Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

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docmims's picture
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Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

I was just looking for some recommendations (or warnings) on dealers/vendors.  I've been doing some reading on the new tubular high efficiency systems, but can't find where these are on the market.  Any tips?

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

I might be able to help, if you can be more specific.

Home solar heating (water and enviromental) or power? That might be a good start, and what are your parameters (i.e. what output do you expect, and what ballpark price are you looking for?).

We're just about ready to order a bunch of PV panels for Plickety and I up here in AK, but there's a bit more too it than just the panels. If it's heating, then I'm just in the research stage for that.

 

 

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

We have a solar hot water system on the roof. It  is not tied into our heating, as that is at this point electric (soon to be an airtight fireplace insert) so we can't help you there. But we pay almost nothing for hot water in the warmer months, and here in South Carolina that means 8-10 months out of the year. My husband built it himself. Go to http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/WaterHeating/water_heating.htm for the how-tos. One thing we are doing this year is stockpiling parts for it: in an EOTWAWKI situation, parts may no longer be available!

We are also about to buy and install a solar-powered attic fan. While we are still on the grid (while we still have a grid) this should cut down on A/C costs. As long as your solar attic fan has a rated CFM = (attic volume x 10)/60 you should be able to cool your attic to 5-10 degrees above the outside temperature, if your insulation is good. We are also repairing/replacing screens (and stockpiling screen repair material) and adding screen doors/storm doors. We will let you all know how our fan does when it goes in.

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

Gungnir:

I'm looking for the 40k range system. grid tied with batteries.  I can do the research on the components.  I am more concerned about locating a reliable supplier.  I am located in GA.

Thanks safewrite.  My idea on the solar water heater is to cool my solar voltaic array (which is more efficient when not overheated) and use a heat exchanger to provide hot water from the coolant.

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

My idea on the solar water heater is to cool my solar voltaic array

Here is a place that does cooling with excess solar hot water heat.  If anyone has any experience with this, I would love to hear about it.

http://www.solarpanelsplus.com/solar-air-conditioning/

We are currently in the process of putting 13 flat plate collectors on our roof.  In NM (lots of sunshine) the rule of thumb is each should replace about 1/2 gal of propane/day. 

I'm looking for the 40k range system. grid tied with batteries.

I think for that amount, based on many quotes I have received, you can probably a get around a 4kw system.  I've been working on about a 11kw system for somewhat more than double that, and that's being pretty agressive with the installers on pricing.  With batteries you are looking in the $8/W installed range.

Around here it appears that you have pure play solar installers and then new green energy subsidiaries of large electrical contractors.  I'm not sure which we will go with at this point. 

You should also research AC coupled systems.  If you think the grid is most likely going to be available and your just getting the batteries for TSTF scenarios, then AC coupled is more efficient at getting power to your grid and you just want emergency critical loads for battery backup.  The traditional DC coupled is more like a off-grid system and your loose about 10% on your grid output, but you get better usage of the arrays when charging batteries.  This is all just from research and talking with lots of solar folks at this point.

Another gotcha I have recently heard about is the use of flooded lead acid batteries.  Apparently if you don't discharge and make use of the lead acids (ie. leave them at float) for long periods of time (years), they have a bad habit of not working when you need them.  I have been told that by several people who said they had failures when they needed them most.  The recommendation I have received for batteries that are going to remain at float is to use AGM batteries.

If anyone has any experience with the items above, I would love to hear about it.  It appears very few people do AC coupled battery systems. I think this is probably because few people have wanted batteries that aren't living off-grid due to the considerable added cost.

I am more concerned about locating a reliable supplier.  I am located in GA.

I think the big thing is to get educated about how the systems work so you can ask lots of tough questions and figure out which installers your like.  A good place to start is home-power magazine which you can buy a subscription on line for $10 and it lets you read all the back issues.

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

docmims, we are at the same stage as you.  It is my experience that local installers are begging to come to your house and give you their advice and an estimate.  I like to talk to the Tech Reps and Engineers, that is where the real information is at.   I think most are anticipating that State subsidies will dry up, reducing peoples ability to buy these systems, they want to sell them now.  My game plan was call all local installers, have them come to my house for free, pick their brains, feel them out, get an estimate, Google it all then make our decision.   As a side note, in my State the electricity that you sell back to the grid is a peak usage rates.  The benefits of this is apparent.  Nacci

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

I was in a Green Building class recently and a student in the class who recently had solar panels installed told me it took the installation company, Sunlight Solar, 6 months to get the system installed, from the time of the 1st phone call that she made. Now she was scrambling to get the power company and the state(CT) to inspect her system so she could get her tax credits for 2009. Has anyone else heard of or experienced a wait this long? I know we have very good incentives right now here in CT, but I can't imagine the wait would be that long!

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Green building tax credits

joemanc,

I worked on the very first Green Residential Tower in NYC, and my experience is that State and power company people are scrambling to get more done with less staff during this financial crisis. That being said, as long as things to obtain the certification are sent in time via Certified Mail, with a Return Reciept, you should be fine. It matters not when they get it or process it; it matters when your postmark to submit it happens.

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?
rhare wrote:

I think for that amount, based on many quotes I have received, you can probably a get around a 4kw system.

Erm not to argue, but the system we priced up was for 6kW peak draw (we don't use a lot of power), averaging 0.5kW power draw while awake, and > 100w when asleep or out, with 24V inverters and battery bank we came out to just under $20k (Of which $5k was just batteries), for combined Solar and Wind through ABS Alaska. 5k for the Panels Kyocera d.Blue 210, 3k for the Wind Turbine with a 30' mast. and  $4k~6k for the Xanex inverter, we already use a 2kW inverter which can be our backup, and ancilliary odds and ends (including a switched shunt for heating hot water from the panels and turbine when the batteries are charged fully), and finally for emergencies, a 3.5kW generator (not included in the pricing).Obviously installaton will be done by us which might be where the discrepancy is coming from. This is not in anyway a grid tied system though,

I'm actually considering this oversized too, at the moment we have a small 24v system running of a 2kW Generator, we run it every 2 days for about 6 hours (under a gallon of gas) with a 710 AH battery array.

Now I can see everyone thinking but, you're only generating 1160W from your panels, which is true, but half of that goes to the Battery bank on average, during the Summer we get about 21 hours of daylight, of course the corollary is that in the winter we get 3 hours of daylight. We did the math, for the battery array, it will take from the system about 1 week to hit full charge (if only from solar or wind if we have both at max production we get it in 3 days, unlikely to happen), now since we're using during normal use half of that power (for abour 8 hours per day), we get ~4 weeks of buffer from our battery array with no solar or wind augmentation (i.e. dark and calm). In the winter we get a lot more wind than the summer, I'm still hesitant to say we get enough on average to keep the batteries fully charged though, fortunately the generator we're buying can be easily converted to use ethanol, and we've discussed with the ATF getting a small own use still license. So we'd just need to mulch up some vegetation add water and yeast, let it digest, then distill. The ATF are going to love me, since I'm also applying for a Class 1 FFL.

As for dealers, well I'm working with ABS Alaska, simply because they're the best up here for this sort of thing, as far as Georgia, I haven't heard anything (or if I have, I spaced it an non-relevant).

HTH.

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

Erm not to argue, but the system we priced up was for 6kW peak draw (we don't use a lot of power), averaging 0.5kW power draw while awake, and > 100w when asleep or out, with 24V inverters and battery bank we came out to just under $20k (Of which $5k was just batteries), for combined Solar and Wind through ABS Alaska]

Based on the rest of your content, I'm guessing you have 6-8 panels.  I was talking about a 4kw DC name plate rating system, which is how they are generally specified.  That would be more than 2x what your system was, 4kw/210 = 20 panels.   I'm looking at 48  230W panels for an 11kw system w/battery backup of 8.2kWh at 50% discharge for about $95K.  That's why I said for $40K probably about 4kw or so.  You might actually do better if you can do roof mount as that is cheaper than the pole mount I'm looking at.  Yes - we are power hogs, but if we want an electric car down the road that's 4kWh for 30 miles or so. :-)

Gungnir, you have it much tougher since you are living off-grid, in AK, with the funky daylight issues.

One place you can look for ideas is at this 3.1kw system for $16k w/battery backup.  You then have to add in another $10+k for mounting hardware, installation, and miscellaneous parts you will need.  I'm not affiliated with these people, just talked with them and I have received quotes from them.  They seem like a good place to check out prices and probably great if you want to do the installation yourself.

Note, all the prices above are pre-tax credit which might make it considerably cheaper, 40% here in NM!

 

 

 

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

thanks rhare, for the good advice.  Something we have excess of in the south is solar hot water capacity.  to turn that hot water to cooling would be great.

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

Anyone know how the tax credits work?  I was told that there is a 30% Federal tax credit until 2016 and at least for now my state has an additional 35% tax credit.  Between these two I should be able to cut the costs down by nearly 2/3rds. 

What I am thinking about would be an on grid residential install of either 2 kWh or 4 kWh on a south facing roof.  At least initially I don't think I would install any batteries and instead sell any excess back to the local power company. 

Does anyone have an opinion or cost estimate for such an installation?  Another question I have is how far off due south can the panels face?

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

goes211

Several things to look into:

1) Most states have incentive plans that work through your electric utility. For instance, here in Arizona, they pay a cash upfront on completion of the installation of $2.70 per installed watt -- on a 4 kW system (name plate dc rating of panels) that means about $10,800. Check out  http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=US33F&re=1&ee=1   for summary information on the various programs available

2) The main Federal incentive is either a tax credit or an outright grant via Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009, and Sections 45 and 48 of the Internal Revenue Code -- 30% of the net cost of your system after other incentives are deducted. Both are administered by the IRS

3)  Most states also have incentives in addition to the above by way of tax credits.

4) Be sure to price product from large good quality manufacturers - personally I like Sharp for panels and Fronius for inverters - both tend to be a little more expensive that some others, but you are making a large investment, so I think it is important to deal with a company that provides a good warranty.

5) You should be able to get a first class grid tied system installed for less than $5.50 per installed VDC watt if you do the leg work yourself and maybe buy the main components and have an electrician do the install. If you have room, I like a ground mount systemas you are not taking the risk of causing roof problems for the future -- provided you can orient to the south with no shade.

I've just finished installing a 7.5 kW system grid tied to our home on a net metering contract and haven't had a bill since the install. Also installed a 33.8 kW system that is strictly for selling power to the local utility. Not a great return yet, but if energy prices spike (as I think they will) it may be a nice side income to help retirement. It is a good feeling to know that we are generating more energy than we are using including cars and everything by a substantial margin.

If you want to do some of the work yourself, let me know and I'll do what I can to help. Probably best to get a price from a local contractor and then estimate what you can do it for. Some areas have contractors that charge an arem and a leg plus. Here Home Depot wants over $9 per watt installed

Jim

 

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

 

 The UK is offering the mother of all incentive plans.....

 

 It's kind of a green version of Thatcher's revolting giveaway privatisations in the 80's......

 

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/01/solar-panel-feed-in-tariff

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?
goes211 wrote:

Anyone know how the tax credits work?  I was told that there is a 30% Federal tax credit until 2016 and at least for now my state has an additional 35% tax credit.

Wow! We only get 10% from the state in NM so 35% is fantastic.  However, for us the big incentive is actually the REC (renewable energy credit) from the utility company that makes the system cost justifiable.  As far as working, for the federal you just put in on your tax form and it's a direct credit off what you owe.  In NM the state requires a form be sent to the state to get the approval for the tax credit.  Also, keep in mind your state credit means you get less of a deduction from the Feds for your state taxes, so it reduces the state incentive  by your federal tax rate.

jpitre wrote:

You should be able to get a first class grid tied system installed for less than $5.50 per installed VDC watt if you do the leg work yourself and maybe buy the main components and have an electrician do the install.

That seems a little low assuming that is pre-tax incentives.  For about a 10kWh system, I have found: $7000 (2x5000W inverters), $26,000 (48*205W panels-blemished), $15,000 (4x12 panel pole mount racks) - about  4.80/W.  Then you have the installation, poles, concrete, all other electrical components.  Now a roof mount or ground mount you can probably get cheaper, but still 5.50 would be tough if you use good name brand quality components.

We actually went quite a bit more expensive and went with Sun Power because we could get 16 225W panels on a pole due to slightly higher energy efficiency per surface area, that allowed us to remove 1 pole from the system which fit out space requirements.  Also the panels are awesome looking solid black. :-) 

If you want your system to be more useful than as a sculpture during a grid failure you have to have batteries.  You can go DC coupled (traditional) or AC coupled systems.  AC coupled is more expensive (more components since you have inverters just for the battery system.  The trade off is the system is not as efficient at charging the batteries but more efficient at producing grid power.  So if you expect to only be off grid rarely, then AC coupled may be a better solution.  You also have to be careful to get high quality batteries that are designed to stay at float for long periods of time.  Many batteries apparently don't do well at only being used infrequently.  We also choose high quality telco standby type batteries for their longer lifespans (15-20 years) versus cheaper batteries (7-10 years).   All this adds up, but with the incentives it gets much more reasonable.

For solar components, you might check out www.affordable-solar.com, they seem pretty good.  We went through an installer but I talked with them quite a bit and they seem pretty good.  I'm not affiliated with them.  Also, check out http://www.dsireusa.org/ for lists of incentives (in the US).  You can also use http://www.pvwatts.org/ to calculate output based on the angles you can mount the panels.  I understand it is not super accurate, but will at leave give you an idea.  Our installer used some commercial package that they said has given them more accurate values.

I also highly recommend a subscription to Home Power Magazine.  For $10/year you can read all the past articles. 

We don't have our PV system installed yet, starting in the next couple of weeks! Yeah, but we do have our thermal solar system in helping to heat our house and domestic hot water.  It seems to be working well, but it'll take a while for me to check if my calculations on it's impact are correct.

Good luck and I would also suggest taking advantage of all the incentives ASAP since I suspect as the states get more financially strapped these type of incentives will disappear.

 

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

Thank you for the responses.  I have done some more research and I think my roof mount is out because the roof is 25 degrees off of due south.  What is the height and additional cost of pole mounted panels?  Are they are risk of theft?

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?
goes211 wrote:

Thank you for the responses.  I have done some more research and I think my roof mount is out because the roof is 25 degrees off of due south.  What is the height and additional cost of pole mounted panels?  Are they are risk of theft?

The panels are the same, it's just the mounting hardware which can add quite a bit.  You also have to think about the concrete base for holding the big steel pole(s).  In our case we get strong gusts so for our 16 panel pole mount the base is 4'x4'x6' (a lot of concrete!).  One of the big manufacturers is DPW.  You can find catalogs including price lists under the Literature and Media tab on their web site: http://www.power-fab.com/. There are several other manufactuers but all the quotes I got used their racks (they are made in here in NM).   As far as risk/theft.  I assume you can mount them as high as you want (depending on concrete) and they make theft/tamper resistant mounting hardware according to their site. 

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

An alternate ground mount system is made by Pro Solar. Cost is about $100 per 235 watt panel -- say, $1,500 for a string of 12 panels. Admittedly not a classy looking as the pole mount, but easy to install with a couple of guys and a few simple tools. An example of what it looks like:

3 of us installed 144 panels in 3 days -- took 2 days more to drill in solid rock (above) to set the pipe (can be set in concrete sonotubes dug into the ground if your soil conditions will permit.) Overall it took about a week to set the entire system up and about a week to do the electrical hook-up. We ran multi conductor wire through all of the panels and tied into an alarm system as a theft deterrent - siren, lights & central reporting. Could tie into your home system as another zone easily.

Jim

 

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Re: Has anyone bought a home solar system recently?

The ground mounts look nice, and definitely cheaper.  In our case space was a consideraton, so we needed more space efficiency.  We did that with the higher power density panels and pole mounts that we can adjust the angle during the year.  I did all my calculations with 2 positions (summer, winter).  Most of the ground mounts I found were not adjustable.  If you are really short on space you can look at trackers but they add a lot more as well.  If you have the space, more panels and less complexity is better and cheaper.

Here is a picture with someone in it for scale.  That is 16 225W (3.6kW) Sun Power panels.  It is about 8 feet to the top of the pole and the array is about 16' x 10'. The mount is adjustable from 15 to 65 degrees and can be done by 2 people, at least I'm told - when ours are installed I'll find out if that's true. :-)  The rack is a DPW top of pole mount. The pole is I think 10" Schedule 80 steel pipe (very big and heavy - about 900 lbs.).

Pole Mount - Sun Power 16 panel

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