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Going Solar Pathways trains renewable energy salespersons and homeowners how to prepare for permanent solar installations prior to making any commitments. A brief summary of the steps needed are Site Survey,  Consider Regulations, Costs and Payback,  Rebates and Incentives. Home improvement challenges differ according to locale. Apply the following teaching tools as a guideline to aid decisions involving solar.

 Going Solar Pathways

small_solarpanel.jpgEco-friendly citizens are willing to consider solar renewable energy alternatives.  Two primary solar applications that come to mind immediately are solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (pv).  Solar thermal covers a range of topics, including water heating, space heating and the latest innovation, air conditioning.  Light is another property our sun provides daily.  Photovoltaic cells assembled into panels capture and transform sunlight into electricity.  Manufactured pv panels are available in a variety of sizes and electrical specifications.  Installers use special building techniques for each unique site to construct multiple panels into arrays.

One sales appointment can address solar thermal water heating and pv electric simultaneously.  Both solar energies associate similar collection methods.  Although they are two entirely different systems, certain common denominators apply when considering site-specific limitations.  A site survey is a fundamental evaluation to determine suitability.  Well before potential owners, contractors or sales people sit down to discuss the finer points of equipment and finances, someone involved will perform the site survey.

Site Survey

A preliminary site survey simply suggests walking the property.  Optimum system results depend upon correct orientation toward the sun and minimal shading.  Look for two necessary things: a south facing view and unobstructed, full sunlight over the entire day.  Consider the present time of day and day of the year.  The next step gets easier with a little practice.  Find a shadow cast by a vertical pole or tree.  Observe east and west and envision the sun’s overheard arc throughout the whole day. Estimate if any tall trees or buildings will interfere with your desired solar footprint. Take referral pictures at different times during the day when convenient.

For solar hot water collectors, imagine one or perhaps two 4 ft. x 8 ft. sheets of plywood.  There are a gazillion styles and sizes of hot water collectors available.  Plan to tilt the solar hot water collector toward the south sun, slightly up about 30 degrees to the horizon for good results.  Visualize the piping route to and from the solar collector.  Best practices will strive for the shortest pipe runs and include an outside drain.  Roof mounting above or near a load-bearing wall is best for the weight. Final appearances and heat loss prevention should influence the pipe route plan.  Think about wall and roof penetrations, access points and the critical need to avoid rain leaks.  Modern collectors come with a pop off valve and employ freeze protection.

Solar hot water heating systems generally require a new hot water tank.  High efficiency and larger size provide greater storage capacity and the key to success.  A good preliminary site survey takes into account finding a place for the new tank.  Include some extra space for disconnects, valves and related equipment.  Nobody wants to work on anything in too cramped quarters.

Garner an idea about the end objectives. Providing hot water for cooking, clothes washing and showers in a typical household with four people means significant demand. Our example house requires a new 60-gallon or 80-gallon tank to be able to supply enough hot water. Up to three days of storage are generally adequate even during cloudy periods and colder weather. A smaller two-bedroom residence, like an apartment, may accommodate a single person or couple. However, less demand in this case does not preclude future expansion. Reducing the tank size to 40-gallons or less does not justify enough initial cost savings. Although most new tanks have electric backup, the goal of any solar hot water system is to offset power cost.

Consider Regulations

The site survey becomes a comprehensive and somewhat intimidating term in the broader scope. In Florida, we have to worry about hurricane wind loading.  Contractors and their installers must emphasize solar collector mounting techniques. In recent years, state regulators have drawn a line between the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd and professionals. Solar hot water and pv installations are projects deemed official home improvements by cities, counties or other pertinent jurisdictions. They are subject to all the requisite laws and rules that govern additions and significant modifications. Rules include building permits, engineered drawings and equipment cut sheets, site plans, zoning codes and acquiring licensed contractors with appropriate credentials. Well beyond the scope of this short article, suffice the subject to say the designated contractor begins the project by doing a formal version site survey. Sales staff and customers alike should realize that all residences and commercial buildings fit under this statewide umbrella procedure.

Education regarding a possible solar installation has many facets. Rather than just throwing the project over the fence to the contractor, it behooves one to supply proper information to interested parties. Rentals and lease agreements might be a waste of time unless you directly involve the owner. A house shaded by complete tree canopy is probably not a good candidate for solar. Mobile and manufactured homes are usually out of the question for rooftop mounts. Ground mount systems are a viable option given reasonable amount of nearby yard space. Energy consultants should avoid proverbial one-legger appointments. Remember, a solar purchase is a significant investment and the prospect will undoubtedly want to check with their spouse.

Site surveys allow you to gauge two other intangibles. Find the prospect’s interest level. Activists are openly wild about going solar and enabling a greener environment. Compare this attitude to one where the person is already very informed and asking for an estimate. Buying questions exhibit confidence in you and eagerness to listen. Inform them to the best of your ability and agree to find answers you do not immediately know.  Apathy and indifference are the worst rivals of solar marketers. You have to first get their attention, create demand, sell an idea and then close the sale with physical product.

The other intangible determines whether the person is a qualified buyer. The prospect wants to see bottom line numbers. Look for their “hot button” as soon as possible and home in. The popular hot button is nearly always the size of the electric bill. Most solar deals conclude based on financial reasons as opposed to any personal green initiatives. You need to have tools, i.e. knowledge of state and utility rebates, tax incentives and so forth readily available.  Be able to explain what, how and why they will be able to save money in the end.

Going_Solar_Pathways  trains renewable energy salespersons and homeowners how to prepare for permanent solar installations prior to making any commitments. A brief summary of the steps needed are Site Survey,  Consider Regulations, Costs and Payback,  Rebates and Incentives. Home improvement challenges differ according to locale. Apply the following teaching tools as a guideline to aid decisions involving solar. Cart Item GSP

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Costs and Payback

Costs and payback are the predominant reason for adding a solar hot water system to buildings. System costs include the total initial purchase: installation, service contracts, equipment and materials. Payback defined here means the total amount required to offset total dollars charged by the electric company for the same energy over the same time duration. The residential example above that includes a household with four people is a good place to start. Completing our preliminary site survey allows filling out some additional parameters. Expand the example now to include an all-electric three-bedroom house. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are homeowners that reluctantly pay an average $250 monthly electric bill. They operate central air conditioning, have a pool and pay about 12.5-cents per kilowatt-hour (kwh). We walked around the house and I took notes during the preliminary site survey. I was able to explain the general appearance of the installed system without being too technical or precise. I made sure they understood that until Mr. Contractor visits, everything I said was contingent upon his agreement.  Now seated at the kitchen table, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and I look over their past electric bills while two children play outside. The reported average monthly consumption is 2000 kwh.

solar_hw_tank.jpgI tell the couple a solar water heating system should reduce their monthly electric bill by 25%. After number crunching, I estimate future bills will compare some $62.50 less.  “Your bill should average $187.50 monthly next year.”  I pause for reaction and continue, “so long as the electric rate remains the same.”  Mr. Smith falls from his chair, laughing aloud.  Mrs. Smith lowers her head and sobs.  I discovered their “hot button!”  We extend the numbers to get the annualized $750.00 electric savings.  I arrange for the Smiths to meet with Mr. Contractor, my direct employer. I also inform Mr. Contractor of everything I found during the preliminary site survey and show him pictures to support my observations.

Everyone met together at the preset appointment time.  Mr. Contractor introduced himself by showing licensed contractor credentials (plumbing or solar).  After spending awhile walking around, taking measurements and inspecting normally hidden areas, Mr. Contractor claimed the formal site survey was complete.  He went on to explain exactly how he plans to do the install.  Mr. Smith wanted a cheaper retrofit installation that uses the existing 10+ year old hot water tank.  Mr. Contractor offered a $6,000 package deal that includes a new high efficiency 60-gallon water tank.  Mr. Contractor’s incumbent responsibility consists of pulling the local building permit, arranging inspections and issuing documentation to satisfy state, utility and federal rebates and/or tax credits.  He likewise must satisfy the statewide hurricane wind loading requirements, which range upward to 150 mph winds near Florida’s coastline.  The county (or city) may request the contractor provide additional engineered drawings, signed off by a licensed architect or professional engineer (PE).  Extra roofing or electrical work may also need subcontracted out.  Since Mr. Smith owned an older home, the architect personally visited to ensure the roof could properly support a solar collector under all conditions.

Rebates and Incentives

The Smith’s decision to use a licensed contractor for a bona fide home improvement allows them to notify their insurance carrier.  The homeowner’s property insurance should cover the new home improvement when complete and the permit closed.  Coverage also extends to leaks and hurricane wind damage as before.  If Mr. Smith should ever decide to sell the home, a qualified home inspection will not cause the improvement to show up as a title defect.  The next future homebuyer is able to get an ordinary mortgage.  The Smiths might be eligible to receive a state rebate, a utility rebate and up to 30% Federal income tax credit.

Yes, Mr. Smith is a handyman fellow and could have done the work himself (DIY).  To be legal, Mr. Smith would still have to follow the very same permitting process.  He most likely is still required to hire engineered drawings and buy necessary permits. These two items together might cost $1,500 or more, plus time and trouble.  Local jurisdiction can furthermore request “demonstrated competency” proof from DIY homeowners.  Mr. Smith would be subject to retail purchase for material and perform labor to accomplish the task.  His arbitrary estimate for materials is $2,500 and possibly three days work.  He risks losing energy rebates and tax credits in some places. Mr. Contractor has the advantage to procure materials at a wholesale $2,000 level and sign permits, etc.

A well-executed preliminary site survey leads to final closure stages of the sale.  Professional RE sales consultants establish positive rapport with clients from the meet and greet point.  Small talk with the customer eases tension.  Continue the favorable relationship throughout the entire sales process.  I physically did nothing more than examine the property.  I verified South with a compass.  I took a few glances upward to determine shading concerns, the type of roof and roof line orientation.  Seek the opportunity to identify their hot button.  Pulling that particular string puts them in control and gains mutual trust.  Some form of question and answer conversation naturally occurs.  Prove yourself by giving authoritative, informed answers.  Assume the sale and be prepared to counter objections.  We do not want to waste the contractor’s time by calling him (your boss) out on a bogus lead.  Once the path is clear, get in touch with the contractor and provide necessary details.

The contractor offers all or partial financing at 14% for the entire $6,000 installed project quote.  After some probing, you and the contractor discover Mr. Smith is willing to pay cash.  Mr. Smith’s annualized $750 recovery demonstrates an 8-year full payback.  These example numbers do not include future electric rate increases, nor do they account for 6,000 lbs. of saved CO2 emissions per year.

Going solar is a realistic path where some product moves from factory inventory to location.  Sales begin proven channels that exist to support such green business.  Regardless of the type solar system, source or destination, shared patterns develop.  Surely, there are people willing to argue the example and numbers used.  Be advised they are fictitious and only meant to illustrate a representative teaching aid.  Players in the supply chain form a green collar network that serves multiple industries.  Somebody, somewhere, is also pocketing some green.

Florida Renewable Energy Marketing (FREM) by timeemits introduces a new site to assist Eco-preneurs. We are accepting informative green article submissions with a Florida focus. Submit your 500-1000 word articles to frem@timeemits.com You keep the resource box and copyright if applicable.

Revised Copyright 2013 Clark Nelson and Timeemits. All Rights Reserved. URL http://www.timeemits.com/FREM/Going_Solar_Pathways.htm