Solar PV in Iowa
So ... what is Solar PV?
Simply defined, Photovoltaics (PV) are best known as a method for generating electric power by using solar cells to convert energy from the sun into electricity. The photovoltaic effect refers to photons of light knocking electrons into a higher state of energy to create electricity.
Over 95% of the solar PV systems in the United States are grid-tied systems, meaning they are connected to the grid, provide the ability for solar owners to “store” their excess energy on the grid, and use grid energy during low-solar production days or at night. There are four (4) common types of solar PV systems. Let’s explore a brief outline of each.
By far the most common type, Grid-Tied Systems offer the greatest return on investment. They are simple and very reliable applications. There are three (3) types of PV systems an owner can select from: DC, Micro-Inverter, or ACPV. They all offer different solutions depending on the installation application. Don’t worry. We'll help you through that process. Our recommendation is ACPV, since it currently offers the greatest benefits.
Despite myths about solar, Grid-Tied Systems will not work when the grid power is down, so you'll be in the dark just like everyone else. All Grid-Tied Systems in the United States are required to shut down during an outage, due to safety concerns for utility workers. If you need power during an outage, then a bi-modal solar system — or standby generator — is the best solution for that application.
Expect to pay $3 to $4 per watt for a Grid-Tied System. They require very little maintenance and are designed to last 30+ years. They are ideal for residential and commercial applications and can be configured for small offset of grid power or net-zero goals.
How Grid-Tied Systems work:
Off-Grid Systems are far less common, primarily due to cost. And with grid power readily available in the United States, it is an application for unique projects. These systems are completely stand-alone, relying on battery storage and, potentially, backup generators. They can be expensive, but may be less costly than connecting to a grid power source in remote areas. They need to be carefully designed and configured so that they operate according to the owner's intent of use.
Expect to pay $7 to $10 per watt for an Off-Grid System. They require more attention and maintenance than any other type of PV system. They are designed to last 30+ years, however, the batteries will most likely need to be replaced about every seven (7) years. Expect a high expense of ownership with these types of systems. They are the most ideal option for residential systems in remote areas.
How Off-Grid Tied Systems work:
Bi-Modal Systems, otherwise known as Grid-Tied Systems with Battery Backup, are connected to the power grid (or your utility provider). They provide greater energy independence because you have backup in the event utility power goes down. Grid-Tied Systems with Battery Backup are typically more expensive because of the addition of a battery bank needed to hold excess power during times of no-grid power or solar production.
An additional upside of being connected to the grid with a battery backup is that if you lose grid power, you will still have power until your storage is used up. However, a more cost-effective and low-maintenance approach is installing a standby generator.
Expect to pay $5 to $10 per watt for a Bi-Modal System.
How Bi-Modal Systems work:
Hybrid Systems are any of the above with the addition of other energy sources such as hydro, fuel cell, wind, or a generator. Hybrid systems offer the greatest flexibility and can take advantage of the natural weather and time-of-year benefits to provide a wide range of energy solutions.
Expect to pay $4 to $12 per watt for a hybrid system. The solar portion of the power plant would yield minimal maintenance, however, other systems, such as wind, could add more to operating cost and maintenance. The system is more complex with more points of potential failure, but can offer solutions that can address power production and backup power.
How Hybrid Systems work:
Solar Installation Applications
Each project is completely different and provides unique challenges. With this this in mind, there are many different mounting solutions depending on project limitations, budget, and personal preferences. Energy Consultants Group will determine the best mounting solution for your project, based on performance and cost after completing a Certified Site Assessment.
Requirements for Solar
Solar Access. The most important requirement for solar is that you have a shade-free area large enough for your power plant to be installed. Ideally it faces true south, however, in some cases we can face it west and east and anywhere in between. Just be aware that it will require a larger system to output the same energy as a system facing due south. The solar window is typically 9am to 3pm, so if you have direct sunlight in this window, then solar will work for you.
Electrical Integration. A very important part of the project is the electrical tie-in. Inspection by the site assessor will determine if any electrical service upgrades are required to support the size of the proposed solar system. We also look at the requirement that the utility company may have for such a system.
Mechanical Integration. Another critical part of the system — if it's to be installed on a roof — is to determine if the roof is structurally sound enough to handle the additional weight of the solar system. Inspection of the condition of the shingles and roofing members will determine if it is feasible to install solar on the roof.
For a bit more information on requirements for solar, please see our Learning Resource page and our Certified Site Assessment page.
There are many considerations when designing and specifying solar. Energy Consultants Group is here to take all the guesswork out, provide you with a complete turnkey service, help guide you through this process, and provide you with real information that you need to know to make an informed decision.
Discover the Energy Consultants Group advantage
Can I do solar?
Solar PV can be integrated into new construction or retrofit applications for the following:
Can I get financing?
Energy Consultants Group offers a wide range of financial services.
How can I learn more about Solar PV?
Check out our Learning Center. There's plenty to learn!
What are the current incentives?
What size system do I need and how much will it cost?
A Certified Site Assessment will determine the exact cost and system size. However, using our solar-sizing and cost calculator will help get you in the ballpark. You may also contact us directly — through email or by phone — and we will be happy to provide you with some sizing and cost information.
Can anyone tell me that I can’t install solar?
Not really. There are laws in Iowa that protect a consumer and ensure that everyone has solar access and the right to deploy solar. Besides, who in their right mind would be against anything that is in mankind’s best interest and that is best for the planet?
Does solar work in Iowa?
You bet it does! Iowa has a great solar resource and solar works very well in the winter. Iowa has more solar resource than Germany and they're the world leaders in PV systems.
How does solar stand up to hail?
All of our modules have earned the IEC 61215 Certification which requires the module to stand up to 25mm-diameter ice balls shot directly at the glass at 11-impact locations at 23 meters per second.
Does solar add property value?
It certainly does. The value will be dependent on the system size. Furthermore, most banks can offer EEM (Energy Efficiency Mortgages) when you own solar. The thought behind this is that, with solar, you have little or no operating cost for your home. As a result, you can afford more home or reduced interest.
Will I need insurance for my solar system?
If it is financed, of course, it will be required. If you pay cash, you won’t have to insure it. But, in our opinion, that would be foolish since adding replacement cost to your existing policy is very easy and affordable. You can typically expect to pay an additional $50 to $200 per year.
Will I be required to have liability insurance?
If you're connected to the utility, you will be required to have liability insurance per the interconnection agreement. Terms vary, so we will advise you on the amount required. Typically, your current policy will meet the requirements.
So ... will my solar work when it is raining or snowing?
Of course, it will. Although it won't be as productive as it will be on a bright, sunny day, it will produce, even on heavy cloudy days.
Solar works every single day.
What kind of warranty can I expect from solar?
The warranties will vary but, generally speaking, most modules have a 25-year limited warranty. ACPV typically has a 25- to 30-year limited warranty on the entire system. DC string inverters typically have a 10-year warranty, with mico-inverters and racking systems 5 to 15 years.
What is the typical Return-On-Investment for solar?
That greatly depends on a number of factors, such as size, system type, location, etc. However, our systems — after incentives — range from 7 to 12 years, with Internal Rate of Return around 12% to 30%.
I heard Geothermal is a better investment than solar?
This is hardly true. First of all, Geothermal always consumes energy, never produces. The ROI for those system are typically 13+ years. In addition, the older the equipment gets, the less efficient it is. Plus, you need to account for utility rate inflation and Geothermal always uses more energy, meaning you will use more KWH per month with Geo vs. non-Geo.
However, using both can prove to be a very powerful alliance in offering the lowest possible operational cost to a homeowner. The consumer needs to tread carefully in assuming Geothermal will save them more money than solar. It’s just impossible to do so since you're still paying the utility company.
Can I install solar on another property across town and credit my meter at home?
Currently, you cannot. All systems must be tied to the meter in which you want to offset. Contact your local senators to advocate changes to Iowa law to make this possible. This could help provide solutions for customers that don’t have enough room for solar, shading, historical building, no solar access or, perhaps. don’t own the building. This would be a huge leap forward for Iowa.
How much maintenance is there for solar?
Not much, really. A fixed solar PV system has no moving parts and Mother Nature cleans the modules every time it rains. A few times during the year you might want to manually clean them. This could be as simple as hosing them off. If you live on a gravel road or near farmland, there are times that dust could soil the modules and reduce performance; however, this is minimal and has been accounted for in system sizing.
Okay. I'm convinced that solar is right for me. How do I start?