Gleamin' in the Rain

Bruce and his Solar PV panels in the rain

We all know that washing your car seems to bring on the rain. I've found another way to encourage precipitation, tour a Solar Photovoltaic System. After a sun-filled week the skies clouded over and unleashed a downpour about 30 minutes before I visited a friend's solar system. Despite the non-power producing weather, Bruce showed me his PV system and we climbed up on the roof during a lull in the showers. At least the solar panels were nice and clean!

We started inside the house with a tour of the various electrical upgrades. Bruce is an electrician and installed the additional circuits, upgraded the electrical panel and added the emergency shutoff switch. When the rain slackened, Bruce showed me the 15 photovoltaic rooftop panels, their associated mounts and adjustable racks. The racks are quite solid and have stood up well to high Spring winds. Bruce's PV system is sized to meet his family's average annual electrical usage. In fact, the solar panels have produced enough 'extra' power that the utility has been sending him a check each month. If Bruce further reduces his electrical use the estimated 8 year payback period will be even shorter.

Since PV solar panels produce DC electricity, they need an inverter to convert that to AC power for a grid-tied system. In Bruce's system each PV panel has an individual inverter which allows them produce power independently of their neighbors and simplifies the system wiring. Each solar panel's inverter is also internet-enabled via a web gateway which links to a website that reports power output for each panel and the whole system. The Photovoltaic panels weren't producing much power in the rain but we could view power output over the last day, week, month and life of the system. Click here to view a list of these web-enabled PV systems (including my friend's).

Currently there are both federal and state incentives to buy and install solar photovoltaic panels on your home or business. This includes Renewable Energy Credits (REC's) that pay $.13 per Kilowatt Hour for residential solar systems. If you are in the market to produce your own electricity this may be a good time to invest in a solar PV system. Don't mind those of us singing in the rain, just remember it cleans your solar panels too.

More Info:

NM Energy Conservation and Management Division - Renewable Energy

New Mexico Incentives/Policies for Renewables & Efficiency

Enphase Energy

PVWatts Solar PV Energy Calculator

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