Can solar work well for my house?

Interested homeowners often begin looking into solar by going on the web. There are many good resources on the web for investigating solar, for gathering basic information, and for beginning the process of considering whether a PV solar electric system is a good choice for you. You’ll find some good links below for continuing your research.

Here are some basic qualifiers for solar — if you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, then solar is worth investigating further:

  • Do you own your home?
  • Do you pay high electric bills? More than $100 in the average month?
  • Are your electric bills higher in the summer than in the winter?
  • Is your house unshaded or only lightly shaded (by trees or other nearby structures)?
  • Does your house have a large roof surface facing south, southeast, or southwest?
  • Does your property have open, unshaded ground near the house (within 100 feet)?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes,” then you may be a good candidate for solar.

Here are a few questions that answering “yes” means you are a prime candidate for solar:

  • Does your house have a large, open, unshaded roof facing directly south?
  • Does your house (or garage) have a standing-seam metal roof?
  • Do you think your electric rates are likely to rise in the next 5-20 years?
  • Do you plan to be in your home for the next 10+ years?
  • Are you green-leaning? Do you want to take steps to live a greener lifestyle?
  • Are you concerned about power outages? Would you like to have power during grid blackouts?

If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should definitely take a good, hard look at solar. You can begin by getting in touch with us through our web form:

Our website has some good information for you:

Why buy solar?

“…even if solar isn’t the lowest cost energy you can buy, and even if it doesn’t provide the best ROI, you should still buy solar for the same reason you need to have Bonds and T-Bills making up ~20% of your investment portfolio. It’s not about how you feel, it’s just the math. The math is the same for energy as for financial investments. You’ll get the best long term performance by investing in a mix of instruments.” Amory Lovins

Amory Bloch Lovins is an American physicist, environmental scientist, writer, and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He has worked in the field of energy policy and related areas for four decades. Lovins is a McArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship winner and the author of Reinventing Fire, Natural Capitalism, Small is Profitable, and Factor Four.

Are solar panels worth it?

Solar offers a fixed-cost hedge against future energy cost increases. It makes your future energy costs more predictable, and lower.

Solar energy systems have high up-front cost, but once installed, the fuel (the sun) is free forever. Due to the thirty-year system life and very low maintenance costs, once the system is purchased, the cost of energy is fixed at a known quantity. This compares with conventional electric energy costs, which have been rising at around 5% per year and may be expected to rise even faster in the future. Conventional energy prices, with their dependence on fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil) are subject to the volatility of those markets, as well as any future costs of environmental remediation or carbon emissions penalties.

Several states have tiered energy prices in which the price per kWh of electrical energy consumption is lowest at night (when demand is lowest) and highest during the afternoon (when demand is highest). Because solar systems produce maximum energy during midday and afternoon hours, solar electric systems offset the highest-priced energy in a tiered pricing market. In Ohio, a solar electric system is a great bet on future adoption of tiered pricing in the Ohio electric utility and co-op markets. Install solar now, and if tiered pricing comes in, you’re equipped to offset the highest-cost energy and thereby save the most money on your electric bill.

Solar is a smart investment that rises each day with the sun. There are not many other investment vehicles showing returns as good as solar now, on a mid- to long-term basis. The savings from a smart move to solar now could add up to tens of thousands of dollars in the 10-25 year outlook, and if utility rates rise faster/more than projected in our financial models, the savings will be higher and ROI will arrive faster. Solar is a smart, secure power buy and a great long-term investment in your family, home & planet.

Is Solar Power Dangerous?

When it comes to evaluating the dangers of solar, fire safety is one of several key reasons why experience, proper training and attention to detail matter when it comes to quality solar installations.

We can point you to several solar system fires that have occurred on commercial solar systems. ALL of these fires were preventable. But an unfortunate set of factors came together to spark the fires. In general, all of these fires can be attributed to a combination of two or more of these three elements:

  1. Inadequate solar installation standards (NEC and others)
  2. Inexperienced solar designers and/or installers
  3. Severe pressure to cut costs

The solar industry has grown so fast that it has outpaced development of industry standards. Unfortunately, there are far too few standards all across the board (from National Electric Code issues and building code issues to development of standards for solar performance predictions, solar system reliability, and solar financial accounting).

This lack of standards means safety and quality are in the hands of the designers and installers of solar systems. Worse yet, it also means that potential customers have very few means with which to evaluate the veracity of competing claims from everyone peddling solar, and very little protection from incompetence.

Couple the above with the massive number of new solar companies entering the market with little or no depth of experience, and you have the recipe for problems.

Having been in the business of building solar systems since 1997, we foresaw a lot of these problems unfolding. These issues have been an ongoing topic of internal company discussion for us.

At Third Sun Solar we are passionate about solar energy, and solar PV is our sole line of business. So we take the long term health of the solar industry very seriously. Our president, Geoff Greenfield, sits on the NABCEP board of directors (NABCEP is one of the original bodies working to develop industry standards and best practices for solar) and we have engaged wherever we can in supporting solar industry best practices. We have long partnerships with some of the solar industry’s most experienced veterans and we are constantly striving to learn from everyone’s mistakes and improve our game.

We have given local fire departments solar-specific training on actual solar installations and we have been following development of solar fire code issues in CA since they got started. We’ll continue to do so.

Eventually, the standards will be put in place to alleviate these concerns, but that is yet several years away. Meanwhile, we are confident that our attention to detail, strict refusal to cut corners, and our devotion to safety and quality have always and will continue to bridge the gap between where the industry is today and where it needs to be in terms of solar safety, reliability and quality. The simple fact is, a well-designed, well-constructed solar power system poses no more risk of fire than any other commercial building component. Know your solar installer. Hire an experienced solar company and get good advice when installing solar.

Money Savings with Solar Too Good to Miss

Why buy solar now? Solar power is currently the fastest-growing industry in the USA, and solar on homes has become a very hot sector. New, much lower solar prices are catching homeowners’ interest, with the price of solar panels dropping 80% in the past 6 years. Looming trade sanctions against China for selling solar panels below cost in the US could force prices up soon, if punitive tariffs are applied.

Solar on the roof is now the best energy source financially for many homeowners. Low prices combined with a great tax incentive make the climate ideal now to go solar at home. The Federal Tax Credit for renewable energy (paying back 30% of the system cost) is currently in law through 2016, but is under attack from some lawmakers.

So now may be the best time ever to save money by producing your own energy. Stop paying a utility company. It is both smart and timely to install solar now.

Going solar is easy. We make a free analysis of your home to gauge sun exposure, shading, roof conditions, and existing electrical service. We look at a recent utility bill to see how much power you use, and when. We match your available space, electricity needs, and budget to find your solar sweet spot – the best system size for you, with the best pay-back. You want to make the most clean power for the least money – and that is what we can do for you.

Our Smart Solar Finance options – offered by a respected New England bank with expertise in renewable energy lending – offer no or low money down, good rates, and no pre-payment penalties. Our customers often apply the Federal Tax Credit refund directly to pay down their solar system, lowering their monthly payments. Home solar can produce positive cash flow from day one, as soon as it’s turned on.

Chances are, you can finance your solar panels for less than you currently pay on your electric bill. And once the system is paid off, the fuel is free – it rises every morning!

 

Will solar panels improve?

Any thoughts on solar panel obsolescence, solar panel upgrades, etc. – i.e. 25-30 year lifetime is great, but do you anticipate material or other advances to provide a justifiable upgrade projection in 7, 10 or 15 years?

The solar industry is still evolving. Solar modules of the format we are currently using (crystalline cells sandwiched between glass sheets and framed by aluminum) are here to stay for at least the next decade if not the next three decades. The performance of the cells has pretty much been maxed out. The real advances now are simply bringing the cost of manufacturing down. So yes, in 7 or 10 years there will be lower cost solar panels, but I strongly doubt they would have sufficiently improved performance to justify a change-out or upgrade.

Our industry does not yet have sufficient standards in place to make solar panels mix and matchable or plug and play commodity items. Each project is still a custom project and the specific panels are matched to the specific inverters. There are about 600 different makes and models of solar panels and they are all different electrically and in their physical dimensions. So swapping one out for a “better” one in the future will likely not be possible.

The most likely upgrade you could expect would be improved inverter controls which would allow your system to keep running during grid troubles. Given the large number of inverters already deployed, I foresee such improvements being made available as retrofits to existing inverters.

Yes, there could be some step changes in performance improvement in the next ten years. But from what I’ve seen repeatedly since 2006 is that the overall economics of the package don’t improve. If the project makes sense to do now, you should just do it. Those customers I know who waited for something better to come along now generally regret that decision. They could have been saving money all along.

 

How long does a solar inverter last? What’s the replacement cost?

Inverter warranties are 10-15 years, depending on the make and model. Inverter replacement costs are hard to forecast 15 years out. The inverter manufacturers are just now starting a price war similar to what the solar panel manufacturers went through over the past three years. So costs for equivalent models will likely fall considerably over the next 15 years. However, more and more value-added features are getting built into inverters, so those additional features will likely offset the price reductions going forward.

Do I have to clean my solar panels?

We had this question from a customer: Given that there isn’t too much rain to help with the cleaning, what is the typical solar panel maintenance attention that you would anticipate – is solar panel cleaning just typically wetting them down with hoses, or hand scrubbing? Dust obviously and a lot of birds out there. Every other day, once a week, once a month? What is the accessibility (between panels, etc.).

And here is our answer: For most of our customers there is little to no maintenance whatsoever, other than a weekly or monthly check of the production numbers to make sure the system is still operating. They make no noise either on or off, so unless someone pays attention to the monitoring alerts you won’t notice if the system goes offline. We can have the system set up to send automatic email alerts to us and you so such events won’t get missed.

Washing: In the Midwest, with lots of rain, it is typically not cost effective to wash modules. In CA, however, it is generally considered cost effective to wash modules one to two times per year. First wash is best done in late May, early June. Second wash is optional, depending on rain. A good spray from a hose is usually sufficient.

Random birds are not much problem. But if birds make a habit of visiting one spot, then that spot will need some scrubbing.

Solar panel accessibility depends on your goals and priorities. The CA fire code requires walking space all around the edges and a few pathways between arrays. But this still leaves large portions in which individual solar panels would be hard to reach. The panels are usually butted tightly up against each other. Our trained installers can walk on them, but I would not want an untrained or inexperienced person walking on them. So, you should stand in the walkways and spray with a strong hose.

Alternatively, it is possible to purchase automated washing systems, but whether or not they’re cost effective depends a lot on the design detail. Suffice it to say, this is something easily solved and not too costly.

Solar power during a utility blackout

“What about solar during a utility failure?”

For safety, grid interactive solar systems are designed to immediately disconnect and shut off if a utility grid failure is sensed. The system will automatically restart a few minutes after grid power is restored. As a result, no power will be available from the solar panels during utility outages. This protects utility workers who may be out working on power lines.

With new SMA transformerless inverters, a solar system can provide limited daytime power during a blackout. These inverters can be connected to household loads — like a fridge, lights, computers — and make up to 1,500 watts available while the sun shines.

Solar energy systems can provide around-the-clock, independent backup power during utility outages if they are connected to an appropriately-sized battery bank to absorb and store the energy they produce. Natural gas and propane generators are another option for backup power. We have installed solar panels and a generator on numerous jobs, when secure power is an absolute must-have.

Solar maintenance

Solar maintenance requirements are minimal.

Solar electric systems require no regular maintenance. The system operates silently and reliably for years, the same as the electricity we expect from the utility company.

Dirt and dust accumulation on the panels will reduce energy generation slightly. Customers who wash their solar panels typically notice about a 1% increase in power immediately following the wash, but washing is not necessary. Normal rain and wind are sufficient to remove most dust and debris.

Periodic monitoring of system performance is usually all that is required to ensure that the system is operating properly. Solar performance monitoring can be done manually, but for large public systems, automatic Internet-based solar monitoring is recommended. This allows remote solar monitoring by maintenance personnel, the solar installer and any other interested parties. Internet-based monitoring can also provide interactive solar performance displays for the public, and a cool way to show off your solar.