As the holiday season fast approaches, one thing is certain: winter has come. Snow piles are accumulating, the roads are getting saltier, the days shorter, our need for vacation evermore pressing. For those who welcome the cold, we are breaking out our skis, sleds, and snow pants. For those who don’t, we are fleeing, battening down the hatches, and dusting off our old quilts and comforters.
But the changing seasons affect much more than our moods, wardrobes, and vacation plans: they also affect solar production. On the surface, the effect of the seasons on solar is easy to grasp: winter’s shorter days means less sunlight which means less energy production from our solar panels in comparison to the longer, sunnier days of summer. However, when you dive a little deeper into the nuances of seasonality, a lot of questions can come up. How does seasonality affect my community solar credits? What is the effect of more or less solar production on my community solar bill? How will my utility bill change with the seasons? Does seasonality affect my savings?
Winter Vs. Summer
Let’s start with the winter. Here are the main factors that impact solar production during the darker, colder months.
- Shorter days. This one is simple: on a given winter day there is less overall sunlight resulting in less energy production.
- Different angle of the sun. The sun sits lower in the sky in the winter. This means that there will be less direct sunlight hitting the solar panels, slowing energy production.
- Weather conditions. Cloudy winter days may block the sun and snow can cover the panels, temporarily slowing production as well.
Alternatively, the sunnier, longer days of the summer are perfect for solar production. We see many of our community solar farms hit their full production potential during these warmer months.
How does seasonality affect my community solar subscription?
Okay, so solar production varies from season to season—good to know. But what does this all have to do with your community solar subscription? Recall that your subscription is sized to offset as much of your electricity use as possible of the course of a year. But the number of solar credits you generate each month is directly tied to solar production. So, during winter months, when the overall energy generated at your farm is lower, your subscription doesn’t produce as many credits. Alternatively, in the summer months, when production at your farm is higher, your subscription will produce more credits than usual. In fact, during the summer, it is often the case that your subscription produces more credits than are needed to offset your electricity bill. In these cases, your utility will “bank” these excess credits and apply them to other months to make your credits more consistent throughout the year. Check out the graph below which shows the seasonal fluctuation in credits received and what happens to those excess credits.
How does seasonality affect my utility and BlueWave bills?
Your monthly BlueWave bill charges you for the number of solar credits you generate in a given month. (Need a quick fresher on how community solar billing works?) In the winter, your BlueWave bill will be smaller since your community solar farm produces less solar energy. In the summer, your BlueWave bill will be higher due to higher production. It is possible that your summer BlueWave bill might even be higher than your utility bill. Not to fear, you will still get your fixed discount on those credits and the excess credits will be applied to your utility bills in the winter months when your subscription produces fewer credits. You can think of your summer bills as prepaying part of your winter bills. And no matter what, this whole system was designed to allow you to save money on electricity over the course of the year.
It is likely that in the winter, your subscription will not produce enough community solar credits to entirely offset your utility bill. While your utility will apply any leftover credits from the summer to offset your bills, there may still be months where you owe both BlueWave and your utility money. In this case, your utility bill will still be reduced, just not to $0. Still, you will be saving money on electricity since your solar credits are always discounted at a fixed rate. Here’s an example of how it could break down.
Say you have a fixed discount rate of 10%. In January, you generate $100 of solar credits but your electricity bill is $120. In this scenario, you will owe your utility $20 ($120 - $100) and you will owe BlueWave $90 ($100 x 10% discount). Although you are paying both your utility and BlueWave, you are still saving $10 on electricity for January.
There are other reasons your utility bill might vary from season to season as well. For example, your own energy consumption habits might vary depending on the season. You may use your lights and heating more in the winter, whereas you may use your air conditioning more in the summer. These variations depend on your specific household and BlueWave takes these variations into account when we size your subscription. We look at your average annual electricity use and make sure your subscription will generate enough credits to achieve savings every year.
How does seasonality affect my savings?
It is important to note that seasonality does NOT affect your overall annual savings. Your subscription is sized to account for seasonal variation ensuring that the amount of credits your subscription generates over the course of the year is enough to offset your annual electricity.
That being said, over the course of the year, the dollar value of your savings may change from month to month. Since you generate more credits in the summer, you will have a higher dollar value of savings than in the winter. The bottom line is, no matter the month, you will still receive your fixed discount on your credits and throughout the year you can expect to save between 5 and 10% on your electricity costs.
So, if you receive a higher than normal bill from BlueWave in the summer, it’s not necessarily a billing mistake. We’re charging you (at a discount!) for the increased solar production at your community solar farm. Solar production, and by extension your solar subscription, is dynamic.
For some customers, it helps to just be on autopay to avoid confusion over monthly production and billing variations. But as always, we’re here to answer any questions that may arise about your subscription. Give us a shout if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curious to learn more about community solar?