About Lisa Walsh

With close to 15 years in the solar industry, several of which have been in a core role with SES, Lisa’s role has developed into all aspects of originating, analyzing, and pre-qualifying prospective residential and commercial solar interests. This includes site feasibility studies, budgetary costs analysis, project financial planning and contract execution. Her role also extends into post-sale project management and oversight to insure a smooth, turnkey project.

Written by Lisa Walsh

Supercharge your Solar Water Heater

Solar Thermal not Solar PV: When talking about solar and space heating, it’s worth mentioning that the panels used for this type of solar application are not the same panels that power a house, a light, or any other electrically powered appliance. In fact, the only similarity between a PV (photovoltaic/electric) solar panel and a Thermal Solar Panel is that they both absorb solar energy. However, how each panels processes and distributes that energy is entirely different.

Enlarged Domestic Hot Water System: In order to make a solar space heating system cost-effective, most space heating systems are designed to include the home’s domestic hot water supply – thereby offsetting the gas/oil/electric bill and returning the solar system’s investment. Therefore, any space heating system is basically an enlarged solar water heating system. These systems that combine solar water heating and space heating are often referred to as combisystems. This combination is achieved with a solar storage tank that comes equipped with two separate heat exchangers; one for the domestic hot water loop and one for the space heating loop. The cooler water returning from the heating system passes through the upper heat exchanger on it’s way back to the boiler where it does one of two things: It picks up some heat that was generated by the solar system or, if the tank is cooler than the returning water, acts as a buffer tank allowing the boiler to have fewer on / off cycles thereby making it more efficient.

Space Heating Infrastructure: Radiant floor heating systems are highly compatible with solar thermal energy. This is mainly because these systems are designed to operate at low temperatures and thus the solar system can contribute energy more of the time. Hot water baseboards, radiators and other hydronic heaters can also benefit, especially if an outdoor reset control is installed. The outdoor reset control adjusts the boiler’s target temperature according to the outdoor temperature.
Forced air systems can also be modified to accommodate solar by placing a fan coil inside the existing duct work. A controller senses when the fan needs to be activated and, again, a conventional back up system kicks on as needed.

Heat Dissipation in the Summer: Of course here in Maryland/Washington DC,  in our Mid-Atlantic climate, solar energy for space heating is being summoned at a time of year when insolation (sunshine) levels are much lower than the rest of the year. Therefore more solar panels are required to meet the quota. A family of four would realistically need two, 4′ x 8′ flat plate collectors for their home’s hot water supply. Depending on the required space heating square footage, this collector size may be increased anywhere between 30 – 100%. To avoid overheating in the summertime when space heating is no longer required, there needs to be a mechanism to dispose of the excess heat. This can usually be achieved with anti-stagnation functions on the controller or by installing a heat dissipater on the roof. An ideal situation is to redirect this excess heat to a pool or hot tub, thereby creating a year round triple-application system that provides the largest return on investment.

Maryland Solar Company ,Commercial Solar Energy
Written by Lisa Walsh

Maryland Solar Pool Heaters – Top 10 FAQ’s

  1. Maryland Solar Company, Commercial Solar EnergyWhy Heat My Pool?
    Private swimming pools are a significant investment. As with any investment, it’s all about payback. A fully sized solar pool heater can raise the pool temperature 10 – 15 degrees, so many of our solar pool heating customers are able to swim from May until October – doubling their swim season, and doubling the payback on their swimming pool investment.
  2. How does a Solar Pool Heater work?
    Pool heating is the most fundamental use of solar energy. Much like when water is warmed in a garden hose, thin plastic solar pool collectors are custom-fitted to a nearby sunny roof. Automatically controlled pool water is pumped, using your existing pool pump, through the pool collectors and the heated water returns to the pool.
  3. How much does a Solar Pool Heater cost?
    A site visit (provided at no cost) is needed to provide an accurate cost proposal, as all pools, roofs and solar exposure levels are different. However, based on experience – most systems have an installation cost of $13 – $16 per square foot of collector area. This area size is equal to at least HALF of the surface area of the pool. (i.e. a 18’ x 36’ pool has a surface area of 648’ sq. ft. Therefore the homeowner would need at least 324 sq. ft of solar pool collectors).
  4. How does the cost of buying a solar pool heater compare with heat pumps?
    The upfront cost of installing a solar pool heater is much the same as installing a heat pump. However, with a heat pump the homeowner will continue to have elevated utility bills, whereas solar energy is free.
  5. Can community pools be solar-heated?
    Yes. The main requirement is a large enough nearby roof to house the solar collectors. Collectors can also be ground mounted if the facility has a large enough, unused ground area nearby.
  6. Can the solar collectors also be used to heat my home’s water tank?
    No. The solar collectors used for i) domestic water heating and   ii) solar electric are entirely different both from each other, as well as pool heating collectors. SES installs all three types of solar energy and can provide proposals for each.
  7. What about maintenance? Do I have to hire anyone to open or close the pool heater?
    Solar pool heaters require no regular maintenance. They are simply opened and closed with your pool at the beginning and end of each season. The panels drain automatically.
  8. Will the solar collectors hurt my roof?
    No. In fact, the collectors are made from a strong polymer compound that actually serves to protect your roof from the elements.
  9. How long can I expect my solar pool heater to last?
    We use Solar Industries (Aquatherm) pool collectors which were tested and survived a grueling 23 year life expectancy test performed in the Arizona desert.   In addition, Solar Industries offers the strongest warranty in the industry.
  10. How long does the installation take?
    Most installations take a single day, but sometimes two.
Solar Service,Commercial Solar Energy
Written by Lisa Walsh

Annapolis Restaurant Harry Browne’s Installs Solar Water Heater

Commercial Solar Energy,Solar ServiceSlowly but surely the skyline on Annapolis’ State Circle is starting to change. First, the Governor’s Mansion in 2009 and just this month, the ever-popular Harry Browne’s Restaurant (http://www.harrybrownes.com) has joined the ranks of businesses jumping on the solar bandwagon. Not only an enthusiastic and self-professed carbon footprint reducer, Rusty Romo, Harry Browne’s owner since 1979, is a savvy businessman, “Although I have a vested interest in reducing my carbon footprint, there’s no question that the solid Return on Investment was the final straw in deciding to install a solar water heater.” This viewpoint extends throughout Rusty’s business dealings, particular with regards to his restaurant’s waste production. Prior to January of 2012, annual trash pick up was costing the restaurant around $13,000 per year. That cost has now been reduced to $4000 due to Rusty’s implementation of two recycling solutions: 1) Veterans Composting visits several times per week to pick up all of the restaurant’s food waste turning it into compost for farmers, gardeners and landscapers. 2) A Cardboard baler compresses all of the restaurant’s cardboard, hugely reducing the bulk for taking to a dumpster storage facility where it is pulled and weighed. Harry Browne’s averages at least two tons every twenty eight days. Depending on the market cost, cardboard reclamation pays him from $30 – $100 per ton. Restaurants have a large hot water load, and Harry Browne’s is no exception. The 250-seat restaurant easily consumes the 160 gallons of hot water per day provided by the solar water heating system installed by Millersville based Solar Energy Services, Inc. (solarsaves.net) The system includes two, 30-tube solar collectors, (approved by the Historic Commission), mounted on a flat roof in the back of the restaurant. These panels are joined, via a copper pipe run and pump control unit to two, 80g stone-lined water tanks in the basement. The solar system acts as a pre-heat to Harry Browne’s conventional gas system, offsetting around 50% of his annual hot water load.

ABOUT SOLAR WATER HEATERS and SES, Inc.

Solar water heaters are a time-tested, mature technology that are deployed every day by Solar Energy Services, Inc. (SES) of Millersville (solarsaves.net). In addition to restaurants, apartment buildings, universities, carwashes, detention centers and other government and institutional buildings continue to expand SES’s customer list. Roger Perry, a 35-year solar veteran and partner at Solar Energy Services, Inc., is still servicing solar water heating systems that he installed during the early eighties. Roger notes that “Given current financial incentives, solar water heaters are a no-brainer for any business in MD and DC that has a daily hot water load.”

Solar Service Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Energy During a Power Outage?

Not quite so cut and dry…

Solar Service ,Home Solar PanelsMost of us who live here in Anne Arundel County appreciate our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, changing seasons with spectacular Spring and Fall temperatures, and mature wooded areas. However, these pros quickly become cons during snowstorms, thunderstorms and Maryland’s annual hurricane season from late August through October when Hurricanes such as the infamous Isabelle and Sandy blast through our wooded, watery region, bringing floods, downed trees and – the clincher – power outages. If not for the threat of the power outage, we may sit back and enjoy a hurricane as a powerful force of nature, so long as our lights are on, heat or ac is blasting, and refrigerator’s chilling.

Hurricane Sandy caused around 300 thousand power outages here in Maryland, with an estimated 60 thousand in Anne Arundel County alone. It’s a no wonder that many prospective solar system owners – as well as existing solar system owners – want to know if a solar power system can power any of their appliances during a power outage, even if only while the sun shines. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

For both functional and safety reasons, there are several additional complexities to a “hybrid” PV system that connects to the grid but also provides backup power during a power outage. To start, during an outage you need to be able to safely isolate your “solar generator” from the grid to protect the line workers. You will also need energy storage (batteries) to balance solar energy supply and household demand. In most cases, you need an additional inverter to convert the batteries’ DC electricity back to AC electricity for your household. Lastly, most battery systems require some level of maintenance as well as replacement one or more times in the lifetime of the solar system. The bottom line is that unless you are willing to pay a nominal 30% premium for a solar system that includes the necessary batteries, transfer switches and additional inverter(s), you might be better served with a more traditional approach to backup power, like a gasoline or natural gas generator, and possibly just for critical loads.

Don’t get me wrong. Hybrid systems are growing in numbers and technology advancements, consumer demand, and smart grid capabilities all will help to drive down costs to make these systems more affordable in the future, ideally making our grid more stable with many distributed sources of energy. In the mean time, most solar installers can offer a hybrid (battery backup) or traditional generator back up options, so you can decide what suits you best.

Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Monitoring

Homeowners can see how their daily sunshine dollar is spent

Most homeowners who have invested a tidy 20 – 30K in a whole-house solar electric system want some idea of exactly how much, and when, their solar system is generating energy. This is true especially given the fact that most solar systems in Maryland, DC, Virginia and surrounding area are grid-tied. The solar electric system provides a large portion, though generally not ALL of a home’s electricity, with the balance coming from the traditional energy provider (BGE, PEPCO, etc.) during periods of high usage and/or low sunshine levels. So most customers still receive an electric bill, albeit greatly reduced. An online solar monitoring system keeps the homeowner plugged in to how much energy they are receiving from the sun versus their utility “back-up”.

The monitoring system is tied to the Inverter… (An inverter, by the way, converts DC power to usable AC power.)

SES often uses Enphase Microinverters in residential solar electric systems. This is our preferred monitoring system for a variety of reasons, including simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and customer support. With this system, each panel has its own inverter and associated monitoring. In contrast, solar systems that use only one inverter for the whole array do not have the ability to monitor performance of individual panels; just the entire as a whole. Microinverters, convert, quantify, and record the DC to AC energy conversion on each individual panel, independent of the other panels. These microinverters come with the Envoy Enlighten monitoring system. The homeowner simply clicks on a link from on their computer or Smartphone to see live readout of their current system power generation along with a robust record of historical data. Both the homeowner and system installer are notified when Enphase detects issues such as a panel or inverter failure (a rare occurrence), communication issues or shading (due to tree growth etc.), enabling a speedy remediation. Fortunately, true solar panel/inverter issues are few and far between, if at all, keeping the monitoring system employed at its optimum job: counting the rays of sunshine that power your home.

Commercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar Panels ,Solar Service
Written by Lisa Walsh

Going Solar? Top 10 Things to Consider…

SES gives the skinny on going sunny

  1. Commercial Solar Energy ,Residential Solar ,Panels Solar Service1. Cut your Energy Losses
    In most homes, heating and cooling accounts for the most energy usage. Regardless of where your energy is coming from; gas, coal, solar, electric, wind, etc. a homeowner’s first consideration is to reduce the loss of incoming energy:
    • Replace old windows and doors with Energy Star products. This can reduce energy consumption by 7 – 15%.
    • Seal up any air leaks throughout the house, attic and basement.
    • Insulate! This blocks air loss in the winter and preserves cool air in the summer.
  2. Consider those Big Appliances
    Refrigerator:
    Keep the condenser coils clean. Keep refrigerator away from oven/washer/dryer and other heat producing appliances. Place with consideration to air circulation.
    Stove: Remember that gas is generally a more cost-effective choice than electric.
    Attic Fan: An excellent way of pushing hot air outside in the day, and drawing cool air at night.
  3. Need a new roof?
    If you think your roof may need repairing or replacing within the next 5 or so years –it may be worth replacing before the solar panels are installed. If you’re on the fence about replacing your roof prematurely, remember that installers such as SES do provide a Remove and Reinstall service where, for a reasonable fee, the panels will be safely removed then re-installed after re-roofing.
  4. Small Bite or Full Monty?
    Just about every solar energy company sells and installs Solar Electric (Photovoltaic) systems. However, solar water heaters are an entirely different type of solar panel and not every solar company installs them. Thus, not every solar company is likely to tout the cost-effectiveness of this mature technology. Solar water heaters require only a fraction of the roof space (and often a third of the cost) that a solar PV system requires. For a family of four, currently using electric to heat their home’s water – solar water heating may provide the biggest bang for your solar buck, providing around 75% of a home’s annual hot water. However, a family of two heating their water with gas may consider investing in a solar electric (PV) system sized for their usage. Insofar as solar electric (PV), many homeowners cover 60 – 100% of their electrical needs from solar. Some choose to offset as little as 25% and opt to add panels as their budget allows.
  5. READ your Energy Bill
    For electricity, your energy bill should tell you how many kilowatt hours you use per year. This is an important number as you generally do not want to install a system that will exceed your annual consumption. Experienced installers can help you assess this, but a good rule of thumb is to divide that number by 1200kwH and that will tell you the approximate max sized PV system you should consider. That will be represented in kW – probably something like 8 to 10 kW if you are an average consumer. If you heat your water with electric, then solar water heating should absolutely be considered first.
  6. Best way to pay for your solar system
    The beauty of an increased popularity in solar is that there are a number of ways a homeowner can finance their project. Without question, whether immediately or over time, Solar Power is far cheaper than your Utility bill.

Payment plans range from No-Money-Down leasing options to initial investments ranging from $2000 – $50,000 depending on your energy usage and type of solar system. Thanks to current financial incentives, many Marylanders receive over 50% of their upfront investment back the first year. Some of our customers have transferred funds from low yield CDs and even borrowed from 401ks in order to fund their higher-return solar investment. Other homeowners have no interest in ROI’s and fund-juggling and simply want a lowered electric bill/carbon footprint. Thankfully there is a wide variety of financing options available.

  • Know YOUR solar energy tax credits, grants and incentives
    Any solar salesperson worth his/her salt will visit your home with full knowledge of the available financial incentives for your state and county. For example, an Anne Arundel County resident has the good fortune of FOUR different financial incentives (for both PV AND solar water heating) that combine to offer a huge discount on their system. Acclimating yourself to current incentives for your county will help the sales process be much more informative for you. Every solar homeowner is eligible for a 30% Federal Tax Credit. Then SRECs (solar renewable energy credits), state grants, county tax credits differ across the region.
  • Solar Panel Placement
    Whether solar water heating or solar electric (PV), a south facing shade-free roof provides optimum conditions for solar panel placement. However, any shade-free roof – including East and West orientations provide excellent rooftops for solar panels. The number of panels installed depends upon system size, roof space and budget. Homeowners with a good amount of spare land may also consider ground-mounted systems, some of which offer solar tracking options where panels are mounted to motorized pole that literally follow the sun, improving solar efficiency by 40 – 45%.
  • How many solar panels on the roof?
    Insofar as solar water heating, a shade-free area of 64 square feet is typical to house two 4′ x 8′ solar thermal panels (sized to provide a family of four with around 75% of their annual hot water load). Most solar electric (PV) panels measure 3′ 6″ x 5′ 6″. So, a roof that is 30′ wide by 14′ from gutter to ridge will fit two rows of 9 panels. An experienced solar designer will get precise roof measurements and ensure the panels are placed in the most space-efficient and visually appealing design.
  • Choosing a solar energy installer
    Of course, the author of this blog would like to gleefully exclaim, “Choose Solar Energy Services!”. However, most educated consumers know that the best way of finding the best fit for an installer comes from shopping around for the popular 3 proposals/estimates. There are a lot of solar installers our there in today’s market. Some considerations:

 

Time in the Business: This matters. Obviously the more systems a licensed installer has installed – the more experience they’ve gained – and the more they’ve refined their installation technique. Just as important, however, is the question of whether the installer will be around in 5, 10 or 15 yrs when perhaps the incentives for solar have declined. An older company is likely to have deeper roots in the industry regardless of current solar trends and incentives. You want your installer to be around for the life of your system, 25 – 35 yrs plus. This narrows the field considerably.

Service Department: Solar Water Heaters require a 3 – 5 yr simple service visit. Does the installer provide this service?

All Options on the Table: A company who offers both leasing AND upfront purchase will likely lay ALL your options out on the table. This also goes for installers who offer both solar water heating AND solar electric.

There should not be a charge associated with a site evaluation of your home for solar energy. This is a necessary part of the sales process and should take place before the cost estimate/proposal is presented.

Happy Solar Shopping!

solar water heating, solar energy, residential solar panel
Written by Lisa Walsh

Question of the Week: Why Does My Solar Water Heater Run At Night?

solar water heating, solar energy, residential solar panel“If my collector is at 136 degrees, my TST (bottom of tank temperature) is at 161 degrees and my S3 (top of the tank temperature) is at 154 degrees – why is my circulator pump still running? Won’t this cool the bottom of the tank?”

SES says: The pump runs intermittently for a minute periodically when the collectors reach 240 degrees. This keeps the collectors from overheating. Your maximum tank temperature is set to 160. If the bottom sensor, the TST reading, exceeds 160 degrees, the controller will run the pump briefly in the evening to bring the tank temperature back down to 160.

It has been our experience that setting the max temp higher than 160 leads to overheating problems. Yes, you are losing a little heat from the tank when the cooling feature comes on, but at this time of year it is excess heat. You are producing much more hot water than you are using at this time. This is the summer solstice; the collector and tank temperatures will moderate in a few months. Some customers add an extra loop to their solar tank and use that excess heat to heat a swimming pool or hot tub. Most just use control features to manage the excess heat.

Don’t worry about the power consumption. The Grundfos Alpha pump only uses about 5 Watts whether heating or cooling the tank.

Commercial Solar Energy ,Residential Solar Panels ,Solar Service
Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Energy Costs Likely to Rise

The solar clock is ticking – don’t wait for solar energy costs to come down

Commercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar Panels ,Solar ServiceThe installed cost of a solar electric system has come down dramatically in the past several years – by 50% in most cases. However, homeowners considering investing in solar would do well to act sooner rather than later. Declining financial incentives and the threat of increasing panels costs (due to US tariffs on chinese solar panels), mean that the cost of solar energy could start to go up very soon.

SOLAR ELECTRIC (PV)

Whole house solar electric systems are being installed every day in Maryland. The system can be sized to offset some or most of a home’s electricity bill and are grid-tied; the homeowner’s utility-provided energy is still readily available for them in times of no-sun. Also, when there is more sun than needed – the extra energy serves to turn the homeowner’s meter “backwards” – crediting their utility account. Current grants and tax credits, coupled with unprecedented low solar panels costs, means that most of the solar electric systems currently installed pay for themselves in around six years and are warrantied for 20 to 30 years. That’s 20 to 30 years of ZERO rate increase.

TYPICAL 5kW SOLAR ELECTRIC SYSTEM

  • Estimated System Cost $21,000
  • Federal Tax Credit $6,300
  • MD State Grant $1,000
  • AA County Property Tax Credit @ 75% $1,875
  • SREC Payments* $6,700
  • Total Incentives $15,875
  • Net Cost to Homeowner $5,125
  • Payback in Years 5 – 7yrs
  • 25yr Annual Energy Savings +$800 per year

SOLAR WATER HEATERS (thermal)

The solar panels used to heat a home’s water for laundry, showers etc. are entirely different from those used to provide electricity. They require much less space and are substantially less expensive. A solar water heater sized for a family of four provides 75% of the home’s annual hot water load and CAN PAY for itself in around 3 years.

Again, this is a system slated to last 20 to 30 years. Gas or electric is used as a back-up system.

TYPICAL 4-PERSON SOLAR WATER HEATING SYSTEM

  • Estimated System Cost $9,000
  • Federal Tax Credit $2,700
  • MD State Grant $ 500
  • AA County Property Tax Credit @ 75% $1,875
  • SREC Payments* $3,200
  • Total Incentives $8,275
  • Net Cost to Homeowner $725
  • Payback in Years 1 – 4 yrs
  • 25yr Annual Energy Savings +$400 per year
Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Saves in Anne Arundel County

Pictured: Matt, Jessica and family in front of their newly installed solar hot water and solar electric systems.

The cost of the residential solar system has come down dramatically in the past five years. With 4 separate grants and incentives, Anne Arundel County residents are catching on.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN – Residential solar energy systems are being installed every day in Anne Arundel County where local business owners Roger Perry and Rick Peters are working hard to keep up with rising demand. Their rapidly growing 18 person firm, Solar Energy Services, Inc. (SES) installs and services solar electric, solar water heating, and solar pool heating systems in Maryland and DC, with the majority of their residential customers located within AA County. When asked why he thinks solar has taken off even in these tough times, SES president Rick Peters said there are many drivers, but economics lead the way. “Rising utility bills, decreasing cost of solar panels and generous financial incentives all combine to give homeowners the opportunity to pay off 25yrs worth of BGE energy in about 6 years, not to mention the environmental and societal benefits.”

One House – two solar systems:

Most solar shoppers are unaware that there are two types of solar energy for the home. Whole house solar electric, commonly referred to as PV (Photovoltaic), is what most people think of as solar energy. However, a solar water heater can offset 75% of your annual hot water energy. Roger Perry quickly points out that if you have a large sunny roof, there is plenty of room for both systems. He and Peters both have solar water heating and solar electric on their homes.

The clock is ticking…

Each of the 4 different substantial incentives for a residential property owner in Anne Arundel County currently has a limited life-span, with the idea that solar can be competitive without them in the future. Peters notes that the current average payback on a solar electric system is about 6 years, for a system that lasts 25 – 30 years. With solar hot water, a 4 year average payback with a similar system lifespan. The payback is even faster if you have a large family (lots of hot water use) or if you need to replace your water heater anyway. Rick Peters leaves us with some food for thought, “You can invest your money in a lot of different places these days, but most are very uncertain, or producing a very low return. On an annual basis, the return on solar energy is quite predictable, and the economic return is hard to beat with any financial investment strategy.”

TYPICAL 5kW SOLAR ELECTRIC (PV) SYSTEM
Estimated System Cost$27,500
Federal Tax Credit$8,250
MD State Grant$2,500
AA County Property Tax Credit @ 75%$1,875
SREC Payments$10,000
Total Incentives$22,625
Net Cost to Homeowner$4,875
Payback in Years6.09 yrs
25 yr Annual Energy Savings+800 per year
25 yr Lifetime Return on Investment>250%

 

solar panels. Solar energy
Written by Lisa Walsh

SES Project Featured on ABC News Affiliate Channel 8

Crosstown Properties, LLC – Multifamily Solar Water Heating (Completed July 2010) – Washington DC

home painters, interior paintingSES was engaged by a third party solar project developer to install a 32 panel (1280 SF) solar water heating system for an occupied apartment building in Washington D.C. The system included the installation and integration of 1600 gallons of additional solar storage in non-pressurized tanks. The system is designed to offset approximately 70% of the water heating load for this 45 unit apartment building. The solar developer provided all of the capital to install the system at no cost to the building owner. The building owner receives clean energy at a discount to their traditional natural gas, achieving a monthly savings immediately upon commissioning of the system.

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