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Grounding Overview for Do-It-Yourself Solar
Sep23

Grounding Overview for Do-It-Yourself Solar

The grounding requirements are one of the most confusing aspects of solar installation. Grounding is also what city inspectors tend to scrutinize the most. That is not a good combination unless you really like hanging out with your city inspector and want to fail the first inspection so you can see them a second time. But don’t stress, we’ve got some tips to help you avoid common grounding issues. First, pay attention to what is shown on your permit plans. These plans have been approved by the city or county and if you follow those plans, the inspector should be happy with your work. There will be notes about the grounding that are very important. If you do not understand what those notes mean then you should ask the people who drew those plans for you.  Second, be aware of the grounding requirements for the equipment you are using. The NEC code says that all non-current-carrying metal parts must be grounded. This means any piece of metal that should not have electricity flowing through it has to be connected to the main grounding system at your house. This includes the solar panel metal frames, the racking for the solar panels, the metal conduit and all the metal enclosures of your inverter, AC disconnect and other components.  The majority of racking systems are set up so that you only have to ground one rail in each row. Fortunately, most of the racking companies have your back and designed their systems to do a lot of this work for you. The majority of racking systems are set up so that you only have to ground one rail in each row. From that grounding point, all the solar panel frames and all the rails in that row will be grounded through an integrated system that has been UL listed to provide a proper path to ground. In rail-less systems, you often only have to ground one piece of the racking and use a few jumpers to keep the ground continuous through the whole array. This integrated grounding will usually also include microinverters or DC optimizers if they are installed to the racking correctly. With that said, don’t make any assumptions. Read the installation manual for the racking system and follow the grounding instructions carefully using only parts that are specific to that racking system. Again, if you don’t understand the instructions ask the racking company or your distributor for clarification.  So now you have this grounding conductor (officially referred to as the Equipment Grounding Conductor (EGC) that will be on the roof, attached to the racking. You will run this EGC down...

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Massachusetts follows California, requiring new buildings to have solar
Sep23

Massachusetts follows California, requiring new buildings to have solar

Massachusetts state legislators are hoping to follow in the footsteps of California this month with a bill that would require new commercial and residential buildings to be equipped with solar panels. Democratic Senator James Eldrige, and Democratic representatives Jack Lewis and Michael Connel, jointly filed bill S.1957 entitled “An Act Increasing Solar Rooftop Energy” in both the state Senate and House on Sept 16, 2019.  If approved, the legislation will make changes to Massachusetts building code within a year to require all new buildings to have minimum construction standards for solar panel systems. The energy requirements for solar systems will be dictated by the type of structure each building is classified as, with single-family homes needing a system that would be large enough to meet 100% of its energy needs. In 2018, California approved a similar mandate requiring solar on all new construction, which is scheduled to roll out Jan 1, 2020. The California Energy Commission expects the bill to increase the upfront development costs of new homes by $9,500 while saving homeowners on average $19,500 over the life of the system. California’s mandate is part of an initiative to produce at least 50% of the state’s energy from renewables by 2030.  Likewise, Massachusetts has similar goals with regards to renewable energy production in its crosshairs. The state hopes to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% in 2050, according to the states Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020.   “At just under 3% of the U.S. economy and 1.2% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, Massachusetts could not, on its own, stop global climate change even if it reduced statewide emissions to zero instantly,” the state website reads. “However, Massachusetts is in a position to show the way to a clean energy economy – and reap direct benefits in economic growth – through the development of smart, targeted policies that reduce emissions by promoting greater energy efficiency, developing renewable energy, and encouraging other alternatives to the combustion of fossil fuels.” To help meet these goals the state already has several solar incentive programs in place. The Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target Program, which started in Nov 2018, pays solar energy system owers a fixed block-rate per kilowatt-hour of solar energy produced. Once blocked thresholds are fulfilled, the subsequent tier of kWH rates declines.   Massachusetts’ latest bill is what many environmentalists and solar proponents hope will soon become a trend on the state level to take ownership in the fight against climate change. Together with states such as California that are gearing up for its 2020 Solar Mandate to take place, the future’s looking bright. Installing a new...

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Solar Paperwork – What’s Involved
Sep16

Solar Paperwork – What’s Involved

If you are thinking about installing your own solar, you should know that there is more to getting the job done than sweating it out on the roof and hooking up the wires. There is paperwork to be done before and after the solar panels go on the roof.  First, you have to get a permit from your local building department which will be the city you live in or the county if you are outside city limits. You will need what is typically called a “permit package” that will be several over-sized pages explaining to the building department exactly what you intend to do and proving that the work meets all the building and electrical codes.  This package will include a site plan showing where on your property all the solar equipment will be installed (including inverters and disconnects). There will be specifics on exactly how you plan to attach the system to your roof and details on the roof structure to show that it can handle the weight of all the solar panels and racking. You will need an electrical diagram that shows how all the solar components go together and how you will make the connection to the grid. Along with the diagram, you have to show all the calculations proving the solar components are compatible and that your interconnection to the grid will be code compliant. You will have to include the datasheets on all the equipment and you will probably also have to fill out some generic permit application forms when submitting all this. You will also have to do some paperwork for your local utility company. They will want to know the all details of the solar equipment that you are connecting to their grid. Every utility is different but most of them will want you to complete and sign a “net-metering” agreement. This is basically a contract with the electric company that outlines details of responsibilities of both parties and may also cover things like what your electric rate will be after solar and how you will be compensated for energy fed into the grid at times when your solar is producing more than your home is using at any given time. The utility company may also require justification of your system size, especially if it produces more power than you normally use. If you are lucky, there will be paperwork for a rebate or renewable energy credits (RECs). Rebates are often offered by state or local government. Sometimes they are offered by utility companies. Renewable energy credits are a way to get paid for the solar energy you produce and are...

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Home Solar Keeps Power On During Upcoming PG&E Outages
Sep11

Home Solar Keeps Power On During Upcoming PG&E Outages

Tens of thousands of California residents were affected by power outages this summer, as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) company shutoff electric lines in order to mitigate fire hazards in high-threat zones.  Only those generating their own power with such systems as home solar were among the few that maintained access to electricity and could continue with life as normal.   PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff map showing potential power outage areas for California residents.  Warnings leading up to the outages were abrupt, as PG&E’s system relies on variable weather conditions such as the wind to determine when and where to turn off the power. Cities in Northern California regions are currently among the areas hit worse, with the utility company alerting 5.4 million customers with texts, robocalls, and emails that power shutoffs might be happening in less than 24 hours.  One such shutoff that took place in August left more than 54,000 people in Santa Cruze, San Jose, and Marine County without power, spoiling food and disrupting businesses and lifestyles. “We ask that all our customers use this event as a reminder to revisit their emergency plans and build or restock their emergency kits to prepare for potential power outages during wildfire season,” said PG&E official Michael Lewis to the Sacramento Bee. PG&E expects this to be the new normal, with the scope of its grid outages and blackouts expanding across California and parts of Nevada in order to preempt wildfire risks, such as the state’s deadliest fires that occurred last summer due to historically hot conditions and downed electrical lines during high winds.  Having a reliable source of power combined with a generous 30% federal tax credit, which is scheduled to significantly decrease at the end of 2019, has spurred many California residents to install home solar.  Home solar companies such as Go Green Solar help provide people with some of the best cost solar install options in the country, offering professional and DIY options. For some in California, the era of reliable electricity in the wildfire-plagued state is coming to an end, while for others that are taking matters into their own hands, the future is looking...

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AC Coupling Versus DC Coupling
Sep09

AC Coupling Versus DC Coupling

It is becoming more popular to install batteries with solar power systems on new installations and as retrofits. One of the questions to be answered when planning the battery installation is how will the battery system tie in with the solar. The answer will be either AC coupling or DC coupling. Solar panels produce DC power and inverters are used to convert this DC power to AC power. The terms AC coupling and DC coupling are used to describe where in the system the batteries are connected. An AC coupled system has the batteries tied into the AC output of a grid-tied solar inverter while a DC coupled system has the batteries tied in before the inverter where the DC power is flowing from the solar panels. Deciding which way to do your install, depends a lot on what other equipment you plan to use or what equipment is already in place if you are retrofitting. For example, if you are using microinverters, these microinverters are changing the DC power from the solar panel to AC power right at the solar panels themselves. Because the DC power from the solar panels is being converted immediately under each solar panel, it would be difficult to tap into so you would definitely go with the AC coupling option where you hook up your battery-based inverter to the AC output of the microinverter system. If you are working with a string inverter, then you have DC power coming from the solar array to the inverter and you can easily use it. There are few different ways to do DC coupling. One way would be to connect the output of the solar panels to a charge controller which charges the batteries and then you would have a battery-based inverter that changes that battery power to AC power. This is a very typical set-up for an off-grid system like the Outback SystemEdge Villa or Cabin Series packages. Another way to DC couple is to use an inverter like the SolarEdge StorEdge that will take the DC power from the solar panels and allocate it to the batteries or convert it to AC as needed. This gives the system a much higher efficiency than most other battery systems because every time the power is conditioned or converted, there is a small loss. If you run from solar panels to a charge controller to the batteries to the inverter. You will have a loss at the charge controller, a loss at the batteries and a loss at the inverter while the StorEdge system manages the power from the solar array in the most efficient way possible...

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Are You Qualified for DIY Solar?
Sep04

Are You Qualified for DIY Solar?

Every professional solar installer started off with no solar experience. Does this mean every twelve-year-old strong enough to swing a hammer should embark on a do-it-yourself solar project? Not so much. So, let’s talk about what it takes to be qualified to install your own solar power system. It would be a good idea to take a safety course like OSHA 10 The first thing that matters is safety. Most solar installations happen on the roof, if that is the case for your system, you will need to comfortable with heights and ladders. Knowing all the safety considerations for working on roofs is also important so if you are not experienced with this, it would be a good idea to take a safety course like OSHA 10. It only takes 10 hours and you will learn what you need to know to be safe. Basic construction knowledge is a must for a do-it-yourself solar installer. You will need to be able to find the roof rafters, drill holes in them and properly seal those holes. The flashings you purchase will have basic instructions on how to do this but knowing how your roof is put together will be helpful. You will also need to find wall studs to mount the ground level equipment and be able to mount it securely and level. The wall studs are easier to find than rafters. A simple inexpensive stud finder will work on the wall, but it will not help you on the roof because there are too many layers of roofing material in the way. Experience with power tools will be handy. You will be drilling the holes for the roof attachments, tightening bolts on solar racking and sawing the solar rails to the appropriate lengths. Experience with power tools will be handy. You will be drilling the holes for the roof attachments, tightening bolts on solar racking and sawing the solar rails to the appropriate lengths. Knowing the safety requirements for using these tools is definitely important. If you have any doubt, we are going to recommend that OSHA course again. Being able to handle some heavy lifting should be in this list of qualifications. Not only are solar panels about 45 pounds each, they are awkwardly sized at about five and half feet long and 3 and a half feet wide. Some higher wattage solar panels are even bigger at six and half long so if you are concerned about heaving these around while on the roof, check the physical size of the solar panels before you purchase them.       Solar installations also require electrical work. If you are going...

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