Insulation, Doors, and Solar Cables

by Ben N on March 11, 2017

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Two weeks ago, I got the bid from the insulation company. Because of their economy of scale, and having a nice box truck and other equipment handy, the insulation company can insulate my garage for not a whole lot more than if I went to the big box home improvement store and bought insulation to do it myself.

Because the “Loft” upstairs of the garage is basically the attic, I’m limited in how much space I have for insulation up there. However, in the FLOOR of the loft, the bottom cord of the truss is a 2×10. I’ll be able to put in almost 10 inches of blown insulation in there to keep the heat in the downstairs. Yesterday, I called them back up and put in the order to proceed with the installation. The insulators will be out this next week. It will probably take MORE than one day, but not by a whole lot. Apparently, these guys are pretty quick.

As much as I LOVE the idea of a “super-insulated” garage, one of the big practicalities is simply the budget, along with physical space. I’m also only planning on heating the garage to about the lowest level I can. The lower the temperature difference between the outside and inside, the less insulation needed. Super-insulating might be nice, but does’t make sense if all my heat leaves when I open the garage door to move a car in or out! That said, I’m looking through all the nooks, crannies, and penetrations and sealing them with expanding foam before the insulators get here.

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I also stopped by the garage door installation company – Hartland Overhead Door. It’s one that my father’s construction business always used, and it happens that I know the two sons who now run that family business from high school. I got a quote for two doors of the 2″ thick urethane-foam filled variety. The price was identical to a 2″ foam door at the big box store, except that with the full-service garage door company, it includes installation!

Before I left, one of the owners, Joe, stopped back in, so I got to say “Hi” to him. I explained what I’m trying to do with the solar panels and how I’d like to integrate some sort of “sunny winter day” glazing into the garage. (Perhaps something like this – BuildItSolar Link) On the demo in their shop, Joe showed me a pull-down screen door for garages. It was a very simple design with one vertical piece of track, one horizontal, and a rigid aluminum frame that holds the screen. I pondered the possibility of getting something like that, only without the screen, and installing twin-wall polycarbonate instead.

I believe that this is the screen that I saw. I didn’t ask about price while I was at Hartland Overhead Door. Later, I tried finding an online retailer to check pricing. It was nearly $1,000 for the screen door, no matter which size! Yipes! The design did look simple, so maybe I can make my own from scratch?

Lastly, a friend of mine is sending me a couple of USED micro-inverters. He found them at an electronics salvage yard. We have no idea if they even work or not, but they were CHEAP!

I purchased a “two-drop” section of Enphase Engage cable. This is the special cable that Enphase’s micro-inverters plug right in to. I bought this short piece so that I could test the used inverters, check the cable against what other components I might need to use with it, and in the end, have it for demo’s, presentations, and as a teaching sample.

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After I picked up the cable, I stopped at the Home Improvement store to check out the electric department so I could find the right connector and outdoor rated boxes. I located a 1/2″ watertight cord connector and tested the Engage cable with it. Sure enough, I could just squeeze the cable through the inside of the connector. (The outside diameter of the cable itself is larger than 3/8″ but smaller than 1/2″.)

Next, I tried finding an appropriate weatherproof box for that connector to screw in to. I couldn’t find the right type of box at all, until I finally located an employee, and he showed me that what I was looking for was actually the next aisle over. (I THOUGHT I was in the last aisle of the department…)
Over there, I found both metal and plastic NEMA3R rated boxes. They are sorted by “Number of Gangs” and number of holes. There is also standard depth and extra deep boxes. I found it interesting that a one-gang box was cheaper than a 2-gang, but that the COVER for the one-gang cost more! Go figure.
I ended up buying a one-gang, 3-hole, standard box (in plastic) with the matching lid. This will act as a junction box between the specialty micro-inverter cabling and standard 12 ga wiring inside of conduit.

IMG_3503Back at home, I wired up the cable through the watertight connector, into the box, and connected the lid. It all looks nice and solid. From this, I’ll be able to run some wiring to this junction box to build a test-rig for the micro-inverters.

It’s sunny today (but COLD!) so it would be an ideal time for testing solar inverters. Too bad I don’t have them yet!

I’ll be spending the rest of the day dragging ladders and materials out of the garage and stacking them outside. I also need to do anything else that I can think of that needs to be done BEFORE the insulation crew is here. For example, I might want to fully document where all the wiring is while I can still see it!

I’ll be very busy this next week too, but getting the insulation in will feel like a big step forward!

Until Next Time, Stay Charged-Up!
-Ben

PS: I think I forgot to mention the “Man Door”. We got that in last weekend. It’s a vinyl door filled with urethane foam. I installed just a plain inexpensive lock-set on it. I might eventually be adding a “smart-lock” or a push-button deadbolt so that I can keep the garage locked all the time, but still easily go in and out, without having to dig through my whole keychain every time.

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Solar Proposal

by Ben N on February 27, 2017

This past week, I turned in my proposal for my solar electric system to the local power utility. Here’s the equipment I’ll be using and why. Please keep in mind that there’s more than one way to design a solar electric system. What is right for me may not be right for you, but I hope that explaining it gives you some greater insight on designing YOUR system!

In a Nutshell:
The solar system will be 24 solar panels, each with a micro-inverter on it. Those will connect to a combiner/disconnect box on the exterior of the garage. From there the power will feed in to the garage and connect to the main breaker through a 30A fuse. The garage panel is connected by buried cables to the house and from there, out to the electric grid.

Solar Panels:
The solar panels are Helios brand, 60 cell panels rated at 260 watts. The panels were made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 30-35 miles from my house. That’s right, buy local!

Micro-Inverters:
Enphase M250. Micro-inverters simplify wiring. There’s no need for a DC disconnect. The inverters mount to the racking under the solar panels. They then plug in to a quick-connect “trunk cable”. All power is 240V AC, which is what regular residential electricians are used to. Wire lengths and gauges are all standard at that point. Also, the micro-inverters are isolated from the DC power and the EGC grounding is done through the trunk cable. That means that I won’t have to install a thick bare copper wire between the inverters, panels, and racking. That saves costs and labor on the installation. (For details on grounding this system, please see Enphases technical paper on the subject at LINK.)

IMG_3221Racking:
Iron Ridge XR-100 racking. This racking looks nice. Iron Ridge has a great wizard on their web page for calculating snow loads, wind loads, total weight of system, etc. That’s great information to have to show the building inspector and power utility. It shows that I know that the roof won’t collapse from too much weight, nor will the solar panels come off in a wind-storm and damage my neighbor’s property. The Iron Ridge system also uses fasteners designed to electrically BOND the solar panel frames, the equipment rack, and the micro-inverters. Using this racking with the Enphase system together bonds everything and provides all grounding necessary through the Enphase trunk cable.

IMG_3039Roof Clamps:
To connect the Iron Ridge Racking to the roof, I’ll use S-5! brand clamps. The “Mini” are still very powerful and completely appropriate for solar applications. I did a test set-up of a sample piece of my roofing with an S-5! clamp on it. The holding power is pretty amazing! It’s all done by just the shape of the clamp pinching on to the roofing with a set-screw. No holes are made in the roofing. It’s a great way to provide a solid connection to the roof with no risk of leaks. I’ll be using the “N” style to match my roofing profile.

AC Combiner/Disconnect:
Because 24 micro-inverters is too many to have on a single 20-amp circuit, I’ll need TWO circuits to handle the power. That also means that I need a way to combine both circuits. That could be done with something as simple as a breaker sub panel on the outside of the building. I also need a dedicated AC Disconnect with a red handle that can be locked in the off position. That’s both common sense and required by the power utility. To do BOTH at the same time, I’ve ordered a MidNite Solar MNPV-6 Disco Micro AC Combiner/Disconnect. In a single box, it provides up to three circuit breakers for combining the roof-top power. On the cover of the box is a red lever, which physically flips the breakers to OFF, and can be locked in place.

Single Line Diagram_NelsonPower Utility Requirements:
I had to turn in paperwork to the power utility. The main form was the PSC 6027 – “Standard Distributed Generation Application Form”. That includes the basics, such as customer name and address, up to a very complete listing of the equipment to be used and how it will all be connected. It also requires a Single-Line Electrical Diagram and a Site Map. I generated the Single-Line Diagram by using the trial version of the software at http://get.solardesigntool.com The software acts as a wizard – you just enter what equipment you will use and a little other information, and it will generate a very professional looking electrical diagram. The only problem I had with it was that the MidNite Solar disconnect was not listed in their database of disconnects. So, I ended up editing the exported diagram in Photoshop to correct for it. Still, a pretty good deal for some free software!

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For the Site Map, I made a new document in Photoshop, keeping the fancy looking edging from my generated Single-Line Diagram. I put in an aerial view of my property, cut and pasted from Google Maps. I also traced an old copy of a property line map that I had, making clean new lines for the house and garage, and then labeled them where the existing utility meter is and where the disconnect box will go.

I turned in the PSC 6027, The Single-Line, and Site Map, and PDF spec sheets of all the equipment I would use to the power utility. At this point, I’m just waiting to hear back from them, hopefully with approval and no changes needing to be done to the proposal.

Incentives:
At this point, the U.S. Federal government offers a nice 30% tax credit for installed renewable energy systems. It’s just a one-page form filled out when you do your taxes. It’s a great way for the government to encourage installation of renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the State of Wisconsin has NO incentives. Fortunately, there IS an incentive through the power utilities through a program called Focus on Energy. This program is funded by a mandate on utility company profits to be directed towards energy conservation and renewable energy. In my area, people are most familiar with it for discounts on energy-efficient light bulbs at the home improvement store. Last year, the Focus on Energy incentive for solar was a set rate  per kilowatt, maxing out at $2,400 – and my installation would max out that number. This year, the incentive is instead changed to a COST of installing the solar. The incentive is 12%. In my case, the solar should cost about $10,000, so the rebate would be only $1,200 – HALF of what I could have earned last year. Even worse than that, it seems likely that there will be NO money next year for installing solar through this program. Still, the cost of solar has dropped dramatically over recent years, and I hope people keep installing even more, not matter what the state of local incentives is.

Economic Return on Investment:
Adding up the cost of all the system components, I expect my system to cost nearly $10,000. I’ll earn 30% back on my taxes ($3,000) and up to $1,200 on the local incentive, which should bring my total out of pocket cost down to just under $6,000. Also, it’s a 6kW system, so when I’m done, I’ll have built a solar system for about a dollar per watt (after incentives.) The PVWatts and other predictions that I’ve run show that I should produce electricity to save right around $1,000 per year. So, after 6 years the system will have paid for itself.

I’ve also run numbers on creating my own electricity and using it to run an electric car. Just using averaged numbers for fuel economy and cost, this could bring the return on investment down to as little as 3.5 years! I can’t think of any other investment that can double my money in that little time! The other thing to keep in mind is that it’s a SURE THING. I KNOW what my electric costs will be (capitol investment divided over time…) whereas I DON’T know what the cost of gasoline, natural gas, and other fossil fuels will be OR if my power company DID want to hike the cost of electricity.

That’s it for now! I’m waiting to hear back from the power utility. I hope this overview of the solar system helps you learn a little bit more about solar and maybe help you to install your own!

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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Garage Update Feb 9 2017

by Ben N on February 9, 2017

 

Time for a Garage Update!

Ross the Electrician has been over a few times lately, and got most of the rough wiring done. The downstairs is wired for plenty of wall outlets, two electric car chargers, an electric boiler, and plenty of switched outlets in the ceiling for the LED shop-lights. There will also be two outside electric outlets, one each off opposite corners. Upstairs will also have 240V power for baseboard heaters. A line of can lights runs straight down the middle of the upstairs. Those will be on a three-way switch, so they can be flipped from upstairs or down.

IMG_3195The main breaker box is in, but the new extra-heavy-duty cable going to the house isn’t yet. I dug a trench the last day of above-freezing weather before winter hit. We’ll need to run the heavy cable from the garage to the house. In a separate conduit, we are going to have an RF Cable and two Cat5 networking cables. I figure that way I can have television, internet, and telephone/telecom in the garage. The best part of those LAN cables is that they have multiple small wires inside, which could be dedicated to communications, sensors, or all sorts of other things!

IMG_3202I went down into my crawl-space today to see if there was anything I’d need to move out of the way or otherwise take care of before asking the electrician to go down there. I used the mechanics’ creeper (which is left in the crawl-space for such a purpose) to scoot on my back to the north west corner of my house, where the existing garage electrical runs up into the main electric box. One thing I did see is that there already was a “Smurf Tube”, apparently put in on purpose for running future wires. However, it’s only one-inch tubing. The new garage main cable is going to be thicker than that. Perhaps the tubing itself can be used to fish up the new cable?

On the solar front, I think I’m starting to feel a bit more confident.

IMG_3146I ordered a pair of s-5! clamps and tested them out on a sample of my metal roofing. These clamps pinch right onto the seam, without going through it. So, they hold fast to a metal roof, but without requiring penetrations, flashings, or sealants. I went so far as to set up my roofing sample on end and literally stand on one foot on the S-5! Mini clamp. It didn’t budge! Dang powerful for a small block of aluminum and a set screw!

I was working in Madison yesterday. When I was done, I ended up driving right past Full Spectrum Solar. I stopped in to see if I might be able to arrange for some sort of short consultation. Project Engineer, Mike, said he had a few minutes before he had to run off to an appointment, and was happy to casually chat with me for a few minutes, answering some questions I had. Thanks, Mike!

IMG_3208I’m planning on using Iron Ridge brand racking for my solar. When I checked on their web site, I found a distributor only 17 miles away. I called up Werner Electric Supply and was able to order two pieces of racking, along with a few other small pieces of hardware. Today, I borrowed a vehicle with a good ladder rack so that I could carry home the fourteen-foot-long aluminum extrusions. Werner is a neat place to visit – all the electrical bits and pieces you could ever want, and the counter sales clerk was super friendly and helpful.

IMG_3221In real life, the rack pieces feel both more narrow and LONGER than I imagined them. The main reason why I purchased these was just to get a sense of the materials – to make sure I was getting the right components and that they would all work correctly together. It’s one thing to see a photo on a web page, it’s another to be lifting it onto a 7:12 metal roof and screwing it down. It’s the same reason you will often see me rough assembling a project in the middle of a home improvement store aisle. I want to make sure I’m getting the right parts and that they work together, BEFORE investing lots of time and money and STILL not having it right!

IMG_3206For the solar panels themselves, I’ve been looking at either Solar World 270w monos OR Helios 260 watt. Solar World is a good brand name and can be easily mail-ordered. (Shown in the photo is a Solar World 255 watt at Werner Electric.) More interesting though is that I found a lead on purchasing Helios brand panels. What’s exciting about that is they were MADE in MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN. Literally the closest solar manufacturer, only some 30 miles away from me! The downside….. they’re no longer in business. That means no warranty. I’m not too concerned about that, as there’s almost nothing to go wrong with a solar panel. (And YES, I’ll be getting a nice 25 year warranty on my micro-inverters, which haven’t been around long enough to prove themselves to the test of time.)
I’ll be able to get a bit of a discount on the Helios panels. Also, I’ll be able to go pick them up myself, saving freight charges I’d otherwise pay for mail-ordered panels.

I’m hoping to go visit the Helios dealer tomorrow and pick up one or two panels. Solar panels are NOT small. By actually having one of the panels, I can start planing around with the racking, logistics, and other issues. I did measure the back of the Prius (too far away for the iMiEV) to make sure a solar panel will fit. It will: exactly. At least, I sure hope it does when I go to pick it up!

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

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Garage Progress, Jan 3 2016

by Ben N on January 3, 2017

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What’s new since the last blog post about the garage? Glad you asked!

Here’s what we’ve been up to lately. Mostly, work on the garage has proceeded on Fridays and Holidays. We also had a cold spell there and some snow that slowed things down.

IMG_2540On the day before Christmas, we studded in and sheathed the ends of the upstairs. The end trusses are built to be open, and then are framed in for the opening of a door, window, or whatever else might go in there. In our case, there’s a single window in either end of the upstairs. We built in studs, framed out the window, covered the whole wall with the OSB sheathing, and then cut out the rough opening for the window. The upstairs felt very dark after filling in the wall, but before cutting out the window opening.

We also managed to nick the cord of the power saw while cutting. Fortunately, I had a replacement plug, wired it on, and we could keep working, even though the saw now only had a one-foot pigtail!

IMG_2624After the walls of the upstairs were done, I played around a bit with lighting. I dug up a few “clamp lamps” and clipped them to the trusses. I experimented with the spacing a bit and found that five fixtures spaced out more or less evenly did a nice job of lighting the place up. I was using 650 lumen, 8 watt, LED, BR30 bulbs. I bought them on sale for two dollars for a four pack, and the bulbs are fully dimmable. In fact, I think a dimmer switch would be rather nice. I can completely see using the upstairs of the garage as a possible guest space, and a dimmer switch up there would be nice!

Most recently, we got a lot of work done on this New Years Weekend.

IMG_2659Friday and Saturday were spent working on the fascia. Fascia is the outside piece of wood that covers the end of the rafters. On the gable ends, it’s the part that comes down from the roof overhang. We created the overhang by building a “ladder” – a long 2×6 which then gets short pieces of 2×6 nailed to it. This gets nailed up and under the plywood overhang directly to the building. After that, another 2×6 gets pressed up  against the “ladder rungs” and nailed to it and the plywood overhang.

On the front and the back of the building, a 2×6 is nailed across the ends of the rafters. Any rafters that are short get shimmed so that the 2×6 makes a nice straight line across the building. Needless to say, this building is pretty large, and a single 2×6 doesn’t reach all the way across any one side or the roof edge. Because of that, we had to measure and splice. That and working high in the air on ladders made all this work slow-going.

On Sunday, we finished the fascia, including installing the exterior face of the fascia, which is the finished side. This material was pre-painted, and I tried my best not to miss with the hammer when nailing it in place.

IMG_2688After that, we started to put the foam on the outside of the garage. This is 1/2″ thick urethane foam. While the r-value of the foam isn’t all that high, staggering the seams from the sheathing means it acts as a preventative to wind infiltration, and it’s a thermal break between the siding and sheathing. We had a mis-matched set of insulation, as part of the pile was close-out (half-off pricing!) at the lumber yard. When installing the foam, we did put the nice-looking matched panels on the side facing the road. No sense not to have it look somewhat nice until the siding goes on. The foam was simply plumbed and nailed on with roofing nails. It goes on surprisingly fast and actually felt like we were making some quick progress.

Next, we worked on the windows. When I mentioned on Facebook that I was installing windows, somebody asked “Have you considered Linux instead?”.  That, of course, is why I also have a photo of an Apple next to my Windows.

IMG_2696Installing windows is actually pretty straight-forward, as long as the rough opening is the right size. We just put the window in the hole, make sure it’s plumb, flush, and square,  and nail through the nailing flange on the outside of the window into the wall. A small piece of foam is stuck over the gaps in the corners not covered by the folded-out nailing flanges. We then covered the edges of the window with strips of Ice and Water Shield. These windows are Energy Star rated fiberglass double-hung.

The view from the windows is pretty good. Looking out the west window, I actually can look fairly far to the north, where the Solar Swing Set is now located. I hope that means that I can keep an eye on the Little Girl in the back yard during the summer from my garage loft.

Yesterday, we installed the skylights. SKYLIGHTS!?!? What kind of person installs skylights in a GARAGE!? Good question! If this was only a garage, nobody would. However, this building is also acting as a workshop and possibly yoga studio/writing office/secret headquarters, you name it. One way or another, the upstairs “storage space” will get some pretty regular use. Because the upstairs is sort of a long wide hallway, it doesn’t get all that much light from the ends. Skylights add plenty of light to the middle of the building.

IMG_2742To install skylights, you first have to decide where they should go. We already picked which trusses they should go between. This was roughly one-third of the way in from either end of the building, and eight feet apart. After measuring and marking, we cut 2x6s for the top and bottom of the rough openings and nailed them in place. Next, we cut through the roof with a Sawzall from the inside. That’s also the moment when you really hope you measured everything right and wonder why you just put a hole in a perfectly good roof.

IMG_2741We put up a pair of long 2x6s on roof brackets to make a place to stand for working on the skylights from the outside. Wayne and I handed the the skylights up through the hole to my Dad. We then centered them, and Dad nailed the skylights in place from the outside. He then applied Ice and Water Shield over the bottom edge of the skylight and up the side, making sure that the roofing felt was still layered correctly.

Of course, we also had a ladder set up so that he had a way to get back DOWN from the roof, now that the hole were filled with the skylights. It took longer than I thought to apply the sealing materials to the skylights, but this is one part you want done right. A properly installed skylight is a great way to let in light – an improperly installed one is a nightmare of leaks.

IMG_2773While Dad was finishing up on the roof, Wayne and I worked on the front of the garage. We framed out the garage doors the rest of the way to the proper rough opening, trimmed the plywood to size  and installed the last of the foam. After a quick lunch break, we finished all the foam by taping all the seams.

I also painted the cut ends of the fascia. The material itself is sort of a fancy OSB. Left exposed to the weather, the cut ends could absorb rainwater and swell.

At the very end of the day, the roofer stopped by to take some measurements. He told me he’d probably get the metal roofing ordered in the next day or two. I hope that also means that the roof can go on sooner rather than later. That, of course, depends on his schedule and the weather.

IMG_2781Lastly, I still need to find a paint sample of our house color. We are able to get siding PRE-PAINTED! Of course, this costs a little more, but it’s also a lot of time, work, and risk for me to be painting siding while dangling off ladders, especially at this time of year. I dug a can of paint out of my crawl-space and applied it to a piece of fascia scrap. It didn’t match at all! This color looked like a lemon compared to my house color. Why I have a can of paint this bright yellow, I’ll never know. I don’t have ANYTHING this color. I’ll have to keep digging in the crawl space and see if I have a can of the right color down there somewhere…

I’m pretty excited about the garage. Each step brings it closer to completion. Even if some days are cold and the other days are muddy.

Until next time, stay charged up!

-Ben

 

 

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Solar Pathfinding

by Ben N on December 17, 2016

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The last two days, I was working with my friend, Kurt. Kurt and his wife, Monica, helped out on the garage a little while back when I was putting in the Pex tubing for the hydronic heat. Kurt mentioned that Monica had a Solar Path Finder. I asked if I could borrow it, and sure enough, the next day Kurt had brought it with him.

So, today, I got to use the Solar Pathfinder.

In essence, the Solar Pathfinder is an optical tool which makes a circular reflection of the trees, buildings, and other obstructions which may block your access to sunlight through the year. I used a Solar Pathfinder once before in a class, so I only needed a quick review through the manual before heading outside.

IMG_2445The device sets up on an included tripod. There’s also a bubble level to make sure it’s oriented nice and level. The first main thing to do is orient the Pathfinder due south. That’s pretty easy to do since there’s a compass built right in. It even accounts for magnetic deviation. If you are somewhere that True North and Magnetic North don’t quite line up, the compass can be adjusted to compensate for that. Where I am in the Midwest, the lines of magnetism point straight north, so I didn’t have to make any adjustments.

With the Pathfinder pointed straight south, I laid in place the piece of black paper that comes pre-printed with lines marking both the time of day and height of the sun at each month. (More than one diagram is included. I used the one that most closely lined up with my latitude.) On top of that, I placed the smoked plastic dome. Looking at the dome, I can see both the reflections in the dome AND the white markings on the paper UNDER the dome.

Looking straight down at the dome, the bubble level is right in the middle, and reflects straight back up. The edge of the dome is the horizon, with south at the top and north at the bottom. The left and right edges are the eastern and western horizons.

I outlined the trees by reaching under the dome with a white grease pencil. There’s space designed to reach through with the pencil.

Solar Pathfinder w graphics_largeAfter I had done that, I headed back inside to take a look at my tracing. The markings on the paper list what percent of the sun’s energy is in that hour during that month. I added up the percent of all the hours in which the sun was NOT blocked by trees. When the sun is highest in the sky – May, July, and June, trees only block the sun very early and late in the day. And when the sun is blocked, it’s only a very small percentage of the total daily sun energy. During those sunny months, the sun would be directly shining on my solar panels 92% of the time.

April and August give me 84% of the maximum solar energy.

Spring and fall, the numbers aren’t quite as good. A row of maple trees (belonging to my next door neighbor) blocks the sun in the late afternoon. Of course, a month like March will be a little better than September. In March, there aren’t any leaves on the trees yet, whereas in September the leaves haven’t fallen off yet. By October and February, I’m only getting 75% of the maximum solar energy.

In December, solar is at it’s absolute worst. The sun is just SO low in the sky that shadows stretch impossibly long. According to the Pathfinder, I might be down to as little as 25% of my maximum solar. The only upside is that all the trees in view are deciduous, (other than that pine tree right in the middle,) so at least there’s no leaves on them in the winter.  Then again, by February, that pine tree no longer reaches the garage. It’s also this same time of year that it’s completely possible for the solar panels to be simply covered with snow, producing essentially NO solar energy.

Solar-Pathfinder_sunnyThe important thing to remember is that MOST of the solar energy comes from the middle of the day and the summer season. So, do I have perfect solar access? No, I don’t. Ideally, you almost want to be in the middle of an empty field. I’m in a neighborhood, but at least I don’t have a great big tree right next to my garage! (Anymore.)

The other thing to remember is that I made this Solar Pathfinder tracing from THE GROUND. While my solar panels will be on the ROOF of the garage, I couldn’t figure out any convenient and safe way to do that at the moment, while we are in a brief pause between two snow storms. With the solar panels higher in the air, they will be LESS effected by the shadowing objects. If you look at the video I shot the other day, there’s clearly some times where shadows fall on the front of the garage (where the Solar Pathfinder was) but not on the ROOF of the garage.

The Solar Pathfinder didn’t really tell me too much new. I already knew that I’d lose some energy in the afternoons in the summer because of my neighbor’s tree-line. I also knew that the distant pine tree could reach the garage during those shortest days of the year. Using micro-inverters will help somewhat with shading in that only the shaded panel will stop producing energy. The others will keep producing power.

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