At Solaflect, we run into lots of frequently asked solar questions. As one of the premiere solar installers in Northern New England, we have answers.

Putting a solar tracker in your backyard to reduce your carbon footprint can be a daunting prospect. You have questions about cost, feasibility, options, etc. Why a tracker instead of a roof-mounted solar panel? What’s the expected ROI? We provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about solar panels, solar power, solar trackers, and renewable energy.

If there are things you’d like to discuss or you have questions that remain unanswered, please feel free to contact us.

Three key factors provide solar trackers with an overall advantage over fixed-mount arrays; solar trackers produce more energy — typically around 40 percent.

Solar Trackers follow the sun all day long

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. (Check out this trove of information from the National Weather Service for more on the equinox, seasons, and the tilt of the earth.)

The Solaflect 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 three 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.

solar trackers produce more energy than fixed panels because they track the sun throughout the day

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 Tracker will perform for you. Contact us to schedule your free site visit.

Solar Trackers 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.

The Solaflect PV Tracker, on the other hand, turns to face the sun throughout the day, from sunrise to sunset, every day of the year. All of the potential light is received by the solar panels, allowing them to perform their best and produce more energy than fixed panels.

You can learn much more about the math and physics behind solar panel tilt here.

solar trackers produce more energy than fixed panels because they face the sun all the time

Solar Trackers Shed Snow Automatically

In New England, snow is a regular part of life for a significant portion of the year. A solar panel with snow on it will not produce much, if any, energy.

If you have a fixed-mount solar array, you either need to be able to safely access your panels to brush them clean, or leave snow on them until it melts off by itself. Depending on the weather, this might take weeks to happen.

Meantime, the Solaflect PV Tracker spends all night in the vertical orientation. Whatever snow that might have accumulated on it during a daytime snowfall sloughs off. Snow that falls at night passes right by the upright panels. A little skim of snow may stick to the panels, but this burns off within an hour or two of the next sunshine. Because they lose virtually no production to snow accumulation, solar trackers produce more energy than snow-covered fixed panels.

Solar trackers produce more energy than fixed panels thanks to their ability to shed snow

The image above shows a comparison between a fixed-mount array and a Solaflect PV Tracker on March 3, 2015. As you can see, the Tracker is perfectly clean, taking in all the available sunlight. The fixed-mount array, on the other hand, is fully covered in snow and producing zero energy. If you look closely, you can see that over the course of the winter, snow on the fixed-mount array has been sliding off always to the same place, so that a snow bank has formed. The snow bank is so tall that it reaches up to the bottom edge of the array. Even if the panels warm up a little so that the snow would be able to slide off, the snow has nowhere to go—it is trapped on the fixed panels because of the snow bank.

The Tracker does not have any issues with creating snow banks, because it moves throughout the day and is vertical at night. The snow from each different snow fall tends to fall off in different places, so no one place develops a bank.

One of our commercial customers, who has both fixed-mount panels and Solaflect PV Trackers, shared their production data with us. Their 60-kW fixed-mount array produced a total of 139 kWh in a typical winter month. Meanwhile, their 84-kW Tracker array produced 9,750 kWh. Adjusting for the difference in capacity, the solar tracker produced 50 times more energy than the fixed-mount solar panel array!

Click here to learn more about the advantages of a Solar Tracker and its performance in snow.

Sonnen home battery storage solution

Home battery storage is a logical next step to take once you’ve realized the advantages of going solar.

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.

Home battery storage 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 five times the standard price for electricity during the highest usage times of the day when the grid is most taxed. Once home battery storage is installed, energy can be drawn from the battery during those expensive times of day, avoiding the higher priced energy from your utility.

Click here to learn more about the best-in-class sonnen batteries, Solaflect’s preferred home battery storage solution.

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!

This house in Thetford, VT was a good candidate for a backyard solar tracker

A Solar Tracker Works If You Have Room

Your home is suitable for a solar tracker 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. 

Or if Your Roof Can’t Take Regular Solar Panels

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. If that’s the case for you, then your home might be suitable for a solar tracker instead. 

A Solar 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 percent 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!

it's always a good time to go solarSolar Loans Make Going Solar Affordable

With favorable solar loans of 3.99% from our partners at Mascoma Bank and VSECU, you can go solar for no up-front 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 percent 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 percent per year on your investment in a Tracker.  This compares really favorably to the low single digit percentage 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 percent 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 percent 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 percent 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.

Solaflect’s Solar Trackers make Going Solar Even More Affordable

By following the sun throughout the day, a Solaflect Solar Tracker provides over 40 percent 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 percent more production per panel) or up to 30 panels mounted on a less optimal-facing roof. Click here to learn more about the difference between solar trackers and traditional solar panels, and why this is the right time to go solar.  

Prices Will Drop — But So Will Incentives to Go Solar

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.

Your Electricity Is Only Going to Get More Expensive

Investing in solar energy protects you from the 2.5 to 3 percent 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 five to 15 years depending on your location, solar exposure, utility, etc.), the remaining years are free electricity.

Going Solar is Future Proof

Any time is the right time to go solar: this is one renewable energy source that will only become obsolete if the sun stops shining or we no longer use electricity.

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!

A solar tracker fits almost anywhere in your back yard

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 solar Tracker that works best, both to generate the most power and maximize your investment, and what works best aesthetically on your property.

Learn more about whether your house is a candidate for a solar tracker here

How much space does a Backyard 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?

The benefit of a solar Tracker is greatest if there is open solar exposure to the South, East and West. 

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 two 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!

Take a ride on the Solar Coaster! 

The solar power production of 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. (Learn more about solar and daylight here.)

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.

A Typical Year of Solar Power Production

The chart below shows the solar power production from one of our customers’ residential solar Trackers over a two year period. A peak month’s energy generation can be more than four times that of a minimal month, and seasonally summer is nearly twice as productive as winter.

solar power production in the course of a typical new england year
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.

And click here to learn more about why a solar Tracker is particularly efficient at generating more power — both during the extremely long summer days, as well as snowy winter days in new England.

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!

To explain 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).

Difference between kW and kWh

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!

Yes, Solaflect’s installations allow you to monitor the solar power production of your solar tracker in real time. We use several different brands of inverters for our solar Trackers. Inverters are internet connected, and come with free web portals that allow give you a window into 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!

Capacity vs Actual Production

The tradition in the solar industry is to compare solar power 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 solar 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 solar 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?”)

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 solar 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 Comparing Solar Power System Costs

We 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.

 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

When you’re done comparing solar power system costs, make sure to take a look here to figure out what your options are for financing your solar 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!

Typical Utility Bill showing home energy usageYour Utility Bill

Keeping a close eye on your home energy usage makes good sense. 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.

Whole Home Energy Device

If you want to determine the biggest energy loads in your home, 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 home energy usage.

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!

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 using an electric heat pump (aka “mini-split”), and the most efficient way to heat hot water is with a heat pump water heater.*  Heating your home is roughly 40 percent of the average homeowner’s annual overall expense for power (the other two slices of the pie are 40 percent for transportation – largely gas, and 20 percent for household electricity).  So switching to heat pumps to heat your home significantly drops your oil/propane/etc. bill while bumping up your electric bill. 

Heat Pump

But if you can power that additional electricity demand with a solar Tracker – electricity that can be up to 25 percent less expensive than what your utility charges – you can see overall savings well into the $1,000’s.  Click here to learn more.

What exactly is a heat pump?

A heat pump is an electrically powered device 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, the energy you will use with a heat pump 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 how much electricity will you use with a heat pump? 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.”

You might also want to take a look here, to see what your options are for powering an electric vehicle with solar, and here to learn about the electricity requirements when switching to an electric dryer or oven/stove.

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!

Yes, there’s enough sunlight in New England to go solar. While the grass is always greener on the other side, and the sun always shines brighter in retirement states, 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, created by the National Renewable Energy Lab, showing solar irradiance (aka sunlight) across the United States:

NREL map shows we've got enough sunlight for solar in New England

While other parts of the country clearly get more, we do get enough sunlight to make solar power feasible — especially since the price of electricity is so much higher in New England.

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!

electric vehicle power consumption

While switching to an electric vehicle will save on gas, an eV will increase your power bill. But 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 solar Tracker in Vermont, New Hampshire or Massachusetts, depending on the Tracker’s location.

Click here to learn more about powering your eV with a solar tracker and further reducing your electric vehicle power bill. 

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!

Power home appliances with solar energy

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. It’s only natural to be concerned about how much a switch to electric appliances will increase your power bill. 

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 percent less energy than a standard electric stove. (Incidentally, they report that the induction stove uses a whopping 93 percent less energy than a gas stove!) Keep in mind that converting to an induction stove doesn’t mean using 30 percent less energy overall for cooking, since induction only works on the stovetop, not in the oven.

In addition to your regular appliances, it’s also well worth considering a switch to a heat pump, and swapping out your internal combustion engine vehicles with an electric or plug-in hybrid car. All of those options become even more attractive and cost effective if you install a solar tracker to help power them. You’ll appreciate what it does to your power bill. 

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!

You can use solar to charge your electric vehicle

So, you’re eager to plug in and charge your electric vehicle using solar power? Well, 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 percent transportation – fuel for vehicles
  • 40 percent heating – propane, heating oil, etc.
  • 20 percent general household electricity

Traditionally, solar energy only tackled that 20 percent ‘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 percent slices at an ever-increasing rate.  And with the big guys, like General Motors, predicting that a full 50 percent 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 You Pick a Plug-In Hybrid Car

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, or just want to start exploring the topic, we’d encourage you to have a look at this helpful tool. Once you pick the car and install your solar Tracker, you’ll be ready to use solar to charge your electric vehicle.

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 solar 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!

how net metering works

Net metering works by allowing the grid to act as a giant battery for your solar power system. 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.

But What happens To the 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 three 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!

We Know About Snow

As a Vermont-based company, we know snow, and we know that solar panels covered with snow don’t do anyone much good. Solar on rooftops or on fixed panels on the ground may continue to produce some power with a coating of snow, but they may lose up to 15 percent of their annual potential production due to snow cover. 

Trackers don’t have that problem.  Why? It’s a gravity thing.  First, the winter sun is already low in the sky so a solar Tracker’s 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 solar 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.

solar trackers work well in snow

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 three straight weeks. 

Solar trackers generate power even with ample snow cover

Tracker mounted solar panels get back to work fast, and they make the most of the limited sunlight during short winter days. Click here to learn more about the increased efficiency of tracker mounted panels any time of year.

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!

solar and property taxes

Many homeowners wonder what will happen to their home’s property value and property taxes if they add solar panels.

A number of studies have looked at the question of solar and property value over time. The largest and most thorough to date was published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in 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 solar Tracker has between 4 kW and 6kW (4,000 to 6,000 watts) of capacity. You can find the full report here.

Vermont Property Taxes and Solar Power

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 eight Solaflect solar 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!

There is room to mow under tracker mounted solar panels

Yes, you can mow under the solar panels mounted on your Solaflect Solar Tracker. Available head and working space beneath the solar Tracker will depend on the time of day and day of year. That’s because the solar panels are tilted to face directly at the sun, and as the sun travels the tilt of the array changes. As a result, the amount of space underneath the lowest edge of the bottom row of solar panels changes.

When the solar Tracker is in the vertical position before sunrise and after sunset, the bottom edge of the panels is approximately four feet above the ground. While that would enable you to easily mow under your solar panels with a push mower, you might risk a 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 solar Tracker is tilted enough that the clearance beneath the panels is five feet or more from about 10:15 am through 3:45 pm. By Summer Solstice, you’ve got five feet or more of clearance from about 8:30 am through 5:15 pm.

Oh, and did you know they now make solar powered lawn mowers? Or that sheep make excellent organic mowers for big solar installations? 

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!

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