Commercial Solar Energy ,Residential Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

The Ballasted Solar Attachment: Maryland and DC Solar Panels

Commercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar PanelsWays in which solar panel arrays can affix to a commercial building are as many and varied as the buildings they serve.  In this article, we’re focusing on one popular method of attachment – the Ballasted roof mounted system.

Many commercial solar prospects in and around the Maryland/Washington DC area have buildings with flat or low-sloped roofs.  These are generally defined as a roof with a 3:12 pitch or less.  For these applications, ballasted systems can offer a way of attaching solar arrays without any (or few) roof penetrations.   Many building-owners prefer this method of attachment as it negates the risk of leaking, particularly on flat roofs that may collect water.  With a ballasted system, the arrays are held down using the weight of the existing solar panel arrays, racking and – most importantly – concrete blocks.  These blocks are placed methodically throughout the system design to secure the arrays in place, resisting wind loads or other types of disturbance.

The addition of the ballast blocks to the solar system arrays adds additional weight to the roof.   As with any commercial solar project, this weight load is analyzed and approved by a licensed structural engineer as required by the permitting jurisdiction – with some differences in each locale.   Ballast racking manufacturers also specify the amount of blocks required throughout a design.  The number of blocks per panel typically varies throughout design due to array proximity to building edges, parapets, or other inconsistencies that can affect wind and snow loads.

Although ballasted systems have many advantages, as with any design, they have their disadvantages and are not compatible with every type of commercial building.   Let’s look at a generalized comparison scenario between a roof penetrated system and a Ballasted System:

Roof Penetrated System

Ballasted System

Labor Costs and CriteriaHIGH:  Penetrations require flashing and sealing techniques – sometimes requiring coordination with a roofer.LOW.   Labor skills required for installation are fairly straight-forward and require no roofer coordination.
Panel CountINCREASED:  Systems attached to roof substructure require less roof space for mounting.DECREASED:  Ballast-blocks require roof space and can limit the available space for solar panels
Roof LoadingDECREASED.  No concrete/ballast blockINCREASED:  Ballast blocks add weight to the roof
Design CriteriaFLEXIBLE:  Attached racking systems can usually negotiate hatches, HVAC equipmentLESS FLEXIBLE:  Because of the increased space required per panel – designs may be more rigid.  However most ballast racking does have reasonable flexibility.
Roof Pitch5 – 45 degreesGenerally less than 10 degrees

 

Multi-roofed commercial applications may have a variety of racking types for both sloped and pitched roofs. There are other options for flat roofs also, including attached and hybrid solutions that use a combination of both penetrated and non-penetrated techniques.

Commercial Solar Energy Residential Solar Panels
Written by Rick Peters

SRECs in Maryland and DC

What Does the Future Hold?

Commercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar PanelsSolar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) have played a large part in the financing of solar energy systems in Maryland since the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) was enacted in 2005. These market-based, tradable credits are the property of the solar system owner to resell, typically to brokers who bundle them for final resale to competitive energy suppliers in the interest of meeting their solar compliance goals. In Maryland (as well as Washington DC), these credits are generated by both solar electric (PV) and solar water heating systems.

The price of SRECs is supposed to reflect the over or under supply of these credits in the marketplace. Both Maryland and DC have very aggressive solar goals (2% by 2020 in MD and 2.5% by 2023 in DC) with steep adoption curves so we need lots of SRECs to meet compliance.

Maryland:

That said, the solar industry boomed for several years recently and we are currently going into an oversupply phase in Maryland. This has the effect of pushing down prices on SRECs in the near term.   There are many contributors to the oversupply and the industry and legislators are frequently working hard to promote policies that help to smooth out the supply, but in the end, SRECs are a market mechanism that is subject to “animal spirits.”

As solar prices decline it is fitting that SREC prices are declining too – after all, we should need less incentives as solar costs come down to “grid parity.” When Maryland’s SREC market was conceived, the designers planned for a declining value as more solar got on to the grid. In fact, the Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) schedule – the amount energy suppliers have to pay if they cannot buy SRECs – is designed to decrease over time. The ACP is considered to be the maximum that an SREC would cost in a rational market. Recently SRECs have traded on the order of 35% of the ACP, but as high as 75% a few years ago. In Maryland, the ACP is scheduled to drop from $400 to $350 in 2015 and then down to $200 in 2017, $150 in 2019, and so on.

DC

Washington DC is a different market and one that is much better insulated from the shocks of large utility scale systems that flood SRECs onto the market. The sheer geography in DC does not lend itself to 10 MW solar farms and thus the SREC supply curve is a little smoother due to the requirement being fulfilled primarily with many smaller systems. As a result, DC SRECs have shown more consistency and maintained a higher price, benefitting system owners and prospective system owners.

What now?

Regardless of the trends for solar return on investment (ROI), we all want to maximize our incentives for our own benefit. SRECs are no different. While there are many more new solar customers every day, there are also many solar system owners now approaching the end of 3 or 5 year SREC contracts (aka “strips”) and they too need to decide how to proceed going forward. Do I want to sign up for another strip (3 or 5 year term contract) and accept a large discount on my SREC price for that price security or do I want to maybe float with the market for a while? I’ve got no crystal ball, but I do know that there are many efforts underway in Maryland, some legislative and some not, to help to smooth the SREC supply and thus maintain a reasonable value for SRECs to continue to help incentivize solar. For that reason, I believe we will see some recovery of SREC prices in Maryland in the next year or two and thus maybe it is better to hold off on a term contract. In DC, I would personally opt for more surety and take a term contract with the discount price, but that is my risk averse nature. Others might like to bear more risk and float in hopes of higher SREC values in the future.

Either way, we are lucky to have these incentives in Maryland and DC. They are working to increase solar installations and jobs and they are also helping to drive down the installed price of solar in our region.

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

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.

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.

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
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.

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!

Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Saves in Anne Arundel County

Pictured: Matt, Jessica and family in front of their newly installed solar hot water and solar electric systems.

The cost of the residential solar system has come down dramatically in the past five years. With 4 separate grants and incentives, Anne Arundel County residents are catching on.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN – Residential solar energy systems are being installed every day in Anne Arundel County where local business owners Roger Perry and Rick Peters are working hard to keep up with rising demand. Their rapidly growing 18 person firm, Solar Energy Services, Inc. (SES) installs and services solar electric, solar water heating, and solar pool heating systems in Maryland and DC, with the majority of their residential customers located within AA County. When asked why he thinks solar has taken off even in these tough times, SES president Rick Peters said there are many drivers, but economics lead the way. “Rising utility bills, decreasing cost of solar panels and generous financial incentives all combine to give homeowners the opportunity to pay off 25yrs worth of BGE energy in about 6 years, not to mention the environmental and societal benefits.”

One House – two solar systems:

Most solar shoppers are unaware that there are two types of solar energy for the home. Whole house solar electric, commonly referred to as PV (Photovoltaic), is what most people think of as solar energy. However, a solar water heater can offset 75% of your annual hot water energy. Roger Perry quickly points out that if you have a large sunny roof, there is plenty of room for both systems. He and Peters both have solar water heating and solar electric on their homes.

The clock is ticking…

Each of the 4 different substantial incentives for a residential property owner in Anne Arundel County currently has a limited life-span, with the idea that solar can be competitive without them in the future. Peters notes that the current average payback on a solar electric system is about 6 years, for a system that lasts 25 – 30 years. With solar hot water, a 4 year average payback with a similar system lifespan. The payback is even faster if you have a large family (lots of hot water use) or if you need to replace your water heater anyway. Rick Peters leaves us with some food for thought, “You can invest your money in a lot of different places these days, but most are very uncertain, or producing a very low return. On an annual basis, the return on solar energy is quite predictable, and the economic return is hard to beat with any financial investment strategy.”

TYPICAL 5kW SOLAR ELECTRIC (PV) SYSTEM
Estimated System Cost$27,500
Federal Tax Credit$8,250
MD State Grant$2,500
AA County Property Tax Credit @ 75%$1,875
SREC Payments$10,000
Total Incentives$22,625
Net Cost to Homeowner$4,875
Payback in Years6.09 yrs
25 yr Annual Energy Savings+800 per year
25 yr Lifetime Return on Investment>250%

 

Written by admin

Homeless Shelter in Washington, DC Goes Solar

WASHINGTON, DC: In partnership with Skyline Innovations, a third-party solar developer, Solar Energy Services, Inc. completed installation on a homeless shelter in downtown Washington, DC.

S.O.M.E. (So Others May Eat) is an interfaith community-based organization in the Nation’s Capital. The extensive renovations to their 53-person dwellings at the Chabraja House included a solar system expected to substantially reduce utility costs by offsetting their conventional water heating system.

Ten solar thermal collectors facing south on the building’s rooftop are closed-loop plumbed to 4, 120 gallon solar storage tanks inside the building.

Click HERE for pics and info

Written by admin

Two Solar Systems Installed at Cherry Hill Campground

COLLEGE PARK, MD:  Earlier this week Solar Energy Services, Inc. completed the installation of two separate solar energy systems at the Cherry Hill Campground.

The solar domestic hot water system consists of 10 panels, for a total of 400 square feet of collectors integrated with four, 120 gallon solar storage tanks, each with dual heat exchangers. On the same roof, SES installed a 22-panel solar pool heating system (920 square feet) designed to heat the main swimming pool during the spring and fall, saving Cherry Hill Management a tremendous amount of energy and money.

As part of the installation, SES also replaced the existing inefficient boilers with high efficiency modulating, condensing boilers (natural gas) integrated with the solar system to provide backup energy for domestic water heating. SES also installed crossover valves to allow Cherry Hill to divert solar energy to the secondary pool when the main pool reaches desired temperatures.

Post Install Info and Pics

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