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Economical Solar Energy Solutions
For Home, Pool, & Business

Serving Alabama and Mississippi 
phone:  251-751-8723
email:  gulfcoastsolar@bellsouth.net 
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Frequently Asked Questions

Photovoltaic (PV) Electricity

 The idea of ‘living off the grid’ may stir mixed emotions in hurricane-weary Gulf Coast residents, but there are situations where making your own electricity from the sun is the best solution.  The cost of running service from main power lines to secluded rural home sites or camps may tip the scales in favor of self-generated electricity.  The quiet power of a PV / Battery system is nicer than the drone of a generator and the hassle of transporting fuel and keeping it running.

PV Panels

 ‘Net Metering’ is in place in Alabama for Alabama Power customers.  In August, 2008, the Alabama Public Service Commission authorized Alabama Power's rate plan 'PAE' which permits buy-back of PV- and wind-generated electricity.  See the Alabama Power website for further details.  Other state electric cooperatives and organizations have various policies and approaches to ‘Net Metering’.
 
 PV interconnections with electricity utilities must be made with proper isolation safeguards.  They are treated like a generator system.  If you put in a large enough system you can turn your meter backwards in the middle of the day.  We will work with you to design a safe, reliable PV installation that meets your needs, whether on- or off-grid.  We are SunWize and AEE dealers and have access to a wide range of equipment.

Types of PV Systems

 The different configurations of PV systems you can put in are (in order of increasing complexity and cost):
  1. 'Grid-Tie' - PV panels with AC inverter that supplements the house's grid-supplied electricity.  If the PV panels supply more than the house uses your electric meter turns backwards.  Requires isolation switches and other safety measures.
  2. 'Grid-Tie with backup' - PV panels with AC inverter, battery bank, charge controllers, and transfer switch for selected 'emergency' circuits in the house.  This would create a 'UPS' for selected house power circuits if grid power is lost.  Requires major rewiring and is best implemented like, or with, a permanent emergency generator.
  3. 'Off-Grid' - The whole off-grid package.  PV panels and battery system to power the entire house or camp.  The first thing to do in this case is to plan to minimize your energy usage so you don't have to make as much.  Then you go down a lifestyle decision tree for the rest of it.  This requires a lot of planning to fully understand all the implications. 

PV Pricing

We treat each PV system as a separate design project with unique requirements to give a firm quotation.  But, to give an overall idea of the money involved, sizing and cost estimating for PV grid-tie systems goes roughly like this.

PV system size is measured in KW, or thousands of watts of solar panels.  A 200 watt (0.2 KW) rated panel nominally makes 200 watts per hour in full sun.  Panels make more power when it is cold and less when they are hot.  Simplisticly assuming 5 hours of full sun per day, this panel would generate 1000 watt-hours of power daily.  With a $0.10/KWH electricity price that would be a dime's worth of power a day and $3 per month (30 KWH) off of an electric bill.

A system with ten 200 watt panels would be called a 2 KW system.   For a simple example, an estimating price of $10 / watt of installed panel for grid-tie systems would give a rough price of $ 20,000 for that system making $1 worth of power a day and $30 (300 KWH) per month. (Costs simplified for ease of calculation.  System prices have been trending much lower and electricity prices higher than shown.)

As you see, things get very, very, expensive in a hurry without rebates and incentives.  A PV system big enough to take $100 per month off of a utility bill would use 60 3'x5' panels.  The payback periods for domestic PV systems in Alabama is around 20 years with current electricity prices.  Payback periods are a lot less in parts of the world that might pay 40 or 50 cents per KWH.

Domestic PV systems should be used in conjuction with solar water heating systems, LED lighting, and other improvements.  Solar is a much more economical way to collect water heating energy.

Florida offers a significant rebate for domestic PV which helps the economics a lot.  Commerical PV systems qualify for the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit.  With the two credits combined, a Florida business can get into PV very economically.  Florida solar rebate details are found here. . Alabama and Mississippi must rely on the federal tax credits only.  TVA offers some PV incentives through some local distributors.  A nationwide listing of available state incentives is found here.

Battery System Costs

The costs for adding batteries to a PV system for backup or off-grid are dependant on how much backup you want and how long you want the batteries to last.  Batteries last longer with lighter discharge cycles.  You only get back out 80% of the power you put into batteries, so that must be factored in, too.  You must decide whether you want maintenance-free AGM or gel batteries or conventional lead-acid ones that will last longer and hold more power.  All these considerations make battery selection a case-by-case situation that can't be addressed with an estimating rule of thumb.