New to the site and solar power

Hello everyone.
I'm new to the site and also very new to solar power. I have been looking at grid tie systems for a while and am slowly figuring things out. Solar is not very popular in our area (Loxley, AL-miles from Mobile). I have only found one installer that advertises that they do solar power. If any one know of anything in this area let me know. Thx again. I will be lurking in the shadows for the most part till I learn enough not to sound to stupid. James

Comments

  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    you should check out a free pdf download of home power magazine and check for installers in the back pages. it might also help you learn a few things. click on sample issue on the left side of the page just above contact us.
    http://www.homepower.com/home/
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    James,

    Welcome aboard!

    You have asked the $64,000 question... But it is a very difficult one to answer directly. People have different requirements and local conditions. To make "one all inclusive post" would be either difficult or close to uselessly confusing.

    So, my question... What is it you want from "solar"? To lower utility bills, have long term backup power, full off grid system for remote cabin, or some combination of all of the above?

    Since solar electric power is not usually "cheap", conservation is a very important place to start. You are "building" your own power station and the more power you need to supply, the larger (and more costly) your power station will cost.

    Also, one has to be realistic on siting the solar power panels... If you do not have full sun from ~9am-3pm with no shadows (power lines, trees, etc.) for your electric panels--then the economics of the system become more difficult to rationalize.

    In the end, conservation should be your first goal. Using a kill-a-watt meter to measure your actual power demands and "investing" in appliances that use less power than your current appliances is almost always the first cost effective move to make.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    niel, thx for the link to homepower

    BB, I want to lower utility bills. I'm not neccessary looking right now for a system to total delete my power bill but one that I can expand in the future. As for panel placement I have a 30 x 40 steel building with one side of the roof that faces due south with no shade and my house has pretty good amount of roof that faces east and west. Thx for the replys James
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    To lower your utility bills, first do as much conservation as you can... New appliances, insulation, double pane windows, ground source A/C (if you have air conditioning), etc. will all help--a lot!

    You can use this site to get an idea of how much solar power per year you can get for any size of solar panels.

    For example, using Mobile as being close to you... a 4kW system will generate about 4,959 kWhrs per year (standard Grid Tied system). A 4kW system will cost you, roughly, $8 per watt (retail installed) or $32,000 dollars.

    $perkWhr=($32,000 / 4,959 kWhrs per year) / 25 year est life=$0.258 per kWhr (no maintenance, taxes, cost of money calculations, etc.)

    In theory, you pay around $0.076 per kWhr...

    You can look for rebates and other incentives to further reduce you capital costs at this site.

    In my state (California), we have tiered pricing where power goes from ~$0.09 to ~$0.50 per kWhr--depending plan and usage (base residential works about to around ~$0.11-$0.20 per kWhr, unless you use A/C where it can get to over $0.30 per kWhr).

    Questions?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    My house is only two years old. It has insulated double pane windows and the framing is fully insulated. Its wood frame constructions with full brick veneer. The two things that I wish that I had done during constructions was to spray in closed cell insulation on the underside of the roof and use galvalume metal roof instead of Timberline shingles. I thought about doing the closed cell insulation now but the cost is so much more because of having to work thru an attic access.

    I fully understand that conservation is the best way to start things rolling.

    Is the installation on a system something that a pretty competant DIYer can do?
    I wired this house and built my shop with help from friends. thx James
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Certainly, installing a solar RE system is not beyond the knowledge of somebody with experience bending conduit and wiring up circuit breaker panels.

    However, identifying the requirements for your area (mechanical, electrical, utility) can be a bit of a pain.

    Talking with somebody that has done the work in your area before (licensed electrician, local building department, local PE) and you may be able to do the work yourself under their license.

    Some states that provide substantial rebates, at times, have made it almost impossible for do-it-yourself'ers to install their own systems and still get the rebates.

    Also, some electric utilities treat Grid Tied systems like the second coming of Satan just waiting to kill their linemen (not likely) and/or cut into their profits (IMHO, actually a valid concern with Net Metered systems)--And other utilities just look for the local building inspector's OK and have a ton of signed paperwork for insurance and specifying the grid tie inverter brand and model (a practical approach)...

    Sizing the system and selecting/purchasing the major components are something that is easy to do through this discussion. Look at your monthly electric bill for 12-24 months to figure out your standard power consumption and size the system accordingly (generally, if Grid-Tied, sizing the system to supply your average yearly power--generally it is not worth oversizing the system as you will never get any money back for the excess power you "give" to your utility--but it depends on your local regulatory structure).

    Picking the correct wires, type of insulation, etc. is not too difficult either--Jim/Crewzer is generally the goto person here.

    Other issues, minimum sizing of the electric service and house breaker/distribution boxes (home vs commercial requirements) is not difficult--but is confusing and is hard to evaluate without inspecting the home's service.

    The first time will be confusing and take quite a while to get everything understood and properly documented... By the time you have done a few systems--it is a piece of cake.

    In your case, since the home is new--your service is probably 200 amps+ so you will probably not need to upgrade your service/breaker panel for you first system. And if everyone paid attention with the appliances, lighting, and insulation--you are probably better off than I was in my 65+ year old home that did not even have any insulation and a 30 amp service.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • wilsonbhwilsonbh Solar Expert Posts: 57 ✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power
    enginenine wrote: »
    My house is only two years old. It has insulated double pane windows and the framing is fully insulated. Its wood frame constructions with full brick veneer. The two things that I wish that I had done during constructions was to spray in closed cell insulation on the underside of the roof and use galvalume metal roof instead of Timberline shingles. I thought about doing the closed cell insulation now but the cost is so much more because of having to work thru an attic access.

    I fully understand that conservation is the best way to start things rolling.

    Is the installation on a system something that a pretty competant DIYer can do?
    I wired this house and built my shop with help from friends. thx James

    Absolutely YES to your question about DYI. However, the rebate system is designed against this. You can get around it if you find a Master Electrician that will subcontract you, allowing you to install the system and then sign it off at the end. They make money for doing almost nothing and you make money by doing it yourself.

    Solar Electric is a strange world but only because there aren't any "How To" books that contains all you need to know in one spot. This site is a great starting point to learn. Heck! I'm still learning myself....

    Good luck to you.......BTW, I just had a standing seam galvalume metal roof installed and I can tell that my A/C runs about 1/2 as much now. That roof really keeps the heat out.
  • mikeomikeo Solar Expert Posts: 386 ✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    I don't believe Alabama has net metering at this point. If you install PV solar system then you will need a battery based system and inverter and then wire downstream loads directly through the inverter. Usually these downstream loads would include lights, refrigerators, freezers and any other item you would deem critical if the grid power should fail. These down stream load are programmed to pull their current from the PV system when the sun is shining and powered by the grid otherwise. You would need to design these loads to match your inverters/PV ouput to efficiently reduce your power bill and not stress your batteries. I don't believe this would be cost effective at your location since rebates would not be available and it won't save you money on power, but if you want to spend the money to learn about PV solar and be one of the first in your area to have a solar electric system, have lights when others are in the black or running their smelly generators, then by all means do it. You should be able to install it yourself with few issues since grid tie is not legally possible where you live and you have already accomplished the rest of the house wiring yourself. I think you could put in a 2kw system for around $12K more or less depending on finding some deals on components. If you read and understand this reference document http://www.nmsu.edu/%7Etdi/pdf-resources/pdf%20version%20divided%20PV:NEC/PV-NEC%201.8/PV-NEC-V-1.8.pdf
    you will have some good ideas on how to safely install and wire a system. I would try to stay as close to current codes as possible in case grid tie becomes a future option. You could probably save money though by installing a solar hot water booster with out nearly as big a cash outlay if reducing your monthly utility bills are your first concern and your house is in a suitable location and you have already otherwise conserved as much as possible.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    I too would suggest looking at domestic solar hot water if grid tied / net metered power is not an option for you at this time and you are looking to save money.

    The typical off-grid capable system will easily put your electric costs at more than $1.00 per kWhr. Just no way that can compete with the costs of utility power at this time. And if you include battery replacement costs over the years/decades--those will probably keep battery backed off-grid power going up too.

    I assume you use quite a bit of electricity because of air conditioning... So installing a small solar electric system of any cost is not going to impact your bill very much...

    From a quick search on the web, you may use TVA power in your state and it is possible that your local utility may let you install Grid Tied solar and TVA would pay you $0.20 per kWhr for your power...

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    We are under Baldwin EMC for power. I need to contact them as see if I can get some info from them. I read an article this morning in the paper about a city gov. building in Foley (about 15 minutes south-still Baldwin EMC) that they installed solar panels on didn't say if it was off or on grid though. I need to see if I can find out who did the work.

    I think solar hot water would be a good place to start. Both my water heaters are in the attic so the plumbing would be easy enough.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Our power usage range between 1100 and 2200 Kwh per month depending on the month.

    I don't want an off-grid system. If grid-tie is not an option here I may have to look at other things.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    You probably have nothing to lose contacting your utility and asking about grid-tied equipment...

    Take a look at this PDF file (page 6 and 7 in file, last two pages of news letter) from May 2007 where they were to discuss net metering and <10kW customer owned generating equipment.
    PURPA Section 111(d)(11)
    Net Metering

    Net metering that allows residential or commercial consumers to generate electricity gives the Cooperative the ability to credit members for excess generation. Net metering will encourage conservation of energy supplied by Baldwin EMC since the net metering member can supply up to 10 KW (for residential) or 100 KW (for commercial) of energy generated on the member’s site. Net metering will not encourage the efficient use of facilities and resources since Baldwin EMC will be required to serve the total energy requirements of each net metering member when the member’s generation is unavailable.

    In addition, Baldwin EMC will not require its members who are not participating in net metering to subsidize the cost of the program. Also, equitable retail rates for Baldwin EMC’s members will be maintained. Baldwin EMC will credit a member for any electricity furnished to Baldwin EMC using AEC’s avoided cost of generation. Lastly, any excess generation by net metering members will be credited back in the form of power at a rate acceptable to AEC.

    The Cooperative’s staff has considered PURPA Section 111(d)(11), Net Metering, and has recommended to Baldwin EMC’s Board of Trustees that net metering be offered to the Cooperative’s members.

    Sounds like that Baldwin EMC would be very open to a discussion with you.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Solar GuppySolar Guppy Solar Expert Posts: 1,989 ✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Sounds like your excess will get credited only wholesale value .. in your area where most power is from Hydro I'd be surprised if you got more than 2 cents a kWhr credit. Alabama has some of the lowest rates in the country
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Solar, I see your from Lakeland. I grew up in Ft. Meade. small world. James
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Is solar water heater a better option than a straight tank-less water heater?
  • Solar GuppySolar Guppy Solar Expert Posts: 1,989 ✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Yes, Tankless are overrated in there savings ...
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    I got an almost perfect set-up for a solar water heater systems. I think that will be my first thing to do. Are there any DIY kits out there? James
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Two different animals...

    I have a 50 gallon tanked water heater (0.58-0.60 efficiency) that costs me about $400 to replace today (12 year model) and ~$20 per month (natural gas) for a four person home (2 of them kids that love to take long showers). Can be replaced by me.

    A 50 gallon condensing water heater (~.90-0.95 efficiency). One that is reasonable for my home, $2,700 (might be able to install this one myself).

    A tankless water heater--maybe $1,000 and another $1,000 to install (wild guesses to convert flue and gas pipes, and install tankless water heater (at least for the first install).

    A solar water heater system, call it $7,000 installed.

    So assuming gas prices 4x over 20 years (and average of 4x over today's costs, and that average gas price over 20 years would be 2x) and everything set to 20 year costs (no up-front cost of money):

    2 * $20 per month * 12 m/y * 20 yr + $400 replacement heater * 20yr/12yr = $10,000

    Condensing water heater (1/2 gas use) with 6 year warranty:

    2 * $10 per month *12 m/y * 20 yr + $2,700 * 20yr/6yr = $13,800

    Tankless system with 20 year(?) life (assume use 1/2 natural gas):

    2 * $10 per month * 12 m/y * 20 yr + $2,000 installed = $6,800

    Solar system 20 year life (?) (no backup heat?)

    $0 per month + $7,000 installed = $7,000

    So--I am a bit surprised... Assuming inflation for fuel (and ignoring inflation of water heater costs) and that I can replace my water heater by myself today... The solar powered and pure tankless water heaters are roughly equivalent (assuming the average price of natural gas over 20 years is double today's prices).

    Since just replacing a leaking tanked water heater is so cheap--there are not much in the way of up-front costs of money--and you are paying years out gas prices with inflated money--I am not sure that there is a persuasive argument one way or the other as to which system one would choose (assuming you have natural gas)

    The condensing water heater (even with zero installation costs) is just a very expensive solution. I like tanked heaters over demand type heaters (tankless) because they can supply full flow with zero temperature changes (tanked heaters are not near as stable--at least the several I have used).

    I am not sure that tankless water heaters are all that maintenance free--and parts to repair can take days (or longer) to get--from what I have seen before.

    And getting a permit to install new tankless or solar systems when my current water heater is down--Not sure I want to wait for this.

    Lastly, I am not sure my assumption for zero maintenance costs for a solar water heater system is real either...

    In the end, I would jump on solar if I had an electric water heater... I am not sure that there are any really good replacement solutions for the plain old gas water heater (assuming it is relatively efficient).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Our water heaters are electric. Gas is not offered down out street. I think I looking for a system(s) to supplement what we have, not directly replace it. James
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    James,

    There are tankless electric water heaters--but in reality, they are hardly more efficient than a well insulated tanked water heater (no open flue up the center of 50 gallons of hot water like a gas water heater has)...

    Also, various people have reported that their house lights "blink" every time the tankless electric hot water heater turns on and off (sometimes, many times per minute as they need to adjust the output water temperature). I would avoid a tankless electric water heater as it is almost impossible to stop the lights from blinking with the on/off nature of the rapid changes in heavy loads (and there is no real money savings either).

    Depending on the price of your electric power and propane (if allowed and practical at your home)--it might save you some money to go with propane (especially tankless propane water heater).

    On the other hand, if you have good solar power and location for install, a solar thermal system plus electric hot water is a good cost effective system.

    They do sell kits (just Google). And I have seen, at least one unit, where you remove the bottom electric heating element and use the lower port to connect to your solar panels... The solar panels heat the whole tank, and the upper electric heater behaves as a backup heat source when solar is not available or you have used it up.

    Regarding details--I would read this guy's project (Mike 90045 posted the project link in this thread) from end to end (this link points to the middle where he documents building the solar thermal side of the system).

    It is full of pictures and documents where he went wrong (wrong pumps, pipes organized to trap bubbles, pumps mounted at wrong angle which will cause premature wear, etc.)...

    I can't think of a better place to see a well documented do-it-your-self project... Also, this project was designed to be completely off-grid (DC solar panel to run pumps) with a tankless gas water heater for thermal backup. He also ended up designing his own off-grid DC thermal controller and now has it for sale on his site.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Solar GuppySolar Guppy Solar Expert Posts: 1,989 ✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    I installed a 40sf kit, to my exsiting electric tank from www.solarroofs.com for about 1600.00 in 2001 ( looks like its now 2500 ) . Place is still selling kits 7 years later, a good sign http://www.solarroofs.com/purchase/sys3.html

    For a family of 2, it took care of 90% of the hot water needs. More people would need more collectors and bigger tank ( I had 50 gallon ), whats nice about this system is the collectors are very light weight and the send/return replaces the drain of a standard hotwater tank, slick and effective. http://www.floridasolarhotwater.com/quickconnect.html

    If the solar is not keeping up, the upper element works as usual so no futzing with the controllers or tanks ... very cost effective system and I can say first hand, only takes a day to install and works very well
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    SG,

    I have run across this system before... How do you like the Polycarbonate cover used on the collectors? I see that they have a 10 year warranty and are supposed to be easy to replace.

    So far, does it look like the collectors and related parts will last 20 years (excluding pump seals, water tanks, and such)?

    In our area, we have tons of hot water systems that appear to be "dead" (clouded over plastic, trackers that are always pointed to one side, open plumbing that stops at the roof line, tattered / cloudy / rusty collectors, etc.).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Solar GuppySolar Guppy Solar Expert Posts: 1,989 ✭✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Well, The poly did cloud up, but the collectors worked fine while I owned the system.

    I just replaced the collectors for the home owner of the system I did in 2001 ( was my home then ), looks like they unplugged the controller at one time and had pipe failures in the collectors. The freeze protection was the cirulator would run if the collector went below 40 deg, so no controller = no freeze protection ( this is an open loop system ). The home owners got a new pair of collectors for 1K and took me 60 minutes to swap out, plug in the controller and its back up and running

    The Old collectors are now in my garage and taken apart, for about 100 dollars and maybe 8 hours labor I have them rebuilt, including new poly and will be putting them on what little roof space I have :roll:

    They are very simple collectors, just an alumimum box, with 3/8" copper pipe with coated fins on the copper pipe and ridged insulation and poly for the covers, its shocking how simple yet effect solar hotwater is ... reason I haven't put thermal on my current home is 12kW of PV is already zeroing the bill out:roll: .. but with free collectors I figured time to do this project
  • hillbillyhillbilly Solar Expert Posts: 334 ✭✭
    Re: New to the site and solar power

    Regarding Tankless heaters, having lived (and "visited") with several tankless heaters, I would say that for the most part I've not found them to be overly difficult, or problematic to use. We currenltly have one as our only water heater for our house, now almost 2 years old. I would have to agree with SG's comment about the efficiency of the tankless heaters being somewhat over stated. IMO the biggest benifit that they have to offer is to those who like to take LOOOOONNNGGGG showers; no worries about running out of hot water, but otherwise I'm not overly impressed by them personally....
    One thing that bothers me a bit is the fact that most that I've seen are electric powered (almost all at 110AC), meaning that in the event of a power outage you have no hot water. This is not a real issue for us, being that we are off grid and have batteries... but still something to consider, for anyone who lives in areas prone to prolonged power outages, and/or without power backup. Another issue is depending on how you route your plumbing, and where you place the heater you can sometimes have a lot of water that you have to cycle through the "hot" water pipe before you actually get some heated water, durring which time the gas is running. For instance, our kitchen sink is a ways away from out heater, so if I want to wash my hands in that sink I have to run the hot water for 3-4 times the length of time that I actually need to wash my hands. This is less of an issue for longer, more constant use of hot water like for showers, and a bit less of an issue for any water outlets that are located very close to the heater...If I were to do it over, I would absolutely locate the heater close to our kitchen sink, where we frequently want small amounts of hot water intermittently, rather than close to the bathroom where we need hot water on a much more infrequent basis, but for longer times (don't ask me what I was thinking originally, but for some reason I did it the other way around)
    I'd have to say that I would still recomend them as a viable option to a lot of people, but I do believe that they have been over-hyped as a "super efficient" means of heating water. For us, using Propane, and with the current increase in costs there, we spend probably close to $30-40 a month for just my wife and I to heat water!!! Obviously I would love to switch to a solar hot water system, even if it just cut down a major portion of our propane usage...
    for what it's worth, my two cents worth...
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