Written by Rick Peters

SES Embraces SunPower Partnership

Many of our prospective customers have been waiting to buy their panels in the hopes of significant advancement. “I want the technology to mature ” they say, “ and be state-of-the-art”. Well, the closest you can get to those standards with a production panel is with SunPower.

Ask around, do some Google searches. You’ll learn quickly that SunPower is considered the best with very little debate. In fact, it’s by far the best. This American born company launched out of the US university research system (the founder was a Stanford professor) has sustained a 23 year run to be acquired recently by a global energy company.

At Solar Energy Services we’re excited to report that we are now a SunPower certified dealer. We’ve always wanted to offer the very best PV product and now we can. SES is proud to tie our 35 year commitment to the industry to the world leader in solar panel manufacturing.

Many are aware that the cost efficiency of installed solar has improved dramatically in the last 5 years due to efficiencies gained through price competition, distribution improvements, development of installation techniques, and other process improvements. However, the physical efficiency of solar cells has advanced more slowly than most have hoped. The standard Chinese panel being installed by the majority of installers today (especially the large leasing firms) are in the 14-15% efficiency range. A few solar manufacturers have been able to stay notably ahead of the pack. SunPower remains out front with their standard 327 W panel (E20) at 20% efficieny. Sunpower’s new “X” (E21) is 21% efficient! That’s right, over 40% more efficient than the average panel out there. The X begins to ship in April 2013 – next month.

SunPower’s Maxeon cells are the industry leader in reliability and durability also. They’ve had only180 defects out of 7 million panels. That’s right, 1 in 39000! The Maxeon cell has redundancy in contacts, accommodating wear from thermal expansion. It has backside contacts that provide increases collection on the sunny side. They are highly durable with the best impact resistance ratings. They are backed by a solid company with great support and a bright future.

To recap, the physical efficiency of solar cells has been relatively stagnant, with the exception of a few leaders that have developed slow and steady progress. SunPower has led the way. The company has been around for over 23 years. They have the most durable solar cell in the industry and the highest performing. I must confess, the 3 year old solar PV system on my roof has panels made in China. If I were installing today, there is no doubt I’d choose SunPower…

Solar Service Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Energy During a Power Outage?

Not quite so cut and dry…

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

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

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

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

solar services, installation, Commercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar Panels
Written by Anonymous

Capital Manor Housing Cooperative Goes Solar Thermal

solar energy, Solar Service,installationWASHINGTON, DC:  Earlier this week Solar Energy Services, Inc. completed the installation of a solar water heating system on Capital Manor Cooperative’s residence building on the 1400 block of W Street in Northwest Washington, DC.

SES was engaged by third party solar developer, Skyline Innovations, earlier this year to design and install the solar water heating system consisting of 48 evacuted tube solar arrays and three, 1,500 gallon solar storage tanks.

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.

Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Monitoring

Homeowners can see how their daily sunshine dollar is spent

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

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

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

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

Going Solar? Top 10 Things to Consider…

SES gives the skinny on going sunny

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Happy Solar Shopping!

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 Anonymous

Solar Commissioned at Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant

ESSEX, MD:  Earlier this week NABCEF-certified Solar Energy Services, Inc. was engaged by Amber Enterprises, Inc. to provide the DC wiring installation at the newly installed 1MW solar application at Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Johnson Controls, Inc. is the project manager of this 1MW solar photovoltaic system which has 4,116 ground-mounted, southerly-facing solar panels.  The 4,200 American-made panels, installed in the past three months at a cost of about $4 million, have begun to supply about 5 percent of the energy — up to 1,000 kilowatts per hour — needed to run the plant on Eastern Avenue.

Written by Anonymous

Commercial Greenhouse Installs Solar Power System

HUGHESVILLE, MD:  Millersville, MD – based Solar Energy Services, Inc. completed the installation of ground-mounted solar photovoltaic system on a commercial nursery greenhouse complex.

The 19.9 kW solar electric system includes 72 solar power panels in two arrays of 36 modules.  The system is expected to offset a substantial portion of the greenhouse’s conventional electrical load.

Written by Anonymous

DC Condominium Community Installs Solar Water Heater

WASHINGTON, DC:  Solar Energy Services, Inc. installed and commissioned a solar thermal system at Tiber Island, a waterfront condomimium community in Washington, DC.

SES was contracted by Skyline Innovations, a third party solar developer, to design and install the solar water heating system that acts as a pre-heat to the facility’s natural gas water heating system.

The solar system consists of 76 solar arrays mounted to the building’s roof.  Each array has 30 evacuated tube collectors that are closed-loop plumbed to a 5,000 gallon solar storage tank.

The system is expected to offset a large portion of the facility’s conventional utility bill.

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