Written by Rick Peters

Small and Medium Commercial Solar Systems in Maryland

Building Owners – Your Time Has Come!

Deployment of both residential and large utility-scale solar systems has exploded in the last 10 years.  Much of that growth has been driven by policy and further sustained by scale and competition, which combine to continue bringing us cost reductions and technology advancements.  To provide some historical perspective on this, our installed costs today are 75-80% lower than 10 years ago, before any incentives are applied. 

With all that amazing progress, our industry still has not made similar inroads in the Commercial & Industrial (C&I) solar market.  Many believe that is about to change.  Washington, D.C. has led the way in this market segment with strong SRECs and a flexible rooftop Community Solar program that motivate building owners to monetize their rooftops.  Property owners enjoying these benefits include churches and non-profits who are going solar at a remarkable pace, despite their lack of tax liability.  Over the past several years, SES has installed more than 10MW of solar energy systems throughout the D.C. region, including several churches, apartment buildings and office/retail spaces.

Maryland has been noticing, learning from their neighbor that all this private investment in a cleaner and more reliable grid is something we should be incentivizing.  Increasingly over the last few years, Maryland has improved commercial solar economics with enhanced incentives, driving the urgency for property owners to act now to maximize their solar incentives.  Below is a quick summary of incentives and financing that exist for Maryland commercial property owners to act now on long term solar investments.

 

Tax Credits

  • Federal Investment Tax Credit (26% until Dec 31, 22% in 2021, 10% in 2022)
  • Maryland authorized a 2020 commercial storage tax credit to incentivize businesses to add energy storage to their solar investment

 

Grants from Maryland Energy Administration (MEA)

  • MEA provides solar grants of up to $20,000 based upon system size
  • MEA offers incentives for solar carports of up to $200,000

 

Production Incentives (SRECs)

In addition to the value of the energy produced, the system owner in Maryland also benefits from selling the environmental attributes of that clean energy in the form of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs).  Legislation passed in 2019 in Maryland to increase the state’s clean energy goals has impacted the value of SRECs dramatically, further improving the economics for any system owner, regardless of tax appetite.

 

Financing

PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) is a program available in many Maryland counties to help property owners deploy energy improvements, even a new roof.  The loan is backed by the improvement and is paid back through a property tax assessment.  The return on the investment must exceed the loan payment to ensure positive cash flows for the building owner.  The financing is off-balance-sheet and does not require personal guarantees.  This underutilized program is a tremendous vehicle to make customer-owned energy investments with no out-of-pocket costs.

Solar Loans:  Solar has become one of the most reliable and predictable long-term investments around.  With projected annual returns for the building owner in the 10-20% range over 25 years, most banks are entirely comfortable loaning for commercial or residential solar projects.

PPA’s: Third-party entities will own and maintain solar systems for property owners, selling them the energy at a discount over the traditional supplier’s rate.  For commercial building and land owners, these Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) typically require relatively large projects to provide the necessary economics.


Aside from all the benefits above, there are two more strong business cases for solar investments.  First, aside from the money savings, if you can fix a large portion of your energy expense by investing in solar, you’ve giving your CFO more control over future expenses while locking out price increases from the supplier for that energy.  Secondly, by investing in solar, you are able to show your customers, your employees, your prospects and your recruits that you are committed to clean energy.  In this day and age, there is a truckload of value right there.

So don’t wait another minute.  SES is using technology to conduct remote meetings and preliminary evaluations in order to get budgetary numbers to prospective customers very quickly.  We currently have availability for projects to be complete this calendar year, but let’s not wait another minute people – commercial contracts signed in 2020 get to realize the full 26% Federal Tax Credit and highest SREC values.

In other words…Sunshine’s a Wastin’!

 

Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Power for Maryland Car Wash

By Lisa Walsh | Commercial Solar Developer | Solar Energy Services, Inc.

SOLAR FOR MY MARYLAND CAR WASH?

A 5-year payback for 25+ years of electricity?
That’s a no-brainer!

The year 2020 is the last year that commercial building owners can qualify for the 26% Federal tax credit and other solar incentives that, together, combine to offer an excellent return on investment.  Economics that work, speak for themselves.  In that spirit, let’s have a real-time, real-design, real-numbers, deep-dive into the solar conversation between SES and a Maryland business owner looking to decrease their utility costs.

 

The Status Quo…

Business:Car Wash
Utility Bill:~$4000/month
Roof Size:~8000 square feet
Roof Type:Flat, standing seam metal
Business Type:S-Corp (for-profit entity eligible for tax credit)


 

The Solar Solution…

Solar System:212 panels / 81.62kW
Upfront Cost:($172,200)
26% Federal Tax Credit:$44,902
MD State Grant:$12,043
Sale of SRECs:$54,000
Tax Depreciation Year 1:$42,070
25-Year Energy Savings:$346,954
Business Type:S-Corp (for-profit entity eligible for tax credit)

 

The Payback…

 

The questions from this building owner followed much the same track as most solar prospects: 

#1 = Economics: Is this good for my bottom line?  

#2 = Building Preservation: What risks are there to my building and/or daily operations?

#3 = Construction Process: Why SES and how long will it take?

 

E C O N O M I C S

Do I pay the whole amount upfront or are any of the incentives deducted first?

You are responsible for the $172,200 upfront cost upon contract execution.  Over 60% of the incentives are realized in YEAR 1 (tax credit, state grant, depreciation).  The remaining incentives (ongoing sale of SRECs and energy savings) recur throughout the 25-year warrantied life of the system (and beyond!).

How do I know I’m eligible for the Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 equipment depreciation?

A quick phone call to your tax advisor will answer this.  Most for-profit businesses that owe Federal taxes have plenty of tax appetite, even if they carry some of the earned credits into future tax years.  In this case that is a $44,902 tax CREDIT (as opposed to the less valuable “tax deduction”).   NOTE:  2020 is the last year for a 26% credit – in 2021 it drops down to 22% and then 10% in 2022, but projects started in 2020 can carry the 26% credit into future tax years. 

What are SRECs?

SRECs = Solar Renewable Energy Certificates.  Their goal is to encourage building owner’s like yourself to invest in solar.  As per the legislated Renewable Portfolio Standard, each time any grid-tied solar system in Maryland (residential or commercial) generates 1MWhr of energy – the system owner earns  a tradable credit that is sold on a competitive SREC market.  Currently, an SREC in Maryland is worth $77 (or, 77% of the ACP – Alternative Compliance Payment, currently $100).  The 88.62kW system SES as designed for this car wash is slated to generate ~102 SRECs annually allowing the system owner to receive payment quarterly via an SREC aggregator such as Sol Systems in Washington DC.

Who buys my SRECs?

Ultimately, SRECs are purchased by electricity suppliers who are mandated by the State of Maryland (and various States throughout the US who have adopted the Renewable Portfolio Standard) to deliver a specific % of their energy from renewable sources.  They can do this in one or more of three ways:

  1. Build their own renewable energy plants
  2. Pay a fine (Alternative Compliance Payment currently at $100 per MWh here in MD)
  3. Purchase SRECs from currently operating solar systems (currently $77 per MWh)

For many of these electricity suppliers, the most cost-effective path is to buy your SREC.  They do not buy your SREC directly from you – but through an SREC aggregator (broker).  SES’s preferred aggregator is Sol Systems – although we are happy to support you in contracting with the SREC broker of your choice (SES has no involvement in your SREC contract after the initial setup).

How do I apply for the Maryland State Grant?

SES takes care of the paperwork requiring only your signature.  Grants are usually received several months following the application.

Are there any loan products available?

PACE financing is an excellent vehicle for small/mid-sized commercial solar projects.  The solar asset is financed with private financing and is repaid through the property’s tax account (much like a sewer or road assessment).    Some of the many benefits include:  cash flow positive from day 1, loan is off-balance sheet, no personal guarantees, little or no out of pocket costs, and the solar system asset and any loan balance, simply transfers with sale of building.

 

D E S I G N

How does the solar energy work to reduce my utility bill?

Your solar system has 3 major components:  the solar panels, the panel racking , and your inverter(s) that are usually installed near your electric panel/utility meter.  Your solar panels will generate energy as the sun shines on them.  This energy (DC/Direct Current) flows to the inverter whose job it is to convert this incoming DC energy to AC (Alternating Current) which is fully accessible both by the utility grid as well as all of your building’s electrical infrastructure/appliances.  At any point in time the solar energy will be immediately offsetting your electricity consumption with any and all excess energy flowing to your BGE meter and essentially spinning it backwards, generating credits with the utility.  This function is known as Net-Metering and ensures you receive full credit for 100% of the solar generated by your system.  Any credits will be used up at nighttime or during winter/low sun.

I am concerned about the risk of leaks due to penetrations on my flat roof.  How do the solar panels attach?

The current design utilizes a no-penetration attachment technique commonly referred to as “ballasted.”  The solar panels are attached to racks, which are designed to incorporate a number of concrete block/bricks that – along with the weight of the solar panels and racking – ballast or weigh the system to down to the roof without us having to pierce holes and attach to the substructure.

If you have a pitched asphalt shingle roof or a metal roof, you can rest easy.  We have time-tested racking solutions for each.  These fully-engineered systems take into account the building structural loads as is required for permitting.

What informed the choice of solar panels for my design – are there other options?

We chose a REC 385 watt solar panel for your project for these reasons:

  1. Economics: These are highly cost-effective solar panels, without sacrificing quality. There are, for example 400 – 450 watt panels that are either currently or about-to-be available.  However, when I plugged in the numbers for these higher-wattage panels, the increase in cost decreased the overall Internal Rate of Return.  In a nutshell, those extra 15 or so watts per panel were not worth the cost increase, when considering the project strictly on economics.  That said, some buyers choose to maximize energy production and the lifetime savings, even if it modestly degrades the 25 year economics (Internal Rate of Return).
  2. Warranty: Because SES is a certified REC installer, this bumps the manufacturer’s workmanship warranty from 20 to 25 years.  So these panels come with a 25 year performance (typical) AND 25 year workmanship (atypical) warranty from the manufacturer.  Most other panels – including higher wattage – do not offer this type of warranty

That said, SES offers a wide range of solar panels to meet all budgets and design criteria.

How will I know my solar system is working every day?

Your system will come with robust 25-year online monitoring.  Each day you will be able to see both your current and historical solar output.

What warranties come with the system?

  • Solar Panels = 25 year performance and 25 year materials and labor
  • Inverter(s) = 12 years (extension to 25 years are available)
  • Optimizers = 25 years
  • Installer Workmanship = 2 years for all workmanship items

What kind of maintenance does the system need?

As Solar PV systems have no moving parts, there are very few and infrequent maintenance items.  Your monitoring system (referenced above) will alert you to any errors in the system’s operations (we also have access to the online portal).  Some solar system owners, especially out of town investors, may elect to contract with us for an annual Service agreement with 2 site visits per year and accompanying reports.  However, most of our small/mid-sized commercial building owners simply monitor the systems and contact us with any questions as needed.  SES does have a dedicated Service Department with hourly services available to both our own customers as well as solar systems installed by the many solar contractors who may have come and gone over the years.

 

C O N S T R U C T I O N

What are the permitting requirements and how long do they take?

We typically allow 12 to 16 weeks for the design, engineering and permitting phases of the project.  Both building and electrical permits are procured through the county or city jurisdiction, and an interconnection permit is required through your utility company.

How long is construction?

An 81.62kW project such as this one would likely take around 4 weeks for material installation.  Inspections and approvals require another 3 – 4 weeks post-installation before the system can be energized.

It is safe to say this is a minimum 6-month project from contract signing through fully operational.

Will there be any disruption to my daily operations?

80% of the construction process takes place on the roof, so there will be little to no disruption to the daily operations taking place in the car wash.  Wiring of the solar system will require access to the Main Service Panel in your electric room.  Any temporary disruption to the electric service will be arranged with you ahead of time and completed during an agreed-upon time.

Are there any time constraints regarding the current solar incentives applied to my system?

Yes.  In order to qualify for the 2020 Federal Tax Credit of 26%, you must have a signed contract in place with us AND we need to have spent 5% of the total contract amount (permits/engineering) in 2020.

Additionally, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS, which is state legislation that determines the length and the amount of SREC values) is designed to decline as more solar is installed and the State meets its clean energy goals.  In a nutshell, the sooner the system is energized, the sooner you can realize the near-term, highest SREC values.

Written by Lisa Walsh

Developer’s Success Story – A Solar Integrated Green Roof in NE DC

By Lisa Walsh | Commercial Solar Developer | Solar Energy Services, Inc.

For the newly-finished Taylor Street Storage facility in North East DC, a 17,500 square foot green roof with fully integrated solar panel array that showcase a value-stacked, elegant design providing both a cost-effective solution to storm-water management. All without forfeiting the solar panels that generate income via federal tax incentives and DC’s superb solar production-based financial incentives.


With over three million square feet of green roofs in Washington DC and 50MW+ of solar installations – the City is no stranger to either technology. However, the integration of both on the same roof is less common, despite the symbiotic relationship between the two offering a number of advantages.


Beds of Sedums awaiting Fall planting at Taylor Street Storage, Oct 2018.
Photo Credit – David Gorman of Lock 7 Development

Completed 133.980kW Solar-Integrated Green Roof at Taylor St NE WDC
Photo Credit – David Gorman of Lock 7 Development

Storm-water Management


Approval for a commercial building permit in Washington DC must include a storm-water management plan as defined by DC’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). For Taylor St, the Development team could have chosen between:

  1. Lost parking spaces to house costly underground containers for capturing and storing runoff
  2. Payment of ever-increasing storm-water management fees
  3. Implementation of a multi-layered Green Roof to treat 100% of the rainfall obligation with a perennial, sedum based plant surface – as per DOEE requirements.
    The green roof offered a cost-effective storm-water management solution that required no additions or demo’s to the existing structure.
    Solar Panels

Solar Panels

Most savvy developers realize that an empty roof in Washington DC is money left on the table. With the best solar financial incentives in the USA, the payback is rapid followed by years of production-based paydays. Small wonder that the development team at Taylor Street were interested if – and how – a solar array could integrate with a Green Roof. The good news is not only does the solar system seamlessly integrate with the green roof but the relationship is one of symbiosis and cost-effectiveness. Here’s why:

BALLAST. Most solar systems installed on DC’s commercial flat roof areas are ballasted. i.e. an assortment of concrete blocks, along with the weight of the solar panels and racking, is engineered to hold down the weight of the array with minimal or no penetrations to the roof membrane.
With close to 35 PSF of weight, a green roof more-than provides this ballast negating the need for concrete blocks or supplemental attachments. This is worth mentioning as the Green Roof is now a fully engineered component of the solar system bringing the question of tax credit eligibility into play. Is the Green Roof, or portion of, now eligible for the 30% Federal Tax Credit? Certainly worth conferring with a tax adviser.

A close up of the Solar System mounted into the soil on the roof.

CREATION OF A MICRO-CLIMATE: Furbish designs their perennially healthy green roofs with a wide palette of sedum species. These drought-resistant succulants require little maintenance and have varying requirements for daily sunlight – from full-sun to all-shade. Contrary to first impressions the intermittent shading and weather protection provided by the solar panels provide a micro-climate highly conducive to the plants underneath, in between and around the solar arrays.

DESIGN: Most ballasted solar systems have ample aisles between each row of solar panels insuring that each solar panel is optimized and avoiding shading from the panel row in front. Solar panels can also be tilted anywhere between 5 and 35 degrees. This is adjusted to account for shading, panel count and orientation considerations. This flexibility of design was helpful for integration the green roof. Aisle spacing, solar panel size and tilt were designed with the Green roof in mind – not only as it relates to healthy plants, but also for annual maintenance access requirements.

Established Example featuring similar product and design as Taylor Street


CHALLENGES: Solar-integrated green roofs are not as common as their singular counterparts. Fair to say this project did not come without some challenges


DOEE DESIGN STANDARDS: Department of Energy and Environment is responsible for DC’s Stormwater Management and insuring all DC buildings comply with runoff standards. The burden was on SES and Furbish to ensure that the solar arrays were not going to impede the ability of the plants to thrive and provide the necessary water retention requirements. The design and permitting side of the project insofar as panel tilt, aisle spacing and racking integration were designed in collaboration with DOEE.


INSTALLATION TIMELINES: Furbish Company are Green Roof specialist, Solar Energy Services, Inc. are solar specialists. Integrating these technologies took heightened coordination between our installation teams, mostly in terms of labor efficiency, communication and timeliness. The latter was particularly stringent as the Certificate of Occupancy, required to meet the developer’s lease requirements, was contingent upon the completion of the Green Roof which now included solar racking, wiring and panel installations. Throw in some PEPCO Permission to Install challenges related to the solar portion, and the pressure was on.


The project came with some unusual PEPCO interconnection timing challenges at the end. Ironically not related to the Green Roof aspect of the application. Nonetheless, this system is now outputting electricity like gangbusters. All’s well that’s ends well.

Written by Rick Peters

Maryland Solar – Ready to Grow Again

For many years, Maryland has been a leader in solar policy and solar deployment.  In the last 3 years, we’ve fallen behind other states, watching our robust growth give way to several years of decline.  It’s almost hard to believe, but Maryland has been losing solar jobs for more than two years after peaking at approximately 5300 in late 2016.

Policy Clouds

Why is this happening?  One of the biggest reasons is the value of the state solar production incentive, the SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Certificate).  Those of you who own solar or have considered buying solar are probably all too familiar with SREC pricing.  Because Maryland property owners adopted so much solar in the first half of the decade, we outpaced the state’s goals, depressing the value of the market-based SREC incentive.  This was a good problem for the industry to have until it became clear that our goal (25% renewables by 2025 with 2.5% solar by 2022) was clearly not aggressive enough.

The Time is Now

We are now at a time of severe urgency for the Maryland solar industry.  With installations on the decline for over two years and job losses mounting, we are losing a trained employment base and leaving federal tax benefits on the table.   The solar industry has been working with other coalition members (wind industry, environmental organizations, etc.) for a few years to try to increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), but have been hampered by the Hogan Administration’s reluctance to incentivize more renewables until the completed RPS Study Report is released.  The study was due to be released in December of 2018, but has been delayed and some fear this is intended to stall an RPS increase for another year.  We cannot wait.

Governor Hogan has gone on record with his desire to fight climate change.  He recently coauthored an OpEd in the Washington Post with Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Ralph Northam to emphasize the urgency and the need for bipartisan solutions to climate change.  It is in this bipartisan spirit that we hope to see the Hogan Administration support the Maryland General Assembly in passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act
(CEJA)(SB0516, HB1158) of 2019 that will increase our renewable energy goal to 50% and the solar portion to 14.7 %. “Click here to read more about this

No-Brainer Investment for Maryland

One of the primary arguments against increasing the RPS has to do with the impact on utility ratepayers.  The preliminary indication is that the increased renewable goals associated with the CEJA will add approximately $1.85/mo. to the average electricity bill.  While this is not insignificant, it is important to note that a 2018 Daymark study, commissioned by the Hogan Administration’s Public Service Commission, found that for every $1.00 of investment in solar, we return approximately $5.00 in economic and health benefits to the state.   Solar jobs are good jobs that pay well, representing a path to economic stability for many installers.  And best of all, solar installation jobs cannot be exported.

We need YOUR help

As a solar advocate, we ask that you commit to express your support for CEJA in the Maryland legislative session this year.  The bill has been submitted and we should have a bill number shortly.  In the meantime, please continue to advocate for more solar whenever you can and be prepared to contact your Maryland state legislators to support this important legislation when the time comes.  Stay tuned for a special email notification with the bill number, and suggested talking points in the coming weeks.

Written by admin

Buy American and Save

For the month of February SES is offering $1000 off of any solar system that includes US Manufactured Panels.  That’s right, support US manufacturing and Save!  All you have to do is reference this offer during or before your site visit.

Here’s 5 More Reasons Why:

1.    Provides Jobs

The Solar Industry’s growth and inherent job creation is no secret, we are leading the pack among every other industry nationwide. Most of these jobs are being created on the installation side, but we also need to support the rest of the value chain.

2.    American Independence Includes Energy Independence

We as Americans have pride in our nation and in our independence. By generating our energy locally, with renewable resources, and US products, we strengthen our country and our independence, both individually and collectively as Americans.

3.    Do It for The Environment

Current technologies allow manufacturers in the US to support a greener, cleaner solar manufacturing process. If we invest in American-made products, we strengthen our manufacturing base, support US jobs, while insuring  that we are doing our part to contribute to a cleaner environment for ourselves, and the generations to come. Also, by reducing the need to ship overseas, the net carbon footprint is much lower

4.    We Control Labor Standards, They Don’t

The US is a leader in fair labor and safety standards. With minimum wage and safety regulations in the workplace being upheld, you can be sure that your panels are made by people who are being supported and treated fairly in the workplace.

5.    Guaranteed Quality of Goods

The term “Made in the USA” speaks of quality, excellent craftsmanship and a superior product. With a lower cost of labor abroad, many factories rely on fabrication and assembly processes by hand. This introduces higher rates of  failure when compared to the American Standard of automated soldering and assembly. While panel quality continues to improve in the aggregate, US products remain the leaders in quality and performance.  Price tags are slightly higher for Made in USA products, but you find true value among longevity and performance.

Solar Energy Solar Panel Washington DC Solar
Written by Roger Perry

Practical Considerations for a Battery System

As long as I’ve been doing solar, people have been asking about batteries. The response has always been “yes, we can do them, but it will cost a lot”. That usually ended the conversation.

One question to ask is “why do you want batteries?” Do you lose power frequently? If not, a portable generator will keep your refrigerator, freezer, computers, tv and some lights going. Downsides are; noise, fumes, refueling, having to run extension cords to where needed and putting everything away when power comes back. Not too bad once in a while and it’s very cost effective. Just hope you aren’t out of town when power goes out. There is nothing automatic about this set-up.

If you lose power often and don’t want to do the portable generator dance every few months, you can get a permanently installed generator with automatic start. These are close to $5000 installed for the ones that will run most of your house when the power goes out (a larger one can be installed for a few thousand more that will run everything). This is what hospitals and critical buildings use. Power goes out, the generator starts automatically and powers the house with only a momentary loss of electricity.

Downsides? Noisy, they need maintenance and, if propane or diesel powered, they need the fuel tanks to be kept filled.

What if you lose power often, don’t want the noise, maintenance and fuel expense of a generator? What if you want a system that is environmentally friendly, will turn on automatically, is silent, will run pretty much nonstop without refueling? You should look into installing a battery back-up system connected with a solar system.

What are the downsides? Well, cost is one. While not as expensive as in years past, battery back-up systems are still costly. Compared to a permanently installed generator, battery backups tend to run few thousand more. Ask your accountant but you may be able to take the 30% solar tax credit on the additional cost of the batteries. This brings the price in line with a generator.

Another downside is you can’t run everything in your house. Things a battery cannot run for any length of time are air conditioners or heat pumps, electric water heaters, electric dryer or electric ranges. What they can run are gas or solar water heaters, gas or oil boilers, refrigerators, freezers, lights, tvs, computers, fans and pretty much everything else. Well pumps are on the edge depending on how efficient they are. While running a modern variable speed well pump is not an issue, older well pumps require a large startup current which can be too much for the battery to handle. We are about to install a “soft start” control to try and reduce a well pumps surge demand for one of our customers but the jury is still out.

We are now installing LG Chem lithium Ion batteries. LI batteries have a lot of advantages over the old lead acid batteries. The big advantage they have is they are not damaged by running them dead, whereas lead acid batteries do not like being discharged to less than 50% of charge, a Lithium Ion battery will give you it’s full rating. The one we use is rated for 10 Kilowatthour (KWH). A lead acid battery would need to be rated at 20 KHW to achieve the same capacity. Lithium batteries are also much lighter (not that the customer will have to move them) and can be charged much faster.

The big downsize of LI batteries is the upfront cost compared to LA but they will last much, much longer and they are maintenance free.

In a future blog I will discuss the two different ways to interface a solar system with the batteries, AC coupled and DC coupled and the pros and cons of each as well as what a 10 KWH battery will give you as far as run times for various appliances. I’ll also talk about how a battery system can be retrofitted to your existing solar system.

Residential Solar Panels, Solar Installer
Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar on Slate Roofs in Washington DC

Residential Solar Panels, Solar InstallerWith Washington DC offering homeowners the best solar incentives in the country – its small wonder that solar panels are going up like hotcakes. In order to meet the demand, most solar installers are adept at designing and efficiently installing solar panel systems on most roof types in DC: namely flat roofs and asphalt shingle. However, homeowners with a traditional slate roof will need to shop around for a qualified, slate-savvy installer.

Slate Roof Challenge

Washington DC Solar,Solar ServiceIn this order, the most common types of residential rooftops in Washington DC are flat, asphalt shingle and slate. Asphalt shingle are generally the simplest type of roof to attach to. They are flexible, soft and flashing/sealing all of the attachments has been fine-tuned to near perfection by the solar industry. Flat roofs are generally installed using no/few penetrations either with parapet-to-parapet rails or ballast-weighted systems. Slate, however, is among the most challenging roof type to work on for the following reasons:

  1. Expertise Tools and Labor Required

    Solar Service, Home Solar PanelsTraining a work crew adept at installing solar on a slate roof takes a significant investment of time, tools and techniques. As slate is a type of stone material – specialized diamond-tipped drills and copper replacement nails are required to penetrate and reattach the slate; drill too fast – and you’re likely to break the slate. Even with the most cautious of installers, a number of slates are still likely to end up broken and spares need to be kept on hand. Ideally – artificial slate can be used for replacing broken slates. Specialized flashings designed for use with the larger slate tiles must be used to seal around the attachment.

  2. Additional Labor

    Due to the fact that slate is essentially a smooth, slippery thin stone – this can be particularly challenging for installers to navigate. Couple this with a steep pitch, and extended hours on the roof due to time-consuming drilling techniques, labor estimates can easily double or triple when compared to an asphalt shingle roof; not to mention a particularly challenging and long day(s) for the installation crew.

The above two points ultimately result in increased costs for the customer. Fortunately, for DC residents with slate roofs, the financial incentives are such that paybacks are still generally under (or around) the 5 year mark – with many years of clear income to follow. Furthermore, as slate roofs can last 100 years or more, the roof and solar combination is set for a minimum 25 year relationship – and likely a good decade beyond that.

Solar panel, solar energy,Solar in Critical Areas Annapolis
Written by admin

Solar in Critical Areas – Maryland, Virginia and Delaware

Solar Panels, Solar Energy, Solar in Critical Areas AnnapolisWhat is the Critical Area?

The Critical Area includes all land within 1,000 feet of Maryland’s tidal waters and tidal wetlands. Along our precious shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, we have had many homeowners looking to take advantage of enhancing their waterfront landscape with solar panels.

Aside from the clear economic advantages, we are in solar for all the right reasons; to protect the environment, preserve our natural resources, and to leave the world a better place. With that said, installing solar in the critical areas encourages us to comply with two important regulations that ensure shoreline preservation.

Lot Coverage

In the critical area, you are allotted a certain amount of lot coverage depending on the size of your lot. Our first step in the process is to prepare a “Lot Coverage Calculation” worksheet that indicates how much lot coverage you have available and ensures that there is legally enough space to account for the square footage of your new solar panels.

Buffer Management Plan

Though lot coverage is not impacted by solar installations outside of the critical area, the total area of additional lot coverage leads us to our next calculation. The Buffer Management Plan requires that every square foot of additional lot coverage is mitigated by planting either grasses, shrubs, or trees within 100 feet of the shoreline. The goal for this mitigation is to slow down the erosion of the shoreline, and we are big supporters of this mission. There is some flexibility with the types of flora that can be planted in this area, so we consult the homeowner in selecting preferred plants for their new shoreline oasis.

Though this process involves a few more steps in terms of permits, we have become subject matter experts thanks to our waterfront solar supporters in Kent County, Queen Anne’s County, Talbot County, Dorchester County and Anne Arundel County. Every county has a slightly different twist on their permitting requirements, and this helps local companies like SES thrive.

Home Solar Panel ,Solar Service
Written by Rick Peters

Peters’ Journey to Net Zero

Solar Service,Home Solar PanelsWhat Net Zero Meant for Us? Our Severna Park based, four-person family was looking to offset some of our home’s dirty energy, but we really did not have an expectation we could offset it all, but we had to start somewhere. We took our first step shortly after I joined the solar industry in 2008.

Low Hanging Fruit. In February 2009, we installed a 120-square foot solar water heating system to offset most of our water heating, and a small portion of our space heating for the first floor of our home. We saw big savings from this 3-panel system right away. Ever since, I enjoy the act of turning off the back-up water heating in April and leaving it off until almost October. For us, offsetting a dirty and expensive oil-fired boiler was the obvious low hanging fruit. We would later convert that remaining load to natural gas when the utility extended the pipeline to our home.

Solar Electric (PV) With the rest of the heat, A/C, and appliances all running off electric, it was time to look at the next opportunity. A few years later, when budget allowed, we decided to add a 5 kW solar PV system to our second story roof which faces SSE. My best determination was that we offset just over 40% of our electric load with that PV system. We were happy, but knew we’d want to find a way to get to NetZero eventually. , . I began to evaluate the remaining rooftops and consider what it would take to get us there. Solar panel efficiencies had improved a lot over the past several years so this reduced the remaining roof space we’d need to hit our goal

Phase 2 (PV). In the spring of 2016 we finished filling the balance of the south roof with some slightly higher wattage panels. As part of the same expansion, we added 24 relatively high efficiency panels to the E/W, low slope, rooftop of our one-story garage. We now had a total of 6.6 kW Equivalent of solar thermal and 13.8 kW of PV.

Not There Yet….We almost tripled our PV with the last upgrade and according to my calculations, this would get us to NetZero electricity. We’d know for sure by April, the annual true-up time frame for netmetering with BGE. When April 2017 came around, we were disappointed to come up a bit short (unfortunately, with a couple teenagers in the house, my usage predictions were a little off). Where do we go from here? I was not ready to put panels on the north roof, there had to be something available to us on the demand side.

Oops – More Low Hanging Fruit…One thing about Energy Efficiency, there’s always more opportunity. I had changed out many bulbs to LED over the prior several years, mostly through attrition, but I had not replaced any of the more than 2 dozen canister lights we had throughout the ceiling upstairs and down. Not only were these lights very inefficient, but the heat they generated in the summer was just adding to our air-conditioning load. We found the LED replacements on sale and replaced them all, as well as the remaining few incandescent lights in the house.

Commercial Solar Energy,Solar ServiceEureka. we have arrived!… In April of 2018 we received a $46 check from BGE for the annual overage from solar. With the kids heading off to college soon and a new refrigerator around the corner, I’m confident our checks from BGE will be getting bigger for the near future. At least until we purchase an electric car…

Residential Solar Panels, Solar Service
Written by Lisa Walsh

Diagnosing and Preventing Critter Damage to Solar Panel Arrays

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels It’s no secret that hundreds of thousands of homes have installed roof mounted solar panels, with that number increasing with each passing day. The upward trend brings increasing problems that arise when tech meets nature. In an acorn shell we’re talking critters who nest, feed, chew and live their critter lives in and around solar panel installations.

Which Critters?

Any animal that can fit under your array poses a risk to a solar installation. Pigeons and other birds looking for a warm/safe place to build nests may do so under a solar array. This doesn’t usually cause any malfunction to the system. However, water build-up and bird waste may cause minor roof damage and may be more of a nuisance than anything.

Squirrels, mice and rats, on the other hand, can wreak havoc on a solar system. These members of the rodent-family have teeth that require filing down throughout the course of their lifetime. The wires, plastic connectors and small parts that run underneath the panels can be excellent teeth-filing equipment. We have seen squirrels chew the outer plastic covering of wires, as well as penetrate junction boxes on the back of panels and chew into the solar panel interiors. This type of damage will cause panels and even whole systems to cease power production.

Solar Service, Home Solar Panels ,Washington DC SolarWho’s at Risk?

Any solar system can be susceptible to critter damage. However, those most at risk are usually systems that are in wooded areas; particularly where tree branches extend close to the rooftops, allowing easy access for squirrels to make the jump from branch to solar system array. Although many homes and businesses fit this description, it’s also worth mentioning that for every critter complaint we’ve had – there are 20 or 30 more systems that have had NO issues with critters. However, it’s also worth mentioning that most of our customers are no more than 10 years into a 25 – 40-year solar system lifespan. Time will tell what the probability of critter-damage risk over a system’s lifetime will end up being.

Detecting and Diagnosing the Damage

Most solar system owners first become aware of a problem when their solar system does not seem to be producing as well as it used to. For homeowners with online monitoring, they may see that a string of panels – or individual panels (in the case of those systems outfitted with a microinverters or optimizers) are no longer registering power output. Others may hear scampering around on their roofs and may notice their utility bills creeping up. That’s when they call our service department. Our technicians need to remove and inspect each panel, as well as their connecting cables, suspected of damage. In most cases, we can remediate the wire damage onsite without engaging the solar panel manufacturer for a replacement panel. Whether this takes removal of every solar panel, or just a few – depends on the extent of the damage or ability to detect the extent of the damage.

Home Solar Panels,Solar Service, InstallationInstalling Critter Guard

There are a variety of anti-small-animal solutions out there for solar systems designed to create a barrier around the perimeter of the solar system. We usually choose the one most compatible with your solar system; depending on the type of racking initially installed. Most critter guards are made of some type of strong steel-mesh screen and they do not require drilling into the roof.

One of our more popular systems, the aptly named “Critter Guard” employs clips that attach to the bottom flange of the module frame and have hooks to snap the screen into place. The clips are painted steel and can be snapped to the appropriate length to accommodate height variations so there are no small spaces that accommodate a small animal. The mesh screen is vinyl-coated steel, rigid enough to keep out even the most industrious squirrel.

Residential Solar Panels ,Solar ServiceCritter Guard is now a standard option that we offer to our customers and we strongly encourage it when the structure has trees that are encroaching on the rooftop. While the tree branches may not be close enough today to make contact with the roof, over time, if not maintained, they can grow out to become that ideal path to an appealing new nesting site.

What are the costs involved?

The costs are always less if you can prevent the problem in the first place. Adding Critter Guard at the time of installation typically costs from $500 – $2000 depending on the size of your system; but of course this cost is integral to the solar system so most tax advisors would agree that the 30% tax credit would apply.

The costs for any rodent damage remediation will depend on the extent of the damage. Critter damage is not related to defects in installation covered under our standard Workmanship Warranty; neither will most solar panel/inverter manufacturers consider this damage a Material defect. Our service department charges Hourly-Time + Materials. These costs may range anywhere from $500 to $4000 for a mid-sized solar system including all remediation and installation of Critter guard to prevent further damage. We recommend inquiring with your home’s insurance agent to see if the costs can be covered under your homeowner’s insurance policy.

1 2 3