Maintenance: Checking your system’s internet connection

PV Squared - August 30, 2017

by Seth Mellen //

It’s important to perform a routine check to make sure your solar pv system is connected to the internet. That’s because at least once a month PV Squared checks to make sure the monitoring systems for the projects we have installed are connected to the internet. If your system loses its connection to the internet then we won’t be able to see the system online or receive email alerts regarding changes in production. Therefore, it is important to do this check on a regular schedule.

If you find that the connection to the internet is not working, then you’ll want to restart a few components. Most of the time you can get the PV System to reconnect by turning off the power to your modem, router, and all components related to the PV system and then turning them back on again. Much like a computer, this reboots the inverter(s) and router which often enables them to talk to one another.

If you try that and are still having challenges, don’t worry. We’re here to help. Simply give our friendly Service Team a call at 413-772-8788 or fill out this form and we’ll be happy to help.

Net Metering & the Schedule Z Demystified

PV Squared - August 23, 2017

by Daniel Berry //

If you’re a homeowner in Massachusetts with a photovoltaic system, net metering is the process by which the utility tracks how much energy you import from the grid vs. how much you export to it. You export solar-generated electricity whenever your PV system produces more energy than you are using at any given time—for example, when few appliances are running and the sun shines bright.

Many residential PV systems in our region produce a net electricity surplus from April through October. From November through March, when the days are shorter and the weather more unsettled, these households generally consume more electricity than they produce. It is useful to think about net energy surplus or deficit on a monthly basis because your solar production varies seasonally and because utilities bill you on a monthly schedule.

In the above scenario, a house with PV might expect to accrue a credit of $500 from April-October on its electrical bill. Between November and March, this home might incur total electrical costs of $500. Such a household would be said to have a 100% offset, meaning that its yearly solar production covers the entirety of its yearly electrical costs.

Some homes with PV systems repeatedly produce more energy than they consume. This might be the case if you installed extra panels in anticipation of buying an electric car down the road, or if you replaced energy-hogging appliances with more energy-efficient models. Such households are strong candidates for using a tool called Schedule Z. The Schedule Z is an accounting document that directs your utility to transfer a percentage of monthly solar-electrical credits to another household, business, or organization within the same region and utility. It’s a great way to donate some of the benefits of your renewable technology to other entities, or share the savings with nearby friends and family. It can be set up at no cost and adjusted up to two times per year.

If you own a PV system and have seen substantial credits accumulate on your electrical bill over a couple years, given us a call to explore how the Schedule Z can work for you.

 

Guest Post: Three Myths About Solar Energy and the Eclipse

PV Squared - August 17, 2017

Blog post courtesy of the Union of Concerned Scientists  // Author: , Senior Energy Analyst, Climate & Energy Program

Has anyone told you that the solar eclipse is a sign of trouble, or will cause the power to go out? Fear not. Despite what you might see with your own eyes, the experience is never as bad as the scary stories make it seem. This is as true today as it has been for thousands of years.

There is a long tradition of belief that solar eclipses are a disruption in the established order of things, even a theft. But advocates of renewable energy need not be afraid: a momentary break from the sun—and solar power generation—is not a sign that we need to rely on coal plants for a reliable energy supply. In fact, all people who prefer cleaner air and water should greet the solar eclipse without superstition or fear.

In the modern world, we have science to explain what is happening: our use of solar energy is not the downfall of civilization. Both the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation (NERC) provide calm and rational discussions of what will happen when the shadow of the moon passes across the United States.

While it is true that more of our electricity comes from solar energy now than in the past, NERC has thought this through and has found that there is no need to fear.

Here are three myth-busters to keep in mind.

Truth: Electricity supplies will not be disrupted by the eclipse

In April, the guardians of electric grid reliability, NERC, issued a report with the summary: A total solar eclipse is a predictable event that impacts solar generation over a short time period. The study showed no reliability impacts to bulk power system operations.

Actual disruptions of the electric power system are typically NOT those where the disturbance is predicted to the precise day and hour, and are most often caused by trouble with the wires, not one fraction of the generator supply.

Truth: We have experience with high levels of solar energy and an eclipse

In March 2015, a solar eclipse shadowed Germany and all of Europe, reducing sunlight 65-80%. (The eclipse was total in the North Sea.) With the advanced notice provided by astronomers, the changes needed in the electricity supply were planned and managed by the same grid operators that routinely make daily schedules and minute-by-minute adjustments for the power supply.

German operators took a detailed approach, using a range of flexible resources to respond to the expected fluctuation in sunshine and solar energy produced. Italian operators took a simpler approach, and directed 30% of solar producers to take an extended morning break from producing. In the UK, the weather was grey and cloudy, making for low levels of solar production in the hours around the eclipse.

Truth: Solar eclipses are not as rare as people think

It may seem this is a rare event when considering only one’s own point of view, or the history of a single place. That is, in my lifetime where I live, Boston, there has never been a total eclipse. (The last one seen in Boston was in 1959.)  The last total eclipse seen in Los Angeles was in 1724. But there is a total solar eclipse on earth roughly every 2 years. Check out this website for the 2015 and 2016 total eclipses you missed, as well as the next ones (July 2, 2019 and December 14, 2020), both of which will reach southern Argentina and Chile.

People pay attention to the sun for good reason. Among the natural systems that provide clean air, fresh water and a livable climate, the sun is critically important. It is no coincidence that religions describe over 100 gods connected with the sun, and that at the dawn of the modern era, astronomers describing the solar system were killed as heretics by defenders of church orthodoxy.

Today, we can resist the fear that “the sun won’t shine” used to attack renewable energy. When the old guard points to the sun overhead and tells you the eclipse means there will punishment for those who dare to think new thoughts, be confident. The comings and goings of the sun are now predictable. The power supply is always prepared for swings of more sudden losses than this—those that come from man-made, not natural, plant failures.

Going Solar Is Good For Business

PV Squared - August 9, 2017

By Karen Ribeiro //

Do you ever drive down the road and think to yourself, “why doesn’t that business have solar?” I sure do – and it’s my job to make sure businesses in Western Mass and the surrounding region know that going solar is good for business.

The commercial solar market runs the gamut from working with a small local business to the large “utility scale” solar farms that measure power output in megawatts rather than kilowatts. And the commercial solar sector has taken off in recent years, as more business owners are realizing the value of going solar.

At PV Squared we’ve been growing right along with the rest of the industry. Our commercial department is currently working on systems up to half a megawatt or more (500+ kilowatts). Businesses with large commercial buildings can take advantage of a swaths of unused real estate on the roof and turn it into an asset that keeps on giving a return on investment for decades to come. Other businesses might look to a custom carport that can also house a vehicle fleet or explore ground-mounted solutions. Whatever your unique challenge, PV Squared can design a custom solution to meet your business’s needs and improve your bottom line. That’s because solar is an investment.

Carports with solar arrays are growing in popularity and we have a few custom installations underway in the region. Carports, such as the one at the UMass Mullins Center if you’re familiar, may further experience a rise in popularity with the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) incentive program coming out next year – due to a particular “adder” incentive for carports. And don’t worry, we’ve got our eye on all the emerging details of that program.

There are many incentives and tax considerations that make solar, and commercial solar in particular, a solid investment. That’s because we offer the highest quality equipment with the best warranties in the industry, ensuring your investment is protected. At PV Squared we take care to help you understand the nuances of complex policy and regulation around solar so that you have an accurate, eyes-wide-open projection of the energy production and savings you can realistically expect.

If you’re a business owner or commercial property owner, you can realize tangible gains by going solar, and we can make that happen. Let’s talk about how solar can be good for your business. Give us a call today, or get started online by requesting a Free Solar Consultation at: http://pvsquared.coop/get-started/

PV Squared Named Among Top 500 Solar Contractors in US

PV Squared - August 2, 2017

By Stacy Metzger //

Solar Power World, the leading publication covering solar technology and development, published its annual Top Solar Contractors list in July. As a local solar installation company and worker-owned cooperative, PV Squared was listed prominently among other top solar contractors and developers across the country.

PV Squared is a local leader in the field of solar design, installation, and maintenance. A worker-owned cooperative, PV Squared has provided renewable energy solutions to a range of clients, including business owners, commercial property owners, farmers, and homeowners since 2002. PV Squared currently employs 42 people, 19 of which are co-owners of the business. In 2016, they completed 188 projects in the Pioneer Valley and surrounding areas, installing 2.5 MW of solar power. They’re also a Certified B Corp, demonstrating their commitment to a triple bottom line business model.

“It’s an honor to represent western Massachusetts as a locally-owned business on this list of top solar companies, and to be among a total of 19 companies located in the Commonwealth. We’ve put our hearts into our work for the past fifteen years, so to be recognized in this way by a national publication is deeply rewarding,” says PV Squared General Manager Stacy Metzger.

While PV Squared is being recognized nationally, their focus and commitment has remained local. PV Squared is currently involved in Franklin County’s first Habitat for Humanity project in five years and will be contributing a solar array to the construction of an energy-efficient home in Greenfield. Additionally, they’re also exploring opportunities to partner with the Franklin County Technical School to mentor young people through a solar installation process. The donation of this solar array will not only eliminate upfront costs for the future homeowner, but will also help strengthen the local community along the way.

“This is our community and it means a lot to us to create a healthier future. Our ongoing partnerships with local organizations, such as Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity, allow us to make a greater impact and find more meaning in the work we do,” says Metzger.

The Living Building Challenge, and Why It Matters to Us

PV Squared - July 31, 2017

By Stacy Metzger //

The Living Building Challenge is the world’s most advanced green building standard. According to the International Living Future Institute website, the Living Building Challenge “is a green building certification program and sustainable design framework that visualizes the ideal for the built environment. It uses the metaphor of a flower because the ideal built environment should function as cleanly and efficiently as a flower. Living buildings give more than they take, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.”

PV Squared has proudly worked on Living Building Challenge projects at two local academic institutions of distinction and one renowned environmental center. Our first collaboration on a Living Building Challenge Project took place in 2012, where PV Squared designed and installed a 9.4 kW top of pole mount (TPM) solar array at the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at Smith College that generates more electricity than the building uses on an annual basis.

A few years later we worked with the great team at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, where we installed a roof-mounted 60kW solar array on their newly constructed 9,000 sf green building. The system was built with high-efficiency equipment, and is connected to the electric utility grid to utilize net metering. The Hitchcock Center continues to incorporate green building elements into their work, providing free Living Building Challenge tours twice monthly to the community.

Additionally, we worked with the project team on the R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College. PV Squared designed and installed a 118 kW rooftop solar array that generates more than enough energy for the building because of its integrated design. Since its completion in 2017, this 17,000 sf facility has received a 2017 AIA (American Institute of Architecture) COTE (Committee on the Environment) Top Ten Award. This is the industry’s best-known accolade for sustainable design excellence.

We feel fortunate to be a part of this community in Western Massachusetts that values excellence in green building design, and is leading the nation by example. It’s always a pleasure to work on these projects because they require innovative design, collaboration, and quality installation practices.

Why the Power Goes Out, Even When You Have Solar

PV Squared - July 26, 2017

by Jon Child //

It’s a common misconception that if you have solar, your power will stay on when the grid goes down. However, if you only have a grid-tied solar PV system, your power will go out along with most everyone else’s.

This is by design, in order to maintain the safety of the workers repairing the downed electric utility system. When there are people working on the lines, all power must be cut. Therefore, all live power being generated by your grid-tied system must be shut off during that period. This is required by code, and is built into every design we do.

If you have a battery back-up or generator that has been professionally integrated into your electrical system, you can still have electricity during a power outage. This is because the back-up power system is wired to avoid feeding back into the grid, and it supplies power only to the critical loads (that you define) in your home or business. This can take the form of battery-based systems or a generator. Each solution can meet a different set of needs and expectations.

If you wish to integrate a back-up power project into your electrical system during the installation of your new solar PV project, these two systems need to be designed and permitted simultaneously. This ensures the back-up power system is fully integrated into the electrical design, and approved for operation along with the solar PV project. It is also possible to retrofit existing electrical services with or without interconnected solar PV systems to include back-up power. We do this regularly in the course of our work.

Reach out to us if you are interested in adding a back-up power plan at your site. If you don’t have solar and are still interested, give us a call and we’ll see what we can do.

Why Investing in Solar Today is Still a Good Idea Tomorrow

PV Squared - July 5, 2017

By Josh Hilsdon //

Do you ever go to bed and feel like when you wake up there’s a new breakthrough in solar technology on the news? If so, you are not alone. But why in the world is a solar company that offers multi-year product warranties even bringing this up?

That’s because it’s a question we get asked quite often.

Yes, it’s true. Technological advancements are made every day. New products are being rolled out that tout increased efficiency and longevity. And a solar PV system relies on that same technology to efficiently convert the sun’s rays into electricity you can use in your home and business.

While we know solar panels will get more efficient over time, it’s unlikely we will see a breakthrough in efficiency that will dramatically change the landscape. That’s because solar is a relatively mature technology that has been developed and refined incrementally over the past 40 years. So we aren’t expecting huge changes in technology. But even if we did, it would take some time before that offering became an affordable solution for the majority of people. Bringing something from lab to mass production and the open market takes years, if not decades.

Our job is to make sure that your solar project will not become obsolete in a few years. It’s not a computer or a smartphone. It’s a power plant, and its only job is to produce electricity. Equipment manufacturers provide warranties that extend up to 25 years and there’s a reason for that. They’ve tested the equipment and they are confident in standing behind it for decades.

Okay, so you are feeling pretty good about your future solar project in terms of any new technologies that might emerge, but what about that pesky question about the cost of solar going down every year?

It’s true. The cost of solar has come down notably over the past ten years, and we expect it to continue to decline. However, many of the cost reductions we’ve seen so far have come from reductions in the price of panels. But panel costs only make up a portion of a project’s total costs, with the remainder coming from things like labor, overhead, and equipment made from raw materials like aluminum, copper, and steel. This diversity of costs in a project will make for a slower cost decline in years to come.

The other piece of the cost equation is the incentive landscape. As project costs have come down, the incentives that support solar have also been reduced. Incentive programs are, by design, meant to diminish over time. We currently still have many incentives available at the state and federal levels that continue to reduce the payback period of a project. There are many incentives that are available today that may not be available in a few years’ time. So while project costs may continue to decline over time, so will the incentive landscape. Together, these two elements paint the profitability picture of a project.

We understand that making the decision to go solar is complex. We are here to answer your questions.

Simply reach out and we’ll be happy to talk more.

My Production Yields Are Down. Now What?

PV Squared - July 5, 2017

By Seth Mellen //

Have you noticed lower production yields this year and are concerned something might be wrong with your system? One likely reason might be the weather.

That’s because production is closely related to weather patterns. The first half of 2017 has proven to be less favorable for solar than other recent years. Since your system is designed with a lifespan of 25 years in mind, we take variances in weather into consideration in our estimates. This means that a lower production yield in any year can be made up for with above-average production in another year.

So while you might experience lower than desired production estimates this year, on average over time, you should see your production estimates meet or exceed design estimates. We can’t predict the weather for a 25 year planning horizon, so we build in variances to all of our estimating.

If you are still concerned that your lower production yields indicate an issue with your system, please give us a call and we’ll take a look to make sure everything is operating efficiently. Or, complete this simple form, and a member of our Service Team will reach out promptly: http://pvsquared.coop/service-request/

Our Origin Story

PV Squared - July 5, 2017

By Stacy Metzger //

Four Founders started PV Squared (Pioneer Valley PhotoVoltaics Cooperative, Inc.) in 2002 to create sustainable renewable energy jobs for the historically displaced workforce in Franklin County.

Our Founders saw a lot of empty buildings and infrastructure, relics of the formerly booming manufacturing industry in the region, and set forth to establish a solar equipment manufacturing company. And they wanted to do it as a worker-owned cooperative. That’s because in a worker-owned cooperative, the people who do the work make the decisions together, instead of having them handed down from an executive.

As planning for this idea progressed, a core team of four Founders emerged. They worked with the Cooperative Development Institute (CDI) to examine the feasibility of this idea and found that their original vision wasn’t going to work. So they had to pivot and explore a new avenue.

That critical pivot led them down a new path to establish a solar installation company, one that has proven to be extremely successful. By May of 2002, the company was legally incorporated as a worker-owned cooperative and officially opened its doors in a two-room office in the Venture Center at the Franklin County Community Development Corporation in Greenfield, MA.

As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve paid particular attention to our origin story. It’s incredibly important to us that we stay true to our Shared Values and our goal to provide living-wage, sustainable jobs for the region and have a positive impact in the communities we serve. We work hard to deliver projects that go above and beyond, not just in terms of power production and finances, but also in terms of thoughtfulness and attention to detail. Our client-focused approach has built a reputation for quality and service that is second to none.

We recognize it is easy to think you are doing a good job and making a positive impact, but how do you objectively measure those results? That’s where B Lab comes in. In 2014 PV Squared recognized the need to have third party verification that we are meeting our goals as a socially responsible business, and joined hundreds of other socially responsible businesses and became a Certified B Corp.

We’ve now installed PV systems for more than a thousand clients, each with unique goals and physical sites, and we utilize that experience with every new system we design and install. But how are we doing against that original vision of our Founders to provide jobs for the region? Well, we’ll let you decide. We now employ over forty people, pay a living-wage, offer an extensive benefits package, provide opportunities for ownership, and continue to grow.