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Preparedness with Solar and Batteries
Mar27

Preparedness with Solar and Batteries

As the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic is changing our lives, preparedness is coming to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Coronavirus is proving how fast global events beyond our control can threaten the basic infrastructure that we normally take for granted. While Coronavirus is not likely to cause power outages, it does remind us that bad things happen and a little prepping can go a long way. Other recent reminders include the 5.7 magnitude earthquake on March 18th which left 73,000 people without power and the tornado in Mississippi on March 24th which took out the electricity for 16,000 people.    Ready.gov is a great resource for learning what is best to keep on hand based on what threats you might be preparing for. In many of the scenarios they suggest having several days of food on hand. With the current Covid-19 quarantine guidelines, you should have two weeks of food on hand which is causing many Americans to purchase additional freezers to store the extra food. But what happens to that frozen food stash if the next emergency includes a power outage? This is where the combination of solar and batteries can really shine. A generator is also an option but they require fuel (typically gasoline, diesel, natural gas or propane) and depending on the emergency that is happening, you might be out of luck once you run out of the fuel you have on hand. The benefit of solar with batteries is that the batteries get recharged every day and the system can run for years without requiring anything to keep it going.  Doomsday preppers have long understood the requirement to have power to weather the worst that could happen. This doesn’t mean you have to forsake your normal life and move out to an off-grid homestead.  There are already millions of standard grid-tied systems installed on homes and businesses across the United States. In general, if they don’t have batteries, they don’t currently provide back up power. The only exception to that is the newer SMA inverters which can provide up to 1,800 watts of power (enough to run a refrigerator) but only when the sun is out.    The good news is that if you already own one of these systems, all you have to do is add batteries. There are a variety of ways to do it, depending on what equipment you have in place already. Any system can be retrofitted by AC Coupling a battery based inverter like an Outback Radian which will operate with any 48 volt battery bank. If you have SolarEdge equipment, you can add the SolarEdge StorEdge inverter with an LG Chem battery....

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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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Should You Add Batteries to Your Solar?
Jan14

Should You Add Batteries to Your Solar?

Fast food order takers ask “Do you want fries with that?” every time you order a burger and now solar installers are asking all their customers if they want batteries with their solar. Add-ons are all the rage so if you have solar or are planning to install solar soon, you need to decide if you should add those batteries.  One thing that might sway your battery decision is power outages. Many people don’t realize it, but a standard grid-tied solar power system will not provide any power if there is no utility power. The only exception to this is that SMA inverters can provide you with one power outlet that will operate small appliances when the sun is out. This is handy if the sun is out and you need to charge your cell phone, but if it’s cloudy or night time, you are out of luck.    So if you have a lot of power outages in your area, batteries might be a good idea. Even if you don’t have a lot of power outages, but having one would cause a serious problem because you require an oxygen concentrator or you like to keep a side of beef in your freezer, you might think about those batteries. What equipment you need depends on what solar equipment you have or are getting but the parts for a battery back-up system to run small things like an oxygen concentrator or freezer might only run a few thousand dollars. A Do-it-yourselfer with some electrical experience can install a simple system fairly easily. If you are thinking in terms of disaster preparedness and want to be able to run your air conditioning, electric hot water heater and swimming pool pump during the zombie apocalypse, the battery system will be far more expensive and complex. You can still install it yourself, but the parts might run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how extravagant you want to live during long term power outages. For some people, it is worth the peace of mind. Back-up power aside, there might be other reasons to say yes to the batteries. Changes in electric rates are a big reason why batteries are becoming more popular. Time of use rates are becoming mandatory for some electric customers and this may decrease their solar savings. Solar produces the most power around noon when the electricity is cheap and then electricity is more expensive at 8pm when the sun has gone down. A battery system can store the electricity generated during the “off-peak” cheap times so you can use it during the “peak” expensive time which will...

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What Do Batteries Do for Solar?
Nov20

What Do Batteries Do for Solar?

Everybody already knows what solar panels do. They turn sunlight into electricity. But what does it do to add batteries to the solar panel system? The short answer is that the batteries store the electricity that the solar panels generate. So let’s talk about what energy storage can do for you. If you are installing an off-grid solar system, storing the power is going to be important. Solar panels only generate electricity during daylight hours and in most cases you are going to want to use some of that energy at night. There are some exceptions like solar well pumps for irrigation or for filling a large holding tank. In these cases, it is okay for the pumps to stop working at night so the solar panels without batteries are going to be just fine. But if your off-grid system is running just about anything else, you will want to store the energy produced during the day so you can use it at night.  Of course, most of you are installing grid-tied solar which makes the batteries less necessary, but they still might be useful. For one thing, even on the sunniest day, most grid-tied solar will not produce any power when the utility company has a power outage. The one exception is an SMA inverter which can be set up with one outlet so you have a small amount of power but only when the sun is shining and it is barely enough to run a refrigerator. If you want things in your house like the lights, fans, computers, microwave and dishwasher to work when power is off, you will need to add batteries to your solar. How much battery you put in will depend on what you want to run but it will typically be $10,000 – $20,000 to run your smaller appliances but if you want your whole house to work when the power is out you are going to need to spend some big bucks. There are also some financial reasons to install the batteries but it depends on your electric rate and net metering rules. A classic example is the time-of-use (TOU) rates which are getting more popular in places like California. Being on a TOU rate means you will pay a high (peak) rate like $.30/kwh on weekdays between the hours of 4pm – 9pm and a low rate like $.15/kwh for the other hours of the day. Solar is going to generate the most power around noon when the electric rates are cheap so the batteries can store that power and you can use it at 8pm when it’s too dark to...

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Should You Go Off Grid?
Oct22

Should You Go Off Grid?

Let’s face it, most of us have no choice where we get our electricity from. The local electric company is your only option and when a company has no competition, they have no incentive to make you like them.  So customers often look at solar panels and get to thinking… can I go off the grid? Typically, off grid systems are only installed on homes built where the grid isn’t available. It is not uncommon for an electric company to quote $100,000 or more to bring power to a rural property that is being newly developed. So they want you to pay $100,000 to bring in the lines so that you can pay them ever month for electricity when $100,000 will buy you an absolutely amazing off-grid solar power system. If this is your situation, you should definitely go off grid.  But if you currently own a house that is connected to the grid, the answer is not that clear. Yes, we know you don’t like the electric company and nothing would make you happier than to divorce yourself from them permanently but let’s look at the options before jumping into that decision. First, the cost of a solar power system increases dramatically when it changes from grid-tie to off grid. In order to be completely independent from the electric company, you need to have a system that generates the maximum amount of power you may need even in during those months when the days are short and the sun is low in the sky. You also need batteries to store the solar energy produced during the day so you have power to get through the night. Even more batteries if you want to have enough stored energy to get through a rainy day when the solar is producing little to no power.  Also, you shouldn’t have solar be your only power source. People who live off the grid usually have a diesel or natural gas generator as backup. This is necessary because the amount of batteries needed to run a house through a whole week of cloudy/rainy weather would be ridiculously expensive and take a up too much space. The generator may also be needed to cover your needs when a piece of equipment like an inverter or charge controller needs to be serviced. So you have to add the cost of a generator to your already too expensive solar power system to comfortably disconnect yourself from the electric company. Example of a gas generator When you stay connected to the electric company, you can put the solar panels on the roof without needing the batteries. You can...

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