There may be some hope for our northern friends who live outside the sunbelt for parts of the year.
Home improvement expert Bob Vila lives in New England and writes about how people outside the sunbelt can use solar electricity:
The desire for renewable energy has never been higher, which has made solar power more popular than ever. Yet, while traditional solar panels excel in the Sunbelt, they are less effective in northern climates where the days are shorter. Homeowners might well question whether installing panels in these colder climes can be cost-effective. In a quest to discover whether homeowners the Northeast could benefit enough from solar, or photovoltaic (PV), technology to offset the cost of installation, we caught up with Robert Fuller, the owner of Fullers Energy. His company specializes in renewable energy solutions for homes throughout the Northeast, including Bob Vila’s own New England residence. As Fuller explains, new “tracking” technology increases solar efficiency in regions north of the Sunbelt, making it possible for virtually any homeowner to benefit from a day’s worth of sunshine.
What’s the market like for solar panels in the Northeast?
When Fullers Energy first opened its doors, it was a great time for homeowners to purchase and install solar technology at homebecause the federal government had announced a 30 percent tax credit on renewable energy upgrades. In the past few years, the demand for solar in this region has only increased, due in part to lower costs and tax breaks, but also because solar technology is improving, specifically through solar panels that track the sun.
I was skeptical when tracking panels first hit the market. It was exciting for technology to be able to follow the sun’s arc and harness maximum power from it at any hour, but I wasn’t convinced that a solar system manufacturer in China—or even in California—could really relate to the specific needs of residents in the Northeast. Then, I discovered All Earth Renewables, a Vermont-based panel manufacturer and—after carefully vetting the company and their product—I was sold. We’ve had excellent results with their panels.
How do tracking panels differ from stationary, or “static,” panels?
The tracking panels we install are extremely unique. They feature dual-access trackers that are capable of following and aligning at a 90-degree angle to the sun’s rays. That results in a faster energy spike in the morning when the sun is lower in the sky and increased energy production later in the day as well. In this part of the country, tracking panels offer customers a 45 percent greater efficiency rate over traditional static panels, which face the same direction at all hours.
How do tracking panels perform in the winter? Are they as effective?
Shorter days in the winter mean less sunshine overall, so there will be some efficiency loss. (Though that shouldn’t dissuade homeowners too much; it’s best to gauge solar energy production on an annual basis if you want to see the system’s overall effectiveness.) But in addition to being designed to make the most of shortened daylight hours, tracking panels do have other distinct advantages over stationary panels. For example, at night when there’s no sun to track, or when the winds reach 30 miles per hour, the panels lay down to protect the structure. Then, after a heavy snow, the panels will actually stand up and turn to dump the snow off.
Storms with hail and flying debris are always a concern, but the structural integrity of today’s panels is much better than it was even a decade ago. The panels we install from All Earth Renewables are designed to withstand 1-inch hail at terminal velocity, and in testing they have even stood up to people walking across them. They’re pretty tough, which makes them a good choice for our area.
Continue reading: Can You Have Solar Power Outside the Sunbelt? – Bob Vila