Why Not Solar PV?
Energy Experts No Longer Recommend Solar
Rising fuel costs and increased awareness of the need for environmental protection has surged homeowner interest in renewable energy sources, particularly solar. Contributing to the popularity of solar is China, where the panel’s cells are mass produced with cheap labor, making the product one-tenth of its cost from 20 years ago. With such affordability, why don’t more homes have solar panels?
In response to consumer demand, Green Eco Solutions offered solar panel systems. Homeowners were pleased with the installation work and eager to reap the benefits. Unfortunately the satisfaction waned when it came to performance and maintenance issues. Enphase Energy, a California company responsible for supplying and servicing the system’s inverters, caused numerous headaches for homeowners as well as the company.
Inverters change dc current to ac current. Typically mounted on the back of the solar panel, these inverters come with a 25 year warranty from the manufacturer. Initially if an inverter went down Green Eco Solutions ordered a new one from Enphase, which was sent directly to Green Eco and a technician was scheduled to exchange the units. Green Eco returned the old inverter to Enphase so there was no charge to the homeowner. Complaints began when Enphase changed its procedures, requiring homeowners to search online and verify the inverter was broken. Only then would Enphase send the replacement inverter to Green Eco Solutions.
To complicate service further, Enphase implemented another procedural change, this time forcing the homeowner to request the replacement part and have it shipped to them. The cumbersome process to get through to Enphase was deliberate, taking 2 or 3 months to receive acknowledgement that the inverters were approved and scheduled for shipment. Currently they are shipped directly to the homeowner who must then contact Green Eco to schedule a technician. The process leaves homeowners without the energy production from solar for extended periods of time. Understandably, homeowners are dissatisfied with this service and Green Eco deems it unacceptable.
For these reasons and the considerations below, Green Eco Solutions will not recommend solar panel systems until the product and inverter issues have been sufficiently improved to accommodate homeowners and homes in this region.
Solar panels require bright sunshine for optimum performance.
Photovoltaic (PV) systems are widely used in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America where sun exposure is high and remote homes lack access to electricity. In other areas such as the northeastern U.S., sunshine is intermittent and unreliable. Overcast or cloudy days diffuse sunlight and reduce power. Winter’s shorter daylight hours produce proportionally less power than during summer. Solar panels can deliver significant energy only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.–a maximum of 25% of each day. Solar can help supply the hot afternoon demand for air conditioning, but demand for electricity generally peaks at about 6:30 p.m., when production from solar is usually zero.
At present less than 1% of electricity in the U.S. derives from solar. Many consumers are surprised to learn that they don’t own but lease the panels; that the collected energy is fed into a grid that serves others as well; and that blackouts cause the grid to go down, too.
System Damage and Maintenance
In regions with severe weather such as heavy rain, hail, snow, or hurricanes, a ground mounted system is safer than roof mounted. Only a small percentage of homeowners have sufficient land for a ground mounted system. Whether the system is grid-tied or off-grid, the inverter, bank of batteries, or generator require regular inspections and maintenance. A roof must have the structural integrity to support solar panels. Inexperienced or disreputable installers have installed panels with a 20 year lifespan on an old roof with only 10 years left. Or they failed to orient the panels south or west. Hail, a broken tree branch, or stray baseball can crack the glass, requiring prompt replacement of the panel (not repair) before moisture corrodes the wiring and causes a short. Panels must be kept clean and free of debris to perform efficiently. A film of dust or small debris such as leaves will drastically reduce operation. The cost for frequent maintenance (washing with special cleaning products) in areas with wind or smog is enough to deter many homeowners. Snow must be swept from the panels to restore operation, and heavy or wet snow must be shoveled. Most residential roofs are not intended to support the weight of foot traffic related to maintenance.
Another consideration is the large number of penetrations required to mount the panels, which may void the roof warranty. Solar installers and maintenance workers can cause penetrations by dropping tools or dragging materials across the roof. The roof is designed to shed water, and panel racks and wiring can impede proper drainage. Once panels are installed, any type of roof repair becomes complicated and expensive, and may require specialized roofers with solar expertise.
Finally, PV panels significantly raise the insured value of a home. Insurance policies typically require additional coverage that increases premium rates. Federal support for solar power (the 33% investment tax credit) expired in 2016, shifting the full burden for clean energy to consumers.