A Website dedicated to exposing scams writes that solar scams are among ‘the biggest scams around’ this year. CBS News did a story July 30, 2018, that includes a section about solar energy scams. And they’re right. They are scam artists working the solar energy front to separate honest consumers from their money every day. In spite of the scam artists, solar energy is a great way to save money, cut the cord with energy companies and do something to protect and preserve the environment.
Unfortunately, when there is a good idea, and that idea is popular, people who want to break the rules and cheat their way to your hard-earned dollars come out of the woodwork. Those scammers see opportunity in the solar-energy market.
Some people are so eager to rush in and do something for the environment, while reaping the benefits of solar energy, that they aren’t sufficiently cautious with their money.
With solar energy, you can generate your own energy and reduce or eliminate the utility bills that show up, like clockwork, in your mailbox each month. And, there are government incentives and tax breaks that encourage consumers to take the plunge and go solar. But, that’s one way that the scam artists work on the good intentions of consumers.
Advertisements, often seen on social networks, will over-emphasize the incentives and tax breaks available to homeowners who have solar panels installed on their roofs. And when they come out to install the solar panels and hook up the solar energy system, with their focus on scamming consumers, the quality of their workmanship is often sadly lacking.
Protect yourself from scammers when shopping for solar energy products and installation
Like any purchase, the more you educate yourself, the better prepared you are to make a wise purchase and the less susceptible you are to scam artists. This is all the more important when making a major purchase, such as installing solar panels on your home.
There are strong emotional motivations for ‘going solar.’ But you don’t want your emotions to dominate your solar energy purchase. You want to take a good look at the company you hire to install your solar panels and connect your solar energy system. Are they an established company in your area? Do they have solid references – people you can talk to about their experiences with the solar energy contractor?
You want someone who can give you the story straight and without hype – someone who knows solar energy intricately. The right contactor will share the pros and the cons and will tell you up front what you can actually expect when you convert to solar energy.
A legitimate solar energy contractor knows that the benefits are great enough that solar energy will generally sell itself. The contractor doesn’t have to dazzle prospective buyers with nonsense. If solar energy isn’t the right fit for someone, it’s better that they find out and wait until it is right. There are more than enough people who will truly benefit from ‘going solar’ that truth is always the best approach.
That’s true: solar panels are the gift that keeps on giving and giving. Maybe you already have solar panels on your roof. Maybe you’re thinking about putting solar panels on your roof. But, imagine if you could put solar panels on mom and dad’s roof. Imagine if you could surprise your son or daughter with solar panels on their roof.
Due to your gift, for decades to come, they’ll have little or no electric bill to pay from month to month. Maybe you were thinking of buying them a car. That’s a wonderful gift. But, unlike a solar energy system, the purchase of a car won’t enjoy the benefits of government incentives to defray some of the costs. The solar panels will.
Within approximately five years, the savings from the solar panels will come close to equaling your investment to put them up on the roof. And, there’s another advantage to solar panels over a car as a gift for the holidays.
Solar panels require virtually no maintenance. They sit up on the roof quietly producing electricity. Their patience and dedication to chewing up an electric bill are awe-inspiring. From up on the roof, solar panels also add to the resale value of your loved one’s home.
The only real question about the solar energy system you give them is what they’ll do with all that money they would have sent to ComEd or some other utility provider. While they’re saving that money on electric bills, they’ll have reason to think of you throughout the year. Yes, throughout the year – those solar panels are capturing UV rays and transforming them into electricity even in the winter.
Yes, solar energy production will drop in October but don’t panic; your panels collect energy year-round and will catch up next spring.
If you have solar panels on the roof of your home or office, you’ve probably enjoyed a productive summer. In an average year in Northern Illinois, we enjoy nearly 200 days of sunny or partly sunny days. Your solar panels eat it up. But, a higher percentage of those days are in the summer months.
In the winter, on average, 46 percent of the time between sunrise and sunset will have clear skies. That means that, out of 91 days of winter, we can expect 42 days with clear skies. When it comes to collecting solar energy, the solar panels on the roof don’t care if it’s 28-degrees below zero or 110-degrees outdoors. Sun is sun and sunlight creates solar energy.
The scenario above presumes that 42 of the daylight hours this coming winter will offer optimal sunlight for creating solar energy. That doesn’t mean the solar panels will sit passively on the roof the rest of the time.
Even without a clear sky, solar panels work. On a cloudy day, the solar panels will still collect energy they simply won’t do so as effectively. Depending on how thick the cloud cover is, the solar panels may only produce 25 percent of the solar energy they would on a clear day.
Winter is generally cloudier than summer. This, as Weatherman Tom Skilling has explained, warm weather tends to build taller cumulus clouds that grow vertically. In the winter, with colder weather, “condensation and cloudiness tend to be horizontally stratified, resulting in widespread and long-lasting overcasts.”
So, yes, your solar energy production will fall in the winter as a natural byproduct of more consistent cloud cover. But, your solar panels will continue to work and will catch up again next Spring.
If you’re concerned about it, you can try reducing your electrical usage in the winter. Unplug unused electronics. Check the refrigerator and adjust the temperature if it’s unnecessarily set too cold. Use LED holiday decorations. Insulate your electric water heater. If you have electric heat, you can seal your windows and doors, lower the thermostat and wear a sweater.
No matter what you do, don’t worry. Weather will warm again. The sunny days will increase next Spring and Summer.
Solar panels do magic up there on the roof turning the rays of the sun into electric energy. It’s amazing. And, it’s only getting better. Better?! Yes, better. There are improvements to solar panels making them more efficient all the time.
The modern solar panel was introduced in 1954 as a product of Bell Laboratory. Three of the company’s scientists – Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chapin and Gerald Pearson – used silicon to create a source for collecting solar energy. It was a stable and reliable source of energy but it was hardly efficient. And it was expensive – really expensive.
Congressional act promotes development
In 1978, Congress enacted the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act and the Energy Tax Act. This was the government’s first step towards promoting and encouraging the development and increased use of solar energy. As a result, by the 1990s, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a photovoltaic (PV) panel, using gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide, that achieved an incredible efficiency rating of 30 percent. Unfortunately, it was not a reasonable panel for mass production.
In 2000, Sandia Laboratories improved the efficiency of solar panels with the development of an inverter that converts the Direct Current (DC) of solar panels to the Alternating Current (AC) that is used in homes. The advancement launched the solar panel industry as a serious alternative to complete reliance on the electricity generated by utility companies.
Solar panels today generally produce more than 20 percent efficiency ratings. While companies developing solar panels are consistently seeking to improve on efficiency, improvements to solar panels are already at hand in terms of mass production. Hand-in-hand, with mass production, the costs of solar panels has come down dramatically.
Panels today are lighter and easier to install. There are also improvements in the inverters, including hybrid string inverters and microinverters that transform the energy from DC to AC for each individual panel.
The gist is that, as solar panels continue to improve, we have already seen vast improvements to solar panels over what was available before. This is good news for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and it’s good news for homeowners and businesses that want to save on energy costs while reducing their dependence on utilities.
Solar panels maintenance: it’s a question that comes to mind when you’re thinking about adding a solar energy system to your home. You’re worried about the maintenance required with solar panels on your home’s roof. Not to worry. A solar energy system is not like a household appliance or an automobile with moving parts and the kind of wear that you’ll experience driving your car on the highway.
Solar panels are fixed in place. The only moving part is the sun, which spins in place an average of 93-million miles away from the earth. A car’s tires are rolling, starting and stopping on the pavement. That’s why most tires are warrantied for between 30,000 and 100,000 miles. Your solar panels won’t travel miles unless you count the rotation of the earth. That’s a significant number since the earth turns about 1,000 miles every hour, 24,000 miles in a day and about 8.76-million miles in a year.
But, the miles that the earth spins really don’t count because your home, and your solar panels, are spinning with the earth. Most of the potential friction comes from the air, rain, snow and occasionally hail. The first three have a very low friction coefficient. With hail, you have repeated impacts on the solar panels. It’s not really a matter of friction. Without friction, solar panels maintenance is not a major factor.
Fortunately, solar panels are built to withstand the impact of hail. They’re even designed to withstand the impact of golf balls, if you happen to live near a golf course. According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), from 2009 to 2013, approximately one-tenth of one percent of solar panel systems suffered some sort of damage due to hail and even hurricanes (depending on the quality of installation).
So, you really don’t have to worry much about maintaining your solar energy system. You should monitor production of electricity as a sudden drop in output, while it may relate to the weather, could indicate a problem where you should call in a professional to take a look. Otherwise, you really don’t even have to clean your solar panels.
(Sept. 10, 2018) Can your roof handle the weight of solar panels? Years ago, in this area of Northern Illinois, storms piled so much snow on roofs that a few roofs actually collapsed. People were taking shovels up onto their roofs and shoveling the snow to alleviate the weight. What does this mean to you as you consider putting solar panels up on your roof? Do you need to worry about the weight?
Rest assured, the answer is, No. You don’t have to worry about the weight of solar panels on your roof.
Solar panels, including all the mounting equipment, weigh about 2- to 4-pounds per square foot. That’s the one-square-foot equivalent of putting one of the following up on your roof:
- A pineapple
- A small cat
- A two-slice toaster
- A two-liter bottle of soda
- A one-quart carton of soy milk
- A medium pumpkin
- A Pomeranian
- A bowling pin
You can put any of these items up on your roof and not worry, even for a moment, that they might plunge through the roof. But, how much weight can your roof hold? Of course, a solar energy array weighs more than a pineapple. But, the weight is distributed or should be.
According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), your roof should be able to support 20-pounds of snow, per square foot, before the roof is ‘stressed.’ The IBHS goes on to explain that “10-12 inches of snow is equal to … about 5 lbs. per square foot.” However, if you have “2 feet of old snow and 2 feet of new snow” (4-feet total or 60 pounds per square foot), you could have a problem since the old snow is packed and heavier. But, when is the last time you saw 4 feet of snow on your roof?
Since you don’t have to worry about the weight of your solar panels, it’s nice to know that the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy says that snow can actually help to clean your solar panels (rain does the same thing). Of course, snow isn’t a big concern this time of year.
The real key to the question of the weight of solar panels is the distribution of weight. Properly installed, the weight is distributed across your roof to the extent that weight is never an issue. If, however, someone doesn’t install your solar panels correctly, then all bets are off and you could have trouble with your roof someday.
(August 28, 2018) Can you say that solar pays? How does a home with solar energy compare to a home without solar energy? Here’s a hypothetical example of how that comparison looks.
John and Liz live on the same street. Joe and Laura live on the other. It’s a new subdivision and they live in identical models that the developer offered when the subdivision was first built. They both have Northern exposures. With both houses, trees were planted to the sides of the backyard leaving the Southern exposure of their roofs without obstruction for the foreseeable future.
When one couple decides to have a solar energy system installed on their roof the clock starts running on a comparison that will last until the other couple decides to follow suit. They can compare their energy costs over time and see the benefits of adding a solar energy system or not – they can see if solar pays.
Initial cost: The homeowners who choose to stick with the electricity provided by the utility company will not have the initial investment required to add solar panels to their home. This expense can be significant. However, there are also state and federal incentives to defray the costs.
Cost of energy over time: With continued dependence on ‘the grid,’ one couple’s electric bills will continue unabated and, in fact, will increase over time. That’s inevitable. With a solar energy system on the roof, the other couple will short circuit the monthly electric bill and replace it with a diminishing expense (should they finance their solar panels). Eventually, they’ll have electricity with virtually no electric bill at all.
Net metering offers electric savings account: On days when the sun shines brightly, the couple with the solar panels are liable to use less energy than their solar panels collect from the sun. With net metering, they will receive credits for the extra electricity that is contributed to the grid. They can use those credits on days when the sun doesn’t shine as brightly.
Safer and greener energy: The couple dependent on the grid and utility company for their electricity will also, most likely, depend on coal or nuclear power for their electricity. The couple with the solar energy system will reduce the need for coal and nuclear power. They’ll have the peace of mind knowing that they’ve made a difference.
Property value: The couple with the solar energy system will enjoy a greater resale value of their home when it’s time to move because they offer a home with virtually free energy. The other couple won’t have that benefit. This is another way that solar pays.
The only benefit to not installing a solar energy system is that you avoid shelling out that initial cost. But, both couples would probably agree that’s a short-term, and short-sighted approach. In the long run, it’s clear that solar pays.
(July 21, 2018) The concept was great. For those who found solar unattainable, community solar offered a way to buy into a larger community solar energy system. If a property is surrounded by trees making solar impractical, the home or business owner could purchase solar panels, as part of a community system, equal to the number of panels needed to offset their electrical usage. If that person’s solar panels represented 5% of the solar panels in the community system, they would receive 5% of the system’s electrical production to offset their electric bills.
They also received all the benefits of private-solar-energy-system ownership, including tax credits and state incentives without needing to maintain the system or provide space for the system. But, community solar has taken an unforeseen turn since the concept was introduced. Rather than marketing community solar for joint ownership, developers have pushed the systems to electrical consumers on a leased basis. Instead of selling panels, the developers are selling subscriptions to access the large energy systems.
By leasing, the developers retain ownership of the systems. They also receive all of the incentives, including federal tax credits and State Renewable Energy Credits (SREC). In return, all the lessee receives is the power equivalent of their needs at a discounted rate. That discounted rate usually works out to a reduction of 20% compared to what they normally paid.
The only advantage for the subscriber is that they avoid the initial investment to buy into the community solar system. That’s it.
Leasing solar energy may seem like a great deal but you may want to take a closer look before signing a customary 20-year contract. That’s two decades where the subscriber won’t have the advantage of federal tax credits, SRECs or writing the system off on their taxes.
When purchasing a solar energy system, once the cost of the system is recouped, the owner of the system is essentially reaping the benefits of free electricity delivered by an indiscriminate sun. The same is true when someone purchases panels in a community solar system. But, with a lease, the developer enjoys the post-installation-cost advantages.
The way to see community solar, as applied by developers today, is to Think Timeshare. There are commercials offering ways to defer a timeshare owner’s loss when they want out. In the future, the same commercials may run for those stuck in community solar leases that sounded a lot better when the subscriber first signed up.
Paul A. LaBarbera
President / CEO
Magitek Energy Solutions, Inc.