New Jersey BySolar
973.784.4191 Renewable Energy Systems for Businesses & Residences
15
Nov
2012

A report published last week by Clean Power Research found that solar power gives ratepayers an impressive return on investment deal.

Following the booming popularity of solar in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the past few years, many naysayers complained that solar energy was an expense to the ratepayers because of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that was signed into law in both states during the last ten years. The law requires electrical utilities to have a portion of their energy generated by solar sources each year. To meet these quotas, utilities needed to purchase Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), causing the premium cost for solar to get passed to ratepayers.

The study found that solar electricity provides a premium value of $150 to $200/MWh (15 cents – 20 cents/kWh) above the value of solar electricity generated and a levelized value of $256 – $318 per MWh (25.6 cents – 31.8 cents per kWh). Currently, SRECs in NJ are being sold for $60 per MWh (6 cents per kWh) while PA’s are going for $20 per MWh (2 cents per kWh). This signifies that ratepayers in NJ and PA are getting more than a 2:1 return on their investment in solar energy.

Even if the price of SRECs increases 100%, the value of solar power to ratepayers will continue to exceed its cost. Additionally, the research concluded that by offsetting the need for conventional power, distributed solar power delivers measurable benefits that include:

  • Lower conventional electricity market prices due to reduced peak demand;
  • Reduced need to build, operate, and maintain natural gas generating plants;
  • Reduced outages due to a more reliable, distributed electric power system;
  • Reduced future costs of mitigating the environmental impacts of coal, natural gas, nuclear, and other generation; and
  • Enhanced tax revenues associated with local job creation.

The full report can be found here: The Value of Distributed Solar Electric Generation to New Jersey and Pennsylvania

03
Feb
2012

Compared to traditional photovoltaic (PV) panels that have been around for decades, solar shingles are relatively new. First commercially available in 2005, solar shingles appealed to homeowners who preferred a less distracting and lower profile look for their solar systems. However, solar shingles never took off in the solar market for several reasons. Now, Dow Chemical Co. hopes to popularize solar shingles with a new product that promises to be the best solar shingle on the market. The question is, has their solar shingle evolved enough to make it competitive with traditional PV panels?

There have been several types of solar shingles on the market since their debut. Some are simply regular solar panels sized to look like shingles while others utilize an amorphous-silicon thin film to give it a more integrated look. The biggest problem with solar shingles in the past is their efficiency. Typical solar shingles only operate at 6% – 10% efficiency while traditional PV panels range from 14% to 19%. This makes a big difference in the overall solar system’s production. To date, solar shingle systems proved to be more expensive to install than traditional PV panels due to framing, complicated wiring, and the greater area required.

Dow is hoping to change the reputation of solar shingles with its Powerhouse Solar Shingles. With the construction of its new large scale manufacturing facility in Michigan expected to be completed this year, Dow plans to slowly introduce this product over 18 months in U.S. markets where demand is anticipated to be the strongest. The shingle, created by using thin film cells of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), is being called a game-changer for solar shingles due to its increased efficiency and ease of installation.

There are three basic pros and cons of the Powerhouse Solar Shingle:

    Pros

    1. Efficiency
    Though Dow hasn’t published specific information regarding the solar shingle’s efficiency yet, it claims their Powerhouse Solar Shingles have an over 10% efficiency because of its CIGS technology. This makes it clearly more efficient than other solar shingles on the market today.

    2. Aesthetic Appeal
    As a Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV), solar shingles blend more seamlessly into traditional roofing materials and help give a sophisticated look to a home. Many people prefer the look of solar shingles to large PV panels.

    3. Simple Installation
    Dow’s residential solar shingles are designed to be attached to the roof like any other shingle by a roofing contractor. Unlike other solar shingles that must be wired together before being installed on a roof, these solar shingles eliminate on-roof wiring completely by plugging into each other to form a connected array, making installation faster.

    Cons

    1. Production
    Dow’s product may be more efficient than other solar shingles, but it’s still eclipsed by the production from traditional PV panels. To make up for the lack of efficiency, a homeowner would need more space for solar shingles to get the same amount of power as that from a traditional system. If available roof space is limited then the homeowner would need to settle for a smaller system.

    2. Cost
    As of last summer, Dow claimed their product would cost 10% to 15% less per watt than traditional PV panels. Since that time, the cost of traditional PV panels has significantly dropped, making it likely that the price of Powerhouse Solar Shingles is equivalent to that of traditional solar panels.

    3. Electrician Required
    An advantage of the Powerhouse Solar Shingle is its ability to be installed by a roofing contractor, however, in certain states, a licensed electrician may be required to handle and or supervise the installation solar panels, thereby increasing the installation cost.

Solar shingles should not be completely ruled out as an energy saving option. Solar shingles may be a good option for new construction where the roof is facing directly south ensuring that the solar shingles receive the most sunlight for energy conversion and to reach their highest efficiency. The best investment option for homeowners looking to install solar now is to go with traditional PV panels.

21
Nov
2011

Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has provided a major incentive for the development of commercial solar PV projects in 2010 and 2011. Instead of taking an investment tax credit for a solar energy system, businesses have an option of taking a cash grant equal to 30% of the solar system’s price from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Although Section 1603 is set to expire on December 31, 2011, businesses can still take advantage of the cash grant for solar systems completed after 2011 as long as they act now. If construction begins on a solar energy system by the end of the year and the system is placed in service by the end of 2016, the applicant will qualify for the 1603 cash grant.

With six weeks left in 2011, the ability to begin construction is not impossible! The applicant must be under contract (legally enforceable under state law with damages not less than 5% of the total contract) with a solar installer or manufacturer prior to the start of work. There are two separate and independent ways that an applicant for a Section 1603 cash grant can establish the beginning of construction:

    1) Physical Work of a Significant Nature

    On-site and off-site work may be used to demonstrate that physical work has begun. Activities such as the installation of mounting systems, the manufacturing of components specifically for the project, or the pouring of concrete for a solar array may be included. It does not include activities such as planning, designing, securing financing, researching, or clearing the site. Once the construction starts, the work must be continuous.

    2) 5% Safe Harbor

    The Safe Harbor rule is satisfied when more than 5% of the total cost of the solar energy system has been paid by the applicant by December 31, 2011. There are two ways to accomplish this.

    First, the applicant can make a payment (greater than 5%) for solar equipment by December 31, 2011 and ensure that the equipment is delivered within three and a half months of the date of payment.

    Second, if the applicant is under a binding contract with a manufacturer of solar equipment in 2011, the applicant can include the costs incurred by the manufacturer to satisfy the 5% Safe Harbor.

Applicants should be aware that applications for projects that begin construction but will not be placed in service by the end of 2011 must be submitted before October 1, 2012. Section 1603 grants are available for the expansion of existing projects, as long as there is additional capacity being provided at the facility.

If you’ve been thinking about installing solar on your property, you don’t want to miss out on this cash grant incentive – once it’s gone, it’s not coming back!

01
Nov
2011

It’s Tuesday morning and northern New Jersey is still smarting from the surprise winter storm that hit us Saturday night. Many residents and businesses are still without power and the long lines at the gas station indicate that many people are using gas power generators to preserve some comfort in this cold weather. No one knows how much gas these people will consume while they wait for their power to come back on, not even the electric companies. I can’t help but wonder if people know that there is a less painful and more efficient way to deal with power outages – it’s called a solar energy storage system.

An energy storage system, also known as a battery backup system, is exactly what it sounds like. It stores energy and becomes a reliable, uninterrupted source of electricity for your home or business if you lose power. When it’s combined with a solar energy system installation, the battery backup is recharged by the electricity generated from the solar panels during high production periods so you’re not charged an additional usage fee from your utility company.

Many people mistakenly think that a solar system alone can keep electricity flowing to your home or business. A solar electric system will automatically shut down if there’s a power outage so that electricity isn’t being routed through the power lines while they are being repaired. However, it’s a different story if a solar electric system is connected to a battery backup system. In this case, as soon as you lose power, the battery backup will automatically begin providing essential circuits in your building with its stored electricity and the solar electric system will continue to charge the batteries as long as there is sunlight. This combination system can keep your building running for days if your utility power is down. The best part is that you don’t have to do anything – no starting generators, no refueling generators, no pushing buttons or flicking switches – because it’s all automatic!

Providing emergency power is only one benefit of a solar energy storage system. Economically, it allows you to better manage your energy usage and decrease your electric bill. Environmentally, it’s a clean alternative to gas or propane fueled generators, it’s completely silent, and it doesn’t emit any toxic fumes.

Whether it’s due to a snow storm, thunder storm, or occasional hurricane that makes it this far north, many New Jersey residents anticipate losing their power for several days at a time at least once a year now. Unfortunately, this trend isn’t likely to change in the future. Especially if you’re in an area that easily loses power, purchasing a solar electric/energy storage combination system may well be worth the price for the peace of mind it offers.

For more information, please visit our Energy Storage Systems Page or contact us.

14
Oct
2011

Whether we’re meeting with potential clients or making small talk with people who’ve just learned we work in the solar industry, my coworkers and I always seem to get asked the same questions about solar electric systems. We’ve compiled a list of the 5 most frequently asked questions and answered them here.

    1. How much electricity will the system generate and how will it affect my monthly bill?

    Without being too vague, it all depends on the size of your system. A knowledgeable installer will design your system based on two things: the area selected for the solar system and your previous 12 months of electric bills. Roof mounted PV system installations are more limited in space than ground mount systems, but other factors like shading and direction of the sun also play an important role in how much space is available for solar panels. Your electric bills are important because they show the maximum amount of your electrical consumption during the year. This is the amount of electricity that the solar system designer will attempt to meet when selecting the equipment and configuring your panel arrangement. (In NJ, a grid-tied solar system cannot be sized larger than historical electric consumption at the meter.)

    Most homes and businesses cannot cover 100% of their electric needs with a solar energy system, but your installer should be able to give you an idea of how much electricity the system will displace and it should amount to a substantial portion of your monthly bill. Don’t forget that it is possible for your system to generate more electricity than you are using at any particular time (such as during the day when no one is home) and you can benefit from NJ’s Net Metering incentive.

    2. How much does a solar power system cost and what is my Return on Investment (ROI)?

    The cost of a solar system largely depends on its size and the equipment being installed. As with anything else you may buy, solar panels and its accompanying equipment range in price depending on factors such as efficiency, warranty period, where it’s made, etc. However, even with the cheapest materials, the price will probably come as a shock to most people – you can expect to pay roughly: $6/watt for a system less than 10 kW, $5/watt for a system 10 – 100 kW, $4/watt for a system 100 kW – 1 MW, and $3.50/watt for anything over 1 MW.

    Fortunately, there are many incentives available to homeowners and businesses that help make a solar energy installation more affordable. Depending on how they’re utilized, these incentives can be used to pay off the system’s costs sooner and increase the ROI. Your solar installer should be able to tell you what you qualify for and how it will affect your system’s price and ROI before you sign a contract.

    Bottom line: A solar system is an investment. Although it will cost you a decent chunk of money up front, the system will pay for itself in a few years. Once you reach that breakeven point, you’ll continue to benefit from the electrical savings for the remainder of the system’s life (approximately 30 years).

    3. How much maintenance is required for solar panels?

    Very little! Unless you own a tracking PV system, there are no moving parts that need to be examined for wear and tear. An occasional visual inspection will let you know if you need to rinse off any dust, pollen, bird droppings, or leaves that may settle on your panels – and this can be done with a regular garden hose!

    4. Will I still have electricity from my solar system if there’s a power outage from the utility company?

    No. The National Electrical Code requires any grid-tied PV system to immediately shut down during a power outage in order to prevent the energy it produces from harming any line workers who are fixing the power grid. If keeping the power on during a power outage is your goal, you can install a battery backup system with your solar energy system for an additional cost.

    5. Should I wait to install a solar energy system in case prices come down?

    While it’s true that panel and equipment prices are decreasing, you have to keep in mind that many of the current incentives won’t be around if you wait too long. Although the federal government has extended some of its solar energy incentives in the past, it won’t announce if the current incentives set to expire at the end of 2011 will be renewed until the last few weeks of the year. Furthermore, the sale price of SRECs is falling quickly now that there is a surplus on the market. The lower the SREC selling price, the longer it will take you to break even on your system and start making a profit.

    Additionally, for every month you choose not to invest in a solar electric system, you’re paying full price for your utility supplied electricity at a rate that will continue to increase in the future.

Whether you’re just starting to research solar energy systems or you’re ready to get one installed today, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Solar systems cost a lot of money and the more answers you receive, the better you’ll feel about your investment. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about solar energy.