Ask Wholesale Solar, DIY Solar, Solar Education, Solar Panels, Videos

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Solar Panels Are Right For Me?

DIY solar means getting your hands dirty. Not only in the literal sense of getting up on your roof and mounting the racking yourself or digging holes for the steel pipes for a ground-mount, getting your hands dirty also means being willing to learn about solar. That’s how you get the best, most efficient system for your home, that’s how you know what wire goes where and how your system actually works. And that knowledge is what Wholesale Solar is here to help with.

We’ve been helping regular people go from solar novices to being confident enough to install their systems for 30 years. Plus, our solar experts don’t just have that longtime experience under our belts, we also keep up-to-date on the latest solar technology and methods and want to share them with you to make your DIY install go better than a system you pay an arm and a leg for someone else to handle. It’s all in our Google Reviews and right here on our blog’s Install of the Months: if all these people can do it, you can do it too.

Our dream would be for everyone in the world to be as nerdy about solar as we are so they could save huge on solar by installing themselves. That’s where our new solar education series Ask Wholesale Solar comes in! These videos are designed to help kickstart your solar education and get a better handle on what kinds of things you need to be thinking about before installing.

So without further ado, we present the first video in the series: Which Solar Panels Are Right For Me? With Wholesale Solar design technician Jeremy A:

Do YOU have a question you’d like to Ask Wholesale Solar? Ask away in the comments and your question could be featured in a future Ask Wholesale Solar video!

How To, Solar Safety

Solar How To: Taking Care of Your System in Winter

Preparing Solar System for Winter

Winter is the most demanding time for solar power systems. Not only does winter mean more severe conditions, it also means that people are spending more time indoors, and therefore using more electricity. Especially people with electric heating.

However, if you take the proper precautions you can be sure your solar energy system will function properly even during the harshest winter weather.

Even though your solar system doesn’t require any additional maintenance to run smoothly in snowy weather,  it may need more frequent attention and upkeep. All you need to do is keep these simple tips in mind and you will keep your system operating safely all winter long!

It Starts With Energy Conservation

You may see your solar system’s production decrease during the winter months. That’s because the days are shorter, sunlight strikes the panels at a “lower angle,” and accumulated snowfall can cover panels and temporarily halt production.

Therefore, it’s best to know how to minimize your electricity usage in order to maximize your savings. Using energy more efficiently this winter can help keep your utility bills under control.

Wholesale Solar's 53 ways you can lower energy use green cfl lightbulb graphic

Click for more ways you can lower your home’s energy use right now.

Tips to make the most of your clean electricity :

  • Ensure that your house has proper insulation to conserve heat. If it doesn’t, investigate the cost of adding insulation to exterior walls and attic.
  • Before turning on your heater, check your ducts for leaks.
  • Use a heating system that automatically maintains a preset temperature with the help of a digital thermostat.
  • Make sure to close your damper when the fireplace is not in use.
  • Take advantage of sunny days to heat your house.
  • Open the curtains on your south-facing windows during the day and close them at night to lock the warmth in. Thermal curtains help insulate windows even better than regular curtains.
  • Make sure you only use necessary loads.
  • Turn off excessive lighting when not needed.
  • Disconnect ghost loads that consume power even when off as long as they are plugged in. Over a period of 24 hours, a plugged in TV consumes the same power as when it is ON for thirty minutes.
  • Replace all the high wattage bulbs with energy efficient ones. You could save about 75% of energy consumed by a 60 watt bulb by replacing it with a 15 watt energy efficient CFL, without sacrificing your light output.

Snow On Your Solar Panels

Snow Melting on Solar Panels

In most areas, sun will melt the snow from your panels on its own.

After heavy snowfall, snow or ice may accumulate on your rooftop and cover your solar panels. If you have a rooftop array that is out of reach, we don’t recommend trying to get on your roof to shovel snow off your solar panels. Their dark surface will gather sun and actually help melt the snow, causing it to slide off the system’s glass surface.

Raking snow off rooftop arrays could harm the panels by scratching them or worse, harm you, if you slip and fall or get caught under snow and ice falling from your roof.

If you have a ground-mount array that is easily accessible, and you do choose to brush snow off your panels, use a soft brush or broom so you don’t scratch the panels. Also, be mindful of your footing, and beware of falling ice or heavy snow loads from the panels.

If you’re living in a country where you get plenty of snow and wind during the winter, it’s highly recommended to purchase solar panel that have been tested to withstand a certain snow load. Wholesale Solar recommends the strong and durable SolarWorld SW270 Protect Solar Panel.

Most IEC / UL certified solar panels can withstand 50 psf (pounds per square foot) of snow load and wind load. However if you expect several feet of snow every winter, it’s highly recommended to go with a more robust version, such as panels that withstand 113 psf snow load.

Nowadays there are even panels on the market that withstand 150 psf of snow load. That may seem excessive, but when snow builds up, and it starts raining snow starts melting, the pressure from the snow will be very extensive.

Maintaining Your Battery Bank During Winter Months

Adding fluid to offgrid battery banks

Warning: If fluid levels are low, replenish prior to charging batteries!

Extreme cold temperatures can be very hard on your deep cycle batteries. Make sure your batteries are installed indoors, and if they are outdoors, make sure that the compartment is properly insulated. Lead acid batteries freeze at below zero temperatures and will be destroyed.

Make sure that you have all the diagnostic tools ready at your disposal. This includes a digital multi-meter, a set of clampers and cutters, and a handheld battery refractometer.

If a constant power supply is crucial, make sure that you have a backup generator ready and tested for functionality in advance. Some fuel supply would be handy as well.

For Off-Grid solar system owners, have enough supply of anti-freeze distilled water for your batteries. The battery fluid level should be checked regularly. The fluid level should be at the plastic fill port lower ring. If the level is low, add distilled water.

Battery output voltage and battery capacity both decrease with temperature. Check battery voltage often. If battery level is at or below 12 volts DC, you should charge the batteries. Use a 45 amp or greater capacity 12 volt DC battery charger.

If possible, the batteries should receive an equalizing battery charge from a high capacity battery charger about once a year to keep the plates free of sulfate buildup.

Most batteries do not fail instantaneously, but over time. Regularly checking the voltages identifies a potential problem earlier than later.

The Final Word

During the severe winter months, it’s essential that you maximize your electricity generation, minimize your electricity consumption, and be diligent about maintaining your solar system.

Following the above tips can help you and your solar system fare a little better this winter when the inevitable “Snowmaggeddon” comes barreling through your city.

Have questions? Need help choosing the right solar system for your needs? Call the solar experts at Wholesale Solar at 1-800-472-1142. After all, we don’t just sell solar, we live it.

Related Links:

Energy Conservation Tips
Solar Panels
SolarWorld SW270 Protect Solar Panels
Battery Backup Power Systems
Grid-Tie with Battery Backup Solar Systems
Off-Grid Solar Systems

Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month, SolarEdge, Suniva

Install of the Month – December 2016

 

“Best Decision Ever!” with Martin S.

Can you believe it’s already time for our December Install of the Month? To cap off the year, we chose a really great DIY installation: Martin S.’s grid-tied solar system that he mounted on his roof. Martin’s project is really special because it took some doing. He had quite a few curveballs along the way to deciding to go the DIY route, but once he did his homework, the decision became obvious.

Martin became interested in adding solar to his suburban California home simply because it made sense. His roof space, combined with all of California’s sunny days and the allure of not having to pay the utility company their ever-rising rates, had him asking himself why he hadn’t gone solar yet.

Like many people, Martin’s first instinct was to contact a local contractor to install his system. Despite having some home improvement-related DIY experience under his belt, he considered the project too risky to do himself because of the scope of the project. It seemed like a lot to tackle, considering he wanted four solar arrays to get the most out of his roof space!

But when he contacted a local installer, he learned that before he could add solar, his roof was due for a lot of work. In fact, if he added solar now, he’d end up just having to uninstall it within a year. And so replacing the roof became a prerequisite for solar. After the cost of the roof work, he was over budget for his solar project. Martin was considering what to do next when a friend suggested he go the DIY route with a company he recommended called Wholesale Solar.

Still unsure of whether or not DIY was even possible for his goals, he decided to take his friend’s advice and did a little research. “After watching the videos and reading the reviews on their website, it didn’t seem so daunting anymore,” Martin said. So he decided to take the next step, and called us up for a free quote. And once he saw the quote, he was convinced: DIY was the way to go. “I never looked back,” Martin revealed. “Best decision ever!”

“I never looked back. Best decision ever!”
– Martin S.

The upsides to going the DIY route soon became very clear. Not only would it be a much lower cost to install his system himself, Martin says “I honestly think we ended up with a better system than what professional installers would have been willing to provide, just because we took the time to maximize the use of south-facing roof slopes and unshaded areas of our roof.” Not only was the layout optimized under sales tech Jeremy A’s expert guidance, but since it took four separate panel arrays, Martin suspected that “The professional installers probably would have balked at that effort.” Even Jeremy admitted, “There was a learning curve for everyone involved.” But working together, they figured out a great layout. “Jeremy went the extra mile, answering countless emails before I was ready to place my order,” said Martin.

After the planning phase was complete and all of Martin’s equipment was shipped to him, it was time to actually install the system. And although Martin was doing it himself, he wasn’t alone. “Jeremy continued to provide invaluable advice every step of the way throughout the whole process,” Martin shared. Martin worked on weekends to get the initial prep work done, but when he was finally ready to install all 37 panels, he had a little help from his wife and a friend. Together, they got the four panel arrays installed in just four days!

So, was going DIY worth it? Just ask Martin:

“There is nothing more satisfying than powering up a system that you completely installed yourself and then watch as your electric meter runs backwards for the first time!”
– Martin S.

Interview with Martin S.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

The progress was slow on my installation since I was only able to work weekends. It took me eight weeks from the time I took delivery of the parts to flipping the switch on our system. Of those eight weeks, the final two were mainly jumping through hoops for the building department and the power company. This was because my install included a utility service change that required some adjustments and reinspection.

Aside from that, most of the time went into the nitty-gritty prep work. Before my system could go in, I had to install the mounts. That included finding rafters, separating shingles, and pulling nails. I had to do conduit penetrations, run the conduit inside the attic, and make structural provisions to hang the 88 pound inverter, and so on. The 37 panels went up within just four days because I had two helpers: my wife and a friend of mine. The rest I did by myself with Jeremy’s invaluable remote assistance.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

I’ve done several DIY projects in the past: my kitchen and bathrooms, flooring, radiant heat, building fences. I’m also pretty comfortable with electrical work. But I was new to solar and Jeremy’s advice was definitely much needed and appreciated!

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

I’d say the most difficult part was the planning process, before I ever even placed the order. It took several revisions of our panel layout before we settled on the final design. Our ranch-style house is oriented in a north-south direction with limited south-facing roof space. Since south-facing is the most energy efficient, I definitely wanted to pack that roof area with as many panels as possible. On top of planning that, to be able to get sign-off on my setbacks from the fire department, I had to use two different panel sizes.

Once that was done and I got my building permit, I placed the order and Wholesale Solar made sure all the required parts were included: the brackets, screws, fittings, end caps, and so on. I only had to order two minor additional things during the project: some conduit penetration flashings since I had misplaced mine, and one additional MC4 cable since I had changed the panel grouping from our initial design.

In terms of labor, I think the hardest work was preparing my roof for the installation of about 65 PV mounts. We had just recently gotten our roof redone, and those new shingles really stuck together like they never wanted to come apart! I found that it actually went easier the hotter it was. But of course, working on the roof in the heat of the day does take its toll on the installer!

Lastly, I think I had the most fun with the cabling and electrical connections. Luckily, or maybe due to thorough planning, everything worked as planned. After we had the green light from the building inspector, all we had to do to activate the system was follow the SolarEdge manual. And a half hour later we were watching the meter run backwards. Fun!

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I did buy a high-end wall scanner, a Bosch D-Tect150. Street price is around seven or eight hundred dollars, but I found one for about half that on eBay. It really came in handy for locating the position of the rafters through the roof shingles and sheathing. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the proposed test drilling that some of the installation videos mentioned. Especially not in a brand new roof. Sure, the flashing would cover them up, but it felt better to avoid guesswork. With the help of the D-Tect150, I only missed one rafter on all 65 PV mounts!

Of course, there were other parts, like conduit, caulking, and everything to get the solar power from the inverter to my breaker box. But none of that was a surprise.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

It all started with a brief conversation with a sales rep from a large solar company at our local hardware store. After having them over at our house and listening to their pitch, I did some more research and quickly realized that their “low price per kilowatt hour” proposal, a proposal in which I would not actually own the system, was not for us. I got four more quotes for an installed system and arranged for a second mortgage to pay for it. We were ready to pull the trigger with a local installer, when a roofer explained to me that we have maybe one more year left, at most, in the life of our shingles before they’d start leaking. That would mean I’d end up removing my solar system to redo the roof. That’s how the roof became a prerequisite for the solar installation.

During the re-roofing project, we discovered significant damage to the sheathing perimeter and about half of the rafter tails. And just like that, we blew right through the initial roofing estimate by several thousand dollars. Now we didn’t have enough line of credit on my HELOC and couldn’t afford buying the solar system from the chosen installer. And that’s when the idea of DIY became very interesting. Knowing what I know now, I would still do it myself even if we didn’t have to replace the roof.

“Knowing what I know now, I would still do it myself even if we didn’t have to replace the roof.”
– Martin S.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

It just makes sense. Especially with as many sunny days as we get here in California. Why continue to pay the utility company with their ever-rising rates, if you can use the same money to pay off a solar system in about a quarter or a third of the expected life span of the system?

Components in Martin’s Grid-Tied Solar System

Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month, SolarEdge, Suniva

Install of the Month – November 2016

 

DIY Not? with Bill L.

Hello friends, it’s that time again for Wholesale Solar’s Install of the Month!

Each day, we get to see our customers go from solar beginners with basic questions to solar aficionados who are capable of installing their own systems. For us, seeing this transformation is one of the best parts of the job. We are all about empowering regular folks to take the DIY solar route, so when we get to see our customers’ plans go from an idea to a completed installation, it makes us very happy indeed. Not only are these installations cool for us to see, we think they’re also valuable to share here on our blog. We want to show you that solar is for everyone, that anyone can do it, and that everyone should do it!

That’s why we’re happy to announce that Bill L. is our Install of the Month recipient for November. Bill’s home is in upstate New York and features plenty of beautiful, wide open land to put toward his goal of using solar to eliminate his power bill. Bill came to us after every installer he talked to told him homeowners can’t install solar themselves, especially a large 50 panel system like the one he had planned. But Bill, like most of our customers, is not your average homeowner: he’s a DIYer who’s not afraid of a challenge. So when Bill talked to Sales Tech Brent H. and was told our homeowner customers install their own systems with our guidance all the time, and in fact that Brent had done so himself, Bill knew who he wanted to work with.

“Bill had questions along the way like all of my customers, but we worked through each one of them to ensure everything was done properly.  ”
– Sales Tech Brent H.

The installers didn’t deter Bill, and they weren’t his only obstacle. He has a full-time job and a new kid and he STILL found time to do the installation himself (okay, with help from his father in law!). He excavated the ground for the pipes in his ground mount. He backfilled the cement. He built wooden forms for the pipes and a wooden box for his inverters. Then, finally, he installed every panel on his array. It was all Bill! That is no small feat.

All of his hard work, research, and planning paid off in a big way. “I would call this project a complete success,” says Brent. “The end result is a perfectly constructed ground mount that will provide Bill and his family with clean power for at least the next 25 years, not to mention accomplishing his goal of eliminating his power bill.”

Bill’s system is tied into his local electrical grid. This is called a grid-tied system, and it’s one of the most popular solar options. Having a grid-tied system covers his entire home’s energy needs and saves him money. You can read more about how grid-tied solar works here, and about the advantages of putting your solar panel array in your yard versus on your roof here.

 

Components in Bill’s System

 

Interview with Bill L.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

I received all of my equipment in May. However, due to the fact that I have a newborn at home, I didn’t get to work on this on all of my days off from work. That said, I did end up tracking my hours: my father-in-law and myself had about 45 hours invested each. That includes the excavating, building forms, backfilling, and the solar installation itself.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Some. I’m an avid DIYer and I’ll attempt to do anything I can on my own. I’ve wired my entire home for electrical. I also spent eight years doing underground utility work and rewiring apartment buildings with coax and data.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The wiring diagram. It’s quite vague because it needs to fit so many customers’ applications, but I think it could be more specific to state code.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I needed to install a five minute time delay fuse to be up to code, and I was required to use red PV wire for my DC positive connections. No tools were needed, other than your common hand tools.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I’m an avid DIYer and I was looking for a different type of challenge. Working as a corrections officer is one of the least rewarding jobs. I look forward to a good challenge, and this definitely met my needs. The cost savings from having solar installed was also a strong factor. Every solar installer that came to my home to give me a quote said it’s impossible for a homeowner to install solar themselves. Well… folks who shop at wholesalesolar.com are not your ordinary homeowners. Never tell me I can’t do something!

“Never tell me I can’t do something!”
– Bill L.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

My home has a geothermal pump that provides heat, air conditioning, and domestic hot water. Geothermal pumps run off electricity to circulate a glycol and water mixture through the ground. We have full sun all day long and no trees surrounding our house, so it’s a no-brainer for me: when I can produce my own electricity that gives me free heat, AC, and domestic hot water, it’s a win-win.

Batteries, Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month

Install of the Month – October 2016

Preparing for Anything with John S.

Hello friends, there’s a chill in the air and the leaves are starting to turn. That means it’s time to welcome fall in with our October Install of the Month!

This is an especially timely one. With the seasons changing and winter coming soon, it’s the time of year to expect instability in the grid. Any number of things can happen that result in your home losing power, and snow and winter storms are just the beginning.

John’s system is the perfect antidote to an unstable grid. Not only is it tied into the grid and able to save him money, it also serves the crucial function of being able to handle his critical electrical loads when the power goes out. That means he can keep the lights on, his phone charged, his water running, and his fridge on so his food keeps.

This is done through a battery bank that works alongside a grid-tied system. And not only is John’s system able to power his critical loads when the grid is down for a short period of time, he basically has an unlimited power source because this system can also switch to using his solar panels to draw energy to his battery bank and then to his home. Which means, yes, as long as there’s sun, John’s got power.

The magic here is the Outback Radian power center. If you’re curious exactly how this versatile powerhouse can switch from feeding the grid to battery backup to powering his home through his panels, you can read about it here.

John is a great example of a highly motivated DIYer who is not afraid to read manuals
– Sales Technician Jeremy A.

We also love this installation because it’s a relatively complicated one for a DIYer without an electrical or construction background, but his installation turned out super clean thanks to his attention to detail and willingness to dig in and do some research. “John is a great example of a highly motivated DIYer who is not afraid to read manuals,” says sales technician Jeremy A. “It turns out Mr. Smith came to us pretty much ready to go.”

John had a few simple questions, but working with Jeremy he was able to get them cleared up in no time. After that, he didn’t waste any time getting started. John had already teamed up with a local electrician, so it was all systems go. The only thing stopping him was the Arkansas summer heat. John stuck with it though, squeezing in time to complete his install in the early mornings before it got too hot.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how to get backup power, you can read more here or give one of our sales techs a call at 1-800-472-1142. If you want to be prepared for anything, you might want to look into the intricacies of how the Outback Radian power center makes it possible to have a grid-tied system that seamlessly supports backup power as well, by reading about it here or calling one of our expert techs. We also have our Fall Sale going on now through October 31st, so there’s never been a better time to make sure your home is as well-prepared as John’s.

Components in John’s System

1 Outback Radian Power Center
36 SolarWorld 280 Watt Solar Panels
1 Radiant Solar Technology Battery Enclosure
8 Crown AGM Batteries
2 Midite Combiner Boxes
2 Midnite Surge Suppressors
IronRidge Roof-Mount Racking

Interview with John S.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

It took about 5 months. I worked when the weather permitted (a good amount of rain this year). I usually worked for a few hours in the morning while the temperature was still good.

I had an electrician change the Main Panel from a 200 amp panel to a 225 amp panel and wire about half of the house circuits to the “critical circuit” panel that I had installed as part of the installation process. I had help from two men on lifting the power center up onto the wall bracket. I had someone help me hold the six panels mounted at the top of the roof on the 30 degree slope so I could get them bolted down. I had someone help me pull the large cable connecting the Power Center to the Combiner boxes through the buried 2-inch PVC conduit. I installed the rest.

I wanted to save money in the long run and have a power backup system in case the grid goes down for any reason.
– John S.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Not in a professional way but I had previously performed other home projects that dealt with a small amount of construction and wiring.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The most tedious job was digging the 5-inch wide, 18-inch deep, 110-ft long trench through layered rock by use of hand-tools and a jackhammer. Confusion at the beginning was expected until I became familiar on how all the components go together and work together through reading the provided manuals and literature. Reading about the major components on the internet also helped lift the fog of confusion. Information about solar power installation from the internet helped me understand what was need to stay in NEC compliance. This especially applied to conduit installation requirements dealing with DC circuits.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I did obtain two 60-amp manual disconnects and mounted them outside near the grid power meter. One was used between the Power Center (Grid Input) and Main Panel and the other was used between the Power Center (AC Output) and the Critical-Circuit Panel with battery bank backup. The disconnect between the Power Center and Main Panel was recommended by the local electric utility. The disconnect between the Power Center and Critical-Circuit Panel is for firefighters in case they needed to de-energize the house circuits being backed up by the battery bank. This disconnect was added by me after initial comments by the local building inspector about making sure all house circuits could be de-energized by emergency responders in cooperation with the local electric utility personnel.

I also bought the SolaDeck roof feedthrough box for running the panel wires through the roof deck into the two 1-1/4 inch conduit pipes as seen in the photos. I also bought the Radian Solar Technology Battery Box to house the battery bank. I built a cedar box to shield the RST Battery Box from the elements since I wanted the batteries on the outside of the garage wall where my Power Center is mounted. I also added a 14KW Kohler Generator after the original purchase.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I decided to self-install for two main reasons: (1) so I could install it the way I wanted it installed based upon my own analysis on what would be the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing, and (2) to save money on the cost of installation and state & local sales taxes (10.25%). I probably saved about a total of $14K.

I probably saved about a total of $14K.
– John S.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

I wanted to save money in the long run and have a power backup system in case the grid goes down for any reason. I also like the idea of using renewable energy from an environmental point of view.

 

Buying Solar, Solar Leasing

Buying vs Leasing

solar-system-buy-or-lease

Solar Power: A Short History of Buying vs Leasing

As a company who sells directly to homeowners, we believe solar panels are an asset to your home that can increase its value, save you money, and increase your energy independence. If that’s the case, why are there companies who choose to lease you systems? Well, we hope this post sheds some light on the history of solar panel leasing…

The rebates begin: Federal, state, and local

Since 2006, there has been a federal tax rebate that underwrites some of the costs of a solar purchase and installation. The government didn’t have a lot of luck with the original limit of $2,000, so the plan was changed to cover 30% of the total cost of the solar purchase and installation with no upper limit.

Soon, state governments got involved, offering state-sponsored rebates, subsidies, and grants. Eventually local administrations joined in as well and local utilities agreed to buy excess energy that was fed back into the grid, often at twice the going rate that they were charging for electricity. Why? Because by using a certain percentage of renewable energy, they were granted carbon credits which they could use to offset the pollution they were creating elsewhere.

The recession: How to make money in a down market

The recent recession from 2008 to 2014 put a pretty big dent in the US economy. As a result, many of us learned a rather costly and humbling lesson not to overextend ourselves financially.

To make matters worse, bank loans dried up. The stock market had poor returns; savings accounts were paying negligible interest. Investors needed some sort of profitable vehicle for their cash, and they found solar energy.

(Excuse the slight drama)

“Great!” thought the investors, “We’ll rent solar panels to people, giving them a 10-15% savings over what the local utility would charge for the same amount of electricity. They’ll pay just to get away from what their utility charges, and feel self-satisfied that they are green. But since we own the panels, we’ll get all the rebates and subsidies, plus any income derived from selling excess power back to the grid. We’ll have the household revenue stream, plus what the utility pays us. And since power will rise in cost, we’ll put in a clause increasing the cost 3%/year even though we’ve done nothing to improve the service!”

“That’s true,” said another, “solar panels are maintenance-free, so they cost us nothing more, but we’ll rake in the monthly fees. And just to be sure we keep making a profit, all lease contracts for solar power shall be at least 15 years, and our renters can only pass leases on to a subsequent purchaser of the house if that purchaser has a 640+ FICO score, so our investment is always protected.

“And,” said another investor, “if they terminate the lease early, we can impose large financial penalties. Best of all, at the end of the lease, they still don’t own the solar panels. They can renew the lease or they can buy the solar panels at almost the original price. We’ll make a fortune!”

While everybody else in the post-market crash was looking for returns of 1-2 percent and considering themselves lucky if they found 2.25%, the companies leasing panels were looking at 8% returns on their investment, 400-800% better than other investors.

The road to recovery: The post-recession solar market

Now that the economic recovery is well underway, interest rates are at an all-time low, and lending money is once again available, there’s no reason to let solar rental companies continue to making huge profits at your expense.

The federal subsidy we mentioned earlier was supposed to expire in 2016, but it has been renewed until the year 2019 with no changes (30% of total installed cost). Then it will gradually decrease in amount every year (down to 22% by 2021) and finally expire at the end of 2021.

Now would be a great time to take advantage of the credit before it’s gone. Even though the cost-per-watt of panels is decreasing every year due to increased production and economies of scale, the other costs of solar (additional hardware, installation, permitting, etc.) are not decreasing as quickly. The federal tax credit covers ALL of the above, not just the panel costs, but 30% of the total installed cost, including labor and permitting. If you wait too long, you won’t be able to recoup those other costs (which can be quite significant).

As an example, if you were to purchase a typical four-kilowatt solar system today like our 4.2kW Solar Sky Astronergy package, you would save at least $2100 from the federal tax credit alone. If you waited until the FTC to expire, even if panels dropped 50% in price by 2021, you would still not recoup that much money. Only the FTC can save you so much on the overall cost of a system (remember: panels are only a percentage of the overall system costs!), and you only keep the FTC if you buy, not lease, a system.

Would 4 kilowatts be enough to run your home? That’s just the average in California. If you can afford it, you can choose a bigger system. Then, even if you’re not home all day, your solar system continues to create power and, in states that permit it, excess power is returned to the electrical grid and “net metered” (meaning you actually get credited for any excess power you produce).

Then when you are home at night, you can draw that power back from the grid (sometimes for lower than daytime rates). If your production vs consumption balances out by the end of the month, your power usage bill is almost zero (there might still be a small flat fee that utilities charge just to connect your house to the power lines). If you put in more than you took, you get a check or an account credit.

And even if you undersize your system, producing less than you use, or if you choose to start with a smaller system with the option to scale up later (like our Enphase micro-inverter systems), you would still be able to take advantage of the FTC and at least partially offset your utility bill.

But if you don’t own your system at all and only rent it, the leasing companies keeps the federal tax credit AND the excess production that you would’ve gotten paid for.

In summary: To rent or lease?

There are number of factors to consider, such as if you have a good southern exposure, how much insolation (usable energy from the sun) you receive, what your current financial picture looks like, whether you have a very old roof on your house that you would want to replace before you install solar panels that are going to last up to 40 years. Ground-mounted installations are another option.

Reasons to buy:

  • If you buy it, you own it.
  • There is a fixed, predictable period of time over which it will pay for itself (3-6 years, depending on the install), after which it is pure profit.
  • It increases the value of your home;
  • You get to keep all of the subsidies, grants, and tax credits;
  • You get paid for extra power production if your utility allows net metering.
  • In most cases you can claim the interest on your loan to purchase the system as a deduction on your taxes, something you cannot do with the solar lease program;
  • Systems are very reliable; they hardly ever need maintenance aside from a scheduled inverter replacement a decade or two later. Inverters come with a warranty of 12 years (upgradeable to 25).

 

Reasons not to rent:

  • The “zero-down” claims are not entirely true. You may not be giving them cash money, but by signing that power purchase agreement (PPA) or lease, you are giving them your 30% federal tax credit and any eligible state or local incentives. You’re giving them the thousands upon thousands of dollars that should rightfully be in your pocket or your bank account.
  • When all the adding up is finally done, you’ll discover that you paid the leasing company more than twice as much as it would have cost you to purchase the system yourself and finance it. With the available incentives it should cost less than $2 per watt (all-in) to install your solar system if you DIY it (like many of our customers do; see our Customer Installs of the Month)

 

What if I can’t afford to buy a solar system outright? Can I finance it?

Some of our customers have enough in savings to purchase a system in cash, which is what we usually recommend (debt can be dangerous!). However, for those who want to take advantage of the Federal Tax Rebate before it sunsets in 2021, there are other options to help with affordability, such as:

 

The Takeaway

Renting solar panels is a great idea… for the leasing company. It is not a consumer-friendly business model.

In our recovering economy, PPAs and solar leases no longer make sense. Those two methods actually represent the most expensive ways for consumers to use solar energy. They were designed for investors to take advantage of a market in recession, not to help homeowners install solar.

Even more insidious is the escalator payment scheme, which allows leasing companies to increase your payment rate by 3% per year for 20 years. By year 20 you’re paying more than 175% of what you paid in year one.

By contrast, buying your panels outright saves you more and more money every year you own it. Even if you have to finance it, with a low enough interest rate there is still a good potential for positive payback.

Wholesale Solar is a 100% employee-owned company, and we want to do what’s right for you, our customer. Our 4.9 star Google reviews rating proves this. Give us a call at 1-800-472-1142 or use our online form to request a quote. We’d love to hear from you!

Community Solar, Company Culture, Customer Installations, DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, IronRidge, SolarEdge, Suniva

Community Project: Going 100% Solar with the BBCRC

 

From Steam Engines to Solar Power

We got the chance to do one of our favorite things this past week: help bring solar to our own community!

The Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture is a local non-profit that celebrates locally historic rail cars and the hobo culture that sprung up around them. The Center features several restored cabooses and cars, an extensive library on railroad history and culture, an outdoor communal kitchen, a small music venue, and even a blacksmithing shop. With its soon to be completed solar project, the whole site will be powered by the sun.

They got in touch with sales tech Jeremy A. who helped size the system to cover all of their usage needs, and after the non-profit started a crowd-funding campaign, the project took off. When we heard it was time to install the panels, the Wholesale Solar crew stopped by to lend a hand along with the volunteers from the BBCRC to get the 30 solar panels ready to go on their ground mounted array! The BBCRC had plenty of room to position the array just right, and they plan to install the rest of the system in the next couple of weeks to get it up and running.

Check out the gallery above for shots of everything that will be solar powered and to see how the installation went.

Components in the BBCRC’s Grid-tied System

SolarEdge Grid-tied System including:

Community Solar, Company Culture

A Big Milestone for Wholesale Solar

Meet Big Red

The new 5100 square ft. addition to our warehouse! Big Red is a Big Deal for us, as it marks the completion of our transition to a single warehouse distribution center. Being a single warehouse distribution center allows us to continue to lower our shipping costs and delivery times. This, along with our shipping relationships with all major freight and package shippers, assures us the best service in the renewable energy business.

Our warehouse is only a couple miles away from our central offices in downtown Mount Shasta, California. You can see Black Butte in the background, and if you watch the video below you can catch a glimpse of the mountain itself right at the end.

We’re proud to live, work, and play in this beautiful and vibrant community, and even prouder to provide opportunities for our owner employees to grow with us and with our community.

 

Check Out Big Red in Beautiful Mt. Shasta:

DIY Solar, Grid-tie Solar, Install of the Month, IronRidge, Solar Panels, Suniva

Install of the Month – September 2016

 

Rolling the Meter Back with Joe P.

This month’s Install of the Month honor goes to Joe P., who we think completely embodies the DIY solar spirit. The self-described “tool guy,” who’s also a retired builder, aerospace engineer, and boilermaker, has always loved to build his own stuff and has been doing so since junior high. A solar ground mount array that would cover his home’s energy needs and roll his meter backwards was just the kind of project Joe was looking for.

Helping him take his project from idea to reality was sales tech Jeff B., who gives us his perspective on Joe’s install. “Joe called in May with a desire to cover his household load with a solar electric system. After discussing his household needs, which were around 1000 kilowatt hours per month, we settled on a 20 panel ground mounted system with the SMA Sunny Boy 7000 inverter.” Jeff said that to ensure all of Joe’s usage needs were covered, “A couple of extra panels would need to be added on as well.” Working together, they fleshed out the rest of the build. Jeff explains, “The SMA inverter was selected because of its high quality construction, and the fact that in the future it can be coupled with a battery based inverter so he can add battery backup in the future.”

Two months from the date of his purchase, Joe had an inspected and fully functioning PV system providing power to his house! – Sales tech Jeff B.

“Joe has plenty of construction experience,” Jeff added, “So building the ground mount was no big deal. When it came to the electrical side of the installation, Joe had a lot of questions.” But Jeff was there for him. “Through a series of phone calls and emails, we got to a place where he had everything installed and was ready for inspection. The inspector showed up at his place and could find nothing wrong with his system. Two months from the date of his purchase, Joe had an inspected and fully functioning PV system providing power to his house!”

 

Components in Joe’s System

 

Interview with Joe

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

Electricity and all power isn’t getting any cheaper. I had the cash sitting in the the bank drawing low interest, and this investment pays way better than savings. And after the initial ROI where it pays for itself, it basically starts paying me.

After the initial ROI where it pays for itself, it basically starts paying me. – Joe P.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

I talked with you for three to four weeks about various scenarios using different inverters and the advantages of each. My purchase was delayed due to lots of rain and bad weather. I sent payment on June 17th and the system shipped the following week. By the time it arrived the following Friday, I had the posts set for the ground mount and the inverter and disconnect mount installed. The rack and panels were installed by Saturday afternoon, as I didn’t want them sitting on the ground. I installed the conduit and wiring between the ground mount and inverter mount at my leisure.

I had one minor setback in the form of a 1965 breaker box that was in bad shape and had to be replaced in order to tie in the PV system. The rest of the work was completed over the next few weeks and actually finished by the middle of July. I contacted the co-op and they did final inspection and installed the NetMeter on August 1st. Even with the overcast and rainy weather here the last few days, the system is running right on the prediction to cover 90-95 percent of my electric bill in its first two weeks of operation.

All of the work was done by myself and my son who is on summer break from college. I had one master electrician and his apprentice available for advice, but did the actual work myself.

 Did you have any previous construction experience?

I have worked as a boilermaker working on power plants for a few years. I also built custom houses for a short while, then transitioned into aerospace engineering and retired after 29 years there.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The actual install and hands-on part of the project was very easy and straightforward. That’s one of the advantages of dealing with a professional company: the parts are all there, they work in unison, and there is no guesswork. The site plan for the ground mount and the wiring harness diagrams spelled everything out. The most confusing part, believe it or not, was the labeling requirements and placement. There are many, many examples and I had to pick and choose between which part of which document I used.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I’m a tool guy. I had everything tool-wise except a crimper for  the MC4 connectors… and I probably have over a dozen different crimpers. I didn’t really need one and could have done without it, but wanted bulkhead plugs at my junction box. So I bought some connectors and a crimper to make it prettier. After having so much fun with this one, I know I will be doing more so it will come in handy down the road.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I’ve always built my toys since I learned to in junior high! I have been studying solar and wind for a long, long time. The ROI finally shifted in my favor and I could make it happen quicker by doing all the work myself.  I did a lot of research and even checked with your competition before I settled on Wholesale Solar. Most of the other places wanted your whole life history before they even discuss prices, and none of their prices are listed. Most of the information I wanted was listed on your site with prices and a list, so you knew what you were getting up front. Any and all questions were answered quickly and intelligently.

Astronergy, Back-up Power, Batteries, Charge Controller, Off-grid, Solar Panels

Install of the Month – August 2016

Coming directly from our System Design and Salesperson Todd E.:

“This month’s Install of the Month has to be my favorite yet! I really love the Craftsman styling of the home, it is not a Tiny Home, but has similar qualities with its efficient design aesthetics.”

“Gary had electrical needs very similar to my own home, so the system design was very easy. What is really the stand out feature of this system is the ability to run his mini split Panasonic Air Conditioner! Gary even sent a photo of his Magnum ME-ARC showing his system putting 24 amps into his battery bank while running that AC unit, and doing laundry. Amazing.”

“This system has 15 Astronergy 255 watt panels (current model 260 watt), a single Four Star Solar Magnum MS4448PAE power center, with a Midnite Classic 150 charge controller.
He has 16 Rolls Surrette L16 batteries for a total of 800 amp hours at 48 volts. That is roughly 12 kWh of power per “reasonable” cycle. The panels were mounted to his comp shingle roof using Quick Mount flashings and IronRidge XR100 racking.”

“Gary made his own battery box out of Hardieplank cement board siding. Smart choice, its fireproof! I reminded him that his battery cable conduit run should be lower than his battery box vents so that the hydrogen gas does not flow right up to the inverter. Hydrogen naturally rises and needs to exit the battery box, but you need to keep it away from your sensitive electronics. [Editorial Note: Lead acid batteries need to be vented because the chemical reaction releases gases as water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. Read more about battery maintenance.]”

“This medium size system is the most popular one I sell. It will easily provide typical energy needs for a family of 2-4 people as long as you put the high energy demand items on propane, things like the water heater (on demand propane heaters are great!) clothes dryer, kitchen stove, and space heating. For an investment of under $20 grand, he now lives where he wants and is not tethered to the power company, does not have to worry about black outs, or disconnection notices for late payments. Once you go off grid, YOU are in charge. Off grid property is almost always a much better deal (read CHEAP LAND) and therefore leaves you money to build your house and buy your solar. Your property taxes are generally lower due to the low purchase price of the property. It’s a win win, as long as you don’t mind the lack of neighbors.”

“Thanks for sharing your project / vision with us Gary! Job well done!”

System Components in Gary W’s Solar Install:

We don’t get a lot of rain or cloudy days here, but I’ve only had to crank up the generator once since we got the solar system up and running, and that includes electric use by the contractors. – Gary W.

Interview with Gary W.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

Took a day to install the panels; two guys on the roof, two on the ground. I installed the power center and wired up the batteries, and the electricians did the hardwiring. One day and one guy each. Actual time from delivery to switch-on was a few months, but that was because we were building the house.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Nothing like this. I had a million questions for Todd.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

Now that I know how, it would be a snap. It was difficult because I had no experience or knowledge of the parts or connections. I wish systems came with a simple install manual, but Todd tells me that such an instruction set would be difficult to come up with since there are so many variables. So you just buy the stuff and ask questions, and before you know it, you’re an “expert!”

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Nope.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

Probably the same reason everyone does: money. Also, being out in the boondocks didn’t keep the delivery truck from coming, but it might have made it hard to get an installation company to come out here, 60 miles from the city.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

No choice. No power lines nearby, and the electric company told me each pole would cost me $10,000. I’m so happy I went solar – with free energy handed out by the sun every day, it’s a no-brainer.

Living literally in the shadow of the Power Link, I am off the grid. No power lines, water, gas, or cable come to my property.

I read on the Wholesale Solar site that “To capture the maximum amount of solar radiation over the course of a year, a solar array should be tilted at an angle approximately equal to a site’s latitude, and facing 15 degrees of due south.” With this in mind, I oriented the house exactly south and specified an 8/12 pitch roof. The latitude of Campo California is 32.6°, and the 8/12 roof is 33.7°. That’s as close as I could get for a fixed roof mount array.

With just the AC running, I’m putting about 35 amps into the batteries, which are usually at 100 percent by about mid-day. I also have a one horse well pump and a one-horse pressure pump, but I have the well pump on a timer to only come on in the middle of the night to top off my 5000 storage tank. That’s to avoid an unexpected surge when I’m using a lot of power for other things. Too big a surge can shut down the system, but it only requires the push of a button to restart.

We don’t get a lot of rain or cloudy days here, but I’ve only had to crank up the generator once since we got the solar system up and running, and that includes electric use by the contractors. I couldn’t be happier with my system and the fact that all this free energy falls on my house every day. Thanks to Wholesale Solar and especially Todd for all the help, advice, and encouragement (not to mention great equipment) that made my little homestead possible.