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These Tools Are Needed for Do-It-Yourself Solar
Nov13

These Tools Are Needed for Do-It-Yourself Solar

You have decided to install your own solar power system. The job will go much smoother if you have all the right tools on hand. First, you will need some things on the roof and having them all up there before you start will make you much happier. Power tools for the roof work will include a drill/driver for drilling the pilot holes, driving in lags screws and tightening racking bolts. Make you use a driver with a torque setting and not an impact driver when tightening down the module clamps. If the clamps are too tight, the module glass can crack. Also make sure you have the right size drill bit and sockets in your tool belt. Be aware that not all the racking pieces will use the same size socket and some may need deep well sockets. Check everything while you are at ground level to avoid extra trips up and down that ladder. The first one is easy, but by ladder climb number ten, you will be cursing your lack of planning. You will also want a power saw for cutting the rails. A portable band saw is great for this, but you can make do with almost any saw. Most installers cut the rails after the modules are installed so choose a saw that will give you enough control to cut the rails without harming the roof. Don’t forget a fully charged battery or an extension cord for your power tools. A less common tool that is extremely helpful is a flat pry bar for breaking the shingle seal so you can slide the flashing under it.  You will also want a caulk gun for roof sealant and a basic set of hand tools up there with you; screwdriver for tightening grounding lugs, something sharp to open the tubes of roof sealant (unless you have the fancy caulk gun with the slicer), screwdriver for tightening grounding lugs, pliers to help manipulate the solid bare copper grounding wire and a hammer which works better than a standard stud finder when it comes to finding the roof rafters. Some rags for wiping up extra glops of roof sealant will also come in handy. You and your neighbors will both appreciate it if your solar panels are installed square and level which means you want a measuring tape, chalk line, string line, level and squaring tool on the roof to make that happen. Now let’s talk about the electrical work. The same drill/driver, measuring tape and level that you used on the roof will get you through mounting all the enclosures on the wall. EMT is the most...

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Win some, lose some — Fossil fuel industry spent big in 2018 midterms to beat clean energy in states where it mattered most
Nov07

Win some, lose some — Fossil fuel industry spent big in 2018 midterms to beat clean energy in states where it mattered most

Midterm elections can be a mixed bag. There are a lot of competing interests, with seats up for grabs and power shuffling from the left to the right or vise versa. 2018 was no different, but when it came to ballot measures supporting initiatives for clean energy, there were clear instances where utilities and big oil companies outspent their rivals and won. The news doesn’t bode well for the future well-being and health of our fragile little planet, however not all hope is lost. State specific incentives in areas such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which can help residents payback a 5 kW solar system in just 4 years, and incentives in New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C., California, Oregon, Connecticut, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which can help residents payback a solar system in less than 10 years, continue to remain in effect pushing the mass adoption of clean energy. LOSERS WASHINGTON Washington’s second attempt at a carbon tax has failed. Initiative 1631, which would have helped fund investments in clean environmental projects with a rising fee on carbon initiatives was slapped down by a 56% “no” vote, mostly from rural and suburban parts of the state. Perhaps it’s not so much that the majority of Washington residents don’t love their nature as it is they were swayed by the $31.5 million “No on 1631” campaign funding that came from oil companies outside the state.   ARIZONA Prop 127, which would have required Arizona utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2050 was shut down by a resounding 70% vote “No!” Some proponents of the mandate have pointed to the biased ballot language written by the utility-friendly secretary of state for being one of the reasons the measure was so soundly defeated, while others believe it was the fact that the Arizona Public Service Co. spent nearly $22 million on ads (making it the most expensive ballot initiative in the state’s history) scaring consumers into believing the change would raise utility costs. One way to have avoided the scare tactics of such companies and broken free of their chokehold would have been to convert your home to solar, which is a trend many state residents are beginning to adopt. Who knows, perhaps in a few years more time, rising utility costs won’t be as much as concern to the majority of the population as more people switch to making their home’s energy needs more self reliant?   COLORADO Frack. You too Colorado!? Prop 112, which would have required oil and gas wells to remain 2,500 feet from any occupied building, such as schools,...

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Solar Battery Showdown: Tesla Powerwall vs Blue Ion
Nov01

Solar Battery Showdown: Tesla Powerwall vs Blue Ion

If you’ve been looking to buy a battery to store renewable energy you might have noticed something strange — the shelves are nearly empty. The energy storage market, which up until recently had more than a half-dozen varieties to choose from, has gone through a bottleneck and drastically reduced in size, leaving only two competitors with any product left to sell. The reasons for the shortage are no mystery. With the portent of next year’s tariffs looming on the horizon and a narrowing window on government incentives, 2018 saw a rush to purchase energy storage units, such as the sonnenBatterie eco and LG Chem RESU, which were selling at record low prices. Now that the dust has begun to settle, the only two companies left standing are the Tesla Powerwall and the Blue Ion 2.0. The first might not come as a shock. The Tesla Powerwall is one product in a suite of Elon Musk’s renewable innovations, which enjoyed the advantage of first mover in the marketplace back in 2015. Tesla is also a larger company, and has the industrial infrastructure to create enough supply to satisfy market demand. The Blue Ion 2.0 was a bit later to the energy storage game. Reasons for its available stock most likely have to do with the fact that its founder, Henk Rogers, also happens to be the innovator of the pop-video game franchise Tetris, affording the company with enough startup capital to create more products than its competitors. Another possible reason for its availability is its price-point. Costing nearly twice the amount of a Powerwall, the Blue Ion 2.0 might seem more pricey at first glance. However, a side by side comparison of the two products reveals some noteworthy differences that might help justify the higher price tag for consumers shopping for the best deal.   BATTERY COMPOUNDS POWERWALL Powerwall runs on lithium manganese cobalt batteries, the same sort of stuff that’s used for power tools and powertrains on vehicles. Because the battery is made partially of manganese, the raw material cost is lower than other options as cobalt can be expensive. BLUE ION 2.0 Sony’s lithium ferrous phosphate batteries, which power the Blue Ion 2.0, are a high-end battery compound allowing for more efficient power storage. These batteries aren’t plagued by the same thermal runaway that traditional energy storage units are. The company claims its batteries are safer than Tesla’s, with the difference in material quality affecting all its other performance facets down the line. CHARGE POWERWALL It takes approximately 2 hours to charge a Powerwall using either peak sunlight or grid power. The battery has a leg up on...

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3kW vs 8kW vs 20kW of Solar – What Can It Power?
Oct30

3kW vs 8kW vs 20kW of Solar – What Can It Power?

System sizing is an important part of planning your solar installation. So, how big does the system need to be? It depends on what you want to run. In this article, we will take a look at what a 3kW, 8kW and 20kW system could do for you. A 3kW solar power system will generate about 375 kWh per month or about 12.5kWh per day. So what can you do with 12.5 kWh? The simplest example is that you could run five 100 Watt light bulbs for the whole 24 hours, but, that’s not very practical. You could blow dry your hair for 7 hours but that will give you split ends. Being realistic, a 3kW solar system could run a 55 gallon electric hot water heater for a day (with average household use). If it is not too hot outside, it could keep one room cool all day with a 9,000 BTU window air conditioner. If you have an average electric car, 3kW of solar would generate enough energy for you do drive about 40 miles. But, keep in mind it could only do one of these things, if you want to do all of them, you are going to need more than 3kW. So let’s go bigger and see what an 8kW solar system can do. It would have an average output of 33 kWh per day which would be enough to do three loads of laundry with a standard washing machine and electric clothes dryer, one load of dishes in the dishwasher and keep the hot water heater going through it all. If laundry and dishes doesn’t sound like fun an 8kW solar power system would generate enough to drive your electric car 75 miles then come home and cook a turkey in your electric oven. But, if it’s hot outside and your house is 4,000 square feet, the entire output of that 8kW system would be needed to run your central air conditioning. What about 20 kW of solar? With an average output of 83 kWh per day, it can power quite a lot. More than the average household would need.  You could keep the hot water heater running while you do two loads of laundry and a load of dishes, then drive 40 miles in your electric car, cook the turkey and run the dishwasher again all while your 4,000 square foot house is being air-conditioned and your kids are watching TV with all the lights on. But that might wear you out which is why the average residential solar power system is not quite this big. The purpose of this article is to...

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What Skills Are Needed for DIY Solar?
Oct22

What Skills Are Needed for DIY Solar?

Solar is a great idea. But is it a great idea to install it yourself? That depends on your skills. The first set of skills that should be discussed are safety skills. There is a reason why solar contractors pay some of the highest workers’ compensation insurance rates in the construction industry. You will be working on the roof. Be sure to wear a fall protection safety harness to protect you from slipping off the roof! You will need to transport all your tools and materials to the roof (including the 3.5’ x 5.5’ solar panels that weigh 45 pounds each), which can be tricky if the roof isn’t flat. Plus there is live DC electricity and power tools involved. If you know and understand all the safety requirements of these things, you are past the first hurdle. Next, some roofing skills would come in handy for a do-it-yourself solar installer. In order to install solar panels on a typical residential roof, you will be drilling a lot of holes in it. Knowing the basic construction of your roof and how to seal those holes is a key factor in a successful solar installation. Electrician skills are needed if you want to do the whole job by yourself. EMT conduit is commonly used for solar in most parts of the country so you will need to bend that conduit as it goes over the roof ridge or routes around the eave. For most residential jobs the conduit will only be ¾”, maybe 1” if the system is fairly large or you want the wire pull to be very easy. If conduit bending is not a skill you currently have, the key to learning it is practice. So, buy a few more sticks of conduit than you think you need and learn as you go. Most stores also carry conduit bends ready-made with the perfect radius. You can use pull boxes or LBs to get around the corners without being a master conduit bender. Wiring is other electrician skill you will need. Having experience pulling wires through conduit is very useful. Knowledge of details like marking the wires before you pull them through the conduit, making sure all the strands of the wire are in the terminal and how to properly torque the terminal so those wires stay put would also be essential. The more important part of the electrician skills is understanding basic electrical safety. You can do things to make it safer like turning off your main service breaker when you are installing the PV breaker, but you also need to know that the wires from the meter...

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