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Tips for DIY Ground Mount Solar
Feb24

Tips for DIY Ground Mount Solar

When most people think about solar, they picture it installed on a roof but that isn’t always what happens. If you have a little bit of land, chances are you have the space for ground mounted solar. This could be the better choice, especially if you are a do-it-yourselfer. Ground mount solar installation is typically easier and safer than roof mounting and here are some tips to help make that DIY solar ground mount project go a little smoother.  First, when planning your project, make sure you know the location of your property lines and the required setbacks. Most cities and counties require permanent structures like the solar ground mount rack to be at least 5’ from the property lines but sometimes they can require as much as 30’ setback if there is a road there or you are in a rural area prone to wildfires. You might also want to inquire about a flood zone like a water wash area that runs through your property where you may not be allowed to build. Even if the local authority doesn’t enforce it, you should think twice about installing the solar ground mount in an area that you know might flood during heavy rains or spring thaws.   Doing a ground mount means that you don’t have to haul all the solar panels up to the roof but it still may not be the best idea to get solar panels that are very large in size. Some solar panels are almost 7’ long and can weigh up to 75 pounds each. Even though you don’t have to lug the panels up a ladder, you will still have to move them around and lift them up pretty high to install them on the back end of the ground mount rack. At the end of the day, that last solar panel you have to lift is going to feel much heavier than the first one you picked up in the morning.  Another note on choosing equipment is to use pre-designed solar racking. Some of them include all the pieces and others have hardware designed to work with galvanized steel water pipes. Either one of these options will be easier to get permitted and install than if you attempt to design your own racking system. You might be able to do it a little cheaper with parts you have on hand, but you will pay for it in headaches at the building department and potential unforeseen structural issues.   Example of a ground mounted system Also be careful about what tilt angle you commit to if the ground is flat. The ideal tilt angle in...

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Choosing Batteries for Solar
Feb18

Choosing Batteries for Solar

There has been a lot of buzz in the solar industry about batteries. They are necessary for most off grid solar applications and becoming an add-on trend for grid-tied systems. You can read our article “Should You Add Batteries to Your Solar” to find out if installing batteries is a good idea for you. If you do decide you want them, the next step is to choose which batteries are right for you.  One of the factors involved in this decision is what other equipment you will be using. From a technical standpoint, the inverter you will use will determine the required battery voltage. For example, the Outback Radian inverters typically need a 48 volt battery bank which means you are likely going to buy batteries that are 2, 6 or 12 volt and wire them in series to get a 48 volt battery bank. On the other hand, SolarEdge inverters require a 300 volt battery so you will typically use something like the LG Chem batteries that output that higher voltage.  From an install perspective, there are advantages to the higher voltage batteries. The higher voltage means lower amperage so the wires from the batteries to the inverter can be smaller and can be run much longer distances. Typically, with a 48 volt battery bank, your wires are going to be 2/0 AWG or 4/0 AWG and less than 10 feet. With the 300 volt batteries, it would be 10 AWG or 8 AWG and a 50 distance is no problem.  Battery ventilation requirements are also something to consider as this varies with the different battery chemistries. The least expensive batteries are flooded lead acid chemistry. They vent hydrogen gas and must be installed in a well ventilated area away from sparks or flames and separated from living spaces. Other battery chemistries, like sealed lead acid and lithium, do not vent any nasty gases and are much more flexible on where they can be installed. The physical space needed for batteries is also a consideration. If you have room for a lot of batteries on the floor or large battery cabinets or shelving, you can get the batteries that are shaped like boxes and spread them out on the floor, install them on sturdy shelves or put them in cabinets that are designed for batteries. They make almost all battery chemistries in this box shaped style. If you don’t have a lot of space, you should consider the lithium batteries like the LG Chem that are a slim box that hangs neatly on the wall. This will be the more expensive option and you won’t get as much...

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Foresight is 2020 – 3 compelling reasons to switch to solar this year
Feb13

Foresight is 2020 – 3 compelling reasons to switch to solar this year

Financial success doesn’t happen by accident — it takes planning and foresight. When it comes to determining how solar will fit into that equation for you and your home in 2020 three compelling reasons are encouraging many to make the switch before the earth completes yet another migration around the sun.  1. The Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit If you’ve considered going solar over the last few years, you’ve no doubt come across the most lucrative environmental subsidy in America’s history, the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC for short. 2019 to 2020 saw the credit step down from 30% to 26%, causing a sudden rush of homeowners looking to lock in the rate before the year’s end. The same pattern will repeat again this year, with the ITC dropping another four points to 22%. The average homeowner stands to lose approximately $1200 by procrastinating another year to make the change.  The 26% Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit expires at the end of 2020 2. Increasing Electricity Rates Lost money in the form of a federal tax incentive isn’t the only financial motivation putting pressure on homeowners to install solar. Since 2008, the average electricity bill has increased by 29%. In some states, rates are rising fast as 2-6% per year, with utility companies passing on the costs of repairing their outdated grids and lawsuits onto the customer. The best way to ensure your utility spending remains consistent is by generating your power with solar.  To partially quote the famous 1967 film The Graduate, “I want to say one word to you. Just one word…are you listening?”  3. Batteries. Solar plus storage is gearing up to be the biggest game-changer and influential factor in the coming years. In states where net-metering is coming under attack, the ability for a homeowner to better store the power he/she generates for later use is finally coming into fruition. Add to this that some states are offering additional incentives to offset the costs of renewable batteries, and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. 4. Added Bonus Installing solar is now cheaper than ever, with the installation cost dropping over 70% since the last decade. Companies such as Planet Plan Sets have streamlined the process of getting municipal approval and government subsidies, making the project more effortless than ever as well. When you consider that utility bills are all but guaranteed to rise year after year, the 10 to 20-year investment in a solar system for a home has an ROI that easily outperforms keeping the money in a traditional savings account. It helps home equity and keeps monthly energy costs predictable. The...

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Can Solar Power Your Air Conditioner?
Feb06

Can Solar Power Your Air Conditioner?

Maybe your electric bills aren’t that bad, except for summer when you have to run the air conditioning. But you are the conservative type, so you set the thermostat at 80 degrees and suffer through it. Because of this, you don’t think getting solar for your whole house can help you. You would only need the solar for a few months and only for the air conditioner.  Is it possible to just get solar panels for your air conditioning and not for anything else? It depends on who you ask. There have been many solar companies over the years that have advertised solar powered air conditioning systems but what were they really selling? Some of them were selling evaporative coolers (also known as swamp coolers). Contrary to having the word “swamp” in their name, these types of cooling systems only work in the desert because they rely on evaporating water to cool the air. They have very low power consumption and can often be operated with a single solar panel. If you live in the desert and don’t already have an evaporative cooler installed on your house, this is not a bad option to save on air conditioning. But, chances are, if evaporative coolers work well in your area, you already have one and it’s already saving you money on your air conditioning costs whether or not it has the solar panel. Other companies advertising solar power for your air conditioner were really just selling standard grid-tied solar power systems but sizing them smaller so they only offset the usage of the air conditioner and not anything else.  There really is no practical way to only power the air conditioner with solar panels. If you really wanted to do it, you would have to separate the electric circuit for the air conditioner from the rest of your house. Then you would purchase an off-grid solar power system with batteries to make sure that the air conditioner always had power even when it was cloudy. After you set all that up, you will have paid a lot of extra money for all the battery equipment and when the air conditioner wasn’t running you have solar panels on your roof going to waste because you isolated them to only run the air conditioner.  If you are going to install solar, you might as well install the system to the whole house. First, solar panels produce a lot more power in the summer than they do in the winter so they would be working hardest for you when you are running your air conditioning. Second, most electric companies offer net metering on...

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Service Panel Upgrades for Large Enphase Systems
Jan27

Service Panel Upgrades for Large Enphase Systems

When planning your grid-tie solar installation you have to consider some things about your main service panel because that is where you are going to make your connection to the grid. The larger the solar system, the more likely it is that you will have to make some adjustments or upgrades to your service panel in order for the installation to be code compliant. There are also a few tricks that may get you out of doing that extra work. First, let’s discuss 2017 NEC 705.12(B)(2)(b) and 705.12(B)(2)(d). These code sections are the reasons why you may have to alter your main service panel in order to install your solar. These code sections describe what is lovingly referred to by solar installers as the 120% rule. The 120% rule says that for load side interconnections, 125% of the maximum solar output plus the rating of your main service breaker must be less than or equal to 120% of the busbar rating. This is true for all solar installations but we are going to do the math with the popular Enphase microinverters so we can get very specific. Example 1: You are installing 16 Enphase IQ7 microinverters which output 1 amp each. Your total maximum solar output would be 16 amps.125% of your maximum solar output would be 16 x 1.25 = 20 amps.Your main service breaker is 100 amps and your main service panel busbar is 100 amps.120% of the busbar would be 100 x 1.2 = 120 amps.Your main breaker plus 125% of the solar output would be 100 + 20 = 120 amps.120 amps is equal to 120 amps so you are just barely okay to install as is. Example 2:You are installing 45 Enphase IQ7 microinverters which output 1 amp each. Your total maximum solar output would be 45 amps.125% of your maximum solar output would be 45 x 1.25 = 56.25 amps.Your main service breaker is 200 amps and your main service panel busbar is 200 amps.120% of the busbar would be 200 x 1.2 = 240 amps.Your main breaker plus 125% of the solar output would be 200 + 56.25 = 256.25 amps.256.25 amps is not less than or equal to 240 amps so you can’t do a load side connection like this. If example 2 is your situation, let’s review your options. You can de-rate your main service breaker to 175 amps. This changes the math to 175 + 56.25 = 231.25 amps which is less than 240 so you are good to go as long as you can do some load calculations to prove that your house will be okay with only...

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