New Bill Being Passed in South Carolina in Favor of Solar Energy
Last week at the South Carolina Statehouse the solar industry had a major victory when the state legislature unanimously voted to pass the energy freedom act. This bill will help to greatly lower electricity costs and create jobs in South Carolina.
The solar energy industries association (or SEIA) played an instrumental role in the passing of this bill. They began with the goals to eliminate the net metering cap for residential solar, ensuring fair and transparent rates for residential and large scale solar, reforming the process behind utility resource planning, ensuring fair and timely contracts for large-scale solar providers, and to make solar more available and accessible for all people in South Carolina.
Their campaigning strategy consisted of organizing site visits, holding lobby days, and creating educational collateral to earn a bipartisan consensus on solar policy among South Carolina lawmakers in Columbia.
Some of the other main players that SEIA worked with in order to have this bill passes were the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition, Conservative Voters of South Carolina, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Environmental Law Center. In addition to this large group of organizations, 33 solar companies also signed a joint letter to the Senate and many even lobbied their representatives directly. They also worked with the local business community, resulting in 32 corporations submitting a letter of support for the bill.
All of these efforts resulted in a unanimous vote in the House in February, and another unanimous vote in the Senate last week. This win is an example of what happens when the solar industry comes together to speak with one voice to reach a common goal.
Although, even with these major victories, we must still wait for Governor McMaster to sign the legislation into law so that clean energy can start working again for people in South Carolina.
The History of Solar Panels
For the last century and a half, inventors have been working hard to make improvements in the efficiency and aesthetics of solar technology.
Solar energy technology began with a young physicist in France, Edmond Becquerel. In 1839, Becquerel observed and discovered the photovoltaic effect. This is the process that produces a voltage or electric current when exposed to light or radiant energy. A few decades later, French mathematician, Augustin Mouchot, began registered patents for solar-powered engines in the 1860s. All around the world inventors were inspired by the patents and began filing for patents on solar powered devices as early as 1888.
In 1883 New York inventor Charles Fritts created the first solar cell by coating selenium with a thin layer of gold. Fritts reported that the selenium module produced a current that was continuous, constant, and of considerable force. This cell achieved an energy conversion rate of 1 to 2 percent, but most modern solar cells work at an efficiency rate of 15 to 20 percent. While it was only a small amount of energy, this was the beginning of photovoltaic solar innovation in America.
A few years later in 1888, Edward Weston received two patents for solar cells. For these patents, Weston proposed “to transform radiant energy derived from the sun into electrical energy, or through electrical energy into mechanical energy.” Light energy is focused by a lens onto the solar cell. The light heats up the solar cell and causes electrons to be released and current to flow. In this instance, light creates heat, which creates electricity. This is the reverse of the way an incandescent light bulb works, converting electricity to heat that then generates light.
Also in 1888, Russian scientist Aleksandr Stoletov created the first solar cell based on the photoelectric effect. This is when light falls on a material and electrons are released. In 1894, American inventor Melvin Severy received patents for what was basically early solar cells based on the discovery of the photoelectric effect. Severy also received a second patent in 1889 which was also meant for using the suns thermal energy to produce electricity for heat, light, and power.
Almost a decade later, American inventor Harry Reagan received patents for thermal batteries which are used to store and release thermal energy. This battery was invented to collect and store heat by having a large mass that can heat up and release energy. Systems today use this technology to generate electricity by conventional turbines. In 1897, Reagan was granted a patent for an application of solar heat to thermo batteries. His invention was a means of collecting, storing, and distributing solar heat as needed.
In the 1950s, Bell Laboratories realized that semiconducting materials were more efficient than selenium. They created a solar cell that was 6 percent more efficient. While it was considered the first practical device for converting solar energy to electricity, it was still cost prohibitive for most people. Silicon solar cells are expensive to produce, and when you combine multiple cells to create a solar panel, it’s even more expensive for the public to purchase. The University of Delaware is credited with creating one of the first solar buildings, “Solar One,” in 1973. The construction ran on a combination of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic power. The building didn’t use solar panels; instead, solar was integrated into the rooftop.
In the 1970s, an energy crisis in the US began and Congress passed the Solar Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 1974. The government was more committed than ever to make solar power a more viable and affordable option for the public. After the debut of “Solar One,” people saw solar energy as an option for their homes. Growth slowed in the 1980s due to the drop in traditional energy prices. But in the next decades, the federal government was more involved with solar energy research and development, creating grants and tax incentives for those who used solar systems. According to Solar Energy Industries Association, solar has had an average annual growth rate of 50 percent in the last 10 years in the United States, largely due to the Solar Investment Tax Credit enacted in 2006. Installing solar is also more affordable now due to installation costs dropping over 70 percent in the last decade.
What is Solar Energy?
Solar energy is the most abundant energy source on Earth, and as we continue to develop ways to capture it, it is an important aspect of our clean energy future.
During the day when the sun is shining, each particle of sunlight that reaches earth contains energy that fuels our planet. Solar energy is the ultimate source responsible for all of our weather systems and energy sources on earth, and enough solar radiation hits the surface of the planet each hour to theoretically fill our global energy needs for nearly an entire year.
This energy comes from the sun, which is like a massive nuclear reactor. Deep in the Sun’s core, nuclear fusion reactions produce massive amounts of energy that radiates outward from the Sun’s surface and into space in the form of light and heat.
How does solar power work?
Solar power can be harnessed and converted to usable energy using photovoltaics or solar thermal collectors. Although solar energy only accounts for a small amount of overall global energy use, the falling cost of installing solar panels means that more and more people in more places can take advantage of solar energy. Solar is a clean, renewable energy resource, and figures to play an important part in the global energy future.
How to harness solar energy for usable power?
There are many ways to use energy from the sun. The two main ways to use energy from the sun are photovoltaics and solar thermal capture. Photovoltaics are much more common for smaller-scale electricity projects such as a residential solar panel installation, and solar thermal capture is typically only used for electricity production on massive scales in utility solar installations. In addition to producing electricity, lower temperature variations of solar thermal projects can be used for heating and cooling.
Solar is one of the fastest growing and cheapest sources of power in the world and will continue to spread rapidly in the coming years. With solar panel technology improving each year, the economic benefits of solar improve, adding to the environmental perks of choosing a clean, renewable energy source.
5 Things to Check on Your Solar System Each Month to Keep it Running Smoothly
With their few moving parts and limited maintenance needs, solar panels can typically last years without experiencing any issues. However, in order to keep them working at peak performance and to keep from having any major maintenance issues, it is important to give them preventative care throughout the year. Here are the top five things you should be doing each month in order to keep your solar panels working the best they can.
Watch for dirt and debris buildup
Being sure to keep your solar panels free from any obstructions helps ensure that you are maximizing the efficiency of your system. You should be sure to remove snow, dust, and leaves from your panels on a monthly basis to keep your system running smoothly. However, if your system is installed in a way that could put you at risk of a fall, do not attempt to clean them yourself. Many solar systems are mounted low enough that cleaning is possible from the ground using a land-handled broom. For panels mounted higher, your installer will likely have a solar panel cleanings service to recommend. Having a professional come to clean your panels can help ensure that your panels receive a thorough cleaning and that they will not be damaged in the process.
Inspect your rack and roof penetrations
Solar panels are mounted to your roof with a rack. This rack carries the weight of the panels and holds them to the roof using several sturdy bolt penetrations. A monthly visual inspection is a great way to catch any potential drainage or structural issues before they become serious. While it can be tough to identify drainage issues from the outside, they should be visible from the inside in the form of leaks. You should do a monthly visual inspection of your attic space to see if you notice any leaks under the areas where your panels are mounted.
Missing bolts can also be an indicator of impending rack failure. Panels can loosen in their mounts over time due to snow and wind, so if you do find a potential issue contact your solar panel installer to inspect and repair the rack.
Examine potential corrosion
Solar systems are made with durable and long lasting components, allowing them to produce energy for twenty-five years or more. Your rack and panels will likely be made from corrosion-resistant materials, but after a long period of time corrosion could develop and compromise the strength of your system components. Doing a visual check for corrosion once a month helps to give you the opportunity to address any issues before they become serious.
Check for broken glass
The silicon wafers inside your solar panels are covered by extremely durable tempered glass. This glass is rated to withstand bad weather conditions, even hair storms. However, fallen tree branches or an especially bad storm can result in broken panels. If you notice any broken panels, you should call your solar installer immediately.
Look for faulty wiring
All solar arrays contain an inverter, which converts the direct current the panels produce into the alternating current used in your homes electrical system. In many cases, each panel is wired in a series to one single inverter which creates many potential points of failure.
Faulty wiring can be difficult to diagnose. There will sometimes be a visual indication such as a snapped wire or a broken connection, but this may not always be the case. However, there are two ways to diagnose faulty wiring. Many of the new systems come with real-time production tracking, so if your system uses this technology you can check it to see if it is under-performing. If you have an older system that does not use this technology, you can use your monthly bill as an indicator of any potential issues. If you notice a problem, do not attempt to repair it yourself, but instead be sure to call your installer.
Breakthrough in New Material to Harness Solar Power
Solar energy is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of clean energy. With new technologies being discovered, solar power is one step closer to becoming the most affordable and efficient way to harness the cleanest, most abundant renewable energy source in the world.
A physicist at the University of Toledo, Dr. Yanfa Yan, has been pushing solar cells to new levels and recently made a significant breakthrough in the chemical formula and process to make the new material to harness solar power.
Yan, who has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy, envisions that the ultra-high efficiency material, a tandem perovskite solar cell, will be ready to debut in full-size solar panels on the consumer market soon.
Perovskites, compound materials with a special crystal structure formed through chemistry, would replace silicon which as of now remains the solar-cell material of choice for converting the suns light into electrical energy.
“We are producing higher-efficiency, lower-cost solar cells that show great promise to help solve the world energy crisis,” Yan said. “The meaningful work will help protect our planet for our children and future generations. We have a problem consuming most of the fossil energies right now, and our collaborative team is focused on refining our innovative way to clean up the mess.”
The research paper published in the journal Science discusses how the photovoltaics team is fine-tuning a mix of lead and tin to advance technology closer to its maximum efficiency. These efforts have recently brought the efficiency of the new solar cells up to about 23 percent, while silicon solar panels on the market today have about an 18 percent efficiency rating.
About five years ago Yan’s team at the University of Toledo identified the ideal properties of perovskites and he has since focused on producing an all-perovskite tandem solar cell that brings together two different solar cells to increase the total electrical power generated by using two different parts of the sun’s spectrum.
While Yan’s team has improved the quality of the materials and the process to manufacture them at a low cost, more progress needs to be made. “The material cost is low and the fabrication cost is low, but the lifetime of the material is still an unknown,” Song said. “We need to continue to increase efficiency and stability.”
“Also, lead is considered a toxic substance,” Yan said. “I am determined to work with the solar industry to ensure solar panels made of this material can be recycled so they don’t cause harm to the environment.”
Top 5 Reasons to go Solar
Although many people think that the only benefits of going solar are saving the environment and cutting electricity costs, there are also many other reasons why going solar is beneficial. Here are the top five benefits that going solar could have for you.
By installing a solar system, you can benefit from numerous environmental benefits. Some of the main ways a solar system can help the environment are by helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease in dependence on fossil fuels, cleaner air and water, and stronger economic growth.
The United States relies heavily on nonrenewable energy sources such as oil and natural gas, but at some point, these resources will run out due to the cost and environmental damage. However, solar power is a renewable source of energy that will never run out, and by going solar you will no longer have to worry about the rising costs of nonrenewable energy sources.
By going solar you can reap monetary benefits such as savings each month, savings over decades, and a lifetime return on your investment. No matter the size of your solar system, you will instantly realize the savings on your electric bill and will continue to save on future bills. With a big enough system, you can even produce enough energy to eliminate your electric bill completely.
Add value to your home
Having a solar panel system installed on your home can increase the property value of your home by about seventeen percent, resulting in being able to ask a higher price for your home than you would have been able to before the system was installed.
Stay ahead of the curve
By installing a solar panel system on your home, you will not only be keeping up with the property owners in your community, but you will be outpacing them. By installing a solar panel system, you can outdo your neighbors by generating passive income through a solar energy investment in your home. There are also many states offering renewable energy incentives for property owners who are investing in solar panel energy systems. Once you qualify for the incentive system, your local energy company will be responsible for paying you for the clean energy produced by your solar panels, resulting in a zero-balance owed bill or a negative electricity bill.
In order to function properly, solar panels must have inverters to convert the direct current electricity that your panels produce into usable alternating current electricity. One type of inverter that can be used in your solar panels is string inverters, which are one of the oldest and most reliable types of converters on the market.
What are string inverters and how do they work?
A string inverter system connects groups of solar panels in your system by “strings”. Each of these strings connects to a single inverter, most often placed on the side of your home or in your garage, where electricity is converted from direct current to alternating current electricity. Since panels are connected in strings to the inverter, if any of the panels are under-producing energy, the panels on that string will only be able to produce as much energy as the affected panel. Most string inverters are capable of handling multiple strings of panels attached to it. The size of the string inverter in kilowatts and the wattage of the panels you use will determine how many panels you can string on one inverter without wasting energy.
When should you use string inverters with a solar panel system?
String inverters can be very successful for many solar panel systems, but they may not be the best choice in some cases. Since string panel systems can only produce as much energy as the lowest-performing panel on the string, string inverters are not the best choice for solar systems that experience a lot of shade. Also, if your solar panel system will be facing different directions, a string inverter system may not be for you. Since panels facing different directions will be producing varying amounts of electricity, having a string inverter could limit the amount of energy your system may be able to produce.
What should you consider when evaluating string inverters?
There are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating string inverters. The first thing to consider is efficiency. Just like the panels themselves, string inverters have varying efficiencies. An inverters efficiency is a measure of how much energy is lost in the form of heat during the conversion for DC to AC electricity. Another thing to consider is the size. Solar inverter sizing depends on several factors such as the size of your system, your geographical location, and other site-specific considerations. Warranties can also be important when looking at string inverters and most of them typically come with a product warranty between five damage to your inverter system. Lastly, price is an important factor to consider. String inverters are not typically the most expensive component of a solar system, but it is still important to consider their prices. and fifteen years. These warranties typically cover problems like manufacturer defects and environmental.
Is going solar right for you?
If you are thinking about using solar power in your home, it is important that you consider a few things before installing your solar panel system.
The first thing you should do is review your utility bills and see how much energy you used in the last year and look at what your costs were. You should also see what part of the total bill is for “metered” electricity, and what portion of your bill is for other items, such as delivery costs because even if the amount of metered electricity is reduced, you’ll still need to pay the utilities fixed charges.
Another thing you should consider is how you use energy and how you can reduce the amount of electricity used in your home. Making your home and appliances more energy efficient and ensuring that your home is properly weatherized can help to reduce your energy needs.
Before installing solar panels, you should also consider how long you will be in your home. A residential solar panel system is typically designed to stay on your home for at least 20 years. If you think you may move in that time span, it is important to find out how installing a system will affect your ability to sell your house. You should also be sure to ask the solar company about its policy on transferring the contract to a new homeowner after your home is sold.
It is also important that you figure out what size system you need to meet your average energy usage, and that you learn about the different products available in your area.
Solar energy systems also use one or more inverters to convert direct current electricity from the solar panels into alternating current electricity which is used by your appliances and outlets. The amount of power you get from a solar panel system depends on the average number of house of direct sunlight your roof gets, the pitch, age, and condition of your roof, the size and strength of your system, and environmental factors such as snow, dust or shade that may cover the system.
Another important thing to do before installing a solar energy system is to contact your utility to see what arrangements it makes with homeowners who produce solar power. Your utility may use “net metering,” which pays you or gives you credit for excess power your system produces during the day and returns to the grid.
Lastly, if you have a homeowner’s association you need to find out if you need their approval to install and system.
Top 10 Solar Panel Myths Busted
Even as residential solar panel installation becomes more popular many myths about solar panels and solar energy are still very widespread. Here are the top 10 myths and the facts that prove them untrue.
Solar panels do not work well in cold climates
Typically, most solar panels work best in cold, sunny climates. Because conductivity increases in cold temperatures, having panels in cold, sunny climates helps make electricity flow more efficiently.
Solar power will get more efficient, so I should wait to buy or install
Although many companies are still working to develop new and improved solar panels, the current technology has been used since the 1960s and is very effective and well established. The potential amount of efficiency you may gain, and money you may save, from future panels, is very small compared to the panels readily available today.
I will not live in my home long enough to make my investment in solar back
Depending on the system, solar panels can pay for themselves within a 6 to 15-year time-frame and combined with the best state and federal tax incentives, you have the potential to start seeing a return on your investment in 2 to 4 years. Even if you do not plan to be in your house for the next 15 years, solar panels increase the resale value of a home by about $15,000, so you can still get a good return on your investment when you sell your home.
Solar panels require a tracking system to follow the angle of the sun
Solar panels are positioned to maximize sun exposure when they are installed, meaning that no type of tracking system is necessary for performance. Some newer solar panels do include tracking systems for an extra cost, but it is not necessary that you purchase this for your panels to be successful.
Solar panels do not operate well in snowy or cloudy conditions
Snow and clouds can reduce the amount of solar energy produced by solar panels, but they can still work efficiently. In snowy climates, most often panels are positioned in a way that allows for the snow to slide off once it has accumulated.
Solar panels require constant maintenance
Solar panels are built to be durable and require minimal maintenance. Many professionals recommend an annual inspection of the panels to keep them in top condition, but not much further maintenance is required.
Solar panels will look unattractive
Ultimately, the appeal of solar panels is subjective, but many professionals can install them in locations and positions that minimize the visual impact.
Solar panels will damage my roof
Professional installers are skilled at installing panels on all roof types. These professionals will not damage a homeowners roof, and in many cases, solar panels can even extend the life of the roof by protecting it from the elements.
Only a few states offer financial incentives for installing panels
Almost every state in the United States offers incentives for solar energy. In addition to any state incentive offered, the federal government is also offering a 30% tax credit for any solar systems installed by the end of 2019.
Most solar systems will store excess energy in batteries
Most home solar power systems do not store energy in batteries. They are instead connected to the power grid via net metering, and homeowners are credited with the energy that their solar panels generate and add to the electrical grid.
Ground-Mounted vs. Rooftop-Mounted Solar Panels
When thinking about going solar, one main thing you will want to consider is if you want ground-mounted or rooftop-mounted solar panels. While both are good options, they both offer different benefits and it is important that you choose the one best suited for you and your needs.
If you have a large yard or a lot of space near your home, ground-mounted panels could be the right choice for you. Having a large amount of space can allow you to install a much larger solar energy system, and will free you from any sizing restraints due to the size of your roof.
Installing ground-mounted panels can help ensure that you are getting maximum solar energy out of your panels. Solar panels are supposed to face either south or west to get the most sunlight possible. If your roof does not face either of these directions then ground-mounted panels could be a good option for you. Since they are not restricted to the direction of your roof, you can install ground-mounted panels in any direction which could potentially allow for more sunlight.
While solar panels are typically low maintenance, there may be a time when you need to clean them or have a repair done and since ground-mounted panels are low and easily accessible this will be an easy task. The only thing to keep in mind is that owners of ground-mounted panels will need to be sure to keep them free of snow in cold weather since the snow will not be able to slide off if it has built up high on the ground around the panel.
Ground-mounted panels can be a great option for someone with lots of space, however, a couple of things to keep in mind are that they tend to be a little more costly and can sometimes be very noticeable in your yard. Installing the panels on the ground requires additional time, materials, and labor so they can tend to be more costly. They also typically sit a few inches to several feet above the ground and can tend to look bulky, so you may want to consider rooftop panels if you have a very manicured lawn and garden.
With rooftop-mounted panels costs are usually lower than ground-mounted panels. Rooftop panels are much more common and they are usually easier and faster to install. One of the only extra costs you may want to consider is the condition of your roof. Panels must be installed on a roof that is in good condition and is expected to last at least 20 years, so if your roof is in bad condition you may have to have it fixed before you can install your panels.
Rooftop panels also offer the benefit of being less noticeable, and can even sometimes be installed on the back of your house so that they are not as visible from the front. They can also help save you space in your yard by being installed on your roof instead, however, this can sometimes limit you on how large of a system you are able to install.
With rooftop panels, two of the main issues that could arise are positioning and cleaning. Since they are being placed on your roof, the panels are restricted by the type of roof, the angle, and the direction of the roof. Also, with the panels being up on the roof owners will have to be more cautious when it comes to cleaning their panels and will possibly need to invest in a professional cleaning and check up each year.