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Net Metering, Value of Solar Tariffs, and What They Mean for Installers and Their Customers
Apr25

Net Metering, Value of Solar Tariffs, and What They Mean for Installers and Their Customers

One of the hottest topics right now in the solar industry is the future of net energy metering (or “net metering”), a policy that allows solar customers to be credited on their utility bills for any extra power that their solar systems produce. What’s to become of net metering, what might replace it, and what do these changes mean for installers, customers, and utilities? That’s hard to predict right now, but some recent events may give us some clues as to where we’re heading and what the future holds for each stakeholder.     Net Metering’s Benefits To understand what’s at stake, let’s first go through net metering’s benefits for customers, installers, and the utility: For solar customers: Net metering allows customers to install a larger solar system that meets their total day and night annual energy usage without having to purchase expensive onsite battery storage. Thus, it gives consumers the ability to save more on their electric bills than they would without net metering. Until energy storage prices come down, net metering is the next best thing to having a battery. For solar installers: Net metering allows solar installers to design larger solar systems that meet the entire day and nighttime needs of their customers’ homes and businesses. Without net metering, it would only make financial sense for customers to install enough solar to offset daytime energy consumption. Since many residents work outside their homes, a home’s daytime energy usage can be relatively small, so installers would see a significant drop in installation sizes without net metering. That would of course reduce their business and probably require a smaller workforce, which would in turn affect workers in the solar industry. For utilities: While utilities may claim that net metering unfairly subsidizes solar customers by allowing them “free” energy at night, they discount the value of extra solar power being fed into the grid and being used by neighboring homes and businesses. Utilities also benefit from the avoided costs of not having to build more power plants or use expensive peak power plants, plus they receive grid efficiency savings by not having to transmit energy for long distances over inefficient electric lines. Finally, utilities ignore the value of decreasing pollution and their carbon emissions.     Current Net Metering Battles So, utilities see net metering and solar as a problem to their bottom lines. As a result, they and their lobbyists, such as ALEC and the Edison Electric Institute have been trying to devalue solar and net metering by asking public utility commissions to credit solar owners with only half the kilowatt-hours that they generate or by imposing monthly...

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SunJack – World’s Most Portable 20W Solar Charger Live on Kickstarter
Apr17

SunJack – World’s Most Portable 20W Solar Charger Live on Kickstarter

Harold Tan, one of the team members at GoGreenSolar.com, has launched a new Kickstarter campaign to build and market SunJack, the world’s most portable 20-Watt solar charger and battery pack for off-grid applications and emergency mobile power. The campaign will also benefit the rural villages of Papua New Guinea with smoke-free lighting and energy. As an off-grid camper and extreme outdoorsman, Tan knows how important charged electronics can be in isolated areas. But whether power was needed for light, weather information, or communication, Tan saw that solar powered chargers on the market today were flawed. They gave too little power too slowly. With today’s power-hungry mobile devices, off-grid campers could wait 12 hours or more to fully recharge and have enough stored energy for map apps, rescue calls, night lighting, or just enjoying music at night. Realizing the need, Tan designed the SunJack system, a 14 Watt or a 20 Watt fast-charging solar powered battery system that’s lightweight and easily folds into the size of an iPad. When completely opened, the lightweight SunJack systems can be securely attached to a backpack and fully replenish its batteries in approximately 5 hours of direct sunlight. With the 14 Watt model, SunJack’s 8000 mAh lithium-polymer battery can charge two USB devices simultaneously, run independently from the solar panels, and has a built in LED light for off-grid lighting. With the premium 20-Watt SunJack model, family campers can receive 16000 mAh capacity, enough to power up to 8 iPhones, or 1.4 iPads or 8 hours of 5 Watt lighting. SunJack is unique for its proprietary USB port and a lithium-polymer battery that was specially designed for faster charging from sunlight. “Think of it as being able to get more water out of your faucet faster,” said Tan. “The SunJack is able to get more electrons flowing into the battery faster than any solar charger available, which means you get wall-outlet charging speeds in an incredibly portable form-factor.” But SunJack is more than an off-grid power system for boats, beach days, emergencies, and rock climbing trips. It’s also a path for non-toxic lighting for the rural villages of Papua New Guinea. For certain levels of Kickstarter investors, Tan will donate a SunJack and an LED light to a rural village, enabling rural families to learn to read and perform indoor chores at night without breathing noxious kindling wood fumes. The SunJack Kickstarter campaign is running from now until Thursday, May 15th and will offer backers several early investor values, including portable solar lights and significant discounts off SunJack’s projected $250 retail price. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, backers should receive the first production...

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All You Need to Know About the US-China Solar Trade Dispute
Feb26

All You Need to Know About the US-China Solar Trade Dispute

Update 3/14/14: The solar trade case preliminary decision has been moved from March 28th to June 2nd. The trade commission says it’s due to “parties involved are cooperating, and investigation is complicated.” Perhaps this will give the parties more time for a settlement. In case you missed it, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed to consider adding (more) restrictive tariffs to imported Chinese solar panels. Why this is happening, who’s behind the dispute, and what will happen to solar panel prices and installation costs if the suit moves forward are complicated questions—but important ones for both installers and consumers. With that in mind, here’s a basic rundown of all you need to know about the most recent Chinese-US Solar Trade Case and how it might affect installers and consumers. How the U.S.-China Solar Trade Dispute Got Started It all started in October 2011 when SolarWorld—a German company that also manufactures panels in the U.S.— filed an unfair trade complaint with the ITC. The U.S. division of SolarWorld claimed that China was unfairly subsidizing its solar panel companies, enabling Chinese companies to dump solar panels on the U.S. market at below cost prices, thus forcing SolarWorld to drop its prices and shut down U.S. factories. Although SolarWorld lost U.S. manufacturing jobs, many U.S. solar installers opposed SolarWorld’s action, arguing that inexpensive solar panels helped to lower installation costs and spur growth, creating even more U.S. installation jobs. Nevertheless, SolarWorld won their case in 2012, and the ITC imposed 31% tariffs on imported Chinese solar cells, the main component that makes up a solar panel. As a result, many small Chinese solar companies dropped out of the U.S. market, but the big solar players, such as Yingli Solar and Trina Solar found a loophole. How the Trade Dispute is Continuing Today Due to the 31% tariff on just solar cells, the Chinese companies began to manufacture cells in other countries, mainly Taiwan. They then imported the cells back to China where they were assembled into solar panels for export, technically avoiding the tariff causing a 31% increase in their solar panel prices. However, SolarWorld saw the loophole and recently filed another complaint with the ITC, claiming that the Chinese were still dumping and subsidizing below-cost Chinese solar panels on the U.S. market by using Taiwan-based solar cells.  A decision on the case has yet to be made, but is expected by early summer. Who’s Currently Affected by the Solar Trade Dispute? If you’re an installer, DIY solar enthusiast, or a consumer, the trade dispute probably hasn’t affected you at all—so far—thanks to the Taiwan work-around. Solar panel prices have stayed...

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3 Ways Enphase M215 Just Got Better
Jan27

3 Ways Enphase M215 Just Got Better

Enphase Energy just revealed some key improvements to the Enphase M215, 215 Watt microinverter and their system as a whole. Take a look at the new features… 1. Enphase M215 with Integrated Ground Photovoltaic (PV) systems in North America have normally required bonding each microinverter together with continuous copper grounding wire.  The purpose of this standard is to prevent fires, protect workers from shocks, and comply with National Electrical Code (NEC).  Some changes to NEC have allowed Enphase to incorporate integrated (DC isolated) ground technology into their 4th generation line, which now includes the M215. Because the DC circuit is isolated and insulated from the ground, you can now safely install Enphase M215 microinverters without a Grounding Electrode Conductor (GEC) connected to each microinverter. Coming soon… the 4th generation M215. Download the new M215 Microinverter data sheet (PDF). As you can see in the image above, the M215 now has a flat lid with no grounding lug. Yes, this product meets U.S. National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements Ungrounded Photovoltaic (PV) Power Systems and it’s actually a safer product. Integrated Ground(IG) technology simplifies this cumbersome installation process, reducing materials and labor costs.  Installers and D.I.Y. customers already prefer to use Enphase for residential systems because of its straightforward installation.  The new M215 further simplifies the process because there’s no need to run copper wire between each microinverter. Sound familiar?  Last year, Enphase released their fourth generation model, the Enphase M250, which also features this new IG technology.  The Enphase M520, however, is optimized for solar panels all the way up to 300 Watts. The Enphase M215 is compatible with modules up to 270W, a lower wattage range where consumers are finding the best dollar per Watt on solar panels.  So basically, Enphase put all the benefits of the M250 into the M215. Oh yeah, the new Enphase M215 also has a CEC efficiency rating of 96.5% compared with the previous version’s 96%. For more information on the new M215’s integrated grounding feature, please see Enphase’s M215 white paper. 2.  Wi-Fi option for the Envoy Communications Gateway Now Available! The Envoy Communications Gateway is the hub connects your Enphase microinverter system to Enlighten, Enphase’s web-based monitoring software for PV systems. Instead of running an Ethernet cable from the Envoy hardware into a broadband router, you can now connect the Envoy Communications Gateway with the new wi-fi option (pictured top right). The new Wi-fi option simplifies connectivity and makes finding a location for the Envoy way easier. Connect up to 600 microinverters to one Envoy.   3. MyEnlighten & Enlighten Manager Software Customers who use the Enphase Envoy to monitor their systems get...

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Top 10 BIG Businesses Going Solar (Infographic)
Dec12

Top 10 BIG Businesses Going Solar (Infographic)

Agree or disagree: Wal-Mart is a socially-conscious, altruistic corporation that installed 89MW of solar because it was the right thing to do. Let’s put it this way- Walmart wouldn’t install 89 Megawatts of solar (or 3.86 Million 230W solar panels) if it didn’t make financial sense. Wal-Mart now has a greater solar capacity than 38 states combined.  The falling price of PV has allowed companies like Wal-mart to use solar energy to reduce their operating expenses and take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy systems. Wal-Mart isn’t the only corporation that’s caught on.  Some other businesses that are using solar to lower their operating costs include Costco, IKEA, Kohl’s, Apple, Macy’s, Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson, Volkswagen, Walgreens, Target, Safeway… the list goes on. Vote Solar’s Executive Director Adam Browning explains, “For years, the promise of solar was always ‘just around the corner.’  Well, solar has turned the corner, and found itself on Main Street, USA. These companies – titans of American business – may have vastly different products, business models, and geographic locations, but they all have something in common: they know a good deal when they see one, and they are going solar in a big way.” Very BIG.   Commercial deployment of solar increased about 40% over last year.   Take a look at this infographic....

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SunPowered Robots Taking Over?
Nov08

SunPowered Robots Taking Over?

Yes, robots.  There are robots cleaning solar panels. SunPower, a leading solar company that designs and manufactures solar technologies, has announced their acquisition of GreenBotics, Inc., a company based out of Davis, California that offers a robotic solar panel cleaning service. Soiling is a build-up of particles on solar panels, which can be dirt, dust, and even bird droppings.  For most photovoltaic systems it would make sense to use pressure washers, solar panel cleaning kits, hoses, and cleaning solutions to remove soiling. It can be a challenge, however, maintain large-scale photovoltaic plants without an equally robust cleaning solution.  Losing up to 15% of the output from a multi-megawatt photovoltaic plant is a BIG hit financially. Often times, photovoltaic plants end up in dry, desert climates that are prone to dust. Dust = Soiling = Lost $ See the machine in action: To combat this problem, GreenBotics introduced their robotic solution that systematically cleans large-scale photovoltaic plants, which reduces water waste and much of the labor cost of cleaning these systems.  These robots will be used throughout SunPower’s projects and will be particularly advantageous for solar power plants in the Middle East, the western United States and Chile.   Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower, speaks of the acquisition of GreenBotics and how this will add value to their company and help reduce waste: “Customers in markets such as the Western U.S., the Middle East and Chile will especially benefit, as dust and debris is a challenge and water is in shorter supply.  We are very pleased to add the valuable services offered by Greenbotics to our energy services offerings.”  The cost of photovoltaic panels has become cheaper over time, and now the maintenance of large-scale systems is being optimized. Could robotics be the next big shift for solar?...

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