The sun is free and is there every day. It’s an energy that can be harnessed for free. Yes you buy the equipment but at the end of the day, the equipment pays itself off and the energy never stops coming.
Solar energy is what we need to get away from fossil fuels – basically take advantage of the sun, which is there every day.
The sun is a full spectrum light which means it has your natural light, UVA, UVB and infrared. It has different bands of light to make up the full spectrum. Each light band has its own wavelength in the spectrum. Depending on what you want to do, you can operate in that spectrum a specific wave length and use it to activate something. Silicone is what they use for photovoltaics, which is what is used to harness the sun’s power. Photovoltaics are made from silicone which is 'doped' with impurities to make it react to specific sunlight wave lengths in whatever condition – full light, low light, no light. The sun is harnessed through a solar panel which will then create electricity, based on activation level of this sunlight.
When the silicone is made, it is made in ingots (block of silicone mixed up with impurities and carbons). They will slice off layers of the ingot which will create wafers that you see on a solar panel which is square or round. That is a thin slice of the ingot. The mono crystalline is done in a very fine form, almost like a powder. You’ll notice most times it is black. It reacts well to light but only perpendicular light. Poly crystalline is made in a different form which is more of a crystalized form of the silicone. It has multiple levels on it. So when you see a poly crystalline cell on a solar panel; you’ll notice that it looks flaky, like it has crystals on it. Because of these differences, the mono crystalline have a slightly higher efficiency than the poly crystalline because of its purer form but the downfall is that it needs direct light at 90 degrees to truly activate it. So what will happen is, people out there, will use trackers to follow the sun to get direct sunlight which will give potentially more power. A mono crystalline panel on a tracker will always follow the sun at that 90 degree (perpendicular) point which will give you more power. Poly crystalline are meant for roofs or ground mounts where they are fixed because the sun sweeps across the sky all day long and is always hitting the panel at different angles. Because the crystals inside are different shapes, they are picking up the sun at different angles. So they work well in a fixed position. Other than their appearance and use, the difference between them is about half a percent in efficiency. Application wise there is no difference.
There is a difference in cost – the mono crystalline are about 5% more.
The panels theoretically should last for a very long time. If the panel was well-made with good quality silicone, it will decay or age at about .5 percent per year. Whether it is mono or poly doesn’t matter, if you have an efficiency of a 250 watt panel, it would degrade at half a percent per year. So basically after 20 years a 250 watt panel will be a 225 watt panel. The panels are encapsulated, they are hermetically sealed. They actually have a front and back panel with glass. They are vacuum sealed together so that the current can flow like a lightbulb without air, so that the panels will last longer. These panels theoretically, are good for 50 years at least and even after 50 years, they are only down by 25%.
Solar was meant to last long. Solar originally was designed to be put on a mountain top, powering up a “repeater” station, left there and never looked at again. That’s what Solar was originally designed for a remote site installation. It turned out that some of the inheritances from it made it more beneficial than they thought. They work better in the cold weather.
Depending on the installer it can be damaged if not installed properly. There a different mounting structures or mounting feet for different roofs. If it’s a steel roof then there is a special plate that has different positioned holes that allow you to turn the plate depending on how close you are to the “rib”. You can line it up the holes with the truss, the back side has ice and water shield on it. This will seal itself against the roof once you install it, so that water cannot penetrate. Shingled roofs, the foot that is used also has an ice and water shield on it but doesn’t always guarantee the seal because of the pebbly shingled roof. Therefore we use a flashing material that is about 10 inches wide and 12 inches long that slides under the upper shingle and goes over the foot mount. The L foot mounts on top of the flashing so that water never gets underneath it. So if done properly your roof should never even know that we have been there.
Roofs should be facing south because the sun comes up in the east and sets in the west. The sun angle changes from above our heads to down below the horizon in the winter time so, south facing is the optimum. We have learned with experience that anything 45 degrees east of south or west of south…will get 100% of your revenue or return from your solar. We have also seen the panels on the west side of a roof receive 95-96 percent of the same amount of power or revenue when they are south facing. For some reason the sunlight hangs in the afternoon, we don’t know why. The east doesn’t do as well as the west. Panel positioning is fairly crucial, but if you are not perfectly south, you are still okay.
There are a lot of fear from people out there, that, if they buy a solar panel system, could it be obsolete in 5 years? They ask what do I do? Well two things, if you buy a MicroFIT system, you are buying a set system that produces a set amount of power for a set rate that is good for 20 years. That is a fixed item. Those panels will always produce for those 20 years and never be obsolete in that regard. Yes, other technologies will start to improve over time and you may get more efficient panels or maybe slightly different panels that aren’t even silicone. Unless you need them at that time, it doesn’t make your older panels obsolete. Your panels will always be producing power until they stop. New ones will be good for the future when the rates are higher and they need more efficiency.
In an off-grid system you have four components: 1. Solar Panels, 2. Inverter, 3. Charge Controller, 4. Batteries.
First, you have the solar panels that collect the power.
Second, the inverter that converts it from the battery power to AC.
Third, we have a charge controller that receive power from the panels. This charge controller actually protects the battery by how much is allowed to charge from the panels. The solar panels will produce power continuously if you let them. Charge controller protects the battery by monitoring how full the battery is and slowing down the charge.
Finally, we have the batteries which store the power. The battery is actually a DC device, 12 volts or 24 volts or 48 volts. The battery is a current device so it’s going to store all the current it receives from the solar panels. For example if you had a 1000 watts in solar panels on your roof, you are going to receive 1000 watts per hour of power into those batteries for each hour of sunlight. If a Battery is a 10,000 watt battery bank and you put 1000 watts per hour until that bank, depending of what power you used, it would only take hours to fill the Battery. There are different types of batteries. For example, a car battery is not a deep cycle battery. A car battery is a lot of thin lead plates, side by side, because a car battery is used for cranking a motor. They have what is called a cranking amps. to supply the Cold Cranking amps you need to get the current out of the battery quickly, the electrons have to jump from plate to plate to go through the battery to come out. So the plates are very thin which allows the electrons to pass very fast. Marine batteries are partial deep cycle because of their thicker battery plate, they allow some electrons to stay in the plate, but also allow some electrons to transfer quickly to turn over an outboard motor which would be like 400 cranking amps. A deep cycle battery is strictly for storage. The plates are very thick and they only allow for migrating slowly from plate to plate to come out of the battery. A deep cycle battery has rated in amp hours. This rating means how many amps can be pulled out of the battery over what duration of time. Usually they are rated a 100 amp hour or a 20 amp hour rating. You can draw out of the Battery up to ½ its capacity available over 20 or 100 hours, not like momentary cranking amps. The battery just becomes storage plates of electrons.
Both are good in their own realm. The flooded battery is where you actually have the lead acid as your medium to transfer the electrons between the plates and the battery cells have to stay covered in fluid all the times; otherwise, they will decay and damage the battery. Flooded batteries need to be maintained regularly because when you transfer electrons from plate to plate. You need the sulfuric acid to keep the battery functioning. After many transfer of electrons (cycles), you end up with sulfur deposits on the plates. This in time minimizes how many electrons can be passed back and forth. The battery will start to produce less and become less efficient if this happens. This is known as sulphation. Therefore, what needs to happen, is that you have to equalize your batteries. This is done by applying a higher voltage into the Batteries when charging them, boiling off that sulfur build-up. When you boil off the sulfur in this process, the battery becomes fresh and new again allowing it to function properly again. So flooded batteries depending on usage must be equalized a few times a year or depending on whether it is a home or cottage. it should be done at least twice a year to keep them running efficiently. If you don’t equalize them at all, they will be dead within 5 years, when they are usually good for up to 12 years. You need to vent flooded Batteries and keep them in a box. These type of batteries produce sulphuric acid vapour whether they are drawing power out of the battery or charging the battery. Equalizing the batteries causes a lot more vapours as you are boiling off the sulphur. For this reason you must build a box and have two pipes the inflow and out flow of air.
AGM (absorbed glass mat) is made a little differently. They are manufactured with a fiberglass cloth in between the plates. They add 10 ounces of acid to the battery when manufactured. As the battery charges up, the acid gets drawn up into the cloth, when the battery gets full, the cloth is wet. There is no liquid in the battery when they are fully charged. That is why these type do not vaporise, and are OK to be installed in a home without venting. Whether a flooded battery is charging or discharging, which means being used, you will get vapour coming out because you are breaking down the sulfuric acid into sulfur and hydrogen. This is why you will get a smell wherever the battery is operating. So what happens is those batteries, if they are in a house, they will have to be vented. Most of the time flooded batteries are installed outside of the house like in a generator shed. With the AGMs, the little amount of acid that is in there, about 2% of a normal flooded battery, is in the cloth keeping it moist between the plates. It won’t vaporise. There isn’t enough liquid in there to burn off. The battery is sealed and it can stay inside a house and it doesn’t require venting. The problem is that those batteries usually cost 30% more than a flooded battery. We try to sell them more because they are idiot-proof, maintenance free and they are a very forgiving battery. You can charge them or trickle charge them every day, all day. In other words if you had two little solar panels charging an AGM battery all day, it wouldn’t hurt them. They don’t care. A flooded battery needs to be charged properly with 10 % of the batteries potential in solar panels. So if you had a 10,000 watt battery bank, you really should have a 1000 watts of solar panels to charge them properly. Most people don't do that, they try to cut back on the solar panels because in a cottage you charge while you are gone, and use it on the weekend. So, cottages don't need a lot of solar panels. Most people will put minimal amount of solar panels, poorly charging the batteries and plug them up with sulphur on the plates then in five years’ time, wonder why the batteries are dead. Do it right you have to either install the right amount of solar panels or use an AGM battery, that won't care if you have one panel. The trade off in cost also comes back to you pay now or you pay later.
Normally under the electrical code, the house is wired with an electrical panel which is hooked to a meter which is hooked to the grid. Realistically the minute you are off grid the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority) has no ruling and is really only based on anything that connects to the grid and they need to inspect it. For insurance purposes, it is good to have ESA inspect your panel. When you break free from the grid, you don’t really need an electrical panel. So we always recommend that you do it properly to code so that you have no problems with fires.
That's a big question that people have. The bigger the battery the more you can store is not really true. The problem you have is that batteries are in the strengths. If you have a higher wattage invertor that is basically going to require you to have a higher voltage battery system. The battery system at 48 volts, other than a fork lift, has really big batteries, you have to buy 12 volt or smaller watt batteries to link them together. The minute you link them together to make 48 volts you’ve got a string. Generally if you have more than 4 or 5 strings of batteries you don't get equal distribution of electrons between them when charging and you get a problem with loading differences and this will work against each other. Realistically you can only store as much as the type of battery you're using will allow. On most off-grid systems if you want to go above that amount that would mean you would probably have a 100,000 watt system to store power. A watt is basically an amp times voltage so basically the current can be broken down by 48 volts into 100,000 that will tell you you’ve got roughly 2000 amp hours in a bank and that's about all you can store. Once you get past that point you want to go into bigger banks, you have to go into what they call smaller cells. So then what you do is that you buy a smaller 2 volt battery that is 10 inches by 10 inches and 2 feet high, that's 3000 amp hours. You put 24 of those together to make 48 volts and now you still have one string. Then you can have four string of those so then you can go into bigger banks. But to get into what they try and call commercial storage stuff, they are working on newer batteries that you can store more without that kind of restriction. The problem with that is that you are still restricted by a mount of cells, the amount of strings to see how big of a system you can get. That's the limitation on storage.
The invertor is a device that inverts the DC power into AC., it actually takes the DC power out of the battery and creates an AC wave form. There are two types of AC waveforms, a modified sine wave and sine wave? Sine wave is exactly the same as what is coming out of the plug in the wall. Sine wave is what most electronics need to have. Modified sine is created through series of pulses that simulate a sine wave,.That simulated AC waveform will work on most things like lighting, motors and pumps. For electronics you need sine wave Invertors. Invertors come in anywhere from 300 watts to 8000 watts. The bigger the invertor wattage, the higher the operating Battery voltage. You can go up to 2800 watts with 12 volts. The minute you go higher than that, the next invertor would be 3500 or 4000 watts which requires 24 volts. As the voltage goes up the current goes down. It minimized then how much copper they need inside the invertor. Then again, if you go above 4400 watts, it becomes 48 volts. Finally up to 6000 or 8000 watts you would be operating at 96 volts. To make the unit not so heavy, to minimize on the copper, they raise the battery voltage which drops the current and the current determines the size of wiring inside the invertors that transfer power.
Inverters are fairly simple in terms of how they operate.
The panels and the batteries themselves create your whole system. We recommend you do a load evaluation sheet, which determines how much power you use in the house, since the hydro bills nowadays are broken out don’t really give you a true representation of your consumption. We ask you fill in our evaluation sheet. This evaluation sheet lists all the appliances you have, the equipment and lights you have, estimating of how much you use each day. Then we average it and say you are using x amount of watts per day. If it’s a cottage, you require less solar panels because of the fact that you are charging while you are gone. You use power on the weekend in a cottage, you would make the battery bank big enough to handle the requirement of three days usage. Then the solar panels will charge them back up in the next five days. If you use 3000 watts of power every day for three days, you’d have to put back 9000 watts of power while you are gone. You need close to 2000 watts of solar power per day to charge those batteries back over those 5 days. Since in the summer you have more than 5 hours of sun a day, you would need 400 watts of panels. Now in a house scenario, you need to put the power back hopefully every day so if you use 3000 watts of power every day you want to have minimum 3000 watts of panels. The thing is the sunlight in the winter time is only two hours and the summertime is 5 hours so you also have to consider the amount of hours you are going to get. If you are using realistically a house would use about 20,000 watts a day – so you would look at it and say worse case scenario, in the winter time I am going to get two hours of sunlight so I am going to need at least 10,000 watts of solar panels to be able to provide that amount of power throughout the year which means in the summertime you would have way more power than you would need.. What you can do is, say okay in the summertime you only need 5000 watts of solar panels times 5 hours of sun light will give 25000 watts so you don’t always have to put in the full amount you can put in 7000 watts of panels and a back up generator and sometimes in the winter you can use the generator to top up the batteries when you run low because there is not enough sunlight. In that way, you don’t overspend and after one full year of usage, we can analyze it and evaluate what you have done and say you’re right you still need more panels or the system will work fine.
So when it comes to heating, you can use an alternate source which is solar thermal. Which means you use a device that creates heat. The solar power Panel can provide everything else except the heat so, solar thermal was created. You install on your roof, solar collectors that take heat from the sun and warm up a storage tank. We know we see the sun how it warms us up, the sun has UVA, UVB in its wave length which means it has built in heat. Now there are two types of collectors for solar thermal – one has a flat plate and one has rounds tubes. The flat plates work okay in the states but up here they get cloudy over time and don’t work as well. They only work when the sun is shining on them. The round tube types called evacuated tubes are a long glass tube that is actually like a thermos that has got two layers with a vacuum in the middle. The inner side of the glass is coated with a boron material that reacts to UVA UVB. The UVA/UVB is always in light as long as there is sunlight. The UVA UVB will be absorbed into those tubes. Even on a cloudy day, the tubes will absorb the UVA UVB and you will get power or heat out of them. So you can actually compensate for that kind of weather and still get more out of it then you would get out of a solar panel. Inside that glass tube there is a heat conductor that takes it up to a header and that header takes that liquid glycol down to a tank and stores in a big water tank that glycol which in called a closed loop system. It moved through the collectors and back to the tank. Once you have that heat in the tank you can then put it into a house or in floor heating or water based boards or air handler inside your furnace. So solar thermal when done right can work really well to provide heat in your house. It's not efficient for hot water tanks only. To put a hot water tank system in just for that, you are going to spend a minimum of $5000 to install. With the price of gas these days is not efficient but as soon as you have an in floor heater or baseboard heaters on the wall, or a hot tub immediately the payback shows up to be worthwhile because the amount of fuel you are using to heat up that secondary device is expensive and this will come in really well to do that. Solar thermal will usually compensate you 70-80 % of your heating needs.