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Tesla’s Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations
Sep28

Tesla’s Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations

Tesla Motors recently revealed their first six solar-powered “Supercharger” stations for the all-electric Model S sedan.   Strategically located off major California highways, these charging stations have an output of 90 kW to power the sedan’s 85 kWh (or 60kWh) battery, providing 3 hours on the road at 60 miles per hour from only 30 minutes of charging.   The grid-tied solar-powered Supercharger stations can send excess power back into the grid.    Tesla’s six Supercharger stations are located throughout California, making a road-trip from LA to San Francisco possible.   Tesla CEO Elon Musk intends to build vast network of 100 Supercharger stations by 2015.  These Supercharger stations will be conveniently located at shopping destinations and restaurants.      Tesla’s all electric vehicles charge for free at the Tesla Supercharger stations.  Though most EVs cannot charge at these stations, it isn’t clear whether future non-Tesla vehicles will be allowed to use these charging stations....

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What is the Smart Grid?
Sep26

What is the Smart Grid?

Just in the last two decades, we’ve seen our daily communications progress from landlines and pagers to smartphones.  Though the devices we use on a daily basis have been dramatically improving over the years, we’re charging our iPhones with century-old grid technology. The North American electric grid, otherwise known as the “largest machine in the world,” is the intricate network of power stations, transmission lines, transformers, and distribution lines that power our daily lives.  The idea for the North American electric grid was developed about a hundred years ago.  A hundred years ago, the average person’s energy demands were quite modest in comparison with today.  A centralized energy model used to make sense. US energy consumption is expected to increase 41% by 2030. With a drastic increase in demand for energy from a growing population, the North American electric grid is under enormous pressure.  We’re currently experiencing an increase in blackouts and brownouts because of the stress on this dated infrastructure. Though the grid is actually 99.97 % reliable, Americans still pay $150 billion every year because of these disturbances in grid electricity. Long story short- the grid is old and in need of change.  This is why everyone is talking about “Smart Grid.”  With all the hype about Smart Grid, it has many wondering what its defining feature is. Truthfully, the Smart Grid is more of a concept than one specific technology. The goal of Smart Grid is to adapt the existing infrastructure to 21st Century demands by implementing modern communications technology. The easiest way to conceptualize what “Smart Grid” means is to imagine the entire electrical infrastructure connected to the internet.   The Smart Grid is a vision of a more flexible, efficient, and reliable grid that will support renewable energy and engage consumers in new ways.   This won’t be an overnight change, but rather a gradual move towards this ideal. The Smart Grid will be able to collect and respond to data collected throughout the entire electricity grid.   Transmission and distribution sensors will be installed throughout the grid, enabling communication between the devices themselves and with utilities operations.   This will allow the grid to determine the most efficient way to transmit and distribute electricity, saving money and keeping the cost lower. Remote control and automation technologies make the entire system more reliable and efficient.  The Smart Grid will enable us to understand and improve the generation, transmission, distribution and consumption of electricity, creating a more balanced and efficient grid. Utilities will be able to predict, detect, and respond to blackouts/brownouts immediately by without having to wait for a customer to call in and notify the...

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How Spinach Could Boost the Output of Solar Panels in the Future
Sep14

How Spinach Could Boost the Output of Solar Panels in the Future

Yep you read correctly, spinach is no longer just for Popeye.  Researches have discovered that solar cells can benefit from this leafy green vegetable that traditionally is being used to grow cartoon muscle.  It`s been four decades since researchers isolated a protein found in spinach called Photosystem 1 (PS1).  It was found to absorb almost all sunlight it is exposed to – close to 100% – or about four to five times more than what a typical solar panel on today`s market is capable of. Unfortunately, spinach does not generate any electricity in sunlight. Instead, it uses the sun`s energy for photosynthesis. However, this is not the first time that scientists have mimicked natural evolution to improve technology.  Thinking that we might one day be able to apply this protein in future solar cells to improve efficiency rates is really not that crazy. A small research team at Vanderbilt University has now brought this concept a giant step closer to reality.  They found that by doping silicon with a positive charge, they could successfully apply PS1 to a conventional solar cell.  This “biohybrid” solar cell produces 1 milliamp of current per square centimeter at 0.3 volts, which is almost three times better than any biohybrid cell to this date. “This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals.  It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” explains Davide Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry and part of the research team. “If we can continue on our current trajectory of increasing voltage and current levels, we could reach the range of mature solar conversion technologies in three years.” stated Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at VU. Vanderbilt University is currently looking into to patenting their process. Source: Phys.org _________________ Guest Post by Mathias Aarre Maehlum.  Mathias is doing a Masters in Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar power and other sources of renewable energy at his blog Energy...

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SMA to Release Microinverter
Aug23

SMA to Release Microinverter

We are drawing near the long-anticipated release of SMA’s first ever mircoinverter: the SMA Sunny Boy 240-US.     SMA Sunny Boy 240-US, 240 Watt Grid-Tie Micro Inverter   SMA is a German manufactuer of photovoltaic inverters that was founded in 1981 and currently holds 40% of the market for solar inverters.  SMA has consistently produced top-quality inverters for commercial and residential applications, distinguishing itself as a trustworthy brand.  Though SMA has reigned supreme in the central inverter market, microinverter manufacturers are now proving to be notable competition.    The introduction of M175 microinverters by Enphase in 2008 offered the general public an alternative to central inverters.  Like central inverters, microinverters convert the DC electricity produced by solar panels to usable AC electricity.  Microinverters, however, attach behind individual panels in the array, so each module can operate independently.  Because of this, microinverters maximize the power produced by the individual modules, which is beneficial for systems that could be subject to shading.     Enphase M215     Microinverters, such as the Enphase M215, have gained much traction in the last several years, particularly for residential systems in the United States.  Even though SMA is still the leading manufacturer of photovoltaic inverters, the popularity of products like the Enphase M215 has incrementally chipped away at SMA’s would-be customer base.  Enphase estimates that  there have been around 40,000 installations with their microinverters.   The popularity of microinverters for residential systems has provided SMA an opportunity to capitalize on their reputable name.  To address the needs of prospective customers, SMA is embracing this opportunity by creating a microinverter that will soon be offered to the public.   At the Intersolar North America (ISNA) conference, SMA showcased their expanded product line, which includes the SMA Sunny Boy 240-US.  Though SMA will continue to sell central inverters, they recommend the Sunny Boy 240-US for systems of 2 KW or less that are subject to complicated shading conditions or have multiple orientations.  According to SMA’s website:   “SMA’s Sunny Boy micro inverter system enhances design flexibility for installers in the U.S. and across the globe. It features simple installation, an innovative communications platform and superior reliability, and is especially applicable for residential systems and systems with complex shadowing situations. Among the Sunny Boy micro inverter system’s ground-breaking innovations is its ability to monitor via the Sunny Portal with  the existing Sunny Boy inverter line, making string/micro hybrid installations a reality.  Hybrid installations have the potential to minimize installation costs while maximizing energy harvest.”   Customers with SMA Sunny Boy Micro Inverters can also use the Sunny Boy 240 Power Gateway, which allows for internet-based analytics on the...

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Pure Sine Wave Inverters vs. Modified Sine Wave Inverters
Jun19

Pure Sine Wave Inverters vs. Modified Sine Wave Inverters

True Sine Wave or Modified Sine Wave?Because the AC electricity from the electric grid is in the form of sine wave, the inverters we use aim to produce a current that is as close to sine wave as possible.  While modified sine wave inverters present an inexpensive alternative, there is no comparison to the clean, undistorted sine wave provided by pure sine wave inverters.   Pure Sine Wave Inverter    A pure sine wave inverter, also known as a true sine wave inverter, produces a clean, undistorted electrical output.  Depending on the manufacturer of the product, pure sine inverters have a perfect sine wave output that’s in phase with the AC grid of the utility company.  Because of the sinusoidal form, pure sine wave inverters are used for grid-tie solar systems and work for virtually any AC load.  Cotek SK3000-148, 3000 Watt 48V Pure Sine Wave Inverter Because they produce no harmonic distortions in the frequency, pure sine wave inverters allow any electronic device to function well without overheating or creating an irritating “buzz” sound.  Though pure sine wave inverters are undoubtedly the best and most versatile kind of inverter, they are more expensive than modified sine wave inverters.   Pure sine wave inverters are necessary for highly sensitive products such as digital clocks, audio equipment, and video-game consoles.  As a general rule of thumb, if you’re powering any electronics, you’ll probably want to stick with a pure sine wave inverter.  The image below displays the difference between a pure sine wave and a modified sine wave.   Modified Sine Wave Inverters   The cheaper alternative to a pure sine wave inverter is a modified sine wave inverter.  A modified sine inverter converts DC electricity to a nonsinusoidal AC wave that is “modified,” or distorted.   When an inverter produces modified sine wave, the voltage output (represented in the Y axis of the image) essentially jumps from zero volts to positive, where it plateaus and drops back to zero, to negative voltage, and then back to zero again. This is signified in the image by the squared edges seen in the modified sine wave, which is contrasted by the smooth oscillation of a voltage that is produced by a pure sine wave inverter.  The modified sine wave is a stepped waveform that is designed to mimic a true sine wave.  Because it is not a clean form of energy, modified sine wave does generate a certain kind of interference called harmonic distortion (though not as much as a square wave). Modified sine wave inverters can work for the majority of low-end appliances, but take caution when using them for your...

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Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?
Jun01

Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?

Most solar modules used today are either polycrystalline or monocrystalline, otherwise known as mono and poly. So what is the difference between poly and mono? For the sake of brevity, the difference between the two is that monocrystalline is composed of a single crystal of silicon, while polycrystalline is composed of many crystals.  Generally speaking, mono solar panels are more efficient but poly solar panels are a better use of your money. Monocrystalline Monocrystalline, which is also called mono or single crystalline, is the older of the two technologies and has been around since 1955.  Monocrystalline is still used to manufacture photovoltaic cells today and is arguably the most efficient material available. A monocrystalline solar cell is composed of a single crystal of silicon, a purity that can be identified by a dark, even coloring.  Extensive filtration is required to purify the silicon so it can be used for monocrystalline solar cells.   A single monocrystalline silicon seed crystal is slowly pulled from the high-heat molten silicon.  As it’s drawn upwards, the silicon cools and solidifies as a single ingot.  This cylindrical ingot is then sliced into thin pieces that are then cut into the cell shapes you see on a monocrystalline solar panel. Monocrystalline solar panel panels will typically have higher efficiency rates (15-20%), converting energy particularly well in low-light and lab conditions.  Mono panels will generally have higher nameplate ratings than poly.  Because monocrystalline solar cells usually have higher efficiency, these solar panels will make good use of limited roof space. The biggest draw-back is cost.  Mono solar panels come at a premium so unless you’re particularly limited on roof space, they’re not the best use of your money. Pros: • High efficiency • Good for limited space • Performs well in low-light conditions Cons: • High Cost • Sensitive to soiling and shade • More silicon is wasted in the manufacturing process Polycrystalline Polycrystalline, which is also called poly or multicrystalline, has been used since 1981.  Until recently, polycrystalline solar panels were easily identified by their solar cells that have a textured look resembling a granite countertop or shattered glass.  Most poly solar panels just have a dark blue color now. Polycrystalline cells are composed of multiple silicon crystals, which is a cheaper way to manufacture solar modules.  Polycrystalline cells are commonly made with a cast of molten silicon.  When these cells are being created, they cool faster, creating smaller crystals.  Just remember that poly means many because it has many crystals.  Because poly solar panels are easier to produce, they’re less expensive – making them the ideal choice for most people.   Though monocrystalline is still...

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