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Why Fossil Fuel Companies Don’t Fail like Solyndra

I recently engaged in a friendly debate online on the merits of renewable energy versus fossil fuel energy, and the other side once again brought up Solyndra as a reason why solar companies aren’t as financially viable as fossil fuel companies. I have an idea why gas, oil and electric companies don’t fail like renewable energy companies. Maybe we haven’t heard about failures of gas, oil and electricity providers because they receive so much more government support compared to renewable energy companies.

This is an image of a chart comparing fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy subsidies.

I believe that governments should invest in renewable energy technology (mainly solar), as well as support laws that allow for the fair competition of renewable energy with current means of energy production (mainly fossil fuels). Currently the subsidies and laws are skewed to favor oil and gas companies and electric utilities (who often act as local monopolies). This is unfair, anti-competitive and should be corrected.

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Where to Get Solar Panels

Solar panels are the future and there’s no better time to get solar panels installed on your home or building. The founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, is confident that “solar will beat everything, hands down, including natural gas.”

The only question now is, “where can I get solar panels for myself?” The answer is simply to contact a handful of solar installers in your area and pick the one you trust most. The problem is, how do you know if the installer is good or not?

These are the first recommendations I would give my Mom or Dad if they asked me to recommend a solar installer for them. This is a list of a few of the biggest, most reputable companies helping customers install solar in the major solar markets in the United States.

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Top 26 Most Efficient Solar Inverters

Of the top 26 most efficient solar inverters 20 are SMA inverters. Only 26 individual solar inverters are rated at either 98 or 98.5% efficiency (which is the highest efficiency for inverters). SMA has been around since 1981 and seems to be the clear leader in manufacturing top-of-the-line inverters for solar applications.

Top 26 Solar Inverters Chart

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Top 10 Most Popular Solar Panel Manufacturers

There has been a shaking out period going on for a while in the solar industry. Big names like BP and Bosch have dropped their solar divisions, while other companies have just gone under like Konarka and of course, Solyndra (which never really was that big).

Well which manufacturers have not only held on, but are the most popular for solar installations in America’s largest solar market? We’re only looking at the last 2 years plus the first quarter of 2013. So that’s Jan 1, 2011 to Apr 17, 2013.

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Solar Panel Efficiency and Life

So, the Sun shines on Earth and in that sunshine there is energy. Plants convert that energy into mass because energy is mass. E = mc2. Energy equals Mass times a constant (which is not important here). We eat the plants for energy, or we eat animals that eat the plants. That’s how we survive.

Simple Explanation:

Well, solar panels are humans’ attempt at making “plants” that convert the Sun’s energy into energy we use – to heat, chill, or light our homes, to power our TV’s, fridges, computers, etc. Well, it’s not easy converting that sunshine into energy we can use. And as it turns out, most solar panels convert 12-15% of the Sun’s energy that falls on the panel. The Sun dumps ~1,000 W/m2 at sea level on a clear day (source: wikipedia).

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Australian Solar Credits, STCs, and FITs

So you’re thinking about installing solar on your roof in NSW or Queensland, huh? The Aussie government promotes ‘green initiatives’ and will help you financially, but they haven’t made it easy for you.

Solar Credits and STCs

First of all, you get ‘Solar credits’ for installing eligible solar systems in Australia. The credits are simply multipliers for renewable-energy incentives called STCs (or Small-scale Technology Certificates). What the heck is that? Well, it’s probably like a coupon or a gift certificate that you can redeem for cash (or tax credits), right? Wrong. They’re more like green energy stocks that are traded among registered agents or on a specific market called the ‘Clearing House’. What the heck is a registered agent? Maybe your installer. But maybe not.

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Top 10 Solar Payback States

Think solar can’t pay for itself? With the right combination of State incentives and expensive electricity rates, a solar PV system can have a payback period of 10 years or less. Here are ten US States with a solar payback of 10 years or less.

1. Massachusetts – 4 years
2. Hawaii – 5 years
T-3. New Jersey – 7 years
T-3. Maryland – 7 years
T-3. Louisiana – 7 years
6. New York – 8 years
T-7. California – 9 years
T-7. Ohio – 9 years
T-7. Delaware – 9 years
10. Arizona – 10 years

If you want to know how much solar it could cost to go solar in your state? Check out the infographic below from to see the average cost to go solar in your state. Then check out how much you can save each month, over 20 years, and the average payback time for solar.

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The Solar Panels Don’t Matter!

Solar Panel Brand LogosStop searching for the ‘best’ or ‘most efficient’ solar panels. Stop trying to compare brands. The solar panels don’t matter. Obviously they matter in terms of the solar pv system as a whole, but which panels you use, isn’t important. Let me explain.

1.  All solar panels are warrantied for 20-25 years, which means the manufacturer guarantees the panels will still be producing at least 80% output 25 years from now. It’s the same for all brands. Don’t believe me? Ask the guy selling them.

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The Best Solar Panels Have the Best Value

Solar Panel pic(*Calculator at bottom)

Want to know how to choose the best solar panels? It’s not too difficult: simply find out which ones give you the most electricity for the cheapest price. Let’s call this ‘solar value’. The lowest price per kwh can help you find the best solar panels.

Well, how do you figure out which panels give you the most electricity? Do I need to know which panels are the ‘most efficient’? Nope – actually you don’t. Efficiency is not the same as output. Efficiency is output per area. If you’re strictly looking for the solar panels with the best value, then you only need to care about the output. Let your installer worry about the area.

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How to Calculate Solar Output Like the Pro’s

So, you’ve got a few quotes from solar installers and want to know which solar power system will give you more energy / output / electricity. Let me teach you how to calculate solar output like the pro’s. This way you can double-check their quotes to know you’re getting a good deal.

  1. Get your quotes ready
  2. Visit the CSI online calculator
  3. Plug in the data
  4. Calculate!

Step 1: Grab your solar quotes and look for the specific solar module name and how many solar modules will be installed. Make sure you know the exact panel. Circle the panels and how many. Ex. 20 x SunPower SPR-200-BLK-U.

Then find the exact solar inverter in the estimate. This might be SMA SunnyBoy, Xantrax, Fronius, or Enphase. Circle this too. Ex. SMA SB4000US (240V).

Solar panel quote example

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