Category: Solar Panels

Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive?

Why Are Solar Panels So Expensive?

courtney
COURTNEY JOHNSTON, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar​

Over the long term, solar energy is the cheapest way to power your property. But it requires a significant up-front investment that slowly pays back over time.

Everyone loves the idea of saving money on energy bills. But when someone puts a quote in your hands for a system that costs more than a new car, you might start to have your doubts…

“Seriously, why are solar panels so expensive?”

We get this question all the time. Here’s our explanation:

1. Huge Markup on Turnkey Installations

Did you get a quote from a full-service solar company that installs their own equipment? If so, they’re probably marking up installation costs like crazy – as much as double the cost of materials. You can save a good chunk of money by installing it yourself or hiring an independent contractor for less.

2. 30% Federal Tax Credit

You get a 30% federal tax credit for going solar. Just know that whatever you pay, you’ll deduct 30% of the cost of your system and installation from your taxes. (Heads up; the tax credit is being phased out by 2022.)

3. Solar is an Investment

The initial cost of solar is high, but the money you save on electric bills pays for the system over time. The amount of time it takes you to break even is known as the payback period.

This is a significant concept for anyone trying to understand why solar is a smart investment, so we’ll explain it in more detail in this article.

4. It’s Fine to Start Small

You can always start small and cover part of your energy needs, then expand as your budget allows.

It’s hard to give a conclusive answer, since this is such an open-ended question. But we hear it most often from people who have quotes out with a turnkey installer.

A system that costs about $10,000 in materials, like this 6.6kW grid-tied system, might be marked up to $30,000 after installation costs from a turnkey provider.

Which explains why sticker shock is a common phenomenon in this industry.

So here’s our advice: the best way to save money on solar is to install it yourself, or hire an independent contractor to complete the installation at a fraction of what a turnkey provider would charge you.

If the up-front cost is still a concern, the next solution would be to scale back to a more modest system design and then expand on it as your budget allows.

Don’t Overpay for Installation

Most of the time when someone asks us why solar panels cost so much, they’re working from a quote from a turnkey installer (a company that offers an all-in-one solution to source the equipment and perform the installation).

Here’s the trick: the cost of equipment is pretty much the same wherever you go. The markup is in the installation.

Large installers have overhead costs. They have to cover labor, pay rent on their office, maintain a fleet of service vehicles, supply equipment, take out insurance, and so on…

All those operating costs get rolled into the charge of installation.

And the markup is obscene.

A typical installation might take a team of 3 laborers a full 8-hour day to complete. At $25/hr, that’s $600 in total labor costs. Add a bit more for tools and overhead, and the installer might spend about $1000 to send a crew to complete the job.

And yet…turnkey installers charge 1-2 times the cost of equipment to install it. If your equipment costs $10k, your final bill may come out to $20-30k once everything is bundled together.

Uh huh. You can see why we’re such strong advocates for DIY solar.

If you’re holding a quote from a turnkey installer, we strongly recommend you explore DIY as an option. Installing a solar system can seem scary, but it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ve helped thousands of people through the DIY installation process – take a look at the customer galleries in our Install of the Month feature for inspiration.

Don’t feel comfortable installing your own solar system? There’s a nice middle ground between DIY and turnkey: buy the system direct, then hire an independent contractor to install it.

Independent contractors tend to charge way less for installation. They should charge you 75 cents to a dollar per watt, which means you’d pay $5-6k to install the same system we used as an example above. You can see the value comparison of all three options in the chart below.

This is not to say that we fault turnkey installers for what they do. If you have a family or a demanding job, time is likely your most valuable resource. A turnkey solution is absolutely worth it if you can afford it and don’t have time to design your system yourself.

Just know you’re paying a premium for them to install the system, and that premium is awfully steep.

30% Federal Tax Credit Makes Solar More Affordable

If you live in the United States and choose to go solar, your system is eligible for a federal tax credit.

Today, that credit is 30% of your cost to go solar (which includes the cost of installation and equipment). However, it will shrink over time to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021, disappearing completely by 2022.

The tax credit is a reduction of the income tax you owe. For example, if you owe $3,000 in taxes but received a $3,000 tax credit on a $10,000 system, your tax liability would be $0.

If solar seems too expensive, keep in mind that 30% of your system cost will be refunded when tax season comes. However, that benefit will be phased out over the next few years. So if you want to claim the extra kickback on your taxes, you’ll have to do so sooner rather than later.

Understanding Payback Period

Even if you skip the installer, you’ll still spend a good amount of money on the system itself. That number can be a little bit scary without any context.

It’s important to think of solar as an investment with a payback period.

Solar saves you money in the long run by reducing or eliminating electric bills. Over time, the money you save on electricity adds up.

Your payback period is the amount of time it takes for your energy savings to pay off the up-front cost of the system. (Other factors, like tax incentives, also speed up your payback period.)

The formula for payback period is:

System Price ÷ Value of Electricity ÷ Annual Usage = Payback period (years)

(This is a simplified formula. It doesn’t take into account certain factors like energy cost inflation, which increases costs by about 3% per year, or the scheduled replacement of smaller parts, like the inverter.)

The system may be pricey up front, but it will provide more than enough energy to pay for itself. For example, panels are warrantied for 25 years, but our sample 6.6kW system may pay for itself after about 8 years of typical use. The final 17 years of ownership yields profit off your investment.

Learn more about how to calculate payback period and return on investment for your solar system.

Start Small To Trim The Cost Of Solar

You don’t have to offset 100% of your energy costs if your budget doesn’t allow for it. It’s always possible to start with a modest system and then expand later.

You can start as small as one solar panel and a single micro-inverter. Solar panels and micro-inverters are a 1-to-1 system, meaning each panel is connected to its own micro-inverter.

This configuration can be expanded indefinitely. We build modest systems like this all the time for people who want to offset a small portion of their energy, then add to it over time as budget allows.

If you want to take this approach, be sure to mention your expansion plans to your system designer / sales tech. Not all inverters and panels are compatible. Start with a long-term plan in mind and plan appropriately.

Conclusion

Solar can be expensive in the short term, but the incentives will save you plenty of money over the life of the warranty. And the return on investment improves dramatically if you skip the turnkey provider and install it yourself – or at least hire an independent contractor to do it for you.

Trying to figure out whether solar is right for you? Take a look at our guide to getting started with solar. It’s tailored for people who are just starting to research the solar energy landscape.

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60-Cell vs. 72-Cell Solar Panels: Which One’s Best?

60-Cell vs. 72-Cell Solar Panels: Which One’s Best?

IAN SHURTLEFF, Sales and Design Tech at Wholesale Solar​

The difference between 60-cell and 72-cell solar panels is simple: 72-cell panels are 12” taller and contain 12 more solar cells.

If that seems too obvious, I promise you: that’s pretty much all there is to it.

But there’s a reason we’re devoting article space to such a simple topic.

I was designing a system for a residential customer last week when she asked me, “I can’t use 72-cell panels at my house, right?”

For some reason, she had the impression that 72-cell panels are only for commercial use. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

After some back-and-forth, I realized she had read a few articles online to help her decide which size panel to use. Turns out those articles were wildly inaccurate and she was working with bad information. They claimed 72-cell panels were only for commercial use, and require special hardware and extra labor to install.

None of which is remotely true.

So I wrote this article to help set the record straight.

Dispelling myths about 72-cell panels

The big myth floating around the Internet is that 72-cell panels are not made for residential use.

That’s simply not true. In fact, roughly 50% of all residential systems we design at Wholesale Solar have 72-cell panels in them.

It’s true that commercial applications lean toward 72-cell panels. They require less racking rail, fewer electrical connections, and fewer clamps to secure in place. That means 72-cell panels are cheaper to install on a large scale.

But there’s no reason residential customers can’t get the same benefits from a 72-cell solar panel.

Are 72-cell panels harder to install?

I’ve also read claims that 72-cell panels are harder to install. This concern is somewhat overblown.

Yes, 72-cell solar panels are a bit bigger and heavier. But it typically takes two people to move and set a solar panel in place, regardless of size. Since there’s usually 2-3 people on an installation crew, finding a way to move the panels isn’t much of an issue. Any crew worth their salt will be able to handle the larger panel size.

Though the work may be a bit more physically taxing, the install tends to take less time overall. Since the system contains less panels, you’ll spend less time making electrical connections and fastening clamps.

You don’t need to buy stronger racking to support larger panels, either. Solar panel racking is universal.  The size of the panel you choose will not limit your mounting options.

While it is possible to buy a thicker rail, we only recommend that option to provide a stronger foundation in areas threatened by hurricanes, heavy snow and other extreme weather conditions.

You don’t need to spend more on “heavy duty racking” just to support heavier 72-cell panels (which is a very common misconception). The standard options will work just fine.

In fact, in most cases 72-cell panels will actually save you money on racking. Modules are mounted with rails running across the width of the panel. Because 72-cell panels have the same width as 60-cell panels (about 40” wide), they require the same amount of racking material to mount more solar power.

When to choose 60 cell vs. 72 cell panels

If the only difference between 60- and 72-cell solar panels is their size, how do you choose one over the other?

The ultimate decider is panel value, measured in cost-per-watt.

Divide the price of the panel by the rated panel output (typically 250W-350W per panel). This will give you a baseline to compare panel value, regardless of size.

Our advice is to go for the best cost-per-watt option that fits the space where you will install your system.

Here’s an example. If your mounting space is 35’ wide and 10’ tall, you can only fit a row of 10 panels. You can install more power by using 72-cell panels because you have enough space to accommodate the taller panel size.

Standard Solar Panel Sizes:

60-cell panels:
39" x 65"
72-cell panels:
39" x 77"

On the other hand, if your mounting space is 35’ wide and only 6’ tall, you’d have to use 60-cell panels.

Exceptions to the rule

There’s one scenario where 72-cell solar panels are less common. This exception comes when you build a system around micro-inverters.

Micro-inverters work on a 1-to-1 system, where each inverter is hooked up to an individual panel. The benefit of this type of system is that it is modular: if one part stops working, it doesn’t affect the rest of your array. This makes it easy to repair and expand your system.

Micro-inverters have a cap on how much AC wattage they can handle. For example, Enphase micro-inverters can only process 290-315 watts from the panels (depending on the model). If a 72-cell solar panel produces 350 watts, that’s more than the micro-inverter can process.

Your panels would still work, but you’re simply wasting electricity – and by extension, wasting money. You’d essentially pay a higher price for your panels without getting the benefit of additional output.

The key takeaway is that micro-inverters have limited capacity, and the panel needs to be sized to match. There are some 300 watt 72-cell panels that would be appropriate to pair with a micro-inverter. But this is a rare case, and most of the time it just doesn’t make sense to go this route.

Mixing and matching 60-cell and 72-cell solar panels

It’s possible to mix and match 60-cell and 72-cell panels if necessary.

For example, let’s say you have a triangle-shaped roof with less space near the top. You might install a row of 72-cell panels in the middle of the roof. Then you can add smaller 60-cell panels on the sides / top to hit your target system size.

It’s possible to mix panel sizes like this to fit the usable space on your roof. But keep in mind that different components run on different voltages, and you’ll need to pair each panel with a compatible inverter.

If you build a system like this, it’s worthwhile to spend some time with an experienced design consultant to make sure you aren’t wasting power or damaging your equipment.

Need help planning your system? Connect with a solar designer to get started.

Our advice: go with what fits

In short: buy the panels that fit your space. Don’t worry about individual panel size or cell count. Overall system cost is what really matters.

All other things being equal, go with the panels that give you the best cost-per-watt, regardless of size. The ultimate goal is to cover your energy usage as efficiently as possible.

And remember: don’t believe everything you read on the internet . . . except us, of course.

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How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Andru Rothenberg
ANDRU ROTHENBERG, Purchasing Agent at Wholesale Solar​

Investing in solar energy is a long-term commitment. The up-front cost can be hefty, but the investment pays for itself over time through tax incentives and monthly savings on your energy bill.

For people trying to calculate the value of their investment over time, one of the first questions we receive is: “how long do solar panels last?”

Panels are typically warrantied for 25 years, so you can expect them to last at least that long. But in reality, studies have shown panels continue to operate at reduced efficiency long after the warranty expires.

Let’s do a little math: solar panels suffer a 0.5% to 1% efficiency loss every year. At the end of a 25-year warranty, your panels should still produce energy at 75-87.5% of their rated output.

According to an NREL study [PDF], nearly 80% of solar panels last longer than their warranty.

Standard Solar Panel Warranties

The typical warranty for solar panels is 25 years. During this period, manufacturers guarantee that panels will operate at or near peak efficiency. Most panels are covered to produce at least 80% of their rated output over the life of the warranty.

For example, a 300 watt panel should produce at least 240 watts (80% of its rated output) at the end of a 25-year warranty.

Some companies offer 30 year warranties or promise 85% efficiency, but these are outliers. The standard is 25 years at 80% efficiency.

Solar panels also have a separate workmanship warranty, to cover any manufacturing defects, such as a faulty junction box or frame. Typically the workmanship warranty is 10 years, with some manufacturers offering a 20 year workmanship warranty.

So…How Long Do Solar Panels Last, Really?

So what happens after the 25 year mark is up? Panels that output at 80% efficiency still work, right?

There aren’t any tricks here – the answer is yes! If your panels still output energy, there’s no real reason to replace them.

Panels frequently produce energy long after their warranty expires. According to a 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [PDF], the average degradation rate for panels is between 0.5% to 0.8% per year.

What is degradation rate? 

Degradation rate is the rate at which solar panels lose efficiency over time. A panel with a degradation rate of 1% per year will be 10% less efficient after 10 years.

In fact, 78% of systems tested had a degradation rate of less than 1% per year. That means that after 25 years of use, about 4 out of 5 solar panels still operate at 75% efficiency or better.

At this point, it’s fair to estimate your solar panels will still produce energy in some capacity, long after the warranty is up. For a great example, check out this 30-year old panel featured in Green Building Advisor. When the owner pulled it off his roof and ran it through tests, it still performed better than the factory specifications.

Here’s What That Means For Your ROI

That’s good news if your main concern is making a positive return on investment (ROI) on your system.

Most online calculators that estimate solar savings base the calculation on a 25-year warranty period. Any extra mileage you get from your panels is an added bonus.

Is solar a smart investment? Use our Solar ROI Calculator to estimate your payback period how long it will take for tax incentives and energy bill savings to pay for the upfront cost of your system.

We can’t guarantee panels will outlive their warranty (that’s the point of a warranty, after all). But in reality, most panels keep producing at reduced capacity long after their lifespan should be up. This is because solar panels don’t have any moving parts, and therefore tend to be extremely reliable.

If your solar system is paid off and your panels keep producing, your ROI will stretch far beyond the estimate provided to you by any online calculators (including ours).

Want to give your panels the best chance to outlast their warranty? A little effort goes a long way to keeping your system running smoothly.

How to Extend the Life of Your System

Keep in mind solar panels are likely going to be the most resilient part of your solar system. You’ll still need to maintain or replace inverters and batteries to keep everything running.

Inverters have a shorter lifespan than your panels, and will need to be replaced regardless of what type of system you have. If you’re off-grid (or grid-tied with a battery backup), battery maintenance and replacement will add extra costs for you down the line.

The best way to protect your investment is to inspect the system thoroughly upon installation. Check your racking to make sure the panels and wiring are secure. The biggest threats to the life of your panels are physical damage or electrical failure due to subpar installation.

Replace Inverters After 10 Years

Most grid-tie inverters have a 10-year warranty, and many manufacturers give the option to upgrade to 20 to 25-year warranty coverage.

Warranty extensions for inverters are a smart investment. It’s safe to assume you’ll replace your inverter at least once before the warranty on your panels is up. If your inverter fails 15 years down the road, it will likely be replaced with a newer and better model.

Check with the inverter manufacturer about their extended warranty options and policies. Extended warranties are purchased directly from the manufacturer. SMA and SolarEdge currently both offer modestly priced inverter warranty extensions.

Off-grid inverters have shorter warranties. They range from 1-5 years, with extensions up to 10 years available for a few models.

When you purchase an extended warranty, look over the little details carefully. Some cover the cost of parts, but not the cost of labor.

This might not bother you if you plan on swapping out the inverter yourself. But you may pay out of pocket if you need a contractor to replace the inverter down the line.

Maintain and Replace Batteries

Battery maintenance and replacement is one of the main expenses associated with off-grid systems. Even lower-upkeep battery types, like lithium and sealed lead acid batteries, still need to be inspected a few times per year.

Most batteries come with a warranty of 3-10 years, depending on the brand. But if you don’t care for your batteries properly, they can fail within the first year of ownership.

For example, lead acid batteries need to be fully recharged after being used, and they will be permanently damaged if they sit for extended periods without being recharged.

Most high-quality off-grid deep cycle batteries will last between 5-15 years, depending on the battery type and how they are used and maintained. You can extend the life of your batteries by caring for them properly and by ensuring they’re installed correctly.

The best thing you can do is design your system properly from the start. Account for the proper amount of battery capacity, solar power, and inverter output up front to keep everything working properly.

Account For Efficiency Loss

Here’s the main takeaway: it’s highly unlikely that you will need to replace your solar panels before the warranty is up. Solar panels last a long time – longer than the other parts of the system.

However, the efficiency loss may mean your system no longer covers your energy needs. If your system output shrinks (or your energy usage grows), it’s possible to add capacity to your system, assuming the old and new parts are compatible. For more on that process, see our guide to expanding your solar energy system.

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Install of the Month – May 2018

Install of the Month – May 2018

Defying Expectations with Tom M.

It feels great to prove your doubters wrong. Just ask our May Install of the Month recipient, Tom M.! He installed his DIY system for two and a half times less than what other solar companies wanted to charge him. Now, he’s free from the power company’s ever-increasing rates.

This month’s Install of the Month goes to Tom M and his large grid-tied installation in Albuquerque, NM.

When Tom started to tell people he wanted to go solar, they looked at him sideways. Albequerque has a long permitting process and strict electrical requirements. And he would face push-back from his Homeowner’s Association. But he knew the long-term rewards were worth the effort.

Tom didn’t plan on going the DIY route at first. He contacted a few local companies for quotes. But they tried to nickel-and-dime him on installation charges and wouldn’t customize the system to his liking. He soon got to the point where he knew that he would rather do it himself.

Tom contacted Wil at Wholesale Solar, who is also a New Mexico resident and familiar with local regulations. 9 days after he got his equipment, Tom had installed his own solar PV system.

When it came time for inspection, his HOA had to admit Tom’s work well exceeded their expectations. And the electrical inspector? They said it was the largest self-installed system they’d ever seen, and they’d never seen one done so professionally.

Interview with Tom

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

Saving money because of constantly increasing rates from the local electric company.

Did you have any previous DIY experience?

I am a self taught DIY’r. I have a great workshop and lots of experience in home repair and other projects.

What was the most difficult part of the installation?

The most difficult part was getting the proper permits through the city. The building permit was just a payment, but the electrical permit required passing a city electrical test, following NEC 2014 rules, to allow work on my personal residence. I was also required to get a reroof permit due to the type of installation that I performed. The HOA also only provided a conditional approval since they didn’t feel it was possible for a self install to meet their requirements. However, it exceeded their standards and received compliments from all the neighbors.

How many helpers did you have?

Family helped by handing tools up to me on the roof, otherwise no additional assistance.

Did you hire a contractor?

I did not hire a contractor for any part of the installation

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I needed engraved placards for outside labeling of the equipment. Due to removal of 9 pallets of concrete tile and lifting 34 panels up, a forklift was a helpful tool in getting equipment and parts up and down from the roof.

How long was the full installation process?

Total installation time was 9 days. The permitting process was over a period of 3 months. This time included removing concrete tile then re-roofing with asphalt shingles to protect the house under the panels. Due to the HOA requirements that no more than one foot of conduit be exposed, I put all penetrations under the panels to protect them. I also installed chicken wire around all 4 sides of both arrays to keep the birds out. Concrete tile was then replaced up to the edge of the arrays to make it look like the roof was tile. The arrays are embedded at a level no higher than the concrete tiles.

How did it feel to get your solar project finished?

A true sense of accomplishment, and a great feeling when the electrical inspector stated that he had not seen a self install system that large and one that had been done so professionally.

Who else did you consider before choosing Wholesale Solar?

CST Solar and Positive Energy in my city. But when they started charging for every little item and when they refused to install the way I wanted, I got fed up with them and decided to install myself. Their cost was two and a half times as much as what I spent.

What was your total solar install costs? (Ball Park)

$24,000

How much did you save on your taxes

$8,000

Components in Tom’s custom system:

Tom's Solar Breakdown:

  • Cost of Contractor: None
  • Cost of Electrician: None
  • Total Hours to install: 9 hours
  • Design Output of kWh per year: 19,200 kWh
  • Federal Tax Incentive: Qualifies for $8,000 U.S. Federal Tax Credit
  • Utility rates per kWh: Varies: different rate plan options and TOU rates in place
  • Average Monthly Utility cost: Varies: different rate plan options and TOU rates in place

The Full Story in Tom's Words:

We wanted to be the first in our neighborhood to have solar…

We started thinking about solar when we bought a nice 50 acre piece of property in eastern Arizona in 1998. The closest power was 9 miles away and cost prohibitive, so solar became the answer. Well, as with all things in life, the only constant is change. Having children, and a change in career that moved us overseas put the whole project on the back burner.

Over the years, the power companies continue to increase their costs, and our increasing need for more and more power has made us reevaluate things. 

Fast-forward to 2016, and life has started to settle down. Over the years, the power companies continue to increase their costs, and our increasing need for more and more power has made us reevaluate things. We still have the property in Arizona, but we are focused on daily life in our home in Albuquerque, NM.

One day while shopping in Home Depot, there was a sales representative from a local solar company. Out of curiosity I asked them to come out to the house for an evaluation and quote. I knew that we were going to be one of the larger residential systems that they would design to install.

COMPLICATIONS… AND A SURPRISE EXTRA $20,000 

We ran into complications. There were limitations from the power company, the city mandated that our system could be no larger than a 10kW grid-tied system and our the Home Owners Association said that the panels would have to be parallel mounted to the roof and be within 4 inches of the existing roof. Also we should have less than one foot of conduit exposed on the roof, and that there should be limited additional equipment installed on the outside of our house.

After taking some measurements, they came back to us with a quote of $32,000 to have a fully installed and completed system. We were also informed that Nusenda Credit Union was the only financial institution in our area that would provide loans for solar. It is refreshing to think that they see the potential and return on investment when this cutting edge technology is done properly. However, we did not need this service because we chose instead to pay cash. Our return on investment would be immediate for us.

We signed a contract from the solar company, and then came the change orders and additions. Because we were splitting the arrays between two buildings, they wanted to charge almost $5,000 for trenching and putting conduit in the ground. Additionally, the 75 foot run between buildings would cost almost $500 dollars for the two 10 gauge DC wires to be connected to the system. We were told that they would be unable to tie into the existing power panel, as it would need to be upgraded to a 200 Amp service. Our service at the time was 100 Amps. Finally, they said that they would need to outsource any roof issues to a roofing company.

The system that they designed for us would be 14 panels that would be pointed due south on the workshop, and 20 panels that would face due west on the house. The workshop was one string, and the house would have two strings of 10 each. In the garage, we installed two SMA grid tie inverters. By having 3.8k for the workshop, and 6k for the house, we would be below the 10k maximum imposed by the power company.

We originally had wanted a system that was enough for our total needs. When we showed them a one line drawing of how we wanted the system, they said they couldn’t do it that way because it would take too much effort to install and be cost prohibitive. I was sensing that we didn’t fit into their cookie cutter design and that they may not have installers that were skilled for this type of work. As the customer, we wanted it our way and were willing to pay the cost differential. After consulting with their designers, managers and technicians for 6 months of design, they gave us a new estimate for almost $52,000. Imagine the look on our faces when we saw the new cost and the return of investment changing to about 15 to 17 years. We politely asked them to leave after deciding it was time to pull the plug due to the cost and inability to work to our specifications.

After consulting with their designers, managers and technicians for 6 months of design, they gave us a new estimate for almost $52,000. Imagine the look on our faces when we saw the new cost and the return of investment changing to about 15 to 17 years.

At dinner that evening, we discussed the events of the previous months, and decided that I was handy enough, and should consider doing the install myself. The next day I began the long process of obtaining permits, and making drawings and designs. We looked for suppliers of equipment, and found Wholesale Solar. We had an idea of what we wanted, and with the expert assistance from Wil Burlin, we started the process on our own. It took two years to find a contractor that would agree upgrade the power panel to the house. Due to construction changes, a new underground feeder, meter can, main disconnect would need to be installed. While we were at it, we had them move the service panel into the garage so that we could have better access and would not have to go outside at night in the rain to check a breaker.

At dinner that evening, we discussed the events of the previous months, and decided that I was handy enough, and should consider doing the install myself.

 

CHOOSING DIY 

Now to the good part…. We contacted Wil again, and he still had our original specifications. With a few changes, we finalized the order. Within 3 weeks, we received our shipment. During those three weeks, we ordered all the additional items we would need for our custom install, and I also started the permit process. For several weeks we would be receiving packages containing heavy duty switches, wire, breakers, conduit, ground lugs, labels, roof flashings, and waterproof boxes, from UPS, FedEx and USPS. It was like Christmas in April.

Also during the time that we were waiting for delivery, we worked on prepping the roof. We didn’t want the panels to be installed on top of our tile roof, so we removed the roof tiles. We found that the underlayment had water damage. If the local solar company contractors would have installed their system on top of the tile, we wouldn’t have known how much damage we had underneath.. Once the tiles were removed, we placed new underlayment, and installed a good 30-year shingle with all the proper flashings for a weatherproof roof. We also had our local roofer come out and reseal all the skylights, roof penetrations and other problem areas.

Next, we installed the Flashfoot 2 mounts and weather tight conduit flashings. We cannot say thank you enough for the Flashfoots as they were simple to install, and provided a weather tight and sound foundation for the rail system. Then we installed of the rails, and made sure they were all level and true. This is probably the most important step! Make sure they are straight, level and tight, as it will make the rest of the process go extremely quick. It is amazing how much a simple string line can do to help make everything square, true, level and straight. Hint… Don’t skimp on the roof mounts, penetrations or the amount of sealant. Spend the time and money on it now so that you don’t have to take it off later.

When submitted, my design approval with the power company was flawless, and only took about 4 days. 

When submitted, my design approval with the power company was flawless, and only took about 4 days. The approval process with the city was a little more in-depth, and it took me four trips to the city’s planning office to get the drawings approved. We paid for the building permit, but we were not informed that we needed an electrical permit. Because we were doing a self-install, they could not provide us with a permit unless I took, and passed, the city electrical test which would allow me work on my own home. I passed, so we were then almost legal. Reroofing, due to the damaged underlayment, caused the need for a reroof permit. It seemed like the city was reaching deeper and deeper into our pockets. After paying $700, we finally had the permits we needed to start the actual work.

Installation of the panels came next, and it went very fast. We actually had 14 panels on the workshop in less than an hour and then 16 of 20 on the house in about the same amount of time. Connections were easy and the final connections to THHN wire were in junction boxes already located in the attics. Panels were connected to the equipment in the garage through wires in ¾ inch conduits. Inverters, switches, production meter, fire department disconnect, a Generator disconnect relay, and to make it look good, we used no flex conduits. It took a bit longer, but all electrical (even in the attics) was run through ¾ inch EMT conduit that was bent to give it that professional and industrial look. EMT conduit also allows for easier pulling of wire on long runs versus flex conduit that the contractors wanted to use. This all took a bit longer, but in the end made it look and function much better.

For the runs from the workshop to the house, we dug a trench, 6 inches wide 16 inches deep and put multiple runs of one-inch schedule 80 PVC conduits. We would then backfill the trench, and then lay 6 inches of concrete sidewalk over the trenched area

The electric wall in the garage also had extensive work and upgrades. The drywall was removed, and some conduits were hidden in the wall with a few junction boxes for access. Plywood was hung on the wall, and it was textured and painted. Equipment was then hung on the exterior of the plywood. How many times you’ve tried to hang something on drywall only to have it sag or fall off. By using the plywood, you cannot tell any difference from the other garage walls, but you are able to mount anything anywhere and know that it is secure.

The inverters, switches and conduits all looked great. We added more than the normal number of disconnects so that we can have an AC disconnect both inside and outside. We also added a DC disconnect for each string, before each inverter so that we can perform maintenance on part of the system without shutting the entire system down.

GETTING IT APPROVED

Once everything was complete, we called for an inspection of the three permits (City electrical, city reroof, and building. The reroof and building permits were passed, but the electrical inspector was going to fail the install because the paint had not been removed from behind the ground lugs in the disconnect switches, even though the grounding screws had good contact. Unfortunately, the inspector couldn’t come back that day. But he did say that if we sent him a photo of the modifications before 3:00PM, that he would approve it and put it into the city’s computer. We ended up receiving a full approval. 

Next, we called the power company. They came out about 5 days later to install the production meter and to turn the system on. We didn’t even have to be home for this. When we came home, we found the system was working, and that it had immediately started producing power. Better yet, our meter was running backwards.

Because we use SMA inverters, we have programmed them to connect to the Sunny Portal application on our phones where we can monitor the power from anywhere that we have an Internet connection. It sends daily reports to our phone at the end of each day. Our average power usage in April is 65kWh per day, and we expect more in July and August.

In the beginning of this installation, and the many approvals and inspections, our Home Owners Association only gave use a conditional approval for installation. It seems like they wanted control of our project, and since it was a major project, they gave only a conditional approval because they didn’t know if we could actually do the install to their standards. We didn’t want to hurt their feelings by telling them that our standards are higher than theirs. We do understand their concern that not everyone is skilled enough to complete this monumental task. 

Another stipulation they had is that you can only have tile or metal roofing material in our neighborhood, and since we put shingles on the house, it wouldn’t pass their standards. To get around that, we protected our roof with the shingles, installed the solar system on top of that, and then replaced the tile right up to the edge of the panels. This way the panels are recessed in-between the tiles and no one can see the shingles. We also get some very strong winds during the year, and believe that the lower profile of the panels compared with the rise of the tiles will put less stress on the panels.

We have not heard of any protests from the HOA, but have heard praises from from our neighbors.

The shingles will last for a longer time because the panels are protecting them, just as the panels are protecting the production and ground wires and roof penetrations. We have not heard of any protests from the HOA, but have heard praises from from our neighbors.

EASIER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK

To regress a bit, we talked with many others that have solar systems, and many complain that they have birds making nests under the panels. Think of that, a dry, protected, and warm place to build a nest to raise youngin’s? We would think the same. However, not wanting to encourage the birds, we spent a little extra on bird proofing them by installing chicken wire to the panels, then down to the roof and under the tiles. Once the roofing tiles were replaced, the chicken wire almost disappeared, and now we have no worries about birds. All power and ground wires are protected under the panels and all the electrical controls are in a nice protected garage. The only thing you see on the outside of our home is the production meter and a single fire department disconnect. Due to city regulations, engraved placards are required to be placed on the equipment. Through PV Labels on line, they were easy to work with, and they completed custom labels that should outlast the life of the system.

Although this was a family project, I performed most all of the work. My wife, and daughters would occasionally help by helping to move and stack the panels, handing up tools, light up parts in the dark, keeping me fed, or filling up my water cup to keep me hydrated. I’m glad we did it in April, and not in July. It was warm, but July would have been a lot more uncomfortable. I also made use of a used forklift that we had purchased last year for other projects. I was grateful to have it while lifting the panels and lowering the excess roof tiles. Without the forklift, I would have seriously thought about hiring a younger helper to help me move the 9 pallets of tiles from the roofs to the ground.

In summary, this all sounds like an unthinkable self install project. However, it looks great, and it was easier than you might think. The system from Wholesale Solar works great. Our total cost was about $25,000 along with some sweat equity. After federal rebates of $7500, the total price out of our pocket is about $17,500.

After federal rebates of $7500, the total price out of our pocket is about $17,500.

If we had financed this project, the return on investment would have worked out to about 4 years. But instead we are free and clear from payments. The total time invested was about two weeks for permits, and 9 actual days of installation.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Do I recommend this to others? Absolutely.

The best thing about all of this is the freedom from increasing electrical costs. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Do I recommend this to others? Absolutely. It is a part of the house that just works for us and for our environment in a positive way. I guess the only thing that I have left to do is to spray the dust off of the panels from time to time.

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

5 Questions You Should Ask Before Installing Ground-Mount Solar

courtney
COURTNEY JOHNSTON, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar​

If you’ve read about the state & local incentives to go solar and maybe even looked into our free solar cost calculators, you’re likely convinced – going solar is a terrific investment. But once you’ve made the decision to purchase a solar system, that’s when the real questions begin.

If you’re a homeowner that has some acreage to spare, a ground-mounted solar array can be a terrific option for you. Depending on your budget, space, and energy needs, a ground-mounted system has a lot of benefits.

For starters, the system is easier to access and has no interaction with your roof – which means you don’t have to worry about damaging roofing materials, water leaking into your home, or moving the panels around in the case of a roof replacement.

However, before you bust out the auger, consider these five questions inspired by a conversation I had with solar professional Brady Schimpf. In addition to being the Technical Marketing Engineer at Ironridge, a company that produces mounting hardware for PV solar arrays, Schmipf has a lengthy background in solar installation.

Aside from Schmipf offering up answers to these questions about rooftop solar, he also clued me in on five key things many people misunderstand about ground-mounted solar – and shed some light on major compliance & property line issues that can cause all kinds of costly problems after installation.

Question #1:  “What are the different types of ground-mount solar systems and how do I know which one is best for my needs?”

Standard Ground Mount

When most people think of ground-mounted solar panels, they think of the image on the left (as featured in our Dec 2017 install of the month). This is what’s called a standard ground mount – where several poles are placed in the ground, and a racking system is installed on top to hold the solar panels.

The process of building this kind of system is similar to putting together a fence. You would first dig several holes that are a few feet deep, then set the poles in, and fill them with concrete. This structure would create the foundation for holding your solar panels.

A notable feature of a standard ground mount is that the panels are “fixed” – this means the tilt angle and direction is permanent. While the main benefit of this is that it’s cost-effective and easy to install the downside is that there is little to no adjustability and it’s not ideal for areas with extreme snow.

While concrete piers are always the most practical and cost-effective foundation for a standard ground mount, there are alternative foundation options including ballasted, driven piers, and helical piles. These are mainly used for large commercial or utility installations, typically when the soil is too hard or rocky to drill into.

With a ballasted solar system, it’s basically a standard ground mount with an added feature – concrete footings that are above the ground. Driven piers look like a huge pole, and as the name suggests, it gets pile-driven deep into the ground using specialized equipment.

Helical piles, also known as Earth screws, look like a giant screw. They also require special equipment for installation, similar to the driven piers. Additionally, all three alternative foundation options require working with a Professional Engineer (PE).

Pole Mount Solar Panels

Aside from standard ground mounts, you may also consider pole-mounted solar panels. When I consulted solar professional Brady Schimpf, he explained that pole mounts provide some interesting solutions that might apply to your unique situation.

For starters, pole-mounted solar panels are built in a similar way as the standard ground-mounted systems, but instead of digging several holes you would dig one big hole and set a huge pole into it. Then, the solar panels are mounted on top with a built-in tilt and swivel feature that allows you to adjust the panels manually or set up automatic trackers to improve your solar output.

While this sounds pretty appealing, Schimpf reminds consumers that what it really comes down to is the cost per watt. He stated,  

“In a residential system it’s way cheaper and equally as effective to add more arrays [solar panels] than have the ability to adjust a smaller array.”

However, there are benefits to a pole mounted system beyond energy output – the adjustable feature also allows you to lift the array above the ground to clear foliage, snow, and other obstructions. The height combined with adjustability makes a pole mount ideal for those that live in snowy climates. On the downside, pole-mounted solar panels are a lot more expensive, require a big concrete footing, and the large pipe is hard to work with.

Question #2:  “Does ground-mounted solar have to be off-grid?”

Both grid-tied and off-grid customers can use ground-mounted solar panels. The decision to use ground-mounted solar instead of rooftop solar usually has to do with space. For customers that have some acreage to spare, using ground-mounted solar can be a great option – but if you’re living on a smaller lot, or want a quicker ROI, you might want to conserve space and make use of the real estate on your roof. Ground mounted solar systems tend to be more expensive and labor intensive, but can be more efficient at capturing energy thus saving you more in the long run.

Question #3: “What are some things I should consider before installing ground-mounted solar?”

Before you purchase a ground-mounted solar system, consider the fact that it’s usually a more complicated installation process than putting solar panels on a roof. When you have a roof installation, half of the structure is already built. All you have to install is racking and the solar array. However, with a ground mounted system, you essentially have to build the structure of the roof from scratch, so the solar panels have something to sit on.

When I posed this question to Schimpf, here’s what he had to say:

“[Aside from space] one important thing to consider is your soil type. If you’re not familiar with what it is, you can get a local contractor out to do an evaluation for a reasonable fee.”

And depending on where you live, this could be an essential step. Some cities, especially those with certain soil types, strict building codes, and high earthquake risk, will require you to get your soil inspected and approved before you can move forward with your ground mount design. In that case, a soil engineer would look at the soil to determine its type and make adjustments to the foundation size and requirements of the design.

Keep in mind that all standard ground mount racking comes pre-engineered for all 50 states, but certain conditions in your area like heavy wind and snow and certain soil types may require special designs.

The key point here is that depending on where you live, you might need to meet with a local engineer to get your system approved and built to city standards.

So what are the best type of soil for ground-mounted systems?

Schimpf tells us:

“Basically anything that doesn’t have tons of large rocks and isn’t a hard-pan type material [works] well. Ground-mount works well on almost any other type of soil – it’s only an issue if you get into that [situation] with large rocks in the ground. That’s where it causes problems – but there are alternate ways around that…It’s more costly, but if that’s what you have there are options.”

Some of those options would be the more complicated foundations mentioned above – like ballasted, driven piers, or helical piles.

Question #4: “Do I have to get my property line surveyed before installing ground-mounted solar?”

One of the smartest things you can do before installing a ground-mounted solar array is to get your property line surveyed. According to Schimpf, issues with property lines come up a lot – usually after you’ve spent thousands to install a ground-mounted solar system. He recalled one scenario where a consumer built their solar system too close to the property line and the whole system had to be taken down and moved a foot backward.

“It’s very important to go through that process and understand property line setback requirements because if you install without a permit and you put [the system] too close to the property line, that can be a huge problem if you try to sell your home or get a permit to do other work on your property. Down the road, this can come back as a big issue.”

Property line setback requirements will vary quite a bit depending on what state or county you live in. For example, this document from San Diego County names the property line setback for ground-mounted solar arrays at a minimum of 3 feet. However, this document from the Department of Energy Resources in Massachusetts recommends counties in the state enforce 20-50 foot property line setback requirements (located on page 8).

To save yourself a ton of money and a massive headache, be sure to contact your local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), which will be either your city or county depending on who issues building permits. To get a permit, you’ll have to go through all kinds of documented processes, including submitting a site plan. If you need assistance navigating the bureaucracy, be sure to download our free permitting guide.

Question #5: “Are ground-mounted solar panels safe & legal in my neighborhood?”

As long as you install your solar system after obtaining a building permit and purchase code-compliant materials, it’s entirely safe and legal. PV solar panels are compatible with most types of land use and permitting is typically handled on a local level.

According to Schimpf, when you install a ground-mounted solar array, there is not as much concern about fire as there is when you install on top of a roof, but UL 2703 code compliancy is still important. UL 2703 is a building code that requires PV solar racking materials, bonding, clamps, etc. to undergo rigorous testing that ensures they have the appropriate structural capacity, can withstand both high surges of electricity and don’t accelerate house fires.

And while the fire hazard element is more critical for rooftop solar panels, you still want to look out for UL 2703 compliant parts and avoid mixing and matching parts from different suppliers, as these parts may not have been tested together on a system level. Additionally, Schimpf recommends you protect the wires coming down from your solar array; they should be enclosed by a channel or raceway so that they’re not left open and exposed causing potential hazards.

Click to download our guide to getting started with solar power
Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

Customers’ Biggest Questions About Rooftop Solar Panels Answered

courtney
COURTNEY JOHNSTON, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar​

According to data from Consumer Reports, more residential homeowners are opting for solar power than ever before. From 2010-2015 the number of residential solar PV installations increased dramatically.

I surveyed three consumers who recently made the switch from PG&E power to sun energy, and they all said the same thing – their biggest concern during the purchasing process was their roof.

Many residential customers don’t have space for a ground-mounted solar power system. However, if your biggest concern is saving money and getting a quicker return on your investment, rooftop solar panels are likely the best fit anyway.

A rooftop installation is always more cost-effective because it takes advantage of an existing structure. With a roof mount, you don’t have to go out and buy pipes and concrete or pay for the extra labor it takes to install the system.

And although a rooftop solar system seems simpler at first glance, there are still a few important questions you might want to consider. In fact, here are the answers to five of the most common questions about rooftop solar power for home use.

Question #1: “Is my roof a good candidate for solar panels?”

Most residential customers considering the switch to solar power want to know whether their roof is even fit for solar in the first place. The truth is, solar panels can be installed on almost any type of roof – you just have to find the right mounting system for the job.

To get more information on mounting systems for rooftop solar, I spoke with solar industry expert Brady Schimpf, who is the Technical Marketing Engineer at Ironridge. According to Schimpf, “there [are] mounting systems for just about everything…but some are much more difficult, expensive, and labor intensive than others.” The first thing to consider before a roof installation is the material that the roof is composed of. The most common roofing material, composition shingle, is one of the easiest to install solar panels onto aside from a metal roof.

In general, solar panels are best installed on a sturdy roof that is made of composition shingle or metal, and things tend to be a bit more difficult on tile roofs – especially those that are so delicate that technicians can’t walk on them, like Spanish tile.

One technique an installer can use with a tile roof is to remove a section of tile and install shingles where the solar panels are going. This makes the solar system appear flush with the roof due to the raised height of the remaining tiles, and you won’t be able to see the shingle roofing underneath the solar panels.

Each type of roof will likely require a different style of mounting hardware, so if you plan on doing your own installation be sure to discuss those details with a solar consultant. For example, a low slope roof (a.k.a. flat roof most commonly seen on commercial buildings) can be tricky to install on, and typically requires hiring a roofing company to install flashings.

On the other hand, something like a metal roof can be much more straightforward. On certain types of metal roofs, a solar array can be clamped down without penetration, making it 100% leak-free. You might also check out this video about solar panel mounting options or this one below, which details how to mount solar panels to a roof step-by-step.

In addition to materials, customers should also consider the pitch angle of the roof, the size and shape of the roof, how much shading is present, the direction the roof is facing, and of course the age of the roof. All of these elements can affect how much solar energy your system is able to produce. If the system is installed correctly and optimized, it could potentially cover the cost of a new roof in energy savings in as little as 5 years.

Question #2: “Do I need a new roof to install solar?”

If your roof is in need of any major repairs, you will want to take care of them before you install your rooftop solar system. Solar energy systems have a lifespan of 25 to 35 years and taking a solar system down to replace a roof can be complicated and costly.

But generally speaking, this is only an issue for shingle roofs, which have the shortest lifespan. A shingle roof installed in the last 5 years is probably good to go for solar. For a roof that is older than that, consult a roofer to find out whether you need to replace the roof or perform major maintenance before installing solar panels.

Question #3: “Do rooftop solar panels damage the roof?”

One huge myth about rooftop solar installations is that it will damage the roof. On the contrary, a rooftop solar system can extend the life of a roof by protecting it from the elements.

Rooftop solar arrays are mounted slightly higher than the roof so air can circulate under the panels to prevent overheating. That being said, confirm that the technicians installing your rooftop solar system have experience with your particular roofing material and investigate whether the solar installation will void your original roofing warranty. Also, make sure you regularly clean debris like leaves and pine needles out from under the panels.

According to Schimpf, “Something a lot of new installers or DIY builders struggle with is damaging the shingles,” and the real issue with putting holes in your roof is the potential for water damage. As described by Schimpf, who has a long background in solar installation, technicians will install flashing underneath the shingles, and if they don’t take their time and lift the shingles carefully, it can damage the roofing materials making your home susceptible to water damage. Thankfully, much of those worries about water damage can be alleviated by some innovations in mounting hardware made in the last 5 years.

Schimpf described an elevated seal system produced by Ironridge that uses strategically placed metal flashing instead of rubber or sealant to divert water around the hole. This means homeowners would be reliant on an elevated piece of metal, which will likely outlast the home itself, over a rubber or sealant that has an unknown lifespan.

Question #4: ” Can I install a rooftop solar system by myself or do I need to hire an expert?”

Depending on your skill set, you can install a solar array on your own or partner with a contractor. Some Wholesale Solar customers handle a majority of the project on their own but hire contractors for some of the work. For example, you might want to pay a roofing company to install the flashings and then you can bolt on the rails and solar panels yourself. Any local roofing company can install flashings, and the company that installed your original roof will be able to verify that it won’t affect the original warranty.

Of course, doing everything yourself can cut down on the cost of your system and is perfect for a customer that wants to be highly involved with every step of the process. According to Schimpf, any DIY installer should try to find a mounting system that “goes together simply, has a low part count and is easy to put together.” Considering you’ll be working on an inclined surface, the less little parts you have lying around, the better. Schimpf compared the process to the “Ikea Cabinet Scenario,” where “you’ve got 60 different screws and fasteners, you’re trying to put it all together, and once the cabinet is assembled you realize you’ve got it all backward.”

Schimpf also noted an essential piece of information regarding fire code compliance. He recommended finding a mounting system that is UL2703 listed, which means it has been through rigorous testing to make sure it can handle large surges of energy, has the proper structural capacity, and won’t interact with the solar array to accelerate house fires. For more information on this and other key details regarding DIY installation, you can check out beginner to advanced webinars from Ironridge.

Question #5: “Where might I encounter hidden costs that decrease my ROI?”

When a customer asks how solar panels will affect their roof, they’re ultimately questioning whether they’re going to be faced with extra costs or headaches down the line. And this much is true – taking down and storing solar panels while replacing a roof can be costly.

One important point to make is that most solar systems have the same lifespan as the average roof, so as long as your roof is in good condition when the solar system is installed, you won’t have to take the solar panels down until it’s time to upgrade both the roof and your solar system.

So what does an expert on mounting hardware state as his biggest concern for rooftop installers?

“Keeping your roof membrane intact, keeping water out of your house… and taking the most time to make sure it’s done right.”

Some additional tips offered up by Schimpf involve commonly overlooked elements regarding mounting a junction box or rooftop conduit box. Customers should take the same precautions around water damage as is done with the solar array, otherwise, you’re really only completing half the job.

Additionally, be meticulous with your wiring. There will be cables that come down from every panel, and they need to be kept secure. If they’re drooping and blowing on the roof in the wind, the rough roofing material can wear through the insulation of the wire causing safety hazards. Also, as explained in this article by Mark Durrenberger from New England Clean Energy, unsecured wiring can provide a nesting location for small animals and collects debris more easily.

The wiring behind your panels can be secured using metal clips that keep everything tight and neat– just make sure the materials are made for solar use, like these metal clips from Ironridge. A cheap bag of zip ties won’t be able to withstand the elements in the long term.

So whether you’re ready to hop on the roof and install your own solar array or want to hire an expert, there are many design elements to consider. Some of the main takeaways are safety, the longevity of the parts used, and code compliance. If you’re ready to explore your options for residential solar, download our free getting started with solar guide.

 

Click to download our guide to getting started with solar power
SolarWorld Americas Sheds Some Light On Company Status

SolarWorld Americas Sheds Some Light On Company Status

Some of our readers may have heard that SolarWorld was facing some financial trouble in May 2017. While that is true, and some difficult decisions had to be made by the company at an international level, rest assured, SolarWorld is still with us in the form of SolarWorld Americas.

SolarWorld Americas, based in Portland, Oregon, strived to pick up the slack from its German home company and continue the tradition of providing the highest quality crystalline-silicon photovoltaic panels and solar power systems on the market, retaining a standard of excellence even in the face of stiff competition from overseas manufacturers.

The 42-year-old solar company aims to improve its services immediately with the introduction of dual-warranty protection. A little extra peace of mind at no added cost, the Dual Warranty plan goes into effect immediately in the event the original warranty can no longer be supported (due to expiration, invalidation, etc.). This provides an extra layer of protection guaranteed on your expensive solar equipment, so you can worry less and enjoy the summer weather more.

This new package, dubbed SolarWorld Assurance, offers these protections with zero premiums, zero deductibles, and transferable policy ownership – you, the customer control the policy with no strings attached. In the wake of the parent company’s insolvency, this shows SolarWorld Americas sending a clear message: quality matters, the customer is king, and they intend to keep American-made solar coming for a long while yet.

Dual Warranty SolarWorld With Wholesale Solar

This shows SolarWorld Americas sending a clear message: quality matters, the customer is king, and they intend to keep American-made solar coming for a long while yet.

So what does this have to do with Wholesale Solar? Well, SolarWorld’s Dual Warranty is 3rd-Party backed and guaranteed, meaning we get to offer it when we sell you solar power systems featuring SolarWorld products – such as our 4th of July Free Shipping offer! We always help our customers ensure their warranty info is filed with the manufacturer and guaranteed to be honored, so this new SolarWorld Assurance policy provides a new level of customer confidence, offering peace of mind at the perfect price: free.

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Install of the Month – September 2016

Install of the Month – September 2016

 

Rolling the Meter Back with Joe P.

This month’s Install of the Month honor goes to Joe P., who we think completely embodies the DIY solar spirit. The self-described “tool guy,” who’s also a retired builder, aerospace engineer, and boilermaker, has always loved to build his own stuff and has been doing so since junior high. A solar ground mount array that would cover his home’s energy needs and roll his meter backwards was just the kind of project Joe was looking for.

Helping him take his project from idea to reality was sales tech Jeff B., who gives us his perspective on Joe’s install. “Joe called in May with a desire to cover his household load with a solar electric system. After discussing his household needs, which were around 1000 kilowatt hours per month, we settled on a 20 panel ground mounted system with the SMA Sunny Boy 7000 inverter.” Jeff said that to ensure all of Joe’s usage needs were covered, “A couple of extra panels would need to be added on as well.” Working together, they fleshed out the rest of the build. Jeff explains, “The SMA inverter was selected because of its high quality construction, and the fact that in the future it can be coupled with a battery based inverter so he can add battery backup in the future.”

Two months from the date of his purchase, Joe had an inspected and fully functioning PV system providing power to his house! – Sales tech Jeff B.

“Joe has plenty of construction experience,” Jeff added, “So building the ground mount was no big deal. When it came to the electrical side of the installation, Joe had a lot of questions.” But Jeff was there for him. “Through a series of phone calls and emails, we got to a place where he had everything installed and was ready for inspection. The inspector showed up at his place and could find nothing wrong with his system. Two months from the date of his purchase, Joe had an inspected and fully functioning PV system providing power to his house!”

 

Components in Joe’s System

 

Interview with Joe

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

Electricity and all power isn’t getting any cheaper. I had the cash sitting in the the bank drawing low interest, and this investment pays way better than savings. And after the initial ROI where it pays for itself, it basically starts paying me.

After the initial ROI where it pays for itself, it basically starts paying me. – Joe P.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

I talked with you for three to four weeks about various scenarios using different inverters and the advantages of each. My purchase was delayed due to lots of rain and bad weather. I sent payment on June 17th and the system shipped the following week. By the time it arrived the following Friday, I had the posts set for the ground mount and the inverter and disconnect mount installed. The rack and panels were installed by Saturday afternoon, as I didn’t want them sitting on the ground. I installed the conduit and wiring between the ground mount and inverter mount at my leisure.

I had one minor setback in the form of a 1965 breaker box that was in bad shape and had to be replaced in order to tie in the PV system. The rest of the work was completed over the next few weeks and actually finished by the middle of July. I contacted the co-op and they did final inspection and installed the NetMeter on August 1st. Even with the overcast and rainy weather here the last few days, the system is running right on the prediction to cover 90-95 percent of my electric bill in its first two weeks of operation.

All of the work was done by myself and my son who is on summer break from college. I had one master electrician and his apprentice available for advice, but did the actual work myself.

 Did you have any previous construction experience?

I have worked as a boilermaker working on power plants for a few years. I also built custom houses for a short while, then transitioned into aerospace engineering and retired after 29 years there.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The actual install and hands-on part of the project was very easy and straightforward. That’s one of the advantages of dealing with a professional company: the parts are all there, they work in unison, and there is no guesswork. The site plan for the ground mount and the wiring harness diagrams spelled everything out. The most confusing part, believe it or not, was the labeling requirements and placement. There are many, many examples and I had to pick and choose between which part of which document I used.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I’m a tool guy. I had everything tool-wise except a crimper for  the MC4 connectors… and I probably have over a dozen different crimpers. I didn’t really need one and could have done without it, but wanted bulkhead plugs at my junction box. So I bought some connectors and a crimper to make it prettier. After having so much fun with this one, I know I will be doing more so it will come in handy down the road.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I’ve always built my toys since I learned to in junior high! I have been studying solar and wind for a long, long time. The ROI finally shifted in my favor and I could make it happen quicker by doing all the work myself.  I did a lot of research and even checked with your competition before I settled on Wholesale Solar. Most of the other places wanted your whole life history before they even discuss prices, and none of their prices are listed. Most of the information I wanted was listed on your site with prices and a list, so you knew what you were getting up front. Any and all questions were answered quickly and intelligently.

Install of the Month – August 2016

Install of the Month – August 2016

Coming directly from our System Design and Salesperson Todd E.:

“This month’s Install of the Month has to be my favorite yet! I really love the Craftsman styling of the home, it is not a Tiny Home, but has similar qualities with its efficient design aesthetics.”

“Gary had electrical needs very similar to my own home, so the system design was very easy. What is really the stand out feature of this system is the ability to run his mini split Panasonic Air Conditioner! Gary even sent a photo of his Magnum ME-ARC showing his system putting 24 amps into his battery bank while running that AC unit, and doing laundry. Amazing.”

“This system has 15 Astronergy 255 watt panels (current model 260 watt), a single Four Star Solar Magnum MS4448PAE power center, with a Midnite Classic 150 charge controller.
He has 16 Rolls Surrette L16 batteries for a total of 800 amp hours at 48 volts. That is roughly 12 kWh of power per “reasonable” cycle. The panels were mounted to his comp shingle roof using Quick Mount flashings and IronRidge XR100 racking.”

“Gary made his own battery box out of Hardieplank cement board siding. Smart choice, its fireproof! I reminded him that his battery cable conduit run should be lower than his battery box vents so that the hydrogen gas does not flow right up to the inverter. Hydrogen naturally rises and needs to exit the battery box, but you need to keep it away from your sensitive electronics. [Editorial Note: Lead acid batteries need to be vented because the chemical reaction releases gases as water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. Read more about battery maintenance.]”

“This medium size system is the most popular one I sell. It will easily provide typical energy needs for a family of 2-4 people as long as you put the high energy demand items on propane, things like the water heater (on demand propane heaters are great!) clothes dryer, kitchen stove, and space heating. For an investment of under $20 grand, he now lives where he wants and is not tethered to the power company, does not have to worry about black outs, or disconnection notices for late payments. Once you go off grid, YOU are in charge. Off grid property is almost always a much better deal (read CHEAP LAND) and therefore leaves you money to build your house and buy your solar. Your property taxes are generally lower due to the low purchase price of the property. It’s a win win, as long as you don’t mind the lack of neighbors.”

“Thanks for sharing your project / vision with us Gary! Job well done!”

System Components in Gary W’s Solar Install:

We don’t get a lot of rain or cloudy days here, but I’ve only had to crank up the generator once since we got the solar system up and running, and that includes electric use by the contractors. – Gary W.

Interview with Gary W.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

Took a day to install the panels; two guys on the roof, two on the ground. I installed the power center and wired up the batteries, and the electricians did the hardwiring. One day and one guy each. Actual time from delivery to switch-on was a few months, but that was because we were building the house.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Nothing like this. I had a million questions for Todd.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

Now that I know how, it would be a snap. It was difficult because I had no experience or knowledge of the parts or connections. I wish systems came with a simple install manual, but Todd tells me that such an instruction set would be difficult to come up with since there are so many variables. So you just buy the stuff and ask questions, and before you know it, you’re an “expert!”

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Nope.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

Probably the same reason everyone does: money. Also, being out in the boondocks didn’t keep the delivery truck from coming, but it might have made it hard to get an installation company to come out here, 60 miles from the city.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

No choice. No power lines nearby, and the electric company told me each pole would cost me $10,000. I’m so happy I went solar – with free energy handed out by the sun every day, it’s a no-brainer.

Living literally in the shadow of the Power Link, I am off the grid. No power lines, water, gas, or cable come to my property.

I read on the Wholesale Solar site that “To capture the maximum amount of solar radiation over the course of a year, a solar array should be tilted at an angle approximately equal to a site’s latitude, and facing 15 degrees of due south.” With this in mind, I oriented the house exactly south and specified an 8/12 pitch roof. The latitude of Campo California is 32.6°, and the 8/12 roof is 33.7°. That’s as close as I could get for a fixed roof mount array.

With just the AC running, I’m putting about 35 amps into the batteries, which are usually at 100 percent by about mid-day. I also have a one horse well pump and a one-horse pressure pump, but I have the well pump on a timer to only come on in the middle of the night to top off my 5000 storage tank. That’s to avoid an unexpected surge when I’m using a lot of power for other things. Too big a surge can shut down the system, but it only requires the push of a button to restart.

We don’t get a lot of rain or cloudy days here, but I’ve only had to crank up the generator once since we got the solar system up and running, and that includes electric use by the contractors. I couldn’t be happier with my system and the fact that all this free energy falls on my house every day. Thanks to Wholesale Solar and especially Todd for all the help, advice, and encouragement (not to mention great equipment) that made my little homestead possible.

Install of the Month – June 2016

Install of the Month – June 2016

Greetings Solar Fans, and welcome to the Wholesale Solar’s Install of the Month for June 2016. This incredible install is brought to you from the great state of Massachusetts. With the generous net metering policy, Solar Renewable Energy Credit incentive program, and 30% federal tax discount, Seth certainly installed at the right time!

Seth F purchased a 11.88kW Suniva/SolarEdge System utilizing 36 of the Suniva 330 Watt panels and one 11.4kW SolarEdge Inverter. (We’ve since modified that system to be an 13.6 kW Grid‑Tied Solar System with SolarEdge and 40x Suniva 340 Watt Panels) Although it’s simpler for us, and easier for you to use one of pre-packaged complete solar systems we can easily modify them to meet whatever roofing limitations, HOA requirements or permit requirements you might have.

The solar tech that helped Seth F put together his system was our very own Jeremy A. He reassured Seth that even though he was going on vacation before the install, Seth had the entire Wholesale Solar team behind him and we would be there for any questions or support he needed. They went over a number of different systems and what Seth’s requirements were and the system that was purchased was actually Jeremy’s first suggestion to the customer (What can we say, we know what we’re talking about!). Knowing that this is one of the highest value systems that we keep in stock he also knew that we have a ton of successful installs for the system under our belt and would be able to help Seth in any way he needed.

Even though it took more than a year to work out the details and ship the system to the customer, Jeremy said Seth was a real pleasure to work with and enjoyed how Seth was always looking forward to the next step.

Components In Seth F’s System

Interview with Seth F

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

The actual physical install took me (and two good friends) basically two weekends, with bits an bops during the week. After the install, the inspections and the meter swap took about two more weeks. The permitting and state approval took the most time, about 2 months. [Editorial: bet he wishes he’d gotten the SolarPro Pack to help with permitting!] I had two friends help me one at a time. I sat on the equipment for two months before actually starting the install.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

No professional construction experience but I’m a Ship’s Engineer by trade so I can figure most things out and I’m decent with my hands.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

Installing the mounts and securing the panels so they were level and square.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

The electrical inspector pinged us on the labels. I had to order a much larger label kit. I purchased a pvc conduit bender to make it look clean. [Editorial: We recommend PVlabels.com for your one stop shop for labels, stickers and placards.]

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

Much cheaper than hiring someone to do it

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

To reduce my electric bill and carbon foot print


Congratulations Seth on the successful install and incredible home from all of us here at Wholesale Solar!