Today was frustrating. I visited the site of a solar electric installation that we narrowly lost to a competitor earlier this year. I’m not going to mention the competitor, nor the job. When I first approached the system, I was quite impressed by the outward appearance. The design concept was actually better than I had proposed. The products used were high quality. But upon closer inspection, there we so many things wrong! The details are where this competitor failed, and the details are where competitors start to differ. In today’s solar electric market, installing the major components has become easier. Modules have snap together connectors,Read More →

With Hurricane Irene approaching Florida, we are naturally getting lots of questions about hurricane preparedness for solar panels. Here are a few tips: Solar Electric: If utility power fails, your inverter(s) will cease to produce power and your system will shut down automatically. For an added layer of safety you may wish to shut your system off manually by turning off the main photovoltaic disconnect switch(es). This switch should be near you utility meter. If not, a sign near the meter should show its location. If your system was installed in the last few years, it is likely installed per Florida Building Code 2007, whichRead More →

Do solar panels need to be cleaned? Here are some tips: Solar Pool Heating Panels Solar pool heating panels do not need to be cleaned. Rain does the work for you. They operate efficiently even if there is a little dust on them. The one thing that you should look out for is leaves, pine needles, and branches. These can build up above the top header and occasionally under the panels. There is really no impact on performance or longevity of the panels, but decaying plant matter could discolor your roof or cause some algae or mold growth. If you are comfortable on the roof,Read More →

You don’t want one. Well, maybe you do, but I’m going to try to talk you out of it. I’ll still sell you one if you want it, but you are going to have to convince me, first. You can have a grid-interactive solar photovoltaic system, the ability to sell energy back to the utility company, and the luxury of battery backup. They make equipment for that. It’s nicely integrated and seamless. These have been around for off-grid applications for quite a long time, and many of the first and most popular grid interactive inverters were capable of battery backup. My contention is that itRead More →

The SW Florida Affordable Housing Choice Foundation had the foresight to ask for solar water heating systems on three local apartment renovation projects. My employer was awarded the jobs, and I can’t wait to get started on the roof! Solar panels will heat water and supplement an electric water heater in individual apartment units. The largest installations will include 40 solar panels on a single building serving 20 apartments. Each system will have an Integrated Circulation Module (ICM) that senses when hot water is available on the roof, and circulates it to heat the tank. The ICM operates with a small photovoltaic panel to powerRead More →

There are rumblings that Collier County may be adopting a streamlined approach to reviewing permit applications for solar electric systems. They have always been very responsive when dealing with solar pool heating and solar water heating permits, and the Growth Management department is full of class acts like Jamie French, Gary Harrison, and Tatiana Gust. I met with these three county employees recently, and they were instrumental in helping us clarify fees and streamlined permitting procedures. The whole solar industry is pushing for standardized solar plan reviews and inspections, and it appears that Collier County is listening. Now if we could just do something aboutRead More →

Microinverters are becoming more and more popular. The monitoring capabilities are awesome. The warranty is amazing. These little guys sit under a solar photovoltaic module and convert DC energy to AC energy right on the roof. I have been specifying the new M215 model, and the feedback from the installers in the field and from customers is great. I was taking a look at a system recently using the web monitoring, and it is blowing away expectations. Long term study will be needed, but this Sanibel Island 5kW Photovoltaic array has exceeded average annual estimates by over 10%, and this site has some real shadingRead More →

Some people have a strange love affair with their electric tank water heater. It’s true. When you tell people that you want to replace their water heater when you add a solar water heating system, they get a little misty-eyed, or even a bit angry. That’s okay – we can get you solar water heating and not throw your baby out with the bath water (pun intended)! Most traditional tank water heaters we see in Florida are pretty small – 40-60 gallons. This is different than our friends up north for a few reasons. We don’t need to store lots of hot water because theRead More →

They don’t exist. First, let me say that I am talking about traditional electric element storage tank style water heaters. I’m not talking about instant-on water heaters, point of use water heaters, heat pump water heaters, or anything other than your basic 30-80 gallon tank sitting in the typical Southwest Florida garage, closet, or attic. Virtually all electric element water heaters in this area have a power guzzling 4,500 watt element that runs at full bore whenever water heating in the tank is required. Actually, there are usually two elements, but typically only one runs at a time. 4,500 watts will make the hamster inRead More →

Solar electric modules perform best when mounted on the south facing roof in every northern hemisphere location (not taking into account any shading issues). What happens if you do not have a south facing roof, or if you south facing roof is not suitable for solar? Southeast and southwest roofs are the next best options, but east and west facing roofs are not all that bad. In fact, a tilted solar array facing east or west will only result in about 5-15% less energy produced here in Southwest Florida. But which is better? The tool that is commonly used to estimate solar electric output isRead More →

NOTE: Information on this page may be obsolete. Many hanges in incentive programs have occurred since 2011. What incentives are there for solar energy in SW Florida? Here are a few: Save the planet Reduce your electric bill Stick it to the utility company Give something lasting to your kids or grandchildren Impress your neighbors These are all legitimate reasons to install a solar energy product, but probably not what you were hoping to read here. No worries – I know what you want. MONEY! There have been a lot of misconceptions about solar incentives, especially in Florida where we had a virtually scandalous failureRead More →

My father-in-law who is a Professional Engineer made a very astute comment to me one day. He said that it is impossible to manage something without an accounting system. As a guy with a degree in Finance, I agreed wholeheartedly . But, he was actually applying this concept to energy. How can you manage your energy use if you don’t know what appliances and devices are consuming?! In a previous entry I promised to discuss the power and energy needs of a hairdryer vs. a 60 watt light bulb. If you need a primer on the difference between power and energy, please read this postRead More →

As I see it, there are three main reasons for using 3D computer models to visualize solar energy projects: To show how equipment will fit. To show what it will look like. To identify optimal orientation and avoid shading. I would like some feedback with other ways 3D models can be helpful for visualizing projects. Leave me a comment!

In times long ago (a few years ago), solar electric (photovoltaic) modules were very expensive. Eking out every watt of power from each module was critical. There was a huge incentive to mount your solar modules with “optimal tilt and orientation.” Unfortunately, most roofs are pretty darn fixed when it comes to slope and compass direction. We have to live with what we’ve got. But what happens when you want to mount solar modules on a flat roof. The conventional wisdom is to tilt modules toward the south. Generally speaking, approximately 25 degrees tilt toward due south is theoretically optimal for us in Southwest Florida.Read More →