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 ,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.

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!