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DIY Mishap – When Home Installers Throw Caution To The Wind
Mar16

DIY Mishap – When Home Installers Throw Caution To The Wind

When it comes to DIY home solar installations, some rules are meant to be broken, while others are better to follow. Paying a centralized utility company for energy you can make for free: Break it!Best-practice safety protocols during self-install: Follow it! Devaluing your home property value by not putting solar panels on your roof: Break it! Local zoning and city ordinances: Follow it! The laws of physics: Follow it! Okay, the last might seem like a no-brainer.  “The laws of physics,” after all, are those immutable truths about reality which, unlike the tooth fairy or a wizarding world living in tandem with our own, exist whether or not you believe in them.  The laws of physics are why, in more 14 years of business, the DIY department of Go Green Solar has never had a customer encounter an issue when heeding the recommendations of our dedicated engineering team.  Recently, however, one of our lead plan-set designers, Carl, shared a cautionary tale regarding a DIY dilettante and a home solar installation project that both metaphorically (and literally) went off the rails: “Everything started off fine,” recalls Carl. “We designed the system plans as per the racking manufacturer’s specifications, but then, when the customer started digging to install the ground mounts, he hit rock and couldn’t go any further. Unexpected challenges like this can sometimes happen, so we took the data over to one of our certified engineers to advise us how to proceed.” Factoring in historical weather conditions, the updated plan included the addition of diagonal braces for structural support and excavating grade beams along the entire span of the installation to connect all the footings. Carl submitted the revisions back to the home installer.  “He didn’t like it,” Carl said. “He felt it was overkill and said that 99% of the time, the wind blew from the East and would be hitting the face of the panels. For the additional cost of construction, he didn’t think it would be worth it.”  Carl and the Go Green Solar team didn’t hear back from the homeowner for a while. Then, several months later, we got an email with an image of a crumpled ground mount solar system. Turns out, that gamble the person took on the wind never howling in the wrong direction didn’t pay off.  When you don’t follow expert advice. In an attempt to save around $800 in reinforcement upgrades, the person sacrificed a system that cost nearly $20,000 as it hadn’t yet begun to pay itself off.  “As long a person is handy and can go up and down a roof ladder with 50 lbs, they should be...

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Enphase Ensemble Solar Back-up
Feb27

Enphase Ensemble Solar Back-up

One of the more frustrating facts about standard grid-tied solar power systems is that they do not provide back-up power during power outages. While there are some solutions out there that will allow you to use your solar as back-up power, none of them compare to the new Enphase Ensemble technology that will be available very soon. Most existing solar back-up systems are small and can only provide enough power for some lights and your refrigerator. A solar back-up system large enough to run large appliances like an air conditioner or hot water heater is possible with current technology but it means filling your garage with batteries and inverter equipment. This will be very expensive and the installation is complicated. If you are attempting the Holy Grail of solar back-up, the whole house back-up system, you have to source a transfer switch from the generator industry that is not programmable and may not be suited for all the sources you want to incorporate. But Enphase has the solution with their new Ensemble back-up system. One key component of the Enphase Ensemble back-up system is the Enphase Encharge Storage System. This is an AC Coupled, Lithium Iron Phosphate energy storage unit with integrated Enphase IQ8 Multimode microinverters. The Encharge 3 has 3.4 kwh of usable storage and the Encharge 10 has 10.1 kwh of usage storage. For more storage, multiple Encharge systems can be connected to create a system large enough to provide the whole house back-up system. The incorporated IQ8 microinverters have new processors that can react in 20 nanoseconds to loads coming online and offline so that they maintain an independently stable AC grid throughout the duration of a power outage. Having the battery storage and inverter incorporated into a single unit simplifies installation making it very possible for a do-it-yourself solar installer. Also, these sleek units can be hung on a wall and are even rated NEMA 3R for outdoor installations. Another important part of the Ensemble system is the Empower Smart Switch which has multiple configuration options and even includes a place to add an additional back-up source like a diesel generator which will make the perfect system for the serious doomsday prepper. The Empower Smart Switch manages all the power from the Encharge Storage System, IQ microinverters, grid and generator. If the grid goes down, it seamlessly transfers your house loads to the storage system and IQ microinverters. When grid power is restored, the system transitions back to normal grid-tied operation.  Not only will this system provide back-up power during outages, it can save you extra money when the grid is on by managing power...

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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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