Thursday, May 16, 2013
Although solar farms providing electricity to utilities may require the use of high voltage power lines, solar collectors installed on your home eliminate or reduce your impact on the overall need for such lines. Ready to become part of the solution?
A great place to start is rockygrove.com. Located near Kingston, Rocky Grove Sun Company (RGSC) has been in business since 1986 and claims to be the most experienced alternative energy company in Arkansas. The website has useful information about hooking up to solar and other alternative power. The company was founded on bringing power to remote locations in the Ozarks, and all of the businesses’ employees live off grid. Founder, Jimis Damet, says Rocky Grove has hooked up at least 27 systems in the Eureka Springs area.
A study done for Eureka Springs in 2012 by the Climate Energy Environment Group found that “The City is about fifty percent shaded,” which “limits the potential for solar installations in many locations.” However the study noted that US 62, which runs along a ridge, allows “significant opportunity to take advantage of solar energy…”
Damet says, in regards to Eureka Springs, “We usually have to be the devil’s advocate when comes to clearing trees to create an adequate solar window. We want customers’ investments to pay off, so shadows need to be eliminated. Some types of grid tie like systems that use microinverters are more productive where shadows on the solar array are unavoidable. Damet also advises that, “If you live in the city limits you will have to get a permit to hook up a grid tie system.”
For Eureka’s Historic District Commission’s (HDC) Guidelines on solar installations, go to the HDC page at cityofeurekasprings.us.
Rocky Grove’s site explains that off grid systems – those that do not connect to a power company – “offer a freedom like no other – being totally responsible for your energy diet is very rewarding and removes your home from the entanglement of coal or nuclear based power production.” These systems include solar panels, a bank of batteries, a charge controller and an inverter which changes the DC electricity to AC. RGSC’s web site says an off grid system requires careful designing with a resident’s expected energy consumption patterns taken into account.
With a grid tied solar energy system, which also requires an inverter, if the home uses more electricity than is produced by the solar panels, the extra power comes from the electric utility, and the customer is charged for what was used from the grid. If the solar panels produce more electricity than needed, the extra power is directed back out to the grid and customers are credited for this amount. This is referred to as net metering.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, on average, 20-40 percent of a solar energy system’s output goes into the grid. Arkansas has offered net metering since 2002. To be eligible, customers must submit an interconnection agreement with the utility. Carroll Electric and SWEPCO have net metering information on their websites. Customers are responsible for costs associated with interconnecting the system and utilities also charge a net metering tariff.
Net metered systems are required to shut down when grid power fails, so unlike battery-based systems, a grid tie system won’t function when utility company’s service is out, unless a battery backup system is installed. However, this makes a grid tie system much more complicated.
Solar thermal systems make hot water that can also be used for space heating. RGSC’s site says these systems approach 80 percent efficient – compared to 15 percent for solar photovoltaic panels. They are also much less expensive, and can have a payback period of less than years.
There is a federal tax credit for solar systems of 30% of cost. Though both principal residences and second homes qualify, rentals do not. You have 10 years to rollover the residential energy tax credit, filed on Form 5695.
EnergySage.com, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), provides a one-stop shop for solar consumers to compare online sales quotes and, according to the DOE, offers “…unprecedented levels of transparency into PV prices, as well as product and installer quality.”
Solar-estimate.org provides estimates of a solar energy system costs, and financial analysis, as well as access to contractors, installers, and a directory of manufacturers and distributors.
Energy.gov’s “small solar electric system’s” page gives detailed, easy to understand, information on solar energy systems.
DOE recommends that before selecting a system you should evaluate your energy consumption patterns and try to reduce your electricity use. “By understanding your ‘energy habits’ and becoming more energy efficient, you can reduce the size of the PV system you'll need, lowering both your capital and operating costs.”
DOE also advises that bids for solar projects should state the maximum generating capacity and an estimate of the amount of energy that the system will produce on an annual basis.
Energy.sourceguides.com provides a list of solar energy businesses.
This is an excellent time to go solar because, according to Damet, the cost of solar modules has dropped dramatically in the last four or years years, but seems to now be leveling out. Damet points out, “You can start small and add later with any kind of system. We always try to make systems that are expansion ready.”
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