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2014: The Year of the Solar Installation

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Solar panel installations have been gaining ground all around the globe as the drive for a greener world intensifies. The United States is not left out of the solar power revolution, which has also received more boosts with drop in solar panel prices. From all indications, it looks like a bigger boom in solar panel installations is on the way in 2014.

Fall in Prices

A few years back, one main argument against solar panel installation was the costs involved. Things have changed for the better as more responsible governments and solar power companies combine to drive down the costs of these installations. Some governments, with the aims of tackling problems of climate change and creating new jobs, have been providing incentives for all forms of solar power installations. Some of the world’s top solar power companies are also doing their bit to ensure prices fall through the development of solar power panels that are more efficient in performance. In addition, the entry of more new firms into the industry has also helped to make costs of solar panel installations lower.

Boom in Solar Panel Installations

Access to solar power was almost exclusively left to wealthy individuals and ardent anti-global warming advocates years back. The simple reason for this was the associated costs of installations, which to many people, were not justified. But things have improved so much in the last couple of years, thanks to the revolution being witnessed in the solar power sector. Solar panels now cost about 60% less than they did just a couple of years back, making installations more affordable. The price drop is even more impressive over a longer timespan.

More middle-class families can now afford solar power installation. For example, in California, residential solar panel installations now cost less than $5 per watt, and that amount is expected to significantly drop further in the next few years. The upfront investments that have to be made are the main turn-off for most homeowners when talking about solar power. But all that is changing as residents of some states such as California and New Jersey can take advantage of rebates that take away the need for massive initial investment, with payments spread over several years (more details here).

Further boom in solar panel installations therefore looks on the way, as more people and businesses choose solar power. All indications point to a continuous rise in solar panel installations in the US, especially with the significant drop in solar panel costs. The argument that solar power can help save money on electricity in the long run could also serve as a powerful draw.

And the attraction of solar energy is not just limited to the sunnier climes of the mid-west. In the UK, demand for residential solar power installations is growing, partly thanks to generous government rebates. Even famous listed buildings are investing in green energy, with the Blenheim Palace, a World Heritage Site, having gone green according to a report from Randstad.

Prospects for the US Solar Power Market

The rise in acceptance of solar power as an alternative to conventional source of electricity is expected to continue gaining ground. It is predicted that the US would possibly record more new solar panel installations in 2014 than world leader Germany for the first time in about 15 years, as more companies continue making giant strides in the US solar power market.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

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In Focus: Micro Solar

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You often hear about home solar and megawatt solar projects, but micro solar devices are also important energy sources for both the developing world and for consumers in our own industrial world.

Micro solar, sometimes referred to as “pico solar,” are portable solar chargers that typically consist of a small photovoltaic panel, some type of battery, and a USB connection. Mobile devices, such as phones, tablets, lights, and laptops can juice up from either the micro solar’s battery pack or directly via the solar panel.

The benefit of a small solar powered charger is also a challenge, since most micro solar products have low-power solar panels that charge its batteries or external electronics very slowly. The good news is that more powerful micro solar products are coming into the market.

The latest example is Harold Tan’s recent—and successful—Kickstarter campaign for the SunJack solar charger with battery pack. These compact 14 Watt and 20 Watt mobile solar chargers are designed to be the most portable solar charger ever produced.

SunJack unfolded

In fact, the SunJack can power 8 iPhones or 1.4 iPads with only 5 hours of sunlight, whereas similar portable solar chargers can charge only one iPhone in nearly twice the amount of time, or even longer.

In the industrialized world, micro solar has many uses, from the campers and off-grid recreationalists, to the beach family that wants to keep all of their USB-based mp3 players, tablets, and mobile phones powered on throughout the day.

On the more serious side, portable micro solar is increasingly the latest addition to home or car emergency kits.

Whether it’s Super Storm Sandy or the recent harsh snow and rainstorms that have temporarily knocked out parts of the U.S. grid, a powered cell phone is today’s lifeline to an ambulance, rescue services, or it can be the main point of contact for distant friends and family. Cell phones are also the most common conduit for news and evacuation information. Quite simply, when the grid goes down, micro-solar with some type of battery storage is the best answer for consistent charging of mobile devices during emergencies and utility outages.

Beyond our industrial world, people in rural communities often burn candles, wood or kerosene for lighting. Not only is this method expensive, flammable, and toxic, the villagers must travel long distances to either collect or buy these fuel sources, wasting time and money. Micro solar allows these rural residents to power their cell phones and lighting from solar instead of dirty and expensive fossil fuel sources and generators.

Case in point is Papua New Guinea, where rural village people commonly burn kindling indoors for lighting. As a result, many of these Papuans are dying from pleurisy and pneumonia due to this type of ancient but deadly lighting method.

Micro solar battery solutions such as a SunJack with an LED light can not only provide shareable non-toxic indoor lighting for these villagers, but also help young children to continue their educational studies at night.

Solar powered lanterns also benefit adults, who often work or do household chores by the same indoor kindling or kerosene light. Of course, with free onsite power from the sun, solar powered lights also save villagers the cost and time of constantly having to buy or find fuel for lighting.

Micro solar applications are really just at their infancy. As Google Glass and other wearable electronics become more prevalent and developing countries use more electricity, micro solar chargers will become a common energy source for families and individuals around the world.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

The SunJack 20W Portable Solar Charger

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Harold Tan, one of the team members at GoGreenSolar.com, has launched a new Kickstarter campaign to build and market SunJack, the world’s most portable 20-Watt solar charger and battery pack for off-grid applications and emergency mobile power. The campaign will also benefit the rural villages of Papua New Guinea with smoke-free lighting and energy.

As an off-grid camper and extreme outdoorsman, Tan knows how important charged electronics can be in isolated areas. But whether power was needed for light, weather information, or communication, Tan saw that solar powered chargers on the market today were flawed. They gave too little power too slowly. With today’s power-hungry mobile devices, off-grid campers could wait 12 hours or more to fully recharge and have enough stored energy for map apps, rescue calls, night lighting, or just enjoying music at night.

Realizing the need, Tan designed the SunJack system, a 14 Watt or a 20 Watt fast-charging solar powered battery system that’s lightweight and easily folds into the size of an iPad. When completely opened, the lightweight SunJack systems can be securely attached to a backpack and fully replenish its batteries in approximately 5 hours of direct sunlight.

With the 14 Watt model, SunJack’s 8000 mAh lithium-polymer battery can charge two USB devices simultaneously, run independently from the solar panels, and has a built in LED light for off-grid lighting. With the premium 20-Watt SunJack model, family campers can receive 16000 mAh capacity, enough to power up to 8 iPhones, or 1.4 iPads or 8 hours of 5 Watt lighting.

SunJack is unique for its proprietary USB port and a lithium-polymer battery that was specially designed for faster charging from sunlight. “Think of it as being able to get more water out of your faucet faster,” said Tan. “The SunJack is able to get more electrons flowing into the battery faster than any solar charger available, which means you get wall-outlet charging speeds in an incredibly portable form-factor.”

But SunJack is more than an off-grid power system for boats, beach days, emergencies, and rock climbing trips. It’s also a path for non-toxic lighting for the rural villages of Papua New Guinea. For certain levels of Kickstarter investors, Tan will donate a SunJack and an LED light to a rural village, enabling rural families to learn to read and perform indoor chores at night without breathing noxious kindling wood fumes.

The SunJack Kickstarter campaign is running from now until Thursday, May 15th and will offer backers several early investor values, including portable solar lights and significant discounts off SunJack’s projected $250 retail price. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, backers should receive the first production SunJack at the end of June 2014.

Go to SunJack’s Kickstarter campaign site for more detailed information about SunJack’s specs, pricing, backer benefits, and Tan’s benefit campaign to bring healthy, non-toxic lighting to Papua New Guinea villagers.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

Microinverters vs. String Inverters

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If you’re a homeowner or an installer doing residential or small scale commercial solar installations, you essentially have three choices for converting the solar system’s DC power into AC power: You can either go with new microinverters or with string inverters—with or without DC power optimizers. All will work, but there are differences, especially in certain situations.

String Inverters: The solar industry standard

The KACO Solar blue planet xi-series inverter design is not only efficient, it also offers patented MPPT technology and produces optimum total output from your installation.

With residential string inverters, all solar modules are connected in a series circuit to a DC electric cable, which is then connected to a single inverter box mounted on a wall by the home’s main AC panel (as well as to any required DC disconnects). So it’s a very centralized system with a limited amount of labor.

Modern string inverters not only convert the power from DC to AC, but also use Maximum Point Power Tracking (MPPT) to deliver the maximum amount of power available. This is important, since each solar panel can produce different amounts of power due to manufacturing anomalies, intermittent shading, leaves, dirt, passing clouds, and/or other factors.

While a string inverter’s MPPT works fairly well, especially in sunny areas with no obstructions, having all solar modules tied in a series circuit can still be a disadvantage for several reasons:

1)   MPPT technology is essentially drawing the average amount of power available, rather than the full amount available from each module. As a result, the entire solar array can lose 15% to 30% or more of its full potential output because one or more panels in the string are temporarily shaded or have debris.

2)   If you have limited roof space and need two arrays with different sun orientations, each array will need its own string inverter.

3)   Similarly, since module mismatch can cause efficiency issues, you’ll need to use the same brand and panel voltage within each string.

4)   String inverters don’t easily allow for expanding the system in the future unless you purposely oversize the inverter, wiring, and other BOS parts.

5)   While it’s common to have online monitoring with string inverters, the monitors only measure the performance of the entire array. So, if an array isn’t producing the expected power, installers will need to individually test each panel for malfunctions.

Tigo-Energy-maximizer_1_large

Designed for residential, commercial and utility scale photovoltaic solar arrays, the Tigo Energy® Maximizer™ system optimizes the power output of each solar panel, delivering module-level data for operational management and performance monitoring.

6)   String inverters are typically warrantied for 10 years and have an expected lifetime of 12 to 15 years, while solar panels typically last 25 years or longer. Thus, the string inverter will need to be replaced at least once.

Adding DC Power Optimizers to String Inverters

Adding DC power optimizers to a string inverter system can solve most of the above string inverter challenges. Power optimizers are relatively new electronic devices that perform MPPT tracking at the module, instead of at the inverter. As a result, optimizers feed the most optimized DC current and voltage for each panel into the string, significantly reducing power and efficiency losses due to shading, module mismatch, etc. Power optimizers also allow you to:

  • Monitor each solar panel for performance and/or troubleshooting.
  • Mix and match solar panels and brands.
  • Have two strings in parallel for one inverter, thus allowing you to combine two arrays facing different directions.
  • More easily expand the system—but only up to the inverter’s power rating and wiring gauge.

Microinverters – Inverters for one solar panel at a time

In many ways, microinverters do all of the things that string inverters do and power optimizers do—all in one small and simple package.

The Enphase Micro-inverter shifts DC to AC conversion from a large, centralized inverter to a compact unit attached directly to each solar module in the power system.

The Enphase Micro-inverter shifts DC to AC conversion from a large, centralized inverter to a compact unit attached directly to each solar module in the power system.

Unlike centralized string inverters, microinverters convert the solar panel’s DC watts into AC watts at the module level and then connect in parallel to the main AC box. While panels with microinverters aren’t exactly “plug and play,” they do make installation and monitoring very simple.

Microinverter advantages include:

1)   MPPT tracking of each solar panel. As with DC optimizers, each solar panel can harvest as much solar power as possible, regardless of the intermittent shading, passing clouds, or the mismatch of other panels in the array.

2)   Individual panel monitoring. If the array isn’t performing as expected, the microinverter monitoring system will show which panel(s) is at fault and can even send you an immediate email alert.

3)   Full modularity. With the correctly sized AC wire gauge, microinverters allow installers to install a small system and easily add more solar panels later. In fact, added future panels can be different brands and different voltages, and they can also be installed at different solar roof orientations.

4)   Easier design and installation. Especially when using pre-mounted micro-inverters or true AC panels, designing and installing a micro-inverter grid tied system can be much easier and faster.

5)   Microinverters are typically warrantied for 25 years. As a result, there shouldn’t be a need to replace the inverters at year 12 or 13.

So what’s not to love about microinverters? A few things to consider:

  • Microinverters are new technology. Yes, the warranties are for 25 years, but microinverters haven’t actually been in the field for that long. If they don’t last that long, depending on the warranty, installers may be responsible for the labor costs to replace each failed microinverter. Thus far, however, microinverters have generally performed well. And don’t forget that DC power optimizers are also new technology.
  • It’s more expensive. Currently, microinverters are more expensive than string inverters for the same sized residential system, and slightly more expensive than a string inverter/power optimizer system. The more panels in the solar system, the more microinverters needed, so the microinverter cost can be significantly higher for larger systems. That being said, microinverter prices are falling gradually.
  • Possibly more labor time. If purchasing microinverters separately from solar panels, installers will have to spend more time attaching each microinverter to the solar panel. Meanwhile, a string inverter can mount fairly easily to a wall.
  • Multiple failure points. This could be an advantage or disadvantage. If a string inverter goes down, the entire solar system goes down. If a single microinverter goes down, no big deal. Then again, if a lot of microinverters go down at once…there will be a great deal of labor cost replacing them. But once again, to date, there have been no reported mass failures or recalls of microinverters.

Bottom line, both microinverters and string inverters with or without optimizers work well, but each has its own set of risks and advantages. Choose the technology that’s right for your insolation, budget, and size.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

The Problem With Solar Permitting

Experience any roadblocks while trying to pull a permit for a photovoltaic (PV) system in your city?   Paying too much?  You’re not alone.  Getting your PV system a permit can be a daunting task for both customers and installers.

According to report by Clean Power Finance, about 23% of PV installations cost more than expected.   More than a third of solar installers actually avoid working with certain Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs) because of their solar permitting processes.

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What’s wrong with these permitting processes and what can we do to fix it?  What’s being done right now?

I’m catching up with GoGreensolar.com CEO Deep Patel to talk about these issues.

From a solar contractor’s perspective, how do varying permitting procedures affect your business?

It makes it more difficult to generate a proposal.  There really is not a cookie cutter solution, so unfortunately we can’t just generate proposal on the spot.  It often takes weeks because we have to call the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), leave messages, and wait for them to call us back.

So when you’re trying to get a proposal out, it often takes up your time.  This increases the wait-time for customers and often drives up the soft costs of solar.  Would you say that this cost is passed along to consumers?

Yes, proposals currently have to account for this unpredictability. When you’re running a business with that kind of uncertainty, you have to pad the proposal in case of any unexpected fees or codes changes.

In an attempt to bring down the time and soft-costs that come with this inconsistent permitting process, the DOE’s Sunshot supported Clean Power Finance’s efforts to develop a National Solar Permitting Database.  The goal is to provide solar professionals a platform to give testimonials about different AHJs and coach each other through these permitting processes.  I guess you could say it’s like Yelp for solar contractors to review AHJs.

A National Database can help solar contractors work more efficiently, but is it not placing a Band-Aid on a bullet wound?  Given that the DOE already has a standardized set of permitting policies known (solar ABCs), is it even fair that the burden of navigating these arduous permitting processes is imposed on those who are installing solar electric systems? 

The problem is that the DOE doesn’t have the jurisdiction here.  The DOE can’t force the cities to follow a standardized permitting process, but they can make recommendations and city governments can choose to adopt them.  Meanwhile, we’re over here trying to do our jobs!

So this time businesses could be spending on getting proposals out the door, they end up researching permitting processes. Contractors should be able to focus on installing PV systems instead of fussing over inconsistent permitting procedures.  What kind of pressure needs to be applied to remedy the current situation?  What kind of public policies could be implemented on to encourage to streamline solar permitting?

The North American Electric Grid is a federal asset and energy is a national issue.  Federal tax dollars should be used to incentive municipalities to adopt streamlined procedures.  Imagine the federal government saying ‘Hey city, if you go through this streamlined process, we’ll give you a grant to improve the process.’

Thanks for talking with me, Deep.  

To our readers who have been pulling permits for PV systems- how long did you have to wait to get a permit?  Do you think the cost was too high?

Original Article on Go Green Solar

In Focus: The US-China Solar Trade Dispute

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In case you missed it, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed to consider adding (more) restrictive tariffs to imported Chinese solar panels. Why this is happening, who’s behind the dispute, and what will happen to solar panel prices and installation costs if the suit moves forward are complicated questions—but important ones for both installers and consumers.

With that in mind, here’s a basic rundown of all you need to know about the most recent Chinese-US Solar Trade Case and how it might affect installers and consumers.

How the U.S.-China Solar Trade Got Started

SolarWorld-China-Trade Case

Photo Credit: Flickr/FPat Murray

It all started in October 2011 when SolarWorld—a German company that also manufactures panels in the U.S.— filed an unfair trade complaint with the ITC. The U.S. division of SolarWorld claimed that China was unfairly subsidizing its solar panel companies, enabling Chinese companies to dump solar panels on the U.S. market at below cost prices, thus forcing SolarWorld to drop its prices and shut down U.S. factories.

Although SolarWorld lost U.S. manufacturing jobs, many U.S. solar installers opposed SolarWorld’s action, arguing that inexpensive solar panels helped to lower installation costs and spur growth, creating even more U.S. installation jobs.

Nevertheless, SolarWorld won their case in 2012, and the ITC imposed 31% tariffs on imported Chinese solar cells, the main component that makes up a solar panel. As a result, many small Chinese solar companies dropped out of the U.S. market, but the big solar players, such as Yingli Solar and Trina Solar found a loophole.

How the Trade Dispute is Continuing Today

Due to the 31% tariff on just solar cells, the Chinese companies began to manufacture cells in other countries, mainly Taiwan. They then imported the cells back to China where they were assembled into solar panels for export, technically avoiding the tariff causing a 31% increase in their solar panel prices.

However, SolarWorld saw the loophole and recently filed another complaint with the ITC, claiming that the Chinese were still dumping and subsidizing below-cost Chinese solar panels on the U.S. market by using Taiwan-based solar cells.  A decision on the case has yet to be made, but is expected by early summer.

Who’s Currently Affected by the Solar Trade Dispute?

If you’re an installer, DIY solar enthusiast, or a consumer, the trade dispute probably hasn’t affected you at all—so far—thanks to the Taiwan work-around. Solar panel prices have stayed at about the same level since the first tariff decision. In fact, prices have come down 60% since 2011, and they slowly continue to fall.

On the other hand, if you’re an American manufacturer of polysilicon, the raw material for solar cells, you’re out of luck. Since the first ITC decision, China has retaliated with a 60.2% to 63.5% anti-dumping tariff on polysilicon imported to China, making Chinese manufacturers import polysilicon from other countries and from their domestic sources.

For workers in the US solar manufacturing industry, solar manufacturing companies continue to fold. However, 80% of the U.S. solar industry’s 140,000 jobs are related to solar sales and installation. Overall, solar jobs increased by 20% since last year.

Still, SEIA, the U.S. solar industry’s trade organization opposes any tariff. They believe that much of the solar industry’s growth will come to an abrupt halt if SolarWorld is successful with its latest complaint.

Furthermore, CASE, a coalition of U.S. solar installers and Chinese manufacturers are lobbying to convince the ITC to reject SolarWorld’s complaint, claiming that SolarWorld’s actions are protectionist and only intent on raising solar prices for their own gain. CASE argues that if SolarWorld wins, that a German manufacturer will be dictating U.S. trade policy.

SEIA: Can’t We All Get Along?

As it stands now, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), which is investigating the claim for the ITC, will make a preliminary decision on March 28th on whether Chinese modules are being subsidized. Then on June 11th, the DOC will report whether the panels are also being dumped on the U.S. market at unfair below-market prices, perhaps causing an additional tariff.

But before those decisions are made, SEIA is trying to bring the parties together for a settlement. As part of the SEIA proposal, the U.S. will drop all tariffs on Chinese panel manufacturers and China will drop all tariffs on U.S. polysilicon companies.

Perhaps more significantly, Chinese manufacturers will be required to pay a fee into a Solar Manufacturing Settlement Fund to support U.S. solar panel manufacturers. How much? The complicated fee structure will be based on both U.S. solar consumption, the amount of Chinese solar imports, and other factors, but SEIA says the fee will be lower than the current cost of importing solar cells from Taiwan, making it a win-win for everyone.

If a settlement isn’t reached and new tariffs are set? Most experts agree that panel prices will increase, but it remains to be seen by how much and how that will affect installation prices and U.S. solar growth. Time will tell.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

Teaching Kids About The Sun

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Brightening Lessons: Outdoor Experiments to Teach Children About the Sun

The best way for your kids to learn about the sun is to get out in it!  There are some things that just can’t be learned on the Internet, but there are plenty of activities that can be done in your backyard that will get your children away from the light of a computer screen and into the light of day.

Here are some fun ways to enlighten them about the star that’s essential to life on Earth.

Show how exposure to the sun affects plant growth

Buy some quick-growing grass seed and make a tiny greenhouse out of a box, with half of the grass seed covered so that no sunlight reaches it. Water both sides with your children for a couple weeks so that they can see the difference between the two. They’ll see that the grass seed that didn’t get any sunlight has hardly grown and lacks the color that the rest has, teaching them an interesting lesson about photosynthesis.

Solar cooking

A good lesson on how solar energy can be used is to show your children how the sun’s energy can be used for cooking. The most basic example is to fry an egg on the sidewalk (of course, you will need to live somewhere hot enough for this to work). You can also create a solar box oven using a pizza box. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Cut a flap in the lid of the pizza box, leaving an inch between the sides of the flap and the edge of the lid. Fold the flap open. You may need to use a ruler to prop it open and keep it standing up.
  2. Use aluminum foil to cover the inner side of the flap.
  3. Line the bottom of the box with black construction paper
  4. Cover the open hole where you opened the flap with clear plastic wrap and make it airtight. It may require a couple layers.

Once you’ve done this, put your food on the black construction paper inside the box and set your solar box oven in a place where the most sunlight will be hitting the aluminum foil on the inner side of the open flap, causing it to reflect down onto the plastic wrap window. If you need to insulate it more, you can roll up newspaper sheets and put them on the bottom of the box.

Concentrate the power of the sun

As a child, you may have learned about the power of the sun by contributing to the fiery demise of some poor ants using a magnifying glass to concentrate its power. A more humane way to teach your children this lesson is to burn holes in dry leaves. Make sure you do this on pavement where nothing else has a chance of catching fire and tell your children to never do this without your supervision.

The warmth of the sun

Fill two bowls of water, placing one inside away from any windows and one outside on a sunny day. After you’ve given the water some time, get a thermometer and have your child both measure the temperature of both bowls and feel it with their hand to demonstrate the difference.

Make a rainbow!

Find a sunny spot and lay down a sheet of white paper. Fill a glass half full of water and hold it several inches above the paper to create a rainbow. This is a great visual demonstration that allows you to explain rainbows without having to wait for one to occur naturally.

Color and light absorption

To show your children that darker colors absorb more sunlight, take a half sheet of white construction paper and a half sheet of black construction paper and fold them in half lengthwise. Staple them to form a pocket. Put a thermometer in each pocket and put them in the shade for 10 minutes and then document the temperatures. Next, put them in the sun and record their temperatures every five minutes to show your kids the difference.

Protection from the sun

Stress to your kids the importance of wearing sunscreen and the harmful effects the sun can have if you are exposed to too much of its radiation. Also make it clear to your kids that they should never stare directly into the sun.

Do you have any other ideas for outdoor activities to teach children about the sun?

Guest Post by Chris Long

Chris Long, a Home Depot sales associate since 2000, helps customers with expert home improvement advice at their local store. Wherever you live, The Home Depot has a store near you with associates just like Chris who are knowledgeable and available to help with one-on-one advice for projects large and small.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

Surface Area Needed to Solar Power the World

How much surface area would be needed to power the whole world with solar panels?

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496,805 Square kilometers or 191,817.483 square miles

Just to give you an idea of what this would actually look like, take a look at the image below.

This info-graphic shows the cumulative surface area required to power the entire planet with solar in 2030 (678 quadrillion BTU), given that solar panels will have 20% operating efficiencies.  This includes all electrical consumption, down to machinery and transportation.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

INFOGRAPHIC: Big Companies Going Solar

Agree or disagree: Wal-Mart is a socially-conscious, altruistic corporation that installed 89MW of solar because it was the right thing to do.

Let’s put it this way- Walmart wouldn’t install 89 Megawatts of solar (or 3.86 Million 230W solar panels) if it didn’t make financial sense.

Wal-Mart now has a greater solar capacity than 38 states combined.  The falling price of PV has allowed companies like Wal-mart to use solar energy to reduce their operating expenses and take advantage of the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy systems.

Wal-Mart isn’t the only corporation that’s caught on.  Some other businesses that are using solar to lower their operating costs include Costco, IKEA, Kohl’s, Apple, Macy’s, Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson, Volkswagen, Walgreens, Target, Safeway… the list goes on.

Vote Solar’s Executive Director Adam Browning explains, “For years, the promise of solar was always ‘just around the corner.’  Well, solar has turned the corner, and found itself on Main Street, USA. These companies – titans of American business – may have vastly different products, business models, and geographic locations, but they all have something in common: they know a good deal when they see one, and they are going solar in a big way.”

Very BIG.   Commercial deployment of solar increased about 40% over last year.   Take a look at this infographic.

big-companies-go-solar

Original Article on Go Green Solar

In Focus: Solar Survival Kits

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The last thing you want to worry about after a real-life emergency is a dying cell phone battery.

Accurately preparing for an emergency can be tricky but there are a few steps you can take to rule out some potential troubles.  Take what precautions your can by assembling a survival kit that’s complete with backup solar power.

survivalkit

  Top 3 Recommendations

  1. Understand the potential risks in your particular community.
  2. Have a plan of action.  In the event of an emergency, the whole family should have an agreed-upon plan of action.   Discuss potential meeting locations and establish third party emergency contacts.
  3. Prepare survival materials accordingly.  Keep one or two disaster kits stocked with basic survival supplies:
  • Water and Food
  • Emergency Radio
  • First Aid Kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Bandana or mask to help filter the air
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for sanitation
  • Pocket knife with a can opener
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Space blanket for heat
  • Any needed medication, diapers, etc.
  • Backup Battery with solar power to charge phones

Oddly enough, emergency power isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when putting together a survival kit.  Here are a few steps to make sure you won’t be left in the dark.

Identify Critical Loads:  What do you need?

Figure out what you’ll actually need in the event of an emergency.  Unless you plan on spending tens of thousands to to run the AC and watch TV during a disaster situation, you’ll need to prioritize.   Solar itself is inexpensive but storing that energy in batteries can easily drain your wallet.

The word need might seem pretty relative, but a realistic goal is keeping your cell phones charged and maybe a couple LED lamps in the evening.

Choose a solar charging system

joos_orange_solar_charger_iphoneFor modest power needs, this little guy might be all you need.

Keep your cell phone charged on the go with this durable, lightweight solar charger.

The JOOS Orange is reliable and waterproof, delivering power for your iPhone, GPS, Camera, cell phone, and all your other hand-held electronics wherever you go.

1 hour in the direct sun = 2 hours 3G talk time

The JOOS Orange will charge in the shade and even light rain!  If you have a tight budget but you want to keep your cell phone powered during a blackout, the JOOS Orange is the right choice for you.   read-more-button

 

AP1800S2_largeKeep your cell phone charged for 5W for 95 hours with the Adventure Power, a “plug and play” solar power system for emergency situations.

The Adventure Power has a 60Ah internal battery that gives you consistent, reliable energy while on the go or during a blackout!   You can add more batteries if you think you’ll need more power.  Keep all your critical loads powered through the Adventure Power’s 4 AC receptacles or 2 USB ports.read-more-button

 

load calc

Want to get technical?  Calculate your load requirements here.

After using GoGreenSolar’s load calculator to get a quick breakdown of typical wattage requirements for common appliances and estimate how much electricity your critical loads will consume.  Once you know how many Watt-hours you would use on a daily basis, you can select the right portable solar system for your emergency kit.

Learn more about off-grid solar batteries here.

Wh = mAh × V / 1000

mAh = Wh × 1000 / V

What kind of portable solar charger do you keep in your survival kit?

Original Article on Go Green Solar

INFOGRAPHIC: Solar in 2013

Visualize what’s happening with solar right now.

Q2 2013 was solar’s second largest quarter yet and we’re looking at wrapping up another record-breaking year.   The cost of an average solar panel has declined by over 60% since 2011.   These falling prices, along with new financing options, has made solar more attractive to financially savvy homeowners.   Even investors like Warren Buffett and corporations like Walmart putting their money into solar energy.

With over 9.3 Megawatts of installed solar in the United States, there’s currently enough solar capacity to power over 1.5 million homes in the country.  The progress that solar has made in the last few years alone is evidence that the U.S. electricity market is in the early phase of an all-encompassing transition towards clean energy.

Check out this infographic, which is a year-end estimate based on research from GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

solar-2013-infographic

Original Article on Go Green Solar

Solar Power International (SPI) 2013!

spi-2013

In 2012, PV installations grew a head-turning 76 %.    Q3 of 2013 has surpassed that of last year and experts suggest that photovoltaics will have grown 29% over 2013.  Solar professionals will be meeting to discuss the future of solar, attend educational seminars, exchange ideas, and show off the latest in solar technology.

Don’t miss Solar Power International (SPI) 2013, this four-day B2B solar trade show and conference with presentations from industry leaders and networking opportunities with solar professionals from more than 75 countries.   Over 15,000 solar industry professionals will gather in Chicago next week to see loads of solar exhibits spread out over 300,000 square feet. Everything from racking to solar cells to inverters will be on display.

While you’re cruzing around the trade show floor, keep your eyes peeled for the new Enphase M250 microinverter.

Some big-name booths to check out include:

  • Fronius USA
  • Morningstar Corp.
  • TUV Rheinland
  • Solectria Renewables
  • Fronius USA

There’s also going to be an official SPI 2013 Solar Tweet up at at Kitty O’Shea’s (Chicago Hilton), where you can meet up with industry leaders, including Solar Fred and representatives from GoGreenSolar.com.

Original Article on Go Green Solar

In Focus: Solar vs. Utilities

solar-wide

Recently-amended energy bill, AB 327, awaits signature from Governor Brown

Just a couple of months ago, California Assembly Bill 327 was met with fierce criticism from solar advocates throughout California.

It was this rallying cry of opposition, however, that ultimately resulted in key revisions to this bill, making it a step in the right direction for rooftop solar.

The amendments made to AB 327 are a testament to the growing power of the solar industry and allies of renewable energy in California.

Investor-Owned Utilities vs. The Solar Industry?

To give you a little background, California’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have been at odds with the solar industry over net metering, which allows residents to receive financial compensation for the excess power generated by their grid-tied solar systems.

When the consumer gets paid for the electricity that’s sent back into the utility grid, it means a greater return on their investment. Net-metering is a monetary incentive for homeowners to get solar on their roofs. Since state policies like this make “going solar” more attractive to a potential solar customers, the solar industry has been fighting to keep it around. Being required to pay residential customers for this electricity isn’t really in the best interest of an Investor-Owned Utility (IOU), which has a responsibility to their share-holders to maximize profit.

The main criticism of this bill is that it would make net-metering a less attractive to consumers, thus deincentivizing solar.

The two main issues solar advocates were criticizing:

1. AB 327 was going to flatten the rates for customers paying for electricity in the higher tiers on their electric bills.   This means that customers who consume significantly higher amounts of energy (kWh) would be paying less than they currently do.

2. AB 327 would also allow utilities to impose a flat rate of up to $10 per month on residential customers, regardless of their net consumption.

By decreasing the cost for excessive energy consumption, AB 327 would have made investing in a PV system attractive to potential solar customers paying these high-tier rates.

AB 327 would mean that a residential customer, whose net consumption is minimal due to a solar system, could have to pay the utility company a flat rate every month. This could amount to an extra $120 annually, regardless of how much solar power the system was actually generating.

Needless to say, this bill was originally met with harsh criticism from solar advocates across California. Meanwhile, utility companies argued that residential solar customers need to help finance the maintenance of grid infrastructure from which they benefit like everyone else.

Solar Backlash?

Rewind several months. The investor-owned utility companies were under fire for backing this hotly contested bill. A satirical ad campaign featured an actor pretending to be a representative from one of these utilities, explaining why they hate rooftop solar. The video ran into a bit of legal trouble for allegedly misusing the utility’s logo.

Long story short, AB 327 has seen some recent revisions that have considerably changed the kind of impact it will have on rooftop solar in California.

After these amendments, what does AB 327 do?

The California Senate ended up including amendments that address several of the objections presented by solar advocates. At this time, AB 327 has the support of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), and VoteSolar.org.

So then, how did these amendments turn starch opponents of AB 327 into proponents of the bill?

What does AB 327 do now?

  • Preserves net metering
  • California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has the power to remove the cap on net metering

Original Article on Go Green Solar

Why Solar Panels Need to be Tested for Hail

hail-pieces

Are solar panels tested for hail, golf balls, or other kinds of impact?

If solar panels are broken by some kind of impact, is this damage covered by the solar panel manufacturer’s warranty?

If you’re about to drop thousands of dollars on a solar system that’s supposed to last a few decades, you obviously want to feel confident that you’re not investing in equipment that could be ruined by one day of extreme weather.  It’s a valid concern.

The ambiguity regarding hail resistance and impact testing for solar panels can be frustrating, so I spoke with a claims representative from a major solar panel manufacturer to get some clarification.

The short answer is that there’s probably no manufacturer’s warranty that will cover this kind of damage, but any high-quality solar panel will have tempered glass that’s designed to take a beating and tested accordingly.

If you’re worried about protecting your investment from this kind of damage, just make sure that you pull a permit for the system and consult your property insurance provider.  There should be no problem getting the coverage you need if you go by the books.

Back to the question about manufacturer’s warranty-  in all likelihood, you won’t find one that fully covers damage from hail.  However, any reputable brand will test their solar panels to obtain industry-recognized quality certifications.

In North America, these tests are a 5 ft·lbs impact of a 2 inch diameter ball of 1.18 lbs that’s dropped at a distance of 51 inches- no parts of the solar panel can be damaged to acquire this label.  If the solar panel has undergone this standardized testing successfully, you will see something like this in the specifications sheet.

Because solar panel manufacturers usually sell to markets outside of the United States, modules are often subject to additional testing standards such as Europe’s “IEC.”

The European quality certificate specifically for hail is IEC 61215, which can be seen in the image above.  Solar panels with this label were shot with frozen ice balls at varying sizes and speeds from an air gun.

The most substantial of this IEC impact testing comes at 39.5 m/sec from a 203 gram ice ball.  The solar module must perform at a maximum of 5% degradation with no visible damage.

If you live in an area that’s prone to hail storms, you should get solar panels that have been tested for impact and talk with your homeowner’s insurance company about your coverage options.

That being said, if your system is going to experience hail that would dwarf golf-balls, amorphous (thin film) solar panels could be an option for you.  We don’t sell these- but it might be worth your time to do some research.

Rather than focusing on the solar panel manufacturer’s warranty, you should pull a permit with your city and work with your property insurance provider to protect your system against any potential damage (hail, electrical fire, etc.).

Original Article on Go Green Solar