How Solar/Cool Roofs Can Help Accomplish Baltimore’s Climate Action Plan

The City of Baltimore is looking to reduce 15% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) levels by 2020, and solar PV and cool roofs are part of the plan. To help the city achieve their goals, MD SUN, the Center For Environmental Innovation in Roofing, Roof Menders Inc. and Quick Mount PV Inc., are putting together a workshop on how you can be part of the solution.

As part of the Climate Action Plan (CAP), Baltimore identified solar PV on roofs and cool roofs as strategies to reduce the city’s GHG levels, setting ambitious goals for the government, commercial, institutional, multifamily and residential sectors.

In the energy savings and supply section of the plan, some of the goals include:

  • 30 MW of PV installed in the city in among all sectors
  • PV installed in 15% of all single family homes
  • 10% cool roof coverage on residential roofs

The city will also promote legislation for community solar at the state level, a measure that would open up solar for the wider residential community. Baltimore will also review and standardize its permitting process to remove the barriers to residential and community solar projects.

Community solarbulk purchases and other residential solar models are key to help the city achieve these goals. These financing methods can help Baltimore residents access solar at reduced costs while building community at the same time.

On August 27th, MD SUN invites you a workshop to visit a house which has both a new cool roof and a solar PV system installed. Next there will be three short presentations by roofing and solar experts/practitioners that will be followed by an open discussion of the experts, you, and your colleagues.

This plan is a great opportunity for the city, and a partnership of government initiatives, residents, organizations, and solar and roofing companies can help Baltimore reach its ambitious goals.

For more information, contact davidcbrosh@comcast.net

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Michael’s Solar Story: We Went Solar – What We Learned

WE WENT SOLAR  — WHAT WE LEARNED

 By Michael 

This information is intended to make it easier for other households considering putting in a solar power system. In the course of shopping for a solar power system for our roof, we learned some useful things. Of course, these are my observations as a consumer, and should not be regarded as professional advice.

This doesn’t mean that you’d need to make technical decisions about the design of the system; the solar energy installers will use their experience to propose a system that they believe makes sense for your location. But to be an informed purchaser, you may want to know about your options.

It took some time to get the system installed, the county permits signed, and for Pepco to install the two way metering. Now our electric bills have become very predictable, totaling about seven dollars each month for the customer service charge. The electricity costs nothing and the taxes on the bill are zero because they are tied to electricity usage.

Our electric meter keeps running backward whenever the sun is shining, at least until we start using the air conditioner this summer. I project that over the course of a year, our electric usage should be balanced out nearly exactly by our solar energy production.

SELECTING A CONTRACTOR

We got quotes from three solar installers. Because different installers can propose different systems, it can be a matter of comparing apples and oranges. We wanted a company that had an excellent reputation and was willing to work with us to put together a cost-effective system that had the highest energy output for our size roof balanced against a reasonable cost.

We checked projects done by the contractors, as well as asking people with some expertise in advocating for green power in Maryland. Finally, we checked with Better Business Bureau to ensure there were no areas of concern noted.

We ultimately selected Kenergy Solar near Takoma Park to install our system. They did a great job. However, our research indicated that Astrum Solar in Annapolis Junction, Maryland is also an excellent supplier. In the process of this research, we didn’t hear anything negative about any of the local solar installers, but it’s still important to get recommendations, get competitive quotes, and check out contractors before you sign up.

PURCHASE VERSUS LEASING

There are a number of options for going solar. Both purchasing and leasing have advantages. What surprised us were the options for installing solar without any significant up front cost.

Purchasing appears to offer the best payback and best rate of return over the lifespan of the system, if you run the numbers. And there is the psychological reward of eliminating most of the monthly electric bill. However, the homeowner has to pony up the cost of installation, and is responsible for maintenance and certain repairs if needed.

Loans are also available for solar installations, and can be a way to bridge the gap until the tax credit arrives, but that only makes sense if the interest rates are low (and fixed).

Some companies will foot the entire installation cost in exchange for agreeing to purchase power from them for a certain number of years. (Surprisingly, most of those companies will actually allow the homeowner to buy the depreciated system outright after several years, and the purchase cost at that time may be rather low.)

There are also in-between options, where you pay the system leasing costs up front for a number of years, but this is less than buying the system outright and you don’t inherit the maintenance risks.

Some companies offer only purchase options; others offer only leasing options; others offer both types. The important point is that up-front expense is really no longer a reason to prevent a household owner from becoming solar powered.

PAYBACK PERIOD

The time it takes for a solar array to pay for itself depends on a number of factors such as the price of electricity from the utility. Most people are looking for a short payback period, preferably less than 8 or 9 years. The question most people have is: what is the payback period? That may depend upon whether to include any needed roof and electrical repairs or upgrades in the calculations.

In general, solar residential systems can have a relatively short payback period. It is also important to remember that the addition of solar will without doubt add to the value of the house and may make the house more marketable in the future.

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION

In order for solar panels to be practical for use on a house, the house should have a roof with southern exposure that is not blocked by tree cover.

The pitch or angle of the roof is also important — a steep pitch is not best for this purpose. The solar installers should do a site survey to check these angles to verify whether the location is suitable and to allow them to offer a proposal.

ROOF

If you decide to get solar, you might need to make a tough decision about the roof. Unless the roof is fairly recent, it may be a good idea to get it replaced before you install the solar panels. Certainly it warrants a very close inspection, both inside and outside, beforehand.

Our roof was old enough that it would have been requiring replacement in the next year or two. When the roofer opened it up there was already some slight water intrusion which would have worsened over the next couple of years — so it turned out to be fortunate that we decided on a new roof. This was also a good opportunity to replace any aging gaskets around outlet pipes on the roof.

Some solar installation companies have arrangement with a roofer and so are able to bundle the costs, which may have certain financial advantages. We arranged separately with a contractor and had the roof work finished before the solar people ever started. Since most solar installers have a backlog, that wasn’t hard to do.

We were concerned about possible damage to our roof from penetration by the addition of the solar frames. For some types of roof, this can be an issue.

But for most types of roof, there shouldn’t be a problem as long as the solar frames are added carefully and that an inspection of the underside of the roof is done afterward to check for damage. There are special non-penetrating types of solar panel brackets but may be somewhat more expensive to install.

Every solar installer told us that they can remove the solar panels for a reasonable cost in the event roof repairs become necessary, but something tells me that it is more complicated than it sounds to do that.

Does a roof last longer with solar panels shielding it? Granted, the roof is subjected to less sun and precipitation on the shielded portions, but on the other hand it may be subjected to more heat under the panel. Overall, I don’t see any clear indication that the roof lifespan will be affected negatively.

ELECTRICAL

Installation of a solar energy system means linking it to the circuit breaker box of the house. Since most breaker boxes tend to be full, this may mean adding a secondary breaker panel.

Many houses, unless they are fairly new, have had additions and other changes to the electrical system added over time, and the load rating for the house may very well be insufficient for the needs of the house. Our house already had a crowded electrical circuit breaker panel, a remote subpanel and some very complex wiring, and the house was in need of a “heavy up” from the existing 100 amps to 200 amps, to increase the electrical load capacity to modern usage, but also to make changes needed to modernize the system and bring it up to building code standards.

We decided to have a master electrician do the heavy up and replace the main breaker panel with one more suitable to our house’s wiring. In doing so, he also cleaned up the wiring junctions so that everything was neat, clean and safer. He also installed a separate subpanel just for the solar interconnection.

We also had a plumber move the hot water heater away from the electrical panels, since the inspector would not approve any installation unless the hot water heater was moved away.

The important point is that in doing the electrical clean up, the electrician found a few areas where things would benefit from correction so the electrical system would be safe and would not present any future risks. I’m going to guess that most houses that are more than 40 years old are going to have similar opportunities for safety enhancement.

Again, many solar installation companies can do the electrical work needed to install the solar, but we chose to do it beforehand, to streamline the process for the solar installers. Because of that, we were able to make some useful choices to maximize the safety and organization of our electrical system.

PANELS

Solar panels got much cheaper during 2010, 2011 and early 2012, so this is a very good time to get solar. You can check the internet to see graphs of the impressive decline in solar panel pricing during that time; the pricing has generally now leveled off. Most solar installation companies prefer to offer their own favorite panel type, but can use a different one if you have different objectives. Each panel manufacturer sells different grades of panel, and as the power output increases for a given type of panel, the price starts climbing very quickly.

Given the size and shape of a particular roof, a particular size or shape of panel may make more sense. However, it isn’t necessary to completely cover a roof with panels, as we had initially thought, in order to achieve the best possible outcome.

For one thing, it is important to leave space to goup and work around the panels when needed. Also, in Maryland, Pepco will credit you with power produced and fed into the grid, but only up to the amount of electricity you use in a year. You square up once a year. So it makes little sense to produce more electricity than the amount you’ll actually use.

Most solar panels are installed using horizontal mounting rails, the panels being installed in the portrait direction rather than landscape. While you can install panels with different orientations on the roof, it is best and easiest to run horizontal rails and install all the panels with the same orientation: the wiring will be simplest, and of course they will look nicer that way. But special needs or roof constraints may obligate you to be flexible with the panel layout.

POWER CONVERSION OPTIONS

A big decision for solar households is the choice of a power management system. In most cases, however, this decision is usually made by default by the solar power installation company rather than by the property owner.

There are three types of power management systems to convert the power from DC to AC and to regulate the power production: central inverter, micro inverter and central power optimization.

The first option is a large central inverter, which is typically a wall-mounted box 3 feet across by 4 feet tall and several inches thick. The second option is using micro inverters, which is a small device attached under each solar panel. Micro inverters allow each panel to produce the maximum amount of power at all times even if other panels are temporarily shaded. (With a central inverter, shading one solar panel can reduce the output of other panels in the system.)

Micro inverters, the second option, work with lower voltages than central inverters, which should be safer. In addition, the micro inverters allow remote monitoring of each panel separately so you can tell immediately if one panel isn’t working right and diagnose the problem without going up on the roof. Micro inverters are currently somewhat more expensive than a central inverter, but the prices seem to be dropping slowly. One of the largest makers of micro inverters has just announced a new type of low voltage devices that will likely reduce the price and size of these devices further, and reduce the heat produced by those devices on the solar panels.

There is a third option, central power optimization, which is being discussed as an alternative to micro inverters. This uses an electrical load balancing system at the central inverter to achieve the best results. This may be the best option for very large systems to avoid the need to buy many micro inverters.

We decided to use micro inverters because of the ability to detect and diagnose problems, because of the reliability of the micro inverter devices, and because the overall system would produce the most power with the same panels.

Our roof had room for fifteen 240-watt panels for a total of 3.6 kilowatts rated power. This ends up generating some 25 kilowatt-hours per day on a sunny day in May. Most of the energy is produced during mid-day hours but it is surprising that a decent amount of energy is still produced in the early morning and late afternoon, and even on cloudy and overcast days.

SRECS

Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, are an extra benefit of operating solar energy production. You get SRECs by producing a documented amount of electricity during the course of a year, and you can either sell those credits on the open market, or else have a broker take care of that function for you. The state of Maryland has a market for SRECS, but you get less money than in certain other states with a healthier SREC market. We figure we’ll pick up a few hundred dollars each year this way, but we recognize that the market price for RECs in Maryland is likely to decline over time, so we’re not counting on much from this. The price for SRECs in DC is about four times higher than in Maryland.

TIMING

The federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit on solar installations and the state of Maryland offers up to a $1000 credit, it would seem best to get the installation done (or at least entirely paid for) by December 31st, to get the credits soonest and not have to wait for an entire year. The current federal credit ends in 2016, and the state credit has shrunk over time and could end in the near future.

Most solar installers have significant backlogs, and it is good to allow sufficient time for tasks that might be required in advance, such as roof work, electrical work, permit approval, etc. Also keep in mind that summer is when the solar panels produce the most power during the year; you don’t want to miss out on getting the power during those months.

Neither solar panels nor installation labor are likely to cost less by waiting. There are some amazing technologies in the laboratory, but they are not likely to reach the market in affordable form anytime soon. Some components such as micro inverters might get slightly cheaper in the next year, but that is a very small fraction of the total cost.

However, there is one interesting development you should know about: solar panel shingles, also called Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPVs). A couple of companies are selling roofing shingles with built in solar panels, to combine the functions of roof and solar panels in one. These have been available since 2005 but were costly and mostly considered specialty items for people who didn’t want solar panels to show. But they are starting to become more competitive with regular solar panels. Dow makes Powerhouse solar shingles, while CertainTeed makes Apollo solar shingles. They are quite attractive, and can provide a more flexible arrangement for solar power on certain roofs. If you plan to put on a new roof, solar shingles may be a good option to consider.

PEPCO ENERGY WISE REWARDS

Pepco has a program to reduce electric demand from air conditioners on peak electric load days. Pepco’s program is called Energy Wise Rewards. This program provides a credit on the customer’s electric bill. All you need to do is let Pepco hook up a remote air conditioning compressor switch outside the house to remotely turn off the compressor for up to a few hours at a time on the very hottest days during the summer when loads are peaking.

Pepco heavily advertises its Energy Wise Rewards program. This program provides a credit on the customer’s electric bill if you let them hook up an outside switch to remotely turn off your air conditioner compressor for up to a few hours at a time on the very hottest days during the summer when loads are peaking. They pay $80 upon installation and then another $80 at the end of each summer season, if you participate fully in the program.

Pepco isn’t adept in explaining why this is a good idea, but nevertheless the program is useful. It benefits not just for the power company but also all Pepco customers because it allows the strain on the electrical system to be reduced when it is most vulnerable to failures and outages, and to reduce the need for Pepco to buy power from expensive peak-time generators or to import power from out of state.

Given the small number of days when this is triggered, and the fact that you can adjust your participation within the program, it seems like a good deal for both customers as well as Pepco.

I asked Pepco recently if its solar power customers also sign up for the Energy Wise Rewards program and they said some solar energy customers do participate. My analysis suggests that it is worthwhile to sign up for the full participation rate in most cases, except where someone is sensitive to changes in temperature for medical reasons or otherwise requires uninterrupted air conditioning.

WHAT IS NET METERING?

Net metering means that the meter can run both forward and backward, depending upon whether you are using more electricity then you are generating. Right now, the state of Maryland permits “net metering”, in other words, you get to offset your electricity use by generating your own electricity over and above the needs of your house at any moment. Thus you get full credit for it up to your total usage over the course of a year. In Maryland, each year at the end of the year, you square up and the power company gets any extra you may have generated.

Electrical utilities like Pepco are, understandably, interested in introducing a different structure called a wholesale feed in tariff. This means you would get much less credit for the energy you produce while you would pay full freight for what you use at any particular time. The utilities say that houses producing solar power get a free ride on the costs of maintaining the transmission system and the power grid. In response, solar power advocates say that the solar power helps reduce the need for new power plants, reduces peak time energy usage, and encourages the development of renewable energy sources. This is a huge policy fight that will play itself out over the next few years.

Net metering will continue because without net metering, most people wouldn’t bother to consider installing solar panels. However, it seems plausible that the monthly customer service charge for solar equipped houses could increase. In addition, the taxes on electric service may also be altered so they are less tied to kilowatt-hour purchases.

We didn’t know this but when your system is switched on after the permit is granted, your house starts using the solar power right away, even before Pepco gives the nod to two-way net metering at your house. However, during that interim time period, you’ll only get some of the value of the system, since the meter will fall to zero during part of the day but will pick up again at night. We could see that on Pepco’s energy usage website. Because it took a while to get the two-way meter installed, our house was operating like that for a few weeks. Once the two-way meter is installed, we lost the ability to see the graph of energy use for our house, because net usage fell to zero. But Pepco says they are working on a fix for this.

OTHER THINGS WE LEARNED

Solar panel systems are required to have an automatic turn-off switch in the event of a power failure. Why? To prevent a situation called “islanding” which describes what would happen if there’s a power failure and your house continued to produce power. That would create a potentially dangerous situation for repair crews because it would leave voltage in lines that the crew might think were disconnected. This anti-islanding switching is built into the systems and is required to get the permit and to be approved by Pepco.

Usually the solar installer will submit the application for the Maryland state energy credit, but you are responsible for submitting the federal tax credit application form yourself. It is a simple form. You should check with a tax professional to determine what related costs can be claimed within the scope of the federal tax credit, but it seems that the electrical work done for the purposes of installing the solar energy system in the same year is applicable, but installing a new roof is not.

It is a good idea to notify your homeowner’s insurance company that you have installed solar panels. The insurance company expects you to let them know. The addition of solar panels probably won’t significantly affect insurance rates.

Installing solar energy is a good spur to taking other steps to reduce overall energy usage. LED lighting, attic insulation are two high payoff opportunities. We noticed a major change in electrical usage when we switched our recessed lighting to LED fixtures. Phillips, Cree and Switch make some of the best LED bulbs that resemble normal incandescent light bulbs.

CONCLUSION

We’re glad to be an electrical supplier rather than electricity consumers.

Jill’s Solar Story: The Adventure of Going Solar

By Jill Siegel – Rockville, MD

I first looked into solar panels around 11 years ago.  At the time I was having an in-ground pool built and looked into the possibility of using solar panels for heating the water.  The cost was astronomical at that time … as I recall it was close to $70,000, which was more than the cost to construct the pool — and over ten times more than the cost of a propane heater and burying a large tank underground.  I  was hoping to not have additional dependency on a fossil fuel … but financially, I had to go with the propane.

In early 2011 I started looking into solar panels again … this time for the house.  I had heard prices had come down quite a bit from 2002 and that there were incentives available that would help defray the cost.  I met with a few companies during the first 18 months — but was not “wow’ed” by the companies, especially their inability to answer many of my questions.

In the summer of 2012, I was determined to move forward and complete this project!  Every day the sun was out, I would kick myself that I had not yet “gone solar”.  So I met with more companies, went to a “green” workshop, attended presentations by different solar companies in peoples’ homes, and did a lot of research and reading about PVs, inverters, and the entire process.  I communicated with several people who had installed solar panels within the past 12 months and found out about their specific systems.  I went to see a couple of  residential installations.

In the end, I met with 9 different solar companies (3 of which are no longer in business).  I compared leasing to buying.  Leasing was not for me because in addition to wanting to reduce my carbon footprint,  I wanted the greater savings and tax benefits you get from purchasing a system.

I selected Maryland Solar Solutions, Inc (MSSI) to handle my solar installation.  I KNOW I chose the best company for my situation.  I signed the contract and the design, permitting, installation and inspections were done in 37 days!  My net meter from PEPCO was installed the following week.  This was extraordinarily fast … not something that was anticipated but I sure am happy it was that fast!

What makes MSSI stand out from the rest is they are as interested in the success of your individual system as you are.  It is a small, woman-owned Maryland company.  The owner, Colette Hayward, was present from the initial meeting and throughout the installation where she was totally hands-on, working side-by-side with her employees installing the panels, wiring the boxes along with the electricians, checking the condition of the panels when they were delivered, and doing the walk-throughs during each county inspection.  She was one of the first in this area to get her certification — only now are many companies getting someone certified because now it is required.  Colette did it because she felt it was important … and did it long before it was required.

During installation -- Colette Hayward, MSSI owner, is the woman on the right, reviewing project status with electrician

During installation — Colette Hayward, MSSI owner, is the woman on the right, reviewing project status with electrician

Of the nine different company representatives, Colette was one of only three contractors that went on my roof during our initial meeting.  She took several readings to see what system would work best and estimated the output to provide an educated estimate regarding length of time until the system would pay for itself.  She was the ONLY contractor who went into my attic space (not an actual attic but the kind you crawl through) to see what the support construction is and if there were any “surprises”.  (While up there she discovered an alarming electrical hazard that could have been disastrous.  I immediately had an electrician correct it — and learned it could have caused a serious house fire at any moment!)  Colette was the ONLY contractor who discussed moving vents in my roof, allowing for more panels to be installed and the layout being more aesthetically pleasing.  Colette was also the ONLY contractor who recommended a “critter guard” to protect the wiring of the panels on the roof from being chewed up by squirrels or other critters.  She learned about this the hard way — when critters chewed up the wires on the solar panels on her own home!  I could go on and on about what a terrific company MSSI is!  (No, I am NOT related to them.  I found them through Angie’s List when looking up reviews of other companies I had met with.  At that time I had “had it” with meeting solar contractors and was not interested in meeting with another company — but felt I HAD TO after reading the amazing reviews on Angie’s List about Colette and MSSI.  Based on my experience, all that was written is totally true!)

I have a 10kW system which was estimated to provide 40-45% of my electric usage.  There is a 30 year warranty on the solar panels, 12 years on the inverters, 25 years on the power boxes and 10 years on workmanship.  At 30 years my solar panels are warranted to be at a minimum of 80% productivity; at 12 years they are warranted to be at a minimum of 90% productivity.

My system uses SolarEdge power optimizers rather than microinverters.  In the end, I narrowed my decision down to two companies:  the one I used (MSSI) which used the SolarEdge system, and another company which recommended Enphase microinverters.  In the end, my decision to go with MSSI was due to the use of optimizers instead of microinverters.  Another leading factor was that I was dealing with the owner of the company (rather than a sales rep or other employee).  I had total trust that Colette (the owner) was going to be involved with my project from start to finish … and ongoing (she was … and she still is!).  This decision was made after doing a lot of research trying to find out which would be the better way to go, power optimizers or microinverters.

I went with optimizers due to reliability, efficiency, and the fact that my system was large enough that cost was a non-issue (the cost/watt of a SolarEdge system decreases as installation size increases).  From what I read from unbiased sources (trade associations or other authors not related to a manufacturer or installer), microinverters have more problems with overheating or other problems requiring early replacement.  Even if the microinverters are under warranty, often the labor is not, so it can cost you many thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your system if you need to replace the microinverters in perhaps as few as 3 or 5 years after installation.

Almost every home has some shading at points throughout the day  … whether from trees, chimneys, satellite dishes, clouds, etc.  Partial shading losses are estimated to result in a production reduction of 5-25% in PV systems.  A report about this was released just last week — from a study done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and PV Evolution Labs, an independent solar panel performance and reliability laboratory.  Per the study, SolarEdge power optimizers and Enphase microinverters worked much more efficiently in partial shading than the SMA standard string inverters — but SolarEdge also outperformed the Enphase microinverters.  The SolarEdge performed better than the Enphase because SolarEdge starts production at a voltage as low as 5V (vs approximately 20V for Enphase).  So the SolarEdge starts working earlier in the day and keeps working longer towards nighttime since it continues to work in much lower light.

Solar array - 10kW system comprised of 40 solar panels

Solar array – 10kW system comprised of 40 solar panels

I have been “making” my own electricity since May 11th of this year.  Since then my system has been producing a little over 70% of my electric usage (55-75% higher than the estimated productivity of 40-45% of total electric) — and that was with the pool running (and for one week the pool equipment ran 24/7 instead of 10 hrs a day due to work being done), air conditioning (and kept at a lower temp for 2 wks while contractors worked in the house — and 9 hours one day with no doors on the house while they were being replaced), and many days of rain and heavy clouds.  My panels don’t have a southern exposure,  which would make the panels even more efficient.  I have huge trees that would not allow for that configuration.  Instead the panels are on sloping (not steep) roofs facing east and west.

If you want to work with a solar contractor that is professional, highly knowledgeable, cares about your system as much as you do, and is incredibly trustworthy …. then I recommend you hire MSSI!  It has been a total pleasure working with them … and I am thrilled with the job they did for me!  I am always looking for the opportunity to tell others about going solar.  Most people think it is too expensive … but with material costs having gone down over the past few years and the federal tax credit (30% of total cost), it is much more affordable.  Now is the time to start your exploration into solar!  You definitely want to do it before the federal credit expires (currently set for 12/31/2016) — but the sooner you do it, the sooner you will start saving AND reducing your carbon footprint.

I must say … there is little that is better than watching one’s electric meter go backwards!  Especially on these horrifically hot days when my electric bill would normally be going sky high!   🙂

Fred’s Solar Story: “Greening America” One Home at A Time

“Greening America” One Home at A Time

By Frederick Sullivan:

My wife and I recently renovated our 19th century home. Committed to reducing our carbon footprint and to participating in the fight to mitigate global climate change, we decided to explore the feasibility of powering the house using solar energy.

We prepped the house during renovations for the system, i.e. conduit was run through the walls from the basement to the roof for wiring, a high level of insulation was installed, as well as high efficiency electric appliances, and three zones of electric heating and cooling. I have to admit I didn’t know much about the process, but I could see that our home was positioned to capture solar energy. An energy professional evaluated the roof and determined it was ideal for placement of solar photovoltaic panels.

I submitted design and system specifications to the city and received a grant to partially fund the installation. Eighteen solar panels were installed, which are expected to produce at least 5,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of alternating current each year.

The now fully-functioning solar energy system will last 30 years and produce close to 100 percent of our annual household energy usage. Any unused electricity generated by the system is sold back to PEPCO.

We expect to reduce our family’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 8,000 pounds annually. This is equivalent to planting two or three acres of trees! My family is thrilled to be taking part in the greening of America. I want to invite anyone from the court family who may be interested in this type of project to contact me for any assistance or information needed to get started.”

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Fred is now planning to get about 40 panels for his home in St. Mary’s County, hoping to mitigate his heating and air conditioning expenses with solar energy.  

Frank’s Solar Story: From Skeptic to Enthusiast

By: Frank, from Maryland

My wife and I have always enjoyed home shows long before they featured solar panels. When we first started seeing solar panels at home shows they were the ones with the round blue solar cells on a white background. As much as the idea of free energy interested us, no way we were putting something that looked like this on our house.  In addition the estimated ROI for these early panels was almost as long as their life.

As the years went by, the look of solar panels improved but the installation still looked too industrial because of the rack mounting that all panels of the time used. I knew the best roof surface on my house for solar would be the front facing slope.

We first saw the Westinghouse Solar designed panels at the American Design and Build  booth. I was immediately taken by the all black panel and frame. Since the frames of the panels mount directly to the roof there is no aluminum racking required. The installed panels are about two inches off the roof so the appearance is more like a roof full of skylights than the typical look of rack mounted solar panels. The rackless design also reduces the overall cost.

I did research online and found that you could order the panels directly from Lowes. This gave me an idea of the material cost for when American Design and Build came out and gave me an estimate. I was pleasantly surprised how little more it cost to have professionals install the system.

The appearance of my house was always the primary concern when I decided to install solar. I agreed to go ahead with the installation only if American Design and Build would agree that there would be no visible wiring. I saw too many installs where conduit ran across the roof and down the side of the house. They agreed as long as I could get the local

home

Building inspector to pre approve this design.

I returned to my online research and found lots of helpful information on the Enphase website to effectively argue my position on not having visible wires. For example code requires a service disconnect on the roof. This is typically accomplished with an electrical box mounted to the sides of the solar panels with a disconnect switch. The documentation on the Enphase website pointed out that technically a plug is also considered an acceptable service disconnect. The Enphase inverters already have locking connectors that are used to connect the panels that meet the service disconnect requirement. The requirement to run the wiring in metal conduit over the outside of the house came from the early central inverter solar systems. These systems had 400 volts DC that ran from the solar panels to the inverter whenever the sun was shining. This was extremely dangerous to firefighters so they had to be clearly visible to prevent accidental cutting while fighting a fire. The new micro inverter based panels do not use high voltage DC. Instead they use plain old 240 volt AC power that is already approved to run inside attics and walls. Since the inverters shutdown whenever grid power is lost they are not a danger to firefighters who typically disconnect the power to the house before they begin fighting the fire with water. Armed with all the Enphase information along with NEC and NFPA code references I contacted my county inspector and went over my installation plan which they eventually agreed with. When the inspector came out to do his final inspection he commented that mine was the cleanest solar install he had ever seen.

We originally installed 21 panels and were so happy after the first year that we wanted to add more to generate 100% of our electricity needs. Since we were under the impression that any excess power generated BGE kept we did not want to but more panels then we needed. We later learned that this was false and that BGE does pay you for excess generation. So instead of just getting 13 more panels we got 19 for a total of 40. The point I like to make when people say they cannot afford solar is that a modular system like Westinghouse makes does not need to be done all at once. Start with a small system within your budget and add to it as your budget allows.

We now have a Think City electric car http://www.eurostarautos.com/think-city-electric-car.cfml so we plan to add more panels to our detached garage in the future.

Students Learn, the County Saves: First PG County public school to go solar!

The fist Prince George County public school to host a rooftop solar array installed yesterday their first solar panels. At the end of this month, the University Park Elementary School will host a solar system that will generate 85,000 kWh, avoid 60 tons of CO emissions and bring a revenue of up to $18,000 annually from the sale of electricity and renewable energy tax credits. SAM_5996

The project is a joint venture between the Town of University Park, Md. and the Prince George’s County Public School System, and Standard Solar, Inc. will be carrying out the project.

The project is funded by the Small Town Energy Program (STEP) of the Town of University Park. STEP began in 2010 with a 3-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a roadmap for other small towns to reduce their energy use and greenhouse has emissions. The solar panels in the school are a part of this effort funded by the grant.

In addition to the energy and greenhouse emissions savings, the town is also using this poject as an educational opportunity. The solar array will be included in the county’s STEM portal to show the students real time applications of technological innovations and scientific learning.

“The solar project is the culmination of two years of work with the school board, Pepco and numerous other stakeholders and volunteers, including our entire Town Council. The installation is a terrific example of a successful public-private partnership that delivers multiple benefits to the community, and we are pleased to be part of it!”
-University Park Mayor John Tabori

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To read more, check out their press release.

If you want YOUR school to go solar, visit our Solar Schools page!

Send us your solar story!

With enough installed solar energy to power 11,500 homes, Maryland is one of the top states for solar. However, it still has to meet 90% of its solar goals, and there is always room for improvement.

Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a hou...

Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a house near Boston Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We want to inspire fellow Marylanders to join the solar revolution by sharing our experiences and featuring stories of people who have gone solar in Maryland.

But we need your help! Please send us your story and tell us:

  • what inspired you to go solar;
  • how you did it;
  • what you learned;
  • and a picture of your system.

The story can be as long or short as you want, we just want to hear from you! Email t.tellogerez@gmail.com with your info.

Send us your solar story and be an inspiration for fellow Marylanders who want to go solar.

If you have not gone solar, you can still help. Share this with your friends and email people who you know that have gone solar.

Let’s make your solar coop a reality

Do you have an idea to start a solar coop in your neighborhood but need help with funds to set it up?

The Center for a New American Dream is having a “Get2gether Neighborhood Challenge“.  It’s a chance to raise $2,000 or more for a neighborhood project, like a solar coop. The New Dream will match the funds raised up to $1,000.

MD SUN will join you in this challenge, and together will put up solar panels in your neighborhood!

If you are interested in participating, let us know and we will set up a group application to start a neighborhood solar coop.

Email us at t.tellogerez@gmail.com and we will join forces to bring panels to your sunny neighborhood.

MD Ranks #2 Solar Friendly State

 

2013  Solar Rankings (scores out of 5)

Solar Power Rocks released their 2013 State Solar Power Rankings. In their report, Maryland comes in second place, just after Massachusetts. That’ right, Maryland is almost the most solar friendly state, according to Solar Power Rocks.

They based their rankings on the state’s policies and incentives for solar. Maryland, with an average 8 year payback time for a 5kW system, got an A for the Residential Solar Grade.

Their colorful data sheet shows the criteria and the state’s grades for each criteria. Maryland gets above a B in all categories except for the state tax credits.

 
 

What do you think? What grade would you give Maryland in terms of solar friendly-ness?