Ten Tips For 25 Years Of Trouble Free Solar Power

Almost all solar panels sold in the U.S. carry a 25 year warranty, most inverters are guaranteed for 10 to 25 years, and as long as you get occasional heavy rain your panels do not need regular cleaning. So if you are thinking about solar for your home, the most important considerations – besides price – are the quality and reliability of the installation itself. With these factors in mind, here are my top ten tips for 25 years of trouble free solar power:

  1. Find an installer who has been in business for 5+ years and uses their own installation crews (not subcontractors).
  2. You get what you pay for – so be careful about selecting an installer based on the lowest price.
  3. Prices for battery storage systems are coming down fast, storage incentives in many states will be available soon, control software is being developed, and the reliability of this new technology is improving rapidly. My advice is to get a battery-storage ready system, while waiting for these improvements to settle down in the market over the next few years.
  4. Panels from the major manufacturers are all very reliable; the biggest difference is simply that higher efficiency panels cost more. In most cases it does not make sense to pay extra for highest efficiency panels if you have enough roof space for slightly lower efficiency panels.
  5. The most common customer service issue relates to inverter monitoring. A distant second is a problem with the inverter itself.
  6. Squirrels and rats like to nest under rooftop panels and chew wires. Pigeons prefer barrel tile roofs. If you have any of these pests on your roof, talk to your installer about installing screening around the perimeter of your panels.
  7. Make sure your installer uses the proper flashing and sealing techniques on your roof mounts. Flashings are mandatory on all composition shingle roofs.
  8. Heavy rain does a great job of cleaning off debris from rooftop panels. NEVER hose off your panels – mineral deposits from tap water can permanently damage the glass.
  9. Wiring should be securely tucked-up beneath the panels and racking. Contact your installer if there are any wires hanging down on the roof surface.
  10. To make sure your system is operating properly, keep an eye on your inverter display (or online display), as well as your monthly electric bill. Even if your installer is monitoring your system they might not always notify you if there is a problem – especially if there is a problem with your monitoring.

For details on these ten tips for 25 years of trouble-free rooftop solar, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you can have too many solar panels on your roof. With conventional net metering, your utility will not reimburse you at the end of the year if you produce more power than you consume. For example, last year my electric bill was -$46.86. Our roof has a 6kw solar system on it, but because we installed a new thermostat, LEDs and new windows, we generated a net credit with our utility last year. So I’m replacing my LEDs with old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs so I can use more power and get closer to a zero bill this year. The number of panels you need is based on two factors: the available space on your roof and the size of your electric bill.

A good installer will not take advantage of you by installing modules where there is a lot of shade or a poor north-facing orientation on a steep roof. Along the same lines, your installer should analyze your current electric bill and recommend the number of solar panels that will get you close to a zero bill.

Once you know these two boundary conditions – the number of panels that fit on your roof and the number of panels that you need to zero out your bill – you can see what size system fits in with your budget and method of financing. At the same time your installer should step you through the options for different levels of solar panel efficiency, module electronics (optimizers or microinverters), and changes in your future use of electricity (such as an EV or energy conservation measures). For more about determining the optimum size of your solar power system, Listen Up to this week’s episode of The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Operating and Maintaining Your Home Solar System

If you have a rooftop solar system, you already know that it requires very little maintenance. But “low” maintenance doesn’t mean “no” maintenance. On this week’s show we’ll review the periodic cleanings and inspections your system needs — as well as some of the more extensive work that may be required every 10-15 years or so.

For many people, their goal is to achieve the maximum net electric bill savings while minimizing ongoing costs. Why spend $300 to wash rooftop solar panels twice a year if, due to regular rain, they get only slightly dirty with only a minimal energy output decline?

Nevertheless, there are a few things that all homeowners should check regularly. First, check your system monitoring regularly — or just check to see that the green light is illuminated on your inverter (a red light or no light usually indicates a failure). Second, keep an eye on your monthly electric bill — if you see a big increase in your kwh usage that may indicate a problem with your system. Third, keep trees trimmed that are near your house, both to minimize shading and to prevent squirrels from building a nest under your panels.

For more information about operating and maintaining your home solar system, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Straight Answers To Your Solar Questions

It’s that time of year again: the weather has warmed up, air conditioning bills are peaking, people are in the midst of their home improvement projects…and it’s prime solar sales season. Homeowners are getting calls, e-mails, radio ads, direct mail and even door-to-door sales pitches.

Most of these pitches are well-intentioned and accurate. Rooftop solar will indeed save you money, while also improving our local and global environment. Solar companies are providing an important service as we transition to this clean energy economy. It’s all a good thing, as long as the solar advice you get is good.

The problem is that solar technology, electric rates and financial savings can be very confusing, and subject to a variety of assumptions. To help sort through some of these facts and fictions, our topic on this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is: “Straight Answers to your Solar Questions.” Please Listen Up to our perspective on the following solar customer Q&A topics:

  • How many solar panels will fit on my roof?
  • How can you tell if a solar salesperson is exaggerating?
  • Will a big solar company be more likely to be in business in 10 years than a small company?
  • What is a realistic energy escalation rate?
  • What is better, a microinverter, optimizer or string inverter?
  • What solar panels are the best?
  • How much money will I save?
  • I pay $0.20/kwh for electricity, and a solar company is offering me a PPA for $0.17/kwh. Sounds like a no-brainer?
  • I’m confused about these solar financing options. What is best?
  • What maintenance is required?
  • I have an output guarantee. Are my savings guaranteed?
  • Do solar panels increase the value of my house?
  • How long will it take to do the installation?
  • Do I need to get a building permit or utility interconnection?
  • If I move can I take my solar system to my new house?
  • If the roof where the panels are located is partially shaded, will they still work?

To get straight answers to your solar questions, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Anti-Solar Lobbying Groups Trying to Trick You

You can generate your own power on your home or business roof for about $0.07/kwh, with paybacks in the 4-8 year range. Without a doubt, solar is a great way for businesses and homeowners to reduce their electric bills.

So how does your local utility or friendly fossil fuel company react?

  • They try to make solar more expensive by adding costs and delays.
  • They create higher solar rates to penalize solar customers for their good behavior.
  • And perhaps most egregiously, they fund lobbying groups to try to trick you.

That’s right, groups like Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, Consumer Energy Alliance, Yes for 1 on the Sun, and Consumers for Smart Solar are really front groups funded by the fossil fuel industry and utilities. Their sole purpose is to convince voters and policymakers to pass laws favorable to their businesses, and overturn clean energy regulations.

Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as we disclose the real money behind these anti-solar lobbying groups, and expose some of their dirty tactics.

Long Term Costs of Nuclear Power

Last month was the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl. The meltdown at this Soviet plant was the worst nuclear power disaster in history. It was a Level 7 disaster on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Fukushima was also a Level 7; Three Mile Island (TMI) was only a Level 5. This nuclear disaster permanently poisoned large parts of eastern Europe. There is a similar contamination situation at Fukushima; fortunately, much less so at Three Mile Island.

New nuclear power technology and safety procedures will hopefully prevent another disaster (although that’s what we thought after TMI). But what happens at a plant that isn’t crippled by a disaster? Surprisingly, even cleaning up existing nuclear plants is outrageously expensive. Ever wonder why every electric bill has a line item called “Nuclear Decommissioning?” It costs about $750 million to shut down existing plants in a process that can take 20 years or more. Around the world, nuclear plant operators have budgeted over $1 trillion dollars to clean up existing nuclear reactors (think about how many solar panels and batteries we can buy for $1 trillion dollars).

Once they are up and running, the economics of a nuclear plant are pretty good. But they are expensive to build, expensive to decommission, and outrageously expensive to clean up after a disaster. Compare that to a “solar spill” – which is basically a very sunny day. For these economic reasons, from a utility’s perspective the pendulum has swung completely way from nuclear power towards solar. Please join me on this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as we delve into the long term costs of nuclear energy.