Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

BrigitteBrigitte Registered Users Posts: 5
Hello - I'm looking for a referral to solar companies in my area. There are many advertised but not all seem able to deliver. I am hoping to get enough panels to power a small homesteading farm operation. Thank you.

Comments

  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Welcome, Tell us more about the "Homestead" as how much power you currently use and what ideas you have for Solar power.

    Sorry I don't know much about dealers in your area of the world.
     
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  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    I don't live in your area, and I am not in the solar biz... So I cannot help you on references.

    However--One thing that we have done for many people is help you understand your loads and do a couple "paper designs" for a suggested system.

    You will know a lot more and, hopefully, whomever you contract with will be better able to install a system that meets your needs (and you will have enough knowledge that you can double check what the contractor is doing).

    Are you going to have Utility power on the farm and you want backup+solar power. Or will this be a pure off grid system.

    Many times for farms, they have fairly big power needs (water pumping, material processing, shop for welding/repairs) and sometimes high seasonal power (grain drying). Pure off grid solar is frequently a difficult road to follow for such systems.

    If you are after enough power for a homestead (refrigerator, lights, clothes washer, well pump, laptop computer + TV, etc.), off grid solar + backup genset can be competitive with utility power (i.e., cost of running a 1/2 mile of utility lines are no longer cheap).

    Your thoughts/needs?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Blackcherry04Blackcherry04 Solar Expert Posts: 2,490 ✭✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Here is a company that has sold my SREC's. I have no clue about them, they didn't install my system. These big companies can leave a lot to be desired .

    http://www.astrumsolar.com/
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    most do internet ordering and have the items shipped to them so i have to ask if your intentions were to pick these items up yourself?
  • BrigitteBrigitte Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    "Welcome, Tell us more about the "Homestead" as how much power you currently use and what ideas you have for Solar power."

    We have an acre of open pasture, a few chickens, a small orchard, many gardens and a 30' x 30' log home without central heat/ac (just a few occasionally used baseboard heaters and a wood stove - we like to "acclimatize" to the weather - we use lots of fans in the height of summer). Otherwise I imagine the main draw from the house would be the hot water heater, fridge and other standard appliances. My husband and I both work from home so powering computers is important but otherwise we are considering seriously scaling back the fridge, washer and dryer to smaller (possibly under the counter) models since it is just the two of us. I expect more gardens but not more livestock as I've done sheep and found them impractical for such a small operation.

    My main concern is pumping water from a deep well 300' down (I read another thread about this and have begun to look at Grundfos). Losing grid electric in such a scenario could have major impact for us since we do not have any above ground water.

    Our average use is 1500 KW/month - much higher in winter I assume due to hot water use. The pasture has good southern exposure but the area above the well is under the forest canopy.

    I have looked into solar and wind off and on over the years but don't have hands on experience installing electric of any kind although I am technologist by trade, so I have a modest level of confidence in being able to figure this out. The last time I dug into the questions in any detail I discovered (via the Dsire database) that the winds are not strong or sustained enough to support a windmill. I was also informed by a knowledgeable friend that solar panels were expecting to make great strides in efficiency (more than 2 years ago) but I'm not sure that has happened? At least I have not seen news to support that.

    Thank you in advance for your thoughtful replies. I am delighted to have found this group.

    Brigitte
  • BrigitteBrigitte Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    At this moment we don't have enough knowledge to do the install ourselves, but since I have found local companies to be more talk than action I am ready to embrace the necessity of DIY. We could rent a truck to pick up panels but I can't imagine that my Honda Element has enough cargo space. During road trips we have noticed may solar installs in Pennsylvania so we would be willing to drive within a 200 - 250 mile radius if the costs are significantly impacted.

    Thank you for your kind guidance.
    Brigitte
  • vtmapsvtmaps Solar Expert Posts: 3,741 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV
    Brigitte wrote: »
    Our average use is 1500 KW/month - much higher in winter I assume due to hot water use.

    I think you mean 1500 kwHours per month. That is huge for a battery-based system. I presume you are looking to install a grid-tie system.
    Brigitte wrote: »
    I was also informed by a knowledgeable friend that solar panels were expecting to make great strides in efficiency (more than 2 years ago) but I'm not sure that has happened? At least I have not seen news to support that.

    Efficiency of solar panels is only an issue if you have very limited space to install the panels... then you need as many watts per sq ft as possible. For most folks the important consideration is dollars per watt, and panels are as cheap now (dollars per watt) as they've ever been. It's not at all obvious that they will be getting any cheaper any time soon.

    --vtMaps
    4 X 235watt Samsung, Midnite ePanel, Outback VFX3524 FM60 & mate, 4 Interstate L16, trimetric, Honda eu2000i
  • BrigitteBrigitte Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Hello Bill,

    Amen to your statements re. being knowledgeable esp. when dealing with contractors. I would love to be off grid. I saw some other references to backup generators but I'm not entirely following how this impacts a solar installation. Is the generator setup so that once we disconnect the conglomerate electric we will have something available for when the sun doesn't shine? I guess what I'm beginning to understand is that it's not possible to setup an off-grid system with the option to "flip the switch" back on for grid-supplied power.

    I am also a bit confounded by the idea of using a generator with an off-grid system. Don't most generators use diesel? Should massive or long term blackouts occur wouldn't fuel become a precious and guarded commodity?
  • BrigitteBrigitte Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Hello vtmaps and thank you for your frank reply. Our power use is much greater than I would prefer. We are also investigating tankless water heaters so that we can knock that KWH use down. What is the best/average/max KWH that a battery based system can generate?
  • vtmapsvtmaps Solar Expert Posts: 3,741 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV
    Brigitte wrote: »
    We are also investigating tankless water heaters so that we can knock that KWH use down.

    A tankless heater is unlikely to have any effect on your energy use. The reason is that a conventional tank type electric water heater can be insulated like a thermos... there is no appreciable heat wasted because of the storage. That's not true for a propane tank type heater... those heaters have a flue running through the center of the tank which means that it is not possible to store the heated water without some loss. I would avoid an electric tankless heater... they are expensive, complicated and prone to need repairs.
    Brigitte wrote: »
    What is the best/average/max KWH that a battery based system can generate?
    There is no limit except your money... read: http://forum.solar-electric.com/showthread.php?20582

    --vtMaps
    4 X 235watt Samsung, Midnite ePanel, Outback VFX3524 FM60 & mate, 4 Interstate L16, trimetric, Honda eu2000i
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Don't get to wrapped up in the solution yet... It is possible to do almost anything you want if you have enough money and a large enough location to install the equipment. Whether or not it is cost effective for you or not--That is usually the question.

    Just to give you a starting point.
    • 1 kWH per day (30 kWH per month): Just enough power for some lighting, small TV, laptop computer, maybe a small pump to pressurize your plumbing for kitchen sink/shower. Pretty much like living in an RV
    • 3.3 kWH per day (100 kWH per month): Add a full sized refrigerator, clothes washer, well pump. A very efficient home+family can make a pretty normal "modern home" on this amount of power.
    • 10 kWH per day ( 300 kWH per month): We run our home (natural gas for heating/cooking/hot water) with central heat, a couple refrigerators, computers, TV, etc. Ours is Grid Tied power with small generator for emergency backup (have not needed to start a generator for 20+ years--pretty reliable power on average).
    • 33 kWH per day (1,000 kWH per month): Average north American Home--Not much in the way of conservation. Some electric cooking, possibly electric hot water.
    • 100 kWH per day (3,000 kWH per month): All electric home, heavy use of air conditioning, etc.

    And to give you a rough idea of the cost of off grid power ~ Roughly $1 to $2+ per kWH for electricity (capital costs+maintenance+battery replacement every 5-8 years, new inverter+charge controller+electronics every 10+ years, backup generator+fuel divided by (20 year life * kWH used)). Note some people do get down towards $0.50 per kWH with Do It Yourself projects, and others (seasonal cabins, etc.) can be over $2.50 per kWH for power.

    So--Is it worth $1,500 to $3,000 per month out of your wallet to be "off grid" for your home (with much of the funds spent "up front" for the installation)?

    Usually, it is not. So, we come back to loads. Many people that have never really worked at conservation before can usually achieve around a 50% reduction in their electric bill. That would include lots of insulation, installing new Energy Star rated appliances, using natural gas/propane for heating/cooking, replacing lights with LED/Florescent/CFL lighting, double pane windows, and sometimes using Heat Pumps for heating+hot water.

    And, many times, conservation projects actually make the home nicer to live in (reduced drafts, quieter) and add to the value of the home. Grid Tied and Off Grid power systems are more of a gamble. If you find the correct buyer, they may add some to the value of the home. Frequently, buyers are a little scared of the solar panels on the roof and the room full of batteries+electronics. And, in any case, the batteries+electronics have only a ~10 year +/- life--So they may need replacement with by a new buyer anyway in the relatively near future.

    Just to give you a back of the envelope estimate using "nominal" rules of thumb for an off grid solar system. First the battery bank:
    • 1,500 kWH per month * 1/30 days per month = 50 kWH per day
    • 50,000 WH per day * 1/0.85 inverter eff * 2 days backup power * 1/0.50 max battery discharge * 1/48 volt battery bank = 4,902 AH @ 48 volt battery bank

    To charge such a battery bank, you would need:
    • 4,902 AH * 59 volts charging * 1/0.77 panel+controller deratings * 0.05 rate of charge = 18,780 Watt array minimum
    • 4,902 AH * 59 volts charging * 1/0.77 panel+controller deratings * 0.10 rate of charge = 37,561 Watt array nominal
    • 4,902 AH * 59 volts charging * 1/0.77 panel+controller deratings * 0.13 rate of charge = 48,829 Watt array "cost effective" maximum

    And using PV Watts to estimate the sun for your location (using Harrisburg PA as nearest), fixed array, tilted to latitude:
    Month    Solar Radiation (kWh/m 2/day)
    1      3.44     
    2      4.11     
    3      4.70     
    4      5.28     
    5      5.29     
    6      5.61     
    7      5.59     
    8      5.32     
    9      4.89     
    10      4.41     
    11      3.05     
    12      2.58     
    Year      4.52      
    

    Tossing out the bottom three months (assume use generator for bad weather), February at 4.11 hours of sun per day:
    • 50,000 WH per day * 1/0.52 system efficiency * 1/4.11 hours of sun = 23,395 Watt array minimum

    So, based on my guesses, your array should be in the range of 23,395 to 48,829 Watts to run your home "off grid" for 9+ months of the year, plus you would need a backup genset for winter/poor weather that goes beyond ~2-3 day stretches.

    An Off Grid power system with a 24 kWatt array+batteries+genset+labor+etc... Would probably be in the range of $200,000-$400,000... We can help you nail down the pricing closer--But it gives you an idea what it would take to power your home and its present power usage.

    A grid tied power system with utility supported 1 year net metered power:
    • 50,000 WH per day * 1/0.77 GT system Eff * 1/4.52 hours of sun = 14,366 Watt array

    Or, very roughly around $70,000-$115,000 for turnkey installation (subtract 30% Fed tax credit--about to expire).

    Your thoughts?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Before I go off for my latest day-long torture session ...

    Consider these points:

    1). Why do you want to do this? If it is to save money, forget it; you won't. Off-grid power is still much more expensive than grid power. If it is for back-up power, a generator is nearly always cheaper. If it is to make a political/ecological statement or experiment with solar, fine. But know that it is expensive.

    2). First step in off-grid is to reduce power consumption as much as possible, unless you have unlimited financial resources and don't mind throwing away lots of money. Heating anything with electric should be the first to go as it is not an efficient use of the technology. This would be replacing your electric water heater with NG or propane and ditching electric baseboard heaters, followed by coffee makers, bread machines, et cetera.

    3). Pumping water is hard. It takes a lot of power to start and run a conventional pump. As such this is another area where you need to rethink the system from the well up. Sometimes it is better to invest the $ in changing to a more efficient pumping system, sometimes it is better to invest it in supplying power for the existing one. This needs serious, detailed analysis.

    4). Almost all off-grid systems have generators for back-up. Yes, generators run on fossil fuel. If you think that is likely to suddenly disappear you haven't been paying attention through last however-many fuel outages that were all fabricated to get the price up. For that matter a diesel engine can be made to run on cooking oil and a gas one can be converted to alcohol, both of which are technically renewable. But expensive.

    5). Don't spend a dime on any equipment of any sort until you have a plan. Preferably two or three plans, exactingly worked out as to how much power you will need and how you will get it and what will happen if you don't.

    6). For most people there is no real advantage whatsoever in going off grid. Perhaps you should look into a grid-tie system (the practicality of which will depend on your local utility and whatever incentives are available). And maybe some emergency power source to keep critical things like refrigeration going in the event of an outage. Always evaluate how often outages happen where you are and how long they last.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    And to clarify the Generator/Grid system options... A pure Off Grid (or Hybrid) capable system does not care where the power comes from.

    Usually it is from Solar Panels (most cost effective, least maintenacne option)--But it can be anything... Hydroelectric generator, wind turbine, genset, utility power, etc.

    More or less, AC power (generator, utility power) goes into a "Hybrid" or Off Grid AC inverter's AC1/AC2 inputs, and any DC power (wind/water turbines, solar power, etc.) goes into the DC Battery Bank bus. Although, there are exceptions that sometimes make sense.

    The major difference between an Off Grid inverter and a Hybrid AC inverter... Both use a large battery bank for stored power and provide AC power 24x7--A Hybrid Inverter can also back feed the utility AC power and "turn the meter backwards" when the sun is shining (you basically treat the utility like a giant AC Battery Bank and the electric meter is how you "rent" its capacity). If the utility power fails, the Hybrid inverter goes "off grid" and supplies AC power for your needs.

    Hybrid vs Off Grid inverters are about the same price--Inverter price is based more on feature sets and quality. Solar panels and Battery bank are probably where 66-75% of your costs will be. The rest (inverters, charge controllers, wiring, panels, etc.) are "round off" error.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,800 admin
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    There are some cases where "going off grid" or install a large grid tied system may make sense (to add to Cariboocoot/Marc's post):
    1. You use very little power (100-300 kWH per month maximum). If you do not current have utility power, it can cost a lot to run a line/poles. And if you do not use much power (seasonal home, very efficient family/home, etc.), electric companies are starting to use high fixed cost billing with low kWH pricing... Today, I pay $4 per month + ~$0.20 per kWH. People are starting to see $40-$100 per month fixed charges and $0.06 per kWH bills--Homes that do not use much power are "killed" by high fixed charging.
    2. Your government has setup "FIT" system (feed in tariff). Basically the utility pays $0.50-$0.85 per kWH for somebody to micro generate solar "green" power. This is going away rapidly (Canada, Spain, etc.). Does not make any real economic sense and companies/countries are going bankrupt with these schemes.
    3. You have very unreliable power. Many regions of the world have summer afternoon/evening power failures. A battery bank+AC Inverter/Charger will recharge at night/morning and carry the home/business through afternoon outages.
    4. You are in a region with major "end of the world" storms and/or you are in a remote area where it can take weeks to months to restore power. Outages that last more than 1-2 weeks (and you don't have/trust natural gas as a fuel source) generally stress on-site fuel storage... When outages last a month or longer, solar PV power can make a lot of sense.

    Anyway, if you have reliable and cost effective utility power, off grid solar power is usually very difficult to justify.

    And gensets (even very good ones) are not that expensive, and their standby costs are low (maintenance). They only "kill you" when operating--And that is only usually for a few days a year for most people. The fuel costs ($$$/kWH) for a generator is on the order of $$$/kWH costs for off grid solar... It is the noise/fumes/motor maintenance that make gensets something that people avoid.

    You can go with a hybrid genset--Basically, a battery bank + AC Inverter/Charger too -- The generator runs during the day when you need lots of AC power (and recharge a small battery bank), and the battery bank runs the home at night (when power usage is small)--This has been done in Africa and other places where there is 24x7 power needed, but peak power is limited to a set time (say evenings when the village returns home from fields/work).

    Gensets are most cost effective when operated around 50% to 80% of their nameplate capacity... For homes, the variation between night time lows and daytime peaks makes it difficult to keep a genset operating at its optimum load (and where the battery bank+inverter/charger come into play).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • NorthGuyNorthGuy Solar Expert Posts: 1,913 ✭✭
    Re: Solar Companies in Maryland, Central PA, WV

    Don't think of off-grid living as a low-energy-consumption-torture boot camp. It is up to you to size your system to meet your needs.

    It's very easy to do approximate finacial calculations.

    1. Asses your loads, see where you can save energy, and figure the size of your system.

    2. Figure out the cost of the system. It'll be cheaper if you go DIY. If someone installs it for you, you may be looking at triple the DIY cost.

    3. Figure out what would be your electric bill for the next 15 years if you go with the grid.

    If 2 is less than 3, going off-grid will save you money. Doesn't happen to most people though.

    If they're about equal then this is a question of preference. Again, most people prefer the grid, because they don't like to take responsibilities for their off-grid system.

    If 2 is way higher than 3, then you better have some compelling reason to go off-grid.
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