Solar Panels are Definitely Right for You—Maybe

March 31st, 2014

Home solar panels are becoming increasingly part of the home ownership landscape in many parts of the country. Many of our customers call up and ask whether they should install solar panels on their homes. Since we sell solar panels, we would love to say unequivocally yes, but the answer is more nuanced and our answer usually is, “it depends.” These are some of the considerations we usually give to our customers about whether they should be considering home solar panels. Just because you are intent on going solar doesn’t mean that your home wants to cooperate. Solar can be placed on homes in virtually every state, but not every home is suitable for solar. If you live in a forest, solar panels aren’t going to catch many of the sun’s rays. And if you live in the city and the adjoining building casts a long shadow over your roof for much of the day, then solar panels may not be for your home. I did see at a trade show a couple of years back, a solution to some of these issues by having concentrated solar on a long pole that would peek out over the trees, but I have not seen this application ever used. For today, if you have a huge hickory over your roof or have any other obstructions, then you may want to look into buying green energy or becoming a member of a solar cooperative, where you don’t have to host the panels on your roof.

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Penny’s Home Green Home

February 28th, 2014

Guest Blog: One of SolarTown’s customers recently purchased a solar refrigerator and we invited her to share her thoughts on creating a green home far away from the grid. So you’ve decided that you want a beachfront or close to it but can’t quite come up with the hefty prices in town. Consider the option of affordable beachfront “off the grid.” What does this mean? Well for one, you will be using solar energy (the most efficient) with a possible back-up generator. This means solar panels, batteries and an inverter to convert the solar energy to power your appliances. How large of a system is up to your needs? Myself, I use very little energy so have a small system. However, if you want the electric coffee maker, electric refrigerator, then a much larger system will be needed.

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Winter Weather and Solar Panels

February 14th, 2014

Are you digging out today on the East Coast or are you basking in the sun in Arizona? If you are getting a sun tan on the West Coast, then this blog post is not for you. If you are looking at a roof and your home solar panels under a foot of snow, then you may want to read further. Let’s get to the basics. If your home solar panels are under snow, they are not producing electricity. You have some choices to get those modules back up and generating solar power. The best choice is simply wait, but if you are in a hurry, then some homeowners may use a broom to gently take the snow off of their panels. But don’t risk life and limb on a slippery roof just to get an extra kilowatt hour of electricity.

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The Greenest of Olympics: Where is the Caulking in the Bathrooms?

February 3rd, 2014

The promise of the greenest of all Olympics may be fading in the mud of the Olympic Village. As the Opening Ceremonies are just days away, the more immediate concern is the condition of the hotel rooms. When a reporter for the Washington Post starts posting pictures of the sink in her bathroom, you know that you have a PR problem. It’s not that anyone is hoping that the Russians will fail to put on a stellar Olympics. But the reality is sinking in that the 2014 Winter Olympics, despite being the costliest ever, are not ready for prime time. The organizers made special mention (or was it window dressing) that they were using solar hot water heating. According to the press release, the “potential for solar energy” (sounds to me like Soviet speak) has been “successfully applied at the new railway station in Adler, where solar-powered radiators and boilers have been installed, to service buildings, including the water-based heating systems.” Is that all that was promised to make these the greenest of all Olympics? According to the press release, “The use of solar power as a ‘green’ alternative to traditional sources of energy will enable annual savings of up to 30% on heating costs, and will satisfy all of the venue’s requirements as regards hot water.” We will try to look at some of the reports to see how green these Olympics will be.

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A Day in the Life of SolarTown

January 31st, 2014

A day in the life of SolarTown is never boring. We field calls all day long from people all over the country, some who are interested in purchasing some of our solar energy products, and some whom simply want to talk solar.

This past week, an owner of a guest villa in Baja California purchased a solar refrigerator to provide off the grid electricity for some of her guests. If you want to supply soft drinks in an idyllic setting, you don’t want to have a noisy generator in the background. Do you want your guests to hear the sound of a diesel generator or the sound of waves crashing against the rocks? Well, if I’m the guest, a solar refrigerator sounds like exactly what I would want. And if it is in the single digits where you are, Baja California probably sounds pretty good right now. We did not receive a lot of calls this past week from those folks in the big freeze. I didn’t hear from anyone in Minnesota this week who planned on installing home solar panels in the next couple of weeks. We did hear from one of our customers in Michigan who is planning a large off grid system for one of his customers in the fall.

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The Power is Out: Grab your Solar Backpack

December 11th, 2013

If you live in or around Washington, DC or one of the other many areas affected by the ice storms in the last couple of days, you may have woken up without power—which could make your home cold and not a lot of fun. So what do you do when you are out of power? If you need a quick jolt of energy, you can go and get your solar emergency system. It may simply be coincidence but at SolarTown we have been receiving a lot of orders for portable solar modules and solar bags in the last few days. It may be that people are shopping early for solar gifts for the holidays–or it may be that they are preparing for the next ice storm. These solar energy systems were rudimentary even just a few years ago, but now are much better able to provide you with exactly what you need in an emergency. If all you are looking for is something to power a mobile phone or a tablet, then by far the easiest option is a solar bag. We have a large selection of these solar bags. The larger device you want to power the more capacity you will need in your solar bag or solar backpack. You have other options if you need more power for your solar emergency kit.

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Solar Gifts: Even a Small Solar Gift Contributes to the Battle against Climate Change

November 27th, 2013

SolarTown announced its annual top solar gifts today. Every year, I am amazed at the ingenuity of new products running on nothing more than the rays from the sun. This year is no different, and we are offering some new and some old products. We think that they are a good way to get your friends and relatives on the solar path. Of course, using one solar panel is not going to change the world, but you have to start somewhere. If everyone just threw up their hands and said no matter what we do the Chinese are still going to pollute, the Indians are going to pollute and whatever we do won’t make any difference, then we should all move to higher ground as the oceans rise. So what does that have to do with solar gifts? Actually, a lot. You have to start somewhere and that means every small step to use solar power helps. As you buy a solar light for your parents’ backyard, or a solar backpack to power your friend’s computer, you can know that you have started them down the right path away from fossil fuels and into the right path to solar energy. Have a happy holiday season!

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Top Ten Solar Energy States: Idiotic List but Interesting

October 21st, 2013

Even though we think that top ten lists of states by usage of a website may be idiotic, as suggested by a recent article, we didn’t want you to feel left out and so we compiled the first ever SolarTown rankings. We looked at the users of SolarTown.com over the past twelve months and here are the top rankings of the states that contribute to the traffic on SolarTown. If you are reading this blog entry, then you probably (but not necessarily) come from one of the states in our top ten list. In our top ten list, only California, New York, Pennsylvania and Arizona are on the top ten list of states with the cumulative installed solar electric capacity. The other states on our list may be where the future lies. Look at Texas, for example, which is not a particular solar-friendly state, but there are a lot of SolarTown users from Texas. And which is the city with the most SolarTown users. Did you guess Los Angeles, as I did? Wrong. You are going to have to read the entire blog post to find out.

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Sensational Solar Homes: Solar Homes Roundup in Washington, DC

October 7th, 2013

The news around Washington D.C. has not been altogether bright. The Nationals didn’t make the playoffs this year. The federal government is closed. The museums are closed. Imposing concrete barriers block you from parking in any lots managed by the National Park Service. A woman suffering from postpartum depression leads the police on a chase from the White House to the Capitol Building, where she is killed in her car. Despite all of the bad news and gridlock elsewhere in the city, the solar home tour celebrated its 23rd year in the metropolitan Washington DC area this past weekend. And if you missed it, you missed one of the bright spots in Washington, D.C. Homeowners with solar panels and solar water heating systems graciously opened their homes to visitors just to show off their solar prowess. Some of the homeowners even fed us (and our kids, thank you very much!). Human psychology plays a role in the financing of these systems. When there were more incentives, there was more of a frenzy to buy solar panels. Now that many of the incentives are no longer around, the frenzy has quieted down, but the cost of the solar systems without the incentives is now much less than it was before because of the falling cost of the modules. As one homeowner told us, he originally bought his panels ten years ago at $7.00/watt. Now a better module can cost around a dollar a watt. But what is missing is that hook that you better get on the bandwagon today. There is one major incentive that will almost certainly disappear, and that is the federal income tax credit, which ends in 2016, but you still should have time to put in your solar water heater or solar energy system before the credit expires. With the craziness in Washington, D.C., you probably should think about getting your system up and running before the solar tour next year.

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Are Solar Shingles a Breakthrough Technology or Just a Passing Fad?

September 23rd, 2013

The solar industry is booming throughout the U.S., but still solar has yet to achieve wide acceptance that would make it more than an asterisk in the nation’s energy portfolio. Achieving even 1% of the nation’s energy is still an elusive goal. The largest part of the market is on commercial buildings. You are more likely to find solar panelson the roof of a Costco’s than on your neighbor’s home. There have been lots of challenges, but the two that loom more than the others are financing and aesthetics. That is what is now intriguing about Dow Chemical’s gambit on solar shingles. Dow Solar Dow Solar, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company, has been quietly rolling out the solar shingles throughout the United Staes, and they have recently become available in SolarTown’s neighborhood, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The shingles do double duty; they are both roofing material to provide a weather tight roof for shelter and they are a source of your family’s electricity needs. But you can’t beat the aesthetics and that is where the rubber meets the road. If Dow can overcome the objections of builders then they may have created a new industry for meeting the needs of homeowners’ electricity needs. The big black boxes may be a quaint reminder of the early days of this fledging industry like the brick cell phones that weighed in at almost two pounds.

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