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Why home solar works better than solar power plants
May27

Why home solar works better than solar power plants

If you’re thinking about making the switch to clean energy, but are waiting for a community solar farm to pop up in your area or a utility company to construct a massive project that harvests the sun, might want to think again.   But first, let’s talk about Blockbuster. Remember them? That blue and yellow chain of video rental stores that could be found in nearly every suburban neighborhood in the 90s?     Yeah, I barely do, either. And that’s because when the internet changed the way people consumed movies, the behemoth company stubbornly refused to shift its model of distribution.     With the conversion rates of people switching to solar becoming more common across the globe, we’ve begun to notice a similar flub on the part of large scale solar production plants.      While these grand undertakings are exponentially better for the environment than their carbon emitting alternatives, recent problems with such projects prove the energy source is much better suited to be captured by autonomous individuals than in concentrated areas on large tracts of land.   This past March a sector of Ivanpah, one of the world’s largest solar power plants, emphasized this point as it went up in flames.     With nearly 200,000 sets of focused mirrors superheating steam to generate electricity and tons of small moving parts, it was a difficult (and expensive) project to keep running smoothly. Add to this the sprawling 3,500 acres of land it takes to house the plant and you’ve racked up a bill costing nearly 20 cents per a kilowatt hour.   Photovoltaic home solar systems on the other hand are much more scalable, only require rooftops or backyards as necessary real estate and have the advantage of making electricity where it is used–reducing its kilowatt per hour cost down to 6 cents or less.   When it comes to solar, it’s not hard to imagine a future where the outdated energy production models of the 20th century have gone the way of Blockbuster, and the companies that come out on top are the ones that shift their thinking about how the public produces, access and consumes electricity....

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Roof Mount Innovations
May19

Roof Mount Innovations

Pigeon coops, gardens, athletic facilities and power generation–over the last century, roof tops have seen a diversification of uses in addition to their job of keeping out nasty weather. When it comes to mounting solar panels on your roof, it’s important to keep in mind its original function, and make sure any new additions don’t stop it from completed its first and foremost job. Staving off the elements is no easy task–sun, rain and wind can damage even the toughest of materials over time, which is why heavy duty shingling and tar are commonly prefered for their robust qualities. Drilling holes to mount solar panels into a roof can compromise the material’s integrity and, sometimes, using the proper mounting technique is not enough. New age solar mounting technology and hardware like those made by our industry favorite, IronRidge anticipate the bad weather a system is likely to encounter and include subtle design features that make a huge difference. The IronRidge FlashFoot attachment, which holds racking mounts to a roof, uses a patented bushing that snuggly compresses into an L-foot cavity. This seal creates a dual shield with complete protection against water intrusion. This small design tweak eliminates the need for depending on caulking, which will eventually dry up, crack and cause leaks. Additionally, the 12 inch flashing support squares that support the attachment have an elevated platform to control watershed so water doesn’t pool up.     The innovation continues with the IronRidge Mounting RX system, which has a curved shape to resist the vertical and lateral pressures that panels might incur due to high winds. Previously, the industry standard was to use flush roof supports and shape the rails square at 90 degrees. Small design design changes such of as these can lead to thousands of dollars in savings on eventual roof repairs.   As the industry continues to grow and mounts become more common, no doubt even more innovations will occur helping our roofs evolve to become one of the home’s most useful...

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Documentary Shines A Light On The Solar Solution
May05

Documentary Shines A Light On The Solar Solution

What do an American worker, a Tea Party activist and a Chinese entrepreneur have in common? They’re all are racing to lead the global future of clean energy and their journeys are featured in Catching the Sun, a new documentary that showcases how doing good by the environment has created a boom in the renewable energy job sector.   “I was fascinated by the idea that solar power could democratize and decentralize energy in a way that creates economic opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs,” said Director Shalini Kantayya.   Kantayya’s film jumps between countries around the world that are fast-tracking solar production and follows some of the stories that have unfolded in its wake.   Among these stories are  Zhongwei Jiang’s , an entrepreneur in Wuxi, China, who grew up without electricity until he was 7. In 2003 Jiang took out a small interest loan from the Chinese government to start a solar company WesTech, which has grown by 50% every year and has expanded to Germany.   Other stories include those of solar installers in America who’ve found job opportunities in the burgeoning industry and a mayor who has fought tooth and nail against an oil corporation’s interests after a spill devastated her town.   The movie shows how one out of 83 new jobs created in the U.S. in 2014 was in the solar industry as a result from nearly 784,000 homes and businesses in the country embracing solar to save money and elevate property values.   Catching the Sun can be viewed on Netflix, downloaded on Vimeo or seen at select screenings taking place around the country....

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Self Install Tips and Tricks
Mar31

Self Install Tips and Tricks

When it comes to do-it-yourself projects like converting your home to solar, tapping into that “handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun” can at times seem an overwhelming project to undertake.   However, the benefits can equate to over a 50% savings in setup costs (not to mention well deserved bragging rights), which is enough to appeal to many a handy person to strap on their tool belt and give it a shot.     If you’re the type who enjoys taking on such ambitious projects, we’ve compiled a few basic tips and tricks that will hopefully save you time and frustration down the road: Divide by 4: The goal isn’t to cover every square inch of roof with as many panels as it can fit, but rather enough panels to meet your energy consumption.   A quick way to estimate how much energy you will need your panels to produce is to look at your energy bill, take your highest kilowatt usage and divide by four.   Four is the low-end estimate of average peak sunlight hours in most places on earth. Many places such as California and Arizona will get more than this, but staying conservative with your calculations of how much sunlight you expect the panels to receive is always a better call.   For example, the average U.S. household uses around 30 kw of energy a day according the US EIA and, at worst, probably gets around 4 peak sunlight hours, it would be safe to assume such a household will need enough panels to harvest around 7.5 Kws of power a day.      If you want to get specific with your calculations you can check out the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Isolation Map to see how much light your longitude and latitude can expect to receive during the year.   Aim for the equator: When determining where to point your solar panels, a good starting point is to face them towards the equator.   With this general bearing in mind, do some research to determine if there are any shade obstructions in the area from mountains, trees or neighboring structures that might merit slightly shifting the direction of the panels to the east or west in order to collect the most sunlight.   If you can’t find an area that will always be shade free during peak hours, consider installing micro-inverters or power optimizers on your panels so you don’t dampen the power output of your entire system.   Hire a professional to create a permit package: We know, you want to do this project yourself otherwise you wouldn’t be scrolling...

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AC vs DC Breakers
Feb23

AC vs DC Breakers

AC vs. DC Breakers Most of us are familiar with AC breakers found in the typical residential service panel.  Every once in a while we need to work on the wiring in the house, so we make a trip out to the side of the house to manually open (trip) the breaker to kill the power to that circuit, allowing us to safely perform our work.  Though AC and DC breakers appear similar in form and function, they are very different internally. The function of a breaker (AC or DC) is to detect when too much current (amps) is flowing through the circuit, then disconnect the circuit from the main power source to protect the wiring from overheating.  During the act of disconnecting, the internal contacts separate.  As they pull apart from each other, an arc will form as the current jumps across the air gap.  (You have experienced this on a smaller scale with a static electric shock.)  If this arc continues to jump the air gap, the current will continue to flow through the circuit, defeating the purpose of the breaker.  This arc must be extinguished.  The AC and DC breakers extinguish this arc differently.  This design difference is why AC and DC breakers are not interchangeable. AC Breakers In North America, the grid alternates at 60 Hz, or 60 cycles per second; hence the name “Alternating Current”.  The voltage alternates between +V and –V, 60 times a second.  That means there is a point at which the voltage is 0v, 60 times a second.  It is at this 0v point that the AC breaker will “break” the connection, extinguish the arc, and protect the wiring from too much current. DC Breakers In contrast, a DC circuit does NOT alternate.  It stays at a constant voltage.   Since there is no 0v point, the AC breaker design will NOT work in a DC circuit.  The DC breaker uses a magnet to attract the arc, pulling it from the air gap, and extinguishes it.  The AC breaker is NOT equiped with a magnet, and cannot extinguish a DC arc. Moral of the strory, use AC-rated breakers for AC circuits, and DC-rated breakers for DC circuits. Only breakers that are labeled as DC-rated should be used for DC applications.  NEVER attempt to use an AC-rated breaker in a DC circuit!  Why?  It will fail to extinguish the arc, the wires will overheat and cause a fire.  If a breaker is DC rated, it will state so.  NEVER assume an AC breaker is DC rated just because the amps and volts match what you need.  Conversely, don’t use a DC rated...

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What Upfront Rebates for Residential Solar Are Left Around the States?
Jul21

What Upfront Rebates for Residential Solar Are Left Around the States?

It used to be that homeowners could receive some very generous upfront rebates that could offset 30% or more of the cost of installing a solar system. But as the price of installing solar PV has dramatically dropped over the last three years, so has the upfront rebates offered by states and utilities. In addition to the wide spread decrease in rebate funding and amounts, many programs have switched from upfront payments that defer the cost of installing to performance based incentives that pay you a certain amount for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced by your solar system. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any upfront rebate programs left. In fact, there are many, but they’re just not as generous as they used to be, but then again, installed prices have significantly fallen too. (Also, keep in mind that all solar owners are eligible to receive the 30% solar investment tax credit until 2016 for even more savings and ROI!) With the above in mind, the following is a random sampling of upfront solar rebates that we found on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiencies (DSIRE). The links for each program are to the updated information from the actual utility or state authority, so we assume that this information is accurate as of this writing in mid July, 2014. California Upfront Solar Rebates Most of California has exhausted the funds for the state’s California Solar Initiative (CSI) program for home solar, but the good news is that many of California’s municipal utilities are still offering some type of upfront cash rebate. City of Santa Clara’s Silicon Valley Power utility is offering $1.75/W AC for up to 10 kW. For a 5 kW system, that’s $8,750 off the price of installation. However, the amount is actively stepping down as systems go online, so the sooner you install, the higher your rebate. City of Palo Alto’s electric utility is on its last rebate step, so get it while it lasts. Its program gives solar homeowners $.80/Watt AC for solar systems as large as 30 kW. For a 5 kW average system size, that’s $4000 off the price of solar. City of Pasadena has its own Pasadena Solar Initiative (PSI) program that’s now offering an upfront residential solar rebate of $.85/Watt AC up to a 30 kW system size, which pencils out to $4250 in decreased solar install costs for a typical 5 kW home system. Los Angeles’ LADWP municipal utility is offering just $.40/Watt AC for its solar rebate, up to the average 5 kW system size. So, the maximum rebate amount is now just $2,000 and continues to...

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