Are Home Owners Overpaying for Solar?


A recent analysis of nearly 17,000 projects reported to the California Solar Initiative has revealed a 40% average difference in the prices that solar contractors charge customers. It is a buyer beware market, with some solar contractors charging nearly double the price of others.

From July through December of 2013, the average residential and small commercial system cost $30,948 and had 6,600 watts of DC rated power. By dividing these two numbers, the average solar cost per watt was $4.70. The publicly available CSI data set reveals that companies like offer the lowest cost solar panel systems with rates at $3.00 per watt, while the largest solar companies like SolarCity and Sunpower charge above average rates of $4.94 and $5.17 respectively. That translates to a price difference between the smallest and largest companies of more than $12,000.

Highlighting the extreme disparity, some companies like Vivint and American Solar Direct charge $18,000 more than the lower-priced companies. These prices are for full-service projects with similar components and include PV system design, permits, parts, installation labor and warranty. Even lower prices are possible with do-it-yourself (DIY) or self-installed PV solar kit projects.

The following table ranks the cost per watt and shows the average price difference and lowest cost price difference for some of the largest solar companies operating today.

Company Average Cost
per Watt
Average Price
Price Difference
to Lowest Cost
Industry $4.80 0 $11,148
FreeCleanSolar $3.00 -$11,148 0
Solar Universe $4.06 -$4,138 $7,011
Petersen Dean $4.06 -$4,122 $7,026
REC Solar $4.08 -$4,051 $7,097
Real Goods $4.13 -$3,674 $7,474
Solarmax $4.46 -$1,489 $9,659
Horizon $4.47 -$1,474 $9,674
Helio Power $4.60 -$588 $10,560
Verengo $4.65 -$254 $10,894
Sungevity $4.69 $20 $11,168
Smart Energy $4.74 $354 $11,503
Solar Service Center $4.77 $561 $11,709
Paramount $4.83 $954 $12,102
360 Solar $4.91 $1,458 $12,606
Solarcity $4.94 $1,631 $12,779
Sunpower $5.17 $3,145 $14,293
Killion Energy – GCI Solar $5.40 $4,688 $15,836
Vivint $5.82 $7,434 $18,582
American Solar Direct $5.89 $7,926 $19,074


Many home owners are not even aware of the price differences. The financing structure of popular solar lease and power purchase agreement (PPA) contracts hides the true cost of projects. The customer is promised a “No Money Upfront” sales pitch, yet they end up paying considerably more while being locked into a long-term monthly contract.

To avoid gouging, consumers should always shop around to compare solar prices and make sure you are not paying more than you have to.

Original Article on FreeCleanSolar


Will Sharp Exit Solar?

Sharp Corporation may end production and sales of solar cells and modules in the U.S. and Europe by March as part of a restructuring, according to reports from Bloomberg and Reuters news.

Japan’s Sharp Corp may pull its solar panel business out of Europe and the United States as the cash-strapped company looks for ways to withdraw from money-losing businesses and cut costs, two sources told Reuters.

Sharp may also sell some manufacturing plants for solar products and consolidate production.
Sharp wasn’t the source of the report and nothing has been decided, a company spokeswoman told the reporters.

The proposal to shrink the solar panel business is part of a business contingency plan the maker of Aquos televisions has submitted to banks in a bid to secure loans it needs to stay in business, the sources said on condition they were not identified. Osaka-based Sharp plans to cut more than 10,000 jobs, or about 18 percent of its workforce, and is in talks to sell plants as it tries to return to profit.

The job cuts and sales of television factories in Mexico, China and Malaysia, as well as U.S. solar developer Recurrent Energy LLC, were in the plan Sharp presented to lenders Sept. 24, the people said, declining to be identified because the matter isn’t public.

Sharp, which operates a factory in the United States and another in the UK that assemble solar panel modules, is also planning to consolidate production at several sites in Japan into one site, the sources said.

Recent inventory of Sharp solar panels appear to have been reduced at major wholesale suppliers. The Sharp ND-240QCJ module is still available, although prices have been edging upward, possibly due to the limited supply. Projects that require Sharp modules should act quickly to secure the inventory. Sharp is expected to honor warranty claims into the future.

Original Article on FreeCleanSolar

Yosemite National Park Goes Solar

The vegetation at Yosemite National park has run on solar energy for millions of years. Humans are finally following nature’s example and using solar panels to power their facilities.

The park installed a 672-kilowatt solar panel system just outside the park’s boundaries in El Portal, California. 8-by-12-foot solar panels fill almost every available space on rooftops and sides of buildings, as well as the roofs of carports and parking garages at Yosemite’s Administrative Complex.

The solar array began operating at the end of June. The Administrative Complex in El Portal, its visitor facilities in the park and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley have been powered by solar energy since then. Contractors finished the 2,800 panel system last February, but Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) needed time to inspect the panels and install equipment to connect Yosemite’s solar panels to their grid.

The solar panel array is the largest grid-connected solar panel system operated by the National Park Service.

Yosemite’s solar panels will provide 800,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. This cuts the park’s use of electricity from PG&E by almost 12 percent. It is estimated they will save almost $50,000 a year in electricity purchases.

Overall, Yosemite’s solar panel system cost $4.4 million. Funding came from the $754 million reserved for the national park system from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Not only did the project develop an efficient energy source, it also reduced pollution and provided jobs.

Yosemite’s new system has double the amount of solar panels as the array installed on Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. The Alcatraz site has 1,300 panels.

Elements of Solar PV

It may come as a pleasant surprise thatsolar electric systems are very simple to operate. The tricky part isdesigning the correct system for a homeowner’s energy needs andlocation. Solar electric systems are made up of four main categories ofequipment: energy sources, energy conversion, energy storage andeverything else.

Solar panels are a fantastic energy source. Solar panels are also known as solarelectric (photovoltaic, or PV) panels. A group of solar panels is knownas a PV or solar array.

Solar electricity is not the only renewable energy source available forhomeowners. Wind and falling water can be used, but few locations havethe resources available. Due to the lack of resources, an investment inthese may not be worthwhile. However, solar power is abundant in mostareas and has proven to be a smart investment that will save thehomeowner money and help the environment.

Energy Storage

Electrical energy can be difficult to store. Since PV technology doesn’t work atnight, some kind of storage is essential. There are two options forstoring energy: a large bank of batteries, or the utility power gridfrom which most Americans purchase their electrical energy.

The grid is usually the optimal choice for homeowners. Batteries eventually war out and will need to be replaced. If you need energy, the gridpumps it to you and you’ll be responsible to pay for it at the end ofthe month. If your solar PV system is creating more energy than you areusing, you can sell the extra energy back to the grid. However, theamount you’ll be paid can greatly vary. Off-grid systems have noconnection to the grid at all, and rely solely on batteries for energystorage.


The main issue with using the grid to store energy is that when it goesdown (during a blackout), you’ll be in the dark. It doesn’t matter ifyour PV system is bathed in sun during a blackout, you will only havepower for your home if the grid is working. In areas where blackouts are common, PV systems may include batteries as a backup. These are knownas “islanding” PV systems.

Energy Conversion

If you purchase electricity from the grid, it comes in the form ofalternating current (AC), often referred to as “house current.” All PVsystems produce electricity in the direct current (DC) form. Therefore,PV power must first be converted into something usable. Inverters andcontrollers are the two devices that do this.

These smart boxes convert DC power from a solar array or a battery bank intoAC house current that you can use yourself, or sell back to the utility. An inverter will control all the buying and selling for you. If youhave no batteries, the inverter also works as a PV controller. Also,there are “micro-inverters” available that attach behind each solarmodule to streamline installation and allow detailed monitoring of eachmodule of the array. An inverter is usually installed near the array toreduce wiring costs, primarily outdoors or in a garage.

If a system is off-grid or has a backup battery bank, all PV energy willbe used to directly charge the battery. Once the battery is full, theinverter takes control of selling any excess energy to the utility.Since batteries are quite fragile, a controller is necessary to keep the battery from over- or under-charging damage.

Everything else
Racking: Photovoltaic modules are exposed to extreme weather conditions sosturdy mounts are essential. These are called “racking,” and racks areavailable for all types of roofs, for vertical poles, and for your yard. Commercial racking systems make the installation of PV modules simpleproviding sliding module clips and minimal hardware difficulties.

Disconnects: Disconnects are required for all the load circuits in your home and incertain parts of a PV system by the National Electrical Code. They areimperative for both safety and convenience. Convenience is importantwhen electrical work or upgrades are needed so the entire system doesn’t need to be shut down.

Monitoring: Solar electricity is an investment so you’ll want to know if yourinvestment is paying off, and how quickly it is. If the system involvesbattery storage for backup or off-grid use, metering is necessary forextending battery life. The meters used for monitoring range fromrudimentary designs that keep track of energy used vs. energy gained toelaborate wall-mounted color displays that are wireless andInternet-enabled. These fancy systems allow you to monitor your systemremotely and often include impressive charts and graphs to detailperformance. If you prefer, some companies can monitor your system foryou. If you choose this route, you’ll simply log onto a website when you would like to check the status.

Original Article on FreeCleanSolar

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Discovering Your Solar Potential

How much solar energy potential does your location offer? Here are the ways to discover if a solar PV system can benefit you.

Look at the maps 
Insolation (not to be mixed up with insulation) is short for “incident solarradiation” and is measured at ground level with instruments known aspyranometers. A large network of pyranometers has been used to collectdata from all over the world for decades. An advantage of these tools is that they factor in latitude, sun angle and climate. Check out the solar map.
solar power potential
The numbers on the maps are “equivalent full-sun-hours” or “peaksun-hours”, identical to kilowatt-hours per square meter per day. On the first map, the month of January in the Northern Hemisphere is shown.It’s not surprising that January is the worst insolation month of theyear. The second map showcases insolation in June, which for mostnorthern locations is the best month of the year.

The worstmonth includes essential information for off-grid PV systems, butdoesn’t tell the whole story. Every kilowatt-hour matters when sellingelectricity to the utility company. The solar map depicts the averageyearly insolation in the United States and these numbers are what youshould focus your attention on. If you install a 1-kilowatt PV array onyour roof and multiply the average full-sun-hours, you’ll learn how many kilowatt-hours of electricity you’ll generate per day.

Youshould also take the system derating factor into account, usually about0.8. This compensates for dust and bird poop on the PV modules, andelectrical losses in the system as it changes direct current (DC)electricity to alternating current (AC). To correct this, multiply yourpredicted kwh by 0.8. Next, multiply your corrected daily kwh output by365. Then, compare this to your utility bill.

Online Solar Calculators
If the math seems perplexing, there are easier ways. There are a widerange of solar energy calculators online. An easy calculator to use isthe National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Watts Version One. Thisgives projected production figures for a variety of locations. PV WattsVersion two has an interactive map. NREL also offers a tool called In My Backyard. This tool includes satellite mapping complete with cost andpayback estimates. You can find a simple and quick solar calculator.

Remember, cost estimates can vary and are calculated using different criteria.Prices and incentives are known to change quickly. No two solarinstallations are alike, and every vender may offer a different price.For current pricing, it’s best to contact a PV installer that serves your area. It helps to contact two or three companies togain understanding of what your investment may need to be. Most PVinstallers will offer a site evaluation, sometimes for free or they mayrefund the evaluation if you purchase a PV system.

Site Evaluations
Obtaining a professional site evaluation is a wise idea, even if it shows solarenergy isn’t right for your location. Even the tiniest shadow fallingacross part of a PV array can significantly reduce total output, so it’s essential to install everything in the best location on your property.Shadow problems can change with the seasons as well. Site evaluationscan identify any obstructions that could cause potential problems. Theywill let you know precisely which months of the year and times of dayany shadows would occur, and how much energy would be lost. It’spossible to obtain a site evaluation online using satellite and otheraerial imagery.

What’s Next?
Say you’ve met with numerouslocal PV installers and most likely received quotes varying from $5 perwatt to about $10 per watt depending on your location. The initial costmight still seem very high even though the system is designed to meetyour annual electricity needs and reduce your utility bill to zero.That’s why there are plenty of incentives at the federal, state andlocal levels to help make solar PV a reality. 

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Electric Vehicle Ratings Included on New Car Stickers

The federal government announced new car window stickers for vehiclesstarting with the 2013 model year.  The new stickers include electricvehicles, estimated annual fuel costs and the vehicle’s overallenvironmental impact for driving 15,000 miles per year. There will bedifferent labels for conventional vehicles, plug-in hybrids andall-electric vehicles, with cars running solely on battery powerestimated to get 99 miles per gallon.

Here is an example of how the new sticker works for the Nissan Leaf allelectric vehicle.  The Nissan Leaf sticker shows 99 miles per gallon,$561 in annual fuel cost and $7,450 in fuel savings over five yearscompared to other vehicles in the same class size.  In other words, this electric vehicle will cost just $46 per month in fuel, saving thetypical driver about $125 per month in fuel costs compared to an average gas-powered car in the same class.

In addition, the Leaf has the highest rating, 10 out of 10, for fuel economy, greenhouse gas and smog emissions. 

When developing the new sticker, there was some concern that electric cardrivers will just be switching one dirty energy source, oil, foranother, coal, which produces about 60% of the nation’s electricity. However, coal is at least a domestic source and does not rely onforeign, potentially hostile oil-producing countries.  Regardless, morepeople are starting to realize that the best way to power an electricvehicle is with clean solar panels installed at home.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportationare jointly responsible for the window sticker program.  “These labelswill provide consumers with up-front information about a vehicle’s fuelcosts and savings so that they can make informed decisions whenpurchasing a new car,” said Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary.

The new stickers will for the first time include a greenhouse gasrating, comparing a vehicle’s emissions of carbon dioxide and otherheat-trapping gases with those of all other vehicles, as well as a smograting based on emissions of other air pollutants like nitrogen oxideand particulates.

Cars capable of running on electricity will get the highest greenhouse gas and smog ratings. Stickers for plug-inhybrids and electric cars will also include their charging time andestimated range while running in electric-only mode.

The labelswill include an estimated annual fuel cost based on 15,000 milestraveled at a fuel price of $3.70 per gallon as well as an estimate ofhow much more or less the vehicle will cost to operate over five yearsthan an average new vehicle. In addition to the familiar city, highwayand combined fuel economy estimates expressed in miles per gallon, thesticker will include an estimate of how much fuel the vehicle will needto travel 100 miles.

The E.P.A. said the new gallons-per-milemetric, combined with the estimated fuel costs, would provide consumers a more accurate measure of efficiency and expense than the traditionalmiles-per-gallon figure, which rarely reflects real-world drivingconditions.

The gasoline price is based on Department of Energysurveys and calculations and will typically be updated annually, theE.P.A said.

The label will also include a QR Code that can bescanned by a smartphone to obtain cost estimates based on a consumer’sdriving habits and the price of gasoline and electricity where he or she lives, as well as comparisons with other vehicles. Such calculatorswill also be accessible online. The National Automobile DealersAssociation welcomed the new design.


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Preparing Your Home for An Electric Car

Getting your home ready to charge an electric car will require littletime or money — or a couple months and thousands of dollars.  It depends on what kind of electric car you buy, the wiring in your home and howquickly you want to juice your ride. 

Of course, the best, cleanest and most affordable way to charge your electric car is to use home solar panels.  You’ll save thousands every year by using the free power of the sun,and not using gasoline. Imagine never have to go to the gas stationagain.

Electric cars are powered by batteries that are charged by plugging them into astandard wall socket or a more powerful charging station. The chargingstation will cut your charging time roughly in half, and reduce thechance you’ll trip a circuit in your home. But it will likely cost$2,000 or more, including installation. The price will rise if you need a new electrical panel, which could add another $2,000.

The mainthing to consider is how you are going to use your electric car. If your commute is short, or there’s a charging station near your office, youmight not need much of a charge at home. You can get away with toppingoff your battery overnight.

A standard 120-volt wall socket willgive a car about five miles of driving for every hour of charging. Thatmeans if you had a 40 mile round-trip commute you’d be able to charge in 8 hours.  If you deplete your battery all the way most days, a charging station that is connected to a 240-volt socket, like ones used for most electric dryers, could be worthwhile.

The $41,000 Chevrolet Volt and the $33,000 Nissan Leaf are set to go on sale next month. Buyersqualify for a federal tax credit of $7,500 and additional state andlocal subsidies in some states.  The two cars have different batteries,and different charging requirements:

• The Volt has a relativelysmall battery because it also has a gasoline-powered generator thatpowers the car when the battery runs out. Chevy expects the car to beable to go 25 to 50 miles on electricity and then an extra 300 miles orso with the help of the gas motor. A standard socket will fully chargethe Volt in about eight hours. A charger will do it in four. Chevyrecommends drivers first try to get by without a charger.

• TheLeaf is powered entirely by electricity, and therefore has a much bigger battery. Nissan says the Leaf can go about 100 miles on a full charge.It will take 20 hours to do this with a standard outlet, and eight hours with a charger. Nissan strongly recommends a charger.

Installing a home charging station could take anywhere from a few days to a couple of months. It depends on the time it takes to get a local work permitand to have the charging station inspected after installation. Theinstallation itself should only take a few hours.

Whether you gofor a charging station or not, carmakers and utilities want your homechecked out to make sure the wiring in your house and in yourneighborhood can handle the extra load.


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