Our experience with Drews Solar

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We wanted to install solar panels to generate electricity for our house. We had numerous questions, and began by searching the internet for contractors. We contacted a number of them, but were immediately drawn to the Drews Solar website, because of the wealth of information it presented. The site anticipated and answered a number of our common questions.

Mike Drews came out to Ela Orchard, our farm, and we discussed our particular situation. I was impressed with how Mike immediately focused on issues that could be complications and how they might be dealt with.

Mike was friendly and straight forward about his schedule and about his expectations for when he could start our project.

After comparing a number of bids, Drews Solar was competitive and we asked Mike to go ahead.

Mike worked mostly alone and accomplished the installation in what seemed to us a remarkably short time. Through the process Mike answered our questions and kept us informed about its progress. He dealt with the regulatory paper work, and the whole process went smoothly.

We now have ground mounted solar panels generating electricity and we are greatly enjoying getting to know them as we move through the seasons.

It is hard for us to imagine a better solar panel installation experience. We continue to appreciate Mike’s work, his professionalism, his thoughtfulness, and his good company.

Bob Willard

Jane Hamilton

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The Benefits of Ground-Mount Arrays

I often have customers who want to go solar but don't have a good roof for it - they might have too much shade, their roof might face the wrong direction, or the roof is in bad shape or there are underlying structural issues. But if they have a good open area on their property with little shade and without other obstacles, a ground-mounted solar array can help them realize their dream of going solar.

The best location for a ground-mount installation is typically about 100-300 feet away from a home, in a cleared area with a good southern sun exposure. This is where we would erect a metal rack to hold the solar panels. Most solar racks have a pitch of 30-40 degrees and are about 8-10 feet tall, while the footprint dimensions are based on the number of panels you choose. 

The typical ground-mount installation will cost about $3,000 more than a system of similar size mounted on a rooftop. This cost comes from the labor and materials it takes to dig and pour concrete piers for the solar rack and to trench transmission wires to the house. But for many customers this extra expense is worth it because it allows them to get the $2,000 state rebate and locate their panels in shade-free location with an optimal tilt, yielding better production over the years to come.

If you are interested in a ground-mount installation, go ahead and fill out the form to receive a free estimate, or send me an email and we can set up a time for a visit and go over your options.

Planning for solar on your new home

Many people want to add solar panels while they are building a new home, and others prefer to do it later, sometimes years down the road. If you want to go solar while building, that's great! Just give us a call and we can work with your builder to make it happen. But if you're thinking of adding panels later**, there are a few things you can do to ensure you'll be able to add panels without a hitch.

Roof structure

Most new homes are built with pre-made engineered trusses made of 2x4 lumber and spaced every 24". If this the case for your new home or garage, you should have no problem adding solar panels in the future. These modern engineered trusses are designed in a way that very nicely facilitates the addition of solar panels - now or at any time in the future. If your roof will be constructed with anything else, such as a different type of truss, timber beams, or I-beams, you'll want to give us a call and ask if solar panels might still work for the roof in question. You'll also want to give us a call if the roof is over a vaulted ceiling, because the roof will likely not be constructed of a typical truss system.

Roof tilt

Solar panels can be installed flush to any roof between 10 and 50 degrees, but if you're building a new structure, you'll want to consider a pitch more optimal for solar panels. In general, if you don't heat and cool your home with a geothermal system, the best roof pitch for solar panels will be between 30 and 45 degrees. If you have a geothermal system, the best pitch will be between 35-45 degrees.

Roofing material

Most homes in Wisconsin have asphalt-shingles roofs, and if this is the case for your new home, great! Incorporating solar panels will be no problem either now or anytime in the future. We are often asked if we need to install the solar panels before or while the shingles are being installed, and the answer is no - we always wait to install the panels until after the roofing is complete. If the roofing material is standing-seam or corrugated metal, give us a call so see if it is compatible with solar panels - some styles are and some are not. And if your roof will be covered by metal shingles, clay or concrete tiles, or slate, we will not be able to incorporate solar panels.

Electrical Service

If your utility is not WE Energies. The main electrical panel in most new homes is rated at 200 amps. In general, this allows you to add about 30 solar panels to the home, but given that more than half of customers want more than 30 panels, chances are that you might as well. We can always make accommodations for a customer who wants more than 30 panels and only has a 200A main electrical panel, but having a simple discussion with a solar contractor before construction can help avoid additional expenses.

If your utility is WE Energies. We don't need to worry about the size of the main electrical panel if your property is in the WE Energies territory, but we do need to make sure that the meter pedestal has two meter positions, one for the house and one for the solar array. The most common model is Milbank U1783.

Garages

If your garage will be connected to your home, we will typically have no problem tying the solar array to the home's main electrical panel. But if your garage will not be attached, please give us a call to discuss your options to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.

Internal conduit

When installing a solar array we will need to connect the solar panel wiring on the roof to the wiring near your main panel in the basement or garage. We can always attach a small inconspicuous conduit to the outside of your home if an internal conduit wasn't installed when the house was built, but why not plan ahead? You'll want to talk to a solar contractor about the size and location of this conduit. The home electrical contractor can install it, and will probably do it for free.

 

**Keep in mind that the 30% federal tax credit will go down to 26% for systems installed in 2020 and down again to 22% for those installed in 2021. Starting in 2022 the credit will no longer be available.

 

Solar Panels and What To Do About Snow

People often ask me what they need to do when it snows on their solar panels. You have two options: one is easy, but the other more rewarding.

Your first option is to do nothing. If daytime temps are in the 20's and 30's, sun and warmth will eventually melt the snow and cause it to slide off the solar array. This happens most quickly if the panels are on a steeper roof facing south, but even so, snow will eventually melt on panels with a low pitch facing east and west. And regardless of snow, solar panel systems produce the least energy during the colder months when the sun is lower in the sky and we have fewer sunny days. So if you're losing power because of snow on your panels, you're likely losing only a few percent of your overall annual output.

Your other option is snow removal. This is a good choice for people who enjoy being outdoors during the winter and also want to get the most out of their solar panels. While there are many dangerous ways to remove snow from a roof-top solar array, there are a couple of methods that are much safer and can even be fun.

Removal Option 1: hose down the array after a snowfall. Cold water will melt the snow away fairly quickly, but you'll want to use this option only when the air temperature is at least a few degrees above freezing (32F+). Otherwise you'll be doing more damage than good - and also adding an incredible amount of weight to your already heavy-laden roof. If you want to try this method, start first by tackling a lighter snowfall that leaves only a thin layer on the array, then move up to heavier snow falls as you gain some experience.

Removal Option 2: mechanical removal. Do a Google image search and you'll find there are many tools that people employ in this endeavor. But the best is probably a roof rake on a telescoping pole, like this one and this one.

Using a telescoping handle with a broom or squeegee head can also work, but they may be less efficient at grabbing the snow. If you go with the roof rake, just make sure the head is made of a material that won't scratch the panel glass - plastic and foam are good, but you'll want to stay away from all types of metal. You might not be able to reach the highest parts of your array, but clearing the snow from the bottom will give the snow at the top a clear path to slide down. And don't sweat it if there is a bit of snow remaining on the panels when you've finished raking - the last bits will melt soon enough, and the panels don't need to be 100% clean to produce power.

I hope you found this helpful. And whatever you do, don't get on the roof with a shovel.

Solar Panels: Do They Need to Face South?

 Many customers are happy to learn that solar panels don't need to face due-South.

Many customers are happy to learn that solar panels don't need to face due-South.

Science, yes science, tells us that it's best to face solar panels to the South because you'll get the most bang-for-your-buck with the investment you've made. But won't they work if they face East or West, or what about North?

The truth is that while solar panels that face East or West (or North) are not ideal, it can make economic sense for many customers. Panels facing East or West produce about 15% less electricity than the same panel facing South, and with panels facing SE or SW, that number is only 7%. And while we typically have better options than facing panels toward the North, with a shallow tilt angle you might only lose 20-25%.

In general, the best tilt angles are between 20 and 45 degrees, which also happens to be the pitch of almost all residential roofs in Wisconsin. A lower tilt angle will give you more solar output in the summer when the sun is high in the sky, but less in the winter with the sun is low. And vise versa for a steeper tilt angle. If you're building a structure for solar panels, you're best bet is to construct a roof pitch of 30-35 degrees, giving you a nice balance between summer and winter sun angles, and it's also enough to shed the snow more quickly.

Solar Incentives: How Long Will They Last?

 Solar panels prices have dropped 80% in the past decade. Now that the cost has leveled off, it's a good time to buy.

Solar panels prices have dropped 80% in the past decade. Now that the cost has leveled off, it's a good time to buy.

Most solar customers in Wisconsin get a 30%-40% discount with the help of two main incentives: the State of Wisconsin rebate and the federal 30% tax credit. Given the current state of each incentive, going solar in 2017 or 2018 will be a smart move.

The state rebate has morphed many times over that past decade. Last year the maximum rebate was $2400, and although we expected it might be discontinued this year, the rebate will be back in 2017! We haven’t received official news regarding the dollar amount, but it is expected to be around $1,800 – less than years past, but good news nonetheless. And although it’s likely that the incentive will be extended through 2018, there is always a chance that it won’t – we will have to wait until December 2017 to learn more.

The 30% federal tax credit (with no maximum) was established in 2009, and with help from a dramatic drop in the price in solar panels, has fueled a massive growth in solar installations across the US. The credit is 30% in 2017, 2018 and 2019, then drops to 26% in 2020 and drops again to 22% in 2021. On January 1st 2022, the credit will drop to 0%. The credit was extended a couple times in the last decade, but there is nearly no chance it will be extended beyond 2021. And a cautionary note: don’t wait until the last minute because contract prices will likely rise as demand increases when incentive level drops occur in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

There are also two lesser-known incentives in Wisconsin that give solar installations a generous helping hand. And it's doubtful either will expire any time soon.

One is the sales tax exemption: solar installations, unlike most other home property improvement invoices, are not required to include the 5.5% state sales tax. So when we tell you that a solar installation will cost $17,000, that is the total price – we will not tack on a sales tax. This saves most customers about $1,000. The other incentive is the property tax exemption. When you have solar panels installed on your home in Wisconsin, the added value is not included in your tax assessment (although it will very likely increase the fair market value of your home). So while you will be able to sell your home for more, it won’t increase your annual property tax bill. For most customers this will save them $300-$600 every year they own their home.