Sunday, November 29, 2009

A new week

Joe from Alternative Energy called on Friday, said they expected full shipment of our stuff this past Saturday. He expects the crew to install on Monday 11/30/2009. There is threat of some rain, but perhaps we will go live this week.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For now we wait

Nearly everything is done with the garage. Lights are on! It looks like all of the solar rough work is done. Inside the garage wires and conduit run to the house and up to the roof where they will likely go through and meet with panels. I was told that out panels were being delivered today. At some point in the (hopefully near) future we should get some racks, panels, and inverters set up. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 23, 2009

View of roof this am

Inverter system

More rain expected today. All of the brackets are mounted on the roof. Garage siding is done, doors go on Tuesday. I am not sure what the week will bring, should be interesting.

The following looks like the website for the company that makes our expected inverter. They have some neat stuff, a couple cool videos to learn the basics of how the products work. I think we were told that the monitoring system is free for the first two years, then $2 per solar panel per year after that, so $48 per year for us. I think there are a few other options for monitoring, if I recall correctly one was a several thousand dollar option that we did not want to pay for.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rain Delay

Lots of rain is keeping folks off the roof. We did get some shingles and brackets installed, but not many. The interesting development yesterday concerned our inverter. The inverter changes the generated energy into a form that can be used on the electric grid. I guess several companies make inverters, I think they function in two different manners. One of them has all the solar panels connected to it and it does the job for all of them. The second is a mini-inverter connected to each panel to do the conversion. The mini-inverter system allows for easier expansion as regular inverters are sized to the size of the kwh (in our case 5.16). There is another key difference, apparently the inverters work at the minimum level of effeciency of each panel or array of panels. For example, our system was originally going to be two 12 panel arrays. If one arrangement had a few panels in the shade or one panel that worked at 80% efficiency, the inverter would only work at the level of energy generated by the shady panels or the 80% panel. With the mini-inverter system, this is not a problem, as each panel has its own inverter allowing it to generate energy as able.

When Joe with Alt Energy was giving us our owners manuals, I started asking more questions about how our inverter would work. I did not realize that the mini-inverters were an option. Now that they are available for us, it is what we are going to go with. I believe they will cost a little more for the parts, but the installation is easier and cheaper. Ceteris paribus, price should work out to be the same. There might also be an added benefit. The system will come with some kind of a computer gadget that will allow remote monitoring. I look forward to learning and playing around with this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Starting the install

Picture is of Joe From Alt Energy laying out the brackets. We've asked him to put brackets on the whole roof to allow for expansion in the future. We also got the following info via email today!

Your application to become a solar generator for NC GreenPower has been received and accepted. In the next couple of weeks I will mail a five-year agreement for up to 7300 kWh/year at 15 cents/kWh to you at the address entered in your application. Please check the other information in the application for accuracy, as I will be using this data in the agreement. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Thank you for your interest in NC GreenPower.

Best regards,

Administrative Coordinator
NC GreenPower

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Big day coming up

Someone suggested I point out the the direction our system is facing is unique to our locale, check with your installer to properly face yours. The way things are going around here we will go live next week! The view shown in the pic is where the system will be. It currently gets some shade, we will need to cut some trees down.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Solar work starts this Wednesday!

The roof should be on in the next couple of days. On Wednesday the solar crew should be here for some rough work. On the roof they will put the brackets in place prior to the roofer doing his work.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Type of system and placement

In setting up a garage to install solar photovoltaic system upon, we wanted to know the construction requirements. This included how to face the building, what roof angle would be best, and how much roof space would be required. The roof space question is important to consider with regards to going with a traditional solar panel or a newer technology known as thin panel. Thin panel solar uses an even roof surface like metal and uses this to roll out a thin film of solar "panels". I pictured this being like a roll of tin foil spread out everywhere on the roof. We asked our planned installer these questions, following is his reply.

I have attached the quotes we spoke about on Friday. Your average kWh usage over the given 13 month period is 662 kWh/month. A 5 kW PV system would JUST cover that. You may want to consider a slightly larger system. I have utilized the buy all/sell all program on your quotes to give you a ‘best case scenario’ for the payback question.

The ideal setup is a large roof area facing TRUE south. To find true south, first find magnetic south and then add an additional 8 degrees. In other words, you want the compass to point to 188 degrees as opposed to 180 degrees. The roof pitch would be between 7/12 and 9/12. There would be no shading issues at all-including surface obstructions such as plumbing vent pipes or chimneys. A 5 kW PV system would consume approximately 450 square feet.

The price to install thin-film versus a rigid module system is about the same. However, you would need twice the roof area. So, for the above example considering a 5 kW PV system, we would need approximately 900 square feet. Also, the roof would need to be a metal roof, not asphalt shingles or clay tile. Lastly, we would need to work with the roofer to ensure the ridge cap is modified to allow for the wires to pass through it. I would recommend the rigid modules.

Also, the price for a traditional inverter versus the micro-inverters is about the same too. However, there is a 4 month wait on the micro-inverters. If you really want to expand in the future, I would recommend the micro-inverters. You can still expand with the traditional inverter setup-you would just have to add another inverter in the future during the expansion. This adds a little more to the expansion cost-about $1,500.

There is a lot of research going into renewable energy systems. I hear lots of ideas almost monthly. However, they are research projects and far from market. I don’t see anything new coming within the next few years. However, there is always the chance that someone will invent something next year. It is really a guess.

The price to convert to net metering from a buy all/sell all set up is calculated at approximately $350.00.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Solar System Size

For us the choice of system size was easy, others can choose as they wish. We are going to partake in a program offered by NC Green Power. Initially this group appears to be a government subsidy to encourage sustainable energy development.

With our local utility company it appears the only metering choice is a buy all, sell all agreement. We continue to buy from them at current rates of what we were told is twelve cents per kilowatt-hour. We sell what our system produces to them for five cents per kwh, and then receive payment from NC GreenPower in the amount of fifteen cents per kwh. This yields potential profit of 8 cents per kwh. Some people design a solar system large enough to breakeven considering this subsidized price. Our fear is that this potential subsidy could change (it has already decreased in amount at least once), so we wanted to design a system that would supply us with all our current needs and be expandable in the event that electric cars become more popular.

There are some websites that would allow one to figure out the figures on our own, but we just sent Joe Sheffield our electric usage over the past year. He told us based on the following data that we would need a 5kw system.

Units are in KWH

Month Usage Amount Billed
(excluding state taxes)
Nov, 2008 579.00 $ 79.71
Dec, 2008 482.00 $ 67.29
Jan, 2009 679.00 $ 84.79
Feb, 2009 861.00 $ 105.17
Mar, 2009 688.00 $ 85.80
Apr, 2009 545.00 $ 70.80
May, 2009 453.00 $ 64.26
Jun, 2009 435.00 $ 62.06
Jul, 2009 776.00 $ 103.85
Aug, 2009 935.00 $ 123.34
Sep, 2009 1014.00 $ 133.03
Oct, 2009 537.00 $ 74.94
Nov, 2009 385.00 $ 57.50

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on the start

We have been saving money for a garage, wanted to pay cash for it when it was built, had been hoping to have enough in the next year or so. My father went to a green building open house, saw some neat stuff. He ran into the guy that built our house, Dan Thomas. Dan specializes in insulated concrete forms for the exterior walls, makes them very efficient for heating and cooling in addition to being much quieter. Also at the open house was a home with solar water heating and a solar photovoltaic electric system. My Dad learned that there are all kinds of tax credits for solar. In essence, our state offers a 35% tax rebate up to $10,500, maximum of half of it the first year. The federal government offers 30% tax credit with no maximum.

My father was interested in meeting with the company that handled the solar system so we went also. Joe Sheffield from Alternative Energy Concepts spent several hours meeting with us, came to my house afterwards to discuss site specifics. Our ideal garage would be in a good spot for solar.

In talking this over with our builder, we decided to try and and finance the whole thing now, get as much tax credit ASAP by finishing construction in 2009 and not have to finance 15K.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The beginning

This is the start of a new blog for me. I intend to share our journey into solar electricity generation. Construction has already begun but I intend to go back in time and talk about the process thus far and then describe our installation, powering up, and actual use experience. Enjoy.