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Best Battery Types for Solar
Aug06

Best Battery Types for Solar

Installing batteries with solar is necessary on off-grid systems if you want power at night and also becoming more popular on grid-tied systems. Choosing what type of batteries to install can be a bit complicated so this article will cover the basics for you. The batteries that are most commonly used for solar are lead acid and lithium chemistries. No matter what, you will want to choose a “deep cycle” battery that is rated in amp hours (AH) and not a starting battery that is rated in cold-cranking amps (CCA). Car batteries are great for providing a lot of amps really fast to start a motor but they don’t do well with the long, slow draw of running the lights, TV and refrigerator in your home or off-grid cabin. If it is the zombie apocalypse and car batteries are all you can find, they will work but they aren’t the best choice for the application. Let’s start with lead acid batteries which can be broken down into the two basic types of flooded and sealed. Flooded batteries will be less expensive but they require maintenance and ventilation. When you purchase flooded batteries you are committing to adding distilled water to the batteries on a monthly basis. Without the added water, they can run dry which means they lose all charge and are likely to never hold a charge again. If you are not good at regular maintenance, buying these batteries can be a costly mistake. Even if you get the self-watering kit that does the work for you, you still need to maintain water in the reservoir and check to make sure the kit is correctly maintaining the water levels high enough. The ventilation requirements are also very important to consider because these batteries will vent hydrogen gas which is poisonous and flammable. Installing these batteries in your living space or anywhere there might be an open flame could have some nasty results. Sealed lead acid batteries are a little pricier but solve the unpleasant issues of the flooded batteries. You do not have to add water to them, they do not vent large amounts of poisonous, flammable gas and they can also be installed on their sides without worries about hazardous chemical leakage. The most available types of sealed batteries are gel and AGM. These are also often referred to as VRLA for Valve regulated lead acid batteries. Even within the categories of sealed and flooded lead acid batteries, there are different technologies being employed. For example, the Outback EnergyCell Non-Carbon batteries are a type of enhanced sealed lead acid batteries that have improved charging efficiency and a...

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Tips for Do-It-Yourself Solar Installation
Aug05

Tips for Do-It-Yourself Solar Installation

Installing your own solar power system on your home will save you money. Reading this article before you do that install will save you time and headaches. Read The Manual! First, read all the installation manuals before you start. It probably the most important and most often skipped step. If it hurts your “I know what I’m doing” pride, read them at night when no one is looking. It only takes a few minutes and can save you a ton of trouble. There’s nothing worse than finishing the job and then having to re-do it because you didn’t do something right.  Another important thing is to make sure you have permit approval before you do any work. It is common for installers to get itchy and do something like install stand-offs while they are waiting for the city approval then end up having to move some of the stand-offs to accommodate local fire codes. Just don’t do it. If you are eager to do something before you have approval, re-read your install manuals. Typically, the solar panels are going to be mounted on the roof which means getting all your tools and equipment up there. We know you are strong enough to carry all that stuff up ladder, but it’s not safe and there is no reason to wear yourself out like that. Get a bucket and a rope and when you are finished you won’t feel like it was leg day at the gym. When it is time to hoist up those awkwardly heavy solar panels, get helpers. It is much easier with at least two people and a broken solar panel will cost more than paying someone for a couple of hours of labor so it is worth it. When it is time to hoist up those awkwardly heavy solar panels, get helpers. It is much easier with at least two people and a broken solar panel will cost more than paying someone for a couple of hours of labor so it is worth it. Once you have things on the roof, keep the equipment in boxes and your tools in a bag. Having things strewn all over the roof is a safety hazard, plus you won’t be able to find what you need when you need it. Also, if it is a warm day, anything that is metal is going to heat up quickly in the sun and will burn your hands when you touch it. This includes tools, mounting hardware and solar panel frames so make sure you have a good pair of gloves on the roof with you. The roof attachments for your solar...

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Optimize Your Solar Production
Jul24

Optimize Your Solar Production

The price of solar panels has come down significantly but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t try to get the most energy possible from them. The key to optimizing solar panel production is in the installation. We all know to install the solar panels with blue side facing up, but there is a little more to it than that. It is all about the direction the solar panels are facing (often called Azimuth by people in the solar industry) and the tilt angle which would be the angle from horizontal. If a solar panel is oriented so that the sun hits it directly at a 90 degree angle, it will produce the most possible power but the sun is a moving target. Not only does it move across the sky throughout the day, but it is higher in the sky in the summer and lower in the sky in the winter. Many people don’t realize in North America in summer, the sun rises in the Northeast and sets in the Northwest. In the winter that becomes is Southeast and Southwest. It only rises due East and sets due West on the Equinoxes in March and September.  In order to keep up with the sun, many people think they should make the solar panels move. Solar panel tracking systems have been around for a long time, but they aren’t necessarily practical. For one thing, it would look pretty silly to have one on your roof, not to mention the structural and wind load issues you would be dealing with. Ground-mounted solar tracking systems are a possibility, but you are adding moving parts that typically have 5 year warranties and lots of maintenance to an otherwise passive system with a 25 year warranty. The bottom line is that even if you have room to install one in your yard, a solar tracker will be expensive and a pain in the neck. You might gain 20% production, but it would be cheaper and easier to just install 20% more solar panels. So now we are back to talking about what fixed orientation gets you the best bang for your buck. The short answer is to face you solar panels due South at tilt angle slightly less than your latitude. That means if you are as far South as San Diego it would be a tilt angle of 32 degrees and if you are up North in Seattle it would be a tilt angle of 47 degrees. If you want to be very particular about it, a lower tilt angle will give you more power in the summer when the sun is higher...

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Solar Panel Certifications Demystified
Jul17

Solar Panel Certifications Demystified

With dozens of brands of solar panels on the market, choosing which one to buy can be a conundrum. One of the things you that may help you navigate this field is to understand the various certifications that are given to solar panels and all the acronyms that go with them. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a global independent safety science company with more than a century of expertise innovating safety solutions. The first thing you need to know is the difference between a “standard” and a “certification”. Standards are design qualifications written by entities like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) whose acronym makes better sense in other languages. When a solar panel receives a certification, it means that a recognized, approved lab has tested that solar panel to make sure it meets certain standards.  UL 1703 is the set of standards for safety for flat-plate PV Modules Let’s look at UL 1703 as an example. Officially published by Underwriters Laboratories, UL 1703 is the set of standards for safety for flat-plate PV Modules (aka the commonly used solar panels with the glass on the front). Cities and counties in the United States will only provide installation permits for systems that have solar panels that have the UL 1703 certification. This means that a manufacturer must send their solar panels to a Nationally Recognized Test Laboratory (NRTL) like Underwriters Laboratories, Intertek, TUV or CSA Group to have it tested. If it passes the test, that lab will provide a certification that the solar panel meets the UL 1703 standard. This process is also called UL listing and when the solar panel gets its official certification the manufacturer can say it is UL Listed. A UL Listed solar panel will have a special “mark” on its label from the NRTL that certified it. TÜV Rheinland is the leading provider of product testing and certifications for the worldwide marketplace.  While getting the UL 1703 Listing is a requirement, the solar panel manufacturers can step up their game and have the lab also test for other standards like IEC 61215 standards for durability and performance for standard monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV module. The IEC 61646 is a similar set of durability and performance standards for thin film PV modules. There are also very specific standards like IEC 61701 that includes salt mist corrosion tests (which you should look for if you are installing your solar panels on your beach house) or IEC 62716 that includes ammonia corrosion tests (in case you are installing your solar panels in agricultural environments).    PVEL is the independent lab for the...

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Solar helps you sell your home faster and for more money
Apr02

Solar helps you sell your home faster and for more money

If you’ve read pretty much any article on the benefits of converting your home to solar, you’re probably well aware of the great ROI it provides by paying itself off over the course of several years, decreasing energy bills to zero. But what if you’re thinking about selling your house and don’t have several years to wait for that return? Turns out, the benefits of owning solar panels don’t just pay dividends on energy bills, but can also significantly increase your property’s value and help it sell faster, too, A study by the Lawrence Berkely National Lab (LBL) titled “Selling into the sun: Price premium analysis of a multi-state dataset of solar homes” found that on average home buyers are willing to pay a premium of $15,000 more for homes with a standard 3.6-kW PV system. Surveying over 20,000 homes throughout California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania, the research shows that premium prices for PV homes are a national trend. The general breakdown for increasing a home’s value comes to about $4 per watt in California and $3 elsewhere. For example, homeowners in California installing a 5kW (5,000 watts) system could fetch up to $20,000 more on the market when selling their home. This chart shows the premium prices above market value that a home with a PV system will fetch Together with state incentives and a 30% Federal Tax Credit, the financial benefits of selling a home with solar could equal or outweigh the costs of the system itself. Companies such as Go Green Solar, which allow homeowners to install PV systems for less with DIY assistance and offer competitive professional installer pricing, help people looking to sell homes with PV systems recuperate higher profits when reselling their homes while paying lower energy bills in the interim. In terms of resale, John DiStefano, president of First Fidelity Appraisal Services of New England, said about PV panels, “They definitely add value to your home as long as they are purchased. If they are leased, the banks do not recognize a value.’’ One reason for increased home value is that buyers view solar panels as upgrades, such as a new kitchen or bathroom. Unlike the aforementioned living amenities, however, the government will actually give you money back for this PV home improvement, with some states even offering the bonus incentive of not calculating the value of the upgrades into additional property taxes. That means that going solar will increase the value of your home even though you won’t get charged extra taxes for it.   Even though going solar will increase the value of your...

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