Category: Solar Trends

Can you claim “after-install” batteries on your taxes?

Can you claim “after-install” batteries on your taxes?

Good News for the Future of Energy Storage

Here’s some news that’s sure to charge you up…

The IRS recently ruled that—for one couple who had purchased solar, at least—a retrofitted battery system qualified for federal solar tax credits.

Here’s the backstory…

The couple had been challenged when they tried to claim the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) on the cost of their energy storage.

Now as you may or may not know, batteries purchased at the same time as a solar energy system have been eligible for the tax credit since a ruling was made in 2013.

So, this couple reasoned, the battery they purchased a year after their system should also be eligible for the same ITC.

The IRS disagreed, but this couple wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And on March 2 of this year—if you’ll forgive the pun—the taxman saw the light.

The IRS told them that the battery they added to their existing system DID qualify for a 30% tax credit—in part because solar power is the ONLY way to recharge the particular battery they had installed.

The battery was JLM Energy’s Phazr. The Phazr is installed between the solar panel and inverter, making it impossible to be charged by an outside source like the utility grid. It charges on solar power and stores energy during the day, then puts powerback into the grid at night. It’s easy to retrofit to existing systems—say, for example, if your usage changes or your utility rates go up. So it’s becoming quite a popular choice for solar energy system owners.

That the IRS gave the Phazr the nod is good news for both installers and consumers.

Utilities are starting to change the way they bill customers—and these changes (invariably) reduce the value that they credit for solar energy. Peak rates shifting to night-time when you have to draw power from the grid… Credits being lowered for adding energy to the grid during the day… We’ve heard it all.

In other words, consumers are getting hit twice.

But energy storage is the solution to future-proofing a system from these changes.

Which means if batteries become eligible for tax credits, homeowners will be happy. Installers will be happy, too, because consumers will buy more batteries.

Progress is Good, but Policy is Better

Now before you get too excited, you should know this: the couple received this decision from the IRS in what’s called a “private-letter ruling” that’s ONLY applicable to them.

In other words, for the time being, only this particular couple gets to claim a credit.

But solar industry analysts are still excited, for the simple fact that this ruling represents progress.

It may also indicate that the IRS might make this kind of approval into policy in the future.

And that means that—someday—everyone will enjoy the tax credit on after-install batteries.

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What We Don’t Hate About the Solar Tariff

What We Don’t Hate About the Solar Tariff

Courtney Johnston, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar
COURTNEY JOHNSTON, Purchasing Manager at Wholesale Solar​

If you have any interest at all in solar energy, you’ve probably heard the news—effective February 7, 2018, the Trump administration is imposing a 30% tariff on imported solar panels and solar cells.

In other words, the price of solar has just gone up. (Or maybe not… But I’ll get into that in a second.)

There have been many “doom and gloom” news articles discussing the impacts of this decision on the US solar industry—and yes, there will be impacts.

Now, clearly I can’t predict the future. But I do want to talk about why this decision will likely not affect the solar industry quite as drastically as many of the industry experts are claiming.

As the purchasing manager at Wholesale Solar, I spend a lot of my time researching the fluctuation in the solar market. So you can imagine that—even more than you might have—I’ve been paying close attention to the trade case that led to this tariff.

And now that the decision has been finalized, I’m less worried than you might think.

Yes, this tariff will impact the commercial solar industry and will lead to about 23,000 American jobs lost, according to SEIA.

But when it comes to residential solar—in other words, the kind that you need for your home—my estimate is that this tariff, at its worst, will increase the retail price of an average grid-tied system by about 5% and an off-grid system by around 2%.

So for example, a grid-tied system that used to cost $14,000 will increase to $14,650. An off-grid system that was $22,000 will now be priced at around $22,440.

Impact of solar tariff on home solar

Well heck. That’s not much of an impact at all, is it?

I’ll dive deeper in a minute, but first, let’s look at how we got here.

“Section 201” and the solar tariff Trade Case & Solar Tariff

In May 2017, module manufacturer Suniva petitioned a Section 201 trade case. That’s a piece of legislation which is designed to protect against imports causing serious harm to a U.S. industry.

Suniva claimed they were being harmed by excessive imports from China and requested a large tariff in response—approximately 50%.

But they had help: SolarWorld backed their claim that the industry was suffering.

Because of this case, a tariff—a tax, basically—on imported crystalline-silicon PV panels and cells was proposed, and then approved on January 22, 2018.

The tariff steps down over time:

We’ll need more information—and more time—to fully understand the long-term impact of the tariff. But based on what we know now, it doesn’t look like the tariff will mean much for the price of residential solar systems.

Here’s why.

The solar panel tariff—how will it affect you?

Yes, large-scale commercial installers will feel the impact of the tariff, because they buy and install so many solar panels.

In home systems, solar panels represent a smaller cost. That means the tariff is expected to cause only modest price increases for residential consumers—anywhere between $500 and $1000 for a typical customer.

But for you, the Wholesale Solar customer, there are several pieces of good news.

First, we stocked up on solar panels before the tariff was implemented, which means our prices aren’t going up any time soon.

Second, solar panel prices were relatively high already, which means manufacturers will likely end up absorbing some of the tariff. So even if prices do go up, they may not increase by as much as you’d think.

Third, the tariff applies for a relatively short time period and is already facing a challenge from South Korea. Module manufacturers may simply lower their prices to offset the impact of the tariff—in the hopes of maintaining or growing market share here in the US.

And yes, there is the chance that the tariff will get overturned by the World Trade Organization.

Don't wait

And even if every one of those pieces of good news turns out to be bad, you’ll STILL experience a smaller impact at home.

Here’s why.

Modules only represent a small portion of the overall cost of installing your system. You’ve got all the other components to think about, as well as permitting and installation.

[ Download our Free Solar Permitting Guide that saves you up to 8 hours ]

Another reason is that module prices had already increased—the uncertainty surrounding the trade case and subsequent tariff decision increased demand in late 2017 and early 2018, which led to higher prices towards the end of last year. Prices are already up, in other words, so you won’t see much difference between where they sit now and where they might go with a tariff.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, however, I should mention that as a homeowner, you do stand to suffer… If you don’t take action and buy now.

You may be saying “I’ll just wait a couple years until the tariffs go down!”

It’s a common refrain, but that’s a bad approach.

Why? Because of the tax breaks—a 30% Federal Tax Credit means you can save big on your taxes by buying solar.

But that credit will start shrinking in just 2 short years.

Until then, the 30% tax credit will more than make up for any extra money you might pay on solar panels.

So if you’re playing the waiting game, hoping the tariff will disappear, you could simply end up losing credits on the tax side.

In other words, if you’re worried about saving money…

It makes the most sense to go solar as soon as you can.

What is a Solar Generator?

What is a Solar Generator?

Derk @ Wholesale Solar

DERK SHELLY, Solar Tech at Wholesale Solar

Here’s a first: when someone called me last week and asked about solar generators, I didn’t know what to say.

Now, I’m a salesperson for a company that sells DIY solar systems and generators. Yes, I’m somewhat of a “newbie,” but still—not knowing what to say is a rare occurrence.

But I couldn’t figure out if the man on the phone was using “solar generator” to describe a solar power system, or if he was just unclear on his terminology. Generators are what power your system during an outage or an extended period of weak sunlight.

Solar Generator
Solar generators are for backing up your existing system.

Turns out, it was neither. He was asking about a line of small off-grid systems used to provide emergency power that are being sold as, yes, “solar generators.”

Now, in the course of the work I do, I’ve talked with hundreds of people who are interested in off-grid solar systems.

I understand how complex these systems are—and that many callers feel overwhelmed by too much talk about batteries, charging, and loads.

Most would simply prefer to be told what will work for them.

Apple Computers took advantage of this tendency in 1998 with their iMac computers. Instead of asking the public to understand storage, memory, or processors, they offered the iMac in a variety of colors. This allowed people to make a manageable decision, receive a product, and leave the technical details to the professionals.

Unfortunately, you can’t choose between a teal solar system and a red one. And even if you could, picking by color is not exactly a recipe for success with battery-based backup power systems.

The lifespan of a battery is based on the relationships among a number of complicated factors—depth of discharge, number of cycles (discharge/recharge), and your ability to return the battery to a full charge. Basic knowledge about watt hours and battery care is also critical to a successful experience with backup power systems.

Why does all this matter?

Because once you understand the basics, you’ll quickly come to see that anything that calls itself a “solar generator” has to be inadequate for most uses.

Solar Generator
About enough power to keep a TV & phone charged.

For just one example, let’s look at a refrigerator that uses 1200 watt hours per day.

This single load requires a 12 volt battery with 250 amp hours to support it. That means that each day, if you assume the battery works at only 80% efficiency, you’ll need to supply the battery with 1440 watts of energy to replace the 1200 watts used. And depending on the location and time of year, you would need two 270 watt solar panels to recharge the battery.

So far, so good—until you realize that one popular “solar generator” on the market indicates that it’s ideal for refrigerators, lights, phones, computers, and TVs.

The unit comes with a 100 amp hour, 12 volt battery and two 30 watt panels—which is sadly inadequate. A 100-amp hour battery is sufficient to supply 450 watt hours per day, and you’d need seven 30-watt panels to recharge that battery for the next day’s use.

Needless to say, this doesn’t appear to be a good match for a refrigerator. This particular “solar generator” is probably just using the phrase—which is something of a buzzword—to catch consumers’ eyes. The only thing it really generates is attention.

This particular “solar generator” is probably just using the phrase—which is something of a buzzword—to catch consumers’ eyes.

Ultimately, system design depends on your needs as an end-user. If you’re interested in supporting some critical loads during a power outage at your home, an appropriately sized battery bank can be used to take care of those loads for a predetermined period of time. And if you want to be able to support loads over an indefinite period of time, you’ll need to size a solar array that can charge the batteries in the sun hours that are available.

Which means—unfortunately—even the best “solar generator” just isn’t going to cut it.

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Brooklyn Microgrid: The Future of Solar For the Sharing Economy

Brooklyn Microgrid: The Future of Solar For the Sharing Economy

The Sharing Economy Could Be the Future of the Energy Industry

Brooklyn, New York is paving the way for a new system, and it’s called the microgrid. Combining state-of-the-art software with solar power, the Brooklyn Microgrid is a small-scale proof-of-concept that could prove to be the future of the energy industry.

Brooklyn is a densely-packed urban environment, with little room for new buildings and a good distance from the nearest power plant. What it does have a surplus on, however, is roof space. The Microgrid takes full advantage of this, with solar panels on most of the rooftops allowing the 50 or so initial participants to gather energy from the sun. The microgrid’s system offsets the local power grid, and users take advantage of net metering and green energy credits.

Those are just the standard benefits that come from solar power, however. 

microgrid conceptual power flow
In the future, sustainable community microgrids like this could provide power for entire cities, with solar and wind farms distributing power to homes, businesses, and other utilities hooked into their own self-sustaining grid.

Stabilizing City Infrastructure

So why is the Brooklyn Microgrid such a revolutionary idea? It reinforces city infrastructure and can provide emergency power in the event of an outage.

One of the biggest challenges facing communities is that when the power grid goes down – especially due to hurricanes or other extreme weather, people are cut off. It can take days or even weeks to restore it. There are only three main power grids in the US. If just one of these goes down or is disrupted – like we saw with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – tens of thousands of homes could be without electricity. 

But with a microgrid, a community is able to sustain itself during an emergency. This reinforces the infrastructure of the city as a whole, functioning independently when other systems fail. By relying on renewable sources, such as solar, this makes the microgrid far more reliable and resistant to failure. 

four reasons microgrids are effective

Secure, Sharable, and Locally-Sourced

Using Blockchain, a secure, encrypted data transfer method used for currencies such as Bitcoin, Microgrid users pay each other for their power, creating a micro-economy. This micro-economy benefits all participants, whether they’re “prosumers” producing solar power with solar systems installed on their roofs or “consumers” who rely on the power produced by their neighbors.

Right now, the Microgrid is just an experiment. Small-scale transactions and energy usage monitoring ensure that everything is running smoothly. LO3 and Siemens Digital Grid Division monitor all information, in hopes that the city of New York will grant the system proper market status and permission to function in a full-scale capacity. If the project is a success and the permits are awarded, however, the microgrid system could be applied to other cities all over the US.

The Brooklyn Microgrid represents a way forward for both the community using it and the sharing economy as a whole. Much like Uber, AirBnB, and TaskRabbit, the Brooklyn Microgrid cuts through the bureaucracy and red tape that a normal power grid requires, and if implemented on a wider scale in the future, could change the way we power our homes for good.

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Batteries Are Right For Me?

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Batteries Are Right For Me?

There are a lot of reasons folks make the decision to go solar. More and more, that decision involves including an element of backup power, which is stored using batteries.  But which batteries are right for which solar project? Which batteries should you use if you’re running your whole home off-grid? What about for a small cabin that you only visit once in a while? Which batteries are best if you’re adding the security of backup power to your grid-tied home? And how does emerging technology like the Tesla Powerwall compare with other new energy storage technologies?

Get an expert perspective on all of this, and learn about the newest battery technologies, in this latest video in the Ask Wholesale Solar series.

Solar design tech Jeremy A. discusses the differences between the most common types of batteries used to store energy from your solar array, including lead-acid batteries and sealed AGM batteries, and  goes over emerging technology such as lithium ion batteries like the Tesla Powerwall and aqueous ion batteries.

Do YOU have a question you’d like to Ask Wholesale Solar? Ask away in the comments and your question could be featured in a future Ask Wholesale Solar video!

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Tiny House Movement Gains Momentum in United States

Tiny House Movement Gains Momentum in United States

Tiny houses offer the benfit of mobility
This tiny house is a built on a Mobile Park Model RV offering the benefit of mobility.

There is a housing trend emerging throughout the country based on people building or buying tiny homes. This tiny-living trend is a social movement where people are downsizing to focus on smaller spaces and simplified living. Tiny Houses come in all shapes, sizes and forms, and the typical small or tiny house is around 100-400 square feet.

Reasons to go tiny

People are joining the tiny home movement for many reasons, such as environmental concerns, financial concerns and seeking more time and freedom. Some of the reasons people are deciding to go tiny include:

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Google Sunroof: Automatic solar rooftop analysis

Google Sunroof: Automatic solar rooftop analysis

On August 17th, Google announced Project Sunroof, a tool that lets homeowners easily visualize their rooftop solar availability and potential savings.

It is currently only available in limited areas (near San Francisco, Boston, and Fresno), but a nationwide rollout is on the horizon.

Project Sunroof’s Automatic Rooftop Solar Analysis

Google Project Sunroof
Given an address, Google Sunroof will visually display rooftop solar availability and shading.

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