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The Decade of Solar
Dec27

The Decade of Solar

Raise a glass to a successful 2019 in solar, as the final Q3 of the calendar year has proven to be the most successful one of the decade. Heck, with a statement like that, it might be better to raise the entire bottle!  But first, a quick overview of how the story played out. After steady double-digit-percent increases in the early years of this past decade, U.S. residential solar experienced growing pains from 2016-17, as that nation’s presidential leaders changed from being more coal than solar-friendly, diverting subsidies towards fossil fuels over renewables. Tariffs on Photovoltaic hardware loomed ominously on the horizon and national installers pulled back in critical solar territories such as California and the Northeast. It seemed that the solar market was receding from its peak-installation crest, reaching its high-water-mark of annual installed capacity of 687 MWdc, set in Q1 2016. That all changed in Q3 2019, however, as the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) ticked out its final remaining months of a 30 percent payback, before beginning to phase out according to the following schedule: (CREDIT: Image provided by SEIA shows the gradual phase-out timeline of the Solar Investment Tax Credit.) Enacted in 2006 the ITC offsets the cost of solar for residential consumers by 30 percent. Experts estimate the subsidy has helped the solar industry grow more than 10,000% creating hundreds-of-thousands of jobs and generating billions in revenue. Next year’s phase-out of the ITC has inspired many home-owners on the fence about installing solar to seize upon the financial opportunity. The result was that in Q3 2019 consumers installed 712 MWdc of solar.  (CREDIT: Image from SEIA WoodMackenzie Power and Renewables Insights Report) Now, as the solar market readies to step into a new decade and matures out of its early product adopters in many North American states, a new report by Solar Energy Industries and WoodMackenzie Power and Renewables gives a glimpse into what the future of solar might look like.  California Love When it comes to being a national leader for residential solar installations, Tupac’s California Love lyrics are fitting: “Now let me welcome everybody to the Wild Wild West A state that’s untouchable like Eliot Ness…we in that Sunshine state….” Well, you get the idea.  The point is that California was and is projected to remain the state leading the residential solar market charge. In the big Q3 solar market performance of 2019, California accounted for approximately 41% of the nation’s installs which is roughly the equivalent of 300 MW.  Even though the ITC will begin phasing out in the subsequent years, the residential solar forecast for California is still promising. Fueled...

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Choosing Roof Attachments for Solar
Dec17

Choosing Roof Attachments for Solar

Choosing equipment is one of the bigger challenges for do it yourself solar installers. Roof attachments seem like a minor part of the system because they don’t cost much compared to the solar panels and inverters but choosing the right ones is very important. It all starts with what kind of roof you have. The type of roof you have determines the type of solar attachment you’ll need The most common residential roof material would be composition shingle, so we’ll start with that. The best options will have a flashing that is at least 12” long so that when you slide it up under the shingles, it reaches the third course above the hole that you are making. There are many brands out there, but one industry staple is the tried and true QuickMount PV. There are other options available for shingle roofs that don’t include that 12” long shingle flashing but it should be said that just because someone makes something and sells it as a solar roof attachment doesn’t automatically mean it is a good option. Tile roofs are common in places like southern California. There are many different styles of roof attachments that can be used on a tile roof. One of the more popular options is a tile roof hook. This is just want it sounds like, it is a hook-shaped pieces of metal that is lag screwed into the rafter and then hooks up around the edge of the tile so you can bolt your racking to it. What you have to keep in mind here is that the paper that is under the tile is the real waterproofing so that is where you need a flashing so many companies (but not all) include a low profile flashing that sits under the tile and provides flashing for the hole in the paper. If you don’t get the flashing with the tile hook, you can buy them separately. Another common option is the tile replacement mounts. There are made in different styles to match S-Tiles, W-Tiles or Flat tiles. The handy thing about these is that they do actually replace the tile so you end up with a few extra tiles that you can use in case you break some tiles during the solar installation process.  Finally, there are universal tile mount kits that include a small flashing for the paper and a large malleable flashing to flash the tile layer. The up side on these is that they will work with any style of tile and are especially useful if you have non-standard shaped, low profile tiles. The down side on them is that...

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Maintenance on Residential Solar
Dec13

Maintenance on Residential Solar

The good news is that residential solar power systems don’t need a lot of maintenance. The bad news is if you were using maintenance as an excuse to not install solar on your home, you are out of excuses.  What do you have to do to properly maintain your system?  It depends on the circumstances. No matter what, you should monitor your system. This is as simple as logging in and checking to make sure it is still producing the right amount of electricity at least every month. More often is better. Some monitoring systems can even be set up to send you an email with the solar production report so you don’t have to remember to check the website.  Many customers watch their monitoring at the beginning and then get lazy about it. If something goes wrong and you weren’t watching, your notification will come in the form of a really high electric bill.  Usually the failure is caused by something silly like someone switched off the PV disconnect not knowing what it was or the PV circuit breaker in your main service panel was tripped. Other times a piece of equipment like an inverter might have failed. Some errors are temporary and the device just needs to be reset, other times it might need to be repaired or replaced. Most inverters have at least a 10 year warranty and some have up to 25 year warranties so repairs will generally be covered under warranty. But you can’t get it fixed until you know it is broken, so monitor your system. Another thing you may have to do it clean your solar panels. This will depend on your climate and surroundings. If it rains regularly, you may not ever have to clean them. If it doesn’t rain much and you are in a high dust area (think desert) it would be a good idea to clean them a few times a year. If there are pine trees dropping needles and sap on your solar panels, you will have to clean them way more often. You can tell what you need to do by looking at them. If there is a layer of dirt, that will block the sun and lower your production so clean it off. If they look clean, leave them alone. Fortunately cleaning solar panels is easy. Most of the time all you need to do is give them a gentle hosing off. You should always turn the system off before you start just in case. You should never use cold water on hot solar panels, it may crack the glass. If you want to wash...

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Should You Be Your Own Solar Installer?
Dec11

Should You Be Your Own Solar Installer?

Choosing to go solar is easy. Everybody wants to save money, right? Choosing whether you should have a contactor install your solar or go the do-it-yourself route is a tougher decision. Yes, installing the solar yourself will save you even more money but is it worth it? First, let’s ask the easy questions. Are you an electrician or roofer? If the answer is yes, then you should be able to handle at least half of the installation process without much difficulty because it involves things you do every day. If you aren’t an electrician, don’t fret, you are not automatically disqualified, if you’re handy, you can still get through it.  The electrical work that you will need to do might be slightly more complicated than regular household wiring but it is not that much different. It also depends on what type of system you are installing. If you do microinverters like Enphase, almost the whole job is regular household 240 volt split phase. Only the wires on the solar panels are DC and those are simply plugged into the microinverters with the connectors that are already on the equipment. That part really is plug and play. If you are doing a string inverter, then it will be DC power from the solar panels to the inverter but it really isn’t that different. The biggest rule is that if you run it inside the house (attic wire runs are common) it must be in metal conduit.  The other part of the electrical work that might not be in every electrician’s daily routine is the conduit. It is common for residential rooftop solar installations to have EMT conduit running from the roof to the ground level equipment. There really isn’t any special things you need to know about bending EMT conduit, it just takes a fairly inexpensive bending tool and some practice. There are also lots of ways to cheat using LB’s and pre-bent 90 or 45 degree sections. You can also avoid a lot of EMT if you run the wiring through the attic. There you can often get away with flexible metal conduit for the DC and if its AC, some jurisdictions will allow Romex with no conduit at all just like any other household wiring.  The real hurdle on doing the electrical work for solar is knowing electrical safety, if you are an electrician, we would hope you already have a good grasp on that. If you aren’t an electrician, there are plenty of other ways to learn electrical safety if you don’t already know it. So now let’s talk about the roofing part of the solar installation....

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A “Federal Tax Credit” in Hand is Worth Two “State Tax Credits” in the Bush
Dec04

A “Federal Tax Credit” in Hand is Worth Two “State Tax Credits” in the Bush

It’s better to seize the 30% Federal Tax Credit rather than wait for new solar-friendly legislation. There was a brief period on the west coast of America when the future of solar-legislation looked bright.  California was on the brink of passing a Solar Bill of Rights (SB 288), shielding solar and storage customers against any future discriminatory fees. Oregon was teed up to enact a statewide cap-and-trade bill (HB 2020), taxing carbon emissions and other pollutants, and Washington was ready to give a straight-forward investment tax credit to homeowners that installed solar systems. As the dust now settles from the combative legislative arena of 2019, however, it’s clear that only remnants of each west coast state’s high-hopes remain. “What’s behind the meter is the customer’s own business,” said Brad Heavner, policy director at California Solar & Storage Association about Californias SB 288 at the beginning of the year. “If I want to generate and store my own power, you can’t force me to buy power from the utility.”  The statement seems straight forward enough. If you make energy, you should be able to profit from it. But it’s an idea that California utility companies didn’t like since it would be an outright attack on their profits. Their pitch? Paying fees to ratepayers with solar systems wasn’t fair to the rest of their customer base. Never mind that encouraging such policies would help mitigate their centralized grid-load and reduce the impact of rolling blackouts or fire-hazards. The long-term effects of a residential solar trend would cut into their profits and therefore, couldn’t be good.  California’s SB 288 had the support of more than 70 organizations, but after emerging through the state senate, it now makes no mention of solar, storage utilities, or energy. The story follows a similar arc in the neighboring state of Oregon. HB 2020 was poised to be the state’s first carbon pricing program to ever pass through the House. But then it got to the Senate, spurring republican senators to stage a nine-day walkout until state police were deployed to bring them back into session. On June 29, 2019, Oregon’s Senate put the bill to rest.  The state of Washington’s case had a bit more of a happy ending. This time the bill in question was SB 5939, and it extended the state’s investment tax credit from 2017 to 2021. Legislators complicated the bill, however, deeming it necessary to require new solar modules to have a “takeback” plan submitted to the state’s Department of Ecology before they can be sold, thereby increasing the cost of materials.  It remains true to claim that perhaps one of the...

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