Longer days ahead bode well for Solar PV arrays

Solar panel installation on this roof indicates the homeowner wants to take advantage of the longer days ahead when UV production is up.
The days are already growing longer. More sunlight makes this an optimal time to add a solar array to your roof.

December 21 was the shortest day of the year and, though useful, not the optimal day for solar energy production. As the earth spins, the axis that runs between the poles was furthest at the northern extreme on that day. This makes December 21 the longest day of the year in the Southern hemisphere. But we live in the Northern hemisphere and our shorter days of winter are accompanied by cold temperatures, snow and ice.

The good news is that, from December 21 until June 21, the days are growing longer. Longer days occur as the earth’s axis comes around so the North pole is closer to the sun. As this happens, the weather around here will grow warmer. Summer will arrive and we will have survived another Northern Illinois winter as solar panels are prepared for higher production.

Longer days offer extra helpings of sunlight to feed solar panels

Solar panels collect the UV rays of the sun all year long. But, obviously, shorter days make for fewer UV rays. In translation, the approaching spring and summer promise more of the sun’s energy for solar panels to convert into electricity. That makes this an optimal time of year to have a solar array added to a home or office so that you’ll be ready as the longer days come along.

Through the warmer months of the year, solar panels are likely to absorb more UV rays than you need. That’s not a problem since the utility companies are required to use a tool called ‘Net-Metering’ as an electric savings account for customers who have solar energy systems.

The warmer months, therefore, aren’t just good for an abundance of UV rays providing energy production for use now. The warmer months, with longer days, are also good for building up electricity generation credits for the winter months when the days are shorter.

Solar energy production decreases in winter but that’s no reason to panic

winter solar energy

Yes, your solar energy system will produce energy 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.

Improvements to solar panels rich in opportunity for homeowners and businesses

improvements to solar panels

Improvements to solar panels increase the benefits of adding solar energy to your home.

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 – what maintenance?

no solar panels maintenance

Solar panels maintenance is not a major concern for those who have solar panels on their roofs. There really isn’t any maintenance required.

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.

Yes, with proper installation, your roof can handle the weight of solar panels – no problem

solar panels on roof

Yes, your roof can handle the weight of solar panels, as long as they’re installed properly.

(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.

Comparatively speaking, adding solar energy to a home pays

Adding solar to a home pays

Put solar panels on identical homes and you’ll see why, comparatively, adding solar to a home pays.

(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.

Community Solar: the truth about this option?

community solar

What is the truth about community solar?

(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.

Sincerely,

Paul A. LaBarbera

President / CEO

Magitek Energy Solutions, Inc.

With net metering, solar panels can turn your electric meter to run backward

net metering

Can you imagine your electric meter running backward? With net metering and a PV system on the roof, you could see your electric meter running the other way.

When a PV (Photovoltaic solar energy) system is installed on the roof of a home or business, it is tied into the electrical grid and monitored. The process of monitoring how much electricity is generated is called net metering. The amount generated is compared to the amount of electricity used by a home or office. If the solar panels produce less electricity than is used, the consumer is charged for the difference by the utility company. However, the PV panels can also produce more energy than is used.

Extra electricity contributed to the grid is tracked so that the customer with the solar panels can draw on those energy credits, as if from a bank, on days when their solar energy system is producing less electricity. For instance, on a stormy day, heavy cloud cover may obscure the sun and reduce the amount of energy captured by the panels.

Utility consumers will usually draw on their electric credits at night, too. When the sun goes down their PV panels idly wait for the sun to come back up in the morning. However, in the night time when the solar panels are not generating electricity, the demand for electricity from the grid is usually down and the hourly rate for electricity also falls. In other words, the PV panels generally produce electricity during the peak hours of demand potentially saving consumers from the most expensive hours of electrical usage.

Solar panels also benefit the grid

There are scorching-hot days in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning running full blast. The strain on the electric grid is intense. The demand can even tax the grid beyond its capacity. In response, the utility companies may implement rolling blackouts in an effort to keep up.

Solar energy systems help. Each solar array is contributing to the grid and enhancing the grid’s ability to keep pace. Additionally, the PV systems are reducing demand, which can help keep the cost down for all consumers.

On the roof or on the ground: where should you mount your solar panel array?

solar panels on the ground

If your roof doesn’t offer an optimal position for a solar array, you can have your solar panels installed on the ground.

You’ve decided to install a solar panel array at your home or office. That’s a wise decision. You’ve taken a big step that will help you to virtually disconnect from the utility grid. Those big electric bills will begin to vanish as though evaporated by the sun. But, making the decision to go solar is only the first related decision you’ll need to make. And, along the way, you’ll need to decide whether to mount your solar energy system on the roof or on the ground.

Once you’ve decided to go solar, you’ll need to choose an installer and a solar panel system to install. If you choose the prior wisely, they’ll help you to make the latter decision wisely. They’ll also help you to make the right decision about whether to mount your solar panels on the roof or on the ground. However, here is a short overview of the questions to consider in making this decision:

Cost: Generally, a roof-mounted solar panel system is less expensive since the substructure is already available – your roof. Often, with a ground-mounted solar panel array, the installer has to build a substructure where they can mount the solar panels. It’s likely that they’ll have to pour concrete footings that are sturdy enough to hold the solar panels, and strong enough that they won’t blow away in a storm.

Appearance: Roof-mounted solar panels are generally less noticeable. They sit up on the roof where people simply don’t often bother to look. Of course, this depends on the position of your home and which side of the roof your solar panels are mounted on. If, for instance, the front of your home has a Southern exposure, your solar panels will sit on the roof above the front door and visible to traffic at the front curb. But, the appearance of a ground-mounted solar array also depends on where you mount the system.

Assuming you want the solar panels to soak up the sun’s energy obscurely – working quietly out of sight – the question is whether you have an out-of-the-way spot on your property where you can have a solar energy system installed. Keep in mind, it needs to be an area where the panels are directly accessible to the sun.

Positioning: How you position your solar panels on your roof depends on how your home is situated and which way the slopes of the roof face. Here in the Northern Hemisphere of Illinois and Wisconsin, a roof with a Southern exposure is ideal. If your home doesn’t offer that exposure, a Southwestern exposure is next best followed by Western and Southeastern. But, if you don’t have the ideal Southern exposure, you’ll probably need additional panels to make up the difference.

On the ground, you can generally point the solar panels towards the South as long as you have room and there aren’t any obstructions. This brings up the next point to consider …

Space: Usually, the square footage of a home is reflected, to some degree, in the amount of roof space you have. In other words, your roof will probably have enough space for your solar panel system, assuming the positioning works. But, on the ground, not only do you need the space for the system, but you’ll also have to be willing to give up that space for your solar panels. In other words, if you have a smaller backyard, would you be willing to use half the yard for your solar panels?

Typically, solar panels are 64” X 44”. Let’s assume that you’ll require 28 solar panels. With four rows of seven panels, the outside dimensions are 21’ 8” X 22’ 9”. That’s close to a 500-square-foot area.

Maintenance: Cleaning your solar panels is not a major concern. The rain will generally do a good enough job and there is a self-cleaning film on the panels. A solar energy system is also a low- to no-maintenance system. However, should your panels require maintenance, you’ll probably find it easier to maintain them if they’re mounted on the ground.

Is my home a good candidate for solar?

Good candidate for solar

The tree next to this home may block the sun but the tree is on the North side of the home. This home is a good candidate for solar.

Is your home a good candidate for solar? The quick answer is most likely yes. However, a search of the internet will provide point-by-point articles to help you determine if your home is good for solar.

The points made in these articles are valid though hardly insurmountable. Consider the following points you should consider when you consider adding solar power to your home:

What kind of roof do you have? Do you have asphalt shingles on your roof? Maybe you have a wood shake, slate tile, or clay roof. You may have a flat roof. These are all reasonable considerations when determining if your home is a good candidate for solar. The type of mounting hardware may change depending on which type of roof you have. However, whatever type of roof you have, there is always a way for a qualified solar energy installer to place solar panels on your roof. And, if that’s not feasible, they can always mount your solar panels on the ground.

How much sunlight does your roof receive? This is a question affected by two questions: the orientation of your home and the proximity of obstructions. If you have a one-story home that sits in the Northern shadow of a high-rise building, you may be an exception to premise that most homes are candidates for solar power. Otherwise, it’s a question of optimal conditions. If one pitch of your roof has a Southern exposure, that’s great. If not, you may have to install additional panels to make up the difference. Otherwise, if there are trees blocking the roof from the sun, it’s a question of pruning or taking down a tree or two, or of putting the solar panels on the ground.

Another question is climate – does the climate in your area make a solar energy system cost effective? Once again, the answer is almost assuredly yes. Here in the Midwest, solar energy systems are nearly as effective as they are on homes in an Arizona desert.

What is the condition of your roof? This is a very good question. The solar panels will protect your roof from some of the elements. However, it’s still essential that your roof is in good condition before you install your solar panels. You don’t want to find yourself, five- or ten-years after installing your solar panels, needing to pull the panels up to get at the roof again.

How much do you give to the utility companies each month? This is a great, big question with an answer that’s liable to bring a big smile to your face. Translate the question this way: “How happy would it make you to increasingly disconnect from the utilities and their monthly bills?”

All of these are considerations you need to take into account when deciding if your home is a good candidate for solar.