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…

Solar Service,Commercial Solar Service
Written by Lisa Walsh

The Fairytale of the 25 year Solar Workmanship Warranty

Commercial Solar Service,Solar ServiceIf you’re like most solar shoppers, you prefer two or three bids on a substantial home improvement project; enabling you to sanity-check pricing, design options and find the overall best contractor-fit.  Included in these proposal comparisons is the Warranty. Most solar systems come with 3 warranties:

  1. Solar module manufacturer’s warranty; usually 25 – 30 years,
  2. Inverter(s) manufacturer’s warranty; usually 10 – 25 years (inverters convert DC energy to home-accessible AC energy)
  3. Workmanship warranty – entirely separate from 1 & 2 above. This insures the design and installation, insofar as contractor/labor portion of your install is covered for a given period of time, as determined by the installation company.

Industry Standard

As the popularity of solar has increased – so has the number of competing contractors and their accompanying solar proposals. All of these proposals should include a workmanship warranty. What will differ is the duration of the workmanship warranty. The standard duration for a residential solar system was always 5 – 10 years until a couple of years ago when some contractors started offering an unprecedented 25-year workmanship warranty. This is a good thing, right? On paper…sure.

Compete only to Beat

With over 35 years in the solar industry, it’s fair to say we’ve seen a lot of solar installers come and go; especially in the last five years. The go-ing usually brings with it a slew of phone calls to our service department as solar system owners panic about no longer having their contractor around to honor the workmanship warranty; particularly those looking to resolve existing issues. Ironically, these are sometimes homeowners that chose the contractor over us due to a workmanship warranty of shorter duration. We have stuck with the industry-standard of 10 years, whereas some other installers have increased to 25 years to match the manufacturer warranties.

So, the big question – and the reason for this current article is – Why? If some of our competitors are offering a 25-year warranty – why don’t we? Seems only natural, given the fact that we’ve been in business for longer than 99% of them – greatly increasing the probability that we’ll be around to honor an extended workmanship warranty.

The Big Answer (in two parts)

  1. We’re keeping it Real: Understandably, a 25-year workmanship warranty is attractive to a homeowner because – by design – it matches the 25-year solar panel warranty. This does not change the fact that a workmanship warranty exists entirely independent of the installed equipment warranty(s). A contractor’s history, fiscal health and future plans have little or nothing to do with the equipment warranties. Given this, we avoid inflating the language in our contracts to provide misleading comfort to a home or business owner, with the sole purpose of beating out the competition at contract-signing time.
  1. We’re still keeping it Real: Of all the orphaned solar projects we’ve come across – we cannot cite a single known instance where a homeowner has taken legal action over an abandoned workmanship warranty item; simply not worth the court fees or the hassle. Most exert their energy on finding a contractor who will fix the problem as soon as possible and get their solar system restored to full working condition. Hence, the true value of the workmanship warranty is contractor integrity and the likelihood of whether they both intend to and will remain in business to honor their contractual agreement. For most solar contractors, the standard ten-year commitment reflects a realistic forecast of longevity and commitment; avoiding the temptation to head off into fairytale land in order to beat-out the competition.
Eastern Shore MD,Solar Service, Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

Non-South facing solar panel installs in Maryland, DC and Virginia

The Design

Eastern Shore ,MD,Solar Service, Home Solar PanelsWhen planning a solar panel system for your home, the first consideration for any solar designer is the tilt and orientation of your roof areas.  We need to know which roof(s) will ensure the most optimum solar output – which translates to the best Return on Investment.   For us here in Maryland, the most optimum solar roof orientation is Due South at 180 degrees.  Of course, not everyone has this perfectly oriented roof and our customer base consists of homes that have South, West, East and everything-in-between orientations.  Occasionally we even install on North-facing roofs if the pitch of the roof is low enough that panels are close to flat, or can be tilted southerly.

For homes that face East-West, you may be wondering which roof would best suited for solar.  This is a good question given the fact that the output of your solar panels is directly related to your Return on Investment and how quickly the panels can pay for themselves.

If either East or West favors a more Southerly angle, then that would likely be a more favorable roof.  Assuming that there aren’t issues related to shadingor obstructions caused by chimneys, vents, skylights and other roof-placed items.

If the house has a perfectly split East-West orientation, with all things equal – the next consideration would be roof angle; the lower the tilt (i.e. closer to horizontal) – the more solar energy will be generated over the course of the day.  If the tilt on either side is the same then we would usually favor the West facing side.   Here in Maryland, DC and Virginia we tend to have cloudier mornings, and sunnier afternoons going into dusk.  Therefore we want to capture the late afternoon sun (west facing) more than early morning sun (East facing).  Of course, should you happen to have a tree, chimney or other obstructing factor(s) on the West roof – we’d favor the East.

The Economics

Homeowners looking at an East-West installation often have concerns as to whether or not their system will be profitable enough, compared to its south-facing counterparts.    Disqualifiers for cost-effective solar systems include shading and limited available roof space.  Rarely, however, is a home found unsuitable due to a Non-Southerly facing roof alone.

To illustrate, following is a comparison of a 10kW system’s output respective to East, West and South facing orientations.  Data compiled using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) weather data patterns for Baltimore, MD –

10kW system installed on a 20 degree pitched roof with zero shade

 SOUTH (180 degrees)WEST (270 degrees)EAST (90 degrees)
ANNUAL OUTPUT13,224kWh11,389kWh11,328 kWh
*Annual $avings$1853 per year$1594 per year$1586

*Savings based on a conservative $3.00/watt installation, and $0.14/watt BGE rate

Data from PV WATTS

As illustrated, although perfectly South would be ideal, the East and West orientations provide a competitive amount of solar and would add only a few months to the payback period.  If you were choosing between East and West (as opposed to installing on both), the difference is nominal.  The choice of which roof may come down to aesthetic preference, distance to utility meter and regional weather patterns.

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

DC Property Owners: Big Hot Water load = Big Solar Incentives

Commercial Solar Service, Annapolis MD

A growing number of building owners, developers and condo associations in the District of Columbia have come to realize that their building happens to be located in the most solar-friendly city in the USA .  Solar contractors, investors and financing vehicles are falling over each other to get solar panels on District roofs and start generating  the lucrative solar renewable energy credits (SRECs).   Whether via Direct Purchase, or $0 solar leases – SRECs are undoubtedly the reason for the solar season in DC (more to follow on those below).

However, before you sign on the dotted line and fill your roof with a 25-year solar PV (electric) system, as offered by 9 out of 10 solar professionals, make sure that you’re not losing the opportunity to vastly increase your return on investment with a Solar Thermal System.

Solar Water Heating Feasibility

The pre-qualification for a Solar Thermal System involves three questions:

  1. Does your building have a substantial, daily (365 day) hot water need? (i.e. apartment building/condos, restaurant, laundry, brewery, health center)
  2. Does your building have a centralized water heating system (as opposed to individual units throughout the building)?
  3. Can the building accommodate additional storage tanks?

If you answered YES to these three questions you really (really) should first consider a Solar Water Heating system either before – or at a minimum – in tandem with, a solar PV system.  (Shopper Beware – unless your solar contact has experience with solar thermal – which many do not – you’re going to have to be prepared to shop further).

What is Solar Water Heating (or Solar Thermal)?

Other than using the sun for energy generation, Solar Water Heating Systems operate entirely differently from their electron-shaking PV counterparts.  These time-tested, technologically mature systems are mechanical in nature and relatively simple.

Moreover, a solar thermal panel is 60 – 70% efficient; whereas a solar PV (electric) panel is typically 17 – 24% efficient.  Therefore, solar thermal panels generate substantially more energy per square foot than PV panels,  monetizing many more SRECs.

Solar Service , Home Solar Panels, Solar Renewable Energy

 

Let’s Review SRECs…

SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) – along with the 30% Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 depreciation– are what drive the tremendous economic benefits of solar in Washington DC; one of several jurisdictions that have enacted a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that a specific percentage of electricity consumed must come from solar.   Whether residential, commercial, or institutional, each time a solar system generates 1 Megawatt hour of energy – the solar system owner generates 1 SREC.  This SREC is then sold via aggregators to an SREC market where it is bought by competitive energy suppliers to allow them to meet their share of the compliance obligation, or else pay a legislated fine (Alternative Compliance Payment, or ACP) for every SREC they are short.  Washington DC currently generates the highest SREC values in the country, largely due to the fact that DC does not have the real estate to install large solar farms which can rapidly oversupply a market and drive down SREC prices.

How much are SRECs Worth?

Washington DC SRECs are currently trading at $395/SREC.  To provide a frame of reference, a 6000 sq ft rooftop in Washington DC outfitted with a 75kW solar PV (electric) system could generate around 90 SRECs/year (over $35,000/year).   Depending on variables such as system size, corporate tax rate and and project site attributes, this SREC income – combined with a 30% Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 depreciation, typically result in IRR’s between 30% – 60% and a Simple payback of 3 – 5 years.    Assuming solar thermal is applicable, this same roof outfitted with a Solar Thermal System could fit a kWh equivalent of a 150kW+ system, generating 180 SRECs/year – and see an IRR of 50 – 80%, with a simple payback in the 1 – 2 year range.

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels, Residential Solar PanelsMaintenance

Although Solar PV (electric) clients often opt for an O & M (operations and maintenance) contract through their solar installer, Solar PV Systems  have relatively minor maintenance needs; usually an annual inspection along with ongoing monitoring.    Solar thermal (water heating) requires a little more maintenance including a 3 – 5 yearly service which, at a minimum, includes a replacement of the propylene glycol/energy transfer fluid that can degrade with time.  Nonetheless, the impact of service costs on the overall IRR is relatively small and easily absorbed by the increased SREC income.

Written by Lisa Walsh

A Primer on Solar Power

Did you know that attempts to harness the sun’s power through the development of solar cells dates back to the late 1800’s? I am sure that this, and other information, may be new to our readers. This article will provide you with some basic facts about solar power and solar energy. That way, you can join the conversation, and the renewable energy movement!

  • The first successful solar cell was developed in the early 1950s. It was made of silicon, and able to power small electronic devices. This was hailed as the beginning of a new era of energy resources, even then being acknowledged as having the potential to offer a limitless supply of electricity.
  • The first true application of solar cells could be found in the space program at NASA and in Russia. They were the only ones who could afford this technology in the 1960s.
  • The cost of solar cells continued to decline incrementally, but not so significantly that solar was a common source of energy through the 1970s. But, as the 1980s dawned, and ever since, solar power has insinuated itself into all aspects of life, commercially and residentially.
  • The first solar panels for buildings were developed in the early 1970s. In truth, this initial foray into the potential for large scale residential solar power was actually a solar array built into a rooftop. Panel development followed, as the cost and manufacturing efficiency increased.
  • President Jimmy Carter had solar panels placed on the roof of the White House in 1979. Everyone was getting into the act!
  • Welcome to 2018. Today it is common to find solar-powered cars, solar-powered telecommunications, and even solar-powered aircraft. One car company, renowned for their progressiveness, has incorporated solar panels into the roofs of their vehicles!

But, there’s more! Technology continues to expand the horizons of solar energy, making it affordable and applicable in new ways and new places. For example, it is possible that eventually solar panels on rooftops will be replaced with solar shingles!

Or, consider this, a solar fabric is being finalized that can be attached to houses as a cooling device!

We here at Solar Energy Services are excited about the future applications of this renewable source of energy for personal and commercial uses. You can count on us to utilize our superior knowledge and expertise to your advantage. We look forward to serving you!

Commercial Solar Energy Residential Solar Panels
Written by Roger Perry

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.

Written by Anonymous

Frederick County Detention Center to get Solar Heating

COUNTY DETENTION CENTER TO GET SOLAR HEATING

The Frederick County Adult Detention Center is going green as work has begun on the installation of a solar power array that officials hope will save the county money in the long run.

The roof-mounted system will be used to heat water for the jail, which Lt. Keith Welty, commander of fiscal services, said is one of the counties largest users of hot water…

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%

 

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.