It is mid-2014. As little as ten years ago the word “solar” was hardly spoken here in the U.S. Within just the last decade a very unique set of circumstances has pushed this virtually unknown industry into a position of popular interest. With such a rapid increase there are also growing pains. This book will take you through the transition of the solar industry from a time of “unknown” to “center stage”.
Through the personal experiences of the author who has been directly involved as a business owner, educator, designer and installer for most of the past decade, you will get an inside look at the parts of this industry that the general public rarely knows. If you are contemplating a career in this industry and/or considering obtaining these products for your own usage, this book should be read before any final decisions are made.
You may be shocked to learn that the most popular methods also pose the largest potential of failure. Within these pages you will only find true stories. There will no doubt be areas in which you may be tempted to assume exaggerated or invented situations were created for the purpose of this book. The reality is that neither took place. This is a rare opportunity to read a book that is presented by someone who has had significant direct involvement in a relatively new industry and who is also an established author. The main purpose of this book is to inform and educate. Any entertainment value is simply a bonus…
This book is available in Hard Cover, Perfect Bound Softcover and as an eBook from Archway Publishing
This book is dedicated to an attempt to ensure the long term continued use of solar components in the private sector. A tremendous benefit can be realized by all those who obtain these products via qualified and ethical avenues. In the near future significant issues will arise that will pose a threat to the popularity of this industry. It should be known that in nearly every case these coming harsh judgments will have originated with the people involved and not due to a dissatisfaction of equipment performance. As we will unveil throughout this book, an enormous amount of greed, incompetence and arrogance are prevalent in today’s solar industry. I am absolutely convinced that in a few short years a much different public opinion will materialize revealing our current injustices. I am dedicating this book to my belief in the use of the equipment.
I have found that few people actually understand the basic function of solar (photovoltaics). Let’s take a minute here to outline how these products perform. I believe that most of you will associate the word “solar” with the sun. In fact, this is probably the only way you have heard of this industry referred to until now. “Solar” is indeed a direct reference to the sun, but what does “photovoltaic” mean?
Typically called “P.V.”, photovoltaic is the process of creating voltage (electrical pressure) from light. “Photo”, from the word “photology” means the “science of light”. “Voltaic”, from the word “voltaism” means “electricity produced by chemical action”. In short, this process makes electricity from light. I’ll bet that this comes as a surprise to many of you. I can say that by far, most people I encounter assume the value is found in the heat from the sun. This is an understandable assumption given the fact that we place the solar modules in direct sun intentionally.
The solar modules are typically referred to as panels. These are the large, flat, dark colored items that are usually seen on a roof or ground frame of some sort. The function of the modules is to gather light from the sun which causes the chemical reaction in a silicon based cell to become active. A typical solar module will have a grouping of 60 or 72 cells wired in a particular way to increase or multiply the individual voltage created in each cell. With this, each module is given a power rating.
In 2007, when I first became involved in this industry, the module power ratings were generally 150-175 watts. As I write this now in 2014, a standard solar module will have a rating between 240-300 watts. In future chapters, I will expand on a few of the most common electrical terms and their function in order to give you a basic understanding of how this all works. For now though, you can easily realize that in the past seven years solar modules have dramatically increased in strength.
I would like to return briefly to the concept of light and heat. I routinely say to my clients that a clear, cool day is the prime circumstance for P.V. (photovoltaic) activity. The fact that here in the U.S. we generate more solar energy on any given clear summer day versus a clear winter day has everything to do with total quantity of sunlight hours in the day. The industry standard for testing and assigning a module its particular power rating is done at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. So basically speaking, on days warmer than 77 the modules will lose a little of their capacity based on their rating and likewise they will gain a little on days cooler than 77 (to a point).
The ratio of power loss on hot days is worth less than the amount of light exposure gained with longer summer days. Therefore, a greater total amount of power is generated with long hot days than with short cool days. With this understanding, we can realize why installers are looking for non- shaded locations and the most direct angle toward the sun as possible.
By far the most applied scenario is a “grid-tied” or “grid- interactive” system. As the name implies, the current utility or grid power that is present at the location remains fully functional and engaged. A properly installed P.V. system is connected by various methods that we will discuss later. The new arrangement becomes one of coexistence between the P.V. system and the utility. The primary purpose of the solar equipment is to produce some or all of the power for the electrical “load” demands for a particular location.
Contrary to popular belief, a standard P.V. system does not provide electrical power during utility outages. There are however, extra steps that can be taken to provide the necessary equipment that will supply power during such utility outages. The general purpose of a standard P.V. system in conjunction with utility power is to return the costs of the utility power to the consumer by generating and providing or replacing power as the conditions allow. Much like a bank account, the utility meter will record and keep track of the net difference between your power withdrawals and deposits as time passes.
By definition, once any location engages a solar P.V. system to the electrical load demands and/or to the coexisting utility grid, that location is now referred to as a “generating facility or location”. As the above definition implies, as a consumer of electricity who typically purchases the power from the local utility, one now has the ability to, either partially or completely, produce their own power for consumption and/or replacement toward the utility. An option now exists for the consumer that did not exist before in most cases. Although rarely used in most populated areas, a fully independent solar power system can be configured to provide the electrical needs of most residences and even some smaller commercial settings providing the conditions of the location accommodate enough sunlight and area.
If utility power is readily available and in close proximity to the location of the desired power needs, a completely independent P.V. system is typically not applied for cost reasons. What it really comes down to is the individual priorities of the consumer. Mechanically speaking, a system can be very flexible and accommodate a wide variety of needs and desires.
The messages in this book are very important. In fact, I believe that the solar industry in the U.S. is on very thin ice. As I write this, it is mid-2014. Most of what I will expose and express to you in these pages will come as news you have not heard before. Some of you will believe every word. Others w ill agree with certain aspects and not wish to accept others. And there will also be those among you who will discount nearly all of this content. Your own level of acceptance or denial is completely up to you. I will say though that I have made up nothing. What is revealed within my personal stories is without exaggeration. If I am expressing opinion, I will openly disclose this.
I will also suggest that if you are currently involved in the solar industry, your individual exposures thus far have created your model of what this industry stands for and where it is potentially headed. The very same is true for me also. However, as we will come to realize, my personal exposures have been very diversified and unique. There is somewhat of a “perfect storm” prevalent in the current solar industry that is potentially very volatile in my opinion.
Actually, I believe we are past a point of preventing damaging issues in our near future. It is my purpose to expose what I truly believe are the main threats to the popularity and acceptance of these products in an attempt to avoid a complete collapse. This may sound a bit extreme at this point in time, but I expect by the conclusion of this book you will at least have some questions toward the future of how the solar business in America will look in the next decade.
Please allow me to be perfectly clear; no one believes in the benefit of solar products more than I do. Likewise, few approach the promotion of these products like I do (at least not currently). There is an old saying: “Look to see which way the masses are going, then go in the opposite direction”. This may not be absolutely true in every case, but with regard to the current approach by most who sell and install solar products, I believe this is the best advice I could suggest.
Chapter 1: Getting Started
Chapter 2: Exposure
Chapter 3: Big Changes
Chapter 4: Secrets of the Lease
Chapter 5: The Community Group Business Plan
Chapter 6: My Opinions of Equipment
Chapter 7 : The “Business” of Solar
Chapter 8 : An Uncommon Abuse
Chapter 9: The Top Ten