Battery Backup – Separating Hype from Reality

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When speaking with groups or individuals about solar energy, the most frequent question we receive is: what about solar + battery backup?  Clearly there is a motivating ROI for installing solar on a home or business, but many owners are also seeking to leverage that with backup power in case of outages. Batteries and new tech are visible in the press, but it is important for potential solar adopters to understand the realities and limitations of current battery technology, while also considering where it may be going in the future.

The most well-known battery suppliers on the market currently are LG, Tesla, Sonnen and Pika.  Each unit comes with its own positives and drawbacks.

While ‘averages’ are dangerous, a battery backup system for a small home (800 kWh/month usage) can vary greatly in price, ranging from $12,500-$25,000 depending on desired controls and solutions. This is in addition to the price of the solar PV system. Larger homes usually require an additional investment due to the current technology’s capacity limitations.

Because of battery costs and capacity limitations, solar + batteries make the most sense for:

  • Individuals and businesses located in high-power-cost areas (>$0.20/kWh)
  • Individuals that are not price-conscious and desire a home back up ‘at any cost’
  • Businesses that require 100% power up-time and deem renewables a key element of that strategy
  • Individuals and business located in storm-prone areas that require minimal power in cases of grid outage

The good news for those seeking solar + battery is that implementing solar now, and then adding battery backup in the future, is a viable option, and one that is becoming more attractive.  Solar is an incredibly scalable technology: i.e. one can install a 5 kW system today, and next year add 3 kW + batteries without significant redundant costs.  Additionally, tax credits may be used in multiple installations, potentially applying to a solar PV install one year and a battery install the next.  Solar + battery certainly makes sense for some investors, while for other, implementing solar now to begin saving money, with the plan of implementing batteries over the next 12-24 months as prices continue to fall is also an attractive option.

If battery prices continue on their recent downward cost trend line, they will be a ubiquitous presence in homes and businesses over the coming two decades.  Currently, they are a wonderful addition for the correct investor, but remain costly to perform a true ROI on their purchase.  If peace of mind on power up-time is priceless to you, then we would be privileged to help you install the solar + battery solution that works for your home or business.

Contact us for a free estimate!

Why Is Solar Pricing So Elusive?

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How much is this going to cost me? 
Can someone at least give me a ballpark price range?
Why can’t I find a published price for a solar system?  

These are some of the most frequently-asked questions by individuals researching solar. Sometimes, the perceived lack of transparency in pricing is used as a knock against the solar industry.  Is it really so hard to reveal the price of a system? 

Unlike purchasing a one-size fits all consumer product, even something like a car, the customization required for each solar system makes it difficult to price without performing a custom estimate. Any solar investor should receive an “all-in” price before they begin a job. This article outlines some important questions to ask and reasons why prices are best tailored to each individual situation.

Rough estimate pricing can almost always be provided with a cursory glance at a site, but both the investor and the solar company should demand precise and fixed pricing in advance.  Some variables that require job-specific investigation before pricing are:

  1. Risk profile of the site:
    1. Does the roof have an extreme pitch?  Is it of an age that requires additional work prior to solar installation?  Does roof height require equipment such as lifts?
    2. Where can the system tie into the power of the home and does this electrical service require additional work prior to solar installation?
  2. Local regulations:
    1. Certain utilities and municipalities have very specific solar processes which can add time and cost to an overall job.  Some examples include:
      1. Electrical grounding requirements
      2. Wind rating requirements
      3. Permit processing fees and timelines
      4. HOA regulations
  3. Warranty and service options:
    1. Does the owner desire power production tracking?
    2. How long of a warranty does the owner prefer for peace of mind?
    3. Does the owner desire pro-active service and site visits?

Most solar prices are offered in a per kW format, which adds up to a lump sum contract.  Those investing in a solar system for their home or business are usually best protected by a lump sum (stipulated sum) contract for services and goods.


Optimus distills these variables into a set package for consumers, so they can be guaranteed up-front and all-in pricing. All Optimus Solar systems for homes and businesses come standard with power generation tracking, full payback period warranty and a 30-year power production warranty.

Key Components of Your Solar PV System

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Many rooftop PV systems appear the “same” to the naked eye. Yet, a deeper look at the components of a system offers insight into the quality and longevity of a system.  Understanding how the various components function is an important part of the research process when deciding to install a solar PV system.  Here is a list of some of the key components and some questions you should ask your system installer: 

Solar PV Panel

Solar PV Panel

Inverter

Inverter

Racking Image courtesy oF  kineticsolar.com

Racking Image courtesy oF kineticsolar.com

1.    Panels:

  1. Solar panels come in different wattage ratings, which impact how much energy they can produce at their peak conditions.  Assessing solar panel per-watt prices can be helpful in comparing panels.
  2. The type (brand) of panel will impact warranty length and performance guarantees, which are directly related to the payback period and overall power production during the life of a system. Any owner should ensure the production guarantee is outlined up front, and understand that this is usually similar to a roof warranty, where it is paid on a depreciated basis.
  3. Panels come in a few different aesthetic options, from silver to gray to all black. Owner preference can dictate the color of panel used on most jobs.  Since these components will be on a roof for 30+ years, this is an important question to ask of any installer.

2.    Inverters:

  1. The type of inverter directly impacts its efficiency of converting DC to AC power and, therefore, the total output to be expected from the system. It also impacts compatibility with features such as system tracking. Owners should ensure that a quality inverter is utilized. Make sure to ask your installer about the type of inverter they plan to install. 
  2.  Where is the inverter going to be mounted?
    1. This is outlined during system design.  Inverters can be mounted in a garage or outdoors, with outdoor mounting requiring specific equipment ratings.
  3. Does the inverter allow panel-level monitoring?
    1. This is a helpful feature in ensuring panel performance and warranty standards, but requires specific hardware and software. If this is a desired feature, you should discuss it with your installer at the beginning of the project. 

3.    Racking:

  1. How are the feet of the system attached to the roof?
    1. Three elements vital to roof attachment are proper roof sealant, proper drilling and ensuring all feet are attached to the trusses of the home.  The engineering of the feet is critical to prevent any chance of water intrusion. Done properly, the panels attach securely without any long-term roof damage.
  2. Various rack models have different weights and strengths.  Some racking systems are designed for ground-mounting while others are for roofs. Ensuring the strength, weight and color of the racking system meet owner expectations is the installer's job. Getting racking right helps ensure peace of mind for the life of the system.
  3. Closing the endcaps of each rail prevents water and pest degradation. This is standard, but it is an important piece of the process that shouldn't be forgotten.

4.    Grounding:

  1. Will the system be grounded through my home power system, or independently?
    1. There is no “right or wrong” on grounding of the system. However, where there is a long distance from panels to main home power supply from utility, it may be wise to independently ground the solar panels to reduce future risk of damage from lightning.

All Optimus Solar systems for homes and businesses use the highest quality components available and come standard with power generation tracking, full payback period warranty and a 30-year power production warranty.