Author Archives: Sara Matasci

DecoTech Roof-Integrated Solar System: a solar roof from GAF, America’s largest roofing manufacturer

GAF solar decotech roof review 

Homeowners across the country have their eye on Elon Musk’s Tesla solar roof, a much-heralded innovation for the solar energy industry. However, Tesla is just one company offering a roof-integrated solar option for homeowners and businesses. Roofing company GAF’s solar solution, DecoTech, hit the market in early 2017 and promises to be “the beautiful affordable alternative to typical rack-mounted solar systems.” Here’s EnergySage’s complete review of everything you need to know about DecoTech solar, from performance to price to warranties.

Continue reading

Should you buy grape solar panels from Costco or Home Depot?

Grape Solar panel kit review EnergySage

Installing solar panels is fast becoming a home improvement project that any homeowner can take on. Now that you can buy solar panels at Costco and Home Depot, you may even be considering installing a home solar energy system yourself. One of the most popular DIY options is to purchase a solar panel kit from Grape Solar, an Oregon-based solar panel manufacturer whose products are for sale at Costco and Home Depot. But before you make a Costco solar purchase, we recommend you learn more about how Grape Solar panels compare to other solar panel brands.

Continue reading

Comparing Top Solar Mounting and Racking Systems: Unirac, IronRidge, Quick Mount PV & Ecofasten

types of solar panel mounting systems

Solar panel racking systems like IronRidge and Unirac PV mounting apparatus are critically important but lesser known components of a solar panel system. When it comes to installing solar on your roof, there’s plenty of information available to help you compare solar panel options and inverter technologies. Some solar installers are even starting to offer different options for solar-plus-storage products that include a home battery. However, not much has been written about the various solar panel rack options available to mount the system on your roof. While these items don’t typically have a significant impact on your solar system’s performance, solar panel mounts are still an important part of the installation process. Read on to learn more about the top solar panel mounts from Unirac, IronRidge, and SnapNrack, as well as specialized products from Quick Mount PV, Ecofasten, and AllEarth Renewables.

Continue reading

NRG Community Solar: the complete review

NRG community solar review

NRG Energy is one of the biggest builders of solar energy systems in the United States, including utility-scale, commercial, and home solar. In 2015, the company began building community solar farms for homes and businesses in the United States. In EnergySage’s NRG community solar review below, learn how it works, what NRG is offering, and whether community solar is the right option for you.

Continue reading

Highlights from EnergySage’s fifth Solar Marketplace Intel Report™

This week, EnergySage released its fifth Solar Marketplace Intel Report™. In this report, you’ll find trends on solar pricing over the past 12 months, as well as equipment and financing options for solar. In addition, this report includes new information about community solar and the level of solar interest in states across the country. Read on for some of the top takeaways relevant to today’s solar shoppers.

Continue reading

Storage-ready solar Q&A: Pika Energy

Designing a “storage-ready” solar panel system is the first step to ensuring that you’re set up for success when you decide to move forward with a solar battery for your home or business. EnergySage spoke with Chip Means, Director of Marketing at Pika Energy, for his perspective on storage-ready solar.

What is the value proposition for a “storage-ready” solar product for residential customers?

We see the value of storage-ready solar as being the difference between buying what you need today versus ensuring stability and flexibility for what you might need tomorrow. Your load profile for your home will change as you add devices such as air source heat pumps and EV charging, and along with those changes, grid-provided energy is likely to change in cost as well. We see increasing cases for solar-connected storage where Time of Use billing is taking effect, or where net metering benefits are on a declining schedule. In addition to offering a backup power resource, storage-ready solar ensures a residential customer has a clean, simple path to upgrading their system with a smart battery should the need arise.

Who should consider installing a storage-ready solar option now?

Anyone who wants clean backup power or is working with scenarios like Time of Use billing or residential storage incentives is a great candidate for adding a battery today. Furthermore, adding a battery appeals to residential customers who want to self-consume more of their solar-generated power directly. Having a battery “behind the meter” reduces transacting with the fossil utility grid, maximizing the homeowner’s direct use of clean power.

Commercial entities that are billed for peaking demand periods are also looking at adding batteries with solar to shave peaks are among the present buyers for solar-plus-storage.

What criteria do you recommend shoppers look for when considering their storage-ready options?

Take a long look at the differences in power capacity you get from the batteries that are available to you. The amount of available power when the system is islanding (performing without a grid connection) is a major factor in the buyer’s satisfaction with the system’s performance; it can be the difference between whether or not you have a well pump running when the grid fails.

Also ensure you get a system that offers scalability — as your home’s electrical loads change over time and the price of lithium ion batteries continues to fall, you may find yourself wanting to upgrade your energy storage capacity down the line.

How is Pika Energy’s storage-ready offering different from other options on the market?

The Pika Energy Island is designed with three key principles in mind:

  1. Simple installation
  2. Scalability & flexibility
  3. More power and efficiency

We made the Energy Island simple to install by eliminating the autotransformer that other systems require for islanding performance and by building the automatic transfer switching into the inverter, so it seamlessly disconnects from the grid and powers the home’s protected loads instantaneously and automatically.

We made the system flexible and scalable by building a DC combiner box into the inverter itself, so you can connect any combination of solar and batteries on the combiner (e.g. with a single Pika Islanding Inverter, you can use 10kW of solar and up to 30kWh of batteries, or 7.5kW of solar and 45kWh of batteries, etc.)

We delivery more power than other options on the market because the Energy Island system is transformerless and can surge at up to 10kW of AC power.  We deliver higher efficiency because the Harbor Smart Battery™, which we co-developed with Panasonic Eco Solutions, is DC-coupled to the Energy Island system for exceptionally high conversion efficiency, whereas other systems on the market are often AC-coupled, meaning they require two inverters and incur more efficiency losses.

What types of storage options (e.g. battery systems) are compatible with your offering?

We offer three compatible battery options as of August 2017.

The Harbor Smart Battery™ is available in two sizes, 10kWh and 15kWh of usable energy. The third option is Coral™, our deep-cycle backup battery solution using conventional AGM batteries. These options are all UL-listed and available to order, and all are directly DC-coupled to the Energy Island system.





Don



Storage-ready solar Q&A: SMA America

Designing a “storage-ready” solar panel system is the first step to ensuring that you’re set up for success when you decide to move forward with a solar battery for your home or business. EnergySage spoke with Timothy Stocker, Product Manager, Energy Storage at SMA America for his perspective on storage-ready solar.

What is the value proposition for a “storage-ready” solar product for residential customers?

The value proposition for an on-grid storage-ready solution for residential customers is that it gives the end customer the option to add storage at the time of PV installation or at a later date with minimal effort. The customer may not have the resources to install storage at the time, or may not be in a utility service territory where it would make sense to add storage, so a storage-ready solution offers great flexibility. For backup-based applications, it makes sense to install storage at the time of the solar project due to the complexity of such installation.

Who should consider installing a storage-ready solar option now?

People in high energy usage areas like Hawaii and Arizona should consider installing a storage-ready solar option now, as well as people who live in areas where utility policies are in flux (such as Nevada, where the net metering debate is happening) – or anywhere where rate structures have shown some volatility. Anyone who lives in areas of inclement weather where hurricanes, superstorms and other unpredictable weather patterns are common should also consider this option.

For on-grid customers who cannot budget for a storage system at the time of installation or are in a utility territory where storage doesn’t make sense right away, a storage ready system can help alleviate some burdens. This is really only the case with a DC-coupled architecture that requires you to add hardware that will not be used until the energy storage system (i.e. battery) is installed. Installing a storage-ready system in an AC-coupled architecture is quite simple and can be as easy as adding a breaker, or for more advanced installers, installing an “energy system ready” load panel, which includes a 60+ amp-rated feeder directly tied to the meter.

Consumers should keep in mind that in order to easily claim the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for the storage portion of a system, it should be installed at the same time as the PV portion. If the storage system is installed later, claiming the ITC is more difficult. Other incentive programs can help with this problem, such as California’s Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which helps fund the capital investment and has performance guarantees associated with it.

What criteria do you recommend shoppers look for when considering their storage-ready options?

Power capacity vs. energy capacity – Customers should be familiar with power and energy requirements, and kilowatt (kW) vs. kilowatt hour (kWh). Customers and installers should be aware of the power requirements for a customer’s household load, depending on the application. Batteries are sized in kW and kWh, whereas inverters are just sized in kW or instantaneous power. It’s best to make sure the inverter is properly aligned with the battery in terms of power capacity to fully utilize the inverter’s power output. Shoppers should also ask how to increase their capacity in a system without having to add another inverter, even when they don’t need the extra power.

Backup needs – Customers should be aware of the product’s backup options. They should ask how it works, what other hardware is required, and what the load/power requirements are. Backup calculations can quickly get complicated because the calculation requires a load study to determine what the system characteristics should look like.

Future proofing – Customers should familiarize themselves with the brands that will be installed. How stable is the company/brand? How long have they been around? What will happen if they go bankrupt, and how will that affect the customer’s warranty? What does their service and support structure look like? This is extremely important with battery manufacturers, as we have seen many come and go, and this will continue to be the trend as the market grows. Another question to ask is, “What happens when I want to add more energy capacity (kWh)”? Choosing the right products and right technology will ultimately allow the customer to hit their ROI sooner and complete the shift from a consumer to a prosumer.

How is SMA America’s storage-ready offering different from other options on the market?

SMA’s new Sunny Boy Storage–US battery inverter, which will start delivery later this year, is an AC-coupled architecture inverter that allows for easy installation regardless of the PV system. This means you design and install it independently of a renewable energy system, which allows for the best flexibility and scalability. It features three independent DC inputs that can be attached to three different batteries from three different manufacturers with three different chemistries and three different voltage windows. This is incredibly unique, and allows for ultimate future proofing. As we saw with Tesla’s Powerwall 1, it’s hard to know how long a battery storage manufacturer will produce and support its products. Having multiple independent DC inputs allows customers to use the latest technology without having to worry about compatibility issues in the future.

The Sunny Boy Storage-US product line includes built-in energy management functions to best match different use cases, such as time-of use (ToU) or zero-export using a meter from our qualified energy meter supplier list.

SMA’s Backup Unit will allow for whole-home backup or a protected-loads panel, depending on the customers need.

What types of storage options (e.g. battery systems) are compatible with your offering?

Ultimately SMA’s inverter is battery agnostic, but the battery does need to fit within the voltage input window of the inverter (150 – 550 Vdc) and the battery needs to communicate with the inverter though the BMS interface. The Sunny Boy Storage-US inverter is compatible with many battery manufacturers including LG Chem and others as they come to market with their products. SMA specifically engineered the Sunny Boy Storage to offer the industry’s most versatile solution, simplifying the job of PV installers.





Don



Storage-ready solar Q&A: Enphase

Designing a “storage-ready” solar panel system is the first step to ensuring that you’re set up for success when you decide to move forward with a solar battery for your home or business. EnergySage spoke with Matt Allan, Product Marketing Manager at Enphase for his perspective on storage-ready solar.

What is the value proposition for a “storage-ready” solar product for residential customers?

While ‘storage-ready’ solar products might be interesting, residential solar customers are encouraged to select home energy solutions that provide an integrated system. Such a system will combine solar energy production, consumption monitoring, and storage out of the box, even if storage is added later. As with many consumer electronics and devices, solar consumers should select home energy systems that are built for plug-and-play simplicity; adding storage to a solar system should be as simple and flexible as possible. So yes, ‘storage-ready’ is generally good, but ‘built for native integration’ is better.

Who should consider installing a storage-ready solar option now?

The US market for solar + storage is varied and dynamic. Fifty states each have different utility districts (some have several), and each district has nuanced and different approaches to energy production and the integration of distributed energy resources.

In Hawaii, for example, the local utility has introduced a zero-export rate scheme, which makes solar + storage significantly more attractive for new solar systems. In many US states, utilities are adjusting the value of net metering for consumers. Solar consumers are well-advised by working with a solar professional to understand the mix of solar and storage that is right for them, given their economic goals and the status quo dictated by the local utility.

What criteria do you recommend shoppers look for when considering their storage-ready options?

System sizing for rooftop solar is relatively simple. The main question involved is, how much energy does the homeowner want to produce? To optimize sizing for a system with solar generation and energy storage, especially where the homeowner will pay time-of-use rates for electricity, installers must address energy pricing variables. It’s not enough to simply match storage system size with the size of the rooftop solar system. From a system choice perspective, the following are important criteria:

  • All components of the solar + storage system should work together seamlessly
  • All components of the solar + storage system must be able to be monitored and managed from a single, integrated control system.
  • The control system must include native consumption monitoring
  • Since every house is different, storage systems must be flexible enough to right-size the storage capacity. When homeowners avoid the one-size-fits-all fallacy of storage devices, they avoid over-purchasing storage.
  • Use systems and devices that are smart grid ready, or ones that can be easily upgraded for advanced functionality

How is Enphase’s storage-ready offering different from other options on the market?

The Enphase Storage System is built around a modular architecture, delivering smaller blocks of storage so our customers always get a competitive price of installation. Storage is truly a ‘one size fits none’ product category. Starting with 1.2 kilowatt-hours of capacity, you can take the first step to improve home energy management now and easily expand the system later as your family grows or you add an electric vehicle.

The Enphase Storage System is designed around smart about electricity usage. The system supports time-of-use utility pricing and energy self-consumption right out of the gate. It can also deliver added value through electricity rate arbitrage—storing up energy when rates are low and discharging when rates are high—and grid services that qualify for compensation, such as frequency regulation.

Safety was a primary consideration in the design of the Enphase Storage System. That’s why we selected battery cells that meet the highest global safety standards, cells that minimize risk of thermal runway and do not catch fire even if punctured by a needle, crushed, or overcharged. Like the Enphase Microinverter System, the storage system also does not expose consumers and their families to high-voltage DC power.

The Enphase Storage System is a fully integrated solution that can deliver faster installation, easier commissioning, and a more satisfying user experience. The Enphase Storage System follows a three-step installation process, one that enabled a NABCEP certified installer to complete a 4.8 kWh project in 1 hour and 40 minutes. There is no separate inverter purchase required, and the Enphase AC Batteries integrates seamlessly with the communications gateway, the Envoy, used for the PV system. The Enlighten platform provides extensive visibility and control so users can monitor performance and interact with a wide range of smart appliances, including those already on the market and those that have yet to arrive.

What types of storage options (e.g. battery systems) are compatible with your offering?

The Enphase Home Energy solution is natively (plug-and-play) compatible with Enphase AC Batteries. The Enphase AC Battery product is compatible with any PV system.





Don



Storage-ready solar Q&A: SolarEdge

Designing a “storage-ready” solar panel system is the first step to ensuring that you’re set up for success when you decide to move forward with a solar battery for your home or business. EnergySage spoke with Lior Handelsman, VP of Marketing & Product Strategy and Founder of SolarEdge, for his perspective on storage-ready solar.

What is the value proposition for a “storage-ready” solar product for residential customers?

Installing storage-ready solar helps homeowners be ready for the future. As the cost of batteries decreases, storage is continuing to become a more feasible solution to increase self-consumption and provide back-up energy. When homeowners have a storage-ready system, they can, in the future, easily increase their self-consumption and gain energy independence.

Who should consider installing a storage ready solar option now?

Anyone installing residential PV should ensure that their system is storage-ready, especially since there is no added cost. This will allow them to easily upgrade their systems. Homeowners who should already install PV+ storage are those in areas where there is no feed-in tariff or those who want increased energy independence, irrelevant of incentive structures.

What criteria do you recommend shoppers look for when considering their storage ready options?

These are the key tips:

  1. The battery’s capacity needs to meet energy demands
  2. The battery’s charging and discharge rate needs to meets demand
  3. The battery should have a high-power rating
  4. The battery and inverter should have flexible installation, warranted for both indoor and outdoor installation
  5. Both the battery and inverter should have long-term warranties with wide warranty coverage
  6. For backup power, the inverter and battery work in backup mode
  7. Select a DC-coupled battery system so there is minimal energy loss and to increase the amount of energy that can potentially be routed to the battery
  8. The inverter is just as important as the battery, since it is the energy manager. Make sure to select a high-quality inverter.

How is SolarEdge’s storage-ready offering different from other options on the market?

Solar energy is created in DC and energy is stored in DC, while the home uses energy in AC. Most PV + storage inverter solutions, convert PV energy from DC to AC and then back to DC again for storage purposes. On the other hand, SolarEdge designed its inverter to work with batteries versus against them, like many typical solutions. This means that the energy flows directly from the PV to the battery without these unnecessary conversions. And since each conversion leads to energy losses, this set up provides more energy for the homeowner.

SolarEdge offers a simple user experience. Homeowners can have full visibility into their PV production, storage status, consumption, and self-consumption via one monitoring app.

As part of SolarEdge’s standard PV solution, its DC optimized inverter also allows for further energy production and enhanced safety. The power optimizers that are attached to each module to manage and monitor energy production, means that more energy is produced from the PV system, which in turn makes more energy available for battery storage. This same module-level management enables power optimizers to reduce the DC voltage to a safe voltage in PV wires whenever AC power is off. Called SafeDC™, this technology meets the strictest safety standards.

What types of storage options (e.g. battery systems) are compatible with your offering?

Currently, SolarEdge’s StorEdge solution is compatible with LG Chem’s new high voltage RESU10H and RESU7H batteries.





Don



Solar panel battery banks: use solar and batteries to power your home without the grid

solar panel battery banks

Home energy storage has featured frequently in the news over the past few months thanks to new battery products from companies like Tesla, LG and Mercedes-Benz. These products are popular for a reason: when you pair solar panels with a battery bank at your home or business, you can actually operate independently from the electric grid. However, not all solar batteries are created equal. Here’s the rundown on what it actually takes to use a solar panel battery bank to go off the grid.

Continue reading