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What it takes to be a Qualified Solar Installer

 

 

In a recent post I wrote that an Electrician license alone – even a Master Electrician license – does not qualify you to design and install solar systems. I totally respect the fact that a Master license is a great achievement that requires significant experience and training, but it’s not solar specific. Some took exception to that position, but those are just the facts, in my opinion, and I think I have the experience and credentials to have that opinion.

Most states address this by requiring a building and an electrical permit to legally install a residential or commercial solar system. And in most cases, the plans have to be sealed by a licensed Professional Engineer.

But in many parts of West Virginia, as far as I can understand based on multiple inquiries to the Contractor Licensing Board, there are no clear licensing rules.

At Milestone, we have two licensed Master Electricians in our group, and I’ve worked with other Master Electricians as fill-ins, and I can tell you with total certainty that until you’ve received some formal training on solar systems, or on-the-job oversight from a trained and certified NABCEP installer, you’re not qualified to install all of the electrical components of a solar system, let alone design solar systems. There are many specific electrical issues that are quite unique to solar systems. And electrical is only part of the process. That’s not just my opinion. That’s according to NABCEP’s Job Task Analysis (JTA), spelling out in detail the areas their installer certification test covers and the percentage of questions for each area of expertise (Content Domain in the table below). Continue reading “What it takes to be a Qualified Solar Installer”

Why don’t more solar installers offer ground mounts?

Merrell Ground Mount

We do a lot of ground mount systems each year, and over the last year or so we did an even higher percentage than usual.

The list below features a dozen recent ground mount systems – ten as part of battery backup (bimodal) systems. Ground mounts are a particularly good option for battery backup systems ( see reason 2 below).

  • 36 module system – New Martinsville, WVDSC_3252
  • 44 module system – Williamsport, MD
  • 48 module system – Sharpsburg, MD
  • 28 module system – Greenbrier County, WV
  • 20 module system – Monroe County, WV
  • 24 Module system – Harrisonburg, VA
  • 45 module system – Hagerstown, MD
  • 24 module system – Shepherdstown, WV
  • 32 module system – Romney, WV
  • 20 module system – Rockport, WV
  • 44 module system – Orange, VA
  • 36 module system – White Sulphur Springs, WV

While I encourage people with the property to at least consider a ground mount system, some installation companies take an opposite view. (This may have less to do with the merits of ground mounts and more because they haven’t invested in equipment needed for trenching for wire runs and augering for pier holes.)

DSC_3361

Of course, ground mounts aren’t an option for everyone, but for those with enough property they offer two major advantages over roof mounts (to say nothing of a lot more minor ones):

  1. Most roofs are not perfectly oriented to the sun path. You can precisely orient a ground-mounted array for maximum production, which you obviously can’t do with a house. Over time, the production difference will be significant.
  2. After a big snowfall, you can clear the snow off your ground-mounted array so it starts generating electricity to power appliances (and charge backup batteries, if you have them). When you consider how many snowstorms produce power outages, this can be a very big deal.

How much should an hour of electricity cost?

8.8.12-Power-Outage

About 3 PM Monday, May 12, a substation equipment failure knocked out power in Cumberland, MD, and Mineral County, WV.

It wasn’t until 4 PM that Potomac Edison sent repair crews to the scene.

And it wasn’t until 7 PM – four hours later – that all 3,000 customers who’d been without electricity got it back.

Though backup generators kicked in at households that had them, their power came at a cost. Backup generators burn propane at the rate of four gallons per hour. At $4 per gallon of propane, that’s $16 per hour to keep the lights on and the refrigerator cold. For a four-hour outage, that’s $64.

Do the arithmetic, and you’ll see that for a two-day outage, like the ones that hit towards the beginning of this year, you could be spending $768 just for two days of electricity.

A battery backup bank, on the other hand, costs $0 per hour to keep your lights and your appliances powered. That’s because instead of costly propane, its “fuel” is free. It’s the sun, which rises every morning and powers Milestone Solar arrays even on cloudy days.

And adding a battery backup bank to your Milestone Solar system costs no more than a backup generator – sometimes less.

Click here or call us at 866-688-4274 to learn if a Milestone Solar system is right for your home or business. (Even the call is free.)

 

Which states have the most solar power?

sun-questionmarkYou might expect the sunniest states, or the ones with the biggest populations, to have the most solar power installations. But according to the Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch, that’s not so.

California and Texas, for example, are first and second in population, and with just 205 hours’ difference in average hours of sunlight per year, so you’d expect them to be first and second in solar power. But while California’s first in solar installations, Texas is only eighth.

There are other surprises in the rankings, too.

Massachusetts, which has fewer annual hours of sunlight (2634), is number five on the list of solar leaders, while Virginia (2829) doesn’t even make the top ten.

Same for New Jersey (#3, 2499 hours of sunlight) and next-door neighbor Pennsylvania (2614 hours).

Here’s a rundown of America’s solar powerhouses and what makes them solar leaders:

  1. California led the nation with 2621 megawatts of solar power capacity installed last year, but that had nothing to do with the fact that it also leads the country in population. About 1900 megawatts of that capacity was for utilities.
  2. Arizona – Elimination of a utility fee charged to solar customers created a spike in year-end solar applications, so more Arizonans will be taking advantage of their state’s 3806 hours of sunlight per year.
  3. New Jersey installed enough solar capacity last year – 235.6 megawatts, enough to power 33,701 homes – thanks to a system of attractive state credits. The fact that solar installation prices for home and businesses have fallen slightly more there than elsewhere didn’t hurt, either.
  4. North Carolina gets less annual sunlight (2651 hours) than northern neighbor Virginia (2829), but that didn’t stop them from going solar big time. Tax credits for homes and businesses are generous, and utilities have built solar farms throughout the countryside. Even the 19th Century Biltmore Estate has gone solar, with a nine-acre installation that provides 20% of their energy needs.
  5. Massachusetts (2634 sunlight hours per year) was next, largely because of commercial and utility installations.

Even though they didn’t make the top ten, Maryland (2582 sunlight hours), Pennsylvania (2614), Virginia (2829) and West Virginia all have enough sunlight and enough incentives to make solar power a smart deal for homes and businesses.

There’s no telling when the power will go out – or why

Power outages can happen at the worst times and for the strangest reasons.

Take the morning of Friday, September 20, when the new iPhone5 was set to go on sale.

It was minutes before 8 AM in Bethesda, MD. A line of customers, eager to buy, stretched from the door of the Apple store all the way around the block. As the Wall Street Journal Washwire blog posted,

…just moments before the suburban Washington store was set to open at 8 a.m., the power went out, according to buyers’ and local news reporters’ posts on Twitter. A call to the Apple store went unanswered. Local power company Pepco later confirmed there was a power outage.

In fact, the power went out for the whole block that the would-be iPhone buyers were lined up around. “Whole block went dark,” one of them tweeted.

The outage’s cause was just as strange as its timing. “A squirrel made contact with our equipment and caused a fault,” @PepcoConnect tweeted. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

Squirrels have been causing lots of outages recently. They keep knocking out the power in downtown Lynchburg, VA, for example, costing consumers time and businesses lost sales – and that’s more than an “inconvenience.”

Of course, if the Bethesda Apple store, or the Lynchburg downtown merchants, had Milestone Solar systems with battery backup, the outage wouldn’t have inconvenienced them one bit.

The lights would have stayed on, the doors open. They’d have been able to ring up sales and earn profits. And if the outage had been a long one, the sealed battery backup bank would have been recharging every second the sun was in the sky.

If a constant power supply matters to you, contact us for a free solar, consultation and learn more about our battery backup. After all, you never know when a squirrel might strike again.

 

 

Not just for Virginia homes

The Roanoke Times reports that starting a few weeks from now, a solar array will provide the Salem, Virginia, Veteran Affairs Medical Center  with 1,620 kilowatts of free electricity – about 10% of their power needs.

Another VA hospital, in Alexandria, has a 1,995 kilowatt solar system under construction.

The Norfolk Naval Station gets 2100 kilowatts from its solar system.

Washington and Lee University and Virginia Tech also save on electric bills with solar power (450 and 103 kilowatts, respectively).

At Milestone Solar, we’ve been helping commercial customers offset as much as 50% of their electric bills with

  • a 37.4 kilowatt solar installation for the Ernst Market in Clear Spring, Maryland (20% offset).
  • a 15.87 kW solar array for the Town of Man, West Virginia, town hall (50%).
  • a 5.04 kW solar system for the Beech Bottom, WV, town hall (more than 50%).

So if you run a business, are concerned about your bottom line and overhead, and thought that solar electricity was just for houses, it pays to think again.

 

195,000+ Maryland homes hit with electric rate increase

If you live in Maryland, get ready to pay a 3.6 percent rate increase – retroactively. That’s the bad news.

But there’s also good news: You can reverse that rate hike, and then some.

As the Baltimore Sun reported September 12,

The Maryland Public Service Commission has authorized Delmarva Power to increase electric delivery rates by nearly 4 percent, the utility announced Wednesday.

The increase for Delmarva’s Maryland customers is effective for electric service rendered on and after Sept. 15. According to the company’s website, Delmarva has 5,342 residential and business customers in northeastern Harford County and 45,007 customers in Cecil County, among 195,000 customers in Maryland.

The rate increase will add 3.6 percent to monthly residential bills, the company said in a news release posted on its website.

The PSC also approved a Grid Resiliency Charge which amounts to approximately $0.03 cents per month, starting in 2014, for the average residential customer, the company said, explaining that this charge will cover costs associated with Delmarva Power’s plans to accelerate its reliability improvements by upgrading key equipment in the next two years.
Delivery rates cover the cost of poles and wires that carry electricity to customers’ homes and businesses and are separate from supply rates, the news release notes. Supply rates are determined by wholesale energy markets and reflect the cost of power that Delmarva Power purchases on behalf of its Maryland customers who do not buy power from an alternate supplier. Supply costs are driven primarily by the cost of fuel to make electricity.
Customers who buy electricity from a competing supplier will see the same increase in their delivery rates, Delmarva said.

But while Delmarva Power and its competitors are hiking electric bills by almost 4 percent, a Milestone Solar array can cut them by  more than ten times that figure. As Milestone customer Bob Myers, of Fayetteville, WV, told us,

“Our last power bill from just before we turned the array on was for $110 and a few cents. Our first power bill after system turn-on was $55 and a few cents. It cut our electric bill in half! That, plus the SRECs, plus the Federal and State tax credits, plus the proposed rate hike by our power company making our produced power even more valuable will provide a pretty decent return on our investment. Our system looks like it will pay for itself in about 7 years or perhaps just a little bit less.

If your home or business building is right for solar – and our free, no-nonsense Solar Evaluation will tell you that – you can stop paying more for electricity and start paying lots less. So why not call 866-688-4274, toll-free, today to get one started?