Direct Benefits of Installing Solar Panels

If you’re considering changing your home’s energy source, there’s never been a better time to look into home solar power. Prices of solar panels have dropped significantly since 2011, and the potential for major savings has never been higher.

At TerraSol Energies, Inc., we’ve been a premier solar power company servicing the tri-state area (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware) for since 2009, and our team of specialists sets the industry standard. How might adding residential solar panels to your home benefit you – both in your pocketbook and elsewhere?

Energy Cost

The most straightforward reason to switch to solar power is the cost savings. Electricity is one of the most expensive home bills the average resident pays every year, and lowering or eliminating these costs is a very attractive option.

Savings will vary by state and specific energy usage, but over the life of solar panels (typically at least 20-25 years), most people save a minimum of $10,000 in energy costs, and often far more. Unlike typical energy bills, solar bills remain consistent throughout the year, which helps with financial planning as well.

Environmental Benefits

Energy savings benefit your wallet, of course, but they also benefits the environment as a whole. Less need for costly forms of energy allows more sustainable forms to come to the forefront, and this is a snowball that will continue to grow as these solutions become more and more affordable.

Home Value Increase

Investing in solar panels is nearly a guarantee to increase your home’s value. It’s just one state, but homes with solar panels in California, for instance, appreciate in value at a 10 percent faster rate than homes without them. A recent report indicated that solar energy systems owned by the homeowner added an average of roughly $15,000 to a home’s resale value.

Tax Incentives

This will be different from state to state, but the government offers several incentives tied to solar energy. You can potentially get federal or state tax credits, and rebate programs are also available in many cases.

Want to learn more? At TerraSol Energies, Inc., our experts are here to answer any and all questions about the ways you’ll benefit from residential solar panels.

How A Grid-Tied Solar System Works

With solar panel installations on the rise, it’s important to understand the difference between a battery storage system and a grid-tied system. A grid-tied solar system sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple when you look at each piece of the system by itself.

The first step of the solar power process starts with the solar panel. Well, actually, it starts 92 million miles away at the Sun, but let’s skip ahead a little bit. Sunlight hits the surface of the solar panel, which is made up of a number of small photovoltaic cells. These cells use a semiconductor material, typically silicon, that reacts with the light energy on an atomic scale to produce an electric current.

Each photovoltaic cell is designed like a sandwich, with two layers of silicon, each of which has been treated with different materials, like phosphorus and boron, to give them a positive or negative charge and create an electric field between them. As sunlight hits the panel, photons that pass through the cell can knock an electron free of this electric field, which is then captured by conductive plates and transferred to wires.

The electricity generated by the solar panels is direct current, or DC, meaning the electric current only flows in one direction. To be used in a household or on the power grid, it has to be alternating current, or AC. Wires from the solar panel lead to an inverter that converts DC to AC. At this point, the electricity is ready to power your home and appliances.

Depending on your usage requirements, there may be days when your solar panels are generating more electricity than your home needs. In a grid-tied solar system, this surplus of electricity is sold to the electric grid, earning you credits from the utility company that you can use in the future when the sun isn’t shining as strongly. A grid-tied system connects your home to the grid through your power meter, where your electricity usage and production can be measured by your utility company.

A grid-tied solar system will not function during a power outage. If the grid is offline, your solar inverter will go offline automatically. Preventing your solar panels from outputting electricity to the grid protects the utility workers who are working on repairing the lines. A battery backup would allow you to continue using power during an outage. Some homeowners opt to install a natural gas or propane generator to produce electricity during a power outage, but these systems are costly.

Grid-tied solar systems are getting more and more economical due to tax credits, rebates, and advances in technology that are lowering the overall costs of solar power worldwide. Total costs of a grid-tied system will depend on several factors, including the size and mounting of your panels, and whether or not you install a battery backup system. In the tri-state (PA, DE, NJ) area, contact TerraSol Energies to find out if a grid-tied solar system is right for you and your home.

Testing Solar Power Voltage and Amperage

There are a limited number of steps involved in caring for a solar power system, but you’d be surprised how often one of them gets passed over: Properly testing the panels themselves. Not only is confirming their expected output before installation vital, but continuously monitoring the actual output compared to the expectation is very important.

At TerraSol Energies, all of our commercial solar power systems come with a metering system to help you test it for basic output. You can test for both voltage and amperage – let’s look at what you need to do in each case.

Testing for Voltage

To test your commercial or residential solar panel for voltage output, place it in direct sunlight and set the meter to the “volts” setting. From here, touch the meter’s red (positive) lead to the solar panel’s positive wire, then touch the meter’s black (negative) lead to the solar panel’s negative wire.

At this point, the voltage reading on your meter should be right about, or just slightly under, 60 volts. If the reading is different, this is a signal that there’s an issue with your solar panel output. Check all connections of solar cells and all stringers, and also check for the possibility of cracks within the solar cells themselves.

Testing for Amperage

To test for amperage output, again place the solar panel in direct sunlight, and change the meter to the “amps” setting. From here, take the same steps as above – touch the positive lead to the panel’s positive wire, and the negative lead to the panel’s negative wire.

The amp reading should not be close to, or just under, 3.5 amps. If it’s closer to 3, this is no problem – the panel may not be getting maximum sunlight. If the amperage is significantly lower than 3, however, this could be an issue, and you need to perform the same checks as above.

As an added aside: If you ever need to calculate the wattage of your panel, simply multiply the voltage and the amperage to find your figure. So for an 18-volt, 3.5-amp panel, the wattage would be 63.

To learn more about testing panel output, or any of the other solar power company services we offer, speak to the prost at TerraSol Energies today.

10 Ways to Keep Cool Using Less Electricity

As large swaths of the country are expected to experience higher-than-average temperatures this summer, the temptation to run the air conditioner grows ever stronger. Giving in can be costly if you haven’t made the switch to solar power. Fortunately, there are plenty of time-tested ways to keep your cool without using a lot of electricity. We’ve put together a list of ten of them.

  1. Keep shades closed

Curtains, blinds or shades will prevent the sun from heating a room. Certain types of window coverings are designed specifically to reflect sunlight and insulate a room from heat.

  1. Ceiling fans

Strategically-placed ceiling fans will help circulate the air, pushing cool air down towards the floor and drawing warm air up to the ceiling. In the summer, your ceiling fan should be set to spin counter-clockwise, whereas in winter, it should spin clockwise to push warm air towards the floor.

  1. Keep interior doors open

Leaving all the doors inside your house open will help the overall temperature balance out, rather than creating hotspots. This creates airflow so that warm and cool air can move around freely.

  1. Create a cross breeze

Depending on the layout of your house, you can open certain windows to create a cross breeze. The use of a box fan can help speed the process by moving cool air from the shady side of the house toward the side that is exposed to more direct sunlight.

  1. Change your bedding

Swap cotton sheets for cool, breathable silk. Silk bedsheets wick sweat from your body better than cotton, allowing you to cool off faster.

  1. Pour a cold drink

Sometimes the best cure for a hot house is an ice-cold drink. Staying hydrated is the most important thing you can do to cool off in the summer, and a cold beverage will reduce your internal body temperature as well.

  1. Switch to CFLs

If you still use incandescent lightbulbs, you’re essentially running little heaters in every room. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are cool to the touch even after hours of use, and won’t raise a room’s temperature.

  1. Skip the oven

Who wants to be stuck in a kitchen with a roasting-hot oven when it’s already unbearably hot outside? Summertime calls for cool foods, like fruits, vegetables and salads. If you have to cook something, do it on the grill outside and keep your home cool.

  1. Soak a towel

Hanging a damp towel in an open window facing the sun will create an evaporative cooling effect. As the sun heats up the towel, the water evaporates and cools the air flowing through it. Use a light-colored towel for best results.

  1. Open all your windows at night

Once the sun goes down and the temperature drops, open all your windows to let the warm air out and the cool air in. Before the outside temperature starts rising again the next day, close all your windows and pull your shades to keep the air inside cool as long as possible.

If you’re interested in other ways to cool your house in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware without raising your electricity bill, TerraSol Energies is here to help. Contact us today for more information.

How Solar Works When It’s Not Sunny

It’s well-known that going green and installing a solar panel system on your home reaps both environmental and financial benefits, but to some just learning about the technology, it might be confusing how solar systems can provide electricity consistently throughout the day. After all, the sun isn’t always out; clouds and rain happen, and then there’s nighttime. How do solar systems work when it isn’t sunny? Continue reading

Solar Panel Maintenance

If you are thinking about investing in a photovoltaic (PV) solar power system, you may be wondering how much maintenance is required. The short answer is: not a lot.

How Tough Are Solar Panels?

Modern solar power systems are built to last, and breakage and malfunctions are uncommon. Solar panels have no moving parts, and they’re designed to withstand all sorts of weather, including hail, rain, and snow. Unless a tree limb or something else hard and heavy falls on them, chances are they’ll just keep working as long as you own them. Continue reading

Understanding Solar Power Options: Off-grid vs. Grid-tied Systems

If you’ve been contemplating adding solar power to your home or business, you’ve probably heard of grid-tied and off-grid systems. Both types use photovoltaic cells to turn sunlight into electricity. The principal difference between them is that the first is connected to the local utility’s electric grid while the second is not, but the functional differences go a bit deeper. Here are the implications for choosing between these setups.

Grid-Tied Solar

Grid-tied solar systems capture the sun’s energy whenever it’s available. Because they’re also linked to the power grid, however, your property can still receive energy from the utility company at night and on overcast days, or any time your energy consumption exceeds the system’s production.

Power can flow in both directions between your system and the grid, and if you generate excess power, you can sell it to the utility company to minimize the costs of your future consumption.

Off Grid Solar

Off-grid systems must create more power than grid-tied solar alternatives because their users don’t have the luxury of switching to utility service when they need backup. These setups incorporate their own energy storage units in the form of battery banks, which can tide you over when the sun isn’t shining sufficiently to meet your power needs.

Which System Should You Choose?

While both types of systems require many of the same basic components, grid-tied systems are less costly to install, mainly because they don’t include battery banks or charge controllers. On the other hand, users of these systems have to pay for the electricity they obtain from the grid and are subject to the policies of the utility company.

Your electricity company might make it less profitable to sell back your power by modifying its net metering rates and agreements. Or it could demand that consumers jump through extra hoops and pay additional surcharges to connect their solar energy installations to the grid.

Off-grid solar systems are more appropriate for remote locations where the cost of running a transmission line to the property would be prohibitively expensive. They also makes sense in industrial settings that can provide their own backup power from on-site generators.

Remember, though, that most off-grid users need to be more careful about their consumption habits. If you exceed the capacity of an unconnected solar energy system, you may not have anything to fall back on.

Ultimately, your choice of solar system should reflect your needs. Even more than installation cost, your long-term usage requirements and habits will be the most relevant limiting factors in your energy-generating future.

To learn more about the benefits of solar power and discuss the best solution for your situation in Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey or Delaware, contact TerraSol Energies today.

 

Going Green

There are plenty of reasons to go green, ranging from the idealistic – like helping the Earth – to the pragmatic – like saving money. According to the US Department of Energy, the US would save $20 billion dollars on energy costs if all the homes in the country were modified to be more energy-efficient. Similarly, using plumbing systems designed to save water will lower your water bill. Recycled building materials last five times as long as conventional materials, so a home made from recycled products will be a lot more durable than one made from standard materials.

Going green is also better for your health. Energy-efficient vehicles produce fewer pollutants than do cars that burn more gas or diesel fuel per mile traveled. Green household cleaners and paints emit fewer volatile organic compounds, so people in environmentally friendly homes enjoy better air quality and better health. Green products in general are made with fewer harmful chemicals than conventional products.

Going green doesn’t have to be expensive. Even if you can’t afford to build a new home made from recycled materials or buy a new electric car, there are plenty of practical, inexpensive ways to go green.

Visit the Library

Borrow books or movies from the library, as opposed to buying them. People generally read a book or watch a movie only once. By borrowing such items, you reduce not only the number that end up in landfills, but also the number manufactured in the first place. Making a new item from scratch requires energy and raw materials, while using existing items does not.

Recycle Everything Possible

“Single-stream” recycling has made recycling a lot simpler in many communities. Back in the bad old days, people had to sort their trash into different containers for paper, plastic, aluminum, etc. These days in most places, people can just put it all into one blue bin. There are still a few things like plastic bags that can’t be recycled in some communities, but your local recycling center will provide information about what they can and can’t take.

Recycling includes more than just disposables. It also means making stuff you no longer use available to others. Organizations like GoodWill accept old clothes, toys, some furniture, and some electronics. Many churches, libraries and social organizations accept donations and hold large-scale rummage sales one or more times each year. You may find a bookstore willing to buy some of your old books. Craigslist has a section to give and get free items, and there are local upcycling organizations and Facebook pages to redistribute items that their owners no longer need. If an item isn’t broken or defective, somebody else may be able to use it.

Don’t Buy Bottled Water

Bottled water is often tap water in ridiculously expensive packaging. Even worse, the plastic bottles require energy to produce and recycle, and if they’re not recycled they create huge amounts of solid waste. It’s much better to buy a reusable water bottle, preferably one made of aluminum, and fill that with water when it’s time to hit the gym. Tap water with a funny or unpleasant taste isn’t unsafe; it owes its flavor to chlorination or minerals in the water. Faucet-mounted water filters like Pur or Brita are available for less than $40.00, and they can improve the taste of tap water.

Buy Energy Star Products

Energy Star is a program developed by the EPA in the early 1990s to establish energy-consumption standards for a wide range of products. Independent scientists test and rate products from LED bulbs to refrigerators to entire buildings on their energy efficiency. Products that make the grade get a blue and white logo proclaiming their energy efficiency. Some building materials like doors, windows, and insulation materials can also get Energy Star certification. When it’s time to buy a new appliance, new computer or new door, look for one with the Energy Star label.

Use Less Power from the Grid

One of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to install a photovoltaic (solar energy) system at your home of business. By using less electricity from the grid, you cut back on the burning of fossil fuels and the air pollution it generates.

Contact TerraSol Energies to learn about solar energy installation in southern New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.