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3kW vs 8kW vs 20kW of Solar – What Can It Power?
Oct30

3kW vs 8kW vs 20kW of Solar – What Can It Power?

System sizing is an important part of planning your solar installation. So, how big does the system need to be? It depends on what you want to run. In this article, we will take a look at what a 3kW, 8kW and 20kW system could do for you. A 3kW solar power system will generate about 375 kWh per month or about 12.5kWh per day. So what can you do with 12.5 kWh? The simplest example is that you could run five 100 Watt light bulbs for the whole 24 hours, but, that’s not very practical. You could blow dry your hair for 7 hours but that will give you split ends. Being realistic, a 3kW solar system could run a 55 gallon electric hot water heater for a day (with average household use). If it is not too hot outside, it could keep one room cool all day with a 9,000 BTU window air conditioner. If you have an average electric car, 3kW of solar would generate enough energy for you do drive about 40 miles. But, keep in mind it could only do one of these things, if you want to do all of them, you are going to need more than 3kW. So let’s go bigger and see what an 8kW solar system can do. It would have an average output of 33 kWh per day which would be enough to do three loads of laundry with a standard washing machine and electric clothes dryer, one load of dishes in the dishwasher and keep the hot water heater going through it all. If laundry and dishes doesn’t sound like fun an 8kW solar power system would generate enough to drive your electric car 75 miles then come home and cook a turkey in your electric oven. But, if it’s hot outside and your house is 4,000 square feet, the entire output of that 8kW system would be needed to run your central air conditioning. What about 20 kW of solar? With an average output of 83 kWh per day, it can power quite a lot. More than the average household would need.  You could keep the hot water heater running while you do two loads of laundry and a load of dishes, then drive 40 miles in your electric car, cook the turkey and run the dishwasher again all while your 4,000 square foot house is being air-conditioned and your kids are watching TV with all the lights on. But that might wear you out which is why the average residential solar power system is not quite this big. The purpose of this article is to...

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What Skills Are Needed for DIY Solar?
Oct22

What Skills Are Needed for DIY Solar?

Solar is a great idea. But is it a great idea to install it yourself? That depends on your skills. The first set of skills that should be discussed are safety skills. There is a reason why solar contractors pay some of the highest workers’ compensation insurance rates in the construction industry. You will be working on the roof. Be sure to wear a fall protection safety harness to protect you from slipping off the roof! You will need to transport all your tools and materials to the roof (including the 3.5’ x 5.5’ solar panels that weigh 45 pounds each), which can be tricky if the roof isn’t flat. Plus there is live DC electricity and power tools involved. If you know and understand all the safety requirements of these things, you are past the first hurdle. Next, some roofing skills would come in handy for a do-it-yourself solar installer. In order to install solar panels on a typical residential roof, you will be drilling a lot of holes in it. Knowing the basic construction of your roof and how to seal those holes is a key factor in a successful solar installation. Electrician skills are needed if you want to do the whole job by yourself. EMT conduit is commonly used for solar in most parts of the country so you will need to bend that conduit as it goes over the roof ridge or routes around the eave. For most residential jobs the conduit will only be ¾”, maybe 1” if the system is fairly large or you want the wire pull to be very easy. If conduit bending is not a skill you currently have, the key to learning it is practice. So, buy a few more sticks of conduit than you think you need and learn as you go. Most stores also carry conduit bends ready-made with the perfect radius. You can use pull boxes or LBs to get around the corners without being a master conduit bender. Wiring is other electrician skill you will need. Having experience pulling wires through conduit is very useful. Knowledge of details like marking the wires before you pull them through the conduit, making sure all the strands of the wire are in the terminal and how to properly torque the terminal so those wires stay put would also be essential. The more important part of the electrician skills is understanding basic electrical safety. You can do things to make it safer like turning off your main service breaker when you are installing the PV breaker, but you also need to know that the wires from the meter...

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Gov Jerry Brown Signs SB700, Providing Rebates for Energy Storage
Oct11

Gov Jerry Brown Signs SB700, Providing Rebates for Energy Storage

It’s been less than a month since California ratified its highly anticipated SB 700, and already the solar energy storage market is seeing a lively response. Jerry Brown Signs SB700 – California aims to be entirely green powered by 2045. The bill, proposed by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), extends the state’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) by an additional five years to 2025, paying rebates to customers for installing energy storage systems, just as California once did for solar panels. “We are one step closer to meeting our aggressive renewable energy goals,” said Senator Wiener about the bill. “By expanding our use of energy storage we will be able to use solar power every hour of the day, not just when the sun is shining. The California Solar and Storage Associate (CALSSA) estimates the passing of SB 700 will provide up to $800 million in additional incentives for batteries and other forms of energy storage. What that means for customers investing in solar energy storage is that their local energy companies will cut them checks for the energy they manage to store. The program is technology neutral so as to not pick winners and losers, and it is designed to lower over time to help drive down prices to the point where incentives are no longer needed. Renewable energy storage technologies range in price and are able to store more than enough excess power to keep a house functioning and EV charging when the sun isn’t shining. The current rebates offered by California’s largest energy companies are as follows: Small Residential Storage Step 5 Step 4 Step 3 Step 4 Energy Storage** $0.25/Wh $0.30/Wh $0.35/Wh $0.30/Wh Residential Storage Equity Step 3 Step 3 Step 3 Step 3 Energy Storage <= 10kW** $0.40/Wh $0.45/Wh $0.45/Wh $0.35/Wh Energy Storage > 10kW + ITC** $0.30/Wh $0.35/Wh $0.35/Wh $0.25/Wh [source: https://www.selfgenca.com/home/program_metrics/] The new funding for SB 700 will be made effective January 1, 2019. The CPUC is expected to implement the extended program and make changes to the rebate structure by late next year, to keep the market’s running smoothly. To learn which renewable energy solutions would be best for your situation visit gogreensolar.com or call (866) 798-4435 to speak with a solar...

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Does Tilting Solar Panels Make Sense?
Oct08

Does Tilting Solar Panels Make Sense?

A solar power system will generate the most energy if you optimize the orientation of the solar panels. But, does that mean it worth it to tilt the solar panels on the roof? First, let’s talk about the best orientation for solar panels. In the northern hemisphere, you will get the best annual energy output if your solar panels are facing due south at a tilt angle just under your latitude. This means if you are in the southern part of the US at a latitude of 35, your system will give you the most kilowatt hours (kwh) if you face the panels south and tilt them at about 33 or 34 degrees from horizontal. Most roofs do not provide this ideal orientation. Your roof might south but the pitch is only 17 degrees. Your roof might not face south at all. It could also just be flat. Should you add hardware to tilt your solar panels to achieve that optimal production? Adding tilt legs to the solar racking will require more racking equipment and more labor to install it. Wind uplift loads are also a factor. When the solar panels are tilted, they are like a sail on your roof and more roof attachments would be required to ensure the solar panels stay put in gusty winds. All of this means higher upfront costs. Another consideration is that if the solar panels are tilted, the rows must be spread apart to avoid the solar panels in the front row shading the solar panels in the row behind it. Last but not least, there is the aesthetic factor. The purpose of solar is to save money not look pretty, but your system still shouldn’t be an eyesore. For the roof that is pitched at 17 degrees to the south, tilting the panels will generally not pay off. It would probably only gain about 5% annual output which will generally not be worth the added cost of the tilt hardware, extra roof attachments and labor. This is especially true if you are on a “time of use” or TOU electric rate pay more per kwh in the summer. If your solar panels are tilted at the lower 17 degree angle, they will actually produce more in the summer when the sun is higher in the sky to hit the lower tilted panels at a better angle. So, while you lose a little kwh over the period of the year, you will be generating more in the summer when kwh are worth more. Also, imagine for a moment how those tilted solar panels would look on your roof. Your neighbors would...

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Solar as an investment
Oct01

Solar as an investment

By now everyone knows that solar can save you money on your electric bill, but let’s take a deeper look at solar as an investment. On average, a 6kW system that costs about $15,000 after the federal tax credit generates about 9,000 kWh in a year. If your current cost of electricity is $0.20/kWh, you would save about $1,800 per year on electricity and even if the electricity company never raises your rate, the system pays for itself in about 8 years. After the system has paid for itself you will continue to profit over the 25+ year lifespan of the system. With no electric rate increase, the system you bought for $15,000 will generate $45,000+ of electricity. But, electric rates aren’t going to stay the same and looking at the last two decades, they have risen an average of about 3% per year and as high as 7% per year in some areas. Just going with the average 3% annual increase in electric rates bumps up the return to $65,600 over the 25 year warrantied life of the solar panels. That results in a 14% Internal Rate of Return (IRR). Realistically, that IRR will be even higher because the solar won’t automatically turn off after 25 years. It will likely keep producing for quite a while after that. We are just being conservative and sticking with the length of the warranty. For the sake of argument, we should compare this to other investments like the stock market. The S&P 500 has an average IRR of about 7-8% over the last few decades. That means you can expect twice the return from solar. It is a shame that your investment in solar is capped by the amount of electricity you use. Still not convinced? Let’s look at it another way. How happy would you be right now if you had bought all the gasoline you have been using for the last 25 years back in 1993 when the average price was only $1.11/gallon? You’d be grinning from ear to ear every time you thought about all that money you saved. With solar, you have that opportunity right now. When you install solar on your home, you are purchasing the next 25 years of electricity at even lower price than the current rate. Going back to our 6kW system example, the cost of electricity comes out to just under $0.07/kWh. You would be locking in that low rate for the life of the system. Every time electricity rate hikes were mentioned in the news you could pat yourself on the back for making such a smart investment. This investment also...

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What Solar Can and Can’t Do
Sep25

What Solar Can and Can’t Do

People have a lot of misconceptions about solar, often due to misleading marketing tactics by solar companies. If you are going solar, you should know the facts so you have realistic expectations. Solar can save you money. A standard grid-tied system feeds energy to your house so you don’t have to buy as much electricity from the electric company. But this is generally where it stops. Solar will not make extra money for you. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a place where you can sell Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), you are limited to saving what you normally spend on electricity. If you generate most of the electricity you use, you can reduce your electric bill to almost nothing. But if you generate more electricity than you use, you will get little or nothing back from the electric company for the excess kilowatt hours.   Solar can be used to provide backup power during a power outage, but this functionality typically costs extra and/or is very limited. The least expensive way to get back up power from solar is to use an SMA inverter that can be installed with a special power outlet that works during power outages. The limitations are that it only provides power when the sun is out and even then, it is only 1800 watts. So, if the power goes out at night or during a thunderstorm, that outlet won’t be much help until you have sun again. But, once you have sun, you will be able to power small devices, charge your phone or laptop and possibly even run your refrigerator. Beyond that special outlet, solar backup systems with batteries are available but they are pricey. They generally start around $7,000 for a small one. The more appliances you want to run during the power outage, the more the system will cost. It is usually cheaper and less limiting to purchase a backup generator that runs on diesel or propane. Solar can be used to run remote devices like well pumps and signal repeating towers. These systems can be set up two different ways. One way is to install solar directly to the device and when the sun is out, the device will work, when it is cloudy or dark, the device will not work. The other way is to install the solar with a battery system that stores the power when the sun is out so you can run the device any time. These types of systems are great options to run something that is too far away from the power grid. But, if everything you want to run is near...

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