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All You Need to Know About the US-China Solar Trade Dispute
Feb26

All You Need to Know About the US-China Solar Trade Dispute

Update 3/14/14: The solar trade case preliminary decision has been moved from March 28th to June 2nd. The trade commission says it’s due to “parties involved are cooperating, and investigation is complicated.” Perhaps this will give the parties more time for a settlement. In case you missed it, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed to consider adding (more) restrictive tariffs to imported Chinese solar panels. Why this is happening, who’s behind the dispute, and what will happen to solar panel prices and installation costs if the suit moves forward are complicated questions—but important ones for both installers and consumers. With that in mind, here’s a basic rundown of all you need to know about the most recent Chinese-US Solar Trade Case and how it might affect installers and consumers. How the U.S.-China Solar Trade Dispute Got Started It all started in October 2011 when SolarWorld—a German company that also manufactures panels in the U.S.— filed an unfair trade complaint with the ITC. The U.S. division of SolarWorld claimed that China was unfairly subsidizing its solar panel companies, enabling Chinese companies to dump solar panels on the U.S. market at below cost prices, thus forcing SolarWorld to drop its prices and shut down U.S. factories. Although SolarWorld lost U.S. manufacturing jobs, many U.S. solar installers opposed SolarWorld’s action, arguing that inexpensive solar panels helped to lower installation costs and spur growth, creating even more U.S. installation jobs. Nevertheless, SolarWorld won their case in 2012, and the ITC imposed 31% tariffs on imported Chinese solar cells, the main component that makes up a solar panel. As a result, many small Chinese solar companies dropped out of the U.S. market, but the big solar players, such as Yingli Solar and Trina Solar found a loophole. How the Trade Dispute is Continuing Today Due to the 31% tariff on just solar cells, the Chinese companies began to manufacture cells in other countries, mainly Taiwan. They then imported the cells back to China where they were assembled into solar panels for export, technically avoiding the tariff causing a 31% increase in their solar panel prices. However, SolarWorld saw the loophole and recently filed another complaint with the ITC, claiming that the Chinese were still dumping and subsidizing below-cost Chinese solar panels on the U.S. market by using Taiwan-based solar cells.  A decision on the case has yet to be made, but is expected by early summer. Who’s Currently Affected by the Solar Trade Dispute? If you’re an installer, DIY solar enthusiast, or a consumer, the trade dispute probably hasn’t affected you at all—so far—thanks to the Taiwan work-around. Solar panel prices have stayed...

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How to Teach Kids About the Sun!
Jan28

How to Teach Kids About the Sun!

Brightening Lessons: Outdoor Experiments to Teach Children About the Sun The best way for your kids to learn about the sun is to get out in it!  There are some things that just can’t be learned on the Internet, but there are plenty of activities that can be done in your backyard that will get your children away from the light of a computer screen and into the light of day. Here are some fun ways to enlighten them about the star that’s essential to life on Earth. Show how exposure to the sun affects plant growth Buy some quick-growing grass seed and make a tiny greenhouse out of a box, with half of the grass seed covered so that no sunlight reaches it. Water both sides with your children for a couple weeks so that they can see the difference between the two. They’ll see that the grass seed that didn’t get any sunlight has hardly grown and lacks the color that the rest has, teaching them an interesting lesson about photosynthesis. Solar cooking A good lesson on how solar energy can be used is to show your children how the sun’s energy can be used for cooking. The most basic example is to fry an egg on the sidewalk (of course, you will need to live somewhere hot enough for this to work). You can also create a solar box oven using a pizza box. Here are the steps to take: Cut a flap in the lid of the pizza box, leaving an inch between the sides of the flap and the edge of the lid. Fold the flap open. You may need to use a ruler to prop it open and keep it standing up. Use aluminum foil to cover the inner side of the flap. Line the bottom of the box with black construction paper Cover the open hole where you opened the flap with clear plastic wrap and make it airtight. It may require a couple layers. Once you’ve done this, put your food on the black construction paper inside the box and set your solar box oven in a place where the most sunlight will be hitting the aluminum foil on the inner side of the open flap, causing it to reflect down onto the plastic wrap window. If you need to insulate it more, you can roll up newspaper sheets and put them on the bottom of the box. Concentrate the power of the sun As a child, you may have learned about the power of the sun by contributing to the fiery demise of some poor ants using a magnifying glass...

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3 Ways Enphase M215 Just Got Better
Jan27

3 Ways Enphase M215 Just Got Better

Enphase Energy just revealed some key improvements to the Enphase M215, 215 Watt microinverter and their system as a whole. Take a look at the new features… 1. Enphase M215 with Integrated Ground Photovoltaic (PV) systems in North America have normally required bonding each microinverter together with continuous copper grounding wire.  The purpose of this standard is to prevent fires, protect workers from shocks, and comply with National Electrical Code (NEC).  Some changes to NEC have allowed Enphase to incorporate integrated (DC isolated) ground technology into their 4th generation line, which now includes the M215. Because the DC circuit is isolated and insulated from the ground, you can now safely install Enphase M215 microinverters without a Grounding Electrode Conductor (GEC) connected to each microinverter. Coming soon… the 4th generation M215. Download the new M215 Microinverter data sheet (PDF). As you can see in the image above, the M215 now has a flat lid with no grounding lug. Yes, this product meets U.S. National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements Ungrounded Photovoltaic (PV) Power Systems and it’s actually a safer product. Integrated Ground(IG) technology simplifies this cumbersome installation process, reducing materials and labor costs.  Installers and D.I.Y. customers already prefer to use Enphase for residential systems because of its straightforward installation.  The new M215 further simplifies the process because there’s no need to run copper wire between each microinverter. Sound familiar?  Last year, Enphase released their fourth generation model, the Enphase M250, which also features this new IG technology.  The Enphase M520, however, is optimized for solar panels all the way up to 300 Watts. The Enphase M215 is compatible with modules up to 270W, a lower wattage range where consumers are finding the best dollar per Watt on solar panels.  So basically, Enphase put all the benefits of the M250 into the M215. Oh yeah, the new Enphase M215 also has a CEC efficiency rating of 96.5% compared with the previous version’s 96%. For more information on the new M215’s integrated grounding feature, please see Enphase’s M215 white paper. 2.  Wi-Fi option for the Envoy Communications Gateway Now Available! The Envoy Communications Gateway is the hub connects your Enphase microinverter system to Enlighten, Enphase’s web-based monitoring software for PV systems. Instead of running an Ethernet cable from the Envoy hardware into a broadband router, you can now connect the Envoy Communications Gateway with the new wi-fi option (pictured top right). The new Wi-fi option simplifies connectivity and makes finding a location for the Envoy way easier. Connect up to 600 microinverters to one Envoy.   3. MyEnlighten & Enlighten Manager Software Customers who use the Enphase Envoy to monitor their systems get...

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Will solar work in your state? (Infographic)
Jan17

Will solar work in your state? (Infographic)

Do photovoltaics(PV) really work outside of California?   When first looking into solar, it seems only natural to assume that solar panels will work best in hot areas. Contrary to this intuition, solar panels perform best in cool environments.   You’ll get the maximum yield from your PV system when direct sunlight is hitting your array, but solar panels continue to generate electricity with ambient sunlight on cloudy days. Tip: monocrystalline solar panels are known to be more efficient in low-light conditions than polycrystalline solar panels. Rain can also rinse off “soiling,” or the dirt and dust that builds up on solar panels, making them operate more efficiently. Some areas also have rewarding “net metering” policies that credit you for the the energy your PV system generates on those clear days.  It’s fed into the electricity grid and later used to offset your energy consumption (kWh) on cloudy days or at night when you’re drawing from the utility grid.   To learn more about grid-tied PV systems, read Grid-Tied and Off-Grid Solar 101. With the installed price of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems declining, investing in clean energy is more cost-effective than ever.  Solar is even saving homeowners money in cloudier cities like Seattle and Portland. Solar is steadily appearing on more rooftops throughout the country- which U.S. cities have you noticed more PV systems being installed?...

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How to make a light source out of plastic bottles.
Jan08

How to make a light source out of plastic bottles.

Well over a billion people on our planet don’t have access to electricity and this D.I.Y. solar light can brighten homes during the day and replace toxic kerosine lamps. Watch this video: 4 easy steps to light a room with a solar bottle lamp: 1. Add a couple teaspoons of bleach to keep the water clean. 2. Drill a hole in roofing to fit the circumference of the plastic bottle. 3. Push the bottle up through the hole in the roofing. 4.  Seal the the bottle with polyester resin to prevent a leaking roof. [i] It’s a stunningly simple lighting solution: sunlight passes through the water inside the bottle, refracting light, and brightening the room. Even though you might not insert a 2-liter bottle into your roof, this might also come in handy if you’re want to illuminate the inside of a tree-house. Check out the infographic below and “share” this page if you think this is cool!    ...

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