Hawaii Solar Blog

Solar Hot Water Benefits

solar hot water

Solar water heating dates back to the nineteenth century using tanks that were painted black and filled with water. In 1891, Clarence Kemp patented a new system that improved the solar water heater’s ability to retain heat, and the first commercial solar water heater was born.

Large advancements have been made in solar technology over the years, while the need for hot water has grown. Heating water for common household tasks like laundry, washing dishes, cooking, showers and baths accounts for around 30% of a home’s energy usage.

The good news is that switching to solar hot water is one of the easiest ways to reduce your electric bill. In fact, a solar water heater can cut your annual hot water costs by at least half. How much you actually save depends on the climate where you live. In Hawaii, where the climate is pretty sunny year-round, a solar hot water system can end up paying for itself in as little as 3 years. See how solar hot water works.

Not only do you save money on your energy bill that can be put towards other expenses, but a solar water heater also helps the environment by decreasing harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are released into the atmosphere.

According to mechanical engineers at the University of Wisconsin’s Solar Energy Laboratory, an average four-person household with a standard electric water heater requires approximately 6,400 kilowatt hours of electricity to heat their water annually.

Assuming the electricity is generated by a typical power plant with an efficiency of about 30 percent, the average electric water heater will contribute about eight tons of CO2 every year, which is almost double that produced by a car. The same family of four is responsible for around two tons of CO2 emissions annually if they heat their water using either a natural gas or oil-fired water heater.

Researchers believe that the annual cumulative CO2 emitted by residential water heaters throughout North America is roughly equivalent to that produced by all of the cars and light trucks driving around the continent. In other words, if half of all households converted to solar water heaters, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be the same as doubling the fuel-efficiency of all cars.

Having 50% of all homes use solar water heaters might not be an unrealistic goal. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), there are 1.5 million solar water heaters already installed in the U.S. Solar water heater systems are able to work in any climate, and EESI estimates that 40% of all U.S. homes have adequate access to sunlight where an additional 29 million solar water heaters could be installed right now.

Most people don’t give a lot of thought to hot water when they turn on their faucet, but as you can see, how you get your hot water can make a big difference. Use the unlimited power of the sun with a solar hot water heater and both your wallet and the environment benefit.

Solar Hot Water Troubleshooting

Solar Hot Water Tips

Troubleshooting When There is No Hot Water

During times when there is a lot of wind and rain, you may experience a loss of hot water from your hot water system. Here are a few tips that may get your system back on track again.

The reset button needs to be reset if system overheats and/or to get the electrical element to work again. Here are instructions how to do this:
a. Turn OFF “Water Heater Breaker” located inside of main electrical breaker panel.
b. Remove cover plate where the electrical thermostat is located (see diagram below) by using a Phillips screwdriver.
c. Press “Red Reset Button” on the electrical thermostat. Place cover plate back on with the Phillips screwdriver.
d. Turn main breaker panel back ON.
e. Make sure timer is switched to the ON position. Water will take approximately 30 minutes to heat.
f. You may turn timer on as you please, as this is what the electrical back up is for.

solar hot water reset

Here are a few other tips:
1. You may have used your supply of sun-heated water. Wait for system to restore supply, or turn on the electrical timer for an hour or so. If this happens constantly, you might want to resize your tank. Call us to get more information.
2. Check all plugs and breaker switches to make sure they are ON or plugged in.
3. Make sure all valves are turned ON. ON is signified on the pipe or the handle points in the direction of the flow of the water.
4. Check for leaks, which could cause pressure to drop.
5. Make sure timer is set for correct time of day.

If you have any questions about your solar hot water system, call Haleakala Solar at 643-8000 for service, Monday to Friday, 7:30 am to 3:30 pm. For your convenience, you may also contact us through email using our contact form.

Storm Tips For Solar System Owners

storm tips for solar energy system owners Hawaii
Mother Nature can be unpredictable and that it’s important to prepare ourselves when in the face of oncoming menacing weather. Haleakala Solar has been in the solar industry in Hawaii for nearly four decades, through many tropical storms and hurricanes, and near-misses. For the most part, the weather we experience in Hawaii is mild and pleasant; however, at times we experience tropical storms or even hurricanes which may bring hazardous conditions of heavy rains and destructive winds. In preparation for these storms, along with stocking up on supplies and securing loose items in the yard, it’s important to know some facts and get some tips as a solar PV system owner during severe weather.

Solar photovoltaic panels are attached to the roof securely and are meant to withstand gusty wind conditions of a category 2 hurricane. When winds begin to exceed 105 mph structural damage to homes and businesses may begin to occur. The systems installed by Haleakala Solar are rated to withstand winds of even greater capacity than the norm; however, with flying debris from these types of rip-roaring winds, damage to the panels may occur, such as cracked glass. In 37 years we have NEVER had a panel come loose.

Unless you have an off-grid system (not tied into the utility grid), you may turn off the PV system to prevent a power surge from the grid. We suggest that you isolate your PV system by turning off the PV disconnect and your PV breaker. This will help isolate and protect your PV system in the event of a power surge. Enphase Microinverters have integral surge protection, greater than most traditional inverters; however, if the surge has sufficient energy, the protection built into the microinverter can be exceeded, and the equipment can be damaged. It’s important to call your insurance company to confirm that your solar is indeed covered under your hurricane policy.

Once the high winds and heavy rains have passed, you may turn the PV system back on; however, if you suspect that damage has occurred, it is advisable to contact Haleakala Solar for a complete inspection of the PV system before powering up the system. If you find damage did occur to the PV panels, inverters or wires, DO NOT touch the paneling or wiring since you may get electrocuted.

If you DID NOT turn off the system and your area loses electricity, your PV system will turn itself off automatically. Be aware that the PV modules, even when turned off, can still hold electrical current. Once power has been restored, the PV system will turn itself on automatically. At this point, check your online monitoring system (if applicable) to check the electrical output of the system and make sure it is registering at normal levels.

We hope everyone stays safe during this hurricane season. If you have any other questions not covered by the above, please call us at our state-wide number, 643-8000, or drop us a line by using our contact form, and we’ll be sure to give you the answers you seek.

Freedom From Dirty Energy

Freedom from Dirty Energy

Free·dom [free-duhm]
1. the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3. the power to determine action without restraint.

Freedom is something we often take for granted. One of the greatest benefits of living in America is the amount of freedom we have, something people in a lot of other countries do not have. In Hawaii, though, there is one type of freedom that most people aren’t aware of. The freedom to choose the way they power their homes.

For decades, the only way we could affordably bring electricity into our homes was through the electric company. All other ways were not only more expensive but usually inconvenient as well. Well, finally there is a way to power our homes that is not only easy, but due to incredible tax breaks, even more affordable than purchasing through the utility companies. Solar energy.

Solar hot water can take care of all your hot water needs (one of the biggest energy hogs) and solar photovoltaic (pv) can fill your electrical needs. You can even purchase energy storage systems to supply you with electricity when your pv system isn’t producing enough.

Take control of your life and cut back your usage of dirty, fossil fuels. Solar is not only clean, but will actually save you money in the long run and put YOU in control of how your energy is generated. Which is another type of freedom. The freedom to determine how much you will be paying for your electricity every month.

Why No Solar Yet?

plug into solar hawaiiIn the past few years, solar energy has started to really take off. There are several good reasons for this. Climate change has made it important for governments and individuals to switch from dirty to clean energy sources. Solar technology has gone up while prices have come down. The United States government (as well as the state of Hawaii) offers generous tax credits to make solar much more affordable. In fact, with the tax credits, it is one of the better investments a person could make.

But solar power is still a tiny percentage of our electricity supply. Other countries have installed a great deal more solar power per capita and per GDP than the US. Countries such as Belgium and Germany are well beyond us in this category. So what gives? Why haven’t more people gone solar?

This question sometimes baffles us. We decided to search for answers.

We have a good friend that is on the fence about getting a photovoltaic system. Through informal conversations we started to learn a little about why she hadn’t pulled the trigger yet. She agreed to write us an article with the stipulation that she could remain anonymous. Here it is:

Guest Blog Posting:

Okay, first, I need to make a confession. As much as I believe, in principal, the idea of clean energy and solar photovoltaic systems, I don’t actually own one. Yes, I totally believe the world should move towards energy sustainability. Years ago I installed a solar hot water system. I recycle my glass, plastic and aluminum bottles and cardboard. I buy organic produce from my local farmer’s market. Maybe not much in the big scheme of things but my mantra has always been, “every little bit helps”.

Okay, but why not the bigger leap? Solar photovoltaic is such an amazing deal. Financially it didn’t make sense before, but now with government credits it not only is a great deal, but really, one of the better investments around. At least that’s what my accountant tells me.

So why haven’t I done it?

costs of solar1st hesitation. Cost.
I didn’t have the money up front to pay for photovoltaic panels and their installation. You see, I don’t like buying things on borrowed money. I try to pay everything with cash. Food, clothes, utility bills, even my car was paid with cash. Other than my mortgage, I don’t have loans that I have to make payments on. I don’t use credit cards (debit cards okay, credit cards- no). Yes, I know, borrow the money for pv, the savings would be far more than the interest I would be paying. But this is the way I like to live. It’s worked for me and I’m sticking with it.

In all honesty, my accountant says to go ahead and borrow the money. Put the tax credits and the monthly amount I would’ve been paying to the electric company towards the loan. I would be free and clear in a little over five years. Make extra payments and the time decreases even further. After that, electricity is basically free.

2nd hesitation. Dependability.
How long will the solar system last? Will this be the great investment that everyone claims? What happens if the photovoltaic system doesn’t work after two or three years, or doesn’t give me the output that I was expecting?
When it comes to money, I am pretty cautious. So I tread carefully in all things fiscal. If I’m ordering something online, I read tons of reviews. I don’t like getting burned with crappy products. I look for sales (who doesn’t love a sale?) but I’m also willing to pay more if it means a better product over the long run. I’m a bang for the buck kind of person.
So the idea of buying something, especially when we’re talking about something in the plus twenty K range brings up all my caution antennae. My brain and calculator says everything makes sense. My accountant just got pv and hot water solar for his house and said it’s really difficult to find a greater return on investment (or ROI as he calls it). So, why the trepidation? I guess it’s the unknown. What’s funny is that I had no issues with getting hot water solar. But that only cost me six grand. Twenty plus grand makes my heart race.

3rd hesitation. Which company?
Here’s the deal. In Hawaii, there seems to be a new solar company popping up every other hour. Half the commercials on television seem to be solar-related. Who the heck do I go with? This is where my years of habit of checking online reviews came in handy. In this case I decided to check out companies. The first thing I found out is many of the companies out there are fairly new. I mean one or two years new… some even only a few months. I won’t point them out, but the idea of going with a company that just opened up shop a couple of years ago makes me nervous, especially when they’re supposed to cover my warranty for twenty years. And a lot of them don’t specialize only in solar. They are either electricians or plumbing companies disguised as solar companies. I heard stories of how great the company was in the beginning, but when you needed servicing all of a sudden their phone wasn’t working any more. Yikes!

Okay, I’ve found several companies that specialize in solar that have been around for over twenty years. Some over thirty. Some of them seem to have pretty good reputations. I’m feeling a little better.

switching to solarConclusion.
I’ve gone around and gotten info on a general idea of what size system I would need and the rough costs. I actually have enough money to pay for a chunk of it up front and can borrow the rest. I am seriously mulling pulling the trigger. The numbers make sense and I think I’ve got my solar company picked out. I am ninety percent there and the more I think about it, the better I feel about going forward. If and when I go ahead, I’ll write about it later. Something tells me I’ll look back and wonder why I didn’t do it sooner. We’ll see. I just need to check those Yelp reviews a couple more times.

Benefits of Hawaii Solar Tax Credit

Hawaii relies on imported oil for more than 90% of our energy needs, which drives the cost of living up quite significantly. This dependence places Hawaii’s economic future at the mercy of the ever-increasing, volatile cost of oil. Electricity in Hawaii is already the highest in the nation, over 112% more than New York who ranks second for most expensive electric rates.

Recognizing the need for a cleaner, more stable tomorrow, the State launched the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative with the goal of making Hawaii’s energy use 70% renewable by 2030. With this initiative, came Hawaii solar tax credits to further promote the installation of solar hot water heaters and photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Solar Energy for a cleaner Hawaii

In 2002, Dr. Thomas Loudat, former University of Hawaii economist, was asked to study how Hawaii’s solar tax credits impact Hawaii’s economy. The updated 2012 findings confirm how the tax credits are paying off. Here are the highlights:

• Since each PV system will continue generating electricity year after year, the state will continue to reap benefits long after the tax credit is issued.
• For every dollar the state invests as a solar tax credit, it turns into $44 or more that circulates into Hawaii’s economy.
• Even if the cost of oil remains the same over the next 30 years (which we know is highly unlikely), Hawaii would still get a 10.3% ROI.
• Hawaii’s solar industry accounts for 15% of all construction expenditures in the state.
• Over its 30-year lifetime, a single 5.27 kW residential PV system yields 3.2 new local jobs per year amounting to $106,000 in local labor income and $20,010 additional tax revenues.
• Over its 30-year lifetime, a single 118 kW commercial PV system yields 2.7 new local jobs per year amounting to $2.6 million in local labor income and $485,000 additional tax revenues.

Hawaii’s solar tax credits help us to keep money here where it belongs. Dr. Loudat’s research proves that it is a smart investment that continues to give back by providing local jobs, yielding additional sales and tax revenue, and creating a renewable, dependable source of energy for Hawaii.

Top 10 Questions To Ask When Choosing A Solar Company

top 10 questions to ask when choosing a solar company

Once you’ve made the smart decision to go solar, it’s easy to get excited and go with the first solar company you find. However, just like any investment, it’s best to do some research to make sure you are choosing the best company. You want to know that they will not only get the job done right but will be around to answer any questions or provide PV system maintenance. Haleakala Solar founder and CEO Jim Whitcomb discusses 10 questions you need to ask before choosing a solar company.

1. How long has your solar company been in business?

As solar energy has gained popularity within the last few years, many new solar companies have sprouted up due to the “little capital investment required, and few barriers to entry,” says Whitcomb. However, PV installation only pays off for the client over time if the system is durable and installed correctly. You’ll want to choose a firm with a long history of success, so you know they’ll be there if you need assistance after your system is up and running.

2. What licenses and insurance does your solar company have (ie: contractor’s license, contractor’s liability insurance, workers’ compensation)?

You, as the homeowner, could be liable for any on-the-job injuries if your chosen solar company does not have the right insurance policies. Some companies do not possess contractor’s licenses, which prevents them from getting contractor’s liability insurance and workers compensation policies. Jim’s advice: Ask to see these policies before making a decision.

3. How will your solar company handle any troubleshooting issues?

Investing in a solar system can set you back anywhere from $5,000 to over $50,000, so wouldn’t you want to know how each prospective solar company would help you keep the system in tip-top shape? Find out whether there will be trained technicians to repair or replace panels down the road and how much this might cost.

4. Will your solar company handle all the necessary work?

Some companies hire subcontractors which “can make it difficult to track accountability, should an issue arise.” Be aware of who will be doing the installation and maintenance, their quality of work, and any potential liability you have as the homeowner.

5. Who are some of your other clients?

Of course, most solar companies want you to see only their best reviews, but we all understand no company can be perfect. The true value of a company comes through when they give the same outstanding service to both new and existing customers alike. Ask for the name and phone number of a customer that experienced issues with their system, so you can get honest feedback about the response.

6. Do you operate out of a commercial facility?

Some manufacturers ship PV panels directly to customers, removing the need to store inventory, but Whitcomb discourages against buying from a company who cuts corners. Ideally, a solar dealer should operate an office with warehouse space and have a support staff with at least one factory-trained technician. Choose a solar company that has enough confidence to invest in themselves.

7. Where is the best place to install my solar panels?

A solar contractor should be able to show you the best location for installation by analyzing various factors including the direction the property is facing, the angle of the roof, the roof’s strength, type of weather, and any obstructions that cause shading.

8. Who deals with the electric company?

Choose a solar company that won’t leave you hanging as soon as the system is up. Licensed contractors should ensure the solar system passes inspection and should not expect payment until the solar system is approved.

9. What about credits on my electric bill?

With traditional electricity, your meter flows one-way, measuring the amount of electricity flowing into your house. During sunny times, when you are producing more energy than you consume, your meter will spin backward and you will receive a credit on your electric bill.

10. Can you explain solar tax credits?

Systems must be fully installed and functioning to apply for solar tax credits. The federal government offers a 30 percent solar tax credit on the cost and installation of each solar system, and Hawaii offers a 35 percent tax credit with a $5,000 cap. Because you can get a credit per each system installed, some solar companies will try to “maximize your tax credits” by dividing panels into multiple systems. It’s important to know the total number of panels as well as how many separate PV systems these panels will form. Tax authorities are taking note of how these credits can be abused. If panels are separated into different systems for no reason, and your tax return is audited, you will be fined with interest and may lose out on the tax credits altogether. Visit our Solar Tax Credit page for more information.

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