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

Install of the Month: February 2017

“Days of Wine and Solar” with Jorgen O.

For Jorgen, the decision to convert his home in California wine country to solar power was an easy one. Inspired by the lowest panel prices ever and wanting to be 100% certain he got the 30% federal tax credit, Jorgen decided to use his ample days of sun for more than ripening the grapes in his vineyard. He decided it was time to harvest another of the sun’s many fruits: photovoltaic power.

And so, Jorgen began his research. Like many, he sought quotes from large solar installers before finding Wholesale Solar. Not being afraid of planning, research, and getting his hands dirty, once Jorgen saw the price difference between installing himself and hiring the big guys to do it for him, he called us up, got his quote, and never looked back.

“The system I purchased from Wholesale Solar cost about $20,000. I’d received bids from $86,000 to $46,000 for the exact same system. That got my attention!
– Jorgen O.

When he called, Solar tech Todd E. was there to help design his system. The first step for Todd was designing a system based on Jorgen’s monthly energy needs so he could tie into the local electrical grid and reach net zero. Next, the two worked together to figure out the best placement for Jorgen’s system.

Todd advised that Jorgen’s system should be ground mounted and split into three arrays: “The system was fairly large, so it would have taken up too much space and been too much work to install on his curved tile roof,” Todd shared, and added that “Jorgen didn’t have the room going left to right for one big south facing array, so we split his panels up to fit the space and still get the optimal south-facing sun.” The result was a gorgeous system tucked in behind the trellises; a crop of solar panels soaking up sun long after the last grape has been harvested and only dried leaves and cane are left.

Jorgen’s installation was “A perfect example of how the DIY process of designing and installation should go,” Todd noted, adding, “It was a seamless path from purchase to installation.” And luckily for those of us who love to see the step-by-step process of DIY solar installations, especially seamless ones, Jorgen documented the entire procedure from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and read his solar installation log below for a detailed account of what it’s like to install a system like this yourself:

Jorgen’s Installation Log

Day 1 Received the building permit.
Days 2-5 It rained, and I had to wait a week for the ground to dry.
Days 3-5 Installed wiring for internet, inverters, sub panel, and disconnect switch up to the main power panel.
Day 7 My electrician replaced 200 amp CB with 150 amp CB, rearranged existing circuit breakers, and installed the 80 amp solar panel CB at the bottom of the power bus. The labor cost was $200.
Day 13 Rented Ditch Witch with auger and trencher attachments. It was very handy and easy to operate.
Day 14 Passed trench and pier inspection.
Days 15-16 Poured concrete and set 20 steel posts. I had one helper for two days. Mixing concrete using a $182 Harbor Freight cement mixer.
Day 18 System freight delivery from Wholesale Solar arrived.
Days 19-21 Installed steel pipes and rails.
Day 22 Pulled wires.
Days 23-24 Installed solar panels, optimizers and connected wiring. It took two days with some help from my wife.
Days 25-26 Installed the two inverters, finished the wiring, and tested the system with SolarEdge support via the internet connection.
Day 27 Passed final inspection and applied online for permission to connect to the power company.
Day 28 2pm received email permit to connect the solar system. Turned on the switch – everything worked as advertised!

Interview with Jorgen

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

It was a total of 28 days, and I had help from an electrician, one helper, and my wife. I used two weeks of vacation, and several days were wasted due to rain and muddy soil.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Some remodeling to my home and backyard projects.

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

It took two months to research pricing, evaluate the system, find parts not included in the kit, deal with power company connections and local and electrical regulations. That was the most time-consuming part. The most difficult part was drilling the holes accurately due to rocks, but I managed to get the posts lined up with bigger holes and extra concrete.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Planned for and purchased most parts at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and a few online. The only thing I missed were the warning labels and decals for all the electrical panels and boxes.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I’d received bids from $86,000 to $46,000 for the exact same system. That got my attention! Found a similar system package at Wholesale Solar for about $20,000 not including all of the additional costs like wiring, permits, conduits, CBs, rental equipment, miscellaneous parts, tools, steel pipes and concrete. All of those combined came to about $5,000 for a total cost of about $25,000.

Components in Jorgen’s System

Questions about Jorgen’s install? Ask us in the comments below.

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

Install of the Month – January 2017

“The Best of Both Worlds” with Sully B.

Welcome to the first Install of the Month of 2017! To start the year off, we chose Sully B’s great-looking grid tied system.

Sully wanted two things: the quickest return on investment, and a system that wouldn’t look out of place in his gorgeous yard. Of course, purchasing wholesale is always going to have the quickest ROI. Not only do you save outright, there’s also no paying interest on a loan or pressure to finance your system. It’s just the price of the equipment and contract work if you choose it.  But… can a system like this also look phenomenal? We feel that Sully’s system answers this question with a big yes, showing that it’s possible to get the best of both worlds.

“Sully was different than most customers,” shared solar design tech Isaac A.  “He was very interested in the aesthetics of his solar array.” Because he saved so much choosing to purchase his equipment through Wholesale Solar and hire a local contractor to install it, he was able to modify his system so it looked the way he liked.

The modifications Sully decided on included:

  • Black on black USA-made SolarWorld modules.
  • A symmetrically balanced array that required some custom design from solar tech Isaac A. In most cases, racking is engineered to pack as many modules into an area as possible without consideration for the way it looks.
  • Extra IronRidge XR1000 rails to accommodate the custom design.
  • The black steel pipes and black IronRidge rails that the black on black panels are installed on to give it its sleek, state-of-the-art look.

It was the first time installing solar for the local contractor Sully hired, so naturally the contractor had some questions. He spoke with Isaac several times, who was able to answer his concerns about the custom design and electrical design options that would meet the requirements of his local AHJ (Authorities Having Jurisdiction).

Read on for Sully’s take on his new system!

Interview with Sully B.

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

From the time of placing my order with Wholesale Solar, to receiving the equipment, to having my contractor install the system, it took approximately 5 weeks. On an average day there were two people working on the project.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Neither myself, nor my contractor had any experience with solar installation. My contractor handled 100% of the installation.

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

There was a learning curve for my contractor early in the project. However, Isaac with Wholesale Solar was very helpful with this aspect of things. I’m not sure anything was too difficult, but, this being my contractor’s first solar project, it naturally caused a little anxiety. At the end of the day, any anxiety was unwarranted as the project went very smoothly.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

No. My contractor constructed the support system out of 3” steel pipe and Isaac referred him to IronRidge for design ideas and support.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

Before I decided to hire an independent contractor and order my equipment through Wholesale Solar, I had a reputable solar company come out and give me an estimate. The young man was very knowledgeable and professional, however he seemed more focused on trying to get me to finance my project rather than paying cash.

I wanted the shortest return on my investment and was not interested in paying interest on a loan. To me, that defeated the purpose.
– Sully B.

The initial estimate through them was in the neighborhood of $52,000 for an 11 kilowatt system with 36 panels.

After having the salesman remove all the “inflationary” projections, I quickly realized I was going to need a larger system for my 4,600 square foot home. Instead of signing up that evening, I decided to do a little more research. I ended up contacting Wholesale Solar and was introduced to Isaac. He was very knowledgeable and provided me with the facts about solar and how to maximize it. Based on the information I provided him, along with the available space in my back yard, Isaac designed a 50 panel system with 2 inverters. The cost for the equipment was $26K and my contractor charged me $12K to install it for a total of $38K before tax incentives. Bottom line, I got a lot more for my money using Wholesale Solar!

Bottom line, I got a lot more for my money by using Wholesale Solar!
– Sully B.

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

To save money on my power bill.

Components in Sully’s Grid-Tied System

Thanks Sully, and congratulations on your new system and your switch to solar power!

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: