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Chinese Vs American Solar Panels
Sep17

Chinese Vs American Solar Panels

Yes, you should buy solar panels, but… Should you buy solar panels that are made in America or solar panels that are made in China? We live in a modern world that operates on a global level. Things are made all over the world and solar panels are no exception to this. Even if a solar panel is labeled and marketed as “Made in the USA” it is very likely that the solar cells and/or other parts of the panel were made overseas. All the manufacturer must do for that “USA” label is assemble the foreign parts here in America. There are exceptions to this, but most solar cells are made in Asian countries, even in those panels that are assembled in the US. Does being made in Asia automatically mean the solar cell is of lesser quality. No, it doesn’t. The truth is that there are poor quality products being made in every country. History has shown that even some solar panels that were fully manufactured in the United States have had issues. But, fear not, there are also high quality products being made in every country.  There are top tier Chinese panels made by public companies with world class factories and clean rooms like Trina, Canadian Solar and JA Solar. Just as there are great solar panels made or assembled in America like Sunspark, SolarWorld and Gigawatt. Finding quality solar panels is more about brand than country of origin. We have a magic word we use in the solar industry, “bankability”. When a bank decides to offer leases on solar equipment, they have a lot at stake. They will end up owning hundreds if not thousands of systems, all with contracts that guarantee the end user a certain amount of production for up to 20 years. If the solar panels in these systems fail on a large scale, it will cost the bank a lot of money. So, before investing in a particular solar brand, the bank will do everything they can to ensure they are getting a quality, “bankable” product. This assurance includes third party engineering assessments of factories and products as well as evaluation of the manufacturing company’s longevity and ability to honor warranties in the long term. The banks have a lot of resources to put into these bankability studies. As an individual consumer, all you have to do is look at what brands the banks have chosen and use those on your own projects. There is also the consideration of price. Researching Chinese solar panels will bring up many news articles about tariffs being passed and the price hikes they may cause. In the end...

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Benefits of DIY Solar
Sep10

Benefits of DIY Solar

We all know the benefits of going solar. The solar salespeople knocking on your door and calling you incessantly have made it clear that a solar power system will quickly pay for itself by saving you money on your electric bill. But what about the benefits of doing the install yourself? The most obvious benefit of DIY solar is the cost savings. As much as half the cost of a solar system install is labor charges. It is not the contractor’s fault that these charges are so high.  Solar contractors have some of the highest workers’ compensation insurance rates of all the construction trades, so not only do they have to pay their workers, they also must pay high insurance premiums. Let’s also not forget those solar salespeople at your door. If you buy from them, their commission is coming directly out of your pocket. Another benefit is confidence that the job will be done right. In general, solar contractors know what they are doing, but larger solar installers often have issues with quality control. Solar crews are under the gun to complete an install in a certain amount of time and corner cutting happens. Some smaller companies do solar on the side and their main business is roofing or electrical work. These guys may not be fully up to date on all the changes to solar equipment or the ever changing requirements of local building departments and utility companies. The bottom line is who would you rather have putting a bunch of holes in your roof? Would you choose a guy who is in a big hurry because his boss says he has to finish the job by tomorrow? Would you pick an electrician whose training on installing roof flashings began and ended with the installation manual that came in the box? Or, would you rather do it yourself? You know you will take the time to learn the right and wrong way to install that flashing. You will take your time on the roof to get it done right. You will also carefully choose the right flashing which brings up the next point. Getting to choose the equipment yourself is another reason to DIY on your solar project. Most installation companies offer one or two choices on solar panels and inverters and will never even discuss the smaller details like racking or flashings. Solar contractors typically choose these accessories based on the cheapest price which is a little scary when you think about those flashings being the only thing that is going to prevent all those holes in the roof from turning into leaks a few years...

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How Solar Affects Selling Your Home
Aug28

How Solar Affects Selling Your Home

A common question people ask when making the decision to go solar is how will having solar affect selling the house? The first thing to note is that according to a few independent studies, solar definitely increases a home’s value. The National Bureau of Economic Research did a study in 2011 comparing statistics for home sales in Both the San Diego and Sacramento areas and concluded that solar panels typically increase a home’s value by 3.5%. It even went as high as 4.5% in communities with higher percentages of college graduates and Toyota Prius owners. Another Study done by US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2011 concluded that homes with solar sold for more across California. The amounts ranged from $3.90 to $6.40 per watt more with the average amount being $5.50 per watt. A follow up study in 2015 by the same Berkeley Lab in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories looked at home sales across many states and found that the solar increased the homes’ values by an average of $4 per watt. According to these studies, it appears that in most cases, installing solar will increase a home’s value by more than the cost of the install. On top of the increased values, NREL has also released statistics showing that homes with solar sell 17% faster on average than homes without solar. So, not only will you get more money, but your solar home is likely to sit on the market for less time. What these studies don’t account for is homes with a solar lease or PPA agreement. In these cases, either the home buyer must take over the lease or PPA agreement or the buyer or seller must “buy out” of the lease agreement. There is a general perception that these types of solar agreements would cause problems with selling the home, but Berkley Lab worked on this too. They conducted interviews and online surveys of home buyers, sellers and real estate agents that were involved in the sales of home with solar lease and PPA agreements between 2010 and 2013. The evidence collected suggests that the solar lease or PPA had no negative effect on the sale. Both buyers and sellers were satisfied with their experiences. If you are planning to lease solar or enter into a PPA agreement, you should look at the contract and what it stipulates for the sale of the home. Keep in mind that while you think you will stay in your home forever, life happens and things change. You should always be aware of what you getting into before signing a contract that could affect...

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New Solar Cell Technologies
Aug22

New Solar Cell Technologies

Over the years, we have seen the standard monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV modules increase in wattage per square foot, but they are getting close to the maximum possible efficiency on these typical solar cells. But manufacturers aren’t giving up, there are a few new up and coming technologies that will continue the progress of PV efficiency. Split cell technology uses the same solar material but cuts the cells in half. The new smaller solar cells have the same voltage as the original size cells, but they have half the amps. Putting 2 of these cells together gives you the same wattage as a single standard cell, but that wattage is a higher voltage and lower amperage. Power loss on conductors like the busbars inside a PV module is caused by voltage drop which is amps multiplied by resistance. Less amps means less voltage drop which means less power loss on the internal conductors. Voltage drop also causes heat build up so lower amps means the PV module is operating at lower temperatures, further increasing the efficiency. Overall, using split cell technology can increase solar panel power output by 5 to 8 watts per module. This lower operating temperature also increases the expected life span of the module as excessive heat leads to degradation. N-type solar cells are not new, but they are gaining popularity in the industry which until recently has been dominated by the p-type solar cells. Solar cells are made by “doping” silicon with very small amounts of either Boron to make the silicon more positively charged (p-type) or Phosphorus to make the silicon more negatively charged (n-type). The p-type solar cells are cheaper to make, but the n-type cells are more efficient. Adding to this, the Boron in the p-type cells causes an undesirable effect called Light Induced Degradation (LID). LID happens in the first few days and weeks that the p-type cell is exposed to sunlight and it can reduce its efficiency by 2%-3%. The n-type cells do not experience LID, so not only do they start at a higher efficiency than p-type and they maintain that efficiency over time. Another advantage of n-type cells is they are not as sensitive to impurities in the silicon base so manufacturers of n-type cells can use lower quality silicon without impacting the efficiency. Currently n-type PV modules are still more expensive than p-type, but many people are willing to pay for the higher efficiency, so the n-type is gaining in market share. Back contact (or rear contact) solar cells are another innovation coming to the forefront. A typical PV cell is made in a way that requires...

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Why Go Solar Now?
Aug14

Why Go Solar Now?

You know solar is a good idea. You see the systems on your neighbors’ roofs and you may have even heard them brag about the savings on their electric bill. So why are you waiting? Now is the time to get your system installed. The cost of solar has been dropping each year, but this doesn’t mean you should wait for it to drop more. For one thing, the equipment costs are about as low as they can get. At this point more than half of the cost to install a system cost is labor and that is not getting any cheaper. You also need to think about the money lost while you wait. The overall cost of solar of a solar installation has dropped about 2% in the last year.  That means a $30,000 system is $600 less than it was last year. But that system will generate about $2,500 worth of electricity in a year. So, if you did not install last year, you lost $1,900 waiting for the price break. Don’t make that mistake again this year. Another reason to stop dragging your feet is that government incentives don’t last. If there is a state or local rebate you can get, take advantage of that now. Most rebate and SREC programs are designed to end when a certain number of megawatts of solar are installed. This means the sooner you get your application in, the more likely you are to get a piece of that pie. Even the federal tax credit is not forever. The current 30% amount is set to lower for systems installed after 12/31/19 before it ends completely in 2021. This means there is going to be a frenzy of installs next year as all the procrastinators get on board to get the full tax credit. Solar installers can only get so many installs done so it is best to call one now and beat the rush. If you are concerned because you don’t have a big tax liability this year, you should still get your solar installed now. Take what you can of the tax credit and the remainder can roll over to future years for as long as the tax credit is in effect. Also keep in mind, the tax credit matters even if you are planning to lease your system. When you go solar using a lease or PPA program, the lease or PPA company is taking that tax credit and factoring it into your cost, so it is still important to be mindful of the deadline on it. Some people put off solar because they are deciding about selling...

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Reading Your Electric Bill
Aug09

Reading Your Electric Bill

Over the years electric bills have gotten more complicated. It is important to understand how you are being charged for your electricity, especially if you are trying to calculate your payback on installing solar. There are still some electric companies that have an old school, simple approach to billing. They add up how many kilowatt hours (kwh) you have used that month and they bill you a set amount per kwh. If this is your electric company, congratulations! Your bill is easy to understand. But on a “tiered” or “TOU” billing system things get a little trickier. If you are on a “tiered” electric rate, you will see different dollar amounts per kwh which can get a little confusing. The concept behind this type of billing is that the electric company will charge you a reasonable amount for the first kwh that you use, but as you use more, they charge more. It starts with a baseline amount of electricity which is decided by the electric company. For example, they may say that the baseline is 20 kwh/day. They will charge “Tier 1” price for this baseline electricity, in our example, we will say it is $.15/kwh. Then the electric company will assign another amount of kwh which will be “Tier 2”, for example it could be another 30 kwh/day and those will be billed at the “Tier 2” price of $.25/kwh. Anything above that would be considered “Tier 3” pricing which could be as high at $.35/kwh. Sometimes there will be even more tiers than that but we will work with just three for this example. So let’s say it is summer time and on day one of the month, you weren’t home so you set the air conditioning to 80 and you only used 45 kwh. On day two, you were home and it was hot out so your air conditioning was on full blast and you used 65 kwh. Day three was cooler so you only used 55 kwh. What would the electric company charge you on the tiered system for these three days? Tier 1            Tier 2            Tier 3             Total Day one:    (20 x $.15) + (25 x $.25)                         =  $9.25 Day two:    (20 x $.15) + (30 x $.25) + (15 x $.35) = $15.75 Day three: (20 x $.15) + (30 x $.25) + ( 5 x $.35)   = $12.25 Now, if you were one of the lucky people who has solar, how much do you save in a tiered billing system? The answer is a lot because the solar helps keep you out of the higher pricing tiers. Let’s look at this...

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