Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Reason to Appreciate a Sunny Day

Our vendor, Southern Energy Management of Morrisville, NC, had promised to come back on the 28th to turn our system up.  They did.  And the system produced $3.40 of electricity yesterday afternoon! 

So, a whole new experience starts now.  We cut, split and burned wood to heat our Pennsylvania homes for about fifteen years.  Now we are on gas in NC, but have managed to come up with a way to at least generate as much solar electric energy, in dollar value, as we would have to buy to continue our lifestyle.  We are proud of getting in on this early.  And we are grateful to the people that opened their homes, like the Wagners, in October's Green Home tour and allowed us to learn first hand that this is an excellent time to make this kind of investment. 

I am willing to answer questions you may have about our experience.  Email me at joseph.miller3@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Final My .............!

So, as of the 15th, we've had our final inspections and been interconnected with the "grid" utility, Greenville Utilities (GUC).  I can hardly say more about  the cooperation and attention given us by GUC. 

BUT, Southern Energy Management didn't turn the system on and we have to wait for December 28th for another person to come out and initialize the system.  So like a kid with his new car parked in the driveway, I'll wait a couple of weeks to have someone put the keys in my hand. 

GUC tells us we are the fifth system in their service area to install a PV system.  There are three more going in service after us, too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Final Day

After their last visit on the ninth, Southern Energy Management told us that they would be back to do the final cutover on the week of the 28th of December.  They explained that they wanted to spend the weather permitting days between the tenth and the twenty-eighth finishing up other installations that needed outside work done.  They allowed that they might be back sooner if the weather turned bad again.

Well tomorrow the fifteenth is supposed to have a probability of showers, so they have just called to say they'll be back.  It looks like Tuesday will be their last day here and we'll be generating electricity tomorrow afternoon. 

Interestingly, we will need to be without power for many hours, and perhaps all day tomorrow while the electric company's people disconnect our current power, the solar people do their wiring, the government inspector inspects and the electric company comes back out to plug us back in again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Connections Scheduled Today

The managers at Southern Energy have practiced skills at interpreting weather forecasts.  They decided to jump in the trucks and come out from Raleigh to finish the connections on our installation.  They arrived in a downpour with lightening and thunder. 

But, it stopped within minutes.  They have a couple of hours work and there is a predicted couple of hour window of clearing expected today.  So maybe......

Our electric company came yesterday and installed a new meter to replace our old plus a new additional meter.  These meters are  for measuring, as were the old meters, plus they are recording data about our consumption and generation of electricity.  The new meters are also connected to our home phone line.   The utility will henceforth be able to dial our phone at 2:30a have it answered by the meter without disturbing us and receive data.  The data will be used to prepare our bill, and will inform the companies that will pay us incentives what energy we generated.  The data will be shared with us on a spreadsheet.

The utility told us that there are four systems going on line this month and that the total will then be eight systems.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hardware Installed!

Hardware is now installed on the roof.  Our inverter is wired and the conduit with wire is run through the attic to the area for the meter on the other end of our house (see photo below). 

Our local electric utility has come to pre-plan the installation of the additional and second meter.  This second meter will measure the electricity we generate which is connected to the "grid" (the public electric wires) which virtually makes the electricity available to anyone.  This meters measurements determine the money we will be able to collect from our electric utility and from the broker that has sold our SRECs.  From an earlier post, you may remember that we will collect $.048 per kWh from the utility and $.20 per kWh for the incentive payment from the broker.  We pay the electric utility, as measured by the original meter, about $.128 per kWh.  The margin or profit is what we use to pay ourselves back for having made the investment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Some Panels Installed

The crew arrived a little before ten a.m. and were able to finish the rail installation, install more hold-down brackets on the roof and nearly half of the panels.  Tomorrow, clear weather is forecast, and they expect to install the last 14 panels and to run the wiring. 

Panel Installation Begins

Weather and vendor deliveries have played havoc on the planning, but all in all, we are within a couple of weeks of what was originally intended.  We have the panels delivered.

The pictures start with the panels on the ground.  I was surprised at how light weight (about 40 lbs) they are and how thin they are.  The frame is fairly thick but the panel itself looks to be less than one half inch. 

Installers were not expected until tomorrow, but yesterday's storms swept through faster than expected and it gave Southern Energy courage to send their crew 80 miles to get here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Roof Mounting Hardware Installed

The replacement supplier for solar panels that my chosen installation company is relying on has not yet delivered the panels needed for our installation.  It's a tough time of year.  Because of tax credit impetus, everyone wants their job done by year end!  (If not completed, tax credits will not be able to be claimed until 2010 taxes are filed in 2011).

Our installer, Southern Energy Management has come to install the roof mounting system, however.  We expected no one until November 30, so it was a surprise.  In about six hours time, three men got the pictured hardware installed.

Besides very critical measuring and layout work, the installers needed to find the roof rafters so that lag screws ( four inch by one half inch stainless steel) could be installed into substantial wood.
The long rails will hold the solar panels and the rails are fastened to L brackets that are lagged into the rafters.  Under the L bracket is a butyl rubber membrade to give a lifetime seal to the fastening.

At this time of year, rain is a good possibility, but we expect that next week we will have the installation substantially complete. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Supply of Solar Panels Getting Tight

The bad news is that our supplier, Solar Energy Management, didn't get our solar panels in from their supplier in time to start our roof installation on 11/20/09 as expected.  The good news is that it has rained a record amount for November in our county and they wouldn't have gotten very far anyway.  Plus, they quickly dug in and found an immediate supplier who will supply panels of nearly indentical specification.

Our new panels will be 224 watts instead of 235.  SEM will supply a 25th panel to give us essentially the full 5600 watts of power we had in our design. 

Our new installation date is November 30th.  If the weather is dry for December, one can only hope that the installers will have enough time for all of the promised end of the year installations.

I have read several articles on blogs and in the papers indicating that solar manufacturing capacity is not going to be able to keep up with next year's demand without expanding.  Good.  More jobs.
Less fossil fuel dependence.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roof Mounting/Maintaining and Remote Access to Inverter

There are a couple of technical issues for which I have information, that have come to my attention from readers.  One is roof condition considerations and the other has to do with gaining computer access to the data that the inverter develops.

In our particular case, we have just installed a new roof on our house, coincidentally.  So the idea of putting a solar system on top of the roof was not a worry.....it would be another 15 to 25 years before we would need to hire someone to disconnect the panels before re-roofing again.  Maybe we'd be going nuclear by then anyway. 

But our son (http://encsolar.blogspot.com/) is putting his solar system on a newly constructed building.  He had different options.
The brackets that will hold his panels are being installed before his shingles and will apparently give him a better and even more water proof installation.  Therefore, if I was thinking of a new roof at nearly the same time as the solar system, I would probably have the roofer and solar installers coordinate their work.

Another two characteristics of the mounting system that my son is using  are that his mounting system allows the panels to have more space between the roof and the under side of the panel.  Therefore, there will be more cooling due to air flow.  Cooler panels increase efficiency.  (No, Jim, you can't make the panels cooler by keeping them in the shade).   On the other side of this coin, the extra space makes the panels more vulnerable to damage from extremely high winds.  Like hurricaine force.

In my personal opinion, if I installed solar over a roof that was at half life, I think I would at least have that portion of roof re-roofed.
The life of the panels is expected to be longer than the life of most any roofing material.  I'm expecting more than 25 years for mine.

Secondly, some inverters have a computer interface that make data gathering and possibly even remote access a reality.  So far, I've learned that there is an additional cost to use the software made for this purpose.  I've heard that some solar users have been able to negotiate this additional cost down to zero.  I'm going to try but it was not part of my original negotiation so I have lost most of my bargaining power.  I would like the ability to gather data.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

End of the Year Delay

Since so much of the incentive to buy a solar PV System is provided by government tax credits, there is is slightly more incentive at the end of the year than there is at the beginning of a year.  That is, you get the tax incentive money after you file your taxes.  And the end of the year is closer to when you file your taxes than the beginning of the year.

What this means to us, is that our installation is going to be delayed ten days or so.  Our vendor has been let down by his supplier because of the end of year rush for solar installations.  The people at Southern Energy Management have found alternative suppliers that will ship tomorrow.  The solar panels won't perfectly meet the original specification, but SEM is going to add an additional panel to the configuration to get us  99.6% of what we originally planned.  Our 5640 W system will be a 5600 W system. 

Our next date for completing the installation is November 30th.  It looks like my son (see http://encsolar.blogspot.com/) is going to get a significant head start!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Discussion of Cost Justification Part One

There are a lot of variables to consider in justifying the cost (investment) in a photovoltaic (PV) system.  They include:
      Price paid to a vendor
      Incentives or rebates from the federal government
      Incentives or rebates from state and local governments
      Incentives or rebates from local utilities
      Grants from non government organizations (NGO)
      Your financial position
      Your ability to borrow and pay back money
Therefore, no one experience can fit all prospective investors situation. 

Shop many vendors to know you are getting fair quotes.  As in most technological purchases, there seems to be a premium price associated with leading edge technology, even in the solar field.  We had prices quoted, per panel that were higher than others only because of the technology used within the panel.  One vendor overpriced the installation because they were planning to use new fangled panels that were smaller.  We didn't need smaller in our case so last year's more economical model would have sufficed.

The vendors in your local area will be an especially good source of information about incentives that might be available to you.  Listen to all your vendors.  One vendor may know more than another.  Amazingly, our chosen vendor knew where we could sell our REC (see above) for 33% more revenue than our other three prospective vendors.  We will be able to pay off our system a year sooner as a result.   So, our rebate and incentive situation would be similar for all North Carolinians.  It would be similar, but different in other states.

For financing, we decided that our return on net investment will be better over the next five years than it would have otherwise been by leaving money in a CD. 

Rainy day allows a commencement of the installation

Since rain was forecast for our area, the solar installers, Southern Energy Management (SEM), called Tuesday to be able to come on Wednesday to begin some of the inside installation work.  They arrived on time early.  They ran flex conduit from the meter area on the north side of my house to the south side of my house where I wanted the DC to AC inverter to be installed.  This conduit runs through my attic.

Further, they installed the Power One 6000 inverter on an inside wall of the garage.  The inverter could be installed outside near the electric meter, but I wanted it installed where I could see and monitor the lights, alarms and reports.  My inverter is made by a company headquartered in Italy and with an American subsidiary.  Three workers completed these tasks in about four hours.  So far, so good!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Discovery of affordable photovoltaic power generation ideas

We attended a tour of "green" homes and were surprised to find out that there were fantastic economic incentives for people that install photovoltaic (PV) electric power generation systems at their homes.
   We always wanted to use green technology but had always assumed that it was still unaffordable.  The system is very expensive, but, in our case, about two thirds of the cost will be given back to us via state and federal tax credits.   AND, we've just learned that there is a market for the Renewable Energy Certificate that we will earn with the investment.  We will sell our "REC" to an organization who will in turn sell the REC to a "dirty" power generation company. 
   The dirty power generation company will avoid being penalized for generating dirty (like coal fired....) power for having spent money for our REC.  The money that they pay will be paid to us (and other REC sellers) in the form of a cents-per-kWh rebate.
   Our rebate will be about $.20 per kWh!  Plus, our local utility will pay us $.048 per kWh for putting all of our generated electricity on their grid (to be sold to others). 
   We will agree to continue to buy all of our electricity from our electric utility.  And we agree to sell all of the electricity we generate to our local utility.  Such an arrangement is called Buy All, Sell All.  It is the only option in our area.  Other arrangements exist in other areas.  While we can get the $.20 rebate, it is a great arrangement.
    Attached is a picture of our southern facing roof.  We will install
24 Sharp brand 235 Watt panels.  We will generate up to 5.4 kW of power.  With the available sun in our latitude, we expect to generate 7300 kWh per year to sell to the local electric company.  At the $.248 per kWh rebate amount, this will cover the entire cost of electricity for our home for the year. 
   Our home is about 3200 square feet on one floor .  We operate two heating/cooling systems.  One system's a/c has a rating of SEER 15 and is the one that handles most of our real living area.  Another system takes care of a wing of our home that we do not use much.  In fact, this wing of the house is a shelter for blind cats.  The website that describes this shelter is http://www.themagooroom.org/  
   Tomorrow our installer, Southern Energy Management of Morrisville, NC will begin the installation.  We intend to post news as it happens.