5 Common Misconceptions about Solar Energy Related to Weather and Equipment

Solar EnergyAll the folks at North American Solar Stores (NASS) know first-hand the many benefits of solar.  From Springdale, Arkansas, to White River Junction, Vermont, and all NASS locations in between, we know that solar power is affordable, saves money on energy costs, and makes a huge contribution to a cleaner world.  In our Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and other NASS stores, we frequently encounter consumers who have a lot of wrong ideas about solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.  The more facts homeowners and business owners know about solar, the more they share our excitement about the greenest source of energy there is.  The following are some common weather and equipment-related misconceptions about solar that we frequently help to dispel:

Misconception #1:  Solar PV Panels Aren’t Effective in Harsh Winter Climates. 

Solar panels, in fact, work very well in cold climates, including in snowy weather.  The effectiveness of the PV system can be hindered if too much snow covers the panels, but it’s usually easy to remove the snow buildup with a squeegee.  (Always follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and removing debris from the solar system.)  The dark solar panels help speed the snow melting process, particularly when the panels face south.  Tests have shown that snow sometimes helps to increase the amount of electricity generated by solar systems, in a way comparable to snow skiers getting sunburned on bright winter days.  Solar panels conduct electricity best in cold weather.

Misconception #2:  Solar PV Panels Aren’t Effective in Cloudy Environments. 

For solar PV systems to work effectively, UV light is all that’s required.  Even the cloudiest places on earth have proven to be excellent for producing solar power.  In fact, Germany ranks low on the number of sunny days they have every year, and Germany is the world’s solar energy capital.

Misconception #3:  Solar PV Panels Aren’t Effective Without Southern Roof Exposure. 

While south-facing solar panels are typically the most efficient, solar systems with east-west roof exposure are also effective.  Ground-mounted systems are another workable option; all that is needed is an unshaded area that is relatively flat.

Misconception #4:  Solar PV Panels Require Extensive Maintenance. 

Once a solar PV system is installed, maintenance and cleaning are rarely required; and there are no moving parts.  The average warranty on a solar system is 25 years, which is proof in itself that solar systems are incredibly durable.  We recommend that the panels be inspected several times a year, to look for debris or dirt that may have collected on them.  You can also schedule professional solar panel cleaners to periodically clean your solar panels.Small Solar Panels

Misconception #5:  Solar PV Panels are Large, Bulky, and Unattractive.

Technological advancements in solar have contributed to the overall effectiveness of solar PV panels and to their appearance.  Solar shingles are even available.  Solar panels can be combined with roofing materials such as metal, asphalt, slate, and fiber-cement and look aesthetically pleasing.

Check back on our website for five solar misconceptions that involve costs, expenses, and efficiency of solar PV systems.  Contact any of our NASS stores with questions about the benefits of solar power or for solar installation.

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American Beer Brought To You By Solar Energy

solar powered brewery

Solar energy can help drastically reduce the energy costs associated with making beer.

Americans love beer so much; over 50 billion pints are consumed annually.  And now there’s a whole new reason for breweries to win favor.  Many breweries are tapping into renewable energy sources, heating water with solar power, and installing solar arrays to help with overall electricity costs.

Central Waters Brewing Company

The first brewery in Wisconsin to use solar power to heat domestic water was Central Waters Brewing Company.  The owners, Paul Graham & Anello Mollica, acknowledge that the process of brewing beer is resource-intensive.  Profuse amounts of water and energy are consumed to produce beer, and using solar power is a great way to reduce the environmental impact.  For example, every day the brewing process at Central Waters uses approximately 1,500 gallons of water which are heated to 165°F.  The water at Central Waters is now pre-heated by the sun to about 140°F, and then it’s heated the rest of the way by a natural gas boiler.

A leading goal of Central Waters Brewing is beer production with sustainable energy sources, and the company is a leader in Wisconsin’s sustainability movement.

Central Waters has also installed a photovoltaic (PV) solar system consisting of about 100 solar panels, which have a combined capacity of 20 kilowatts.  The PV system is helping to reduce the amount of fossil fuels consumed to provide electricity for the brewery.

solar powered american beer

Notice the solar hot water panels placed all along the roof of this brewery to help out with the high water heating costs.

The Milwaukee Brewing Company

The Milwaukee Brewing Company is in the process of installing 28 solar panels which will be used for preheating water that’s used in the brewing process.  This step is part of the company’s commitment to making upgrades in energy efficiency.  It’s expected that the solar installation will reduce energy costs for the brewery by 27 percent.

Barrington Brewery & Restaurant

Barrington Brewery & Restaurant was the East coast’s first brewery to brew beer using a solar energy hot water system.  About 1,000 gallons of hot water are heated daily using the 30-panel solar system.

Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille

Located in New London, New Hampshire, Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille has construction underway for a 126-panel solar energy system, making it New Hampshire’s first solar-powered brewery.

The annual electric bill for the Flying Goose is about $24,000 and rising.  The solar system is expected to lower that cost by 25 percent, and it’s projected to take between five and eight years to see a Return on Investment (ROI), covering the cost of the solar installation.

Odell Brewing Company

Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado, is making several steps toward environmental friendliness.  The brewery has added a 76.8 kilowatt solar array on the roof of a building expansion, and it’s expected that solar power will now provide about 39% of their energy needs. Odell’s also turns off the lights a good portion of the day because of a day lighting system in the warehouse which keeps the area illuminated by natural light whenever it’s daylight.  The company also limits distribution to nine states, as a way of cutting down on the use of fossil fuels.

These are just some of the breweries around the country that are switching to renewable energy.  This news will no doubt make the taste of beer even more satisfying for the energy conscious.

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The Cost-Effectiveness of a Residential Active Solar Heating System

active solar heating

There are many incentives offered in every state that make active solar heating an attractive and cost effective heating method.

An active solar heating system could save you a lot of money on energy costs.  If you do some research into your specific situation, you may find that switching to solar heating is the smartest decision for you.

What is an active solar heating system?  It’s simply a heating system which depends upon the sun’s energy as well as mechanical means, such as pumps, motors, or valves.  Every state in the U.S.A. provides different energy incentives; and in your area, it’s possible that you are eligible for incentives on this type of system.  For example, some homeowners qualify for certain income tax credits when they install active solar heating equipment.  A specific example is that in Wisconsin, the purchase of an active solar energy system for the home may be exempt from general property taxes.

When is Active Solar Heating Most Cost Effective?

It’s most cost effective when a homeowner in a cold climate invests in a good solar heating system that displaces the use of a costly heating fuel such as oil, electricity, or propane.  This is particularly true when you factor in such incentives as income tax deductions or credits, sales tax exemptions, and property tax deductions or exemptions.

The cost of an active solar heating system varies, though a reduction in the cost of solar panels means that it’s far less of an expense than it was just a couple of years ago.  The warranty on a solar system is usually a minimum of ten years, though it’s reasonable to expect that a solar heating system will last for decades.

If you’re looking to get the best value for your solar heating dollars, it’s best to install a hot water system as well as a heating system.  The reason for this is that the solar collector will be able to heat water that’s used in the summertime, rather than being idle when indoor heating is unneeded.

Factors Which Determine the Size of the Solar System

solar system

Our solar installation professionals can help you design the best system for your needs.

Experts in solar installation can guide you in understanding all of the considerations which go into choosing the size of your solar heating system.  Some of the factors are the particular heating needs of your home, the layout of the site, and the design of the system.  Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to be figured into the solar installation decisions of most homeowners; what’s important is to determine what the guidelines of your particular HOA are, to avoid complications which could become costly.  Keep in mind that many people have been successful in challenging HOAs which are overly restrictive regarding solar installations.

Did you know that it’s rare for 100% of a home’s heating needs to be provided by solar, the reason being that it’s too costly?  The most economical active solar heating system designs provide between 40% and 80% of a home’s heating requirements.  It’s rarely cost-effective to install a system which provides less than 40% of the needed heat. Our professional solar energy consultants can help run the numbers for you and figure out the most cost effective solution to your solar energy needs. Any NASS member solar store can help find the perfect balance of solar heating so that you can save money with solar.

The insulation of a home contributes to the level of efficiency of your solar system.  And a home which incorporates techniques employing passive solar heating also need less supplemental heat sources in addition to solar.

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A Cost-Cutting Solar Solution: Using Robots!

solar installation

Solar panel installation is a labor intensive job that requires hours of work from qualified solar installers.

The biggest hindrance to a more rapid increase in the number of installed solar energy systems in the U.S.A. has been cost.  That hurdle has largely been cleared, since solar panels now cost 60% less than they did a few years ago.  There’s another aspect of solar energy which involves cost issues, and that’s installing panels in such a way that they can maximize on the ability to capture energy from the sun by rotating.  It has recently been discovered that solar robots provide a cost-effective solution.

One of the most remarkable aspects of solar panels besides the fact that they produce clean energy and they’re quiet is that they don’t have to have any moving parts.  On the other hand, more solar power is generated if the panels could move in order to face the sun throughout the day.  But then things get more complicated.

Hence, for a while now, the choice has been between a simple solar array with slight lower output or a more complex system which is more efficient at pulling in the sun’s energy but which means more upfront costs.

A possible solution has been discovered by a Menlo Park firm, involving the use of solar robots for large-scale solar projects.

There is definite benefit to having your solar panels pivot in order to follow the sun; it maximizes the output of your solar PV cells.  If the panels can move up and down, that’s also helpful, to capture more solar power as the sun moves both toward and away from the horizon.  In short, you can boost your PV cell output by as much as 30-35% by doing this.  While the solar energy benefit is tremendous, this system is also 30-40% more expensive due to the dual-axis drive system for the individual panels. Hence, we need to consider that in small residential installations the recent precipitous drop in the cost of solar modules more than offsets the economic benefits of most trackers if you simply add a couple more modules to a fixed array.

solar robots

It could take just one solar robot to rotate each of these panels so that they are always positioned for maximum sun exposure.

So here is where the small robot, called “Solbot,” comes in.  QBotix, a startup in Silicon Valley, has announced a more cost efficient way of adjusting a solar panel field to aim at the sun.  The company’s tracking system, along with all of the drive mechanisms, has been consolidated into a Solbot.  The robot moves quickly on a simple monorail and adjusts each panel.  One robot moves quickly enough to adjust 200 panels so that they are virtually always facing the sun.

Solbot isn’t the only robot that is advancing the goal of lowering the cost of installing large-scale solar energy systems.

It has been discovered that it’s 50% less expensive to install solar panel plants with the use of robots when installing many solar panels at once.  One study suggests that the robots can cut the cost of installing a 14 megawatt solar power plant to $900,000 – down from $2,000,000.  In addition, the system can be installed 8 times faster with the robots.  Instead of 35 people being required to handle the job of a commercial solar system, only 3 people are needed – with unemployment as high as it is, that benefit isn’t as thrilling.  But lowering solar costs is something to get excited about.

This solar robot runs on tank threads and has a mobile base and an arm with a grip which can lift 145-watt panels.  The robot positions the solar panels perfectly, one at a time, on the pre-installed metal frame.  People follow along and add fasteners and electrical connections.

With the arrival of helpful robotics, solar power has become a more affordable renewable energy source of the future in more ways than one! While solar robots adjusting panels are a wonderful cost saver for utility scale solar projects, trained human solar installers will still be necessary for residential and small business solar projects. The solar industry has seen tremendous growth in the past year alone and with this trend continuing who knows what the next great advancement will be!

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