About a year ago I was excited to learn that Lamar advertising was upgrading its billboards in Florida with solar panels. I thought that there might be some work in it for local Florida solar contractors. Unfortunately, that never happened. It gets worse… I was again excited to see that Fafco Solar’s billboard on US 41 in Fort Myers had been upgraded with solar panels, so I stopped by to check it out. It’s not what I expected. I thought the billboards would have a grid-independent solar energy system with battery backup. It turns out that what is installed is simply a four-panel grid-interactive solarRead More →

There is no question that solar is now “mainstream.” The annual solar photovoltaic production in 2010 was more than double that in 2009, and all signs point to a continuing explosion of solar energy installations in the coming years. My employer’s photovoltaic installations have shown a similar increase in volume in Southwest Florida, albeit not quite as dramatic. The largest job in the company’s history was completed in 2010, and the second largest job was just completed this year. However, with the advent of FPL’s utility rebate program in 2011, the quantity of residential and business photovoltaic systems has increased, resulting in a higher totalRead More →

John Spinnler from Fafco Solar presented an engraved photovoltaic module to Florida Gulf Coast University’s Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. Donna Price Henry today. This ceremony officially marks the commissioning of system at the University owned facility in Naples. The 164 module solar array covers approximately 3,000 square feet of the facility’s roof and  is rated at 40.18kW. For more information, download this case study.

This evening I am doing a presentation on solar energy and the market in Southwest Florida as it relates to the engineering field. I appreciate the opportunity to speak before the Introduction to Engineering class at the Charlotte Campus. Here is a link to my presentation for all interested. Without narration, it might not make perfect sense, but there are some nice pictures! Edison State College Presentation    

Officially there is no longer a property tax exemption for solar energy products installed on Florida properties. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is that a once-in-place exemption disappeared because of some technicalities in the wording up in Tallahassee. Despite the fact that Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot amendment to retain the property tax exemption in 2008, the Florida Legislature failed to enact the law three years in a row, ignoring the Florida voters. There is good news on two fronts. First, Senator Jack Latvala submitted a bill in late August 2011 that would define the renewable energy products exempt from propertyRead More →

If your solar photovoltaic module installation in Southwest Florida has rails longer than 30 feet and there is no expansion joint, you are asking for trouble. We have about a 75 degree Fahrenheit temperature swing around here, and aluminum rails can expand and contract substantially. The temperature of the rail can exceed the ambient temperature substantially. Let’s look at the numbers… Aluminum has a thermal expansion coefficient of approximately 13 microns per inch per degree Fahrenheit. A 30 foot rail section is 360 inches. Let’s assume the aluminum will experience a 100 degree temperature range from 30 – 130 degrees Fahrenheit. 0.000013 x 360 xRead More →

The word is going around that you can get cheap solar panels at low prices in Southwest Florida. Just like any “creative marketing,” you have to read the small print. Let’s just get one thing straight – you get what you pay for. I will be the first to tell you that you can install a cheap solar energy system on your home, and it will produce energy and save you money. If you want to do it yourself, there are lots of resources online that offer discount pricing on solar panels and related equipment. The truth is, you can buy most solar energy equipmentRead More →

In my last post I wrote about the magic of Google Sketchup for use in the solar industry. One of the great ways to use this tool is to take architectural or construction drawings and convert them to three dimensions. This provides very accurate models of roofs that can be used to size solar panel arrays. The model below is a model home from Tundra Homes in Cape Coral, Florida. They want to offer solar panels to their customers as an option. We can show proposed placement of panels on the roof and determine how much solar pool heating will fit. Hint: You can useRead More →

3D Drawings are not just for graphics artists and engineers. Sometimes visualizing a concept is tremendously helpful when trying to explain something to a customer or employee. Google Sketchup is a terrific tool that I use to produce 3D renderings of homes with solar energy products. But it is so much more than an architectural tool. Recently I was trying to explain how solar electric modules are mounted on stand-offs and rails on a tile roof to a customer in Port Charlotte. The easiest way was to use details from a model that I created for a permit package a while ago. I have compiledRead More →

I have been playing with Google’s Ngram Viewer. This tool looks at millions of books and determines the frequency of words and phrases over time. I was shocked by one thing that I stumbled upon. We’re not talking about solar the way we did in the last oil crisis, in books anyway. Take a look at the Ngram comparison between solar electricity and gas prices. The relationship between the two is staggering in the years following the 1973-74 mid-east oil crisis. However, the more recent gas price increases have not resulted in the same spike in writing about solar electricity. On the other hand, solarRead More →

I’m asked quite frequently, what is the most efficient solar electric module on the market? That question has multiple answers. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish! In the photovoltaic module industry, the term efficiency refers to the amount of rated power that a solar module can produce within a certain area (its size). More accurately, it seeks to explain how much of the available solar radiation is turned into usable electricity. You will hear efficiency ratings from 13-21% these days for commercially available modules. Most people jump to the conclusion that a more efficient module is the best. Don’t fall into theRead More →

Solar tubular skylights never cease to amaze me. Solar lighting is somewhat of an art form. Determining where a light should be placed and how large of a light to install takes experience.  This light was artfully installed centered with the cabinetry and at the entrance to the kitchen. It highlights the wood flooring beautifully. There are a variety of diffusers available, and UV filters eliminate fading of furniture and surfaces. Since this room is in the middle of the home, and traditional skylights are not an option, a solar tubular skylight was a natural choice to bring natural light into the space. Absent thisRead More →