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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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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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Solar on every U.S. roof? Infographic
Nov07
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Solar Energy 101
Oct08

Solar Energy 101

You’re the kind of person who doesn’t want someone telling you what to buy, right? Learn how solar energy can work for you by registering for this 8-part email class. Sign up for this free 8-part course. Email Address With this email crash-course in solar energy, you’ll get information you need to determine whether installing a solar system is right for you! Here are a few things we’ll cover in this eight-part course: What does it cost to go solar? How does solar technology work? How do you finance a solar system? How much solar do you really need for your home? Should you ‘Do-It-Yourself’ or find a professional solar...

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Top 5 Items You Need to Get Your Home on Solar Power
May28

Top 5 Items You Need to Get Your Home on Solar Power

Solar power is a great alternative for powering your home or business. It is a renewable source of energy that is both better for the environment and better for your pocketbook.  You can choose to add a few solar-powered items to your home to make small but positive changes, or you can decide to undergo an entire green makeover and put your whole home on solar power. Switching to solar power doesn’t need to be complicated or burdensome. You can easily make the switch by getting a few key pieces of equipment. Here are the top 5 items you will need to get your home on solar power and start reaping the environmental and financial benefits of choosing this renewable energy resource: Solar Panels Of course, the most important piece of equipment you’ll need is a series of solar panels. You can purchase them individually or buy a solar panel kit that has multiple panels and other pieces of equipment you’ll need, such as micro inverters and racking. Determining the number of solar panels you will need depends on an equation that takes into account how much power you need to run your home and how much sun-hours your home gets. It’s best to consult with a solar representative to help you determine your individual needs.   Grid-Tie Inverters Grid-tie inverters are necessary to help you convert direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) power from your solar panels. Solar power energy is direct current, whereas the type of power you need for your home is alternating current.  Grid-tie inverters also allows for net metering, which can help you to sell surplus energy that your solar panels create back to the energy company. Racks and Mounts You’ll need a way to mount your solar panels, and racks and mounts will help you do that job. Obviously, the best place to mount solar panels is a south-facing location where they will get the most direct sunlight during the day.  For many homes, this will be the roof. However, you may also find a good location to ground-mount your array. If you’re considering adding battery backup…  Charge Controllers The intensity of the sun will vary from day to day. On especially bright days, you may get more voltage in your solar panels, which can overload your battery bank. By using a charge controller, you regulate the charge to your batteries so they don’t become overcharged and damaged. You’ll want to be sure your batteries are always protected in case you need to rely on them for power backup. Backup Battery You never know when you’re going to get a patch of...

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