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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”

Clarification from NABCEP

 

 

In an earlier blog post, I referred to the relatively new NABCEP Associate program and called it an Associate Certification. Since then, I’ve received the following clarification from NABCEP:

NABCEP’s Associate exams provide qualified applicants with a credential, not a certification. Unfortunately, while the difference may seem small to some, it is significant to us.” [my emphasis]

In other words, (in my words) the difference between a solar installation company with employees holding the Associate Credential and one with employees who have earned NABCEP Certifications is kind of like the difference between an electrician’s helper and a master electrician.

This is very relevant and important information for potential solar buyers – especially in West Virginia recently, where marginally qualified installation contractors are showing up all around the state, and the state and most local (AHJ) officials do very little to protect the solar consumer.

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.

Get ready for more West Virginia snowfall (and more outages) this winter

 

 

 

Meteorologists are predicting a colder, snowier 2016-2017 winter, thanks to a weakened La Nina.

According to thewinterforecast.com

La Nina is here but it’s on the weaker side as of September. We see this weak La Nina to peak now but get a second burst in December and January before moving to a neutral pattern February and March. This weak La Nina means a colder winter for most of the nation and certainly much colder than last winter.

A weak La Nina, they add, typically brings the above normal snow for the area.

In the West Virginia area, snowfalls are predicted to be 10% to 15% above average, totaling as much as 71.7″ in Beckley, 77.8″ in Bartow, and 95.3″ in Elkins, for example.

As West Virginians know from often painful experience, more snow can mean more outages. That’s because as snow accumulates and freezes on overhead power lines, its weight can snap cables and topple poles – often in locations that the state’s mountainous topography and twisty roads make hard for repair crews to get to.

A Milestone Solar installation with battery backup bank is great protection from winter power outages. Unlike emergency generators,you get day after day of electric power – without flammable fuels, without toxic exhaust fumes, without moving parts to maintain or repair. And your system automatically “refuels” when the sun rises each morning. Continue reading “Get ready for more West Virginia snowfall (and more outages) this winter”

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.

Keeping food safe when the power goes out

The year’s first snowstorm, Winter Storm Hercules, is living up to its name.

It’s dumping snow from Bangor, ME, to as far west as Chicago and as far south as the West Virginia-Kentucky state line – enough snow cancel 2,300 airline flights.

But that’s not the worst of it.

With freezing and below-freezing temperatures as far south as Central Virginia, power lines are starting to ice up. When power lines ice up, they sag, often break, and cause power outages. And when the power goes out, so do appliances like refrigerators and freezers, that keep your food from going bad.

So right now, these USDA tips for keeping food safe to eat are particularly worth following:

  • Fill Ziplock bags, empty soda bottles, and other plastic containers with water and freeze them. That way they can keep perishables in your freezer, refrigerator, and coolers (see below) cold.
  • Freeze food in your refrigerator that you don’t need immediately (meat, poultry, milk, and leftovers such as chili and soup, for example). If you loose power, this will buy you some more time by keeping them at a food-safe temperature longer.
  • Pack everything tightly together in the freezer and refrigerator to help keep everything cooler longer.
  • Have coolers on hand, ready to be filled with ice packs, frozen foods and refrigerated perishables.
  • If the power goes out, keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. A fully packed, closed freezer will hold its temperature about 4 hours. A half-filled one will keep food safe for only half as long.
  • Look for visible ice crystals in your food. If they’re there, the food’s good to refreezing or cook and eat – even if it’s been in a sealed freezer without power for days.
  • If you’re not sure whether something’s safe to eat, use a cooking thermometer. If a food’s temperature is below 40˚F, it’s safe. If not, throw it out.
  • Also throw out any meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, soft cheeses, foods labeled “keep refrigerated,” and other perishables that have sat in your refrigerator for 4 hours without power. Hard and processed cheeses, butter and margarine, whole, uncut fruits and nuts, opened fruit juices and canned fruits, peanut butter, baked goods, and raw vegetables are safe.
  • Never taste an item to see if it’s still good; it most likely isn’t.

And after the power comes back on again, you might think about calling Milestone Solar about a solar power system with a battery backup bank. It’ll keep your fridge, freezer microwave working while the power’s out – for days on end, because it recharges whenever the sun is up. And when the snow stops and you have your electricity back, it’ll save you as much as 50% on your regular, monthly electric bills.

 

 

Power outages have many causes, but one sure cure.

Readers of the  New Castle, PA, News got their papers late today because a power outage shut down the printing plant. While Penn Power eventually restored electricity, the cause of the outage is still unreported.

But it could have been almost anything.

On October 28, in Moundsville, WV, the cause was copper thieves, who cut through a power substation’s fence, broke the lock on the control house door, started helping themselves to 2 gauge copper wire, and tripped a circuit breaker in the process. About 3,000 homes and businesses were without electricity for almost two hours, and schools were closed.

The day before, just as schools were letting out in Farmington, VA, a failed lightning arrestor knocked out power in about 2,950 homes and businesses – and all the city’s traffic lights. It took four crews nearly an hour to restore it.

And Lynchburg’s downtown business district, as noted before, has been plagued with a whole string of outages caused by squirrels eating the insulation.

But while power outages can have many causes, there’s one best way to avoid them – and that’s with a Milestone Solar array with battery backup. Lynchburg, the home of those hungry squirrels, for example, enjoys 219 days with sunshine a year – and on each of those days, solar power can be charging a sealed, state-of-the-art battery bank.

When the power goes out, that battery bank kicks in – keeping your lights on, your food fresh and your appliances running – day and night, until the electricity comes on again, with no flammable fuels and no toxic emissions. And when it does, your Milestone Solar system cuts your electric bills by as much as 50%, earns you a tidy tax credit, and, according to Newsday, increases your home’s value by 3 to 4%.

 

 

 

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.