Over the past several years, the cost of utilities have increased significantly in New Jersey. At the same time, we at The Sea Gypsy have become more aware of the impact non renewable energy sources have on our environment. In February 2006, we applied and were approved for a solar panel rebate from the state of New Jersey. We had 9 months from the date of the approval (June 15, 2006) to finish the project, and qualify for the rebate check. March 15, 2007 was a very important deadline.
The first problem we faced was, where do we put the panels?
The Sea Gypsy Suites has a cottage in the back which we have not gotten around to renovating yet, so we figured, lets put them there (see the black roof above.) The roof is south-facing which is ideal for solar but, we needed almost double the space on the south facing half of the roof. Also you can see from the photos that the red roof on the magnolia avenue property is higher, which would block the sun during the winter months. So we needed a bigger, higher roof.
As luck would have it, when the roof came off, the monsoon season started in early november 2006.
But soon the sun was out again, we had a new floor (that's a picture of natalie dragging a piece of 3/4" tounge and groove plywood into position.)
then new walls and roof sheathing (our friend Nick Dalesandro is nailing down roof sheathing.)
Finally by December 2006 we have a weather tight roof complete with L-brackets to support the solar panels. There is nothing quite like the feeling of drilling 136 holes in a brand new roof. Thankfully there were no leakers.
While we were working on the roof, we placed the order for 48 - Sharp 208 watt solar panels, which produce DC electricity. I had selected some inverters (to convert the DC to AC) based on web research, but when i started getting prices on the panels, Daniel Rivest from Beyond Oil Solar was very helpful in getting us the latest technology, and helped optimize the design for our application. It is really scary to mail a check the size of the one's we sent to someone you don't know, but I have to say, I found Daniel to be a very honest, responsive, and helpful businessman, and would highly recommend his company. Plus, he had the best inventory of panels, and gave me a better quote on the panels than anyone else I talked to.
We wound up installing a Fronius 5 kW grid connect inverter to serve 30 of the panels that operate around 280 volts (depending on temperature.) For the other 18 panels, we have a battery backup outback 7,200 watt inverter bank.
Once all the panels were wired, and connected to the inverters, we had to connect to the grid. In the picture above the top left side is the solar shut-off switch and feed to/from the panels, the utility feed comes in the back of the box at the lower left, and our existing service panel is fed through the wall in the upper right side. It was a balmy 10 degrees outside when I was finishing up these connections.
Then, on February 26, 2007, we received our final electrical inspection - 17 days to spare before our March 15th deadline. It took another 4 nail-biting months until we received the rebate check, but the important thing is, we got the check on August 1.
Since we finished the solar panels, we've been working on siding, and are hoping to have the last 2 cottage suites ready for summer of 2008.
Between March and early June 2007, when we switched from heat to air conditioning, we built up a bank of about 2,500 kWh. Over the summer with the 4 tons of AC running, we basically produce as much as we consume in the Poplar House. We soon hope to install a ground source heat pump, that will improve our air conditioning efficiency and offset some of our gas heating load too. We're still getting used to the system operation, but so far it seems like, between our two buildings, we will meet about 50 - 75% of our electric consumption through solar.
When you come to visit, if you'd like to see the inverters or learn more about our experience with solar panels, talk to Todd - he likes to talk solar.
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Updated September 5, 2007.