Category: Environment

17 posts

Those who live on the California beach know it’s a unique and sometimes challenging environment. Wind, sand, mist, and sea spray all combine to create that iconic coastal atmosphere. If you are thinking about updating your beach house with a solar system, you might wonder how that atmosphere affects the cost of solar panel maintenance and installation. What’s required to maintain a rooftop solar system at the beach? Fortunately, LA Solar Group has experience installing solar for homes in beachfront communities, and are ready to answer all your questions.

Why Worry About Corrosion At the Beach?

Corrosion can degrade the exterior of solar panels as well as the panel’s electronic components, all of which reduces the amount of power they produce and may necessitate replacement. Physicists and engineers work constantly to make solar panels more resistant to corrosion. The relevant international standard for corrosion resistance for panels used at the beach is IEC 61701 (salt mist corrosion testing of photovoltaic modules). The vast majority of Tier 1/Grade A solar panels (the only type LASG uses) conform to this standard.

Does Distance From the Beach Affect Corrosion Concerns?

There are six different levels of corrosion resistance as measured by the IEC standard test. The most corrosive conditions tend to be within 200 yards of the beach. Within that zone, the closer you are to the beach, the higher the level of corrosion resistance you’ll want. If your installer chooses the right panels, they can be exposed to frequent sea spray, and you’ll still be fine.

The highest corrosion resistance-rated panels do not cost substantially more than others in the Tier 1 class. A qualified installer will be able to answer any questions about how your system will stand up to sea spray over time.

Do Corrosion-Resistant Panels Cost More to Install?

Every solar system is customized based on power requirements, rooftop architecture, and other considerations. However, all things being equal, going solar at the beach doesn’t cost any more than it does further inland.

Will Rust Resistant Solar Panel Racks and Mounts Cost More?

The racks and mounts on which your solar panels are mounted need to be corrosion resistant too. Your best bet is to avoid ungalvanized steel or aluminum alloyed with a high percentage of rust-susceptible metals. Most racks and mounts used by reputable installers are corrosion-resistant, thanks to a high amount of aluminum or special coatings and treatments.

Will Inverters or Connective Wiring Rust & Need Replacement?  

Besides the panels and mounts, your system will include at least one inverter to convert the direct current from your panels into alternating current for home use. For beach homeowners, make sure your installer either uses weather-resistant housing, or else places your inverter indoors. Similarly, you’ll want all wiring installed in a way that does not leave connections exposed. Having a licensed electrician on your installation team is a good way to ensure those types of details get the proper attention. If they do, you should get at least as much use from your solar system’s components as you would further inland, and replacements won’t be necessary.

Does Solar Panel Maintenance Cost More at the Beach?

In addition to standard issue grit and dust, panels can get sea salt and grime on them. Sometimes algae or other living matter can take hold as well. However, maintaining your solar panels shouldn’t cost you any more just because you live at the beach. It is worth noting that leaving your panels dirty can affect your system’s output. Estimates range from less than 1% loss in power generation to nearly 20%.

Should I Be Worried About High Winds and Sand?

Crystalline solar cells themselves are relatively fragile, and even microscopic cracks can reduce the cell’s ability to collect solar power. However, solar cells come in casing to protect them, typically hard plastic or laminated glass. The protected panels are scratch-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about sand diminishing their performance.

The panels are also lab-tested for impact resistance by simulated hail, and for wind speeds equal to a Category 4 hurricane. If they’re properly mounted and installed, your rooftop system will stay put in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

I Have More Questions About Solar for Beach Homes

Each project is different and brings with it a unique set of questions. LASG has installed rooftop solar systems for more than 2,000 homeowners across the LA area. We’re experienced roofers and licensed electricians, too, so we’d be happy to answer any questions you have might have about your particular solar panel project. 

2016 was a great year for the solar industry market. As a matter of fact, the industry nearly doubled since 2015 with 14,626 megawatts of PV installed. Despite the success that last year’s solar energy installations were driven by utility scale projects, commercial and residential markets have also experienced solid growth throughout the US. 95% increase is due to the extension of the Federal Investment Credit and utility companies integrating solar as an energy resource. Also, with trends in community solar, which in 2016 accounts for 200 megawatts, there’s now a shift with the framework on how solar energy can be more attainable.

With a cumulative capacity of over 40 gigawatts, U.S. for the first time ever has been ranked as the #1 source of new electric generating capacity. That means that in 2016, solar energy accounted for 39% of all new generating capacity additions for all fuel types. A total of 12.6 gigawatts of small scale solar PV was installed. 56% was in residential installations, 36% in commercial, with 8% in industrial projects. Residential PV peaked last year at 2.1 billion kWh.

small scale

California is pushing towards their sustainable goals, since the state’s goals is to reduce carbon emission with electric and gas consumption. And with the advent of battery storage having a strong influence with sustainability, the state has built various infrastructure to begin storing close to 100 megawatts of clean energy. As more solar energy in installed and generated,there will also be the need for battery storage to collect and discharge energy when necessary. One example is SCE (Southern California Edison) installing 396 Tesla lithium batteries at their storage facility in Mira Loma for the purpose of improving the grid’s reliability to meet the state’s energy goals.

Strong market growth and falling costs will continue to be the driving force toward renewable energy. According to GTM Research, battery storage in the U.S. is projected to grow to 2.1 gigawatts by 2021 accounting for 50% of the storage market. Today, battery storage accounts for about 15%.

GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

LA Solar Group’s growth in the last 3 years demonstrates their determination to be the leader in solar energy. The company has recently opened offices in Bakersfield, CA as Kern Solar Group and Fremont, CA as Bay Solar Group to allow homeowners in those areas the opportunity to receive the same high level of service, quality, and support in their switch to renewable energy.

“Since 1978, the State of California has really pushed building energy and efficiency standards for residential and commercial properties. Today, these standards have reduced more than 250 million metric tons of greenhouses gases,” says Robert Sarai, Business Development Manager for LA Solar Group. “Our goal is to go beyond just solar and tap into new technologies that bring more sustainable solutions to those that want to make a difference with the environment and with their pockets.”

LA Solar Group selected these locations for new offices because both areas have experienced growth in renewable energy. Additionally, homeowners experienced a 5% rate increase last year for electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Although the rate increase will allow PG&E to invest in advanced technology and infrastructure, it does present a financial burden for homeowners. With Bakersfield averaging 119 days of sun and 33 of those days over 100°F (38 °C), solar can make a positive difference in the rising electrical cost and demand for energy. Fremont, the closest east bay city to Silicon Valley, experienced substantial economic growth in past years with their eco-friendly residents. Being one of the greenest cities in California, LA Solar Group’s decision to expand to Fremont was a smart one. Homeowners in the bay area are very environmentally conscious and have set forth new policy to encourage California to become a sustainable state.

Solar may have launched the revolution for affordable sustainable energy, yet there are also new ways to bring more savings to property owners. Builders have reformed how they construct their properties to be more energy efficient. A lot of attention now goes into high-efficiency lighting, high-performing wall insulation, improved water heating, and better attic temperature control. LEED certifications (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have become an important phase in the development of not just local but global building projects as well.

The idea of storing energy has become a major topic of discussion in 2016. As technology for renewable energy advances, sustainable storage solutions appear to bring a whole new level of innovation to the energy market. As we enter 2017, affordable storage can result in more renewable power sources and create the opportunity for customers to become more energy independent by leaving the grid to be their own self-sustaining energy provider.

A couple years back, energy storage didn’t have financial validation. Although the idea of its design is to bring more independence to energy users, it didn’t make any financial sense. It wasn’t until utility companies began to design rate structures that can accommodate when customers use their energy. Battery storage allows homeowners to control how and when energy is distributed in the home so that they can better manage their consumption. Now with utilities accepting the fact that energy storage is trending among residential and commercial property owners, it’s become more economically feasible for them to put specific rate structures in place.

Initially, energy storage gained popularity with commercial buildings because such a property can use storage to get relief from high demand charges. The storage system captures energy during the low peak hours of the day then discharges it to the property at high peak hours when utility cost is most in demand and more expensive than the cost at low peak. Even utilities have began implementing storage capabilities to their infrastructure. Southern California Edison (SCE) for example, asked Tesla to build an 80 MWh (mega watts per hour) energy storage system to provide excess energy at specific times and occasions when an over load of demand is required..

A Peak Into The Future

As technology progress, costs will fall which in return will bring more affordability in the energy storage market. GTM Research estimates that 478 Mega Watts of energy storage in the United States will be built in 2017 and 2,045 Mega Watts by 2021.

“Behind-the-meter” energy storage, encompassing both small business and home retrofits as well as communities, could be worth $16.5 billion by 2024 according to Navigant Research.

Storage for homes is the most embryonic sub-segment of this next wave. Thus far, home storage is mostly being marketed as an add-on to rooftop PV for up-market Energy Prosumers, and as a backup for blackouts. Rapid drops in the price of Lithium Ion packs is also a factor.

No less than four such solutions were on view at GreenBuild 2016, US Green Building Council’s annual show, this year held in Los Angeles. Famously, USGBC pioneered the LEED standard for sustainability in the built environment. GreenBuild has always been about energy-efficient materials, systems, and solutions, with the battle-cry of “Zero Net” added to this year’s tsunami of green education and vendors.

Systems were on display from Tesla (the PowerWall, recipient of a large amount of media exposure, as is anything associated with Mr. Musk); SonnenBatterie; Adara Power; and – surprise! – Mercedes Benz — not a brand normally associated with home appliances.

This appears to be just the start, as residential storage product offerings are being announced weekly, often incorporating “intelligent” or “smart” software layers on top of Lithium Ion battery packs. This added controls layer may include remote monitoring by cell phone, or capability for the local utility or a third party aggregator to “call” the battery for services. Or the unit could be part of a community-wide microgrid.

Other names in this hot new innovation space include Panasonic, SimpliPhi, GreenCharge, Advanced Microgrid Solutions, STEM. Even financiers are getting involved with funding deployments of multi-unit distributed storage systems.

Of the four battery systems, the Tesla Powerwall, Mercedes Benz and Adara packs were embedded into prefab “concept homes” at opposite ends of the expo floor. One was a high-end 1800 square foot space dubbed “ProjeKt” by KBHomes, the other a prefab Tiny Home, “The Arc House”, presented by System Dynamics and GreenBuilder Magazine.

Both demos invoked the concept of “Zero Net Energy”. Zero Net or just ZNE has been called an “aspirational mandate;” it is a sort of standard-in-progress being developed by California energy regulators, with the goal of getting all new homes and buildings Zero Net by 2020 – meaning the buildings are capable of producing all or most of their own energy on-site, on an averaged net basis (i.e. – the total of energy derived from the grid and produced by the building net out over time – not that the building is meant to be 100% severed from the grid.

According to Jacob Atalla, VP of Sustainability for KB Home, the sixth largest home-builder in the U.S., “With ProjeKt, we are going beyond code compliance and even beyond ‘Sustainability 2.0’. We want to show not just what you can do today, not what you could do in 2020, but to bring a collaborative group of our partners together with some big thinkers and demonstrate what could be.” In effect, the concept home represents a sort of clean-sheet attempt to re-imagine an affordable home for the ‘Sharing Economy’ demographic (note: no garage (think Uber/Lyft), add drone port and veggie wall in the kitchen).

Atalla was kind enough to give Stratton Report a mini tour of the utility room which features both a PowerWall and an Italian natural gas fuel cell, and an inverter from Schneider Electric tied to SunPower panels on the roof. ProjeKt allows the home-owner go to fully off-grid if desired (with the fuel cell unit providing baseload power and heat). However, according to Atalla, the main overall value proposition is to push the home energy use as low as possible, and meet that need as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

(Side note – SolarCity intends to offer PowerWall –from sister company Tesla — as part of a solar+storage package, but it is not yet priced.)

On the other side of the Expo, “The Arc House,”sported an equally elaborate energy package. At 432 square feet, it veers perhaps more to a hippie beach esthetic than KBHome’s ProjeKt, with an Adara Power stack stashed invisibly in a kitchen cabinet. “Adara’s initial customers are early adopters,” According to Neil Maguire, CEO of Adara Power. For the moment, “the price point is relatively high and the savings from time of use peak-shifting do not fully pay for the system. All of our customers, which now include eight states, place a value in resiliency and back-up power. A lot of customers feel helpless with the utilities introducing rate structures that penalize solar customers. If we fast forward five years, battery prices will be down another 60% and the packaged products from companies like Adara will contain more energy. This will make back-up generators obsolete, and there will be a less than five year payback.”

SonnenBatterie a German import, introduces an intriguing new benefit on top of blackout back-up– the ability of the battery to supply juice to particular functions or parts of a home – basically feeding sub-circuits on the breaker box – a concept described as “Critical Load”. It also sports an impressive touch display with multiple User Friendly readouts.

According to Robert Sarai, Business Development Lead at local re-seller/installer solar energy company LA Solar Group, the sonnen systems can range from $10-30K, from 4-16 KW in capacity. One model features a back-up capability and the other is grid-tied.

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Sonnen, Inc. claims to be leading Tesla in sales of home batteries, with 13,000 working systems in Europe and the states. In addition, they’ve racked up an impressive string of partnerships in the last few months, including investment from GE Ventures; a North American partnership with microgrid developer Enbala; a collaboration with Demand Response platform AutoGrid; as well as SolarWorld, PetersenDean and Spruce, for sales channels.

(We should also note that, while most storage systems are based on electrical batteries, thermal storage is also an emerging option. IceEnergy, also at GreenBuild, just announced an “IceCube” model for homeowners.)

Though still incipient, home-based energy storage is expected to be an integral part of the coming decentralization of the energy grid. Policy-makers in states like California, Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts are developing mechanisms that will further enable and incentivize home-owners to provide monetizable benefits to the grid, which in turn will improve the payback time and drive greater adoption.