Solar Electric Systems
Solar electric systems are really fun to build. It’s great to get everything hooked up, throw the switch, and watch another meter spin backwards! Well, Michael likes to say that it’s actually spinning forward when the electric is going back on to the grid rather than coming in, perhaps he’s right. It certainly seems forward!
We try to use the very best modules, usually MAGE or REC, and the best inverters, SMA, Solectria, SolarEdge, or Enphase, and we always make sure to use heavy enough wire to assure that there is less than 2% voltage drop from the panels to the buildings distribution panel.
Generally, on 5 – 10kW systems, the electric from the solar array is tied into the main or a sub distribution panel through breakers at the bottom of the panel.
I will explain how the process of a design and installation typically goes:
First it is to get to know the options for solar energy for the site. It could be that solar water heating, solar pool heating, natural lighting, or solar air heat would benefit more.
Next it’s good to get familiar with the costs and benefits of the various systems. Solar electric is the highest cost of all the solar energy options. Electric though, is the most versatile form of energy.
At this point it’s good to know how much electric is being used by referencing past electric bills. Then to determine how much of the electric demand will be offset by solar electric.
Unfortunately we aren’t used to paying true environmental costs for our electricity. By true environmental costs I mean that we’ll never reclaim the 750 miles of stream beds that have been filled with mountain tops to get at coal for coal fired power plants. We’ll never be able to pay for the environmental effects of air pollution from burning coal. If we had to pay for these things much would be different, but we don’t.
Being careful to conserve energy and installing solar electric systems does help the environment but it is a sacrifice, you will pay more per kWh of electric and pay for ten, twenty, or even forty years of electricity up front. To counter the artificially low cost of electricity from fossil fuels there are incentives such as SRECS (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) and a Federal tax credit of 30% to help move us into a more earth friendly way of life. So, all the incentive need to be calculated in order to estimate what the system costs and how long it will take for the system to pay back.
We’ll be happy to answer any questions regarding cost of systems, incentives and payback. Once the costs and benefits of a typical system pencil out; it will be time to find an installing company that you can trust. Some companies only consult then subcontract out the installation, you’ll want to know who the actual installers of your system will be and what their reputation is. A NABCEP certification is pretty hard to get so you might inquire about that. Naturally we would hope that you’ll choose Inspiramental Company! We are certified NABCEP Solar PV (electric) and NABCEP Solar Thermal (heating). No one should spend a lot of money for a system where corners are cut to save nickels and dimes and where care is not taken to make it a true work of art.
Now it’s time to determine whether it’s likely there is enough un-shaded sun on the property for solar electric. Installers survey the building site for possible locations for an array. We use a Solar Pathfinder tool to measure the amount of sunlight that will affect the possible areas. Any trees or buildings that may shade the array will be reflected on a chart within the Pathfinder and show immediately every minute of every day that the array will be shaded.
Then the best place to interconnect with grid power is decided, and we discuss the options for equipment, such as module racking and mounting systems, the solar panels, and the inverters. If it’s to be a stand-alone or battery back-up system then batteries and charge controllers will come into play.
A contract is agreed on, indicating scope of work, equipment, and the time it will take to install. The parts will then be ordered and an interconnect agreement will be applied for. Also it will be important at this time to apply for SRECs. Then the fun begins! Installing all the wonderful equipment! It generally takes between two and five days to install a residential solar electric system and two to four weeks for a commercial system.
After the installation we stay in contact to make sure everything is running smoothly. Our workmanship is warranted for five years and the equipment generally has warranties ranging from 5 – 25 years.