Sunday, December 20, 2009

Landslide! (Snow on the Panels)

We had our first significant snowfall since the panels went up. Significant is an understatement -- it was about two feet of snow. It started early Saturday morning. Here's what the roof looked like as night was falling on Saturday night.

Needless to say, the panels were covered over completely with a healthy layer of snow.

We were out early Sunday morning to get a head start on shoveling. The panels were still completely covered. Then we heard it -- it sounded like thunder but it was actually an avalanche. When it was over a sizable group of panels on the main roof were visible again (and the front sidewalk suddenly had three feet of hardpacked snow so we had to reshovel it.)

Since then there's been some melting but there's still snow on the main roof panels and the garage roof (including panels) is still covered.

I didn't expect any production given that so many panels were covered but it was a rather sunny day and by afternoon we were producing more juice than we used.

Snow on the panels is something I worried about because I suspected (correctly, as it turns out) that snow would let go and slide off in large sheets. That's what happened but the only consequence was a need to do some reshoveling...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Subsidies for Greening of Developing Nations

One of the major sticking points at the Copenhagen climate change discussions is whether and by how much the industrialized nations should subsidize the efforts by developing nations to "green up." Now, I have some qualms about how nations are divided into "developing" vs. "industrialized" but that's a whole different kettle of wax.

I don't necessarily oppose subsidizing the developing nations but I do oppose doing it by sending a wad of American taxpayer dollars to do it. That money will go straight to China or Malaysia to buy technology made on the cheap (probably by subsidiaries or derivatives of American companies, but that's another digression.)

What I'd rather do is pay American companies to hire American workers to build whatever these developing countries need, and then ship it over. That way, we will help put Americans to work in a growing, vibrant high-tech sector, which is something that's good for our country. If there were stipulations that the work could not be farmed out overseas to save on labor costs, an entirely reasonable arrangement, a lot of "obsolete" American workers would have a new start in a field that has tremendous upside.

Just across the river in Philadelphia a company will be setting up shop building solar panels on the former Navy Yard site. That's a rarity that only happened because of a slew of tax breaks and incentives. Most of the new solar panel factories are going up in other countries where the labor is cheap. This idea might help to change that.

Just something to think about. I've greatly oversimplified but I think the concept is sound.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sold Our First SRECs!

We sold our first SRECs.

This is the email I just received from our SREC broker, SRECTrade:

Dear Dave :

You successfully sold 4 2010 New Jersey SREC(s) in the December 4, 2009 auction. The clearing price for this auction was $660 and your total payment is $2640 (please see attached statement for details).

I was surprised that we had four to sell. I didn't know if we had any at all. The system has actually generated about 6 SRECs worth but we only passed inspection and were certified a few weeks ago. I had no idea if we would be awarded SRECs for power generated before the system was certified, but apparently we were.

SRECTrade auctions off SRECs in the Mid-Atlantic area. Here are the prices they fetched in yesterday's auction:

District of Columbia $290
Delaware $200
Maryland $360
New Jersey $660
Pennsylvania $290

Very cool. In my next post I'll talk about SRECTrade and how easy this was. They literally did everything for us. I'm so thankful I didn't sign on with the brokers that we first learned about.

I also want to review the process by which it's determined how many SRECs we have. Trust me, nobody came by the house and read our inverters. I think I blogged about this last summer but I need a refresher.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First Negative Electric Bill

We received our first 'negative' electric bill yesterday.

We've produced more power than we've used since late August. I already knew that but the power company estimated our meter readings for the previous bill so I didn't have it in writing from them. I also figured they'd nickel and dime the surplus away with fees and charges (which are a surprisingly large part of the average electric bill) but it still came out way negative.

Credit Balance - Do not Pay $ 100.38 CR

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It is Done!

We are signed and sealed to start generating and selling SRECs. SRECTrade has done pretty much everything. I barely lifted a finger, and as I understand it, won't need to lift any unless I want to make any changes.

The only question I keep meaning to ask is can we do anything with the seven or so SRECs worth of power we already generated. I'm sure that's just down the drain but I ought to ask.

Here's the confirmation we just received.

Good Afternoon,
I wanted to confirm to you that GATS has linked your account to SRECTrade. Going forward, SRECTrade will automatically check your account for SRECs and place your bid on your behalf in our monthly auction. Here's an overview of what to expect when an auction closes each month:

1. After the auction closes, we send a general email to all of our clients with our closing prices.

2. You will then receive an individual email detailing one the following outcomes:
  • A statement showing how many SRECs you sold and the amount of funds due to you
  • Your bid exceeded the closing price and the number of SRECs that will be carried over to the next auction.
  • Your facility did not generate any SRECs for the month
3. If you successfully sold SRECs, payment will be initiated to you within 10 business days of the auction closing date. Your payments will be made via direct deposit.
Please note that the payments will come from "Inclime LLC" and an initial deposit of .01 will be made to your account to confirm that our bank has set your account up properly.
Our next auction closes on December 4th.
Please let us know if you have any further questions regarding our EasyREC process.
We look forward to working with you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SRECTrade Making Things Happen

It's been so hard moving the process forward so far because everything had to start with me -- the guy who knows nothing about what needs doing.

That's changing, now that SRECTrade has been authorized (by us) to push the paperwork through so we can start earning SRECs (which they will sell for us at auction). Here's the letter I just received:

"Thank you for signing up for EasyREC with SRECTrade! We have received the enrollment forms you sent in and are in the process of setting up your GATS account.
The next step in the process is to send the Schedule A you completed to GATS via email. You will be cc'd on the email and GATS will ask you to respond, verifying that you wish to link your account to SRECTrade. After you respond to GATS, they will review and approve your account. Your facility will then be linked to SRECTrade's account, allowing us to transact and sell your credits easily. "

In other words, they're doing everything. What a relief. The SRECs should start rolling in soon.

Thanks SRECTrade, that was the smartest decision we made yet.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

System Update

The electric meter on the side of the house currently reads 16976. That's about where it was in mid-August. That means that since then we've generated as much power as we used. At this rate we'll be pretty far in the black by the time the air-conditioning season comes around again.

This stuff really works...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Five Months Later -- State Certified

I received a letter from NJCEP today. We finally have a New Jersey Certification number for our system.

It's been five months and a day since we've been generating power, so forgive me if I'm not jumping up and down. If this were July I'd probably know exactly what to do to begin earning and selling SRECs. I'll have to brush up on it all over again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No Change

No recent posts because there's been no change. The system continues to generate gobs of power, and we're still waiting for the state bureaucracy to certify our system...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cranking the Power!

Yeah, I've been grumpy about system approval and SRECs and bureaucracy. There's one thing that I'm not grumpy about: how well the system works!

On a day like today -- not a cloud in the sky -- the electric meter is spinning backwards so fast that it looks like the blade on one of those meat slicers behind the deli counter.

Give me a few minutes with a whetstone and I'd have all I need to open a sandwich shop.

The meter reading is already back to what it read in mid-August. This system is generating way more power than we (a family of five) use and the clean energy we don't use is going back out onto the grid to be used by others.

Solar power is not reliable enough to be a huge component in any national energy plan but what's happening right here on my roof is definitely something to consider.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Red Tape -- A Month's Worth

It'll be another 3-4 weeks, according to the note I just received from NCEP.


There is a process that needs to take place before you will receive your NJ Certification #. The inspector has to send in your passed inspection report and than it needs to be processed and put into a check batch, at which time your NJ Cert # will be generated and you will received a letter in the mail with your assigned #. This will take approx 3-4 weeks.


Senior Operations Specialist

NJ Clean Energy Program

Passed State Inspection

The system passed inspection. I don't know when or how (or at least I didn't until I finally read this proclamation from the inspector a few minutes ago). So now that I have successfully begged for that, I will now turn my attention to begging NJCEP for a state certification number so we can start generating and selling SRECs.

Forgive me if I'm not jumping up and down and clicking my heels. Somehow it just doesn't seem like a great victory.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Contractors Came by to Address Inspection Issues

The contractors came by today to try to address the issues that the state inspector brought up. They added a number-filled sticker to the front of one of the inverters, and did some kind of tweak on the panel mount racks.

It's been three months since the system has been up and running. Hopefully it passes inspection this time and we can get on to business.

Monday, August 24, 2009

You Do Not Need to Worry About These Documents

Late this afternoon I received this message by email: "You do not need to worry about these documents."

So they've been torturing me for six weeks about mysterious forms that aren't needed in the first place. It only ended today because I couldn't stand it anymore and was determined to be a prick until I got some answers.

Truth be told, it's a pretty good answer. We're still not out of the woods yet because the system has still not passed inspection.

Example of Bureaucratic Time Wastage

I've been working the phone and email trying to figure out what needs to be done to finish this project off. Here is the latest email from the "state", which effectively negates the hours of work done this morning. I can tell that she's getting pissed at me. That's okay because I've been confused and pissed for months.

I'm not trying to get any extra money out of the audit. I'm just trying to meet the requirements so groSolar can receive the rebate money.

I love the part that says "...there seems to be some confusion." Like the others, this email raises more questions than it answers, or maybe I'm just stupid. I'm really starting to think the latter, actually.

I don't know or care about those "kickers" but I'm hoping this isn't all about payouts of twenty and twenty-five cents (see red below). I'm guessing that's a typo.

You can't make this stuff up.


I just hung up with R from Gro Solar and there seems to be some confusion. I was responding to your email assuming you were in the REIP Program, but it seems that you were approved through the CORE Program. The requirements are completely different. The CORE Program offered a $.25 kicker if you did the audit, however you must meet the Tier 3 requirements and submit the scope of work, you must do the work and include a certificate of completion. The REIP Program offers an additional $.20 if you have the audit done, but the work does not have to be done in order to receive this additional $.

Whole Lot of Nothing

I haven't posted anything because the only things that have happened are bad.

1) The system failed the August 11 state inspection. The installer came out with a list of issues and we couldn't figure out what the inspector was talking about in his report. He claimed that the inverter wasn't labeled (the contractor says it is) and that the rails that hold the panels are improper and the wrong size (the contractor says that they are the standard installation rails for those panels, and they sure look like the right rails to a casual observer like me).

2) The "state" is asking for documents that were given to us when we did our mandatory energy audit on June 4. There's a reason I put state in quotes. The inspection process is completely handled by CSGRP, a private contractor. It just so happens that our energy audit was also handled by CSGRP -- the same contractor.

If I understood what documents are needed I wouldn't mind mailing in documents even though it seems much easier for somebody to walk down the hall to get them from somebody else in their own company. I know it probably isn't that simple but it's a lot simpler than me identifying the documents, tracking down the CSGRP person B, sending him the documents to sign, receiving signed copies and then sending them to CSGRP person A.

What really worries me is that there is so much confusion on my part, and nothing ever seems to happen unless I initiate it. Besides getting the system approved so we can generate SRECs (and start paying off the cost of the system), the contractor still hasn't received the $34k rebate money. Now, I don't feel guilty at all about that since it was clearly their responsibility to make that work, but I'm worried that at some point somebody's going to come to me and ask for that money out of my pocket. If that happens it's going to be bloody.

The system works great and has been online generating power since June 4. We've generated three SRECs worth of power now. That's between $1500 and $2000 dollars that we will never have. Yeah, we don't buy much power anymore but we really need those SRECs and there doesn't seem to be a resolution in sight in the near future.

So far I've been an enthusiastic advocate for the contractor that installed the system because they really did a fantastic job. I agreed to be a reference for them because I can tell potential customers in all honesty that I couldn't be more satisfied with their work. I'm getting pretty fed up with the red tape fiasco that's been going on in the last two months, though, and I think the contractor could be handling that in a more efficient and timely way. I'm thinking about telling them not to give my name out as a reference for the time being -- for their own good.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

State Inspection Date Set

Our state inspection is scheduled for Tuesday, August 11, 2009. At some point after that we will receive a state certification number and then be eligible to earn SRECs.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

200,000 Panels on Utility Polls

PSE&G, a major electricity supplier here in New Jersey, is going to install solar panels on 200,000 utility polls. The panels will feed power directly into the power grid. The project will add about ten cents to the bill of each customer.

The work will be done by PetraSolar of South Plainfield. I'm concerned that the panels used will be purchased by PetraSolar's "partner"-- a Chinese company called SunTech. For a public project using public dollars I'd prefer that the PSE&G insist that the contractor use American suppliers that employ American workers. For what it's worth, SunTech has "promised" to open facilities for production of panels in the United States.

Bogged down

I'm not too happy right now about this project. The state inspection, a prerequisite for earning valuable SRECs which is how the system is going to pay for itself, seems like it's never going to happen. I'm assured by groSolar that since all the forms have now been submitted to the state in time to beat the July 31 deadline, the rebate is still available even though the actual state inspection is obviously not going to happen before that date (tomorrow).

I don't want to point any fingers yet but I don't understand where the inertia for this project went. And if the state rebate money disappears from the table I don't intend to be the one who replaces it.

It's cool that we're generating most of the electricity we use but we really needed to be earning those SRECs by now. That was part of how we figured this was an affordable project.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

More Confusion per State Inspection

It's a good thing that I was diligent in chasing down our state certification number. It turns out that the July 1 inspection wasn't done by the state (NJCEP) at all! It was either a county or township inspection -- I'm still not even sure which one. Obviously there was serious miscommunication going on, and I wasn't present at the inspection so I didn't know that.

I'm a little surprised that groSolar hasn't been concerned about this because based on everything I know the state rebate money (which goes directly to them) is contingent on this inspection. They sent me some paperwork to sign after I re-raised the red flags.

The paperwork clearly states what I already knew: our rebate expires on July 31. That's about twelve days from now. [As an aside, a lot has happened in a year. When we qualified for our rebate 355 or so days ago, we were a long way from making the project happen, and we didn't even know how much work there was left to do.]

It's a good thing I took the initiative here and it's a little unsettling to me that nobody else did. I can understand that nobody else is particularly concerned that we can't earn SRECs until the the state inspection is done. However, knowing that nobody else was alarmed about jeopardizing the rebate almost makes me think I'm misunderstanding the process.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Waiting for State Certification Number

Well, somebody who's a few weeks ahead of me warned me about this. We passed the final state inspection on July 1 but we still haven't been issued a "state certification number." Why is this important? Because we can't start accumulating SRECs until we have an SREC account which we

can't set up until we have this number. As N. from NJCEP told me last month, they're not going to award SRECs to a solar installation until that installation has passed state inspection.

I made one call today and left a message with somebody with the state. Tommorow I'll have to be a little more aggressive. We've already generated enough power for 1.5 SRECs and we'll never get that back.

After this gets done I'll be registering with SRECTrade and selling our SRECs at monthly auction through them.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

New Jersey Second Only to California in Solar

New Jersey, one of the smallest states in the country, is second in photovoltaic solar energy.

Here's a rankings table included the article from

Unfortunately I can't get the link installed here for some reason but here is the URL for the entire article, which tells of the rapid rise of the Garden State in this endeavor:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Great Solar July (So Far)

So far July has been a great month for solar power in South Jersey. Over the first six days we've generated 6 kwh more than what we've used. That includes the running of central A/C and the pool filter, two energy pigs.

     Power     Power Imported Power Exported
Date Generated from Grid      to Grid

---- --------- -------------- --------------

7/1  42.4 kwh     6 kwh

7/2  44.9 kwh     7 kwh

7/3  49.9 kwh                     4 kwh

7/4  48.2 kwh                     4 kwh

7/5  48.2 kwh                     1 kwh

7/6  55.1 kwh                     10 kwh

This is encouraging because unlike our first month (June), the weather lately has been much more typical for the Mid-Atlantic region. I think we can expect this kind of production rather than what happened in June.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shade Will Degrade

Here's something that I've been meaning to check out. Although our main roof is fully loaded with panels, there is still some open roof space on the garage roof:

For a few weeks I've been thinking "When everything settles down I'm going to see about adding a few more panels here so we can generate even more power! "

The groSolar people told us that they didn't want to put panels in that space because late in the day (especially during winter) it will be shadowed by the higher main roof. I took that to mean that we'd get a lot less power out of panels that received shade during part of the day but I didn't fully understand. I thought it was analogous to putting buckets out in the yard to collect rain water: if some of the buckets were blocked for part of the day, well sure, they wouldn't end up with as much water as the fully exposed ones, but at least they'd contribute some water.

^ =

That's a horrible analogy, as it turns out. I've researched this (I surfed the internet) and learned that the shaded panels would actually degrade effectiveness of the entire system. Panels and buckets don't operate the same way.

EcoDepotUSA says:

"Once a solar cell or a portion of a cell is shaded it becomes a load and draws power instead of producing it. Watch the amp meter of your system when a hand is passed over a module and you will see a substantial drop in output."

WholeSolar says this:

"If even one full cell is hard shaded, the voltage of that module will drop to half of its unshaded value in order to protect itself. If enough cells are hard shaded, the module will not convert any energy and will, in fact, become a drain of energy on the entire system... Because all cells are connected in a series string, the weakest cell will bring the others down to its reduced power level."

It turns out that there are some types of panels out there that are "shadow protected" but these are more expensive and don't (yet) have the track record of reliability that the basic poly-crystalline panels have.

We're better off with just the panels we already have and no more. I'm sure the installers explained this but I didn't catch on. Just one more reason why at least in our case it's a good thing we left this job to the professionals.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sun, Dough

Well, on the heels of the worst day yet is one of the best days yet. We generated 44.9 kwh, met all of our own needs, and exported (sold) 6 kwh out onto the grid.

I think these last two days are a microcosm of what solar power can and can't do. It can't be relied on as a primary source of power but at the same time, it's a shame on days like this to waste all that energy that drips down the sides of our houses and disappears.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Worst Day Yet

Today, yet another cloudy and rainy one, was our worst day of energy production since the system started operating two weeks ago. A mere 11 KWH!

I love this solar power thing but I'm certainly glad we're not relying solely on it. No matter how big or well-built a system is, it can't collect power it can't get to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

MUCH More Detail on SREC Process

Here's some extremely helpful information I received in an email from B.B. (CEO of SRECTrade).

We've already decided that we will be selling our SRECs through this company because they are extremely attentive (and we're not even customers yet) and they sell the SRECS at the highest price I've seen and with no commission paid by the seller.

Here's what B.B. said. He really fills in the gaps for me and I finally feel like I understand how it works.

The three things I'd like to address are Registration, Meter Readings and Timing...


As you've figured out, you must have your system certified by the state before you can begin producing SRECs. When you get a state certification number, you can then either register directly with GATS or through SRECTrade if you choose to utilize our hands-free SREC selling service called EasyBid.

Meter Readings:

Once you are registered, there are two ways to get credited for the solar energy you produce. For systems under 10kW, you can elect to utilize estimates that are determined by the state and based on a number of factors including the size of your system, the panel ratings and your location. Most solar generators under 10kW elect this option because it eliminates the need to input meter readings. However, if you feel your meter can outperform the estimates, you can opt to input meter readings instead. For systems that are 10kW and above, meter readings are required. These readings are typically taken on or around the last day of each month by the solar owner and must be inputted in GATS before the last business day of the following month. It is actually based on an honor system, however, since GATS knows the size of your generator, it has an idea for what is a reasonable output. If you input numbers that are too high, the readings will be flagged by the system. For our EasyBid clients, we collect their meter readings on a monthly basis using a simple online form.


Since readings are not credited until the last business day of the following month, your SRECs for month 1, are not ready until the end of month 2 and so on. Our monthly auctions occur the first Friday of each month. So any energy you generate in June will be available on July 31st and can be sold in the August 7th auction.

I hope that helps and look forward to being more helpful in the future!

Kind regards,

Monday, June 15, 2009

It Was a Good Day for Solar Power

Since we had a good day by the numbers I decided to post updated statistics. I'm probably going to stop tracking it by the day in the near future because the results are predictable. If it's sunny, we generate a lot of power. If we don't run the air conditioner we don't use a lot of power and have a lot of extra to sell.

All numbers are KWH (Kilowatthours)
* A negative number indicates that extra power was generated and sent onto the power grid.

When summer is over and we don't use the air conditioner or the pool filter (the two biggest energy pigs) I'm 99% sure we'll have surplus every day that there isn't a thick cloud cover. But that's just a guess.

Ran Into the BP Solar / Home Depot Guy

I ran into A.S. of BPSolar over at Home Depot on Saturday so I had to break the news that we'd done a system with somebody else. He was cool about it and gave me a couple business cards to hand out just in case anybody nearby was interested in a system and wanted a local guy to run the job. Now I don't have to sneak in and out through the garden center anymore...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Electricians Lay Claim to Solar Market

Interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning. Now that Pennsylvania is gearing up for a lot more solar installations, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (the electricians union) is making it's feelings known about who will be qualified to install them.

They're concerned about a provision in the new legislation that requires contractors to be certified:

"Pennsylvania's Department of Energy, for example, wants solar contractors used in the Sunshine rebate program to be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners."

In other words, the state is going to be investing a lot of money in this program and they don't want the work done by unqualified contractors, electricians or not.

I like what the union is doing. At the same time that they are staking their claim they are also incorporating new elements into their apprentice training so that electricians will have more working knowledge of solar technology installation:

"It's facilities include a solar structure that apprentices use to practice installing solar panels and connecting them to the structure's electrical system."

The union wants to avoid a situation where smaller contractors will need to go to the extra trouble and expense of bringing on a "journeyman trained in solar" in order to bid for jobs. Instead, they want the additional solar training done by apprentices to qualify them for solar certification.

I think both sides are right. Electricians can do this work but they should have extra training that the state is talking about. Although installing the components may not be much different than what electricians ordinarily do, the design of a system is a skill that requires knowledge and training -- at least that's how it looked to me when mine was going in.

It shouldn't take long to work this out.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SRECS and State Inspection

As already noted, I've been confused about how the SREC program will start "kicking in." I finally broke down today and called the SREC people at New Jersey Clean Energy Program (NJCEP) and I'm glad I did. I understand the process a little better now.

N. was very knowledgable and helpful. It was weird in a way -- I pretty much just said "This is Dave" and all of a sudden she knew everything about me, and even mentioned that my SREC account had just been set to "Inactive." I guess there aren't as many residential solar installations in the state as I thought.

Anyway, she cleared up the mystery about why I can't get anything to "happen." It turns out that although we have been generating power for a week, none of the 200+ kilowatthours we've cranked out will count towards any SRECs. Understandably, they don't award SRECS for power generated by systems that haven't been inspected by state officials.

Now I realize why groSolar is asking for copies of various inspection documents. I think the process is this: groSolar turns in paperwork to New Jersey, gets the rebate money, and then calls to arrange the state inspection. Then, after the system passes inspection, the SREC pump will be primed, so to speak. That's when everything will start to happen.

It's a relief to understand the process better, at least.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Numbers So Far

I'll need to learn a less-klunky way of importing this spreadsheet. But this will do for now. Here's what the system has done so far.

Since we ran the air conditioner today (6/8) we used more power than we produced. That's a drag, but we know from yesterday that anytime we want to sweat it out we can bank some KWH.

All numbers are KWH (Kilowatthours)
* A negative number indicates that extra power was generated and sent onto the power grid.

Still Trying to Nail Down the SREC Process

The New Jersey Clean Energy Program website tells me everything I need to know about SRECS (solar renewable energy credits) except how to have them deposited in our SREC account (for which we registered on April 27). After hunting around I finally sent an email to somebody there. Hopefully they'll tell me where to start. I might even recommend that they add a FAQ about it and I'd be glad to write it.

We've generated 160 KWH in four days. It's not going to be much longer before we hit 1000 and earn that first golden ticket. I think it's odd that nobody at any point ever asked me what my SREC account number is. The NJCEP website is somewhat lacking when it comes to explaining exactly how to make the system work. I don't even understand how the SREC Commissioner even knows when we've earned one because they're not tied into our inverters (in any way I know of) and the electric meter couldn't tell them that. I see the phrase "upload your readings" here and there on the website but it can't be the honor system, could it?

I set up a spreadsheet summarizing the energy produced, imported and exported. It'll be in another post.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Data From First Full-tracked Day

For the first month we're going to track everything on a daily basis, from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. I'll set up a spreadsheet and maybe figure out how to display it here.

The first such period just ended and here's what happened. (Please note that this 24 hour period that just ended was IDEAL -- 100% sunny, long day, not hot enough for A.C.).

The inverters tell us we produced a total of 55.5 KWHours of energy.

The meter read 15,577 KWH on Saturday evening and 15,554 KWH just now. So during that period we supplied enough for our own needs and dumped 23 KWH out onto the power grid for others to buy.

The solar power inverters and the electric meter are both dealing in KWhours, but I'm not bothering to do any math that mixes data from the two sources. I can't imagine a KWHour from one is similar enough to a KWHour from the other to make any such calculations worthwhile.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Learning to Monitor What the System Does

I've been walking to the side of the house and checking the PSE&G electric meter all day. When the sun is out it spins backwards, often pretty fast, as evident in this video:

That, of course, means we're generating excess power which is going out through the meter and onto the power grid. We'll get credit for those kilowatt hours (see the description of "net metering" above.)

It was interesting to watch what happened when a cloud passed in front of the sun. Earlier in the afternoon the meter continued to spin backwards but at a much slower rate. Later, presumably after the sun was approaching the horizon, the meter actually stopped altogether (meaning the system was producing exactly as much as the house required) or even reversed direction until the cloud was gone.

Also, we noticed that running the vacuum made a significant difference in the speed of the meter spin. This is probably going to make me think more about the power that various electrical equipment uses, solar issues aside. Hopefully this won't turn me into too much of a miser. I already caught myself before asking my daughter "Do you really need to do that?" when she took her boom box out back to listen to Miley Cyrus with her friends.

I was going to report today's meter readings but now as I look at them I realize I may not have read them all correctly. It's difficult to read those numbers, which are presented in a series of 'dials' rather than a simple readout.

We think we've figured out out how to read the inverters to determine how much energy the panels are throwing. We're going to record those numbers, as well as a careful meter reading, every day at 7:00 p.m. (and report the data here, of course). Maybe after a few days we'll start to understand what the numbers all mean and what the effect of running our system really is.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Energy Exporter

I just checked the electric meter. It's turning clockwise. The system is generating more power than the house is using so the unused energy is going out onto the grid. It works!

Pretty good for a cloudy, rainy day...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Online and Generating Power

We started work on this project over two years ago. Today, as of about 3:00 p.m., the system is operational and cranking out kilowatts.

We haven't yet learned how to interpret what the inverters (yeah, the PVMates) tell us. At some point we need to learn how to monitor the amount of "juice we produce."

By the way, Happy 21st Anniversary LA!

Building the System -- Day 9

The electricians are installing the two inverters, an extra fuse box and a safety cutoff. Instead of running cables up down and all around the wall, R. and D. took the time to cut the sheetrock and hide the cables inside the wall.

They even used a level to make sure these were mounted just right.

Closer look.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rob Erlichman of Sunlight Electric

Here's an brief but interesting August 2008 interview with Rob Erlichman in the Cornell University Chronicle Online. Erlichman is the CEO of Sunlight Electric, a San Francisco-based solar panel producer.

"Contrary to what one can read in the popular press, we're already at a place where the lines cross between the cost of solar power and the cost of using conventional generated electricity. The reason I say that, although you don't read about it, is because most people don't take into account all of the costs of their use of electricity.

For example, if you're a utility customer and you pay your electric bill for 20 years, what do you have at the end of those 20 years? You have nothing. Your money has gone up in smoke. Wouldn't the more attractive alternative be to invest in your own power plant, and at the end of that 20 years, you own something that generates power?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Building the System: Day 8

I feel like today was the day that reality hit us in the face. After admiring the beautiful array of panels, we're now looking at a lot of cables, wiring, conduit and junction boxes. R. and D., the electricians, are doing their best to make it look as unintrusive as possible. We may have to plant a new bush and paint some conduit when they're finished but it'll be okay.

R. and D. connecting our system to our meter and to the power grid.

These are the inverters, which will be mounted on the garage wall just above where they're sitting in the picture. Theinverters convert the power generated by the panels from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current) before passing it through to the electrical panel / electric meter (and out onto the power grid). Energy from half the panels will be routed through each of these.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Building the System: Day 7

After a long day of installing rails on Saturday, E.F. and M. are planning on getting all 36 panels installed on the main roof today.

These guys are the greatest. After installing the first row they didn't like how it was sitting. If you look close (hard to tell from this angle) the panels and the lower roof line were converging from left to right because of an imperfection in the roof. They also noticed a dip in the center of the roof that was throwing the alignment off. Instead of throwing up their hands and saying "it's not our fault the roof is off," they removed the panels and headed off for lunch at McDonalds to plan some adjustments.

The adjustments have probably added three hours to their work day but it looks awesome now. E.F. is a perfectionist: "That first row has to be exactly right."

It's mid-afternoon here and they're working on the last row of panels.

This picture (below) was taken from the top of the ladder. That's M. against the clouds. It's hard to tell where the panels stop and the sky starts.

All 48 panels are installed. I don't think they could have done a neater job. By coincidence, I just painted the trim purple last week and it matches the panels almost as if it had been planned that way.

The electrician will be here tommorow to install inverters, etc. and put the system online.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Building the System: Day 5

E.F. and M. got an early start on this beautiful Jersey Saturday morning. Since they're on the high roof this time, they broke out the safety harnesses.

I sneaked up the ladder when they were out for lunch and snapped off a few bracket closeups.

They're about to achieve the day's goal -- all brackets and rails installed for the remaining thirty-six panels.

Day is done. As always, I was impressed with their concern for aesthetics. E.F. told me with pride that the panels on the main roof would be centered, with 17 inches of roof on each side.

Incidentally, the twelve panels on the garage roof aren't centered because main roof casts a shadow on the side in late afternoon (or mid afternoon in winter).

The project electrician, R., came by this afternoon after a 65 mile bike ride at the Jersey Shore. He was planning his electrical work that will be done early next week. He, too, is very concerned with making the job look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Can't complain about that.

What a Solar Panel Looks Like

Each panel is 3 feet X 5 feet and weighs about 35 pounds. I was very careful the night I moved them from the yard to the garage (it took two hours) but apparently they're very durable and hard to damage by accident.

Here's a front shot of one:

And here's a back shot:

One of the wires has a male end and the other has a female end so they can be attached in-series.

How the Panels are Attached

Somebody somewhere was asking about the hardware that actually attaches the panels to the roof. At the time I wasn't really certain about it but now I know more from snooping around on the job site.

A series of brackets is screwed into the roof (right through the shingle) using a washer and 3/8" bolt that's 2 1/2 " long. Here is a set uninstalled:

And here is a set installed:

I just went up in the attic to confirm that each of these bolts are screwed into a rafter, not just through the roof plywood.

Each bracket/bolt is gooped up with what E.F. called "thirty year sealer." It looks like tar -- you can see some of it on the brackets in both of the previous pictures.

The rails that the panels will be attached to are screwed onto a row of these brackets:

It ends up looking like this:

That makes this a rather permanent installation. If we decided for some reason to remove the panels and rails from the roof we'd have hundreds of 3/8" holes that go right through the shingle and plywood and into the rafter. That's not going to happen, but yes, theoretically it would be a problem (just answering the question).