let me explain how it works when the grid is happy and we have connection. The solar power from the solar inverters will do the following in priority:

  • Power the house; and send excess to
  • Charge the batteries; and send excess to
  • Send back to the grid

If there is not enough power from solar, then power is supplemented by the batteries or the grid depending how you configure the Schneider inverters. I will not get into how Schneider inverters are configured here.

Now when the grid is out (power outage) and the batteries are fully charged, the solar power has no where to go. To regulate solar power production, the hybrid inverters will communicate to the solar inverters via Frequency Shift Power Control. The hybrid inverters will intentionally shift the output power frequency from its normal 60Hz to something like 61Hz. This is done slowly. The solar inverters detects this anomaly and either throttles its power output or stop producing power completely. Once power regulation is completed, the hybrid inverters will shift back to 60Hz.

The solar inverters will come back online after an arbitrary down time. For SolarEdge, I have observed this to be around 5 to 10 minutes. The idea of having this down time is so that batteries can be discharged while powering the house and create more head room for new solar energy. Unfortunately the SolarEdge down time is not long enough, at least not for my house and my battery storage system. Once solar power is restored, you can end up in a cycle if the batteries are still topped up. The hybrid inverters will again shift its frequency to force the solar inverters to reduce or stop producing power. The cycle repeats until the grid comes back on.

Instead of a repeating the cycle every 5 to 10 minutes, it is better to manually turn off the solar inverters and wait for the batteries to draw down until you have enough head room for the batteries to absorb the solar energy again. For example, you may want to draw down the batteries from 100% to 80%, and then turn back on the solar inverters. In this scenario, excessive solar power can then be used to charge the batteries.

Another matter to pay attention to is UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) units. Certain models are very finicky to frequency shift and will actually shutdown instead of continuing to supply power. This is very frustrating as it cuts power to the very items that you are trying to protect from outages.

I had UPS units spread through out the house prior to our solar installation. Now I am simply going to replace these with surge protection power bars.

First Hand Supply Chain Impact

Our last power outage on May 21st, caused one of my two SolarEdge inverters to stop generating power. This effectively caused 50% of solar panels to be ineffective. Considering that the system was recently commissioned fully on May 4th, it was a bit frustrating to go through this. At least the other SolarEdge inverter is still generating power from the remaining 50% of my panels.

Upon a remote assessment of the inverter by SolarEdge, they determined on the 25th that the inverter requires replacement. As of this writing, I have not been given a formal response by SolarEdge that explains why the inverter cease generating power. I assume it is a quality issue on their end, and something from the grid outage during the storm fried something in the inverter. For an inverter that was less than 2 months old, this was slightly concerning.

It took SolarEdge from May 25th to June 10th to ship a replacement. Today is June 15th, and the UPS tracking number still shows “Label Created”.

Apparently recent supply chain issues has caused much shortages resulting in the delay.

Kudos to New Dawn who was able to source another inverter and they promptly installed the inverter today. All is good now.

In summary, we had 50% of our solar panels not producing power for 24 days (from May 21st to June 15). SolarEdge to this day still has not met its warranty commitments because its replacement unit is still in “transit”. If it was not for New Dawn being creative, I would still be out 50% of my solar capacity.

If you are using SolarEdge for off grid applications, perhaps it is wise to store an additional unit if you think solar generation is critical to your livelihood.

Safari Cannot Load Certain Pages (iOS 15.5 & macOS 12.4)

I upgraded my iPhone and iPad to iOS 15.5 and my Mac’s to 12.4. I noticed in the past couple of days that certain web pages would not open. I have discovered that the following domains were effectively blocked:

  • assets.adobedtm.com
  • fonts.gstatic.com
  • platform.twitter.com

This causes web sites containing references to the above domains to load very slowly or not at all.

I first took the attitude that this was a great feature and Apple is helping me to remove more SPAM or prevent further identity tracking. However, this morning when I try to access canada.ca, which is our government site also has the same symptom. Clearly Apple’s technique of applying privacy tracking has crossed the Rubicon sort of speak and is now generating enough false positives that is hindering day to day use.

I do have the option of using Chrome on my Mac’s but this is a huge CPU guzzler. I prefer to stay with Safari.

I came across the following thread on the MacRumors forum. The discussion pointed to the Limit IP Address Tracking feature to be the culprit. After turning off the feature on my iOS and macOS devices, I am now able to load the problematic web sites without any issues.

This may be a temporary problem with Apple with their cloud relays, so perhaps it will be automagically fixed in the future.

Below are screen shots from my iPhone and my MacBook that shows where you can turn off this feature.

From my iPhone
From my MacBook

If you are experiencing similar difficulties, I hope you will find the above useful and you can continue to visit certain web sites without issues.

Update: It looks like you also have to check to make sure the Safari Privacy Settings as well:

Make sure this is turned off as well.

Reminiscing PC Tech

We are in the process of shredding our paper records from twenty years ago, stuff like tax returns, invoices, insurance papers that are no longer relevant or needed.

During this paper demolition process, I came across this invoice from 24 years ago!

A Windows 95 PC costing over $4,500 in 1998 money. Wow. I did not realize I had such an appetite to spend that much money back then.

Notice that we were still using dial in modems back then. No high-speed internet yet. Most motherboards did not come with sound and video either. I also have to laugh at the hard drive specification. At 8.4 GB, that would be smaller than most USB flash drive you can now get at Staples.

Fascinating walking down memory lane!

First Outage Since Solar

Yesterday we had our first major hydro outage. A short but severe storm blew through our neighbourhood with recorded gust of up to 125 km/h winds. This just makes category 1 hurricane speed. This occurred in the early afternoon before 3pm and then the power immediately cut out after that. A photo taken from one of our neighbours clearly showed down power lines.

Downed hydro poles near our house (compliments from our neighbour)

We had a few flickers and then our backup solar and batteries kicked in. I took the entire system off grid to avoid any on grid glitches and also as an extra safety measure for the working crews on the power lines. At first the solar was generating enough power to both cover the house load and charge the batteries. Once the batteries were fully charged, I took the panels offline until night time, because the extra power will have no place to go.

When night came on our block, we were the only house that kind of shined. Although others were suffering from a lack of power and wholly I empathized, It was a good silver lining to see our house with electricity.

House lights clearly evident during power outage in the evening

We are now in the morning after. The grid electricity was restored about 30 minutes after midnight. The outages lasted near 10 hours, quite a long one.

We were extremely fortunate to have our solar project completed on May 4th, and in less than 3 weeks we experienced this outage.

I am now going to flip the switch and go back onto the grid, so we can recharge our batteries in case anything else happens to the grid during the restoration process.

Canada Greener Home Grant

In a series of posts, I have documented my experiences and adventures on installing solar panels and backup batteries. One of the incentives that prompted us to start the project is the new Canada Greener Home Grant, which offers a maximum of $5,000 grant towards certain home projects that are classified as “green”. I also mentioned EnerTest as a great company that chaperoned us the entire process of the Canada Greener Homes Grant.

EnerTest was extremely prompt in organizing and conducting the energy audits, which are required for the grant eligibility. I wanted to thank Nick Crosby from EnerTest who played a very supportive role in guiding our family through this, and sometimes very confusing process.

Knock on wood, but I think today we crossed the last hurdle.

Confirmation from Canada Greener Homes Grant Web Site

If you are embarking on the same grant, take note that you must perform the first energy audit prior to you getting the work done. This is very important.

You will have to perform a second audit once all the work is completed. Make sure you keep all of your receipts and working documents relating to the work.

I would highly recommend Nick Crosby for the job if you are starting a similar journey that I did. Click on his name to email him.

It certainly feels good that the grant is coming our way in 30 days!

Reading Our Net Smart Meter, Carbon Neutrality?

We now have been running our net smart meter for more than a day now. I mentioned that we got our new net meter on this previous post.

Of course I am now curious how to read the meter so that I can decipher how much electricity we sent back to the grid. Here is a short video of what the meter is showing:

Meter Display Sequence

Initially the displayed information is quite cryptic, but looking at the meter’s label, I found this group of small prints.

These labels essentially tells us what is going on. The LED display cycles through 5 modes in total. The initial display is a segment test, which means all segments of the LED are displayed. This is a simple test to ensure that the LED display itself is functioning correctly. Next, it shows LST003, indicating that the next number it shows will be the amount of kWh of electricity that we ended up consuming or using. This is followed by LST004, another label indicating that the following number is the amount of kWh of electricity that is sent back to the grid.

Now with this new found knowledge, the above video shows that we used 13 kWh and exported 103 kWh since the meter was installed in the afternoon of May 4th.

In about 1.5 days, and bright sunny day yesterday, we generated and provided to our community electricity grid with a net of 90 kWh of energy.

Excerpt from the CBC article from Oct. 8th, 2021

There are 4 people in our house right now, and according to a recent CBC article our average carbon footprint is about 14.2 tonnes of CO2 per person. Doing a little more research, I found this white paper titled, “A Clearer View on Ontarios Emissions June 2019“. On page 8 of this paper, we see an annual average emissions factor (AEF) of 31 grams of CO2 per kWh. One tonne is 1,000,000 (a million) grams. This means to offset one individual, we need to offset 14,200,000 grams of CO2, and using the AEF this is equivalent to approximately 458,065 kWh!

To put this big number in perspective, I think our last month’s electricity bill only shows us using around 1,200 kWh of electricity.

It is clear that we will not be able to offset one of us, never mind all four of us by just using solar ourselves (at least not in Ontario). The idea of carbon neutrality is still a long ways off, and the above numbers show that we cannot do it alone. It will require every industry to do its part.

Update 2022-05-26 2:45pm: Took another reading outside. Used 313 kWh, Exported 1018 kWh, a net of 705 kWh. This with about 23 days of operation since May 04th.

Net Meter Installed

Today is a good day. Alectra finally installed the net meter. From my previous post, I noted that without a net meter, any excess energy being sent back to the grid will be interpreted as usage. With the addition of the net meter, we can finally export our excess electricity from our solar panels without being charged for the generation. Instead, we can start earning and storing credits for the excess energy that we will supply to the grid.

Prior to the presence of the net meter, we gained plenty of experiences on going off grid. Effectively even on a cloudy day, we were able to generate enough energy for the house and charge our batteries to get us through the night. Below is a depiction of our energy utilization from Alectra.

Started to go off grid on April 23rd

The process of getting this net meter installed was not an easy feat! It took 22 days from the time of ESA inspection (April 12th) to Alectra installing the net meter. In summary, we played with the solar system to see what it can do for 11 days (April 12th to 22nd), while paying for the excess generation, and went off grid for the remaining 12 days (April 23rd to May 4th).

The small usages from the 23rd to the 30th that you see above were primarily charging our Toyota Prius Prime from the garage. That circuit is still grid tied and is independent of our Solar system. I cannot get an updated chart that contains data all the way up to today. Perhaps Alectra is doing something in the background in preparation for them to switch to net metering. In summary, we were pretty much off grid from April the 23rd to around 2pm today (May 4th). There was one exception, when we charged our backup batteries during off-peak hours from the grid on the evening of the 26th. We didn’t have to, but I was bit anxious with the battery at 50% whether it will last through the night and to the next evening, so this was more of an insurance. As we get more experience, we now have the confidence that even during cloudy / rainy days in the month of April, we should have no problem charging the batteries from solar that will last to the next night time operation.

Our old unidirectional meter
Our new bidirectional net meter

Once again, I have to thank New Dawn Energy Solutions for their correspondence and baby sitting the net meter installation process, as well as closing out the building permit from Richmond Hill. I am certain there was plenty of red tape that must be cut by them to get to where I am today, so kudos to them!

Today was also the day when we completed our second audit with Enertest. Once again Nick Crosby, A Certified Energy Advisor did a professional job. This audit is mandatory for the participation of the Canada Greener Homes Grant program.

If you are thinking of installing solar, New Dawn and Enertest are partners and experts in your endeavours.

Solar Power and Off Grid Operations

In my previous post, all major installations were completed. Since that time, the ESA inspection was completed and we validated our batteries so that we have confidence that they will last for more than a day in the worst case scenario (no sun). However at the time of this writing, we are still waiting for Alectra Utilities to switch out our old meter to a new one that is net-meter capable. Until this meter replacement occurs, every watt-hour (Wh) of energy we produce and send back to the grid, Alectra will charge us for it as if we are using that energy instead of producing it. Here is a summary of the timeline from panel installation:

  • Solar panels installation completed on April 8th;
  • ESA Inspection on April 12th;
  • New LiFePO4 batteries installed on April 18th;
  • From April 18th onwards, we tested the system through a series of scenarios;
Our Utilization Chart from Alectra Utilities (click to enlarge)

So prior to the ESA inspection on April 12th, we continue our on-peak time shifting. You can see that there has been very little on-peak usage (red indicator) before April 12th. Once the ESA inspection is completed, we turned on our solar panels for the first time.

The erratic “usage” indicated in the above chart after April 12th, is a direct result of excess solar energy being exported back to the grid. Since our net meter has yet to be installed, Alectra sees it as usage, and unfortunately I will have to pay for that generation, very ironic if you ask me.

Nevertheless, we gathered much data in the last couple of weeks. We tested the system for both on grid and off grid operations. We tested with washer and dryer loads. Today on a bright sunny day, I even tried our air conditioner when we are off grid. The air conditioner started without any issues and worked with just solar energy, impressive. I will try again at night when we only use the batteries.

Let us take a look at our energy generation data that we collected so far. The information here is a surprise to us in a good way. The best way to show this is to provide the data for our best day performance to date.

Our best performance day (April, 20th), 103.63 kWh generated

On April 20th we had a beautiful sunny day. We generated 103.63 kWh of electricity, since the house could not use it all, we fed most of it back to the grid. This is an excellent run and really show what the panels are capable of. For comparison, our average daily use is between 30 to 40 kWh. This means our solar generation ability on a sunny day can easily cover 2.5 to 3 days. For those Tesla drivers out there, we can generate enough power to fill your “tank”.

A rainy and cloudy morning and the sun came out at around 3pm.
Total generation: 32.53 kWh (not whole day)

Yesterday was a rainy and cloudy morning, and the power generation on average kept up with house load usage. We woke up with the batteries at about 50% charged and the system managed to gain around 10% of battery charge at 3pm. After 3pm, the sun started to come out and the batteries charged rapidly. It easily reached 87% state of charge, and I had to shut the solar generation down at around 5pm, otherwise the energy would have no place to go, which leads to another major dilemma for off grid operation.

During on grid operation, the grid can regulate and absorb the excess energy generated by our solar panels. This is a huge convenience, which until we have the net meter, we really cannot take advantage of.

During off grid operation, we must use all the energy generated. Our supply must match demand and vice versa. This is where the batteries come in. They help to buffer or store the excess, and supplement any shortages. However, when the batteries are full and our usage cannot keep up with the generation, then the best option is to shutdown the solar, and shift our energy consumption to the batteries. Using the batteries will create more “empty” capacity, which we can later use to store more sun energy. I assumed, incorrectly, that this power regulation will be handled by the Schneider inverters. This is not the case, at least not fully. I am not going to go into details of Frequency Shift Power Control and other inverter deficiencies here, but suffice it to say that they are really not that smart. We will have to investigate on a more flexible power regulation mechanism for off grid operations in the future.

In the meantime, I have developed something myself that will monitor battery usage and solar power generation, so that I can determine when to turn on the solar and when to turn it off. Note that this is only for off grid operations. Once we have the net-meter, we can go back to on grid operations, and the convenience of the grid can act as the main regulator of power.

However, this is excellent experience as it teaches us some of the off grid challenges. There is no substitute for living through the experiences.

We hope the net-meter will arrive soon. Until then, we will challenge ourselves to see how many days we can stay off grid! You can already see our progress on the 23rd and the 24th of this month from the above Alectra utilization chart.

Cheers! Until the next update.