Misc Blather

Operation Solar Spinland

  • June 11, 2015

solar-panels-in-sun-with-blue-sky1

Ever since my wife and I bought our present house and I set up my 3D Animation Studio here, we’ve wanted to be on renewable energy to the greatest extent possible. Sure, we’ve done things like paying a little extra to insure a percentage of our share of the grid comes from, say, hydro generation, and I host my online work via Green Geeks, a company that offsets its power consumption by 300% through wind power, but I’ve personally wanted to do more. Since consumer grade wind power isn’t yet viable in a mostly residential setting, the only real choice right now is solar.

One of the first remodeling jobs we did on this place was to replace the roof. No, I don’t mean the shingles, I mean the roof itself—the house was built in 1946 and still had the original cedar shakes under the existing asphalt shingles. We had the whole thing stripped to the bare rafters and rebuilt from sturdy-grade plywood on up so that it would be strong enough to support an eventual PV array. That was in 2007. In all the time since then the economics of a serious solar installation simply hadn’t caught up with financial reality, so we waited.

The time has come. The technology has advanced to the point where solar panels now cost a mere 50% of what they did just a year ago. That’s a big jump, and tipped the scales in favor of pulling the proverbial trigger on this dream. We spent a lot of time searching out the company we wanted to use: they had to be local, experienced and reliable with a good reputation I could check on, and offer what I considered a fair market price for a medium-to-large array using state of the art components. I don’t automatically go with the lowest bidder—in fact usually such a bid has me wondering what corners they would cut.

After a period of poring over site surveys and bids we decided on CNY Solar to do our array. They’re from the local area (in Canestota), the array they proposed impressed me the most both in terms of using new technology, expected output and cost, and we did some checking with previous customers and got good reviews of their product and service.

On the technical side we’re going with a SolarEdge inverter and SolarWorld 280 watt panels, totaling enough to generate an expected output of 5.6kw. Even with some minor tree shading and winter’s long shadows and snow we expect to realize over 91% of our annual power consumption from this array, aggregated over the whole year. In the sunny times we’ll be generating a lot of surplus which will go back into our utility bill as credits we can then draw on in the winter when output goes down. Bear in mind, we are already somewhat energy frugal so our consumption may not be typical. You’ll need to crunch your own annual numbers.

We elected not to go with a battery storage option, both for initial cost and because such battery rigs haven’t yet satisfied me with performance and longevity. That is all going to change, and soon. Enter Tesla’s Powerwall. Everything we’ve put up with to date regarding energy supply and utility companies is about to change forever. By the time I’ve paid off the loan balance for the existing array I expect this new technology to be fully on my radar, and I will be revisiting that no-battery decision. If the product lives up to the hype it might be possible eventually to go entirely off the grid. All in good time.

And that’s part of the master plan to evolve Spinland to become self-sufficient some day. I’ll be adding photos of the installation process as things move along.

Keepin' it legal. Of course the local government has to step in for their cut.

Keepin’ it legal. Of course the local government has to step in for their cut.

They had fun backing that wide work trailer up our narrow driveway.

They had fun backing that wide work trailer up our narrow driveway.

Hefty trailer needs a hefty truck to pull it.

Hefty trailer needs a hefty truck to pull it.

First solar array mounts going in.

First solar array mounts going in.

Part of the fearless crew!

Part of the fearless crew!

Safety first! Everyone goes up clipped to a harness.

Safety first! Everyone goes up clipped to a harness.

The high-tech power inverter from SolarEdge.

The high-tech power inverter from SolarEdge.

The crazy-quilt power panel they're dealing with. They think the right hand one was the original. This house has some quirks we haven't gotten to ironing out yet.

The crazy-quilt power panel they’re dealing with (no, it’s not normally exposed like that). They think the right hand one was the original. This house has some quirks we haven’t gotten to ironing out yet.

More progress on the first array mounts.

More progress on the first array mounts.

While the southern exposure of the garage will be the largest part of the array, there will be two other sections. This is the one on the southern exposure of the front roof, between the dormers.

While the southern exposure of the garage will be the largest part of the array, there will be two other sections. This is the one on the southern exposure of the front roof, between the dormers.

And this is the final section, rounding out the roughly two dozen panels. This is going up on the southern and eastern exposures of the main dormer.

And this is the final section, rounding out the roughly two dozen panels. This is going up on the southern and eastern exposures of the main dormer.

A closer look at some of the array mounts. Wiring starting to go in.

A closer look at some of the array mounts. Wiring starting to go in.

Here's the inverter with the cover off, right after the tech wired it into my network for the online diagnostic app.

Here’s the inverter with the cover off, right after the tech wired it into my network for the online diagnostic app.

Panels going up! Section 1.

Panels going up! Section 1.

Panels going up! Section 2.

Panels going up! Section 2.

Panels going up! Section 3.

Panels going up! Section 3.

All systems go!

All systems go!

Update: the system has been online now for 24 hours. During that time the weather has been terrible: grey, lots of rain, very little sun at all. It’s pouring out even as I type this. Given that handicap I still decided to take the generated output and extrapolate as though we’re doomed to suffer a full 30 consecutive days of the same weather. I then compared that expected bad-weather output to our power consumption from last June. Here’s what the numbers say:

The numbers don't lie

The numbers don’t lie

Even in near-worst-case weather we’ll be getting over 68% of our power from the array. Yes, Virginia, those are good numbers. Can’t wait to see the sun come out and the utility company having to start buying power from me instead of the other way around.

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