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Why Commission Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems?

Falling costs and rising demand for clean energy have increased the specification and installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems worldwide. In NYC, Local Laws 92 and 94 require solar PV and/or green roofs on all new buildings and alterations where the existing roof deck is being replaced. Third-party commissioning increases the likelihood that a PV system will perform as designed throughout its lifetime and reduces poorly performing PV systems, which erode the bottom line and damage solar energy’s reputation. This is probably why the NYC Energy Conservation Code requires that renewable energy systems greater than 25 kW be commissioned (C408.2).

Many factors can affect a PV system’s power output. Let’s look at some reasons why output may be less than expected.

Design Flaws

Commissioning agents help prevent design flaws when brought onto the project early in the process. Here are a few common design flaws:

Electrical Issues: In traditional string systems, modules are wired in series to increase voltage, as shown. However, if too few or too many modules are wired in series, the voltage will be outside of an inverter’s input range and there will simply be no power output. If modules of dissimilar current are wired together output will be reduced since the current of a string is limited by the module with the lowest current.

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Interesting Elements: A Modeling View on Net Zero Homes

I recently performed some net zero energy modeling on a single-family home for work. Around the same time, I got to chatting with my neighbor (mindful of social distancing) and when I mentioned net zero,  he said, “Is that even possible?” AH! Get the word out. We have the means to offset our home energy use. What follows are the basics to consider when trying to fully offset home energy along with a breakdown of how different upgrades can affect energy use.

There are lots of resources available on how to reduce home energy use. You can look at program requirements and guidelines like the Zero Energy Ready Program or Passive House. Through modeling I will demonstrate how the energy use numbers change and describe what we have seen in real-world examples of net zero homes. Net zero is not new and we’ll be looking at some specific pieces of single family home modeling.

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Five Year Solar Performance on Connecticut Home

Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen great strides in the solar PV market in the United States. Between the federal tax credit and utility-sponsored incentives, the price to install PV systems came within reach of many homeowners. For others, eager to make a positive impact on the environment, power purchase agreements with solar companies and no up-front costs made it possible to utilize their roofs to generate electricity.

While the calculated cost-effectiveness of solar panels relies on the future price of electricity (which we can’t predict), we can confirm that they do deliver energy. In a very scientific study of exactly one home, owned by a SWA engineer, five years of generation data is available. Sure, it’s not the pretty Tesla roof, but these panels were installed back in November 2011. At 4.14 kW, with no shading and great Southern exposure, the panels were estimated to generate 5,400 kWh/year of electricity in New Haven, Connecticut (Climate Zone 5). The panels have exceeded expectations, generating on average, 6,200 kWh/year, which is roughly 70-80% of the electricity required by the 2,500 ft2 gas-heated home and its 4 occupants.

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