Tag Archives for " solar tech "

What is a Solar Tracker?


Some solar installations act like sunflowers, turning to face the sun

Most of us picture a fixed rooftop installation when we think of solar panels – but did you know that there are solar panels that don’t sit still as they soak up the sun? Some photovoltaic systems are connected to something called a solar tracker, which powers ground-mounted solar panels to slowly change position so that they continuously face the sun.

Solar trackers can use a number of methods and mechanics to function, but all of them are meant to do one thing: increase energy output by moving solar panels so that they receive as much direct sunlight as possible. Some manufacturers boast that their trackers can increase energy production as much as a 45% over a fixed roof system.Continue reading

What are the Tesla Low Profile Solar Panels?


Tesla’s low profile solar panels are an alternative to traditional solar panels.

By now you’ve probably heard about Tesla’s solar roof tiles – the panels camouflaged to look just like standard roofing shingles, allowing for a subtle, inconspicuous way for homeowners to go solar.

But now Tesla has also designed low profile solar panels for those of us who can’t – or don’t want to – tear off our roof and put up another one just to go solar. These new panels, made in collaboration with Panasonic, offer a subtle look that’s faster and easier to install than old school panels. Continue reading

How to Make a DIY Pool Heater


A comprehensive guide to building your own DIY solar pool heater.

Owning a pool can be quite expensive, between all the chemicals, equipment, upkeep, and heating. In fact, heating alone can cause your swimming pool budget to balloon pretty quickly. A DIY pool heater powered by the sun could make these expenses less challenging, so read on to find out how you can create one yourself.

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How to Set Up a Solar Driveway Gate


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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The Best Solar Lights for Outdoor Use


Not quite ready to go full scale solar? Take baby steps with outdoor solar lights.

Outdoor solar lights enhance landscaping and improve safety, and there are many options for your lighting needs: solar garden lights, solar landscape lights, solar path lights, and stair lights. Similar to rooftop solar panels, they convert solar rays into electricity and then store it in a small battery pack for use at night. If you are looking for a creative and cost-effective way to light your yard without much fuss, we’ll help you choose the best solar lights for you.

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How much does the Tesla Solar Roof cost?


Tesla’s new solar roof tiles are poised to change the view on solar forever. The question now is: how much will a Tesla Solar Roof cost?

When you think of rooftop solar, you probably think of the classic solar panel setup you’ve seen for years (or maybe even have already). Tesla is looking to change that vision with their new solar roof tiles and, as with any new solar technology, we’re curious: how much will a Tesla Solar Roof cost?

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Tesla Home Charger Options


Buying a Tesla? Let’s have a look at the different Tesla charging options.

Many of us are so used to stopping at the gas station that we don’t think too far beyond that routine when it comes to powering our vehicles. But now that you are buying a Tesla, trips to the gas station are a thing of the past–you’ll be able to charge your car from the comfort of your garage with a Tesla home charger.

For those of us that might own another electric vehicle (EV), like a Nissan Leaf or a Chevrolet Volt, charging a Tesla will look a little more familiar, but there are still products and qualities unique to this brand.

The current Tesla models include a luxury sedan (Model S) and SUV (Model X), and although many homeowners still can’t afford these vehicles, Tesla is headed toward the regular market. The Model 3 is priced starting at $35,000, and enters production in July 2017 – there are already more than 400,000 people signed up to pre-order the vehicle!

So if you’re one of those 400,000 or just a curious customer, you probably have some questions about how exactly you’ll keep the ‘tank’ full. How will I charge my Tesla at home? How much does a Tesla home charger cost? What are the Tesla ‘Superchargers’ that are found across the country? Can you have one of those at home?

Tesla charging technology optionstesla-supercharger

Tesla’s Model S and Model X come standard with a set of equipment at no extra cost that can be used to charge the vehicle. This equipment includes a 20-foot Mobile Connector, and three Adapters: one for standard, 120 volt home outlets (NEMA 5-15), one for 240-volt outlets (NEMA 14-50), and one for public charging stations (SAE J1772).

NEMA is shorthand for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, and those codes align with the type of outlets you’ll need to talk to your electrician about. For the following options and cost information, we are referring to the Tesla Model S (sedan) by default.

The numbers for the recharge rates are similar for the Model X (SUV) but slightly lower due to the larger vehicle. The total capacity of the batteries in the Model S vary, as some vehicles have a 60 kWh pack, and some have an 85 kWh pack. The numbers aren’t yet available for the Model 3 – all we know is that it will have a range of 215 miles per full charge. We will update this story when we learn more!

Option 1: Use any current home outlethome-outlet

You can charge a Tesla utilizing an adapter for standard 120-volt outlets (NEMA 5-15) in your home. While technically achievable, this isn’t a recommended approach to use on a regular basis due to the slow charging time. This method only allows for a recharge of 3 miles per hour (or 24 miles overnight, assuming 8 hours of sleep).

Not a bad situation if you are visiting someone close and just need a little charge or if you have a short daily commute, but it is not ideal.

Option 2: Install a 240-volt outlet240v-power-outlet

Tesla’s simplest recommendation for an upgrade to home charging capabilities is the installation of a 240-volt outlet, or NEMA 14-50. The vehicle already comes with an adapter for this type of outlet. In order to have the outlet installed, you would need to contact a licensed electrician – they will design the system, ensure all proper building permits are secured and install the equipment.

Installing one of these outlets shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred dollars – labor rates for electricians average $75 an hour, and the installation of just a 240-volt outlet will set you back about $100. More costs can be added on if you need to install a new circuit ($185) or upgrade your panel to work with heavy-duty outlets ($650).

Your electrician will know what is needed, but always be sure to get multiple quotes and familiarize the electrician with Tesla requirements (like the need for a 50-amp circuit breaker) in order to avoid confusion. This option will charge your vehicle much faster than a 120-volt outlet – not just twice as fast, but 9 times as fast!

The method has a recharge rate of about 29 miles per hour – or in other words, for every hour your Tesla is plugged in, it regains a driving distance of about 29 miles. So for a full 8 hour night, you would have plenty of time to fully charge your Tesla with this simple outlet upgrade!

Option 3: Install a wall connectorwall-connector-at-home

The Tesla Wall Connector is a device that is mounted on a wall with a cable ready to plug into the car (no need for adapter cables). Using the Wall Connector, your vehicle will charge at a rate about 20% faster than if you use just a 240-volt charger (or about a 34 mile/hour recharge rate).

The device must be installed with a 60-amp circuit to match the standard onboard charging in most Teslas – once again, always consult an electrician and inform them of Tesla requirements prior to the installation. Some Teslas have a High Amperage Charger Upgrade onboard – if you have this version of a Tesla, the Wall Connector has to use a 90-amp circuit. With this packaged together, the recharge rate will be 50% faster than the 240-volt option, equalling about 52 miles per hour.

There are many Tesla owner forum discussions about whether or not the Wall Connector is worth it (as opposed to the NEMA 14-50) – a common conclusion is that the Wall Connector is a convenient option if you are prone to forgetting charge cords or don’t want to take out the adapter each time you want to charge your car, but otherwise charges the car at a similar rate.

There are also anecdotal reports that the Wall Connector is more durable than a simple outlet. Buying a second NEMA 14-50 adapter cord so you can keep one in the car and one in the garage costs $520, and buying a Wall Connector now costs about $500 (plus installation), so both options cost about the same.

The cost for installing the Wall Connector will vary drastically, which is why multiple quotes are recommended. Like the installation of the 240-volt outlet, the price for installing the Wall Connector in your home depends on your current electrical infrastructure, the distance of the charger from the circuit breaker box, and how many upgrades need to be done to accommodate your Tesla.

Option 4: SAE J1772 Home Charging StationsSAE J1772

The last adapter cord that comes with the Tesla is the SAE J1772, which allows the car to connect to EV-designed chargers made for other types of vehicles (think the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, etc.). You may continue to use one of these chargers if you already have one installed at home and just upgraded (or plan to upgrade) to the Tesla.

There are many companies that sell these pieces of Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSEs), and the average is around $600-$700 per EVSE before installation, making them slightly more expensive than the Tesla-specific products, but have the added flexibility to use with other vehicles. Like the 240-volt outlet or the Wall Charger, installation can vary from $200 to several thousand.

You will be using a J1772 both if you already have one installed at home or if you use one of the many public charging stations configured for this style. Public chargers (more on the Supercharger after this) are a very useful asset to a Tesla owner, and there are several apps and tools you can use to find and pay for these chargers. Rates will vary.

Option 5: Tesla (public!) Superchargingtesla-charger

For those who will be out on the road a lot, the Tesla Supercharger network will be a large aspect of vehicle charging. Once a free perk for Tesla owners, the Superchargers now come at a cost. The concept is still the same, though. Pull up to a Supercharger and fully charge your Tesla at a very fast rate for longer road trips.

Take a look at this map of Superchargers to find one near you or on your projected route.

And no, there are no Superchargers for your personal garage – Tesla’s technology on this front is kept a close secret. Becoming a Supercharger partner is a complex process that isn’t designed for homeowners, and costs over $100,000 when all things are considered, due to the need to install new, high-voltage lines from the utility. Besides, it really isn’t necessary – if you park your car in your garage overnight with any one of the above options (except Option 1), you should be fully charged by morning!

How much does it cost to charge a Tesla?

So now that you know about the ways to charge a Tesla at home – how much does it cost? This is a major factor in some vehicle owners’ decisions to invest in EVs, as these vehicles allow the consumer to avoid gasoline costs – but the energy still has to come from somewhere.

Before we move on: there used to be a federal tax credit worth up to $1,000 for the purchase of in-home charging equipment, but that credit expired on December 31, 2016. However, you can search the Department of Energy database for state and local incentives.

More: How much Does it Cost to Charge a Tesla?

Saving on gas

Tesla offers an online calculator that can be calibrated to match your local electricity and gasoline rates. The calculator is set up for Options 2 and 3 above.

Using their default rates of $0.12/kWh and $2.70/gallon, 25 miles of daily driving would take 52 minutes to charge up using a 240-volt outlet, cost $1.00 in a home electricity bill, and save $2.21 in gasoline costs. Multiplying that by eight, a close-to-full charge of 200 miles would cost around $8.00, which saves almost $18.00 in gasoline costs!

If you think about this in terms of monthly savings, let’s assume (at these rates) that you have a 30-mile daily commute, and you work during the week – so with 4 weeks of 5 days of work each, you’ll save $53 in gas per month! That’s not even considering the longer road trips and weekend trips you might take.

It is worth visiting this tool to adjust for your own local electric and gasoline prices when analyzing the costs of owning a Tesla. Making those adjustments can be key – in one situation in Northern California, a relatively high cost of electricity and the lower price of gas made the Tesla more expensive, not less.

Home electricity spending

Those calculations above show how much your electric bill might go up when using a Tesla. The example of the 30-mile daily commute for one month would rack up around $24 a month in electricity spending, assuming the $.12/kWh cost. There are some interesting factors to electric bills, though, that could change this number.

If you have a Time of Use rate with your utility (there are some interesting discussions here), you can save money by charging at night, when the demand on the grid is low, and utility companies can charge you a lower rate to charge your electric vehicle.

Many utilities have Time of Use rates for all customers, and then some utilities have perks for EV drivers on top of that. Good examples of this rate structure can be seen for Baltimore Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas and Electric.

If you’re curious about your own utility, check out this list to see where you can get Time of Use rates or special rates for EVs, or contact your provider. In many places, it will be a bad idea to charge your Tesla in the middle of the day, unless you’re using rooftop solar – more on that later!

Superchargers = super spending?

At the Superchargers, the cost is a little different (and again, no longer free for new customers). New Tesla owners will receive 400 kWh/year at Supercharger stations free of charge, which Tesla estimates to be around 1,000 free miles.

After that, you will either be charged by the cost/kWh (electric prices in the area) or by service per minute. It varies between states and counties based on local utility costs – the tool on the website allows you to select for various locations.

For example, the Superchargers in California will charge you $.20/kWh to charge up – for a full charge that is approximately 60 kWh, that would run you around $12 – about the amount that Tesla says could take you on a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

The big vision: using solar to power the Tesla

Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, have a larger vision. In addition to producing the iconic all-electric vehicles, the company is also working toward a vision of homes and vehicles all powered by renewable energy.

Tesla acquired SolarCity, a rooftop solar installer (that offers a $500 credit for Tesla owners); created the Powerwall, a product designed to store rooftop solar-generated energy at home so that the power can be used at night; and is beginning to take orders for solar roof tiles, which have the same practical application as rooftop solar panels but also act as shingles themselves.

Even though Tesla’s solar roof tiles aren’t yet on the market, what if you already have solar, or are looking into other rooftop solar options? Rooftop solar can be used to charge a Tesla, but there are a few big things to keep in mind: if you are charging your vehicle overnight, you can’t utilize solar power unless you also have a Powerwall or similar system – and those currently aren’t large enough to sustain a full charge for the vehicle. So, you could power your vehicle with solar if you do it during the day.

How much would that cost you? EnergySage ran some calculations on a hypothetical home that already has 5kW of solar panels on the roof, where each of those panels produced just over 300 kWh per year. This homeowner uses their Tesla to drive around 25 miles per day, which will require just over 3,000 kWh per year of battery power. That means that this homeowner will need 10 more solar panels to cover the charge for the Tesla, which would cost around $2,000.

Keep in mind a few things when looking at these calculations: this estimate was made for a relatively routine, short daily commute; this homeowner already has solar installed, if it was a brand new solar purchase it would cost more for the installation; this power can only be used to charge during the day, when a person may be at work. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea! It can just be a little more complicated than a $2,000 purchase to power your Tesla using solar.

Keep an eye on the market, though. Tesla is building the Gigafactory, which we hope will drive down the cost of energy storage technology and make this vision – generating solar power, storing it, and using it to charge your car overnight – more accessible to homeowners.

More: How Many Solar Panels Does it Take to Charge an Electric Car?

Next steps to get your Tesla Home Charger

Until all homeowners that own Teslas also have rooftop solar, and have an economic way to store and utilize that energy, many Teslas will still be running on at least partially fossil-fuel generated electricity. This is a still a lot better for the environment than gasoline vehicles, though, so you should look into it!

If you’re interested, it’s time to call an electrician. Tesla keeps a list of electricians that have been referred by drivers, and we recommend talking to 2 or 3 people to get multiple quotes. It is hard to know how much the installation of new equipment will cost – variables include requirements for service panel upgrades, locations, and additional labor (e.g. trenching to bury wires).

If you’d like to speak to someone at Tesla about your options, you can contact the home charging team at charginginstallation@tesla.com.

What do you think? Are you a Tesla owner with any comments, or do you have any questions about how to charge a future Tesla purchase? Let us know!

Image Credits under CC License via Pixabay – 27 & Flickr – 346. Courtesy of Tesla.com – 1, 5

How Many Solar Panels does it take to Charge an Electric Car?


How many solar panels are needed to charge an electric car?

The residential solar industry has enjoyed a huge growth spurt over the last decade due to falling prices and new financing mechanisms. At the same time, electric car ownership has grown steadily, pushed forward by companies like Tesla and Nissan that are constantly researching and developing new ways to make electric vehicles cheaper and go further on a single charge.

Some electric car drivers are even installing solar on their home’s roof to charge their car. An electric car powered by clean, renewable energy? Yes, please! This idea though might leave you asking the obvious question “How many solar panels does it take to charge an electric car?”

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What are Thin Film Solar Panels?


The details about thin film solar panels.

In recent years we have seen radical improvements in the underlying technology of solar panels and although you are familiar with the traditional-style solar panels in pictures and on rooftops, thin film solar panels are now making their way into the mainstream.  They are called ‘thin film’ because they are able to be produced in such a way that allows them to be flexible and coat materials other than the standard wafer boards. This allows for many more applications for solar power and can allow them to blend more seamlessly into your home’s aesthetics.

The Difference Between Traditional Solar Panels and Thin Film

The most obvious difference between the traditional silicon wafer solar panel and newer thin film varieties is the thickness. There are also currently gaps in solar capture efficiencies between first-generation silicon-based wafers and newer, second-generation methods that use different compounds. This comes down to the materials being used in the panels themselves.

Traditional panels often use crystalline silicon (c-Si) in their manufacture. This process has been around for years and has established itself to be reliable.  It should be mentioned that although c-Si is considered to have a high-efficiency rate in terms of energy production from installed systems, it is actually a relatively poor absorber of light. This means that the cells must be fairly thick and rigid in order to produce effectively.

Related: Comparing Solar Panel Types 

In contrast, thin film technologies employ different elements that allow the cells to be up to 350 times thinner than the traditional wafer. This material can then be layered over coated glass, metal, or plastic to create a solar cell, and allows for many different types of materials and objects to produce energy.

Main Types of Thin Film Solar Cells

There are two main goals for thin film solar cells today: to have the flexibility to attach it to a larger variety of building materials and to eventually achieve the same or higher efficiency than traditional silicon-based methods. All of these methods below offer some differences in pros and cons compared to the traditional-style panels. Their names usually derives from the type of material that is used for its semiconductor. Let’s take a look at four and see how the different technologies compare:

#1: Amorphous Silicon (a-Si)a-Si photovoltaic cell structure

a-Si photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

Amorphous Silicon is the oldest and most mature type of thin film to produce solar power. This is likely because silicon was already being used in its crystalline form to produce the more traditional panels and silicon’s electrical properties were well understood.


  • Unlike crystalline silicon, the amorphous silicon version actually has a very high solar absorption rate which makes very thin layers of the material possible. This effectively reduced material costs and because it is relatively abundant, nontoxic, and inexpensive it quickly became the first thin film method to break into the mainstream.


  • Because of its relatively low efficiency, however, you will mostly only see this method used in small-scale, flexible power packs and electronics.

#2: Cadmium Telluride (CdTe)


CdTe photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

Solar technology based on cadmium telluride is now the second most popular PV technology in the world, sitting at around 5%. This is thanks to the fact that manufacturing of this process is cheaper and quicker than comparable silicon-based methods and recent leaps in efficiency have prompted more mainstream adoption.


  • As mentioned before, CdTe is cheaper than silicon-based methods, but it is important to note that by 2014 the technology had the smallest overall carbon footprint and payback time from purchase. Although CdTe, as well as thin film cells in general, lag behind the traditional c-Si panels in terms of efficiency, they have been rapidly approaching that gold standard. As of 2015, a company called First Solar reached an average commercial module efficiency of 16.1%.
  • CdTe panels are also highly adaptable to hot, humid weather and low light when compared to traditional cells. This means that they work best in the areas with the most sun and are able to be used in areas that up until now were less than ideal.


  • One possible disadvantage of the CdTe method lies in the very materials used to manufacture them. Cadmium, by itself, is a very toxic substance that can accumulate in the food chain much like Mercury. Early results show that cadmium can leach from the compound over time in landfills and CdTe itself has shown toxic effects when inhaled by test rats. Fortunately, proper handling and disposal methods will negate much of the potential concern.
  • As such, many agencies and laboratories are actively searching for alternatives that are safe for the environment while also being efficient. Current manufacturers are also searching for ways to reuse or recycle these materials as a way to help solve the issues concerning the environment.

#3: Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide (CIGS)


CIGS photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

This type of solar cell is another popular type of semiconductor used to create thin film applications. The CIGS method is currently more popular in Europe and Japan, but there are manufacturers all over the world making use of this technique to take advantage of its environmentally safe materials and peak efficiency potential.


  • CIGS have the benefit of being environmentally friendly in terms of materials used which is a boon for manufacturers looking for a long-term benefit to the planet. The materials used also allow it to have the highest potential efficiency of any of the thin-film technologies as well as a great resistance to heat. There is also a great potential for long-life applications due to the lack of significant degradation over time.
  • The methods used also allow for extremely thin sizes of less than one micrometer to be used in creating devices. This means that there are even more potential applications for this technology such as building materials, cars, and airplanes.


  • CIGS technology has yet to reach or surpass the traditional silicon-based panels, but it has made great leaps forward in recent years. Although the record for lab-based efficiency is over 20%, real-world applications still fall in the mid-teens.

#4: New Copper Zinc Tin Sulphur (CZTS) Method

CZTS photovoltaic cell structure

CZTS photovoltaic cell structure.  Image by Alfred Hicks/NREL.gov

In an ongoing effort to find solar technology that is both environmentally friendly as well as manufactured using abundant materials, the CZTS method was discovered. This method is very similar to CIGS in terms of properties and methods of fabrication, but its efficiency is still very low.


  • As mentioned before, CZTS is made up of the earth-abundant elements copper, zinc, tin, and sulfoselenide. This means that the compound is both environmentally friendly and could ultimately become quite cheap because of the material cost. The tellurium and indium found in the CdTe and CIGS models are extremely rare, for instance.


  • CZTS is still in the early stages of development and in order to be more commercially viable, higher efficiencies are required. The technology current taps out at around 7.6%. It would need to hit around 20% efficiency before it could become competitive among its peers.


We trust this information has helped shed light on what exactly are thin film solar panels and how they are shaping the current landscape of solar energy production.

As these technologies mature, they will make their way into competitive products available for purchase. Already there are alternative methods of solar production, such as solar roof tiles, that allow customers to have a more aesthetically pleasing look while still saving money on their energy bills. Watch this space to see what innovative and new trends will be developed.

Photos courtesy of NREL.gov