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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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The U.S.-China Trade Case Determination and What It Means for Solar Installers and Consumers
Jun19

The U.S.-China Trade Case Determination and What It Means for Solar Installers and Consumers

A few months back, we published a post on All You Need to Know About the US-China Solar Trade Dispute and how it might affect solar installers and consumers if the case isn’t settled. Well, a preliminary decision is in. The Department of Commerce (DOC) has made a preliminary determination on June 10th in favor of SolarWorld, the German/U.S. solar panel manufacturer who filed the suit. Before we get into the penalties being proposed and finalized, we should remind readers that there are two parts to this case: Part 1: The DOC Decision The first part, now in the preliminary determination stage, has to do with SolarWorld accusing China of illegally subsidizing its solar panel manufacturers with low interest loans and other cash-related subsidies that allowed Chinese manufacturers to manufacture solar panels and export them to the U.S. (and the rest of the world) at below their actual cost. The 2012 DOC decision determined that was the case and imposed over 23% to 254% in countervailing duties (CVD) on various solar cells made in China. However, Chinese manufacturers got around these tariffs by manufacturing their solar cells in Taiwan and other nearby countries, then assembling the rest of the panel in China. Consequently, this new 2014 DOC preliminary determination now includes solar cells and other basic solar panel materials being made in Taiwan and shipped back to China for assembly and export. So, how much in duties will be tacked on to the price of imported Chinese solar panels? The preliminary CVD varies and depends on the brand: For Suntech solar panels, the tariff is 35.21%. For Trina SolarEnergy, the tariff is 18.56%. For all other Chinese brands, the tariff is 26.89%. That means that the wholesale price of all Chinese-made solar panels coming into the U.S. may be increased by as much as 35.21%, and at the very least, by 26.89%! The DOC will make its final determination by August 18, 2014. But wait, there’s more: Part II: The ITC Decision Remember, we said that there were two parts. Now that the DOC has ruled, their evidence has been handed over to the International Trade Commission (ITC). The ITC is deciding whether China is intentionally overproducing (“dumping”) their artificially inexpensive Chinese solar panels on the U.S. market in order to flood the U.S. solar market, forcing SolarWorld to lower their prices to compete. The ITC previously said this was the case in the earlier 2012 decision, so most industry analysts think they’ll do so again, but now include solar panels and cells from Taiwan. Should the ITC rule in favor of SolarWorld again, then additional antidumping duties may...

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Solar 101: What’s the difference between microinverters and string inverters?
Mar19

Solar 101: What’s the difference between microinverters and string inverters?

If you’re a homeowner or an installer doing residential or small scale commercial solar installations, you essentially have three choices for converting the solar system’s DC power into AC power: You can either go with new microinverters or with string inverters—with or without DC power optimizers. All will work, but there are differences, especially in certain situations. String Inverters: The solar industry standard With residential string inverters, all solar modules are connected in a series circuit to a DC electric cable, which is then connected to a single inverter box mounted on a wall by the home’s main AC panel (as well as to any required DC disconnects). So it’s a very centralized system with a limited amount of labor. Modern string inverters not only convert the power from DC to AC, but also use Maximum Point Power Tracking (MPPT) to deliver the maximum amount of power available. This is important, since each solar panel can produce different amounts of power due to manufacturing anomalies, intermittent shading, leaves, dirt, passing clouds, and/or other factors. While a string inverter’s MPPT works fairly well, especially in sunny areas with no obstructions, having all solar modules tied in a series circuit can still be a disadvantage for several reasons: 1)   MPPT technology is essentially drawing the average amount of power available, rather than the full amount available from each module. As a result, the entire solar array can lose 15% to 30% or more of its full potential output because one or more panels in the string are temporarily shaded or have debris. 2)   If you have limited roof space and need two arrays with different sun orientations, each array will need its own string inverter. 3)   Similarly, since module mismatch can cause efficiency issues, you’ll need to use the same brand and panel voltage within each string. 4)   String inverters don’t easily allow for expanding the system in the future unless you purposely oversize the inverter, wiring, and other BOS parts. 5)   While it’s common to have online monitoring with string inverters, the monitors only measure the performance of the entire array. So, if an array isn’t producing the expected power, installers will need to individually test each panel for malfunctions. 6)   String inverters are typically warrantied for 10 years and have an expected lifetime of 12 to 15 years, while solar panels typically last 25 years or longer. Thus, the string inverter will need to be replaced at least once. Adding DC Power Optimizers to String Inverters Adding DC power optimizers to a string inverter system can solve most of the above string inverter challenges. Power optimizers are relatively new...

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What’s wrong with solar permitting?  Q&A with Deep Patel, CEO of GoGreenSolar.com
Mar04

What’s wrong with solar permitting? Q&A with Deep Patel, CEO of GoGreenSolar.com

Experience any roadblocks while trying to pull a permit for a photovoltaic (PV) system in your city?   Paying too much?  You’re not alone.  Getting your PV system a permit can be a daunting task for both customers and installers. According to report by Clean Power Finance, about 23% of PV installations cost more than expected.   More than a third of solar installers actually avoid working with certain Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) because of their solar permitting processes. What’s wrong with these permitting processes and what can we do to fix it?  What’s being done right now? No standardized permitting process or fees have been set among AHJs, or the entities that have the power to determine and enforce code requirements for PV systems.  I’m catching up with GoGreensolar.com CEO Deep Patel to touch on some of these issues. From a solar contractor’s perspective, how do varying permitting procedures affect your business? It makes it more difficult to generate a proposal.  There really is not a cookie cutter solution, so unfortunately we can’t just generate proposal on the spot.  It often takes weeks because we have to call the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), leave messages, and wait for them to call us back. So when you’re trying to get a proposal out, it often takes up your time.  This increases the wait-time for customers and often drives up the soft costs of solar.  Would you say that this cost is passed along to consumers? Yes, proposals currently have to account for this unpredictability. When you’re running a business with that kind of uncertainty, you have to pad the proposal in case of any unexpected fees or codes changes. In an attempt to bring down the time and soft-costs that come with this inconsistent permitting process, the DOE’s Sunshot supported Clean Power Finance’s efforts to develop a National Solar Permitting Database.  The goal is to provide solar professionals a platform to give testimonials about different AHJs and coach each other through these permitting processes.  I guess you could say it’s like Yelp for solar contractors to review AHJs. A National Database can help solar contractors work more efficiently, but is it not placing a Band-Aid on a bullet wound?  Given that the DOE already has a standardized set of permitting policies known (solar ABCs), is it even fair that the burden of navigating these arduous permitting processes is imposed on those who are installing solar electric systems?  The problem is that the DOE doesn’t have the jurisdiction here.  The DOE can’t force the cities to follow a standardized permitting process, but they can make recommendations and city governments can choose to adopt them.  Meanwhile,...

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How to Teach Kids About the Sun!
Jan28

How to Teach Kids About the Sun!

Brightening Lessons: Outdoor Experiments to Teach Children About the Sun The best way for your kids to learn about the sun is to get out in it!  There are some things that just can’t be learned on the Internet, but there are plenty of activities that can be done in your backyard that will get your children away from the light of a computer screen and into the light of day. Here are some fun ways to enlighten them about the star that’s essential to life on Earth. Show how exposure to the sun affects plant growth Buy some quick-growing grass seed and make a tiny greenhouse out of a box, with half of the grass seed covered so that no sunlight reaches it. Water both sides with your children for a couple weeks so that they can see the difference between the two. They’ll see that the grass seed that didn’t get any sunlight has hardly grown and lacks the color that the rest has, teaching them an interesting lesson about photosynthesis. Solar cooking A good lesson on how solar energy can be used is to show your children how the sun’s energy can be used for cooking. The most basic example is to fry an egg on the sidewalk (of course, you will need to live somewhere hot enough for this to work). You can also create a solar box oven using a pizza box. Here are the steps to take: Cut a flap in the lid of the pizza box, leaving an inch between the sides of the flap and the edge of the lid. Fold the flap open. You may need to use a ruler to prop it open and keep it standing up. Use aluminum foil to cover the inner side of the flap. Line the bottom of the box with black construction paper Cover the open hole where you opened the flap with clear plastic wrap and make it airtight. It may require a couple layers. Once you’ve done this, put your food on the black construction paper inside the box and set your solar box oven in a place where the most sunlight will be hitting the aluminum foil on the inner side of the open flap, causing it to reflect down onto the plastic wrap window. If you need to insulate it more, you can roll up newspaper sheets and put them on the bottom of the box. Concentrate the power of the sun As a child, you may have learned about the power of the sun by contributing to the fiery demise of some poor ants using a magnifying glass...

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Will solar work in your state? (Infographic)
Jan17

Will solar work in your state? (Infographic)

Do photovoltaics(PV) really work outside of California?   When first looking into solar, it seems only natural to assume that solar panels will work best in hot areas. Contrary to this intuition, solar panels perform best in cool environments.   You’ll get the maximum yield from your PV system when direct sunlight is hitting your array, but solar panels continue to generate electricity with ambient sunlight on cloudy days. Tip: monocrystalline solar panels are known to be more efficient in low-light conditions than polycrystalline solar panels. Rain can also rinse off “soiling,” or the dirt and dust that builds up on solar panels, making them operate more efficiently. Some areas also have rewarding “net metering” policies that credit you for the the energy your PV system generates on those clear days.  It’s fed into the electricity grid and later used to offset your energy consumption (kWh) on cloudy days or at night when you’re drawing from the utility grid.   To learn more about grid-tied PV systems, read Grid-Tied and Off-Grid Solar 101. With the installed price of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems declining, investing in clean energy is more cost-effective than ever.  Solar is even saving homeowners money in cloudier cities like Seattle and Portland. Solar is steadily appearing on more rooftops throughout the country- which U.S. cities have you noticed more PV systems being installed?...

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