Category Archives for "Solar How-to"

How to Set Up a Solar Driveway Gate

solar-driveway

A solar driveway gate provides the ultimate convenience.

Although solar driveway gates might seem a bit foreign to someone living in the city or a compact suburban neighborhood, they are quite common in rural areas where driveways can be longer than football fields.

Ranches, farms, and other working land plots often require fencing to protect livestock and crops from potential threats. This fencing also serves to distinguish land borders and helps to keep order on an otherwise sprawling acreage.

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What is Ideal for a Small Solar Power System: Kits or DIY?

small-solar-power-system

Small solar power systems can charge your gadgets while traveling

Are you drawn to the convenience of solar panels? Does the idea of taking a solar panel with you when you go camping, tailgating, or traveling to charge up all your gadgetry whenever you want appeal to you? If you’ve thought about buying a small solar power system but don’t know exactly where to start, we’ve got you covered!Continue reading

Solar Panels Maintenance: Is It Really Necessary?

solar-panels-maintenance

The Honest, No-Sales-Talk Answer: Is Solar Panel Maintenance Required?

There’s a lot of information out there on if, or how much, solar panels maintenance is needed. Some of this information is accurate and useful, but some is simply conjecture and product sales. How can you tell the difference between what’s necessary and what’s just a sales pitch? Let’s take a look.
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Do I Need Snow Guards for Solar Panels?

snow-guards-for-solar-panels

Ever experienced a solar panel avalanche? Then read on to find out if you need snow guards for solar panels.

Although people living in warmer climates would never consider how snow could impact their solar experience and even ask the question if they need snow guards for solar panels, those residing in the northern regions of the US must always consider their weather when it comes to anything exposed to the elements. Failure to take mother nature into consideration often has dire consequences and how you handle your solar installation is no different.

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What Are Some Good Solar Panel Cleaning Tools?

solar-panel-cleaning-tools

If it’s time to spruce up your solar panels, let’s first look at the best solar panel cleaning tools.

You probably remember the moment your shiny new solar panels arrived at your home and were installed on your roof. Just like we marvel at brand new TVs with no fingerprints or smudges fouling the picture, pristine solar panels can be quite impressive. But just like that TV, solar panels will start to accumulate dust and dirt on the surface very quickly, and that is when you have to consider your solar panel cleaning tools.

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How to: Solar Panel Snow Removal

solar-panel-snow-removal

A ‘How to’ guide on Solar Panel Snow Removal

Trying to find ways around that pesky snow that’s jamming up your solar production?

Don’t worry, you are not alone in your search for the best solution to solar panel snow removal. Thousands of solar homeowners from snowy states are trying to find the answer to that same issue. From special rakes to throwing balls at their snow-covered panels, people have tried it all.

How, or if, you clean you solar panels largely depends on your roof. If it’s easy to access from the ground, maybe all you need is a snow rake. If your panels are mounted all over your roof or your roof is very high, you might have to look into other methods.Continue reading

Where is the Best Place to Find Solar Company Reviews?

solar-company-reviews

Finding Solar Company Reviews

Finding a reliable contractor is crucial to make your solar dream a reality.  Hiring a fly-by-night installer is a very quick way to turn your solar dream into a nightmare – so how do you make sure you pick a good company?

Image: Yes, these guys are drilling holes in your roof.

Looking at solar company reviews should be your first step in picking who you do business with. By themselves reviews on the internet aren’t worth all that much, but they’re a good starting point. While you should never make a decision off the back of a single review, the general tone of things should provide you with a solid idea of a company’s reputation and character. Take note of things that crop up a lot – if a dozen people are all saying the same thing, that’s a good sign that you’ll have a similar experience. If a company has responded to a review you can use the quality and tone of that response as another measure to help you form an initial opinion.Continue reading

6 Tips for Finding Good Solar Contractors and Going Solar

solar-contractors

Finding Solar Contractors

Going solar can seem like a daunting challenge if you are just starting your research.  You’ll need to figure out how large your system should be, who should install it, how to finance the system, and how to work with your local utility company to tie into the grid – among other things!

The good news is that if you find the right solar contractor, they can help you navigate the entire process, answer questions along the way, and provide you with the peace of mind that you need in order to feel great about your decision to invest in solar.

Let’s read about some things that we should be considering during our search for the right installer.

Flipping through the yellow pages and making random phone calls might work, but there are a few things that you can try to help narrow down your list before you start researching individual contractors in earnest.  To start, check with your local utility or the local/state agency in charge of your local utility.  They might already have a list of pre-qualified installers that are certified to work on your system.  Most pro-solar states, like California, have a database like this to help you get started.

#1 Getting Multiple Quotes

Before you commit to any specific solar contractor it is highly important that you get multiple quotes and interview with multiple installers.  Yes, interview.  Make no mistake, purchasing a solar panel system and having it professionally installed is not a small job.  The workers will be performing modifications to your roof and handling very expensive electrical equipment.  With this in mind, it is important that you are doing your due diligence in determining who is right for the job.

Don’t be afraid to entertain multiple bids and ask lots of questions during the interviews to determine how knowledgeable your potential installer is about solar power and roofing.  During this time you should also be paying attention to how quickly the company responds to your inquiries, their general attitude, their level of helpfulness, and how genuine they are.  All of these qualities will factor into their finished product and it might be worth paying a little extra to ensure that your process is as painless as possible.

Questions to Ask Your Potential Solar Contractor:

  • How many years have you been in business?
  • How many installations have you completed?  In my area?
  • Have you worked with my roof type in the past?
  • Who will design the solar system?
  • Are you familiar with local rules and regulations for installing solar?
  • Do you have experience with interconnection and net metering?
  • Are you certified?
  • Are you insured?
  • May I have a list of references to contact about your previous work?

#2 Checking Solar Contractor Reviews and References

Once you’ve identified a small list of contractors that you are interested in working with, start by looking online for reviews of these companies.  If they do not have an online presence it is not necessarily a red flag, but it should be comforting to see lots of positive reviews on the company that you are looking into.  Pay special attention to any details provided about finished work, timeliness, and general level of satisfaction from the job.

More: What are the best residential solar installers?

After you’ve tossed out any contractors with poor or a lack of reviews you can start asking for references.  Even in the modern age of internet reviews, honest face-to-face recommendations from other customers simply cannot be matched in terms of authenticity.  Don’t shy away from asking your potential installer for references from some of their recent clients.  If they refuse to give you the information then they are probably not worth working with.

Questions to Ask Your References:

Just as if you were checking up on any other contractor, you should ask the following:

  • How similar is their system to what you are looking for?
  • Did the contractor clearly explain the entire process to you?
  • Were they timely?
  • How did their crew perform the work?  Were they pleasant and easy to work with?
  • How was communication with the company?
  • Did the job come in under budget?
  • Did you get the results you were looking for?
  • Would you hire them again?

#3 Handling the Fine Print

As I mentioned before, a solar panel installation is a major commitment and carries a substantial financial investment.  It is extremely important to read your entire contract carefully and ask questions about anything that seems unclear or disadvantageous to you.

Getting into every detail of a contract could require the services of a lawyer if you want to be certain you are protected.  Here are some key things to watch out for to make sure that you are aware of how the contractor will perform under certain circumstances and to ensure that you are protected.

  • Scope of work – this includes obtaining permits, labor, equipment, materials, etc. as well as adherence to the design specs.
  • Timing of the work – making sure the project starts and finishes on time.
  • Payment – how and when the contractor is to be paid for work.
  • Changes to work – you should make sure that you must sign for any changes made.
  • Warranties – What type of warranty is included?
  • Default Provisions – what happens if there is a breach of contract?
  • Lein waivers – in construction projects, it is typical that you request a lien waiver after each milestone payment to ensure that both parties have signed off on the work.
  • Project dates – having a timeline written into the contract will help ensure a timely finish.
  • Escape Hatch – what happens if your financing falls through or you otherwise have to pull out of the contract?
  • Signatures – a binding contract must have the signature of both parties.

#4 Choosing the Right Equipment/Installation

Determining how large your system should be and what type of equipment will work best is one of the first priorities that you’ll have.  This will factor into your next decisions about the type of equipment you need for your system.  The right solar contractor should be able to help you navigate through these options and find what works best for your unique situation.

Earlier I mentioned that you should ask your installer who will be designing your system.  The reason for this is simple:  not every system works on every roof.  It is important that your installer is capable of designing a system that is tailored to your exact needs:  roof pitch, shade, sunlight exposure, etc.

How Big Should Your System Be?

First, ask yourself what your goals are for your system:

  • Are you trying to power your entire home and be completely independent of your utility company’s power?
  • Do you just want to save a portion of your energy bill?
  • What is your budget for the project?

Solar Contractor Roof Square Footage

Photo courtesy of NREL.gov

As you can see in the chart, the size requirements for your system will be determined by multiple factors such as the panels used and your desired output.

Different Types of Equipment

An experienced installer should be familiar with lots of different types of equipment.  Remember that your system will include not only the panels themselves, but also inverters, cables, mounting framework, and other miscellaneous items.  If you have done your research and selected a top-notch solar contractor then you should feel confident that they will be able to help you determine the best equipment for the job.

You do not need to be an expert, but review some information online about power inverters and the basics of solar panel installations so that you can ask your potential solar contractor some questions about your system:

  • What type of power inverter will they be using?
  • What type of solar panels will they be using?
  • What is the efficiency rating of the panels?
  • Will you be able to monitor the electrical output?
  • What is the expected degradation over time?
  • What is the lifespan of individual components in the system?

#5 Exploring Payment Options

There are two major ways that you will be paying for your system and your solar contractor will be more or less relevant depending on the method you choose.

Cash and Loans

If you choose the cash or loan method, remember that you will be responsible for the total upfront cost of the system.  This means that a ballooning budget could end up setting you back way more than you originally thought.  It is highly important that you lock in some kind of price guarantee if you are going this route so that they cannot sneak any hidden costs into the equation.  If you have your financing pre-approved for a certain amount you could try to put that in the contract as a maximum allowable spend.  Also remember that you will be 100% responsible for any maintenance or repairs to your system so you should have complete knowledge of your warranty’s stipulations.

Leasing

If you are leasing your solar panels from your contractor or installer then you should be looking at different areas of the process.  Your monthly payment as a lessee will probably be fixed, but this means that your contractor will have a perverse incentive to save as much money as possible on the equipment and installation process.  Be sure to double-check their work and ensure that your contract has iron-clad protection for any potential roof damage caused by your system installation.  You do not want to ruin the value of your home due to a shoddy solar installation.

#6 What Happens After the Install

It is easy for solar contractors to install your system, take your money, and then ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again.  It is important that you put in the work up front to ensure that you will be covered in the future.

Warranty Information

This is the most obvious thing to check.  Key watch-outs are the time covered and any exceptions that would void the warranty.  Remember that individual components might have different warranty lengths.  For instance, even though the panels might be good for 25 years, the inverter might only have a 10-year warranty.  Ask as many questions as you need in order to make sure that you are well aware of your rights and limitation.

Longevity of the Company

An iron-clad lease or contract does not really mean anything if the company you are doing business with has gone out of business when you need them to perform a service.  Just because a company offers the cheapest price does not mean that they are the best team for the job.  In order for them to stay in business, they must provide quality workmanship and service while generating a fair profit.  Companies with long histories are preferable.  Also preferable is a larger construction company that simply has a branch specifically for solar.  This means that they are well-diversified and probably able to withstand changes and ups and downs in the market.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you are feeling a bit more secure about your upcoming solar system installation.  Although the task of finding solar contractors can seem daunting, if you break the process down it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.  Attention to detail and due diligence are your best friends during this journey.  Follow the steps I outlined and you will be well on your way to a great relationship with a great installer!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment!

The Complete Guide to Solar Panel Cleaning

Solar Panel Cleaning

What are the best options for solar panel cleaning?

If you are looking for some great information on how to clean your solar panels, you have found the right place! But first, let’s talk about why solar panel cleaning is so important in the first place.

An accumulation of dirt, dust, oil, sap, droppings, and a host of other things will prevent the surface area of your solar panels from producing electrical power. According to a recent study on Google’s campus, your solar power output could be reduced by up to 36% in a year without a system of routine maintenance.

To improve (or maintain) solar panel efficiency - the conversion rate that determines how much of the incoming solar energy is converted into electrical power - there’s a few steps you can take which we will discuss here.

Different Approaches to Cleaning Solar Panels

While we should all remember that the solar panels on our roofs are high-tech pieces of hardware, it is also important to note that the exterior of these panels is strong, tempered glass meant to survive the elements. This durability means that they are also able to withstand scrubbing and water exposure. Although the cleaning process is very simple, how you choose to clean them will depend on your individual situation and how comfortable you are accessing your roof (or wherever you installed your panels).

Option 1: Don’t clean them at all!

The good news is that if you have a Solar Lease or PPA, it is the duty of the solar company to maintain and clean the panels. This is because they legally own the panels and they are simply leasing the equipment and energy production to you under a contract.

However “maintenance” is a loose term contractually, because it will be up to the installer to determine what services are included. It is possible that they won’t consider cleaning to be a required service which could lead to the panels accumulating dirt and grime, potentially reducing your system’s effectiveness and increasing your energy bills.

Have a look at your contract or give them a call. If cleaning is part of your agreement, they will have a group of professionals that will be able to safely and effectively clean your panels without you having to lift a finger.

Rain on a solar panel

The other good news is that with the help of rainfall, solar panels are generally self-cleaning, so depending on your geographical location, you may not need to worry about cleaning them at all.

Note: You should still check occasionally for blockage due to debris.

If you live in a dusty area, like the southwest, or near traffic and other factors contributing to dust accumulation on your solar panels, you may want to clean your solar panels more often and more effectively. Then you will have to look at these other options:

Option 2 : Do It Yourself (DIY)

Solar Panel Cleaning DYI

Warning! It's obviously dangerous to be on your roof, so take necessary safety precautions or better yet, hire a professional!

If you own the solar array DIY panel cleaning is the most cost-effective option. You may even have some or all of these materials in your garage already.

Here is what you will need for the job:

  • Tall ladder for accessing the roof
  • Soft bristle brush with a long handle (automotive cleaning brushes work well)
  • Soft foam or rubberized squeegee with a long handle
  • Bucket with a wide bottom (it should be able to sit tilted on the roof)
  • Water hose with a low-pressure setting (garden hose set to shower is ideal)
  • Deionized water (either jugs or hooked up to a hose) (Optional)
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Shoes with quality grip

Cleaning Materials:

Consider using these products to make the job quicker and easier:

Solar Panel Cleaning Kit
Waterfedpole
  • A Water fed pole runs water through the center and can reach 12 feet. These aren't cheap though (basic model we linked to is $152).

Instructions for Cleaning Solar Panels Yourself

Solar panel cleaning is not much more complicated or time consuming than cleaning your average window. Just remember that with any DIY project, safety is the number one priority! If you do not feel safe accessing your solar panels then leave the cleaning to the professionals.

Pro Tip: Always clean your solar panels in the morning or evening. During the middle part of the day the panels can get very hot making cleaning dangerous for both you and the panels. 

Pre-Cleaning considerations

  • Refer to your manual for instructions prior to shutting down the system and beginning to clean.
  • If you encounter tough spots, never use an abrasive sponge or soap as you run the risk of scratching the glass and decreasing it’s efficiency.
  • If you have mineral-rich hard water, this can leave residue on the glass as it dries. Try to squeegee the panels as well as possible or rinse with captured rainwater if this is your only option.

Step 1: Assemble Your Materials on the Roof

Once you have gathered all the materials you need for the job together, you have to get them up on the roof. Ask a partner to help you by handing items up to you from the ladder. Lay items flat on the roof and make sure they are secure before letting them go. Have your bucket or spray bottle ready with warm water and some biodegradable soap.

Pro Tip: Wear shoes with dependable tread to prevent slipping.

Step 2: Spray Down Your Panels

Take your hose and gently spray down your panels. Spraying the panels will help to remove the top layer of dirt, loosen up the other layers, and cool your panels if you need to place your hands on them during the cleaning. While you are spraying, note any stubborn pieces of debris or dirt that don’t seem to be moved by the water. Common culprits include tree sap and bird droppings.

Pro Tip: Never use a pressure washer on solar panels. Although the glass is quite durable, they are not designed to be hit with high-pressure water jets.

Step 3: Gently Scrub Each Panel With Mild Soap Solution

Use your soapy solution and a long-handled brush, sponge or soft cloth to gently scrub each panel. Be sure to cover the entire surface and especially the corners along the bottom edge – they are the most prone to dirt build-up. As long as you are using a non-abrasive brush, you will be able to scrub as much as you need to clear the debris. Start from the top of the panels working your way down as you clean.

Step 4: Rinse

Rinsing off the soap is a step that most home DIY’ers wouldn’t think about too much. While normal hose water will work fine for rinsing the panels, it can also leave bad water spots. Deionizing removes all of the natural minerals from the water. If you have some extra deionized water lying around, it won't hurt to use it for the final rinse.

Step 5: Squeegee Panels

Be sure to squeegee the panels with care from the top of the panels to the bottom to remove excess water. Avoid making contact with the panels with anything other than foam or rubber.

Step 6: Clean Up and Mark Your Calendar for the Next Cleaning

After you’ve completed the cleaning, it’s time to get all of your materials back to ground level and mark your calendar for the next cleaning - six months to one year.

Option 3: Solar Panel Self-Cleaning Technology

Heliotex Self Cleaning System

There are automated systems for many household chores. Whether it’s a vacuum cleaner for your home or an automatic cleaning system for your swimming pool, there’s technology available to help you get most jobs easily done.

Now, there are also systems to clean your solar panels! If you live in a remote and dry location, or maybe DIY just isn’t your thing, you may want to consider looking into self-cleaning panels such as those offered by Heliotex Automated Solar Cleaning Systems.

These systems are especially handy if you don’t have time to clean your panels yourself by acting as a type of sprinkler system for your panels.

Option 4: Hire a Professional Panel Cleaner

Professional Solar Panel cleaners

For those of you that do not wish to tackle this project on your own, there are many options for hiring a professional cleaning service. These companies will often set up an annual or biannual service agreement for your solar panel cleaning.

Service prices for a professional will vary, and will usually include a base fee, roof access fee, or minimum charge associated with this type of cleaning. Because of these charges the price will typically be well over one hundred dollars for even a small house grid.

Before calling a professional assemble this information to help improve the accuracy of your estimate:

  • Number of panels
  • Location of panels (roof, carport, ground-mounted, etc.)
  • Number of stories (if panels are on the roof)
  • Any dirt on the panels that is unusually stubborn (such as tree sap)

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this tutorial and also learned the importance of solar panel cleaning. Remember even if you live in an area with heavy rainfall to check your panels for dust and debris which could decrease efficiency by up to 50%.

If you are still unsure if your panels need cleaning and/or how often they should be cleaned, simply follow our solar panel cleaning guide and monitor the changes in the power output of your solar panels before and after. Alternatively, contact your solar panel manufacturer or installer for their advice.

How to Ensure the Most Affordable Solar Installation

affordable solar

How to find the most affordable solar possible.

Just like purchasing a car or a home, solar is an investment.

In fact, besides cars and houses, solar is one of the more expensive investments you can make. It’s a long term investment and homeowners spend thousands of dollars paying off the installation over its 20 year expected life. However, the thousands of dollars in financial savings that homeowners can see, more than make up for these costs. Like any good investment though, you need to make sure that you are getting the most affordable solar and the best bang for your buck to increase your financial savings as much as possible.

The single most important tool to ensure you’re getting the most affordable installation? Knowledge.Continue reading