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).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Building the System: Day 4

No work done today. The weather looked iffy this morning and E.F. had to drive to Carteret to pick up some copper wiring.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Building the System: Day 3

E.F. and M. were onsite by 8:45 this morning. Had they not had to wait for a supply shop in Trenton to open they would have arrived even earlier. They took a few minutes to get organized and then started installing the rails on which panels would be mounted.

Before lunchtime they'd carried a few panels up and begun installing them.

Once they found their rhythm the panels were locked down one after another. Their goal was to get the twelve panels mounted on the garage roof today (before tackling the thirty-six that will go on the main roof).

Five down, seven to go.

Just a couple more after this one.

Twelve panels installed -- day 3 mission accomplished.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Building the System: Day 2

Still too wet with the morning showers. Since the forty-eight panels are worth more than our PT Cruiser we pulled that onto the driveway and I spent two hours moving and stacking them in the garage.

Maybe tomorrow we'll get something done.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Building the System: Day 1

The materials for building the system arrived today.

Unfortunately, it was too wet and rainy for E.F., M. and B. to do anything but unload the 48 solar panels, mounting hardware and electrical gizmos (inverters, safety switches, pass-through boxes and a couple other gadgets).

We'll try again tomorrow. E.F. is going to let me help out as much as possible whenever I can. Maybe I'll learn something. I'm at least going to carry a few panels onto the roof, and maybe even install one if he doesn't change his mind...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Installation Date

The local permit process is nearly complete and V.D. of groSolar is confident that all permits will be in hand by the end of the week. Installation of our system is now on the schedule beginning Tuesday morning (May 26).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Net Metering Interconnection Approved

Today we received in the mail a Section H, Utility Application Acceptance from the New Jersey Interconnnection Application for Net Metering Systems Interconnection Application for Net Metering Systems via our electricity provider, PSE&G (Public Service Electric and Gas Company).

What a mouthful. It means that the state has approved the adjustment of our electric meter to allow electricity to flow both ways. Any excess power that our solar electric system produces will go out onto the power grid. When this happens our meter will actually spin backwards, reducing the amount we will owe for power we take from the grid when our system can't produce power (nighttime, for example).

The letter indicates that we can't connect to the grid and/or generate power until a PSE&G technician has inspected the modified hookup. As far as we're concerned, that's good news -- an extra set of eyes checking things over is rarely a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pennsylvania Gets in the Solar Game

Pennsylvania's new solar rebate program is now open for business.

Here's a link the article from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"Rebates of up to 35 percent are available on a first-come, first-served basis to owners of homes and small businesses looking to offset the cost of buying and installing solar-energy systems."

"... the new state rebate, along with federal tax credits of up to 30 percent, would enable Pennsylvanians to get as much as a 50 percent break on the cost of a solar-energy system."

"The price of an average 5-kilowatt residential unit is $35,000 to $40,000. Experts say that investment will be recouped in eight to 10 years - through reduced energy costs and from selling unused power into the grid and alternative energy credits to utilities."

"Another impetus to going solar now, Rendell said, is the likely event of double-digit rate increases by utilities when state caps are lifted in 2011."

"Saying it was 'embarrassing' that New Jersey and Maryland had instituted solar financial-aid programs long before Pennsylvania, Rundgren said: 'It's about time . . . the state is going to start putting its foot in the water.'"


To some, a government program to encourage development of solar technology is a boondoggle and a monument to government waste. As somebody who worries about bloated government I can see their points. However, this isn't exactly like "The bridge to nowhere" or a grant to fund research on the favorite colors of various sea creatures. This is more like investment in the Apollo program in the sixties. It might encourage development of technology that will be beneficial in ways we don't even know about. It will create high-tech jobs immediately. If small solar production projects proliferate it will negate the need for at least some investment in construction of the conventional power plants that will no doubt be needed to meet the growing need for power in our country.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Township Permits Taking Longer Than Expected

V.D. of groSolar called today. The township is taking longer than groSolar expected to approve the project and issue permits. As soon as they sign off the system is going in.

I haven't heard from the homeowners association at all since I sent the application (for exterior change) paperwork to them, either. That's not something that we're going to hold this up for.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How to Sell SRECs

You might recall that we are unsure what we will do with the SRECs our system will generate, as covered in a prior post:

We don't want to be overburdened with the process of selling the SRECS ourselves -- we don't even understand the process yet. On the other hand, we don't want to enroll with a traditional broker because they just take too much of the proceeds of SREC sales. I may have found a solution.

SRECTrade provides full SREC buying and selling services at minimal cost. As a matter of fact, there is no cost for the seller at all, and only a 3% commission on each SREC sale payable by the buyer. The company's website tells it all (this excerpt is from the "About Us" page):

...but soon shifted their attention to the inefficient SREC trading market in New Jersey. Residential solar producers and the utilities that wanted their SRECs were having a difficult time connecting. Brokers took advantage of this disconnect by purchasing SRECs from individual producers and selling them in bulk to utilities, often with a price markup. Buyers and sellers of SRECs were frustrated by the primitive nature of the exchange, the lack of transparency of fair SREC pricing, and the power of the brokers.These complaints were answered with SRECTrade's online auction platform, launched in August 2008.

Amazingly enough, the complaints cited in that excerpt are almost identical to the ones I made (or that I was thinking, at least) in my previous post on the subject.

The process seems effortless through the EASYBID mechanism they offer. It looks as though after an SREC seller is registered they can set an SREC price through EASYBID and let SRECTrade handle the rest of the transaction on a monthly basis, including direct deposit of the proceeds of each monthly SREC auction.

It appears that this company offers solar power producers the best value combined with convenience when it comes to selling SRECs. Maximizing the payback and minimizing the confusion and fear factor will encourage more homeowners to invest in solar electric systems. That's what this blog is all about.

As we register with SRECTrade and learn more about this company and the process I'll post about it.

Black is Out

M.C. of groSolar called to fill me in on what he'd found out about the black-framed panels. First, he educated me. The black-framed panels I've been looking at aren't just black-framed -- the panels themselves are black. These are less efficient than the bluish ones. We'd be sacrificing efficiency and kilowatts by going for the trendier look.

On a more practical level, the black frames and panels are newer (and scarcer) and he thinks it would be months before he could get enough black panels, frames and mounting brackets. Not only do we not want to wait months, we also have to get this system online by July 31 or we lose our New Jersey rebate.

So we're sticking with the bluish panels and grayish frames.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Legal Hassle -- NOT

For the past week we've been getting calls from an energy company whose name we didn't recognize. When they sent a more detailed email yesterday I finally figured out who they must be -- the company that swallowed the company that swallowed the company that we originally signed the contract with for our solar energy system in 2007.

We haven't heard from them since Fall 2008, and that was only when we repeatedly called them to ask when they were going to build our system (the answer was always "we don't know"). Fast-forward six months to May 2009, over two years after we signed on with them. What did they want? Why, to schedule a site visit pursuant to a June 16-18 installation date. What? There is an obvious disconnect here.

We did a lot of worrying about this overnight. They neglected us for about eight months, and we were getting to the point where we were risking expiration of our New Jersey rebate, so we signed with another company in April (March 31 actually). I think we were within our rights to switch but we were both imagining an expensive legal hassle if they tried to claim that we were still obligated to work with them.

This morning I replied to their email telling them politely but firmly that we had moved on. Much to our relief they were very gracious and even apologetic about the whole matter. It sounds like they now have their act together but we fell through the cracks while they were busy acquiring themselves.

What a relief...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Installation Postponed

Installation of our system has been delayed. It's going to take longer for our township to review and approve the project and issue the permits. They say that they need to have it in house for a week to examine, which sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

This might also give us a chance to work out another minor issue. I had mistakenly believed that the solar panels to be installed were the black-framed ones, which look slicker:

Just the other day I came to realize that we were getting the traditional ones with grayish frames:

We're thrilled either way but we'd prefer the black ones. The difference is purely cosmetic but black-framed panels appear to be the wave of the future. We asked groSolar if we can upgrade and made it clear that we understand that it might cost more.

I also want to look into that system component that would tell us exactly how much power our system is generating.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Project Manager Comes By -- Installation to Start on Thursday

E.F. came out to the house today. He's the groSolar project manager who will be running the job. He needed to scope a few things out and get some details needed for a permit. Honestly, every person from groSolar is fantastic, each one one cooler than the last.

The truckload of materials will arrive Thursday morning (May 7) and they'll start building the system then. The crew will be small -- three people including E.F. It seems like a lot of work for three. He thinks they'll put in three full days, including Saturday, and then it will be finished.

He also told me that he likes to get the customers "involved" in the job as much as possible and suggested that I carry a few of the panels up to the roof myself. If this happens I hope I can get somebody to take my picture while I'm doing it.

One thing I'm disappointed about is that our system won't include a device to display how much energy we produce. That's something I was looking forward to. There is hardware that can do this but E.F. says that we're talking six hundred bucks to start with. We can think about adding it later. There's a possibility that this information will be available online, either through our account with the electric company, our account with NJCEP, or both. Otherwise, the only way we'll be able to know exactly what we're producing ourselves and what we still need from the grid is to study our electric bills. Bummer.

The application for exterior modifications arrived from our homeowners association arrived in the mail yesterday so I filled it out and attached a sketch. I also included a note of apology for the last-minute notice, explaining that until a few days ago we thought this wouldn't happen until July. Hopefully they won't try to jerk us around. It would take a lot of effort not to laugh if they called and told us that we can't start work until we've received their approval.