Commercial Solar Energy Residential Solar Panels
Written by George Young

Would that be One Tank or Two, madam?

Solar veteran Roger Perry discusses the pros and cons of One Tank Vs Two for Solar Back-up

Commercial Solar Energy ,Residential Solar PanelsAll solar water heaters in Maryland, D.C. and the mid-atlantic provide a family of four with around 75% of their annual hot water load. Most customers use their existing electric or gas sources for the remaining 25% backup (usually needed dead winter). When installing a solar system one question that will come up is “Should I use my existing tank and have it fed by the solar system?” or “Should I remove my existing tank and use the electric back-up that comes in the solar tank?”. A couple of situations make this an easy decision;

  1. An existing electric water heater with no room for another tank. This is especially satisfying and cost effective if the existing tank is leaking or on it’s last legs. It’s like getting $1500 off the cost of a solar system because that money would have needed to be spent anyway. In this case you would definitely chose a single tank system.
  2. The other is if you have a gas water heater. While not as cut and dry as the example above, using the electric element would mean using a higher cost fuel for back-up (not so much with propane). Much of this extra cost would be mitigated because the single tank back-up would not run as much because it would be affected by solar input without running a faucet. You would need to run an electric circuit (30 amp, double pole breaker). This may be difficult or very easy depending on the breaker box location and available space in it. Most jurisdictions will also require a master electrician and a permit for this to be done. In this case, I think, most people would shy away from a single tank system unless there was just no room for another tank.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each system;

SINGLE TANK PROS

  • Smaller footprint
  • Less heat loss
  • Electric element can sense the solar output and not come on from stand-by losses
  • Can go “all solar” just by turning off the element (essentially flipping a switch).

SINGLE TANK CONS

  • Less back-up in cloudy weather (can be compensated with a larger solar tank which will have a larger back-up capacity).
  • Less solar storage when the element is on (can be compensated for with a larger solar tank which will have more solar storage).

TWO TANK PROS

  • Usually greater back-up capacity

TWO TANK CONS

  • Greater heat loss
  • Larger footprint

The secondary backup tank can’t sense the primary solar tank temperature unless a faucet is turned on, sending the water through the two-tank system.  This causes the second tank to turn on from stand-by losses when the primary solar tank is already plenty hot.

Going all solar requires operating valves as well as turning off back-up.

Personally I’m a fan of single tank systems. For the most part their two main drawbacks can be compensated for by installing a larger tank. An upgrade from a 80 to a 120 gallon solar tank is only a few hundred dollars. For a 50% increase in solar storage it is a small price to pay.

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%

 

Written by Rick Peters

SES Letter to The Capital

Your recent editorial (The Capital, April 18) suggested Gov. O’Malley should put more emphasis on the distributed approach to renewable energy, where solar and wind power are generated by smaller systems throughout the state. In fact, the governor intends to sign legislation next month to do just that. Delegate Sally Jameson and state Senator Robert Garagiola sponsored what is essentially budget-neutral legislation (HB/933/SB717) to open up the state’s solar goals to include solar water heating, a very mature and efficient technology, first patented in Baltimore in 1891.

This family friendly technology currently saves a typical family of four about $500 per year on electric bills by obtaining 75 percent of their annual water heating energy from solar. The new law will allow system owners to sell green credits to help utilities comply with the state’s solar goals. Consequently, homeowners will now see simple paybacks on these affordable systems shortened from five to eight years to a very manageable two to four years, on a 25-year lifespan.

Aside from advancing our solar goals, and allowing modest-income homeowners to participate in the benefits of solar, there are significant economic benefits too. Solar water heating is a labor intensive installation, which keeps dollars recirculating in the community. It requires trades people to install it, a group much in need of work.

The components are low tech, but heavy and bulky , so there is strong incentives to manufacture domestically, if not locally. A typical residential system only requires 40 to 80 square feet of sunny roof, drastically increasing the potential pool of participants.

As a daily consumer of solar-heated water himself, O’Malley is well aware of the opportunity for Maryland. I commend him and our legislators for their leadership on this issue.

Written by Rick Peters

Governor’s Bill Would Reward Those Who Buy New Energy Systems

O’Malley backs Md.’s solar-power water heating market

The legislation would boost a type of renewable energy generation that hasn’t received the same cachet as photovoltaic solar panels but can be significantly cheaper. Solar panels have long been supported by the solar credits, which help add extra pay-back to the technology aside from reduced utility bills. Now the same benefit will be afforded to owners of solar water heating systems, and it could spark new jobs for solar companies.

“It’s fantastic, ” Dimitris Spiliadis, co-owner of the Black Olive Restaurant and the soon-to-open Inn at the Black Olive hotel, said of the legislation.

Spiliadis recently completed construction of a solar water heating system on the roof the Fells Point hotel, and he said the technology’s efficiency and energy savings rivals that of solar panels. “Recognizing that in Maryland would be something that would put Maryland on the forefront of renewable energy promotion, ” Spiliadis said.

While the details of the legislation haven’t been revealed, the idea behind solar credits is that the owner of a solar system accuries one credit for each megawatt hour of solar power generated. The credits can be sold in a marketplace to utilities or other energy companies that are looking to buy credits if they haven’t generated enough solar power on their own. Prices vary but can reach $300 a piece.

Solar hot water heaters do not use solar panel technology; instead, a system of tubes through a copper plate heat water. There is also an electric-powered backup system for use as needed at night and during winter.

O’Malley said Jan. 12 a bill making solar water heating systems eligible for generating solar renewable energy credits would be part of his legislative agenda. His spokesman Shaun Adamec would not provide any further details but said the bill would likely be unveiled Jan. 24.

A smiliar bill nearly became law in 2010 but fell short in the House of Delegates despite a fervent lobbying effort from members of the industry such as Mike Healy, owner of Skyline Innovations in Washington, D.C., and Rick Peters, president of Solar Energy Services in Millersville. The governor’s backing and the extra time lawmakers have had to study the issue boost the bill’s chances in 2011.

That could mean Maryland will soon a similar flurry of jobs that companies like Skyline have seen in Washington, D.C., where solar water heating projects are already eligible for the credits. The added cash flow from sale of the credits provides an extra incentive and also makes it easier to finance the projects.

Healy said his company has done about 10 jobs in Washington since November 2009 and has another 1- under contract, compared to one completed job in Maryland. A typical job has a crew of four to six and costs anywhere from $8000 to $10,000 for a residential system to 10 times as much for a large apartment building or hotel, Peters said.

Adding the ability to sell credits could expand that audience of customers. For the typical home a solar panel system can cost three to four times more than a solar water heating system.

“We expect it will allow many more folks to participate in renewable energy further down on the income spectrum, ” Peters said.

Written by Rick Peters

Solar Thermal for Townhouses in Brooklyn Park, MD

BROOKLYN PARK TOWNHOMES INSTALL SOLAR TO PRE-HEAT WATER

BROOKLYN PARK,  MD:  Solar Energy Services, Inc. has been contracted by Furbish Company, Inc. to install eight separate solar water heating systems on a housing development in Brooklyn Park, MD.

Each townhome will be outfitted with its own 80-gallon Vaughn Solar Sepco tank.  These solar water heaters will act as a pre-heat to the home’s conventional system, offsetting their utility bill by around 50%.

Commercial Solar Energy, Commercial Solar Service
Written by Rick Peters

Rep. Frank Kratovil Tours SES Job Site

Kratovil Jobs Tour Makes Stop in Severna Park; Witnesses Solar Energy Cutting Costs, Protecting the Environment, and Creating Jobs

Commercial Solar Service,Commercial Solar EnergyWashington, DC – Today, Rep. Frank Kratovil continued his First District Jobs Tour with a stop in Severna Park, where he visited a work site with the owner of a local solar energy firm that has taken advantage of recent green energy initiatives to grow and hire new workers.

With Congress in recess this week, Rep. Kratovil has been touring communities throughout the First District, meeting with small business owners, visiting manufacturing hubs, and listening to the men and women on the front line of job creation to see firsthand the continuing challenges faced by small business owners and employees in the current economic environment. Kratovil has made job creation a top priority of his first term in Congress, introducing a number of proposals to empower small businesses to create new jobs here in Maryland.

This morning, Kratovil’s Jobs Tour stopped in Severna Park, where Rep. Kratovil joined local entrepreneur Rick Peters at a work site where his company had recently installed solar water heating panels to help homeowners reduce their energy costs. Mr. Peters is President of Solar Energy Services (SES), a small business located in Millersville that has added jobs this year as a result of the Recovery Act, and stands to grow even further if Congress passes energy legislation creating new incentives for renewable energy.

“Renewable energy is one of the most efficient and cost cutting ways to, protect our environment, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good jobs in an emerging field,” said Rep. Kratovil. “Instead of constantly focusing on big business and big banks, Congress need to focus on empowering small businesses like SES so that they are able to create more good paying jobs in our communities, and the families that install these new technologies will start to save on their energy bills.”

SES has grown its workforce by 25% this year, after benefitting significantly from stimulus funding that allowed Maryland to continue its solar grant program. SES would be able to expand even further and create additional jobs if the Senate acted to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act, legislation that Rep. Kratovil backed in the House of Representatives to create new incentives for renewable energy and a more stable market for small businesses that focus on renewable energy solutions.

“Our small business has been able to grow because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Maryland’s solar grant programs. If Congress passes the energy legislation that Rep. Kratovil backed, we could create even more jobs and help even more citizens and businesses enjoy the benefits of solar energy – whether it’s solar water heating or solar electric. I would like to thank Rep. Kratovil for taking the time to learn about our small business and for his support of common-sense energy proposals that create jobs, save money, and encourage clean, domestic, renewable energy,” said Peters.

Kratovil has made small business job creation a top legislative focus in Washington, introducing a number of proposals to create incentives for entrepreneurs to create or expand small businesses. He authored the Small Business Formation and Job Creation Act, a bill to increase the tax deduction for small business startup expenses from $5,000 to $20,000, which has twice passed the House of Representatives as part of larger small businesses tax packages. Additionally, Kratovil authored the Small Business Property Reimbursement Act, which extended a key tax deduction for small business owners that invest in new equipment for their businesses and was signed into law as a provision in the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act.

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