On September 28, 2020 Fortune Magazine reported that almost 100,000 businesses had already been permanently closed this year because of government ordered COVID-19 lockdowns. They also reported that as many as 1 out of 5 businesses nationwide would not survive to the end of this year. Yelp data shows that 60% of overall business closures were permanent. The vast majority of the impacted businesses were, and continue to be, local family-owned businesses. When local family-owned businesses go under, not only are the families that own and run those businesses destroyed financially, emotionally and psychologically, but so too are the employees and the employees’ families who depended on those jobs for their livelihood and their survival. The impact is devastating.
Conversely, for big businesses and big box stores like Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and others, this has been one of the most prosperous times in history. Even in our industry, mega solar companies like Sunrun, Vivint, Tesla, and others are taking advantage of the situation to enrich themselves. However, none of these companies provide as high a quality of workmanship and accountability to their customers as a local family-owned business does, and they do virtually nothing for the local community. In fact, consumer feedback has shown time and again that the overall quality of their workmanship and their accountability to their customers is substantially lower than it is with a local family-owned business.
The team members of our local family-owned business, 180 Solar Power, have been proudly serving the southern California community for decades. As such, we ask you to please support 180 Solar Power and other highly regarded local family-owned businesses by patronizing, hiring and referring us to others. Not only will you get a higher quality of workmanship and accountability because of our close geographic proximity to you and our long-standing commitment to the community, but on top of that, when you support local family-owned businesses you enhance the quality, strength and vibrancy of the community you live and work in.
Another excellent way to support local family-owned businesses, other than patronizing, hiring and referring them, is by helping them spread their messages. Local family-owned businesses don’t have the advertising dollars to complete with the multi-million-dollar budgets of the big box companies, and therefore tend to focus on trying to spread their messages organically through social media and word of mouth. So even if you are not in immediate need of the services of a particular local family-owned business in your community, you can still help support them, and support the overall health of your local community by sharing their messages and social media content whenever possible.
Local family-owned businesses have long been the backbone of America, representing almost 50% of annual US GPD year over year. Furthermore, companies with fewer than 100 workers account for 98% of all US businesses, and companies with less than 20 workers represent an astounding 89% of all US businesses. Which is why, when local family-owned businesses thrive, we all benefit.
Speaking on behalf of myself and all the employees and families of 180 Solar Power, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support over the years, and we are thankful that we can count on you in the future. However, its never been more important than it is right now to do everything you can to support local family-owned businesses by considering them first in every purchasing decision that you make.
I wish everyone a wonderful, happy and healthy holiday season, and once again, thank you for your support!
By Peter Stern
I’m deep into my second decade installing solar in southern California. However, as electricity prices have skyrocketed, I’ve never seen it as bad as it’s become over the past 3 or 4 years. What am I referring to? Powerphobia – The fear of using one’s electric power.
Now, more than ever before, we run into homeowners that are absolutely terrified to turn on their air conditioning in the summer, or to turn on their heat in the winter. They fear running the pumps in their pools and Jacuzzis, and heating their hot tubs. They avoid entertaining guests at their homes during the holidays, or having visitors stay with them from out of town. The list goes on and on, and its all out of fear of how much it will cost them when their electric bill arrives at the end of the month; Powerphobia.
People are setting restrictions on their spouse’s and kid’s daily electricity use. They are setting alerts to remind themselves to only use their washers and dryers and dishwashers in the middle of the night. They are shutting down and sealing off entire sections of their house. They are turning over control of their home’s HVAC systems to their local utility company and allowing them to shut down their air conditioning at will. There are even some that are literally selling their family homes because of their fear that they won’t be able to afford their monthly utility bills anymore.
These are not exaggerations. It’s Powerphobia.
That is why years ago I coined the phrase “solar is a lifestyle decision”, and its never been truer than it is today. Even more than saving money, Solar & Storage is a decision about how you want to live. That’s because Solar & Storage gives you the freedom to use your electricity when you want, for whatever you want, and to choose how much you want to use, without concern about cost.
So now the only question is whether you’re going to continue to buy electricity from your local utility company and live like a goat herder in a cave deep in the mountains of Afghanistan (which is to say, without the luxury of using your electric powered appliances), or if you’re going to take advantage of the freedom that Solar & Storage offers you to live more comfortably, as you once did, and enjoy all of the modern luxuries that are available to you. Ironically, it costs less anyway, so it would be foolish not to advantage of the more luxurious lifestyle that Solar & Storage offers.
Most of the systems that we install for our customers pay for themselves in a few short years, however, they can provide power for decades beyond that. And for those who choose to install Solar & Storage with no money down, as many people do, the monthly payments are usually a fraction of what you’d pay to your utility company, and the monthly payments never increase, unlike utility provided electricity which increases every year. Additionally, once a Solar & Storage system is fully paid for you can enjoy years, and in many cases, decades of free electricity beyond that.
Over the years I’ve helped thousands of homeowners cure themselves of their Powerphobia, and free themselves from the primitive lifestyle they’ve been trapped in by highly electricity prices. I’ve helped them live a more comfortable and luxurious lifestyle, and I’ve shown them how to do it while at the same time saving them money. You no longer have to be a victim of Powerphobia and live a miserly lifestyle. Contact my office today for a free, no pressure quote for Solar & Storage for your home or business, and let us show you how to cure your Powerphobia, and recapture the lifestyle you once enjoyed!
We haven’t seen the worst of it yet!
This is the phone message that tens of thousands of southern California homeowners received last week, myself included. “This is SDG&E with an important message. Due to high energy demand across the state, it may require rotating electrical outages. Please be prepared with your emergency plan.” Five minutes later my entire neighborhood went dark.
Wait, what?!?! I’ve got 5 minutes to get to my home or business and activate my emergency plan??? And do I even have an emergency plan to activate??? And if I do happen to have a plan, what if I can’t get back to my home or business for hours, or worse, for days or weeks to put my plan in action? Will my food rot? Will perishable medical supplies spoil? Will business assets and data be lost? Will critical business equipment fail and crash? Will my pets die? With my security system disabled how will I protect my family, business and possessions?
As the owner of 180 Solar Power, of course I have an emergency plan, but 99% of homeowners do not. I talked about this in my recent blog titled What Has The COVID-19 Pandemic Taught Us So Far?, and I’ve written several other articles, and published social media videos on the topic.
Fortunately, last week’s power outages only lasted a few hours, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot risk not having emergency backup power in this day and age, any more than you can risk not having emergency food and water supplies stored for your home or business. If you doubt me, try this little experiment as a test run. Tell your family that you are going to shut off the main breaker on your house, and you and your family are going to live without electricity for an entire week. Tell them they are not allowed to recharge their phone, tablets or computers at work or anywhere else. If they drive an electric car, tell them they are not allowed to drive it for a week. Literally no electronic devices or appliances for just one week. And don’t forget to empty your refrigerators & freezers first because the smell of rotting food is putrid.
So what will you eat that week? No cheating with take-out food, because in a real power emergency all restaurants will be closed. How will you cook whatever food you happen to have on hand? How long will the batteries on the flashlight last; one night, maybe two? Then what? No cheating and going to the store to buy more batteries because in an emergency the stores would long be sold out of batteries, and candles, and propane, and any other kind of fuel; to say nothing of being sold out of food….and toilet paper. Then what? How will you receive urgent public announcements, and communicate with loved ones in the outside world? How soundly will your family sleep with the home security system disabled, worried that every crack and creak they hear in the night is a potential home invader coming to do them harm? No electricity for a week; how long would your family last? And how about your business? Can you afford to arbitrarily close the doors and take the phones off the hook for a week? Think about it, and then think about it some more.
I challenge you to do it, and see what happens, but you won’t because you know it would cause to much misery for your family, and you know the economic impact on your business would be too severe.
The problem is that as technology has evolved our society has become more and more dependent on electricity and electric devices and appliances. Every year more electric cars hit the roads. The number of TVs, cell phones, tablets, and computers per household grows. Larger and more encompassing home security devices are deployed. More smart home systems like Nest are installed. More refrigerators, freezers, and wine fridges are being added to people’s homes. And the list goes on and on. Businesses too are more computerized and automated with electronic devices than ever before. As a result, the strain on the nation’s electric grid has never been greater, and at the same time the grid is aging and becoming more fragile.
In fact, it’s at the point now that when everyone runs their air conditioning at the same time, the grid cannot generate enough electricity to cover everyone’s demand. Which is exactly why the utility companies were forced to enact the rolling blackouts that the majority of southern Californian’s experienced last week. On top of that, when there is even a threat of high winds, many utility companies shut down huge swaths of the grid as a precaution, because it’s inevitable that old crumbling powerlines will come down and spark massive wildfires that would cost them billions of dollar. It’s only going to get worse over time, and I haven’t even touched on the threats of major long-term black outs that will be caused by natural disasters, or malicious cyber-attacks, all of which are inevitable.
So what’s your emergency plan? The best plan is to install an emergency battery backup system. That, paired with your solar system, will create a renewable, self-sustaining, micro-grid that can power and protect your home or business indefinitely until grid power is restored, whether it takes days, weeks, months or even years, and it will engage automatically whether you’re on site or not. And as an added value, when it’s not in an emergency backup mode your battery can be programed to discharge its power each day between 4 and 9 pm (or at any other time depending on your rate schedule) to help minimize the utility company’s PEAK RATE charges. Thus, providing you with a return on your investment every day.
Don’t wing it, and don’t ignore it. Be responsible by having a specific emergency plan in place to protect your home, family and business. Contact 180 Solar Power for answers, and to get a free quote for an emergency backup solution for your home, business or church. 180 Solar Power is Local, Trusted, Proven.
These are interesting and difficult times. Completely unprecedented, in fact. As an “essential business” I have had to continue to operate 180 Solar Power through the stay-at-home orders to provide services to our existing customers, and to install new solar and storage systems for incoming customers. Doing so has required continuous interaction with the public, sometimes in-person and sometimes via phone or video conferences. When I say the public I’m not just talking about our customers. I’m referring to the countless conversations I’ve had with my employees, with people that work for our suppliers and manufacturers, with employees of the cities and counties that process our plans and permits, with Fedex and UPS drivers, office supply delivery people, the mailman, and all of the other supporting businesses and vendors that we interact with on a daily basis.
Being in this unique position has given me broad insights that many people haven’t experienced over the last few months. And one of the most interesting things that I’ve observed is that humanity seems to be falling into one of two categories, those that are frightened and paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future, and those that continue to plan their future and live life despite everything that’s happening.
The reality is we never really know what tomorrow will bring. At any time, any one of us could be killed by a drunk driver, have our life savings swindled out from under our noses by the next Bernie Madoff, have our life destroyed by a natural disaster or any number of other endless disaster scenarios. Yet we don’t live our lives cowering in fear of these things. And in fact, if throughout history we had been paralyzed by the unknown we never would have “sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two”, or taken “one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind”.
I’m no scientist, and I don’t play one on television, but on a daily basis I have been reading the results of a wide array of studies that are being published about COVID-19 by the most respected medical and academic institutions in the world, and their conclusions are very consistent. Unless you are over sixty years of age and have some sort of comorbidity, the mortality rate for COVID-19 is lower than the flu. That is not intended to in any way minimize the ravages that it has wrought on the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, but simply to put it in some sort of perspective.
The point is that regardless of whether you are in the “frightened and paralyzed” category, or the “planning and living” category, you’re still going to have grocery bills to pay. You’re still going to have phone and cable bills to pay. You’re still going to have water, sewer, gas and electric bills to pay. And you’re still going to have to pay mortgage or rent. The bills are going to keep coming whether we like it or not; whether we are prepared for it or not. Life continues to go on. Which leads to an important lesson that I learned from a client many years ago that I’ll share with you now.
JB was a gentleman in his early eighties, and I was a young man in my late twenties working in the finance industry. Because of his age I repeatedly tried to talk him out of the investment he was interested in, telling him that he was too old, and that it was unlikely that he’d live long enough to see a worthwhile financial benefit. He repeatedly responded by telling me that he was planning to live at least another 10 years, which would be long enough to justify the investment, plus his family would benefit from it even after he died. But more importantly, he said that if he stopped planning to live, he might as well be dead, because life becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Finally, he told me that if I didn’t accept his business he’d find someone else that would. After much discussion he agreed to let me talk to his adult children to get their input.
I subsequently explained everything about it to them and to my shock they told me that they fully supported what their dad wanted to do, because they also believed that if he stopped planning on living it would be the day he’d start dying. So, in the end JB became a client of mine, and a friendship developed that lasted for over a decade before he died. I’ll always treasure the conversations we had and the abundance of wisdom that he shared with me, but one of the most important lesson that I took from him, which seems more relevant today than ever before, is that we need to always keep planning to live, planning our lives, and living life to the fullest every day. Life is a self-fulfilling prophesy, so if you believe you can or will you’ll be right, and if you believe you can’t or won’t you’ll also be right.
Despite the tragedy that some will or have suffered from COVID-19, for the vast majority of us, life will go on. So, don’t stop living. Don’t stop planning to live. Do it for you. Do it for the one’s you love. They are depending on you to do so. And as you plan and live your life each day, one of things you can do to lessen the stress of life is to reduce your revolving monthly expenses.
For most property owners their energy bill is their second largest monthly expenditure after their mortgage payment. Making matters worse, home and business owners are using more electricity than ever before, and they are paying more for their electricity than ever before as utility rates increase every year. And the bills are going to keep coming regardless of what’s happening in the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let us help you reduce or eliminate one of the biggest financial burdens that you face each month, and help bring you peace-of-mind. We can install a new solar and storage system for you with no money down, and nice low fixed monthly payments. Find out how our team’s decades of experience and thousands of installations can benefit you. Contact us for a free, no pressure, no obligation quote today, because life is going to keep rolling on. 180 Solar Power is Local, Trusted, Proven.
We often have clients tell us that they are interested in having a ground mount installed on their property. Most often it’s because of a fear of roof leaks, concerns about the structural integrity of their roof, too small of a roof to fit enough solar panels, or it could just be as simple as them “having that nice little space over in the corner of their property” that they’re not using for anything else. Whatever the reason, if its doable we’ll make it happen because 180 Solar Power is one of the premier solar ground mount installers in southern California! However, its not always doable, and/or its not always economically feasible because there are usually higher costs associated with installing a ground mount as opposed to a roof mounted system. So let’s talk about the pros and cons, and ins and outs of solar ground mounts to help you become better informed.
The best place to start when talking about ground mounts is feasibility, and feasibility is often limited by building codes. Every jurisdiction (city or county) in southern California has building codes that dictate how far a solar array must be setback from the property lines that surround the property. The codes vary by jurisdiction, and the setback requirements are usually different for the front, back and sides of the property. However, they usually range from 5 to 25 feet on each side. Additionally, there is usually a code that dictates how far from a home or business’ structural foundation the array must be setback. Because many of the properties in southern California are set on smaller land parcels, it disqualifies a good number of projects where there is not enough space to fit a ground mount after all of the setbacks are taken into consideration.
If a property is large enough to fit a solar array the next considerations are soil conditions, land contours (angle and pitch), shading obstructions, trenching distances, septic leach fields, etcetera; many of which can not only affect mechanical feasibility, but also potentially the economic feasibility of installing a ground mount. But before we get into any of that, a basic explanation should be given about how a ground mount structure is designed, erected, and secured in place, which is also regulated by building codes.
One of the first design elements that’s guided by these codes relates to wind shear, which is the amount of uplift that the wind causes on a solar array. Wind shear has a big impact on the design and construction of a ground mount structure, which is usually anchored on a two or three inch galvanized pipe frame. The higher the array is tilted off the ground the more of a sail-like affect the wind will have on the array. Therefore, the intent of the code is to make sure that the array is anchored well enough to withstand the strongest of winds, which is usually designated to be no less than 100 mph. To accomplish this, the code specifies what the depth of the post holes must be before the posts are set to depth and the holes are filled with concrete (piers). This varies based on conditions, but in general piers must be at least 12 inches in diameter, and 48 inches deep. It is also typical that piers cannot be spaced more than 7 to 9 feet apart, so it would not be unusual to have anywhere from 8 to 16 piers, or more, on a residential installation, and possibly scores or even hundreds of them on a commercial installation, depending on how large the array is. In addition to that, to get the electricity from the solar array to the property’s electric panel the conduit and wires that run from the array to the electric panel also have to be trenched and buried at a minimum depth of 18 inches. Depending on the site plan it can be a significant amount of excavation, which in turn could have a big impact on the cost of the project. Additionally, soil conditions can come into play. Excavation costs that may be reasonable for a standard clay-based soil, could soar beyond reason on a foundation that is set largely on granite or some other rocky substrate. That is not to say that it would be “mechanically” impossible to install it over a rocky substrate, but the cost could be so much higher that it could make it “economically” unfeasible to do so.
Another important code that could impact a ground mount’s feasibility is whether a property is on sewer or septic. If a property is on septic, neither the array nor the conduit can run over or through the septic system’s leach field, which sometimes disqualifies properties that would otherwise be good candidates for a ground mount.
As far as a property’s contours are concerned, we often encounter property owners who propose that an array be mounted on an excessively steep slope, or facing in a direction that would be detrimental to the power production of the solar system. If a site is excessively steep it may not be feasible because of codes relating to erosion prevention, and even if it is not subject to any such code, there could be higher costs incurred due to the added difficulty and time that may be associated with the project. Furthermore, if the only viable location on the property is on a hill that faces steeply to the north, for example, the reduced energy output of the array could render the project unfeasible because of the extraordinarily low power output and the potentially negative impact on the project’s return on investment (ROI).
Lastly, as with any solar system, shading obstructions need to be taken into consideration. If there is a tree shading the location, and it is on the property owner’s land, it’s shade can be mitigated by trimming or removing the tree. However, if the tree shade is coming from a tree located on a neighbor’s property one would need to get permission from the other property owner to trim or remove the tree. And if the shade is coming from an unalterable, unmovable object such as a neighboring building, or other structure, that too could simply render the project unfeasible.
There are other things to take into consideration that could also affect the cost of a ground mount, such as the distance from the array to the electric panel; because the longer that distance is, the more trenching that will be required, as well as possibly needing heavier gauge wire and larger conduit to counter act voltage drop. But regardless of whether or not that is the case, you can expect that the overall price of a ground mount will be higher than a roof mounted system because of the additional costs incurred for the excavation, concrete, structural materials, and labor associated with installing a ground mount.
For property owners who are interested in ground mounts because of their fear of roof leaks, it may not be an unfounded concern, depending on which solar company is hired to do the work. There is no denying that there have been horror stories about leaky roofs caused by shady fly-by-night contractors….who were also probably the lowest priced bid on the job. However, price and quality rarely go hand in hand, and most often the lowest priced product will end up having the highest cost of ownership, which could come in many forms including in the form of a leaky roof. On the other hand, if you hire an experienced licensed contractor with a strong reputation and documentable track record, like 180 Solar Power, roof leaks are not something a property owner should worry about. Having installed thousands and thousands of solar systems over the years, the 180 Solar Power team has developed well establish installation protocols to prevent roof leaks. That combined with the specialized sealants, flashings, and mounting brackets that we use allows us to offer comprehensive warranties that protect property owners against roof leaks. That is one of the reasons why the choice of which contractor to hire should be the most critical part of a property owners decision making process, and not the rock bottom lowest price.
If the concern is that a property’s roof has a more fragile lightweight or clay tile, there are installation methods and work-arounds for that, so it shouldn’t necessarily be a deterrent. For standard weight tile roofs, a property owner can expect that a handful of tiles will get cracked or broken in the installation process, but any reputable contractor will replace all cracked or broken tiles just like we do at 180 Solar Power. If the property’s roof tiles are older and are no longer being manufactured, they can still usually be sourced from businesses that specialize in selling older used tiles.
For property owners that have concern about their roof’s integrity, or its ability to support the weight of an entire solar system, it too may be a valid concern. In that case, the following things are important to know and could help make that determination. First of all, if your roof is nearing the end of its life, it should definitely be addressed. It makes no sense to install a solar system, which should have an operating life of 30 to 40 years, over a roof that will need to be replaced in the next few years. This is common sense for most property owners, but they still face the challenge of trying to figure out how to pay for the cost of a new roof. The good news is that there are many lenders that will finance a solar/roof project with zero money down, and the combined payment for the solar and roof together is often less than what the property owner is currently spending each month on their electricity bills alone. Furthermore, if in the course of installing a solar system you are going to spend thousands of extra dollars for either a new roof, or for a ground mount structure, many people find that it make more sense to get the duel benefit of investing it in a new roof rather than sinking it into a ground mount structure that still leaves you with an unaddressed roof condition. So, don’t let the fact that you need a roof replacement be a deterrent.
As far as overall weight concerns go, most solar systems will add less than 3 pounds per square foot to the roof, which is less than the maximum allowable under most circumstances. However, there are strict codes that dictate how much weight can be added to a roof by a solar system depending on the roof’s structure. Furthermore, every solar permit application must be submitted with detailed roof load calculations to show that the solar system’s weight will not exceed the capacity of the roof, and in some circumstances full engineering reports must even be submitted. Your solar contractor should be able to perform all of these calculations and manage the entire permitting process for you.
It is also worth mentioning that there are no reputable contractors that would not conduct a thorough, detailed, in-person site survey of your property as the first step of the process. Contractors that try to induce property owners to sign contracts without ever setting foot on their property are an invitation to disaster for the property owner and should be a warning to run the other way.
The goal of this article was to help bring some clarity and offer some education regarding the installation of ground mounted solar systems. As was stated in the opening paragraph, 180 Solar Power is one of the premier solar ground mount installers in southern California, we love doing them, and if a project if feasible we’ll make it happen. However, I also wanted to inform property owners that some of the reasons that they might fear installing a solar system on their roof may not be entirely valid. Also, keep in mind that this article can only offer general guidelines regarding the installation of ground mounted solar systems because every property and project is unique. Therefore, nothing in the article should be construed as a definitive assessment of your personal project. Before that can be done, a complete in-person assessment would need to be conducted by one of our technicians.
At the end of the day, whether it is installed on the ground or on the roof, solar and storage is a far better solution than continuing to pay ever increasing electricity rates to your utility company, year after year, without end. If you have more detailed questions, or would like to schedule some time with one of our licensed technicians to review a ground mount or any other type of solar and storage system for your property, call 760-264-4012 or email us at email@example.com. 180 Solar Power is Local, Trusted, Proven!
In this article we will discuss some of the key elements of battery storage systems for homes and businesses. It will provide you with a solid knowledge base to help you understand the basics of battery storage, to empower you to ask the right questions of the electrical contractors that you are interviewing, and to help you end up with a system that meets your specific needs, taking into consideration your budget.
After witnessing how rapidly and completely COVID-19 ravaged our society, and how ill prepared everyone was for it, it got me thinking about how generally unprepared we are for the inevitable disasters we have seen and been warned about year after year. And when one thinks about disaster preparedness for their home or business, the obvious starting point is to make sure you have a secure independent power supply.
Without electricity to power our refrigerators and freezers, our food and medical supplies will quickly perish. Communication and security devices will fail to operate. Fuel and potable drinking water will not be able to be produced and distributed on a mass basis, if at all. Businesses will lose billions of dollars’ worth of data, and their operations will be paralyzed. Everyone will literally be left in the dark. And the inevitability of catastrophic grid failures is a certainty.
Planned rolling blackouts caused by excessive load demand in the summer are already annual events, as utility companies struggle to meet peak demand. Utility companies also blackout entire regions during fire season when high winds threaten to blow down aging power lines which in turn could cause massive wildfires. But even beyond that we have repeatedly seen and been warned about bigger and longer lasting grid failures caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, meteor impacts, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), cyber-attacks, and the list goes on. Recent history proves this to be true in places like Puerto Rico where Hurricane Maria decimated the electric grid leaving most of the island without electric power for over a year, and even as recently as yesterday when tornados ripped through southern states leaving over 1,000,000 people without electric power, and with no idea when they will have their power restored. The only way to protect yourself from this same vulnerability is to have independent emergency battery backup power for your home and business; to be independent of the utility company’s electric grid. So let’s discuss battery storage, and answer some of the basic questions that many people have.
While some battery storage systems can be charged via the grid, this article is going to assume that your storage system is paired with a solar system for infinite charging capability in the event of a grid failure. Otherwise, when the grid goes down you will no longer be able to recharge your batteries, rendering the entire system useless.
With that said, the first thing to know about battery storage is that all batteries store electricity as low voltage DC electricity (the same as the low voltage DC electricity that your solar panels produce), but your home and business (“property”) runs on higher voltage AC electricity, so inverters are used to convert the electricity from DC to AC, and in some cases from AC back to DC, as explained in more detail below. Second, it is important to know that inverters fall into one of two general categories: string or micro. String inverters use a single inverter to convert all of your system’s electricity from DC to AC in one central location, whereas micro inverters convert electricity in multiple locations so you are not subject to the risk of being dependent on just one inverter, thereby providing a modicum of redundancy as added security. Additionally, micro inverter-based systems commonly offer more flexibility and have greater output capabilities, so in general they have a higher entry point in terms of price. As with everything, there are pros and cons for string and micro inverters. But regardless which you decide on, they are both proven technologies, and they both offer high levels of efficacy, so either one could be a good solution for you depending on your personal requirements. In Addition, some storage systems are bundled as “all-in-one” solutions, which means that all the critical component come packaged in one consolidated unit that includes inverters, transfer switches, charge controllers, etc. While others are constructed on a piecemeal basis with the various components of the system, manufactured by different companies, having to be put together by the installing electrical contractor on site. There is no right are wrong when it comes to these choices. Deciding which is right for you will depend on your budget and your performance requirements, and your electrical contractor should be able to provide you with unbiased information to help determine which solution is best for you.
The next item to be aware of is the difference between AC coupling and DC coupling. DC coupled storage systems tie into your property’s electrical system between your solar panels and your inverter, so the DC electricity from your solar panels can be stored directly in your batteries without having to be converter by an inverter. Thereafter, the DC electricity can be fed from the batteries into your inverter and converted into AC electricity that can be delivered for use in your property’s electrical system. AC coupled storage systems ties into your property’s electrical system between the AC side of the inverter and your property’s electric panel. Because of the location of the tie in, the stored electricity ultimately needs to be converted 3 times before it can be delivered for use in your property’s electric panel. Initially your solar system’s electricity is converted from DC to AC by your solar system’s inverter, it is then converted back to DC to be stored on the batteries, and lastly it needs to be converted back to AC one more time before it can be used in your property’s electrical system. Therefore, a DC coupled system could have a higher efficiency, however, it will also be more exposed to the risk of a catastrophic system wide failure that could come with the use of a single string inverter. If you are starting from scratch with a brand new solar and storage system, AC or DC coupling will be equally easy to install. However, if you are adding storage to an existing solar system it could be more efficient to install an AC coupled system, so you don’t have the added cost of replacing your existing solar inverter. Again, there are pros and cons and budgetary considerations for both, but regardless of whether you end up with an AC or DC coupled system, installing solar and storage will provide incredible financial savings and disaster preparedness for your property.
Power Versus Capacity
This is a largely misunderstood consideration for most property owners because it is usually inadequately explained to them by the person or company that is trying to sell a storage system to them. Capacity is the total maximum amount of electricity that can be stored on your batteries at any one time, and its measured in kWh (kilowatt hours). Power is a measurement of how much electricity can be delivered from your batteries to your property’s electrical system for use in real time, which is measured in KW, or kVA (kilowatts). To use an analogy, Capacity is like the gas tank on your car, which is measured by how many total gallons it will hold. Power is how much of your car’s fuel you can convert to horsepower in real time. So you can have a car that holds hundreds of gallons of fuel in its tank, but if you can only access enough of that fuel to generate 20 horsepower at any given time, it’s not going to do you much good. Most consumers only look at, or are only shown, a system’s Capacity. And as just stated above, all the Capacity in the world will do you little good if it can’t be delivered when you need it, and in the quantity that you need it delivered in. This is not to say that total storage Capacity is not important. However, Power should be equally, if not even more importantly considered, as that is the greatest limitation of most storage systems. Furthermore, storage systems are rated for Continuous Power Output, which is its maximum steady state output capability, as well as for Peak Power Output which is slightly higher, but will generally be limited to about 5 seconds to cover electrical surges that are caused by large appliances when they initially start up. You should know the Capacity and Power (continuous and peak) ratings of the storage systems you are considering, so when you need that emergency power you won’t have any unpleasant surprises.
Load Shifting, Emergency Backup or Off-Grid
Another important consideration for property owners is what they want their battery storage system to be able to do. In the old days before there were concerns about peak demand on the electric grid, rolling blackouts, Time Of Use billing, or catastrophic grid failures resulting from natural or man-made catastrophes, solar and storage was rarely considered other than in situations where a property was beyond the reach of the utility grid (thus, “off-grid”). However, all of that has changed. Now in addition to providing off-grid power to those who live beyond the reach of the utility grid, storage systems may have the ability to Load Shift, and to provide emergency backup power to grid tied properties. Load Shifting is when solar or grid electricity from a grid tied property is stored on the batteries during the day, and then discharged in the evening when utility rates are at their highest (Peak rates), thereby maximizing the return on your investment. Emergency Backup occurs when electricity that is stored on your batteries automatically discharges to your property in the event of a grid failure. Having solar and storage transforms your emergency backup system into a renewable energy source that can recharge itself every day, indefinitely, for as long as a grid failure exists. And whereas an off-grid system is generally designed to power an entire property, an emergency backup system can and often is designed just to cover a grid tied property’s critical loads (ie: refrigerators, freezers, communication and security devices, data system, and any other loads that you couldn’t live or exist without), thereby reducing the capital outlay required to install a storage system.
Today’s modern storage systems are all UL tested, and are extremely safe. However, various storage systems use different chemistries in their batteries, with some providing an even higher level of safety than others. In instances where electrical contractors or manufacturers make claims regarding the stability and safety of their chemistry, they should be able to provide independent laboratory testing to support those claims. Furthermore, a battery’s chemistry may also limit the storage system’s depth-of-discharge (how much of the battery’s stored electricity you can actually discharge without damaging the batteries), and the life span of the battery, which is measured in both years and “cycles” (how many times a battery can be discharged and recharged). This is something that needs to be closely examined because two different systems that both guarantee a 10 year life and 3,000 cycles can provide vastly different amounts of power over their life depending on their depth-of-discharge, Capacity, and continuous Power capabilities.
How Much Storage Do You Need?
No two properties are the same, and no two property owners’ needs and goals are the same. Just like when designing a solar system, every storage system should be custom designed to a property’s specific needs and characteristics. Therefore, make sure that you are working with an experienced licensed electrical contractor who can not only answer all of your questions, but more importantly, one that knows all the right questions to ask you, and one that can perform proper load calculations depending on your overall goals and which loads you want to back-up. There are few storage systems that are easily expandable, so in most instances you’ve only got one shot to get it right.
Financing and Government Incentives
Lastly, it is important to mention that there are financing options available for almost every property owner regardless of their credit history, many of which require little or no money down. Additionally, there are still huge state and federal incentive that could pay for up to half of the cost of your system, but like all good things they will be coming to an end in the near future. Our licensed technicians can provide you with detailed information on both.
I hope this information helps to make you a smarter consumer as you evaluate solar and storage for your home or business. If you would like more detailed information about your specific project, we would welcome the opportunity to personally answer all your questions and provide you with a free quote. We install solar and storage systems as a package, as well as retrofitting new storage systems to pre-existing solar systems. We can even design and install a standalone grid-tied storage system without solar if your only goal is load shifting. Like I said before, every system is custom designed to the specific property’s goals, characteristics, and budget.
180 Solar Power is a premier provider of battery storage and solar systems throughout Southern California. The 180 Solar Power team brings the experience of over 30 years, and thousands of installations to every job we undertake. 180 Solar Power installs and services residential, commercial, non-profit, and government solar and battery storage systems for projects up to one megawatt. Contact us for a quote on a custom designed system for your project today; no cost, no obligation, no pressure.
Peter Stern is the president of 180 Solar Power. He’s a pioneer in the solar industry in Southern California, having overseen the installation of thousands of renewable energy projects for more than a decade.