Best Information Resources For Getting Started With Solar Power
Northern Arizona Wind and Sun’s
Top 6 Resources for Solar Beginners
Delving into the world of solar for the first time can be overwhelming. Between technical specifications, considerations unique to the solar field, and a whole new vocabulary, it might seem like you’re lost on a whole new planet. At Northern Arizona Wind and Sun, we get it. That’s why we offer a Learning Center dedicated to helping you become confident as you navigate this new adventure. Not sure where to start? Here are our top 6 resources for solar beginners.
Resource #1: Solar Insolation Maps
Why they’re useful for beginners: they determine the average solar radiation your home gets each year.
When considering solar, one of the first things to ask yourself is ‘how much sunlight can I depend on’? The answer to this question can vary depending on your location. If you live in Florida or Southern California you can expect more sun on average than in Northwest Washington or Maine. Use these solar insolation maps to determine the average solar radiation for your area. This resource also has great visuals like this map:
Resource #2: Solar Load Calculator
Why it’s useful for beginners: solar load calculators help you calculate how much power you currently use at home.
After you use a solar insolation map to determine your average available sunlight, you need to determine how much power you’ll need to power your home. Especially if you’re building an off-grid system that will rely solely on solar power. That where the Northern Arizona Wind and Sun Solar Load Calculator comes in handy. Simply add your appliance information or choose from prefil options and the calculator will do the work for you. It will even email that information to Northern Arizona Wind and Sun so they can prepare a quote for you based of your personal energy consumption.
Resource #3: Photovoltaic Glossary
Why it’s useful for beginners: a photovoltaic glossary will help you better understand industry jargon.
This glossary will help you with the technical terms that you are likely to come across in the research, purchase, installation and maintenance of a solar energy system. For example, photovoltaics refers to the conversion of sunlight into electricity using a conductive material, like your solar panel.
There are some familiar terms like load, with definitions specific to solar. There are also terms that might not be as familiar like pyronometer. It’s basically your Rosetta Stone for the solar industry.
Resource #4: Battery Glossary
Why it’s useful for beginners: a battery glossary will help you understand how your system stores energy for later.
Batteries are required to store the solar energy your panels gather. Separate from the process of collecting and converting energy from the sun, this glossary is all about the storage of that energy. It might also be good to review the glossary for tips you might not consider otherwise. A great example is the concept of overcharging your batteries.
Overcharging is one of the most destructive elements in battery life (the other is long term undercharging). Most batteries don't die a natural death, they are murdered - usually by overcharging. Overcharging causes the plates to disintegrate and shed. These particles end up on the bottom of the cell. Eventually, the cells will short out, fall apart, break apart, or generally die. Overcharging also increases water loss tremendously, causing even more problems. Gelled cells can be damaged faster than flooded, and flooded can be damaged faster than AGM batteries by overcharging. Water loss is a particular problem with sealed gel cells, as the water cannot be replaced. In some cases, severe overcharging can also cause considerable heat in cheaper batteries with high internal resistance, causing plates to buckle and cases to warp and break. See also discharge. Some poorly designed charge controls compound the problem by both overcharging and undercharging.
Resource #5: Solar Tips from the Pros
Why these tips are useful for beginners: we’ve been through it all before. With these tips you can learn from our experiences.
Northern Arizona Wind and Sun are the experts in the solar arena. They know the places that you’re likely to get hung up or have questions. Which is why they put together a great resource of technical tips and “nice to know” information. They cover things from comparing volt-amps and watts to giving you tips on theft-proofing your solar panels:
Because solar panels are somewhat expensive, they are a target for theft in some areas. There is no sure cure for this, but using theft-proof hardware, such as bolts that require special wrenches can help. Often the best prevention measure for both theft and vandalism is to make the solar panels less obvious, especially if they are visible from a major road or highway. It is also a good idea not to "advertise" them - such as one county in California did, by placing large signs up at a roadside rest stop bragging about their use. The panels were gone in a few weeks.
It's not like there are hordes of panel thief rings roaming the countryside, but it is something you should be aware of.
Resource #6: Frequently Asked Questions about Solar for Your RV
Why it’s useful for beginners: If you own an RV and would like to add solar, there are specific considerations to keep in mind. This FAQ will help get you started.
There are specific considerations when creating a solar system for an RV. At Northern Arizona Wind and Sun we’ve put together a great FAQ just for RVs with questions that you’re likely asking yourself. For example, the first question is usually, “how many solar panels do I need?” Answer:
We have found that the best rule of thumb is to make a wild, educated guess. Generally, figure about 75 to 130 watts of panel for every 100 AH of house battery, or about one watt per AH that you have. If you have a pair of 220 AH golf cart batteries, or a single 4D or 8D 12-volt battery, you should be looking for something in the 85 to 250 watt range. This of course can vary considerably, depending on many factors, such as how much and for how long you dry camp.
Interested in what the first solar powered RV looked like? Check it out: