In this Chat, HCS volunteer Chloe Holden interviews homeowner, HCS member and Crown Height North Association board member Hal Drellich about his experience getting solar installed through Here Comes Solar. Hal shares his insights into the process of selecting qualified solar installer Brooklyn SolarWorks using HCS’s proposal platform SunBlock, and shows off his system that is generating enough energy to offset all of his energy needs!
Yvette and Adrian live in a modernly renovated townhouse in central Harlem, inconspicuously located on 112th st near Morningside Park. They took a dilapidated property and turned it into a green building that is expertly designed to be energy efficient. The architect they hired wisely included solar panels in the design!
This project was completed in 2009, which makes them pioneers in the neighborhood for bringing 3.2 kw of solar to their rooftop. The installer they used, called Tristate solar, was hired by their architect.
We met with Adrian and Yvette to talk about their experience and see how it fits into our overall initiative to bring more solar to rooftops in NYC.
Yvette: As far as we knew when we were installing, we were the only ones that we knew of in the area, so we were pretty much pioneers.
Silvia: I definitely commend you guys for that.
Yvette: Oh thank you! Yeah, it was definitely part of the premise of sort of being a green house and we always wanted to.
Adrian: Yeah the house is also designed to have cross ventilation. You know there is a window and for each there is a window on the other side. And also, it adds a lot of light so that you don’t use artificial light.
Yvette and Adrian were clearly very motivated to get the solar panels on their roof, but now that they have been installed they hardly pay mind to them. The system silently produces energy for them, meanwhile they said that they have no idea how much and what that is saving them on their electricity bill. Yvette said, “It would be great to have someone demystify that process. For us it’s just the ConEd man that goes down there, reads something, goes, leaves.” They expressed that they are aware of some reduction “But it would be nice to drill down on the numbers and you know see this is really what it meant for you and this is what your investment actually gave you. That would be awesome to get that.” Yvette said. This is exactly the type of service that Here Comes Solar provides at no cost to the program’s participants. For homeowners interested in going solar, estimates of costs and savings reassure them that it would be a good investment. For Yvette and Adrian, we were able to show their return on investment.
Going solar doesn’t have to be intimidating when connected to the right people and provided with the right information. Adrian and Yvette were able to have their architect help them through the process and take care of the paperwork. Without that help Yvette expressed that “We would have never been able to venture, I mean we loved it as an idea but I don’t think we would have persevered and been able to get connected to the right people.”
After investigating further we were able to determine that, even though they went in blind, they have seen some savings. We estimate that they offset about a quarter of their usage. You can see from the graph that they still use a lot of electricity in the summer months, probably because of air conditioning. Over the past 7 years they have saved $6, 164.83 on their electricity bills. Including tax credits and rebates, they have almost completely payed for the system. They payed about 30 grand which was actually a reasonable price considering that that’s $9.50 per watt.
One of the biggest concerns that homeowners have in the winter is how snow will impact solar energy. Snow is actually not the adversary of solar productivity and does not require you to perform any extra maintenance on your solar electricity system.
Panels installed on a flat-roof are usually installed at an angle and tilt in such a way that they face the sun. The tilt of the panel makes it difficult for snow to accumulate while enabling accumulated snow to slide off easily.
Like anything else, something that faces the sun will heat up, which is exactly what solar panels do. The heat of the panel melts any snow that may have accumulated, clearing the way for the panels to function as they normally would. Even if panels are installed flat on a roof, they will still heat up and melt the snow eventually.
Solar panels actually work better when it is colder out, so there may even be an increase in productivity on a sunny winter day!
Garry, one of the homeowners in our third SunBlock group was able to experience the first snow of 2016 with solar on his rooftop, and documented his system’s solar energy production in the days around the blizzard.
There are 17 SunPower 327 Watt solar panels with Solar Edge optimizers on Garry’s roof, a total capacity of 5,559 Watts. The photo below shows Garry’s system in the autumn. The panels are angled southward, and you can even see the sunlight really hitting the panels on the left side of the photo.
On January 23rd at 1:13PM after snow had been falling for many hours and accumulating on the ground, Garry’s solar panels on the roof were still producing energy-- 1.24 kWh, 7% of his average daily electric usage. That was pretty amazing considering that there was snow on the panels and there was no sun in sight!
The following day was bright and sunny with tons of 2 feet high piles of snow all around Brooklyn. By 3:57PM that day when the sun was already low in the sky, Garry’s system actually exceeded his average daily usage, producing over 19 kWh, over 100% of his daily average electric usage. That means that he would get a credit on his Con Ed bill for the extra energy his solar electricity system produced.
Garry's system actually produced more on the day following the blizzard than the days earlier in the week!
So instead of worrying about snow, play in it!
In last night's State of the Union address, President Obama applauded solar energy, noting, “we are giving homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy,” and even referenced New York as being a big part of the movement. Even in Brooklyn we have seen an incredible jump in solar energy investments this past year. In 2015 alone, 70 people joined Here Comes Solar and 10 of those people have solar electricity systems that are already up and running on their rooftops!
The last Here Comes Solar group was formed in 2015 and is located in Lefferts Manor, a tight-knit neighborhood of historic landmarked homes. This was the second group in the Prospect Lefferts Garden region, which is quickly becoming one of the most concentrated solar strongholds in Brooklyn. Julie Triedman, a homeowner on Maple Street, was a terrific champion of solar on her block, and recruited three additional members right on her street to join the group, and a few more have joined as add-ons following their installer selection. The group convened at the home of another HCS member, Ted Colgate, where a few local installers gave their pitches to the group. There are now eight people that are going solar together in this group, and they are still accepting more neighbors for the next month - sign up here.
The ninth Here Comes Solar group will be going live tomorrow, and there will be many more to come!
Liam Galloway is one of Here Comes Solar's talented new volunteers. In the coming months he will be documenting the experiences of current HCS homeowner members as they advance through the different stages of solar project completion. Liam's Brilliant Blog posts will feature simple video-based answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about the practical aspects of going solar. In this first installment, Liam shares step-by-step visual insights into how the process of solar installation actually happens on flat roof row houses here in New York City. Liam shadowed a crew from HCS Qualified Installer Brooklyn SolarWorks as they installed a 6 kilowatt solar electric system on the home of HCS member Bob Harvey. Bob is one of five members of the very first HSC group, the Prospect Gowanus Neighbors, which is now fully installed. Below Liam shares a brief account of what he saw and recorded on Bob's roof last month. Thanks Liam - we look forward to future posts!
In the first week of November in 2015, I had the opportunity to document a solar installation project by a team from Brooklyn SolarWorks. The installation was taking place on a beautiful, low-rise townhouse in Park Slope. Two arrays holding 18 solar panels in total were installed in a week. The team was professional, efficient, and had a strong sense of solar equipment and how to build the best system.
I arrived on site, to an empty roof with little knowledge of the technology and equipment needed for installing solar. As long metal pipes were brought through the hatch, up to the roof I wasn’t sure what to expect. I observed as the team measured distances from the hatch to the edge of the roof, and from the edge of the roof to the vents, to be certain there was a clear, 6-foot path from one side to the other. Several possibilities for the placements of both arrays were looked at, to ensure all 18 panels would fit. Later in the day, the array placements were finalized and all the equipment minus the panels were on the roof. The construction of the arrays began as soon as the panels were lifted up to the roof the next day. From my perspective, knowing little about the process, I was very interested watching the entire system come together over the following few days.
Piece by piece, the array was assembled as the team cut no corners and double-checked all measurements, making sure everything was attached to the roof and sturdy. I stood by and observed as I filmed the team go from drilling the bases into the roof all the way up until attaching the panels to the rails on the arrays. After hearing reports about installing solar on other residential low-rises in Brooklyn, I was grateful to witness the installation process first-hand. The experience allowed me to see the arrays come together from a concept to reality in a short period of time. I was pleased to see the efficiency and professionalism from Brooklyn SolarWorks throughout the entire installation.