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  • Castle Problems! Crazy roof but want to go solar. Please give opinions.

    Hi all. Long time stalker first time poster.

    I've been frantically researching a solar system and my situation is unusual so I'd like to give a lot of info, ask several questions, and hopefully get much useful feedback.

    I have linked below [hopefully] images of my roof. I live in NY (zone 5) about an hour North of the city. The majority of my roof is perfectly flat and there are a couple large castle things that stick up in the air causing occasional shading. I'm going to take a time-lapse video of it as soon as the weather gets a little better. Due to the shading, limited roof size, and extraordinary usage I've been considering the SunPower panels with the micro inverters. The thing is my house is mostly under construction right now and we own the construction company that's building the surrounding neighborhood. Due to this we were figuring maybe we could purchase the equipment and install it ourselves. We have the manpower and I've taken a number of astronomy and physics classes to lock down on the science aspect of it. We would like to get this setup done sooner than later. However we're currently building a barn, rec center, and other building which we could also cover in panels. We use about 3,200kwh per month but that may change drastically as we don't occupy the entire house yet and when we replace our current vehicles they will certainly be electric. This is my situation.

    Now my questions.....

    1. Can SunPower panels/system be purchased wholesale like I see for LG and others or can you only get them installed? The new Equinox system looks appealing but maybe it's terrible I don't know.

    2. As you can see in the images the majority of the panel space is a flat roof so the panels would have to be angled up. What's the current standing on sun tracking motors etc? Is there a particular brand that's popular that I can research? Should I expect worthwhile gains if the panel is tracking the sun? I'd imagine I should.

    3. The micro-inverters are beneficial to a system that would occasionally have a few panels here or there shaded correct? Is it a dramatic loss with a standard DC system if I have say 47 panels but 2 are in shade?

    4. Does one still get the 30% tax credit if one buys the materials and does it oneself?

    5. Can Any of these systems be connected to a Powerwall2 (or similar)? We were planning on getting a giant generator but maybe we could take that money and put it into Powerwalls instead if they ever come out.

    6. My extremely rough calculations suggest I could fit about 47 42"x62" panels on the roof in all those various locations. I'm certain the real life number would be less. This would not be enough to cover my entire energy usage. Is it ok to add onto a system later on? For example if 5 or 10 years down the line I add an array in the yard would I be able to plumb that into the same system?

    7. I see there are new LGs that are coming out which look very efficient the LG NeON R series. Would there be any direct advantage to the SunPower over these other than the micro inverters?

    8. Can I add micro-inverters to LG panels to help with the shading issues if I'm not able to purchase the SunPower ones direct?

    9. It's not impossible that our development we're building may use 500 or so panels in the new couple of years. Where would the best place be to get a large quantity of panels for as cheap as possible?

    10. Should I just say F it and have SunPower come and check it out and install it? lol

    11. BUT will they be in business in 5 years much less 25? lol

    12. The primary reason we're doing this is environmental and energy independence, not financial savings, however we don't want to simply burn money on this either.

    Thank you very much!

    Sorry for the onslaught of the first post.

    All the very very best,
    Gene


    Roof01.jpgRoof03.jpgRoof02.jpgRoof09.jpgRoof08.jpg
    Attached Files

  • #2
    1.) Forget Sunpower. Good stuff but overpriced.


    2.) Download and read "Solar Power Your Home for Dummies", a free net download for a slightly out of date version. Or, ~ $25 for a newer version at bookstores/amazon, etc.

    Don't buy anything until you get educated and informed. You are currently a sitting duck for peddlers.
    Last edited by SunEagle; 03-21-2017, 09:57 AM. Reason: spelling

    Comment


    • #3
      Sure looks like a good roof to consider a ground mount array. That is nightmare roof to do an installation, lots of angles , a slate roof plus significant potential for shadowing. Cost per installed watt will be steep and expect snow coverage will be an issue in winter. No matter how good the panels may look in a brochure they are going to look very out of place on that structure. The flat area surrounded by parapets is a poor location for panels due to snow accumulation even if you optimize for summer production, the panel angles mean that you need to leave wide spacing between arrays unless you do a sloped mount which will look bad as the panels will be visible above the parapets. It would need to be a ballasted system as you really don't want to even consider putting in new roof penetrations into what looks like a fairly recent single ply membrane roof on that flat roof. I wouldn't trust anyone to put in brackets on those slate roofs except a slate specialist and expect the cost will be quite steep. Generally with old slate once you start messing with it for a small job it becomes a big job. I would be very concerned with going with any of the big national firms as they specialize in cheap and dirty installs and nothing in your photos give me any confidence that they could do good job on what is going to be custom installation. Realistically you payback for a properly done job is going to be double or more than a typical install.

      I don't know if community solar ever passed in NY but you might be perfect candidate for it http://www.utilitydive.com/news/insi...rogram/402896/ , I didn't look for details but in my state neighbors can get together and build one array that supplies multiple households with solar.

      All Earth Renewables makes dual axis tracking ground mount arrays which assuming you have sunny field or yard would sit off to the side and generate power. As its a tracking array, its about 30% more efficient than a fixed array so you end up with less square footage of panels. They are also designed for snowy conditions and stow vertically at night so snow buildup is far less of an issue. They are made in VT and are quite popular as the VT incentives were effectively written by the person who owns the company.

      Tracking arrays are definitely a premium price over a standard installation but yours isn't a standard installation so it may be worth looking at a tracker.

      The prior poster had the best observation is that do you homework quickly as you are ripe for being used and abused by peddlers. Keep in mind their salesman's job is to say yes to every question you have to get a contract signed and then they dump it on their back office to figure out how to do it. Sure they may make lots of promises but odds are they will just do a cheap install and hope thy have new job before the inevitable problems crop up.

      Unless you need super high efficiency panels for a roof with minimal good area for solar (like that in the pictures) you are far better off buying slightly less efficient panels for far less money. If you are serious about buying a bulk order of panels there are discounters that will sell you a container load for quite a discount. Just buy all you need at once as most panels have a half life of about 2 years before they go off the market . Note most firms will not guarantee an installation unless they supply the panels. The only alternative is for you to become the general contractor and hire an electrician to install your panels and you waive any expectation of guarantees from the electrician unless its directly related to the electricians workmanship.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by J.P.M. View Post
        1.) Forget Sunpower. Good stuff but overpriced.


        2.) Download and read "Solar Power Your Home for Dummies", a free net download for a slightly out of date version. Or, ~ $25 for a newer version at bookstores/amazon, etc.

        Don't buy anything until you get educated and informed. You are currently a sitting duck for peddlers.
        Thank you. I'll check out the book. I've done a tremendous amount of research but more knowledge is always a good thing. As far as SunPower I know often it doesn't make sense but considering my limited roof space and high electricity need is this not the one scenario where SunPower does make sense?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by peakbagger View Post
          Sure looks like a good roof to consider a ground mount array. That is nightmare roof to do an installation, lots of angles , a slate roof plus significant potential for shadowing. Cost per installed watt will be steep and expect snow coverage will be an issue in winter. No matter how good the panels may look in a brochure they are going to look very out of place on that structure. The flat area surrounded by parapets is a poor location for panels due to snow accumulation even if you optimize for summer production, the panel angles mean that you need to leave wide spacing between arrays unless you do a sloped mount which will look bad as the panels will be visible above the parapets. It would need to be a ballasted system as you really don't want to even consider putting in new roof penetrations into what looks like a fairly recent single ply membrane roof on that flat roof. I wouldn't trust anyone to put in brackets on those slate roofs except a slate specialist and expect the cost will be quite steep. Generally with old slate once you start messing with it for a small job it becomes a big job. I would be very concerned with going with any of the big national firms as they specialize in cheap and dirty installs and nothing in your photos give me any confidence that they could do good job on what is going to be custom installation. Realistically you payback for a properly done job is going to be double or more than a typical install.

          I don't know if community solar ever passed in NY but you might be perfect candidate for it http://www.utilitydive.com/news/insi...rogram/402896/ , I didn't look for details but in my state neighbors can get together and build one array that supplies multiple households with solar.

          All Earth Renewables makes dual axis tracking ground mount arrays which assuming you have sunny field or yard would sit off to the side and generate power. As its a tracking array, its about 30% more efficient than a fixed array so you end up with less square footage of panels. They are also designed for snowy conditions and stow vertically at night so snow buildup is far less of an issue. They are made in VT and are quite popular as the VT incentives were effectively written by the person who owns the company.

          Tracking arrays are definitely a premium price over a standard installation but yours isn't a standard installation so it may be worth looking at a tracker.

          The prior poster had the best observation is that do you homework quickly as you are ripe for being used and abused by peddlers. Keep in mind their salesman's job is to say yes to every question you have to get a contract signed and then they dump it on their back office to figure out how to do it. Sure they may make lots of promises but odds are they will just do a cheap install and hope thy have new job before the inevitable problems crop up.

          Unless you need super high efficiency panels for a roof with minimal good area for solar (like that in the pictures) you are far better off buying slightly less efficient panels for far less money. If you are serious about buying a bulk order of panels there are discounters that will sell you a container load for quite a discount. Just buy all you need at once as most panels have a half life of about 2 years before they go off the market . Note most firms will not guarantee an installation unless they supply the panels. The only alternative is for you to become the general contractor and hire an electrician to install your panels and you waive any expectation of guarantees from the electrician unless its directly related to the electricians workmanship.
          Thank you for all the input. We want to do a ground array at some point but we cannot at this point for a number of reasons. Our building is a historical site, we're using the castle as a piece to sell homes on the surrounding land so want to keep it visually as stunning as possible...etc.

          The standard roof there is not slate it's just basic roof tiles.

          As far as the flat area yes we wouldn't want to puncture that roof in any way. However I'm not quite sure how more snow would get on the panels if they are raised off the ground and at an angle. The building is very tall and sits on top of a hill. The thinking was to raise the panels to about the height of the parapet wall and put trackers on them. They still wouldn't be visible from the ground/road for the most part.

          The community solar is an interesting and great idea. I will research it further. Our front lawn could take a giant array but it would detract visually so we want to wait on that. Our neighbors have a large horse farm and we could definitely do something like that over there. I just figure why not do it in the roof to get things started.

          Very fascinating on the ground tracking array. We would definitely have the room to put several of those 20 panel units on our front lawn. Something to look into for the future for sure.

          I definitely don't want to simply hire an installer and have them do it. I have run the numbers on these things and considering we have the manpower to build 100 homes we shouldn't pay the crazy labor rates to get someone to do a possibly shoddy job. We had someone give an estimate to light the outside of our home with light fixtures. They quoted us $109k. I took the specs they provided and found better IP rated lights which will cost us less than $20k.

          Best,
          Gene

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by phantasms View Post

            Thank you. I'll check out the book. I've done a tremendous amount of research but more knowledge is always a good thing. As far as SunPower I know often it doesn't make sense but considering my limited roof space and high electricity need is this not the one scenario where SunPower does make sense?
            You're Welcome.

            FWIW, get informed and you may well see other ways to lower your electric bill (which, BTW, will do as much or more on a per kWh saved basis than anything elsemore, including PV) will be more cost effective and practical. Any resulting array will also be smaller ( less $$4). If you are bound and determined to use PV, I'd suggest and support peakbagger's alternative, even though probably less cost effective yet than roof top PV, especially Sunpower, that a ground mount may be more practical.

            Just know that whatever you do, PVwise, peddlers will tell you anything for an order. I'd respectfully suggest you get informed and get answers to your questions from sources that are knowledgeable and as unbiased as possible with no skin in the game. Know what 's available, and the limitations and possibilities of PV, before you simply throw panels at a high electric bill.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by phantasms View Post
              The thinking was to raise the panels to about the height of the parapet wall and put trackers on
              them. They still wouldn't be visible from the ground/road for the most part.

              Very fascinating on the ground tracking array. We would definitely have the room to put several of those 20 panel units on our front lawn.

              Best, Gene
              I heat, cool, and supply my own electricity with grid tied solar, but use only about 2/3 your 3200KWH a month. To generate
              power on your scale will require hundreds of feet of array located in a pretty clear space.

              Dual axis trackers become very expensive for a large system and tend to get in each others way. A single axis tracker is
              simpler and can still be tilted to minimize snow accumulation. With todays prices adding more panels is the cheaper,
              lower maintenance alternative to trackers. If some panels facing east and west share an inverter, you can get the tracker
              advantage of a longer solar day without more inverters. If you have clouds (like NW IL), the cloud dispersed light will pick
              up panels of any orientation, and output won't drop as much. A tracker can't do that.

              Get more numbers, to avoid disappointment. Bruce Roe

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by bcroe View Post
                Get more numbers, to avoid disappointment. Bruce Roe
                And, FWIW, more knowledge/information.

                Comment


                • #9
                  "5. Can Any of these systems be connected to a Powerwall2 (or similar)? We were planning on getting a giant generator but maybe we could take that money and put it into Powerwalls instead if they ever come out."

                  Some on this forum are real experts on battery systems and hopefully they can give you an idea of the high lifetime costs of these and what "savings" you may/not see. From what I can find each 10 kWh powerwall version 2 starts at $5,500 without installation - i found a link that says Solar City will charge about $7k installed.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by phantasms View Post

                    Thank you for all the input. We want to do a ground array at some point but we cannot at this point for a number of reasons. Our building is a historical site, we're using the castle as a piece to sell homes on the surrounding land so want to keep it visually as stunning as possible...etc.

                    The standard roof there is not slate it's just basic roof tiles.

                    As far as the flat area yes we wouldn't want to puncture that roof in any way. However I'm not quite sure how more snow would get on the panels if they are raised off the ground and at an angle. The building is very tall and sits on top of a hill. The thinking was to raise the panels to about the height of the parapet wall and put trackers on them. They still wouldn't be visible from the ground/road for the most part.

                    The community solar is an interesting and great idea. I will research it further. Our front lawn could take a giant array but it would detract visually so we want to wait on that. Our neighbors have a large horse farm and we could definitely do something like that over there. I just figure why not do it in the roof to get things started.

                    Very fascinating on the ground tracking array. We would definitely have the room to put several of those 20 panel units on our front lawn. Something to look into for the future for sure.

                    I definitely don't want to simply hire an installer and have them do it. I have run the numbers on these things and considering we have the manpower to build 100 homes we shouldn't pay the crazy labor rates to get someone to do a possibly shoddy job. We had someone give an estimate to light the outside of our home with light fixtures. They quoted us $109k. I took the specs they provided and found better IP rated lights which will cost us less than $20k.

                    Best,
                    Gene
                    FWIW, a FIXED ground mount may be quite unobtrusive, at least a lot less than panels all over a roof. A fixed array, while perhaps more $$ than a roof mount ( although given the number of different roof locations and associated construction and wiring considerations, I wonder how much more a fixed ground mount would actually be for this application).

                    I'd be very surprised if tracking arrays as you envision will be practical or maybe even possible.

                    For the project size and scope it sounds like you are considering, and in spite of the prior experience you write of, you may want to contact an engineering consulting or A & E type outfit.

                    With all possible respect, from what you write and how you write it, it sounds like what you want is out of your experience and capability range. Read the book before you contact professionals.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I agree that a custom tracking roof mount is not the way to go.

                      I am not a fan of fixed ground mounts in snowy climates as snow covered panels is an issue. Sure it can be dealt with but it requires someone willing to go out and brush them off. They also need to be designed high enough off the ground to prevent what I call "snow slump" Snow falls on the panel and slides down the panel and builds up at the base of the lower edge. A hump starts to form at the base which is much higher then the actual snowpack as the surface area of the arrays is concentrated in one spot.. Eventually the hump gets higher than the lower edge of the panel, from then on the snow slides down and then piles up against the hump keeping the panels partially covered. After a few thaw freeze cycles the hump gets solid. I drive by several large solar farms in central Mass and see more than a few with hundreds if not thousands of panels in this condition. At a few of them I have see folks with bobcats trying to remove the snow but most of them just sit until there is a sustained thaw. The row spacing is too tight to plow it and too long to use a snowblower so every bit of snow ends up having to be hauled to the end of the row and disposed of. Most farms are crammed into lots where every square inch is packed with panels so getting rid of the snow once its at the end of the row might mean having to truck it.

                      My original pole mount array was sized for 4' of clearance between the bottom edge of the array and the ground and snow slump wasn't much of an issue (although it did happen once or twice). After I upgraded the array with larger panels the gap dropped down to around 30 inches. Snow slump is now a more frequent issue but a pass of the snowblower takes care of it. I also have this occur on my roof mounted solar hot water panels and just put up with it as I only uses them for preheating in the winter.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by peakbagger
                        My original pole mount array was sized for 4' of clearance between the bottom edge of the array and
                        the ground and snow slump wasn't much of an issue (although it did happen once or twice). After I upgraded the array with
                        larger panels the gap dropped down to around 30 inches. Snow slump is now a more frequent issue but a pass of the
                        snowblower takes care of it.
                        I would suggest leaving an 8" gap between the bottom row of panels and the next one up. That way most snow falls underneath
                        the panels instead of in front of them. Gaps for every row relieve labor pushing snow. Landscape mount would then help too.

                        My plan is to at least get the panels near vertical for the snow months. Reflections off the snow make for decent efficiency. The
                        idea of motorized tilting them vertical or past vertical for snow storms has crossed my mind, but probably won't happen. It would
                        take multiple jack motors, and perhaps lock down points for stability/strength when the motors weren't operating. And a lot of
                        timed manual intervention.

                        Honestly I don't see the elegant solution for dealing with snow, yet. The single axis tracking might come the closest. I'd bet a lot
                        of panels just stay covered for long intervals in the snow belt. Right now the AWD snow blower in operation here takes me out to
                        the array, where snow pushers are stored. I clean the array and then finish snow blowing paths/drives. Bruce Roe

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by peakbagger View Post
                          I agree that a custom tracking roof mount is not the way to go.

                          I am not a fan of fixed ground mounts in snowy climates as snow covered panels is an issue. Sure it can be dealt with but it requires someone willing to go out and brush them off. They also need to be designed high enough off the ground to prevent what I call "snow slump" Snow falls on the panel and slides down the panel and builds up at the base of the lower edge. A hump starts to form at the base which is much higher then the actual snowpack as the surface area of the arrays is concentrated in one spot.. Eventually the hump gets higher than the lower edge of the panel, from then on the snow slides down and then piles up against the hump keeping the panels partially covered. After a few thaw freeze cycles the hump gets solid. I drive by several large solar farms in central Mass and see more than a few with hundreds if not thousands of panels in this condition. At a few of them I have see folks with bobcats trying to remove the snow but most of them just sit until there is a sustained thaw. The row spacing is too tight to plow it and too long to use a snowblower so every bit of snow ends up having to be hauled to the end of the row and disposed of. Most farms are crammed into lots where every square inch is packed with panels so getting rid of the snow once its at the end of the row might mean having to truck it.

                          My original pole mount array was sized for 4' of clearance between the bottom edge of the array and the ground and snow slump wasn't much of an issue (although it did happen once or twice). After I upgraded the array with larger panels the gap dropped down to around 30 inches. Snow slump is now a more frequent issue but a pass of the snowblower takes care of it. I also have this occur on my roof mounted solar hot water panels and just put up with it as I only uses them for preheating in the winter.
                          I'd agree that fixed ground mounting may not be the best answer in snowy climates, but, there may not be an ideal solution or arrangement that's safe, workable, practical, serviceable and cost effective anyway.

                          Fixed ground mounting with sufficient clearance and higher tilt angles given the likely higher latitude and possible (but, from experience and some measurement usually less than advertised albedo advantages) may be one compromise that involves the least cost, best (or at least acceptable) reliability, and lowest user involvement for the conditions. Once the bottom edges of panels are off the ground far enough to ensure snow buildup won't block irradiance, and access between rows for equipment is sufficient, along with considerations for some place to put the snow, I don't see a huge advantage to pole mounts that are fixed, or single axis, or gimbaled as offering enough advantages over fixed ground mounts with sufficient clearance, and maybe some significant drawbacks caused by decreased ease of access and increased complexity. Just opinion.

                          I do see possible issues with high mounting or large ground clearances with respect to snow clearing and other general maint. and cleaning issues. If elevated and tracking, the increased complexity will increase the probability of increased maint. and reliability issues.

                          One way (of many) to perhaps partially handle the snow issue with ground mounts might involve singe axis tracking that would allow panels to be rotated through 180 or more degrees with backside electronics protected while still allowing air circulation for the backside when panels are in service. Rotate at night or during snow events in some fashion. That's really a "you could just do this and problem solved" B.S. idea of the type I rail about. There may be no practical way to easily deal with regular or sustained snow on a PV array that does not impair performance or impact cost effectiveness at least some.

                          Your mention of existing arrays and what look like unforeseen (or not talked about by peddler) hassles, with what sounds like either poor planning/design/engineering or simply tradeoffs of economic reality and other factors is worth noting as possibly what can happen for those considering R.E. solutions without and/or before considering all, or as many of the things that are necessary.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Pole Mount is another alternative. And it can deal with snow.

                            20170103_083322.png
                            Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
                            || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
                            || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

                            solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
                            gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I like my adjustable angle pole mount, it took my 15 minutes to adjust the angle from Winter (30 Deg off vertical) to Spring (45 degrees off vertical). I have the two sway braces installed in winter to the corners of the array but for the rest of the year I only use one. If high winds are predicted I can always hook up the other one. Adjusting the sway braces take longer than actually adjusting the pole angle.
                              Attached Files

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