Heat Pumps: Solar’s All-Weather Friend

Winters in New England may be steadily warming due to climate change, but reliable home heating is still a must.  This doesn’t mean you have to burn fossil fuels to keep your home warm, though.  Electric heat pumps, running on solar power, can keep your house toasty warm even on the coldest winter days.  And with more summer heat waves in the offing, heat pumps can efficiently cool your home as well.

So what is this device that can magically pull heat from the air, ground or water, even at temperatures below freezing.  How do they work?  Should I get one for my home?  We’ve got answers for you.

“What is a heat pump?  How do they work?”

A heat pump operates on the same engineering principle as a home refrigerator or air conditioner.  It extracts energy from ambient heat outside your home, concentrates it with the aid of a refrigerant in a heat-exchanging coil, and delivers it as processed heat or cooling inside your home.  Most heat pumps in our area are air-sourced, but ground-source heat pumps also are an option for those with enough outdoor space (and money!) to lay out an underground piping system.  For a more technical description, check out this video

“What makes heat pumps so special?”

Heat pumps offer two main advantages.  First, they are highly energy efficient.  With an energy coefficient of performance (COP) of 3, they are capable of producing three kilowatts of thermal energy for every kilowatt of electricity they consume.  (Even the most efficient electric baseboard heaters and gas-fired boilers have a COP of 1 or less.)  Second, they can run on clean solar power, replacing carbon-based sources like heating oil, wood or propane.  Considering that residential and commercial space heating accounts for 11% of global warming emissions, heat pumps powered by solar can make a real dent in shrinking your carbon footprint.

“Is it cost-effective to run a heat pump with a Solaflect Tracker?”

As a rule of thumb, you can power a 10,000 Btu heat pump with about 2,400 kWh of electricity annually.  That works out to about one-third of the annual electricity production of a Solaflect Tracker.  A residential heat pump typically costs $4,000 – $8,000 to purchase and install.  (Your costs will vary depending on the size of your home, the type of unit selected, and the availability of rebates and other financing incentives). Payback times will be based mainly on avoided utility bills – more than $500 a month for some whole-house heat pumps — and the possible avoided costs of going without a home furnace.

“Can heat pumps really handle New England winters?”

In short, yes.  At outdoor temperatures of 5°F, cold-climate heat pumps continue to function at 100% heating capacity.  Even at -13°F, they can maintain up to 76% capacity.  For the coldest winter nights, room space heaters or wood stoves can serve as a back-up source of heat.

“How do I get the best value out of my heat pump?”

First, do your homework!  Correct sizing for your home is critical.  If you live in a cold pocket, you may want to over-estimate your HVAC needs somewhat to compensate for any efficiency losses.  Second, consider the condition of insulation in your home.  No matter how you heat your home, properly fitted insulation is the best and cheapest way to save on energy and keep your heat pump running optimally.

Heat Pump Reflections from a Solaflect Customer

John Sherman was tired of purchasing up to 1,000 gallons of heating oil for his home in Lebanon every year.   He wanted to cut down on his oil bill and carbon footprint, and had prior work experience installing heat pumps.  So he put together a plan to outfit his own home with heat pumps that would run on solar power eventually.

John purchased two Mitsubishi air-based heat pumps in December 2018, one for each floor of his house.  Once up and running, he monitored their electricity use for six months to spec out future demand on a solar array.  He also decided to keep his furnace as a back-up for cold winter months.  Now he’s burning less than 250 gallons a year, and he says the heat pumps are throwing out “great heat” even on cold winter days.  And he’s loving the air conditioning that the heat pumps provide during hot summer weather.  To maximize the year-round benefits, John also added more insulation to his home’s attic and walls.

Before investing in these home improvements, John was paying $100-$150 per month for electricity, and even more for home heating oil.  In the first six months of operation, as John backed off of oil, his heat pumps caused his electricity bill to surge to $600 per month.  But once he added two Solaflect Trackers in June 2019, the operating cost for his heat pumps dropped to zero, and he hasn’t paid an electric bill since.  John has even amassed a $700 utility credit for the solar power he’s been selling back into the grid.  And his oil company has been calling to see if something’s wrong with his furnace now that his oil bill has fallen by 75%!

John’s one complaint is that he didn’t like the remote control that came with his manufacturer’s heat pump.  He wanted more temperature control options and easier ways to download energy performance data.  But with home energy management going digital, he had lots of options to find an affordable smart controller that integrates easily with his home energy installation.

Solafect Energy helps you make complex home energy decisions simple.  Our Solar Trackers are fully integrated to run all your home electricity needs including home heat pumps and will also charge your electric vehicles. 

And 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!

Norwich, VT

How Can Solaflect Help With Overall Home Energy Management

Solaflect Energy is in the home energy management business.  By linking our patented backyard Solar Trackers with the latest advances in cloud-based software, wireless communications and app-based controls, we make complex energy decisions simple.  Our Solar Trackers are fully integrated to run home electrical devices and heat pumps, fuel electric vehicles, charge home batteries, and sell power into the grid.

Choose Solaflect Energy as your home energy management partner to seize on these megatrends:

  • We’re in the midst of a digital revolution.  The Internet and cloud computing are making 24-7 connections that transform how we work and live.  Semiconductors and silicon are the “new oil” that’s driving this move to the digital world.
  • There’s no place like home.  Now more than ever, our homes are becoming the nucleus of our daily lives.  As we work remotely and commute less often, we need an “always-on” home network that’s connected and secure.
  • Decarbonization is democratizing our home energy decisions.  Climate change is turning past energy policy on its head.  Top-down, subsidized, command-and-control approaches are giving way to bottom-up, market-based, consumer-led approaches that put the power in our hands — literally!
  • Solar is the power of choice.  Nine out of 10 Americans want to expand use of solar power.  Solar is now the most affordable source of electricity – bar none – providing accessible, carbon-free power for homes, businesses and the grid.
  • A “virtual grid” of dispersed renewables and consumer-driven apps is optimizing energy use.  A growing network of backyard and rooftop solar arrays, windfarms and home battery systems is cutting into utility peak loads that cost more and are dirtier to operate.  Smart controllers monitor energy loads in real time to decide when is the right time to release energy into the grid.
  • Market-based solutions are replacing government subsidies.  Carbon pricing, bidirectional battery charging and time-of-use pricing are practical, market-based replacements for government subsidies that now favor the fossil fuel industry.  A level playing field will advance solar and other renewables to achieve carbon-cutting goals that leave fossil industries behind.
  • A green economy offers multiple benefits.  As we build out our digital, democratized and decarbonized economy, we are creating more local jobs and a more resilient global energy ecosystem.  These benefits transcend political divisions and are uniting communities behind a clean path forward.

Let Solaflect Energy be your home energy management partner to help you navigate a future that’s coming at us faster than ever.  We provide clean energy solutions that are safer, cheaper and closer to home.  And 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! The power is in our hands to make a difference!

Solar Park, Lunenburg, VT

How Do solar Trackers Produce More Energy Than Fixed Solar Panels?

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.

Can Home Battery Storage Work For Me?

Sonnen home battery storage solution

Many customers are wondering if now is the time to add home battery storage to their Solar Tracker systems.  With an 80% drop in lithium ion battery prices in the last five years, more affordable options are now available to store solar output for times when you need it most.  Better still, battery storage qualifies for a 26% Federal Tax Credit when installed with a new or existing solar system.  Here are six reasons why adding a home battery may make sense for you:

  1. Solar when the power is out.  Most solar arrays are designed to shut off when the grid goes down to protect line workers as they fix the grid.  A home battery equipped with a smart inverter allows your Solar Tracker to keep home electrical devices running, without the need to fire up a generator.  Weather permitting, a solar-charged battery can cover a power outage up to several days.
  2.  Solar when you want it.  A Solar Tracker typically produces more power than you need during the day (and, of course, no power a night).  A home battery system stores the power for your preferred times of use, like when you’re at home and running more of your appliances and favorite electrical devices.
  3. Solar when it pays the most.  Your Solar Tracker takes any excess power not used in your home and sells it into the grid; otherwise the power is lost.  By adding a home battery, you can store some of this power for sale at times of peak demand, when spot prices are high.  Time-of-use-pricing – which is available out West and should be coming soon to the Northeast – constantly monitors this demand and can be used to dispatch power when it’s fetching the highest price.
  4. Solar that keeps your electric vehicle on the go.  A Solaflect Tracker produces enough electricity for 20,000 miles of driving a year for an average EV, at a price equivalent to about 75¢/gallon.  That’s a savings of about $2,000 a year if you drive 10,000 miles a year – all without tailpipe or carbon emissions!
  5. Solar to help utilities meet their goals.  You’re not the only one trying to shrink your carbon footprint.  Utilities also have goals to boost renewable energy use; priority is often given to in-state sources that promote local jobs and greater energy independence.  Batteries charged with solar power are key to building out “virtual grids” that offer cleaner, more reliable and affordable electricity for your home and the local power company.
  6. Solar that powers the 21st century grid.  The move to electric vehicles with eventual bidirectional charging is changing how we think about the grid.  In Vermont, we estimate that 25,000 EVs equipped with the latest batteries could meet a goal of 20% power from in-state renewables.  This would eliminate the need for large, utility-scale battery plants, and boost local jobs and local control over future energy management decisions.

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

Remember, adding battery storage is a little more complicated than just adding on the hardware.  Solaflect Energy provides comprehensive solar plus battery storage designs that meet your family’s home electricity and EV driving needs. Reach out to us or call us at (802) 649-3700, or text at (802) 308-3018 to learn more.

Is My Home Suitable For a Solar Tracker?

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!

Why Is It Time to Go Solar Now?

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!

Where Can I Put a Backyard Solar Tracker?

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!

How Does Solar Power Production Vary Over the Year?

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!

What’s the Difference Between kW and kWh?

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!

monitoring solar tracker production

Can I Monitor The Solar Production of My Solar Tracker?

monitoring solar tracker production 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!

How Does the cost of a Solaflect Tracker Compare with Installing a Rooftop or other Fixed Panel Array?

Same Sun, More Power

At Solafect Energy, we like to say, “Same Sun, More Power.”  That’s because our Solar Trackers follow the sun from dawn till dusk to maximize the production from solar panels all throughout the day.  Using our dual-axis system, the same solar panel can produce about 40 percent more power than if it’s screwed into your roof or mounted on a ground-based fixed array.

More power generation from our Tracker boosts the kilowatt-hours of electricity available to run your home electricity needs – and sell back into the grid.  You’ll also have more power available in the early morning and late afternoon, when your home electricity demand is usually at its peak.  This benefits your bottom line, and will shave even more off of your electric bill when your local utility adopts time-of-use pricing, as they have in California, for example.

To hold 16 panels together in one Tracker array, our patented design replaces about 1,200 pounds of big steel I-beam mounting brackets with just 28 pounds of stranded wire – much like a suspension bridge uses high-tension wire to hold a road surface in place.  Two small, highly efficient motors keep our Trackers constantly focused on the sun, using GPS coordinates that are specific to your location.  In short, less weight equals less cost.

When you put it all together, our Solaflect Trackers are almost always a less costly solution than installing a fixed panel array.  They produce lots more power per panel, at times when you need it most, with lightweight materials to save cost.   As the savings add up, you’ll see why “Same Sun, More Power” = Better Value!

A Real-life Example Comparing Solar Power System Costs

A Vermont resident recently asked us to price a proposal for a Solaflect Tracker against one from another installer for a fixed, roof-mounted array.  This homeowner has a great site for solar – with almost no shade from trees, buildings or ridgelines – whether the panels are placed on the roof or the ground.

As shown in the table below, the system cost of the Solaflect Tracker is significantly less than for the roof-mounted array.  The Solaflect Tracker in this example is mounted with 16 solar panels, each rated at 320 watts of generating capacity.  The rooftop system is 23 solar panels, also rated at 320 watts per panel.  On a traditional cost-per-watt basis, the Tracker costs about 12 percent more to install than the rooftop array. But cost-per-watt is an inaccurate way to compare an apple to an orange, so to speak.  On a cost-per-kilowatt-hour basis, the correct way to compare the actual energy production of these two installations on an apple to apple basis, the Solaflect Tracker is almost 20 percent less expensive.

Here are the numbers to compare in the two proposals.

 SolaflectAlternative installer
1. System cost (after tax credit)$21,400$27,085
2. System capacity5,120 watts (5.12 kW)7,360 watts (7.36 kW)
3. Cost-per-watt (traditional measure): Row 1 divided by Row 2.
The apples-to-oranges comparison
$4,18$3.68
4. Solaflect cost difference on capacity basis.
Why you can't compare rooftop solar to a Tracker on cost-per-watt
11.9% higher than the alternative
5. Expected energy delivered in 1st year7,200 kWhs7,290 kWhs
7. Cost-per-kWh (measure that really matters): Row 1 divided by Row 5

This is your apples-to-apples comparison.
$2.97$3.71
8. Solaflect cost advantage on energy basis19.9% less than the alternative

Here’s the bottom line:  The best way to compare the two proposals is to divide the installed system cost (line 1) by the projected number of kilowatt-hours to be produced in a year (line 5).  On that basis, the Solaflect Tracker’s capacity cost-per-kilowatt-hour is 19.9 percent less than the roof-mounted system. And the Tracker uses 7 fewer solar panels (16 vs 23) to get the job done.  Of course, this is just one example.  Your results will differ based on the particulars of your home site but the comparison between a Tracker and a rooftop or ground mounted fixed panel installation will be similar.

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 usage

How Can I Monitor My Home Energy 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!

Heat Pump

How Much Electricity Will I Use With a Heat Pump?

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!

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

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!

How Much Will an Electric Vehicle Increase my Power Bill?

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

How Much Will Electric Appliances Increase my Power Bill?

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!

Powering An Electric Vehicle With Solar

You can use solar to charge your electric vehicle

Do you own an electric vehicle (EV) or are thinking of purchasing one?  If so, you’re in good company.  One in five Americans now say an EV is in their future, and all of the major automakers are racing to roll out new models. Our Solar Trackers are the perfect way to help you replace the gas station with a backyard charging station.  A Solaflect Tracker can provide 25 years of carbon-free ‘fuel’ at a locked-in price equivalent to about 75 cents a gallon.  For the average driver going 10,000 miles a year, that adds up to a fuel savings of about $2,000 a year!  And, best of all, there are no carbon or tailpipe emissions!

Our Solar Trackers ease EV drivers’ concerns over ‘range anxiety.’  Your backyard Tracker produces enough juice for about 20,000 miles of EV driving a year.  If you’re like most drivers, you’ll need only half of a Tracker’s output to charge up your EV.  That leaves plenty of power to supply other household electrical needs. Together, fuel for vehicles and household electricity account for 60% of average home energy use in the Northeast.  The other 40% is for home heating – oil, propane, etc.  This, too, can be converted to solar power when you install an electric heat pump.  We address heat pumps in another FAQ.

A Great Tool to Help Pick an eV or Plug-In Hybrid

The Sierra Club has put together a useful guide to electric vehicles that with decision criteria broken out by vehicle, location, etc.  With it, you can identify and calculate:

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

 If you’re considering an EV purchase anytime soon, or are just starting to explore the possibility, we encourage you to have a look at this helpful tool.

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 Net Metering Work?

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!

Solar Energy

How Do Tracker Mounted Solar Panels Perform in Snow?

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!

Going Solar: How Does It Affect Property Values and Property Taxes?

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

Can I Mow Under My Tracker Mounted Solar Panels?

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!

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!