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…

Written by Anonymous

Offset Your Oil-Guzzling Water Heater with Solar!

Offset Those Oil-Fired Water Heaters with SOLAR

Why oil-fired water heaters?  In many parts of the country there are no local gas lines for residential distribution.   In the Chesapeake Bay region where we operate, this issue is very common in the many river communities that are close to our world famous estuary.  The reason for this is primarily because there are so many peninsulas that don’t offer the high density to justify pipeline expenses.  In these areas, customers are forced to use other fuels like electricity, propane, and oil to heat their homes and domestic hot water.  This article will focus on the oil-fired boilers that are common in this region as well as in the Northeast US.

Cost of Gas Alternatives:  Many homes have heating boilers that run on fuel oil.  These boilers have tremendous heating power and can recover loads quickly.  They also tend to be relatively inefficient, dirty, and expensive to run.  Many of these boilers also have an on-demand water heating feature that adequately satisfies the household’s water heating load without the need for a standby tank.  This all sounds great except the price of home heating oil continues to climb with recent prices around $4/gallon on in our area.  To put that in perspective, the equivalent price for natural gas on an energy density basis would be about $1.00/gallon.  When oil users are paying 4 times the rate of those who have access to natural gas, they can hardly afford to be wasteful in how they operate their boilers.

Summertime Blues:  Here’s the dirty little secret about that on-demand oil-fired water heater on your boiler.  It is typically programmed to keep that big hunk of metal hot, all summer, waiting for you to call for hot water.  So a premium for your oil (compared to gas) is not the only thing you are paying for.  During summertime your air conditioner is competing with your heat-radiating oil-fired water heater.   So, here’s the way I – a not-so-proud owner of an oil heater – circumnavigated this issue:

My Solution:  I have solar photovoltaic (PV) on my home, but when I got into the solar business in 2008 the first thing I did was deploy solar water heating in my family’s home which allowed me to shut down our boiler for about half the year.  We also did some other control modifications for efficiency.  The first simple control is used to automatically reduce the boiler target temperature as the outside air temperature increases – for example, you don’t need 180 degree water to heat the house when its only 50 degrees outside.  Secondly, we converted the boiler to “cold start”, so it no longer wastefully heats on standby when we have a big tank of solar-heated water waiting to be used.  My family’s solar thermal system is slightly oversized (there are 3 forty square foot panels instead of 2) so that it could be integrated with our hydronic space heating system to give us a little space heating help from the sun.  [See our recent blog on combi-systems (hyperlink)].

So that’s the good news.  The GREAT news is that there has been absolutely no convenience impact on how we use hot water or space heating.  The system has saved us about $800/year in oil       expenses, the majority from offsetting our inefficient water heating, and the remainder from space heating.

Furthermore, the solar heating system is optimized in the summertime, all-but-negating the use of the oil-fired water heater.  The air conditioner has to work far less without having that heat-radiating boiler inside the home – like most are.

People are learning that different homes and circumstances often can benefit substantially more than others when you consider various renewable or energy efficiency technologies.  Oil fired water heaters are some of the sweetest low hanging fruit in solar.  In fact, I joke with my residential oil supplier that we should team up so he can get out in front of this trend that is eating into his oil sales.  He said, “no thanks – I’ll ride this as long as I can”.

If you forgot to make a new year’s resolution this year and you heat your home and your water with oil, then plant your flag!  If you’ve got some solar exposure, you must commit to get a free solar thermal assessment in 2014 and stop pouring money and finite resources down the drain.

Written by Lisa Walsh

Supercharge your Solar Water Heater

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

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

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

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

Washington DC Solar Commercial Solar Service
Written by Rick Peters

Commercial Solar Water Heating: ANOTHER Renaissance?

Washington DC Solar ,Commercial Solar ServiceSolar water heating has quite a long history. In the United States alone, the industry has boomed and busted 3 times in the last 130 years – each time displaced by cheap energy. Many are surprised to know that the first US patent for a residential solar water heater was issued in 1891 to Clarence Kemp, a Baltimore inventor. That’s right, 1891.  In the 1920’s, 30% of the homes in Pasadena, CA had solar water heaters.  With the discovery of natural gas resources in the region, the industry evaporated almost overnight.  Solar thermal technology is mature and efficient; the problem lies with allowing our commitment to solar to dissolve in favor of decreasing natural gas prices.

In these previous industry “busts”, energy became cheap and we were lulled into a false expectation of stable prices. Each time, not long after the industry was dismantled, energy prices began to creep back up, making us long for that clean and cheap solar energy again. So today Solar Water Heating is on the rise again. Will it be different in the 21st century or are we doomed to repeat the same cycle? What was it that Winston Churchill said about failing to learn from history….?

The recent surge in US solar water heating deployments began in 2008. This resurgence, especially at the commercial scale, has helped to drive up adoption rates while scaling down installation costs. Several factors are converging in recent years to bring about this renaissance:

  • Engineers, architects, and contractors are becoming increasingly familiar with this mature technology – improving costs with increasing experience
  • Regional incentives are bolstering the existing federal incentives to reduce the capital investment.
  • The federal government has mandated that a minimum of 30% of water heating must come from solar for new construction or major renovations on federal buildings.
  • Project Developers like Skyline Innovations (http://www.nextility.com/) have introduced new business models to help deploy these systems for those without available capital.
  • Property owners increasingly want to have more control over their energy budget
  • Various societal pressures continue to reward solar adoption
  • An improving economy has allowed property owners finally to reinvest in their buildings

Remarkably, much of this has occurred despite a backdrop of rapidly falling natural gas prices (the primary heating fuel for commercial water heating), decreasing drastically from 2008 to 2012. However, in the last 18 months, natural gas prices are climbing again in a trend that is likely to continue: gas exportation; deployment of energy intensive manufacturing in the US; diversion of more natural gas to transportation (locomotives, trucks, fleet vehicles and eventually automobiles); conversion of more power plants and residential heating to natural gas.In light of these trends, property owners are rapidly moving forward to install solar water heating systems before the financial incentives expire. Business owners with substantial hot water loads in Washington DC and Maryland are able to achieve simple ROIs of 2-7 years. This approach requires them to take a slightly longer perspective, recognizing that they are buying 30+ years of energy up front for a fixed price (with generous subsidies). Whether financed independently or through the bank, building owners are able to lock in their energy prices and hedge the inevitable increase in fuel costs while leveraging all of the other benefits of renewable energy.

If you have any doubts about this trend, visit our commercial solar water heating page and take a look at the photos of just a subset of the projects we’ve been deploying in the region (https://solarsaves.net/commercial-solar-water-heating/).

If you want to know more about the history of solar water heating, check out this excellent book: The Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology, coauthored by Ken Butti and John Perlin.

Maryland Solar Company ,Commercial Solar Energy
Written by Lisa Walsh

Maryland Solar Pool Heaters – Top 10 FAQ’s

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

SES Selected as Installer for Solarize Frederick County Initiative

Residential Solar Panels ,Solar Service ,Home Solar PanelsFREDERICK, MD: Today SES was informed by the Frederick County’s Solarize Committee that they were chosen to be the official Solar Water Heater installer for the Solarize Frederick County initiative.

The pilot program aims to increase installations of solar water heaters, as well as solar electric (PV), systems in Frederick County County.  The financial incentives include County grants and volume purchase agreements, in addition to pre-existing state and federal grants.  Astrum Solar were selected as the solar electric (PV) installer.

While funds last, all Frederick County residents are eligible to apply for the incentives that reduce the cost of a solar water heater (or solar electric PV system) by up to 85%.

Solar Service,Commercial Solar Energy
Written by Lisa Walsh

Annapolis Restaurant Harry Browne’s Installs Solar Water Heater

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

ABOUT SOLAR WATER HEATERS and SES, Inc.

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

ommercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar Panels ,Solar Service
Written by Anonymous

Hagerstown Correctional Facility Installs Solar Water Heating Systems

Commercial Solar Energy ,Residential Solar ,Panels Solar ServiceHAGERSTOWN, MD:  Earlier this week Solar Energy Services, Inc., a Maryland based solar installer, completed installation of five separate solar water heating systems at the Hagerstown Correctional Facility.

SES was engaged by Johnson Controls, Inc. to design, install and commission the solar systems in order to offset a larger portion of the facility’s traditional heating system.  Four of the systems, each consisting of 6 solar thermal panels closed-loop plumbed to 220 gallon solar storage tanks, were installed on four housing buildings.  The larger 12 panel system and accompanying tanks were installed on the facility’s dining hall.

Commercial Solar Energy, Solar Energy Services
Written by Anonymous

Assisted Living Complex Installs Solar Water Heater

Commercial Solar Energy, Solar Energy ServicesGLEN BURNIE, MD:  Glen Square, a senior assisted-living complex in the heart of Glen Burnie, MD now have a solar water heating system that will offset a large portion of their natural gas water heating system.

The solar system is financed by Skyline Innovations, Inc., a Washington, DC based third party solar developer, who engaged Solar Energy Services of Millersville, MD to design and install the 42 panel solar thermal system.

Commercial Solar Service,Residential Solar Panels
Written by Anonymous

Commercial Solar Water Heating on the Rise

Residential Solar Panels,Commercial Solar ServiceWhile still a relatively well kept secret among the general public, large scale solar water heating is popping up in more and more places. While this technology is relatively mature, the practical deployment is still in its infancy.

While we’ve seen lots of growth in recent years, what is holding back solar water heating? Three things actually: Awareness, Cheap natural gas, and Inertia.

We’re overcoming the awareness challenge slowly but surely. Every week there is another article in the trade press about a prison, dormitory, military barracks, restaurant or health care facility adopting this valuable technology. These systems are piquing the interest of facilities managers, engineers, and architects on the demand side and mechanical contractors and manufacturers on the supply side; helping to raise awareness among the traditional commercial water heating business community. This is particularly the case in markets like Washington DC, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, and California where solar water heating systems benefit from the existing solar PV incentive markets.

Cheap natural gas. I’ve written on this before, but it’s worth repeating. Today’s wholesale natural gas prices are close to a ten year low, and more than 75% below their most recent peak in July of 2008. Recent data indicates that prices are trending up again, but the current low price combined with economic uncertainty has facility managers and CFOs hesitating until they can see a faster payback on a solar water heating investment. While a 4 year payback may not seem enticing in today’s economy, the problem with waiting for the inevitable price increase of natural gas is that you forgo some of the best incentives existing today that will surely be lower or absent in the future. Remember, the solar fuel is free in the future, so increasing gas prices will only improve the economic return in the future.

Inertia is one of the most powerful social forces I know. It plays a huge role here. As engineers and architects continue to gain experience and confidence in specifying SWH systems, volume will continue to drive down costs in much the same way that we have seen with solar PV. The federal government has required the use of SWH on all of their new construction, if feasible. The number of contractors who are capable of installing and servicing these systems continues to increase, giving prospective system owners’ confidence that the systems will not be supported in the future.

Below are a few links highlighting some commercial systems recently commissioned in the U.S. Read on and learn how commonplace this simple technology is becoming.

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