Welcome to Sol Survivor!
Thank you for taking a moment to read about how we want to help you.
This little writeup is intended to give you some insight as to what to expect and how to proceed. Sorry it’s not brief, but we hope it helps to get you on your way to integrating solar on your home. We want to take the fear of the unknown out of solar energy so you can take advantage of the lowest prices ever and the easy-to-obtain incentive money that is available to you. If you prefer to skim through now, you can look for the key point indicators in bold.
In a nutshell, here is what we want to do for you:
- Assess your energy consumption, thus determining your solar needs.
- Forecast site-specific solar energy production forecast for your area.
- Help you select the system that is right for you and your needs.
- Save you tens of thousands of dollars. (See the math.)
- Build you a preliminary site plan and array layout.
- Create a one-line electrical diagram that will be used for permitting, HOA and utility submittal and guidance for you or your installation professionals.
- Assist you with your HOA submittal.
- Assist you with an electrical equipment layout and electrical tie-in design based on pictures from you of your current electrical service.
- Assemble and ship to you a system kit that contains almost everything you will need to complete your project.
- Be there for you with a limited amount of phone support to keep you comfortable with what you are doing.
- Be there to talk you off the ledge every time you try to over-complicate the matter.
- Equip you with what you need to obtain your IRS tax credit (30% of your total cost).
Along the way you will have to work with us: send us photos, your HOA forms, your electric bills, etc. We need these only so we can help you do the job well and avoid some real headaches. We just want to help, make you happy, and hope that you will refer us to your friends and family.
Even though solar technology is essentially over a century old, it has only gained real traction in the last decade or so and is still a very unfamiliar and intimidating prospect to the general population. In the sense of getting your project from concept to connection, it can be complicated because of the lack of familiarity with the modern technology and methods of design. We are here to simplify that process and help you from start to finish as painlessly as possible and save you a lot of money in process.
Sounds great, right? But we still don’t know exactly what that means, so let’s dig in a little. From a simplistic standpoint, you have solar panels (modules) on the roof which produce D/C power. These modules are then connected with wires to an inverter that converts the power (D/C power to A/C ) so that it can be used in your home. The inverter is normally mounted on the side of your home and is then wired to your breaker box.
Now if it was really that simple, I would not have a job. The reality is that there are a lot of electrical codes, building codes, fire codes, UL scrutiny, and manufacturer manipulations and safety components with which you must comply. That’s where we come in to help! Ideally, we walk you through the whole process, help you with the design, help you procure your equipment and BOS (Balance Of System) so that you can get the very best bang for the buck and enjoy decades of free electricity!
Now you are going to have to some work yourself – we are the “DIY Solar Outfitters,” after all. If we were to do the complete project for you then it will cost a lot of extra money, and that is what turnkey providers are for. This is probably a wonderful place to interject our disclaimer about “doing it yourself.” We are not saying that you “can” do the entire project yourself from start to finish. We are not saying that you should even “try” to do it yourself. We are saying that you can save money with us regardless of how much you do yourself and how much you hire out to be done by the professionals. You can buy your system from us, be there when the truck shows up. and farm out the rest and still save a bunch of money! Click here for an excellent example of those savings.
When dealing with electricity, we absolutely must insist that you not work beyond your capability and hire a licensed electrician to do the heavy lifting on the electrical side. Electricity, both A/C and D/C, can be very dangerous and should be handled by a licensed professional. There are lots of good electricians out there that work for a reasonable fee. Hiring a qualified electrician is worth every penny, way more in fact, if you don’t know what you are doing. When installing a system that is designed to serve you for decades, you want it done right! We will not give you direct advice on how to accomplish an electrical task that should be handled by a licensed professional!
Most cities allow homeowners to do a great deal without getting a permit because it’s your home and basically this is still a free country. Please keep in mind that just because a permit may not be required, not getting a permit is not necessarily a good idea. Codes are there for a reason, and that is for your safety and the safety of others. We continually learn more and more about electrical practices, and each year new codes come out in reaction to bad things that have happened in the past. The benefit of pulling a permit and getting a final inspection is that you will know that your home is compliant and there are no imminent safety hazards.
This can open a can of worms, however. Let me give you a quick example, and if you’re not interested, feel free to skip past what is italicized here. In certain areas, gas meters used to be installed in the same proximity as the electric meter. Currently, they must be 3 feet apart from each other. So, if you pull a permit, install solar, get inspected, and they see this, you are now in code violation. One or the other needs to be moved. It is usually easier to move the gas meter. Guess what? That means another permit from a licensed plumber and another inspection. All of a sudden, your valve on your hot water heater is no longer compliant…meet the can of worms. In this particular case, the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) is reasonable and says if you are only adding a breaker you don’t need to move meters. BUT IF you are rebuilding your electrical, you must bring everything up to code. Every city or AHJ has its own interpretation of the code, pet peeves or idiosyncrasies of some sort with specific input on how solar is to be done. In many cases solar is new to them also, and how they react to it can be a little hard to predict. Sometimes pride gets in the way because the city or AHJ is supposed to be the expert here. In this case, we cannot help, so you have another good argument for hiring a licensed electrician. He should already be familiar with those oddities and can prevent you from learning the hard way.
Just for fun, let’s say that you did all the work yourself except for the inverter installation and the electrical work.
Let me give you some insight as to what you might expect to pay the pros to do it for you. Let’s break it up into chunks and different skillsets:
- Rooftop hardware (racking) installation. These first two in green are somewhat the same process; but if you really want to do this first one yourself, you could separate it and sub out the rest. You should be able to use a tape measure, do basic math, have carpentry skills, and can follow the layout. Separating this process can open some opportunity for mistakes and may not be the best idea.
- Mounting solar modules to the racking and D/C wire management. If you wanted to farm this piece out, most AHJ’s don’t require any type of licensing for this, but some consider it electrical work. You might expect to pay about $0.15 – $0.25 per watt ($0.20 x 6,000 watts (6kw) = $1,200).
- Installing and connecting D/C power to the inverter. The next three items in blue are basically what your electrician would be expected to do. A typical electrician of this sort should cost about $400 – $700 to “do” the electrical for you. There will be a little bit of material here that is specific to your house and WILL cost a little extra. This will be things like the breaker specific to your panel, conduit to run the wires, PV meter, and meter can, if required. These items may add up to a few hundred dollars, but there is no way to order them as part of the kit.
- Installing the electrical from the inverter to the base load connection (usually a breaker in your main panel). As a side note, if you have an older electrical panel or just a rinky-dink setup, this is the opportune time to step back and do it right. A typical “service rebuild” should cost between $1,200 – $2,000. Half of this cost is materials, and the work can be done under the same electrical permit. I’ve heard of electricians “poking people’s eyes out” on this step. Unless your electrical is a real mess, then he is basically swapping out the main breaker panel, and it’s not that big of a deal. This should be on the lower end of this price range.
- Commissioning. This is the grand finale where your system goes live. At the very least, this event is approved by your utility company so that it can document that your little power plant just went online. If you have pulled a permit. then this event would be post inspection. Sometimes the utility company comes out and “commissions” the system, which basically means flipping the switch. If they do come out, they probably want to test “anti-islanding,” which means when the power goes out your solar shuts down. Read from the link below if you want more information on anti-islanding. If your electrician is making an additional trip out for this event, paying him his normal trip charge for the extra visit is a reasonable charge.
- OR, a complete and total turnkey installation including commissioning. $0.45 – $0.70 plus permit cost is reasonable (i.e., $0.50 x 6,000 watts (6kw) = $3,000). Considering you just saved $15k-$20 by acquiring this yourself, that’s not a bad deal.
- We can also help you find an installer in your area, but the final negotiation may be up to you. Click here to see a quick article titled “do the math” to see how we come up with these numbers.
On a similar subject, your utility company takes mini-power plants within their infrastructure very seriously. For example, let’s say the power is out in your area, and some diligent civil servant is down the street trying to fix the problem and you electrocute him. The utility company tends not to see the humor in this, and you will get sued. The utility may try to sue me, too; but I will refer them to this little tidbit where I told you to comply with the utility company, and they will probably move on.
Let’s take this seriously though. Regardless of whether you pull a permit or not, do the project yourself or farm it out, you absolutely must work with your utility company for the solar power integration! There is usually a simple form to fill out. There is no benefit or rational reason to not comply; it’s for everyone’s safety. Your utility company may not like solar, but the company usually does not keep you from integrated solar unless their infrastructure is not up to this millennium’s standards and it cannot handle the bidirectional power. A stand like this would not be aimed at just one house like yours. Such a position would normally be a reaction to an influx in solar integrations in your area for which the utility was unprepared. It’s called disruptive technology, and I must admit my heart has a brief warmness about it every time I hear that phrase.
Let’s move on to “net metering.” Net metering is basically what happens when you have a power generation plant that is sending power back to the grid. The whole premise that grid-tied solar is based on being tied to the grid and does not need batteries. Batteries can be crazy expensive and not necessarily a value proposition when you have the luxury of the grid. So, if you have no batteries, you have two dilemmas: 1) your solar at times will not produce enough power to power the house, and 2) you are over-producing at any given time. Hypothetically let’s say it’s not dark outside. This is where net metering comes in.
Let me give you a quick real-life example without the sarcasm. It’s high noon, not a cloud in the sky. Your system is producing full throttle, and basically not much is going on inside the home to consume energy. Your solar is overproducing! Without batteries, that power has to go somewhere; so it goes back to the utility company (grid), and your meter is going backwards. Now a moment later your air conditioner kicks on, and now your solar is not quite keeping up; so your meter slows down, stops, and then starts turning forward again. You are making up the deficit with grid power and now buying the additional power needed from the utility company. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. Being on the grid is a luxury, and having grid-tied solar is a crazy cheap way to buy long-term electricity. I still get people who are bent up about buying power from the utility – the real “stick-it-to-the-man” mentality. This is fine, write me a check for 6 figures plus, and I will be happy to hook you up. Meanwhile let’s exit my mini-rant and get back to “net metering.”
Net metering is when you have the capability for bi-direction power distribution (buying and selling). Now the net metering policy is where the rattlesnakes lie in wait. For an in-depth overview, full of sarcasm and cynicism on the matter, look at the article on hybrid systems. This will explain the “how comes” on the matter, but for now I must remain focused. Don’t get me wrong, I do love hybrid systems. Where were we? Oh yeah, net metering. Every utility company has a “net metering” policy. I think it’s fair to say that every utility company’s policy is going to be different, but there is much concern about this disruptive technology… (there is that term again).
Let’s just say that the utility companies (aka “the man”) are more than a little confused and concerned about their revenue streams. Sadly, their poor choice in reaction to the matter is only making it worse for them (better for me J). A net metering policy may be as simple as not giving any credit for your solar overproduction. This is not a policy; it’s a slap in the face. If you find this in your provider and you have a choice, you need to switch to somebody who is more solar friendly. Some utilities give you a full dollar-for-dollar credit for your overproduction. This is a wonderful thing but not common. Most of the in between stuff gives you some sort of discounted rate on your overproduction. For example, one company may give you discounted credit for your “net” overproduction at the end of the billing cycle. This is like “rollover” minutes from one day to the next. This practice is fair; the company doesn’t want you in the business of selling power – they just want you to be able to meet your needs. Some will discount the rate any time your meter is going backwards. This sucks, and you may want to consider a hybrid system integration to circumvent this type of policy if you don’t have a choice of energy providers. Every policy is different, and not many of them are super solar friendly; but visiting your utility company prior to buying solar is important. The company’s policy can make a major difference in the payback you can expect from your investment.
LET’S GET BACK TO KEEPING IT SIMPLE. The more information you absorb, the more complicated it may seem; but it really is a simple concept:
1) install solar panels on your roof, 2) wire the panels into your inverter, 3) wire your inverter into your house, 4) turn your system on, 5) enjoy decades of free electricity. The process is sort of like teaching your kid how to change a tire on the side of the road. It’s not really that simple, but if you break it down into pieces you have fundamental objectives, and the process becomes less intimidating. 1) Jack the car up, 2) remove lug nuts, 3) remove flat tire, 4) place spare tire on axle, 5) replace lug nuts and tighten, 6) lower the car and go. Now we all know that changing a tire is not that simple, but you want your children to keep their heads on straight when the time comes and not let be overwhelmed. Basic residential grid-tied solar is the same way, and we want to be here to save you money and keep you from freaking out along the way.
That being said, you’re not installing a router or a hot water heater here; so have some patience and don’t be that guy who thinks he’s going to smack it with a magic wand and it’s just going to appear (I hate that guy). Solar is a big deal; and between design, HOA, utility, permits, physical labor, weather, inspections, commissioning, etc., you should expect around 60 days for completion. This platform is designed to give you the opportunity for an amazing value in a basic grid-tied solar energy system which will serve you for many years to come and pay for itself over and over again. If you must get caught up in the weeds with a complicated system, we are more than happy to help you with that, too. But it’s not the DIY platform and pricing.
Other FUN facts!
- Do it yourself and SAVE! (do the math)
- Numbers don’t lie, (high pressure sales people do)
- I want to go off grid! (no, you don’t)
- Why Solar Edge equipment?
- Why is the inverter undersized?
- Grid-tied, Off-grid, Hybrid system overview.
- Stop! You lost me at hello…
- 30% IRS Tax credits and rebates.
- Can I also get a rebate?
- How fast will my solar pay for itself?
- Is module efficiency really that big of a deal?
- Net metering. like opinions, everybody’s got one.
- Heat is bad for solar!
- What’s the math equation to forecast my solar energy production where I live?
- Why buy solar?
- Add a pool, we love pools. But please don’t blame us when your bill doesn’t go down.
- Does SolSurvivor help with commercial projects too? (Yes we do)
- To flash or not to flash!
- What is an embedded optimizer?
- Everything is by the watt!
- All watts are created equal!
- What is anti-islanding
- More is more
- Can I…why yes, you can!
- Do you give referral fees? (yes)
- The 5 most frequently asked questions (not covered above)
- Is shading really a big deal? (yes it is) This is a stupid question, that’s why it’s at the bottom of this list and not mentioned elsewhere.
Do it yourself and SAVE! (do the math)
Here’s the situation: you can Do It Yourself and save (big), even if that means that you buy your equipment and farm out the labor with someone else. Below is why and how. There are added costs to buying a full turnkey system from a full-service solar company. These are not necessarily “hidden” costs or unreasonable costs – it is just the cost of doing business. This cost must be passed along to the consumer through higher prices. It’s normal and fair, but it’s also avoidable.
Our examples are based on a 6kW system or 6,000 watts. This would be equal to 20 solar panels that are 300 watts each. It’s a very average size system; and although we frequently do much larger systems, this one makes for a reasonable example.
|"The Other Guys"||DIY w/ help||DIY (really by yourself)|
|Cost of equipment||$7800||$7800||$7800|
|Balance of system (breakers, wires, conduit, etc.)||$500||$500||$500|
|Overhead (Rent, phones, ins, payroll, utilities, etc. )||$500|
|Hidden finance fees||$3500|
|Cost of free junk||$500|
|Cost per watt||$3.62||$1.78||$1.45|
Numbers don’t lie, (high-pressure sales people do)
Ok, let me be clear. I have nothing against sales people. I’m a sales person or else I wouldn’t be writing all of this in order to try to get you to buy solar from me. But buyer beware! There are a lot of predators out there and they will play a hard and fast game to get you to close now. If they tell you that your solar is free or if they do everything in their power to get you to sign up today – then you need to send them packing! These guys are only concerned about the sale. They are not concerned about what happens after the contract or how satisfied you are at the end of the ordeal. They can put you into predatory loans with extremely high penalties, or balloon payments, or just incredibly long-term loans – up to 20 or 25 years. If you want a full-service deal from a local solar company, be sure to take your time and verify the claims that they make. Shop around a little. We do our best to take the drama out of the equation and to connect you with an extreme value in solar. When installed properly, solar systems are very reliable and you may never have a need for service. This makes it a great candidate for a DIY project.
Solar is not free (it can pay for itself, but it’s not free)
Buying solar is not a whole lot different than buying a car, house, or anything else that you might consider taking out a loan for. The one exception is that solar actually produces savings / income – tax free savings that can literally allow it to pay for itself. It is not uncommon to take out a loan for your solar and have the payment on the loan be less than the amount you actually save on electricity. Therefore, the solar system can literally pay for itself.
I want to go off grid! (no, you don’t)
To be honest, most people really don’t grasp the gravity of this concept. Taking a traditional home “off grid” that might have an average electric bill of around $200 per month would likely cost you over $100,000, take 3 times more solar than what would fit on the roof, and would require $40,000 in battery replacement in about 5 years. There are so many variables it’s not even funny. Then, once you nail down the theoretical requirement for equipment to meet your usage, and peak demand, and the ability to recharge the battery bank within one a day period; you can now double that price if you want more than one day of autonomy. Now factor in what you intend to do when the weather is bad for a sustained period of time.
If you are serious about going off grid, the first key is to levelize your daily consumption year-round. This means your consumption is basically the same each day in the winter, spring, summer, and fall. Then, you need to reduce this levelized consumption as much as physically possible. This can be done by changing your stove and dryer to gas, changing all of your light bulbs to LED’s, change out your windows to highly insulated windows, add attic insulation, change out your hot water heater to gas or solar, and buy new air conditioners that are either solar or extreme efficiency. This list honestly goes on and on, but realistically; if you can get your consumption down to about 500 kWh’s or less per month and avoid surges and high peaks, you might be able to pull it off. We are happy to help. The reality ,however, is that most of these conversations euthanize themselves because people have unrealistic expectations and misinterpret what they have heard about the value of solar today.
Why Solar Edge equipment?
This is simply an opinion. Feel free to look at the performance data and comparisons online. From experience; I can tell you that SolarEdge is the most reliable and productive equipment on the market, with many advantages over micro inverters and conventional string inverters. When it comes to safety and code compliance; the Solar Edge equipment is always at the top of the class. Frequently, when a new code comes out, this system is already compliant while the competition is still trying to catch up.
Why is the inverter undersized?
You may have noticed, for example, that a 7kw system is equipped with a 6kw inverter. The reason for this has to do with basic solar system design theory. Ideally, a 7kw system has panels that are all facing due south for the most energy production possible (this is due to the most sunlight exposure possible throughout the day). Making this assumption, the solar production will ramp up in the morning, peak out at noon and then wind down in the afternoon. This means that the array is only producing peak power (7kw) for a very short time during the day. Every inverter is different, but the general ‘rule’ is that an inverter can produce 120% of its nameplate rating for a short time. So, in this example, the 6kw inverter can produce up to 7.2kw during peak production times. In many cases, the array is not facing due south or all one direction; so it is unlikely that an inverter will ever peak out over the full capacity. Even if it does peak, it will only be brief. If, for instance, half of your array is facing east and half is facing west; then the east half would peak at around 10 am (and start to wind down), while the west array is cranking up and will peak out around 2 pm. In an east / west situation like this, it is possible to oversize the array by 140% and likely never exceed the inverters capacity to process power. This situation would be referred to as “clipping power”.
Grid-tied, Off-grid, Hybrid system overview.
Stop! You lost me at hello…
Ok, so mono is not a disease you get from kissing. If you thought that it might be then you need some more help. Let’s face it – you’re lost, but you really want solar. In keeping with the theme of keeping it simple, let’s get out in the weeds a little bit regarding what it is we are talking about. Here’s a bunch of basic definitions and explanations.
30% IRS Tax credits.
This is real money. There are a few stipulations, but a tax credit is different than a deduction. Unlike an income deduction, a tax credit is a direct reduction in your taxes due. The stipulation is that you must first have tax liability in order to take this tax credit. If the tax credit exceeds your tax liability, then you may carry this remaining credit over to future years. Some people confuse “no liability” with zero taxes due at the end of the year (after making weekly payments via payroll deductions). In this example, let’s say you pay $100 a week in taxes, or $5200 for the year. Your solar system cost was $10,000, and you have a $3,000 tax credit. If you would have normally paid just about what you owed; then this scenario would mean the IRS would now send you a $3,000 refund. Now please keep in mind that we don’t give tax advice; we are just giving one basic example to give you an idea of how the tax credit works. If you get a rebate from your state or local utility company; the IRS does require that you either claim that rebate as income if you deduct the full (before rebate) price of your system, or else you can take the tax credit on the amount after the rebate.
Can I also get a rebate?
This is entirely up to what local or state incentives are available to you outside of the IRS federal tax credit. The quickest way to find this out would be to call your local utility company and ask if they have any rebates for solar energy.
How fast will my solar pay for itself?
This is not only a great question, but it is a very fundamental concept that should be considered when thinking about solar. There are a lot of moving pieces to this puzzle such as; net metering, system design, shade management, etc. Ultimately, it comes down to 3 basic factors; a) how much does your solar equipment cost? b) how much power will that equipment produce? and c) what is the value of that power? One very cool thing about solar is that it is freakishly predictable. Assuming the system is designed and installed properly without shading issues, you can realistically project your annual production within a few percentage points. This is, of course, using data from NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory,) which I fully endorse. Anyway, let’s get back to the application. Without filling in the value of X, let’s just stick with generalities and say that the cost of the equipment is the same in both Texas and New York State, which is essentially a true statement. Now consider that the electricity costs are much higher in New York than they are in Texas. Therefore, you would assume that your break-even or “payback” would be faster in New York, but then the third component comes in which is “how much power does your equipment produce?” In this case, the same system in Texas will produce more power than New York so you just balanced the scales, and it is feasible that the break-even point could be about the same.
Reasonably speaking, if your solar can pay for itself in 10 years or less then you are getting a pretty good deal. Less than 10 years is always better, of course, but if you consider that a quality grid tied solar system can feasibly perform for 25-30 years; this is a pretty good proposition. Tax credits help to bring down the cost of equipment and so do rebates. These are significant factors in your break-even calculation. Let’s look at a realistic comparison between what we have to offer and what you might expect if buying from a turnkey solar company at a fair price. For this example (and the one we use in all of our cost,) let’s say that this fair price is $3.50 per watt. Many of our systems cost around $1.35 per watt and let’s also say you spend $.50 per watt additionally in professional help (with your installation). So, our comparison will be $1.85 per watt with Sol-Survivor and $3.50 for a fair priced turnkey installed system. For the sake of simplicity; we will not add any moving targets like speculation on inflation, duration of solar production, etc.
Example 1 with turnkey installation company
6kw x $3.50 per watt = $21,000; which is $14,700 after the tax credit.
6kw may produce 9,000 kWh’s per year x a rate of $0.13 per kWh, which equals $1,170 in energy production.
$14,700 divided by $1,170 equals 12.56 years to break even. This is a nominal example, but a real one.
Example 2, using a system by Sol-Suvivor
6kw x $1.85 per watt = $11,850; which is $7,770 after the tax credit.
Assuming the same $1,170, divided into $7,770 equals 6.64 years to break even!
As you can see in the example above, we truly do want to help you save money! In addition, we used a reasonable example above to show you how much you can save. Please understand, however, that $3.50 per watt is a pretty competitive price and you can expect to pay much more with some companies.
Is module efficiency really that big of a deal?
Yes. No. I don’t know. This again is an opinion thing, and my opinion does not have to be yours. Ok, let’s say you have limited roof space or any space that you have allocated for solar, but you absolutely must get as much power on the roof as possible within your space limitations. Yes, it’s important, but only if you are going to twist my arm on the matter. If anyone is pressing you real hard on efficiency; it’s probably because they are charging a premium and that’s the only card they have to play to justify poking your eyes out. So, let’s break it down and talk about the facts. In general, a 6.5kw system (6500 watts) is going to produce the same amount of power whether it’s made up of 26-250 watt panels or 25-260 watt panels. Do you really care if there is one more panel on the roof or not? I would think not; especially if there is a big price difference from the guy who is trying to overcharge you for the 260-watt panels versus the guy who is selling you the 250’s and saving you some money. In most cases, you can still find the higher efficient panels at a fair price. There are two common dimensions for a residential/commercial solar panel. The first is a 60 cell, and the second is a 72 cell. There are many others, but these are the two most common and most competitively priced. The 60 cell panel is 6 solar cells across and 10 rows of 6 up. The 72 cell is basically the same layout with 2 more rows of 6 on top; so you have 12 rows of 6 instead of 10 rows of 6. The 60 cell will be approximately 40” x 66”, and the 72 cell with be approximately 40” x 77”. A real-life example of an efficiency comparison would be one 72 cell panel with a rating of 360 watts, which would be considered very efficient. A 300 watt 72 cell panel, however, would not be considered that efficient. If you just must have the latest greatest thing out there, that’s ok too; but you are paying for that and not necessarily the value and return on your investment.
Using the above line of thinking, a 7.2 kw system using 24 of one (300-watt panels), or 20 of the other (360 watt panels) is still a 7.2kw system; and both 7.2kw systems are going to produce the same amount of power. Now, when you run into the guy who says “NO! this is not true because one panel is more efficient than the other” and that’s why he is so much more expensive, you need to take a brief pause and enjoy the moment. Maybe ask him if one man can run a 6-minute mile does that mean that 3 men can run it in 2 minutes? Ok, maybe that’s not very respectful. Ask him this, “what is your PTC to STC rating ratio compared to the other panel that you are trashing that is not as efficient?” If this guy was selling pest control a week ago then he will probably simply excuse himself.
Now that I have opened that can of worms, I guess I’m going to have to explain what a PTC rating is. So, without getting in the deep end of the pool, here is a quick overview. STC is a flash test at the factory where a solar panel is briefly soaked in 1000 photons per square meter and then checked to see how many watts it is putting out (in a theoretical perfect situation). For example, let’s say this flash test came back with a 301.2 w reading. That panel would be grouped in the 300w bin and sold as a 300-watt panel. The PTC rating is a more real life test that does not have ideal conditions, and this same 300w panel will have a PTC rating of around 267watts (or 89% of the STC rating). Now, if you take the guy’s expensive ‘super duper’ 360-watt panel and check the PTC rating, it is probably around 320 watts (or the same 89%). Remember, numbers don’t lie, but high-pressure sales people do. Most quality panels will range between 89% and 91% on their PTC rating. In my opinion, this is not a major factor, but it’s worth considering when people are trying to leverage efficiency to jack up the price on you.
Net metering. like opinions, everybody’s got one.
It would be nice if net metering policies were uniform, but unfortunately, they are not. Net metering is basically the policy that the utility company employs that dictates how much credit you get for your surplus solar energy production. One of the beauties of grid tied solar is that you don’t need batteries to store surplus power. Therefore, anytime you over produce, your electric meter basically goes backward and you sell that power back to the utility company. Unfortunately, once that power crosses the meter, you no longer own it or have control over what the utility company does with it. Policies on this vary in every way imaginable. Some companies give you a fixed credit for all solar power produced (this is usually referred to as a “value of solar” credit). In rare cases, a utility company will give you a full dollar for dollar credit for your solar, regardless of how much you produce. In most cases, the utility company has some obscure formula for a discount over production of solar. Sometimes this discount applies to all energy that is sent back and sometimes this only applies to the net over production, which means the total over the total billing period. In rare cases, the utility company will say that they don’t give any credit for solar production. If this isn’t illegal, it should be and I would protest if I were you. If you have a choice in energy providers, choose someone else.
Heat is bad for solar!
Not necessarily a very interesting fact but many people are under the impression that solar panels work better in the heat. Solar is about light, not heat and in very high heat environments your solar will produce less energy. This effect is normally not very significant until temperatures reach over 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As temperatures drop, the voltage will increase so in theory your most productive day will be the coldest day of the year assuming the skies are clear and your panel’s angle to the sun is viable.
What’s the math equation to forecast my solar energy production where I live?
I have no idea. If you must know, I recommend you go to PVWatts, which is a web site designed and maintained by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory). That’s what we do, and they have a wicked database with decades of weather history data and freakishly accurate forecasts.
Why buy solar?
Why not buy solar is a much shorter answer. So far, the only rational argument I cannot overcome is when someone simply doesn’t like the way they look. It’s tough to argue with that. When it comes to solar, assuming you are getting a good value (i.e. buying from us), there are no losers in the equation. I believe in three unavoidable factors in life; death, taxes and your utility bills. This rationale is important to justify buying solar. The money you spend on solar is money you are going to spend whether you like it or not. Whether your system pays for itself in 5 years or 10 years, you are spending money that you will spend whether you like it or not. That being said, you are simply prepaying for decades of really cheap electricity. Not only that, but you are adding a lot of equity and sellability to your home even if you don’t stay there for the next 25 years.
Add a pool, we love pools. But please don’t blame us when your bill doesn’t go down.
Ok, let’s be real here people. If you install a solar system that produces $100 a month in electricity, and then you turn around and put in a pool that consumes $100 in electricity; the basic math dictates that your bill will not go down. Please don’t yell at me because it did not go down. Solar is not a magic wand, it can only do what it can do. BTW, we also like Tesla’s and hot tubs.
Does SolSurvivor help with commercial projects too? (Yes we do)
Yes, we do. It’s almost that simple. Reach out to us and let’s get started. It is important to know the voltage of your building (240v, 208-3phase, 480v-3phase), and good pictures of the electrical service is also very helpful. A copy of your electric bill and roof type will also give us a head start on designing system for you.
To flash or not to flash!
We are talking about a metal flashing used at the point of penetration. This is intended to help prevent leaks and honestly, the industry is split. I think the guys who swear by flashing are probably the flashing manufacturers. I have seen poorly flashed penetrations cause more problems than a non-flashed penetration that was not installed properly. I will leave this up to you. Our “Sol-Attach” brand racking system does not require flashing, but they are available if you wish to use them.
What is an embedded optimizer?
I guess maybe I should explain what an optimizer is first. Actually, please allow me to back up even one step further and cover the 3 most common basic inverter applications.
- First, you have a standard string inverter where several solar panels are connected in series which will take the voltage up to a range normally within 200v d/c to 500v d/c. If you have no shading or one simple plane for the array to lay on, then a string inverter is just fine and you may save a little money. If you have NEC code enforcement that wants rapid shut down (RSD) you may want to reconsider and go to an optimizer, which has an RSD protocol built in. The cost of adding an RSD if the string inverter does not come with one will end up costing you about the same. Probably the biggest argument against string inverters is that if you have a string of say 10 panels and one of them is shading by a tree limb, chimney, telephone pole etc; then your entire string of 10 panels is hindered. There are other benefits to the alternatives, but this is the biggie when it comes to energy production.
- Second is micro inverters. A central inverter will usually be mounted on the wall on the side of the building and lots of D/C power is wired to this central point to be converted to A/C power. A micro inverter will have one small inverter per panel (sometimes 2 panels per micro) and the D/C power is converted on the rooftop at the module location. This will often deal with Electrical codes that String inverters will not, but the main claim to fame for the micro inverters is that each panel processes power individually and therefore the shading issue is hit head on. You may not have the luxury of having a perfectly clear roof without some shading challenges, so this would be a common motivation to go with a micro inverter system.
- Yay, optimizers! D/C optimizers to be specific. If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about these things; to the extent that we are currently giving each customer who buys a complete system from us a free upgrade to the Solar Edge Optimized system. My apprehension about the micro inverters are the history of warranty issues. It stands to reason that if you have all the electronics required to convert d/c power to a/c power on the roof in extreme heat, then you will likely have more failures than a simple d/c voltage conversion, which is what an optimizer does. In addition, you will have only one inverter to worry about possible warranty issues versus many little inverters. My experience is that Solar Edge has had minimal warranty issues and have been very responsive in the rare occurrence that there is one. In addition to shade management here are a few other benefits, in my opinion.
- Miss-matching. This is when you have a bunch of panels labeled 300w but they are actually 301.5, 302.0, 303.4 and so on. With a string inverter, you only get the production of the lowest ranking module in the string. With an optimizer, you will get the most power possible from each module.
- Heat resilience. Unlike an inverter, the optimizer is a simpler component without all of the electronics on board that are on the roof at extreme temperatures.
- Code compliance. If there is new code relating to solar it seems like Solar Edge has been there for a couple of years, while everyone else is still trying to catch up which can cause delays and inherent warranty issues due to a hasty reaction.
- If there is a failure in the array, the system knows whether to shut down the entire system, or to just circumvent a failed optimizer. In fault mode, the Solar Edge system will only transmit 1v d/c to the inverter for communication and diagnostics. This is a very safe feature.
- All of the stuff you have to add in later to other inverters to make them compliant (Rapid Shut Down for example) is already built into Solar Edge.
- If you want to monitor you panels’ production, they have one of the more reliable programs and you have the option of wifi or cellular.
- Finally! we get to embedded optimizers. These are not easy to find because most retailers, manufacturers, and distributors are wussies and are afraid to venture away from vanilla. A non-embedded optimizer is basically bolted on to a conventional module, there are a lot of wires involved with this method, extra labor, more challenging wire management, and now more possible points of failure. A conventional module has what is called a combiner box on the back of the panel. This is where all the cell circuits come together and two main wires come.
With an embedded optimizer, this all becomes very tidy, streamlined, and it improves the warranty of the product. In this case, the junction box is never installed and the optimizer becomes the junction box; so it now serves a dual purpose as an optimizer and junction box. This is much neater and easier to install, but you also now get a 25-year warranty on the optimizer to match the solar panel warranty since it is installed at the factory. Our custom made Boviet triple black 60 cell embedded optimized panel really achieves all that one could want in a solar panel; from efficiency to aesthetics, net production, wire management, and reliability.
Everything is by the watt!
This is a pretty simple concept, but it may need a little explaining if you are not familiar with solar programs. Everything is priced and sold by the watt. A turnkey system might go for $3.50 per watt and this would include everything; sales commission, profit, permit, racking, electrical supplies, solar modules, inverter, code compliance, etc. Systems are usually referred to in KW (KiloWatts) or a 1,000 watts. So, a turnkey 6kw system would be 6,000 watts X $3.50 so $21,000. Our desire is to get you into an installed system for around $2 per watt, or less even if you contract out most ( if not all) of the work. A solar panel alone might be 300 watts and could sell for $0.70 per watt or $210.
All watts are created equal!
This is basically a repeat of what was written about module efficiency. The fundamental argument is that a 6kw system will produce basically the same amount of power whether it’s made up of 20-300 watt panels, 30-200 watt panels, or 25-240 watt panels. There are guys who are going to really split hairs on this one based on their brand of solar panel and a multitude of other arguments. This is my story and I’m sticking to it. If you want a deeper perspective on the matter please go back up to Is module efficiency really that big of a deal?
What is anti-islanding
This is a safety protocol that is built into UL approved grid tied inverters. Basically, it means that your solar won’t work and will shut down automatically if there is a power outage. Your house cannot run on grid tied solar alone without batteries. There is no buffer to supply surges, and there is not a way to store or displace over production during low consumption times. Grid tied solar is a supplementation to the grid power – it is not a standalone or backup system. Hybrid systems are available if you want the best of both worlds, but brace yourself because they are not cheap. The purpose of anti-islanding is so that when the power is out, your system won’t be sending electricity into the grid that is down (this can cause many hazards including electrocuting the poor guy on the pole down the road that is trying to fix the problem). The first component involved in creating an emergency backup system is an ATS (Automatic Transfer Switch) which automatically disconnects you from the grid during an outage. This is a customary component for anyone installing a backup generator that is designed to come on when the grid is down.
More is more
I’m only suggesting that maybe you round up a bit on your system choice. There are some certain fixed costs involved in a major project like putting solar on a house, so the bigger the system you put in the more bang for your buck you will get. Let me give you just one example. Let’s say you were looking at our 8.96kw system with Boviet optimized panels and your array will be east and west facing. You could easily add 4 or 5 more panels to that 7.6kw inverter and never clip any power. You have added 16% more power; but your inverter, freight, permit, and electrical costs are all the same. You are only buying panels and a few racking feet and you have reduced your cost per watt and increased your solar energy savings.
Can I…why yes, you can!
We are here to sell you stuff, we are not likely going to say no so please ask. If it’s reasonable and not illegal or immoral we want to say yes to whatever it is you would like to do.
Do you give referral fees? (yes)
If you refer a friend or family member; before they shop, and if they buy a complete system you will get either a $75 check or a $150 online shopping coupon. With every 9th referral; you get a job offer to come sell for us and unfortunately W-9 for going over $600.
The 5 most frequently asked questions (not covered above)
- Q: Will hail break my solar panels?
- A: It’s unlikely. All of our modules are UL tested, which means they have passed a high impact test to simulate such things as severe hail. It takes extreme hail to actually break quality solar panels. If you do encounter storm damage which includes broken solar panels, it would be considered an insurance matter and not a warranty issue. The solar panels are normally more resilient that your roof, windows, etc., so you probably already have an insurance claim on your hands. Typical hail (even golf ball size hail) will probably not break panels. I’ve seen it happen, but we are talking baseball size hail.
- Q: Do I need to have batteries?
- A: NO, Our specialty is “grid tied” systems where there is no storage of electricity and therefore there is no need for batteries. Although “off-grid” or “hybrid” systems can be installed, they are not as economical as a grid tied.
- Q: Does it cost a lot of money to remove my solar energy system if I have to replace my roof
- A: Yes, it can. A Fair rate for an uninstall and reinstall of solar panels only (no electrical) would be around $.50 per watt, so $3,000 for a 6kw system. this will likely be covered by insurance if it is a storm/insurance related matter.
- Q: Do the modules (solar panels) have a warranty?
- A: YES, any panel we carry is going to have a warranty on workmanship, which is likely going to be 5 to 10 years. In addition, all of the panels we carry will have what is called a “linear power warranty,” which means they will warranty the long term performance of their module. Most solar module manufacturers will warranty the output of their panels at 90% for 10 years and 80% for 25 years. Some are higher, but this is an industry standard.
- Q: Will I have electricity when the power goes out?
- A: NO, not with a “grid tied” system. Because there is no battery storage you will not have a place to draw power from, and even if it’s sunny out the system is designed to shut down automatically for safety reasons when the grid is down. The high cost of having power during a power outage typically outweighs the inconvenience of a temporary power outage. If this is a big concern for you we suggest you incorporate an emergency generator that will come on automatically when your power goes out. Hybrid battery systems are available, but they are not cheap. If you get suckered into a cheap one, then you will probably be disappointed.
Is shading really a big deal? (yes it is) This is a stupid question, that’s why it’s at the bottom and not mentioned elsewhere.
Sorry to be so harsh here, but I can’t tell you how many times customers are convinced that it is ok to put solar panels in shaded areas. A little bit of shade in a very small part of a single solar panel just kills its production. If you have your panels strung in series then you just killed the production of the whole string. I would not take this so personal, except every time it happens some guy is convinced the equipment is not working. I get that people really want solar, and occasionally I meet that guy who understands that his shade is a problem and it going to impact his production and is ok with it; but this guy is rare. Solar panels need unobstructed sunlight to perform properly. If a panel is facing due south, it is only producing at full potential for about 3 hours, and this time period is critical to have no obstructions. The time before and after that three-hour window the production is either ramping up in the morning or winding down in the afternoon. If you have an array facing east, for example, and you have trees to the east causing morning shade on that array; you may see as much as an 80% reduction in energy production. This is because the window of productivity is between 9 and 11 am and you have your panels shaded at that time. After 12 noon, your production is minimal. Likewise, with a west facing array, you cannot have shading in the afternoon. We are happy to work with you regardless of your shade challenges, but we want you to be pleased with your investment and not have unrealistic expectations.