How Does a Solar Tracker Perform in Snow?

As a Vermont-based company, we know snow, and snow-covered solar panels don’t do anyone any good. Solar on rooftops or on fixed panels on the ground lose up to 15% of their annual production due to snow cover.  But Trackers don’t have that problem.  Why? It’s a gravity thing.  First, the winter sun is already low in the sky so a Tracker’s solar panels are already a steep surface since they’re always pointed right at the sun, meaning the snow will naturally slide off quickly. And second, a Tracker ‘sleeps’ vertical at night, facing east waiting for the sun to rise and to begin tracking again.  So any remaining snow from a daytime snowfall slides off, and any nighttime snowfall isn’t landing on a Tracker’s solar panels.

For further proof, just look at the power production on a 4 kW Solaflect Solar Tracker during February of 2015, one of the coldest and snowiest Februaries in memory, and a month during which rooftop solar panels were covered for over 3 straight weeks.

Solar Snow Fall

Can Home Battery Storage Work For Me?

Grid-tied solar installations like our Solaflect Tracker work great for producing lots of energy and essentially saving the excess to the grid when it’s not being used at home, but what happens when the grid goes down?  The quick answer is that the inverter on your solar installation immediately shuts down (to protect the utility line workers trying to fix the grid) and you’ll stop producing solar energy until the grid is restored. Many people don’t realize that you can’t produce power during a grid outage unless you have a battery storage system.  

A home storage battery will take over responsibility of covering your electricity loads in your house while the grid is down, and will also allow your solar to continue producing power to recharge the battery.  Generally, a battery backup system should be designed to cover limited (mission critical) loads for a number of hours or perhaps a day or two. For extended outages, a battery in conjunction with a Solaflect Tracker can produce enough power to run critical loads in your home for a period of several days (provided there is ample sun to produce power).

A battery also offers the flexibility to “future-proof” your home, and pocketbook, in preparation for widely-expected “time of use” rates the utilities will be charging (like they already do in states like California) — premium rates of up to 5x the standard price for electricity during the highest usage times of the day when the grid is most taxed.  Once a battery is installed, energy can be drawn from the battery during those expensive times of day, avoiding the higher priced energy from your utility.  

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How Do I Compare a Proposal From Solaflect With One From Another Solar Installer?

The tradition in the solar industry is to compare system costs according to their “cost per watt” of capacity. “Capacity” is the ability of the solar panels to produce a certain amount of electricity when exposed to light. More specifically, it is a measure of how much electricity the panels will generate when they are at a specific temperature and are exposed to light of a specific intensity. For example, a solar array rated at 5 kilowatts (kW) will produce 5 kW of direct current electricity under standardized conditions. The amount of electricity created by the panels will vary if the temperature or intensity of light change.

(Before going further, it may help to understand the difference between a kilowatt and a kilowatt-hour.)

If you are comparing one installer’s proposal to put solar on your roof against another installer’s proposal to put solar on your roof, then comparing cost-per-watt is perfectly reasonable, as long as both installers propose to use similar quality equipment.

However, the Solaflect PV Tracker is qualitatively different from usual fixed-mount solar arrays. The advantage of the Tracker is precisely that it uses its solar panel capacity a great deal more effectively than do fixed-mount arrays. In particular, the Tracker ensures that the panels receive more intensity of light, because it keeps the panels facing directly at the sun at all times. Solar panels in a fixed orientation receive light from an indirect angle at virtually all times throughout the year, and therefore the light landing on them has less intensity.

As a result, solar panels with 5 or 6 kW of capacity in the Solaflect PV Tracker will deliver 40%+ more energy—measured in kilowatt-hours—than the same solar panels in a fixed array. (See “How does the Solaflect PV Tracker make more energy?” parts 1, 2, and 3.)

And energy is what you want. Capacity is merely a means to the end of producing energy. Your electric bill is calculated on the basis of energy—of kWhs. If you want to reduce your electric bill with a solar array, you want the array that will give you the most energy, the most kWhs, at the best cost.

Nine times out of ten, the most cost-effective solar option for you is going to be the Solaflect PV Tracker.

When you want to compare a proposal from Solaflect with one from another installer, ignore cost-per-watt since that is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Instead, calculate the cost-per-kWh using the expected kWh production from the first year. Of course, any solar array will continue producing energy long past the first year. Limiting this mathematical exercise to the first year is just to make it easier and quicker to get an apples-to-apples comparison.

To do this, look at the proposals and find the cost for the solar array, then divide this number by the expected kWhs to be produced in the first year. Using this value, cost-per-kWh, you can then make fair comparisons between any set of solar proposals.

A real-life example.

We recently provided a proposal to a Vermont resident for one Solaflect Tracker mounted with 320 watt panels (each Tracker is mounted with 16 panels with varying wattage depending on a customer’s energy usage) . This resident also received a proposal from another installer for an array that would go on the house roof. The homeowner has a gorgeous place, both as a home and for solar access with almost no shade at all from trees, buildings or ridge lines.

Here are the numbers to compare the two proposals.

 SolaflectAlternative installer
1. System cost (after tax credit)$26,530$31,375
2. System capacity8,000 watts (8 kW)8,520 watts (8.52 kW)
3. Cost-per-watt (traditional measure): Row 1 divided by Row 2$3.32$3.68
4. Solaflect cost advantage on capacity basis9.8% less than the alternative
5. Expected energy delivered in 1st year12,582 kWhs8,470 kWhs
6. Solaflect energy production advantage48.5% more than the alternative
7. Cost-per-kWh (first year production only): Row 1 divided by Row 5
This is your apples-to-apples comparison.
$2.11$3.70
8. Solaflect cost advantage on energy basis43.1% less than the alternative

The precise values in this example are the result of the particulars at the home site, but they are indicative of the sort of value Solaflect customers receive. If you are thinking of going solar (and you should be!), and you have the space in your yard or field, it’s helpful to get an estimate for a Solaflect Tracker to compare to traditional rooftop solar pricing. 

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How Does Solar Affect Property Values and Property Taxes?

Many homeowners wonder what will happen to their home’s property value if they add solar. A number of studies have looked at this question. The largest and most thorough to date was conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and published in January 2015. It looked at data from eight states over a fifteen year time period. On average, home values increased by $4 per watt of installed solar capacity. Depending on the wattage of the panels used, one Solaflect PV Tracker has between 4 kW and 6kW (4,000 to 6,000 watts) of capacity. See the report here.

Vermont Property Taxes and Solar Power

Note that in Vermont, state law exempts solar equipment from being assessed for property taxation, so long as the solar array is smaller than 50 kW in size (that is, fewer than 8 Solaflect PV Trackers). 

New Hampshire Property Taxes and Solar Power

In New Hampshire, each town has the option to exempt solar from property taxation. Details regarding the towns that have adopted an exemption are available here. New Hampshire residents interested in solar should contact their local government to confirm the exact details for their town.

Massachusetts Property Taxes and Solar Power

Massachusetts law provides that solar energy systems and wind energy systems used as a primary or auxiliary power system for the purpose of heating or otherwise supplying the energy needs of taxable property are exempt from local property tax for a 20-year period.  See the Department of Revenue’s Information Sheet to learn more.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Does New England Get Enough Sunlight for Solar to Make Sense?

The grass is always greener on the other side, and the sun always shines brighter in retirement states. Even so, New England has no trouble sustaining healthy yards and pastures, and we easily get enough sunshine for solar to be a sensible (and less expensive than your local utility) choice for energy production.  

Consider this map of the solar resource, created by the National Renewable Energy Lab:

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How Does Solar Production Vary Over the Year?

Aka, take a ride on the Solar Coaster!  The amount of electricity generated by a solar Tracker varies greatly from month to month. Days in December (in New England) are much shorter than in June. In December, each day lasts only about 9 hours. In June, each day lasts more than 15¼ hours, 70 percent longer than December’s day length.

In addition, weather patterns change throughout the season. These are not as reliable as the length of day, but we do tend to have cloudier weather in December which exacerbates that month’s low production.

Putting those factors together, you’ll understand why the number of kWhs generated from a Tracker will be quite different at different times of year. The chart below shows the production from one of our customers’ Trackers over a two year period. A peak month’s production can be more than 4 times that of a minimal month, and seasonally summer is nearly twice as productive as winter.

Monthly solar production and net metering value from a Solaflect PV Tracker

Most solar Tracker customers build up credit with their utility during the summer and use this credit to help offset winter electric bills.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How much more electricity will I use if I add a heat pump to my house?

If you are considering solar, the odds are good that you are also interested in being energy efficient in general. The most efficient way to heat a home is with a heat pump (aka “mini-split”), and the most efficient way to heat hot water is with a heat pump water heater.*

What exactly is a heat pump?

A heat pump is a mechanism that captures energy from one place, concentrates it, and delivers it as heat to another place. A window air-conditioner is a familiar type of heat pump, which captures energy from your indoor air and moves it to the outdoors. The result is a cooler indoor space and a (very slightly) warmer outdoors.

When people use the term “heat pump,” they are usually referring to a system that runs in the opposite direction: it captures energy from the outdoors and uses it to warm the indoors. “Cold-climate heat pumps” are versions specially designed to operate down to very low temperatures. Depending on the model, they can capture usable heat from the outdoors even when outdoor temperatures drop as low as -18°F.

Similarly, a heat pump water heater captures heat from the air in your basement and uses it to heat water for your shower and sinks.

The nature of the heat pump cycle means that heat pumps deliver useful heat far more efficiently than systems that generate new heat directly. This translates into energy savings and associated monetary savings.

If you start heating your home and/or water with heat pumps, this will reduce the amount of propane or heating oil you were using previously, while increasing the amount of electricity you are using. In almost all cases, what you spend on the electricity will be a good bit less than what you would be spending on fossil fuels. This is, of course, especially true if your electricity is generated with a solar Tracker.

So what will happen to your electrical usage if you go with heat pumps? According to Vermont’s Green Mountain Power (GMP), for example, use of a cold climate heat pump of the following sizes will result in approximately the following change in electric usage and cost. Naturally, the exact electricity use will vary from home to home based on many factors.

Electric usage from a cold climate heat pump (GMP)

Heat pump BTU ratingAvg. monthly bill increaseAvg. monthly kWh increaseAnnual bill increaseAnnual kWh increase
9,000$26163 kWh$3121,950 kWh
12,000$37231 kWh$4442,775 kWh
15,000$47294 kWh$5643,525 kWh
18,000$63394 kWh$7564,725 kWh
Source: Green Mountain Power

As for a heat pump water heater, here’s what that looks like.

Electric usage from a heat pump water heater

# peopleGallons used per dayAverage electricity usage to heat waterCost @ GMP residential rates
119.5716 kWh/yr60 kWh/month$10 per month
235.81,315 kWh/yr110 kWh/month$18 per month
352.01,910 kWh/yr159 kWh/month$26 per month
468.22,505 kWh/yr209 kWh/month$34 per month
584.43,101 kWh/yr258 kWh/month$42 per month
Sources: Parker & Fairey, “Estimating Daily Domestic Hot-Water Use in North American Homes” ; 10 CFR 430, Table III.3 Medium-Usage Draw Patterns ; calculations based on energy guide label.

True, a solar hot water system can be even more energy efficient, but we defer to Martin Holladay at Green Building Advisors that “solar thermal is dead.”

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Is there a way to monitor my home energy usage?

The easiest way to determine your average energy use is to take a look at your utility bill.  Most utilities will show your consumption history over the previous months and this will give you an idea of how much energy you use.  If you want to determine the biggest energy loads that your home has, there is a whole home energy device that can be installed that can help you narrow down each device’s energy use.  If you live in Vermont, Efficiency Vermont offers a $199 discount for the Sense Energy Monitor — a valuable insight into your energy use. 

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Powering An eV With Solar

One of the topics we discuss regularly with solar Tracker owners and prospects is the increasing ‘electrification of our lives’ to reduce our carbon footprint, and generate more of our overall power usage from renewable energy.  For the average New England family, that usage breaks out roughly as follows:

  • 40% transportation – fuel for vehicles
  • 40% heating – propane, heating oil, etc.
  • 20% general household electricity

Traditionally, solar energy only tackled that 20% ‘slice of the pie’, but the growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and mini-split heat pumps for home heating are both eating away at those big 40% slices at an ever-increasing rate.  And with the big guys, like General Motors, predicting that a full 50% of their overall vehicle fleet will be electric in a mere 10 years, it isn’t a question of if, but of when we’ll all be taking a close look at EVs. 

A Great Tool to Help Pick a Plug-In

The Sierra Club has put together a guide to electric vehicles that we found particularly helpful, including analysis of the following decision criteria broken out by vehicle, location, etc.:

  • Fuel savings
  • Oil savings
  • CO2 emission savings
  • State and local incentives
  • Exemptions/reduced fees
  • Tax credits
  • Utility programs

So if you’re considering an EV purchase anytime soon, or just want to start exploring the topic, we’d encourage you to have a look at this helpful tool.

And as a rough rule of thumb, a Solaflect Tracker produces enough power each year to take an EV about 20,000 miles down the road.  So the power from half a Tracker would provide enough ‘fuel’ for the 10,000 miles we typically use our vehicles each year. And the number we love the most? 74 cents.  That’s right, powering an EV with a solar Tracker translates into about 25 years of ‘fuel’ at 74 cents a gallon! So if the average driver spends roughly $3,000 a year filling up their vehicle, that’s over $2,000 of savings a year on fuel alone!  Not to mention no need for oil changes, less service cost, etc.We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

What is Net Metering, and how does it work?

How does Net Metering work?

Net metering allows the grid to be a giant battery for solar. When the sun shines, the electricity produced will be used to power your home, and your electric meter will not spin. When you produce more than you use, the excess electricity will flow back to the grid, and your meter spins backwards. When you do not produce enough solar electricity for your home, your meter spins forward as it always has.

What happens with extra electricity?

If you produce more electricity than you use in any given month, a credit for this electricity can be carried forward. This balance will be used to offset extra usage in future months. For most houses in New England, this means that extra solar electricity generated in the summer can be used to offset electricity usage in the winter. Solar will generate as much as 3 times more electricity during long summer days than during the short days of mid-winter.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Where Can I Put a Backyard Solar Tracker?

Solar tracker in Norwich, VT

How much space does a solar Tracker require?

A Solaflect solar Tracker will occupy a circle about 20 feet in diameter, and the post coming out of ground on which the Tracker is built is only a couple of feet in diameter.

How much daylight is needed at the site of the solar Tracker?

The benefit of a solar Tracker is greatest if there is open solar exposure to the South, East and West.  We’ll do a free site analysis to determine what your solar exposure is at several locations in your yard or field so you can compare and select a spot for a Tracker that works best, both to generate the most power and maximize your investment, and what works best aesthetically on your property.

How far away can the solar Tracker be from my house?

Ideally, we install solar Trackers within about 250 feet from where the wiring interconnects — whether at your house, or at a subpanel in your barn or garage, etc.  That said, we can install Trackers a great deal further away — there’s just additional cost for upgraded, longer run, bigger gauge wire to minimize voltage drop over longer distances, plus the cost of digging and backfilling a longer trench.

How does the electricity get to my house?

Wires from the Tracker to where it interconnects with your home are buried in a 2 foot deep trench.  If we run into ledge resulting in a shallower trench, we may need to use some concrete to meet electrical code.  We also install fiber optic cable in the trench which connects through your internet so we can communicate with and monitor the Tracker remotely.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Is My Home a Candidate for a Solar Tracker?

A Tracker makes sense if you have an open field or yard with decent solar exposure to the south, east and west, and the room for “a mature apple tree” (16 feet tall at its highest, and 20 feet wide)… which is roughly the size of a solar Tracker.  Many rooftops just aren’t suitable for solar — either the roof is oriented more east/west than north/south, nearby trees provide too much shade, roofs have gables or skylights, the roof surface just isn’t suitable for mounting solar panels, or people would just prefer not to drill holes in their roof.  A Tracker installed in your yard or field allows for a site selection that maximizes solar exposure. And since a Tracker ‘sleeps vertical’ at night, and is pretty steep all winter anyway since the sun is so low in the sky, it sheds snow quickly, saving the 15% or so of annual solar production usually lost from a snow-covered rooftop solar array.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Why Solar Energy Now?

Is Solar Affordable?

YES – with favorable solar loans of 3.99%, you can go solar for no upfront investment, if you choose, and only about $30 a month thereafter.  In other words, you can take out a solar loan for the full amount, and replace your electric bill with a monthly loan payment of about $30 more than what your electric bill was. Or, if you put about 20% of the cost of a solar Tracker installation down upfront, you can trade out your electric bill for an equivalent monthly loan payment and be “cash flow neutral” (pay about the same amount monthly) through the life of your solar loan, after which your electricity is essentially free for the remainder of the 25 year expected life of your Tracker.

With Solaflect’s leading technology, you can get an “after-tax” rate of return exceeding 8% per year on your investment in a Tracker.  This compares really favorably to the low single digit % returns of other investments with similar long-term, low risk profiles — the kind of investments often found in a retirement account, for example.  An investment in solar often provides over twice the rate of return as long term retirement-type investments. 

Another way to think about a solar investment is as a 25 year “pre-buy” of electricity, and the electricity rates that were available about 20 years ago.  Huh? Well, thanks to the 26% federal tax credit for solar, plus some incentive provided at the state level, you’re buying electricity at a significant discount.  Sure, you have to make the investment up front, but over your solar Tracker’s lifespan, you’ll likely end up paying over 20% less for electricity than what you would have paid your utility.  And because going solar means locking in a discounted price for electricity for 25 years, you’ve protected yourself from the average annual 3% or so price increases that utilities have imposed for the last 25 years — an added benefit if you’ll be on fixed income at some point in the future and want to protect against ever-increasing expenses.

How does Solaflect make Solar Energy affordable?

By following the sun throughout the day, a Solaflect Solar Tracker provides over 40% more electricity than the same number of PV modules mounted on the perfect south facing roof.  Put differently, the 16 solar panels mounted on a solar Tracker provide the same solar energy production as about 23 panels mounted on a south-facing roof (40% more production per panel)… or up to 30 panels mounted on a less optimal-facing roof.

Will Solar Energy be cheaper next year, and if so, should I wait?

The efficiency of solar panels continues to improve and the price of solar energy continues to drop, but the financial incentives to go solar — both at the federal and state levels — are decreasing faster than the cost savings, so the effective price of solar will (unfortunately) be steadily increasing.  This is a great time to invest in solar energy.

How does solar energy impact the annual increase in the price of electricity?

Investing in solar energy protects you from the 2.5% to 3% annual increase in the price of electricity for about 25 years (which is the solar panel manufacturer’s warranty on solar panels).  Much as you may have entered into a short term contract to ‘forward buy’ propane or heating oil to protect yourself from potential winter price increases, an investment in solar energy is doing the same thing, but for 25 years!  And once your investment in solar is paid off (in 5 to 15 years depending on your location, solar exposure, utility, etc.), the remaining years are free electricity.

Will the technology become obsolete?

Only if the sun stops shining and electricity becomes obsolete.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How much more electricity will I use if I switch to an electric dryer or oven/stove?

Many people looking to go solar want to take full advantage of solar as a source of clean, low-cost energy. This includes “electrifying” their lives by switching from gas to electric clothes dryers or electric stoves and ovens.

Efficiency Vermont provides estimates for the amount of electricity used by different sorts of appliances. They estimate that electric clothes dryers and electric stoves each use approximately 900 kWh per year, in the typical home. For Green Mountain Power customers, as an example, that works out to about $11 more on the electric bill per month for each appliance.

These values are for standard appliances. Heat pump clothes dryers use about half the energy of standard electric dryers. As Joe Rice at Green Building Advisors points out, heat pump clothes dryers can save energy indirectly as well, because they do not vent warm air out of the house in wintertime. That means your heating system doesn’t have to make up for the lost heat.

For cooking, you have the option of an induction stove instead of standard resistance electric version. According to Popular Mechanics, an induction stove uses 30% less energy than a standard electric stove. (Incidentally, they report that the induction stove uses a whopping 93% less energy than a gas stove!) Keep in mind that converting to an induction stove doesn’t mean using 30% less energy overall for cooking, since induction only works on the stovetop, not in the oven.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How much more electricity will I use if I drive an electric car?

Driving an electric vehicle is an efficient way to get around, both in terms of energy and money. DriveElectricVT estimates that the cost to drive an electric vehicle—either all-electric or plug-in hybrid—is equivalent to driving a gasoline car if gas is running at about $1 per gallon. And the cost for electricity is a lot more stable over time than the cost of gasoline.

If you are thinking about driving on electricity now or in the relatively near future, you may wonder about covering your electric vehicle’s needs with solar. The average American driver drives 13,476 miles per year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. An electric vehicle uses around 1/3rd of a kWh to drive 1 mile. That means to drive the average distance of 13,476 miles in a year, the car will go through 4,463 kWh. This is roughly 1/2 of the electric output of one Solaflect PV Tracker in Vermont, New Hampshire or Massachusetts, depending on the Tracker’s location.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Can I mow under my Solar Tracker?

Yes, you can mow under your Tracker. Your working space under the Tracker will depend on the time of day and day of year. That’s because the panels are tilted to face directly at the sun, and as the sun travels the tilt of the panels changes. As a result, the amount of space underneath the lowest edge of the panels changes.

When the Tracker is in the vertical position before sunrise and after sunset, the bottom edge of the panels is approximately 4 ft above the ground. You could easily mow under that with a push mower, but you’d risk collision if you were using a riding mower.

Of course, most mowing occurs during the day. On the Spring and Autumn equinoxes (on or about March and September 20th), the Tracker is tilted enough that the clearance beneath the panels is 5 ft or more from about 10:15 am through 3:45 pm. By Summer Solstice, you’ve got 5 ft or more of clearance from about 8:30 am through 5:15 pm.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Will I be able to monitor the production of my Tracker?

Yes, you will. Solaflect uses several different inverters for our PV Tracker arrays. Each inverter is internet connected, and the inverter companies provide free web portals so that you can see your solar production, which is updated continuously. You can see current production levels as well as historical production dating to the installation of your Tracker.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How large is a Tracker?

A Solaflect PV Tracker carries 16 solar panels. As a group, they cover an area approximately 20 feet wide by 12 feet high. The riser holds them up about 4 feet off the ground so that it won’t be a snow plow as it rotates in wintertime.  So at its tallest (before sunrise and after sunset), a Tracker is about 16 feet high.

The space the Tracker takes up visually depends on the time of day and season. If it is vertical and facing directly at the viewer, it looks at its largest.  

IMG_20150925_172808147_small

If it is tilted up toward the sun and/or rotated away from the viewer, it fills less visual space. At the minimum perspective, it comes close to disappearing into the background.

20150729_114739_small

All in all, a Tracker takes up a similar amount of visual space as a mature apple tree. If you stand right next to it, it feels somewhat large. If you are 50 feet away or more, its scale is much smaller.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

Will I Get Backup Power From My Tracker If the Utility Grid Is Down?

When Solaflect installs standard grid-connected systems (without home battery storage), a Tracker will not provide power when the utility grid is down. This is a National Electric Code safety feature built into the inverters. The inverter senses if the grid is operating normally, and the moment the grid goes down, the inverter stops solar power from flowing through it. This is to prevent power back flowing into the grid where it might harm line crews fixing the grid.

We now offer the option of a home battery storage system that stores power to cover your energy uses during power outages.  This smart battery system has many great features and essentially islands your home from the grid, providing backup power for your most critical needs until the grid power comes back on.  And during a power outage, a solar Tracker will recharge the battery… at least while the sun is shining. See more details on our battery solution here.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

What’s the difference between kW and kWh?

Let’s start with the terminology. A kilowatt (abbreviated as kW) is the same as 1,000 watts (or W). A kilowatt-hour (abbreviated as kWh) is the same as 1,000 watt-hours (or Wh).

A watt is a measure of the amount of power flowing at one moment in time. If a solar array has a capacity rating of 5 kW, then it is capable of putting out a flow of 5 kW of energy under the right conditions.

If that solar array produces at a rate of 5 kW for one hour of time, then it has created 5 kWh of energy.

Think of watts (or kW) as a car’s speed—its capacity to move at a certain rate—and watt-hours (or kWhs) as the distance the car travels. You might be in a car that is going wicked fast, but if it is only able to drive for 5 minutes at that speed before running out of gas, then it won’t take you far.

In general, what you need from your car is enough range or capacity to be able to get you to your destination. Similarly, for solar, your “destination” is the creation of enough kWhs of energy to cover the needs of everything in your life that uses electricity… or at least those that use electricity at home… which is how you reduce or eliminate your electric bill. If you can get those kWhs with the purchase of the fewest kW of capacity, you are getting the best value out of your investment.

And that’s what the Solaflect Tracker does.  By accurately tracking the sun, it generates the maximum possible number of kWhs of energy from the kW of solar panel capacity.  Pretty cool.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

What's happening with the Federal tax credit for solar — and home battery storage?

The “Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit” is a Federal income tax credit available worth 26% of the total cost of a solar array or home battery storage solution tied to a solar array. This is available for solar or batteries installed for primary and secondary residences. For a Solaflect PV Tracker, this is worth anywhere from about $5,500 to $7,500 depending on the Tracker purchased. The tax credit will be 26% through the end of 2020, after which it steps down to 22% through 2021, and is then scheduled to be eliminated.

Tax credits are different from tax deductions. To use a tax credit, you first calculate how much tax you owe for the year. Then, instead of paying that amount of tax, you apply the tax credit as “payment” instead. That means that the tax credit has full face value, unlike deductions.

If you have already paid taxes over the year through withholding, then applying the tax credit can translate into a larger refund. However, the solar tax credit is non-refundable. That means that if you owe less in Federal income taxes for the year than the size of the credit, you will not receive the difference as a refund. Instead, you can carry forward any unused portion of the tax credit to the next year’s taxes.

To claim the tax credit, use IRS form 5695. The Department of Energy also has information on the tax credit.

Please note that Solaflect cannot and does not give tax advice, so it’s important to consult with a tax professional who can review the specifics of your situation.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

What happens to the Tracker when it is windy?

Solaflect PV Trackers are installed with anemometers that are constantly measuring wind speed. If the wind speed gets high enough, the Tracker will “stow” in a horizontal orientation. By going flat, the Tracker presents only a thin edge to the wind, which then slides by easily.

Once the wind has calmed, the Tracker automatically returns to its normal tracking function. While in the stowed position, the panels are facing straight upward. If this happens during the daytime, the panels will still produce energy, even if not quite as much as when facing directly at the sun.

A Solaflect PV Tracker at dawn on a windy day.
A Solaflect PV Tracker at dawn on a windy day.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How do I find out if a Solar Tracker will work at my home or business?

If you are curious about a Solaflect PV Tracker for your home or business, please contact us to schedule a free site evaluation. During a site visit – which takes less than an hour – we will measure how much sun/shade you get at several locations in your yard or field, assess how solar would interconnect with your electrical system, assess other installation considerations, and obviously answer your questions.  We’ll then come back to you with a proposal — usually within 48 hours.

The more sunlight that falls on the Tracker, the more productive it will be, and the more value you will receive from it. We use a very cool camera called a Solmetric SunEye to measure the “solar access” on your property. This is a measure of the percentage of open sky vs. trees/ridgelines/buildings/etc. that block sunlight at any particular location, and it calculates that solar access for an entire year’s worth of sun. More solar access obviously means more sun for the Tracker.

Here is an example of an image taken by the Solmetric SunEye.

Sky05AnnualAccess_annotated

The image is taken with a fisheye lens, so the outer edge shows the level horizon, and the center of the image is the dome of the sky. You can see that the SunEye—which has built in GPS—has superimposed a curved grid. This grid covers the area of the sky where the sun will ever appear over the course of the entire year.

The curved line closest to the top of the image is labeled as December, showing the path of the sun in that month. It is shorter from left to right than the other lines (the days are shorter in December here in the Northern hemisphere) and it is closer to the edge of the image (the sun in December does not rise very high above the horizon).

The curved line closest to the center of the image is labeled as June. It is longer and shows how the sun in June goes high over head. You can see how the sun in summer rises and sets in the northern portion of the sky, at an extreme in June. The ability of the Tracker to turn and see the sun in the morning and evening when it is in the north is part of its productivity advantage. (See this FAQ.)

Though unlabeled, the path in July is pretty much the same as that in May, August’s path is pretty much the same as April’s, September’s pretty much the same as March’s, and so on.

The roughly vertical crossing lines represent the times of day, ignoring daylight savings time. So you can see that in December at this location, the sun rises at about 8 am and sets at about 4 pm. In June, sunrise is at about 5 am and sunset at about 7 pm.

The SunEye analyzes the contrast in the image and superimposes color coding to indicate whether that part of the sky (where the sun travels) is open to view or obstructed. Where it is open, there is a yellowish tint. Where there are obstructions such as trees, there is a greenish tint. So, for example, while the sun rises in theory at about 8 am in December, at this particular location it won’t be visible above the treeline until 9 am, a loss of an hour of potential solar production each December morning.

The SunEye then calculates the percentage of the grid area that is open vs. obstructed, and gives the result in terms of “solar access.” You can see in the image that this location worked out to have 89% solar access, or 11% shaded, over the course of the year, with variations by season.

We can customize the SunEye analysis, for example, to calculate what happens to solar access if one or more trees are removed. In the image below, we have “painted” sunlight over the tall pine tree in the northwest so that the SunEye will treat it as if it were an area of open sky. At this location, removing the pine would provide a gain of 2% additional solar access.

Sky05-AAnnualAccessb

With this solar access information, combined with data on average weather patterns (specifically, average cloudiness), we can calculate how much electrical production you should expect from a Tracker at your property. From there, we can determine the approximate savings you will see on your utility bill. All of this is included in the proposal that we send you shortly after the site visit.

Armed with this information, you will be able to decide if it makes sense for you to go solar with a Solaflect PV Tracker. If you are comparing proposals from Solaflect and other solar installers, be sure to read our FAQ on how to properly compare different proposals so that you make an apples to apples comparison.

We love talking about all things related to solar, so please reach out to us at info@solaflect.com or (802) 649-3700 if we can answer questions and help you think about how solar can cover an ever-increasing share of your family’s power usage!

How does a Solar Tracker Produce More Energy Than Fixed Solar Panels?

Three factors that add up to the Tracker’s overall advantage over fixed-mount arrays, typically around 40%.

Step 1: Longer Days

During the summer half of the year—from the day after the spring equinox to the day before the autumn equinox—the sun is rising out of the northeast and setting in the northwest (in the northern hemisphere). The “ideal” fixed-mount solar array is oriented due south, since that is the way that it will produce as much energy as it can. However, any time the sun is in the northern half of the sky, which occurs in the morning and afternoon for half of the year, the sun will then be behind the fixed array.

The Solaflect PV Tracker, on the other hand, turns to face the sun each dawn and follows it all the way through sunset. In essence, the Tracker experiences a longer day throughout the summer half of the year. The graph below shows how extreme the advantage can be. On the summer solstice here in Vermont, there are more than 3 hours that the Tracker can see the sun and produce power that is lost time to an ideally oriented fixed array. The other days of the summer half of the year are not quite as extreme, but all of them offer some amount of this advantage for tracking.

tracker vs fixed-mount clean v3

This is one of the three factors that add up to the Tracker’s overall advantage over fixed-mount arrays, typically around 40%. (Also see FAQs “Part 2: Face Directly at the Sun” and “Part 3: Shed Snow Automatically.”)

It’s true that this advantage is only available in full to those locations with an open view of the sky from sunrise to sunset. Trees, buildings, or hills to the east and west will reduce the tracking advantage to some extent. We offer free site assessments so that we can analyze your specific site conditions and let you know just how well the Solaflect PV Tracker will perform for you. Contact us to schedule your free site visit.

Step 2: Face directly at the sun at all times

Facing directly at the sun means receiving the maximum of the light’s energy. Sunlight falls on a fixed-mount solar array from an indirect angle at all times of the year except two moments. (The precise moments will depend on the tilt and orientation of the array. The ideal fixed-mount array will be perpendicular to the sun only at solar noon on the two equinoxes.) A seasonally adjusted array that has a different tilt for the summer and winter halves of the year will be perpendicular to the sun at only four moments.

Because of this indirect angle to the sun, some of the potential light is lost. Some passes by altogether, and some reflects off as glare. Read more