My 12 year old Nissan Versa has been getting on in years, so it was time for a new car. Since our rooftop solar system is over-performing expectations and we’ve established a pretty significant power credit, and because there’s free charging at my office, we wanted to go full electric.
The electric vehicle with the best price for a 250+ mile range available in Arkansas is the Chevy Bolt EV. Alternatives would be the Hyundai Kona Electric or Kia e-Niro, but Hyundai and Kia refuse to sell or service electric vehicles in Arkansas. While a Tesla might be nice, they’re not a great value for the price, I can’t get it serviced locally, and there have been many headlines about questionable and inconsistent build quality.
For under $25K, I was able to get a 2020 Chevy Bolt EV LT with Driver Confidence I and II packages, and the Comfort and Convenience package, essentially the fully-loaded version of the standard trim.
It’s a quiet, comfortable, speedy little car. The instant acceleration is impressive, the storage space is solid, and it’s nice to have modern conveniences like Android Auto.
The dealer sold it to me with only 20% of a charge, but there was an Electrify America charging station 30 miles down the highway on my way home.
My spouse and I have wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and utilize renewable energy for a while, but it had to make sense. Our utility provider offers a “renewable investment” where we invest $$$ into their renewable implementation and we get X% off our bill – but this never made financial sense, it would never pay for itself. So we looked into installing rooftop solar. Our setup makes financial sense while also reducing our carbon footprint. Going Solar is Arkansas is definitely do-able.
The panels are LG NeON 2 High-Efficiency 335W 60-cell photovoltaic solar panels. Total output capacity of the system is 8.04Kwh. The panels ratings include for high wind and baseball sized hail, which are important considerations in my region. They come with a 20-year parts guarantee, 25-year performance guarantee, and they are rated to produce 90% of their original output when they reach the 25 year mark.
Our system is grid-tied, meaning we supply our excess power generation into the grid, which accumulates as credit, and we pull on that accumulated credit at night, cloudy days, or seasons with higher utilization (like summer).
Most of our West-facing rooftop is unshaded year-round, so there we have 22 panels, but for a 100% electricity use offset we needed 2 more panels. We had the option between placing panels in the Southwest corner of our roof and accept that they would be shaded during peak solar hours through portions of the year, or we could put the 2 panels on our South-facing gable over our garage, where they would be shaded through some of the morning but have more peak hours year-round. We went with the latter plan, so 22 panels on the west roof and 2 on the garage.
The panels are mounted through the roof on railing that keeps them elevated from the roof, allowing them to stay cool while they absorb sunlight. The railing is also necessary to distribute the weight of the panels evenly on the roof. The panels themselves, by keeping direct sunlight from reaching the roof, should also help reduce indoor heat accumulation during warmer months.
Each panel connects to an Enphase IQ7 Microinverter underneath, and the wiring runs through the attic and to the Enphase control module near the electric meter.
Electricity goes both directly into our home and any excess goes into the grid. The Enphase control system tracks system production and grid utilization to provide realtime and long-term statistics on grid net usage/contribution. This information is directly available to the consumer through the Enphase Enlighten website and mobile app.
For those with more of a DIY/devops disposition, the solar controller has an undocumented API that some on Github have found ways to tap into directly. You can see my real-time solar production stats here.
There isn’t much to tell here.
We signed for the system in early/mid February.
February through March: The installers went through the regulatory approval process with the city and the POA.
Late March: physical installation completed in 1 day.
Mid April: the city inspected the installation.
At the end of April: the power company inspected the installation and installed the net meter.
Cost and Return on Investment
In the 3 weeks since starting, we have produced nearly 645kWh, and netted 356kWh into the grid. The goal is to net a decent excess of electricity in the Spring, so that in Summer there is credit to draw on in the event that production doesn’t cover the utilization created by air conditioning. Our installation didn’t complete in time to maximize that timetable for this calendar year, but we still seem to be on track to avoid large electricity bills this summer.
Total cost for the system, before the 26% Federal tax credit in 2020 and any sales incentives, is $33,305. The state of Arkansas allows for 20-year zero-down solar loans. During our first few years our solar payment will be only slightly higher than our previous average monthly electric bill.
With normal regular rate increases from the utility company, our prior electric bill would have exceeded our flat solar payment in approximately 7 years. That makes our return on investment occur somewhere near year 12 of owning the system. The solar loan requires that, to keep to our current monthly payment, we redirect our Federal solar tax credit into the solar loan to reduce the principle cost of the system.
Thanks to Arkansas’ generous 1:1 net metering rules, all excess power that we generate and do not use becomes a full per-watt credit on our account. With our particular power company, if we maintain a credit for 24 months, we can request a check for the wholesale rate of our excess power generation.
Our solar installation makes financial sense and has a sound return on investment, while also reducing our carbon footprint. Prohibiting factors for you going solar would be shade, minimal electricity usage, or exceedingly high electricity usage. I think higher usage actually makes it easier to go solar as a quicker return on investment, but the upfront price tag might be higher than most want.
With home appliances always becoming more efficient, and our system rated to produce 90% of its original output in 25 years, this system could last us for the rest of our lives.
Installer: Performance Guarantees and Service
For the installation of our system, we used SunPro out of North Little Rock. We chose them because:
SunPro guarantees the annual production of the systems they install, or they pay you the difference
They use top-tier panels from LG and offer them at the best prices
They guarantee the quality of their work for 20 years
SunPro’s parent company also does roofing, so they have a separate income stream from solar
SunPro has the largest footprint across the Southern United States for solar installers
Despite not living near Little Rock, their installation team was just as available and prompt as if they were local
SunPro also has a potentially lucrative referral system, where they will give both the referrer and the new customer cash just for taking a meeting, no obligation. If you’re interested, feel free to email me at erik [at] thespecter.net
To answer the most common questions I get:
So what happens if you need a new roof? The installers will take the panels down and store them for a flat rate, then put them back up when the roofing work is complete.
Why don’t you have batteries, isn’t the point to be off-grid? While many people do install solar panels to be off-grid, and solar companies will gladly sell home batteries to you, it doesn’t make sense as a financial return on investment. Batteries will double the cost of the solar installation.
Side-note: If you are interested in having some amount of off-grid power power during power outages, and have no shading potential, the SMA Sunny Boy line of string inverters offer 1 electrical outlet that can be powered directly from the panels. Some think of it as a gimmick, but I could see it being handy to charge phones or other emergency item during a power outage. As long as there is sunshine.
The US Unlocked LG G7 ThinQ has received the February security update for Android. G710ULM
I’m not optimistic that LG will get the Android 9.0 Pie update out before the end of Q1 like they promised, despite the fact that it was already released in South Korea in January. In fact, the Korean software has just received a feature update and bugfix release. LG treats the world outside South Korea as second class customers and then wonders why their mobile division operates at a loss.
The carrier-unlocked version of the LG G7 ThinQ (G710ULM) has just received a new patch from LG that promises performance improvements, bug fixes, 4K 60fps video recording, and the September security update for Android.
I ordered the LG G7 ThinQ from Google’s Project Fi as part of their $300 account credit promotion, making the total price for the phone, after trade-in and eventual account credit, less than $400.
I’ve had this phone for a little less than two days. I’m not a professional reviewer, just a techy schmuck. I’m also not a professional photographer, I am a point-and-shoot dummy whose primary subject is a 3.5ft tall blur that will ruin a good photo opportunity if I can’t take the photo fast enough. Coming from a Nexus 6P, my concerns were battery life, camera quality, and software support. Survivors of the Nexus 5X will probably be concerned about quality control from LG, and that’s fair, but realize that ~2015 was an especially bad time for LG phones and their reputation before and since, while not pristine, is comparable to other manufacturers. With that out of the way, I’ll get started.
The camera in low-light, that all the reviewers complained about, is fine. It lets in more light than my 6P, so it doesn’t catch the contrast of the shadows as well, and the resolution of night mode photos is lower because it combines pixels, but overall it’s fine. Wide angle is potato-quality in the dark. Here is a photo sampling:
Below, I’ve provided some sample shots for a comparison. I also added in samples from my work-issued iPhone 8.
The camera can be launched quickly with a double tap of the down-volume button. I find that it launches faster than my Nexus 6P’s camera, it focuses just as quickly if not faster, and its automatic point-and-shoot behavior is comparable. The Portrait mode works decently, but occasionally blurs things it shouldn’t; it’s better for ‘staged’ photos than the candid shots I usually do. I like that the record button is right there next to the shutter button, so I don’t have to wait a second or two for the camera app to transition to video mode. An update should bring, or have already brought, 4K 60fps video recording, depending on carrier approval.
I love the size and form factor. Nearly as tall as the 6P, but not as wide, so I can operate it with one hand easily. Very thin, very light. Pocket friendly! Fingerprint sensor is a bit lower than the 6P, so at first I kept tapping my finger on the camera, but I’ve gotten used to it. Notch doesn’t really bother me, except I wish I could see more notifications at once. Button placement is good, no accidental presses, and you’re confident that button presses are registered. I don’t love the headphone jack being on the bottom, but I can live with it because it has one. A lot of the promotional images out there make the phone look like it’s made of cheap, shiny plastic, so here is a photo of the blue matte finish.
Charges absurdly fast, 40->85% while I shower (15 minutes or so), and topping off in the car, with the same 2.4a charger (maybe supports QC?) I used with my 6P, makes a big difference. I never see myself leaving it on the charger overnight. Battery lasted a full day yesterday with me downloading a lot and setting it up. I rarely charge my phone to over 90% (better for long-term battery health), and I started today at ~85%. With 5 hours off the charger, listening to a podcast in the car for 20 minutes, and 1.5hr SOT, it’s down to 71%. A lot of phones seem to have a “learning” period, and if that’s the case here then I don’t think I’m going to have battery anxiety like I did with my 6P.
Screen looks crisp, very pretty. Lots of customization with a Flux-like night mode feature, game resolution and fps options, and its outdoor brightness is great. Putting it on auto mode, it keeps the brightness a little dimmer than I would like. Not being AMOLED means dark mode in apps is pointless (beyond aesthetics), and AOD (Always-On Display) feels like a waste of battery- the notification light will do for my needs. The screen’s lowest brightness isn’t quite as dark as the 6P, which makes sense because it’s LCD rather than OLED. Screen rotation is lightning fast. You can change the tone of the screen to suit your color palette preference.
LG Software and Skin
The LG skin, once you turn on the app drawer, will behave like a conventional Android home screen. I like how the app groups/folders can be given colors to differentiate them, and I like how a group has a little ‘add’ button that gives you the full app list and you can tick which app you want to add to the group. No more hunting for apps and dragging into groups… or maybe I need to remove some apps (300+ isn’t too many, right?).
You can change the grid dimensions for apps, change icon shapes, the provided widgets aren’t atrocious, and bind the keyboard to one side or the other for easier one-handed use. I have my Home screen setup where dragging up brings up the app drawer, and dragging down brings up a recent activity type screen showing my latest texts, upcoming appointments, latest emails, most recent browser tabs and apps, etc.
The LG skin makes theming easy, provides access to an online catalog of skins (some are paid), and with a lot of options to theme based on your favorite K-pop star (there’s no Brown Eyed Girls 😢). They have 360 wallpapers, AOD customizations, blah blah blah. I don’t really care about this crap. You can make the “Second Screen” a.k.a. area around the notch a solid color, like black, if you don’t like it trying to blend in with your apps.
If some apps don’t natively support the aspect ratio of the screen, there’s a button at the bottom-left to re-launch them to fit. That might be because I transferred the apps from my old phone. This same spot is also home to a button that you can long-press to make the screen’s back/home bar go away entirely (swipe up from the bottom to get it back).
LG doesn’t pre-load this thing with too much garbage, just a few items beyond the basics. It came with Facebook and Instagram, but I disabled them right away.
LG Health is a lightweight step tracker for those of us who aren’t really committed enough to fitness to buy a fitness tracker or bother with Google Fit.
LG Mobile Switch worked very well to transfer my apps and settings from my 6P.
Quick Memo (launchable from double-tap of volume up) is pretty nice writing pad but doesn’t sync anywhere.
Smart Cleaning is actually pretty cool: it clears up temp files/cache and closes background apps. It’s in the Settings menu, too.
SmartWorld is their store for themes, icon packs, wallpapers, AOD skins, and most of them are free.
Update Center is obvious.
HD Audio Recorder is obvious. High quality recordings that work with no setup required.
Music player – This is stupid. It has a “Boombox Show” that brings up early 2000s style visualizations while you play music, while also making the flashlight and vibration blink/vibrate to the tune of your music. It only works when your music is played from the app, as far as I can tell. It’s dumb.
Smart Bulletin – phone context setting screen to the left of the home screen. It’s like Google Now but phone-only and useless. Can be disabled in the settings.
NextRadio – an Internet radio app, but most importantly: it lets you use the phone’s FM Tuner. I had glossed over the fact that this phone has a built-in FM tuner (only usable when headphones are plugged in). Being a data-conscious Project Fi customer, having the option to tune into local radio instead of stream it sounds great. My only qualm is that this app is just a free app normally available on Google Play, and it’s ad-supported. As far as I can tell, there’s not much of a market for good FM tuner apps, so this will have to do.
My one major complaint: I wish I could make the bottom navbar black, or adjust to the current app’s color. Having a dark app up with that light-grey bar at the bottom is ugly. I could hide it, but I’m a notorious multitasker.
My one minor complaint: by default, the share button tries to find nearby devices to beam to, as well as bring up the usual share options. This slows down the share menu and probably unnecessarily wastes battery. It can be toggled off in the Share menu settings.
Hidden gem: the Capture+ tool. Its interface looks like Quick Memo, but it’s something available as an Action icon in the status bar. It’s a quick screenshot tool that can also make short gifs, quickly crop a screenshot, or mark on it.
The LG keyboard is actually really nice. The number row is on by default, you can swap around the positioning of some of the characters, it learns very quickly, and it’s suggestions and autocorrect, even on its aggressive setting, is not as aggressive as Gboard’s autocorrect.
The ring is loud and crisp, you can’t miss it. When playing music while sitting the phone on a table, the speaker is impressively loud. Better than a cheap portable Bluetooth speaker. The vibration is fantastic, especially compared to the Nexus 6P where vibration might as well mean silent. Haptic feedback is solid.
There’s been a lot of positive commentary made about its Quad DAC and DTS 3D Surround, but I mostly listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and audio dramas in the car. They definitely seem louder and clearer. After tweaking the digital filter, voices are crisper and easier to hear. Nifty.
“OK Google” or other keywords have always been difficult because, at least on my old phone, there was such a delay between saying the keyword and the ‘ding’ to start talking that my small human being would often start talking and botch my search query. And it would usually want me to unlock the phone, which defeats the purpose of voice search (I don’t use Smart Unlock). Now, I can pick my phone up, tap the fingerprint reader, press the button and start talking. It’s definitely more convenient, but I still find voice search to be more of a gimmick than legitimately useful.
micro SD slot
Since this phone comes with 64GB of storage, the same that my 6P had, I knew the ability to use external storage was going to be a necessity, so I popped in a 64GB UC3 micro SD card. While not every app supports it, and those that give you options to save into directories sometimes complain they can’t write to it, the biggest storage hogs can take full advantage of it: Camera, Google Play Music, Netflix, Plex, Amazon Video, Pocketcasts, LibriVox, Audible, and Google Maps. Some apps can be moved to External Storage, too.
This is just my hot take, but this phone exceeded my expectations. I ordered with a bit of apprehension, not sure if I was making the right choice, but 2 days with this phone have made me feel confident that it should last another 2+ years like the 6P did, despite its flaws. With Project Fi’s recent $300 account credit promotion, and with doing a trade-in, I now have a new flagship-tier phone for less than $400, beating that classic Nexus price point with a powerhouse of features. I just popped it into a Spigen Rugged Armor case and it feels like I’m continuing to own a phone that does what I want.
If you do order this phone, register for the LG Second Year Promise within 90 days of purchase. It’s a free warranty extension for your second year of ownership. While I decided to get Device Protection from Google (well, Assurant), there’s no harm in having an extra layer of warranty from LG. It also helps reinforce to LG that providing long-term support is a great way to earn customers.
Professional reviews of the LG G7 ThinQ often mention that the LG G7 ThinQ can produce mediocre low-light photos. Having one in hand, I decided to make a quick comparison with a Nexus 6P.
The LG G7’s standard camera produces comparable night photos to the Nexus 6P. The G7’s photos are brighter and catch more detail, however they tend to lose the contrast between the light and the shadows. They also have a lower resolution, which makes sense given that the G7’s low-light camera mode, which is on by default in low-light, combines pixels to produce a better image.
The G7’s wide-angle camera performs very poorly in low light, but considering that many other phones don’t have this camera to begin with, it’s still a beneficial option for daylight shots.
I’ve been a Project Fi customer for over 2 years. We went from a Verizon bill of $140+ per month for 2 phones with 800 minutes, 100 texts, and unlimited data to Project Fi with unlimited talk and text and $10/GB on data, with an average bill of $50-55/mo. There’s bill protection, too, so if you go above 10GB (with 2 lines), they won’t charge you any more than $135. If you’re always on Wi-Fi, it’s a no-brainer.
Project Fi uses towers from Sprint, TMobile, and US Cellular, switching when the signal from the current carrier gets low. Also, Wi-Fi calling and texting works flawlessly – I’ve even taken calls over satellite Internet.
The only caveat with Project Fi is that you pay for your phone up front (which is becoming more common, anyway), and it has to be a phone that gets its updates directly from Google: the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Moto X4 Android One edition, Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 5X. That’s because traditional carriers do not include the network-switching software piece in the handsets they sell.