Solar Energy Installation in the Sierra, a primer from Urs Willimann

Solar Energy: A Primer


PV Solar

These are solar panels with silicone crystals. They are installed on the ground or roof and are ideal for small home owners and large collector farms. If there is room, I prefer a ground installation.

Batteries or not? With batteries you are isolated from the grid, ideal for remote locations and you have power even if the grid is down. Of course, batteries add cost. Generally a grid-tied system is the preferred way to go because it is cheaper, more efficient and the surplus gets fed back to other customers in the grid.

Thermal Solar

Works for heating water as in pools or for domestic and commercial hot water. It can be applied to space heating with radiators or heat exchangers.

Mirror Solar

Large super hot water and steam power plants. Not applicable to home owners.

Residential Solar Installation

Most commonly this would be a PV (Photo Voltaic) setup. So you need to know how much Electricity you use per year (kWh) and what size (kW) the system needs to be. You can find that out via your electric bill.

Home owner options

This is helpful information for anybody. But now the questions arise :

  • Can I do this myself?
  • Can I do the planning, permitting and organizing and hire laborers for the installation and an electrician for the hook-up. If that is you, call me for more info.

Or do I need to:

  • Get a solar contractor to do the entire installation including the permits, etc.

Both these options are your most beneficial way to go, since you own the system and get to claim the 30% federal tax rebate (talk to your tax person). Also you will pay about $10 per month (it used to be less) for line charges to your power company. That is all you will pay for your electricity month after month after month and if you need more electricity you just add more panels.

Simple panels still need an inverter but are more robust. Now some types of panels have their own mini-inverters but failure rate is bigger with those. There are two installers in Mammoth Lakes, call them for a estimate. I can’t refer any since I never dealt with them. I did talk to them,

The federal tax credit is still in place but unfortunately none of the state incentives are active anymore and probably won’t be for the foreseeable future. I was surprised how much less the system ended up costing me in the end when those were available.

If you can’t afford to finance it yourself, you have one option to go with an company that finances the entire project, but collects all the incentives and tax credits and charges you for the power you use. Every company has different setups so you need to talk to them.

My strong recommendation though is to own your system. Go to your bank for a loan that is much cheaper for you then a lease arrangement. And if all of you act as a group, there are discounts to be had. I can’t refer any since I never dealt with them although I did talk to them. Maybe I could help with that. It is a win-win situation to go solar!

Hot Water, Space heating, Pool heating

As mentioned before, these are thermal solar panels flat plates, flat panels and vacuum tube collectors. For the High Sierra a drain-back system with flat panels or a closed loop system with some sort of antifreeze would work best. As far as I know, there aren`t companies that finance these installations and costs can vary wildly as to what you need to accomplish. But incentives still apply. A plumbing contractor who is willing to install the panels as well would be your best source for information.

Solar for renters

Solar Community

Installer Contractors

Sierra Solar

Jim Harper 760-937-0307

T.J.Chase 760-937-0846

Mammoth Lakes

Sierra Solar has done most of the installations in the Mono Basin. Jim Harper lives in Mono City. They will provide a free estimate. Highly recommended. They do not do solar leases.

High Point Solar

Scott Smith 760-914-2555

Mammoth lakes

Lease and Finance Contractor

Sungevity 844-899-8245

All over California. One recommendation from Betsy McDonald.

Betsy is contacting Sungevity to see if they would install leased solar if we have several people interested in Mono County.

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