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Best Battery Types for Solar
Aug06

Best Battery Types for Solar

Installing batteries with solar is necessary on off-grid systems if you want power at night and also becoming more popular on grid-tied systems. Choosing what type of batteries to install can be a bit complicated so this article will cover the basics for you. The batteries that are most commonly used for solar are lead acid and lithium chemistries. No matter what, you will want to choose a “deep cycle” battery that is rated in amp hours (AH) and not a starting battery that is rated in cold-cranking amps (CCA). Car batteries are great for providing a lot of amps really fast to start a motor but they don’t do well with the long, slow draw of running the lights, TV and refrigerator in your home or off-grid cabin. If it is the zombie apocalypse and car batteries are all you can find, they will work but they aren’t the best choice for the application. Let’s start with lead acid batteries which can be broken down into the two basic types of flooded and sealed. Flooded batteries will be less expensive but they require maintenance and ventilation. When you purchase flooded batteries you are committing to adding distilled water to the batteries on a monthly basis. Without the added water, they can run dry which means they lose all charge and are likely to never hold a charge again. If you are not good at regular maintenance, buying these batteries can be a costly mistake. Even if you get the self-watering kit that does the work for you, you still need to maintain water in the reservoir and check to make sure the kit is correctly maintaining the water levels high enough. The ventilation requirements are also very important to consider because these batteries will vent hydrogen gas which is poisonous and flammable. Installing these batteries in your living space or anywhere there might be an open flame could have some nasty results. Sealed lead acid batteries are a little pricier but solve the unpleasant issues of the flooded batteries. You do not have to add water to them, they do not vent large amounts of poisonous, flammable gas and they can also be installed on their sides without worries about hazardous chemical leakage. The most available types of sealed batteries are gel and AGM. These are also often referred to as VRLA for Valve regulated lead acid batteries. Even within the categories of sealed and flooded lead acid batteries, there are different technologies being employed. For example, the Outback EnergyCell Non-Carbon batteries are a type of enhanced sealed lead acid batteries that have improved charging efficiency and a...

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Optimize Your Solar Production
Jul24

Optimize Your Solar Production

The price of solar panels has come down significantly but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t try to get the most energy possible from them. The key to optimizing solar panel production is in the installation. We all know to install the solar panels with blue side facing up, but there is a little more to it than that. It is all about the direction the solar panels are facing (often called Azimuth by people in the solar industry) and the tilt angle which would be the angle from horizontal. If a solar panel is oriented so that the sun hits it directly at a 90 degree angle, it will produce the most possible power but the sun is a moving target. Not only does it move across the sky throughout the day, but it is higher in the sky in the summer and lower in the sky in the winter. Many people don’t realize in North America in summer, the sun rises in the Northeast and sets in the Northwest. In the winter that becomes is Southeast and Southwest. It only rises due East and sets due West on the Equinoxes in March and September.  In order to keep up with the sun, many people think they should make the solar panels move. Solar panel tracking systems have been around for a long time, but they aren’t necessarily practical. For one thing, it would look pretty silly to have one on your roof, not to mention the structural and wind load issues you would be dealing with. Ground-mounted solar tracking systems are a possibility, but you are adding moving parts that typically have 5 year warranties and lots of maintenance to an otherwise passive system with a 25 year warranty. The bottom line is that even if you have room to install one in your yard, a solar tracker will be expensive and a pain in the neck. You might gain 20% production, but it would be cheaper and easier to just install 20% more solar panels. So now we are back to talking about what fixed orientation gets you the best bang for your buck. The short answer is to face you solar panels due South at tilt angle slightly less than your latitude. That means if you are as far South as San Diego it would be a tilt angle of 32 degrees and if you are up North in Seattle it would be a tilt angle of 47 degrees. If you want to be very particular about it, a lower tilt angle will give you more power in the summer when the sun is higher...

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Solar Panel Certifications Demystified
Jul17

Solar Panel Certifications Demystified

With dozens of brands of solar panels on the market, choosing which one to buy can be a conundrum. One of the things you that may help you navigate this field is to understand the various certifications that are given to solar panels and all the acronyms that go with them. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a global independent safety science company with more than a century of expertise innovating safety solutions. The first thing you need to know is the difference between a “standard” and a “certification”. Standards are design qualifications written by entities like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) whose acronym makes better sense in other languages. When a solar panel receives a certification, it means that a recognized, approved lab has tested that solar panel to make sure it meets certain standards.  UL 1703 is the set of standards for safety for flat-plate PV Modules Let’s look at UL 1703 as an example. Officially published by Underwriters Laboratories, UL 1703 is the set of standards for safety for flat-plate PV Modules (aka the commonly used solar panels with the glass on the front). Cities and counties in the United States will only provide installation permits for systems that have solar panels that have the UL 1703 certification. This means that a manufacturer must send their solar panels to a Nationally Recognized Test Laboratory (NRTL) like Underwriters Laboratories, Intertek, TUV or CSA Group to have it tested. If it passes the test, that lab will provide a certification that the solar panel meets the UL 1703 standard. This process is also called UL listing and when the solar panel gets its official certification the manufacturer can say it is UL Listed. A UL Listed solar panel will have a special “mark” on its label from the NRTL that certified it. TÜV Rheinland is the leading provider of product testing and certifications for the worldwide marketplace.  While getting the UL 1703 Listing is a requirement, the solar panel manufacturers can step up their game and have the lab also test for other standards like IEC 61215 standards for durability and performance for standard monocrystalline and polycrystalline PV module. The IEC 61646 is a similar set of durability and performance standards for thin film PV modules. There are also very specific standards like IEC 61701 that includes salt mist corrosion tests (which you should look for if you are installing your solar panels on your beach house) or IEC 62716 that includes ammonia corrosion tests (in case you are installing your solar panels in agricultural environments).    PVEL is the independent lab for the...

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Installing Solar? Your State Might Require This Certification If You Want Incentives
Mar04

Installing Solar? Your State Might Require This Certification If You Want Incentives

When it comes to home solar installations, the number of certifications, acronyms, and obscure bills bombarding your research can be enough to cause the sort of migraine you might get from staring too long at the sun. But after slogging through all that work of shopping for the just the right panels, inverters, and a battery storage solution, it would be a shame to miss out on state rebates and incentives because you didn’t have someone involved on your project with this one, crucial, certification: North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Founded in 2002 as a non-profit, this accreditation was established as an industry stamp of approval to let homeowners know which installers have the specialized knowledge and expertise to install a solar system correctly. The requirements to attain a NABCEP are so rigorous that it quickly became the industry gold standard. It wasn’t long before some states made it a preferred or mandatory for a contractor with this certification to be involved in solar systems installations to be eligible for incentive programs. “What most of these states are looking for is that person with a NABCEP-cert is engaged somewhere along the process to look at the equipment and say whether it’s legit or not,” explained Go Green Solar’s NABCEP Certified Senior Design Engineer Dave Donaldson. “If a state is going to pay you for the solar energy you’re generating they want to make sure it’s been installed or reviewed by someone that knows what they’re doing.” Go Green Solar’s NABCEP-certified Senior Engineer Dave Donaldson (purple shirt) directing city of Los Angeles workers how to mount the solar panel In Utah the NABCEP-certification is a prerequisite to qualify for a state solar contractor license and Austin, Texas won’t allow electricians to build a grid-tied system without it. Minnesota, Maine, and Wisconsin are among the states that require a NABCEP-certified professional to install PV solar systems to make it eligible for rebates. And still, other states including California, Massachusetts, and Delaware, take a less stringent approach “recommending” PV solar systems are installed by a professional with NABCEP certifications making permits and rebates much easier to attain. For its part, NABCEP does not encourage or discourage state regulatory efforts. The credentials, which much be renewed every three years, are voluntary and are intended to act a professional differentiator in the same way a realtor that sells houses is able to become a broker after passing his/her license exam. An opinion blog post published by NABCEP argues why the organization feels its certifications should not become mandatory as there might not be enough certified professionals in America to keep up...

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QCell Q.Peak DUO-G5 Advantage
Jan03

QCell Q.Peak DUO-G5 Advantage

Everyone knows solar panels are a good idea but are there certain ones that are a better idea than others? The answer is a resounding yes. Let’s take a look at the new QCell Q.Peak DUO-G5 as an example of a superior and award winning PV module. There are many innovations that have gone into improving the power output of the Q.PEAK DUO-G5 solar panels.  One is that the solar cells are interconnected with wires instead of flat ribbons on cells. These wires take up less surface area allowing the sunlight to hit more of the cell area. The innovative design also allows light reflected off the wires to be redirected back onto the module surface. This alone increases power production by 2.5%. Another design advantage was QCell’s choice to use six busbars on each cell. This decreases the space between busbars which means that the individual electrons have a shorter path to the busbar, decreasing losses to resistance. The extra busbars also allow better electron flow as there are more busbars to carry them. The six busbars result in a 1% increase in power production. Half-size solar cells in the Q.PEAK DUO G5 module increase power production by 3% by reducing the current which reduces the resistive losses within the cells. The half cell design also increases stability against pressure on the module, reducing the risk of the cell cracking. The chance of cracking is further reduced by the way the cells are cut with a smoother edge than typical solar cells. Plus, with the if a cell does crack, the six busbars mentioned above help mitigate the effects of the cracks causing resistive losses. Creating a much more stable design over all. This more stable design means a lower degradation rate of only .054% annually. QCell offers the guarantee of at least 85% production after 25 years on these innovative solar panels. The DUO-G5 PV modules are also different in their cell interconnection design. The upper and lower sections of the modules are connected in parallel instead of series. This results in higher power production when the module is partially shaded because the unshaded half of the module can still perform at 100%. Other technology that increases the performance of these solar panels is the Anti PID technology that reduces losses in wet climates. Hot-spot Protect (HSP) eliminates cells that have a high risk of creating hot spots from the production line keeping the modules hot spot free. As a matter of fact, all the solar cells on the production line are tracked with laser markings that are part of QCell’s TRA.Q traceable quality system. Anti LID...

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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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