Going Solar
The Best Investment Ever!

Bob Bruninga, PE
Author: Energy Choices
Opportunities to make wise decisions for a sustainable future

IEEE Committee on Transportation and Aerospace Policy
EV Association of DC/MD
Senior Research Engineer (ret) US Naval Academy

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Solar is now cheaper than the Utilities! by 2013 its amortized cost was as low as half of what you pay the utility.

If you have sun for 6 hours a day or more, going solar is the best financial investment ever. The cost won't go much lower since the majority of the cost now is simply labor and the efficiency of silicon cells after 60 years of eveolution just cannot get any cheaper and the highe efficiency gains in solar efficiency are all made on materials ccosting over 1000 times more than basic silicon. These higher efficiency cell costs only go up becuause the space industry will pay anything for a few more percent, while the homeowner will not spend another dime.

Solar panels are now cheaper than simple windows! ... And every utility bill you pay from now on, is just throwing money away that could have been invested in your own energy future.

Cost vs Investment: The most common excuse I hear is "it costs to much". What? Buying a solar system is not a cost, it is an investment. And one of the safest, most guaranteed investments there is. Where else can you invest a few thousand dollars and make back around 10% per year for the rest of your life? And the return on investment only goes UP as the price of utlitites goes up. You dont think of savings in a bank as a cost, so why think of solar as a cost? Solar is just a change in equity from ink on paper at the bank to real hardware on your roof.

The return on investment in solar at around 10% per year for the rest of your life is a far better savings stratedgy compared to 1% return from a bank. Unless you go solar, utilities are as certain in life as taxes and the beyond.

Join our DIY Email discussion group if you are a handyman or electrician and want to join this group of other like minded solar power experimenters.

Solar Thermal Water Heating is obsolete: Prior to around 2006, solar hot water heating was about the most economical solar investment. But with the high efficiency of modern heatpump systems and the dramatic ten-to-one drop in cost of PV solar panels, the most cost effective way to heat water these days is with PV panels and a heatpump water heater. Around 2006 solar thermal hot water heating was dead. Now with solar PV dropping ten to one since then, Solar Thermal water heating is really, really dead. So we did not even think once about solar hot water heating.

Related Pages: There are several other overlaping and related pages:

  • Paralleling Arrays to share inverters.
  • Grid-tie is the way to go (if you have it)! See why.
  • Geothermal Heatpump that eliminates our 1000 gal/year oil burning.
  • My EV's 1970 to present eliminates 500 gal/year oil burning.
  • Using the Prius for emergency field power
  • Misinformation about EV's holds back EV adoption
  • Building a DIY Charge cord for 120v for under $100
  • Solar Power (powerpoint) Presentation

    The Grid is Golden! Going Off-Grid makes NO SENSE (if you have access to it): If you don't have access to the grid, solar is a still a great source of energy... but at about 3 times the cost of grid-tie. In addition, off-grid condems you to bi-annual lifestyle changes, and maintenance issues due to having to maintain your own batteries. The biggest disadvantage of not using the grid is that batteries cannot save up the double-excess solar you get in the summer for use later in the winter. Whereas with grid-tie, all those excess kWh you pushed into the grid are available to you year-round. If you DO have the grid, it is Golden! Never give it up! Even if you consume no net power from the grid, just using it as storage more than DOUBLEs the efficiency of your system compared to being off grid. See why! Do not be mislead into going OFF-GRID if you have it!

    My initial Array: The 8kW of panels shown above were just propped up in the backyard on 2x4's because of my years long struggle to get county and state approvals to put some of them on a pier in the creek. They are now semi-permanently mounted in the same location becuase, now, 4 years later the state finally dropped its prohibition to solar on piers but my system is working fine where it is. Pictures below show my 3 inverters and basement wiring.

    Inverters: The image above shows the three 2.8 kW inverters. I chose to go with three separate identical 2.8 kW inverters rather than one large inverter for redundancy and reliability. Notice that all indoor high voltage solar DC wiring must be in metal conduit due to the fire hazard when HV DC is disconnected or the result of a bad connection.

    Distribution Wiring: The next photo shows how the inverters are connected to the distribution panel. I combined the 240v AC outputs via three 15 amp dual breakers in a combiner box and sent the combined 240 VAC outside to the "solar Disconnect" switch by the electric meter required by the utility. Then it comes back inside and simply goes to a 50 amp breaker in my normal distribution panel shown on the right.

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    Solar Electric Boat (and Grid Tie!): Another advantage of Grid-Tie is that every solar panel on the property contributes year'round to the electric bill whether the original panel is used for its portable purpose or not. Local Electrical permits stop at the standard outlet. You can plug-in anything you want (that is safe, of course). Once you have grid-tie and a NET meter, you can plug in indivicual solar panels and GT inverters into any outlet in the house and get credit for that power not just the few days a year you might actually use your boat or camper or trailer but all year long. In this case, I simply changed out the 40 Hp Johnson on this old runabout and added trolling motors and solar panels, my original plan-B if I could not get permissions on the pier or in the yard was to build a Solar Boat floating on foam insulation which contains a similar number of panels providing not only propulsion when underway, but also an additional 2.8 kW of grid-tie power when moored. See the sketch.

    Pier Blocked by MDE! Originally, my panels-on-piers idea was blocked by the Maryland Department of the Environment "because solar panels have nothing to do with water rights". Apparently, the MDE considered the only approvable use of a pier to be for access to a gas burning, oil-leaking, energy consuming, noise generating, bay-polluting, air-fouling fossil fuel stink-pot boat. Anything for supporting a gas boat is OK. But putting solar panels on a pier to power a non-polluting, clean energy electric boat and routing the surplus back into the grid to provide the same improvement to the environment as 300 trees, is not! Note: (solar-on-piers is no longer prohibited at the state level, though it is still up to the local jurisdiction (which will require a variance) to get any approval (if any).

    Even with the support of the Governor, and after several months of internal debate, the law prior to 2013 did not allow anything on piers that was not water dependent. At the same time, my pier plans had been approved by Anne Arundel County, by the Feds (Army Corps of Engineers), by the Maryland Energy Administration and by both of my neighbors. Only the MDE law was in opposition to this clean energy project. Which is a paradox, because if I didn't switch to solar, my electric consumption from the coal plant 4 miles down the creek (above right) would continue to pollute the Bay!

    Maryland Bill HR 1266: was authored to make an exception for solar panels on piers and subnmitted to the environmental committee in March 2011. See HR 1266. Only the Maryland Department of the Environment, the County representative and the delegate from Severna Park were opposed and it was killed in committee.

    Eventually, the law was changed in 2016 and I got my solar panels on the pier.

    POLLUTING ALTERNATIVES: The smokestacks and 24/7 daily emissions of the 500 MegaWatt A.H. Wagner coal-fired generator plant just 4 miles down the creek on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay shown above generates the following emissions for just my home alone to generate about 10 MegaWattHours (MWH) of electricity per year.

    22,000 lbs of Carbon Dioxide
    350 lbs of sulfur dioxide
    1 ounce of Uranium and Thorium
    .00004 ounce of Mercury

    Plan-C Solar-in-Yard: 21 Dec 2010 - So, after 9 months and $2000 of fees, the MDE's denial of panels on piers still stood. So I designed the panels to sit on the only sunny part of my lawn down by the water as suggested by the Secretary of MDE... "on an upland alternative". (My roof is more than 50% shaded throughout all times of the day and most months of the year.) So we submitted a building permit application in September 2010 only to be immediately DISAPPROVED! Maryland does not allow anything to be built within 100' of the shoreline. So, with additional fees, I applied for a Variance. On 21 December 2010 I appeared before the Hearing Officer and presented my case. Here are some of the materials I used:


    Environmental Benefits of Solar: The above two images show the pollution-elimination impact of my solar project. Each 3'x 5' panel eliminates about the same amount of pollutants in a year as about 8 mature trees remove in a year. This means a 42 panel array is equivalent to the environmental benefits of about 300 trees compared to coal. But even more telling is to look at not just the pollution impact of coal electricity, but also the sheer magnitude of environmental distruction.

    Unseen Impact of Coal Electricity: In the image to the far right are 4 tons of coal which is about the energy equivalent of the 10 MHhrs of energy our house requires per year. Not only do we energy-consuming-&-wasteful Americans not see this tonnage, we also do not see the 80 tons of trees, topsoil, habitat and dirt that has to be pushed off a mountain top in West Virginia and into the nearby valleys and streams just to get to that coal. This 80 tons of decimation of the environment PER YEAR for my one house is shown in the near image to the right which shows four 20 ton freight cars needed to move that debris. The next image below right is just one of the hundreds of mountains and habitat in West Virginia being destroyed for our coal energy addiction... Folks, this approach to our environment IS NOT SUSTAINABLE!

    Variance Issues: With the proponderance of benefits of my solar project in the front yard, the County did agree that the varance was appropriate, but with one big catch-22 provision. They required the standard mitigation for any variance in the 100' foot critical area buffer. This means that the disturbance in the buffer area (690 square feet) had to be offset with 3-to-1 or 2000 square feet of new trees.

    The Hearing Judge rolled his eyes at that Zoning office requirement and approved the variance but without making any ruling on the mitigation issue. For years (2014), the state still did not recognize the 8-to-1 self-mitigating benefits of Solar panels to the environment, though this was envetually changed.

    Backup Emergency Power:

    The local BG&E utility is extremely reliable and we have not lost power for more than a few minutes over the last decade. But still, I thought it was best to have some backup emergency power. These days I get that power from any of the family Electric Vehicles. The Prius (or any EV/hybrid) is a power station on wheels. It has a 12 volt electrical system for normal car accessories, and a 220 Volt 7 Amp-Hour Battery for propulsion assistance, two 50 kW motor-generators, a 50 Kw DC/DC converter/inverter, and a 76 Hp gas engine all integrated into a seamless automatic power system. My first alternative energy project was the salvage Prius shown here. This soon morphed into a Prius Field-Day Power project to combine high power solar, with thousands of watts of backup engine driven generator power in the Prius for providing emergency power for field operating events such as the annual Amateur Radio Field Day or Scouting events shown below.

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    120 VAC Power: is provided by a 1200 Watt AC inverter running on the car's 12 volt power system (shown in the right photo above). This 1200 watts drawn from the car's 12 volt system is augmented by the 100 Amp DC/DC converter from the car's propulsion batteries and generators.


    By 2017, I added another 1000 W Inverter to my Chevy Volt shown above along with some solar panels to similarly provide power whereever I go including at home when the grid goes down (though it still has not gone down in years).

    See FrankenVolt Power Project..

    SOLAR-POWER: . Although I also added solar panels to my wife's salvage prius, adding solar panels to the EVs has no practical value for transportation since they only add about a half mile per hour. But they do support electrical operation in the field away from home which is useful for Ham Radio and camping.

    Emergency Solar Power Trailer: I also added a few old solar panels on the solar trailer to the right. It contains about 300 watts of solar panels plus a deep cycle marine battery and 1200 Watt inverter. The top wood section of the trailer folds over to not only protect the solar panels during travel but to also hide them out of sight when parked or not in use. When closed, the top wood section looks like an open top trailer with about 6 inch sides. The false bottom conceals the nested solar panels.

    In addition, when open, the bottom set of panels are also hinged to give access to the battery and inverter below. Plus this area provides hidden storage for extra power cords, cables and accessories. (see picture)

    250 VDC Solar Backup Power: Although the grid-tie inverter safely shuts down to protect linemen when the grid goes down, your array can still produce your full electrical power as long as the Sun shines. Since most modern electronics will run directly on 250 to 330 VDC just as easy as they will run on 100 to 240 VAC, it makes sense to have a 250V tap or add a splitter switch to parallel two halves of your array for 250 V at double the current. Just about any system that has a nameplate showing it is good for 100 to 240 VAC will work on 150 to 330 VDC too! And almost all modern electronic systems come that way! Though most of the loads you really need in an emergency are 60 Hz and cannot be used on DC!. See the diagram below:

    Any experimentation you do with your Prius or your Electronics is at YOUR OWN RISK!
    These notes are only intended to share my results and for no other purpose!


    Bottom line: . The time is now to go solar! We cannot continue to send billions of dollars a day overseas to buy polluting oil for our energy needs when it is right there outside our door. Also think in terms of your total energy footprint and consider how to integrate your transpotrtation demands into your own home solar system and energy needs.

    Bob Bruninga, WB4APR
    email: lastname at usna dot edu
    Author: Energy Choices