Is Solar Power The Answer To America’s Energy Woes? One Expert Says Yes [Interview]

Solar power expert Bill Heid recently chatted with The Inquisitr about the benefits of solar generators for both emergency use and off-grid living. Heid helped Xantrex pioneer solar backup power. The antiquated and over-taxed nature of the power grid is causing enhanced concerns for many Americans. As the sun prepares to hit its 11-year peak, NASA and NOAA scientists are even more watchful for powerful solar flare activity. The controversial Smart Grid concept likely prompted a few more foes after the Super Bowl blackout.

Bill Heid feels that solar generators offer a true sense of freedom for those seeking an off-grid lifestyle. The solar power expert also believes that solar generator kits offer a viable clean energy alternative that reduces reliance on traditional power sources.

IQ – Solar generator kits and solar power in general, are integral aspects of both an eco-friendly and prepper lifestyle. What are the fiscal and environmental benefits off-grid power?

Heid – True off-the-grid solar electric systems do not really provide a reasonable payback as a financial investment. Their primary value is that they can be installed as an electrical power source in places where the installation of utility company power is either impossible, impractical, or cost prohibitive. As a primary power source, they offer the advantages of no fuel purchase, no fuel storage, no operational noise, no exhaust fumes, are not subject to utility distribution system failures or brownouts, and are very low maintenance requirements. Grid-tie solar systems that allow excess electrical production to be sold back to the utility company can; however, provide a significant financial return on investment.

Solar generators provide a portable power system similar to a gasoline generator, but with the advantages of no fuel purchase, no fuel storage, no operational noise, no exhaust fumes, and very low maintenance requirements.

The primary environmental benefit of solar electric power is that every bit of power supplied by solar reduces man’s environmental pollution by the amount that would be created by the use of the same amount of power from nuclear or fossil fuel powered electrical generation plants. Another environmental benefit is that solar systems, even those built on a massive scale, do not carry the danger of catastrophic accidents such as those that are related to nuclear plants, and even fossil fuel plants on a smaller scale. The worst case scenario of large scale failures in a solar electric system would lead only the destruction of the systems hardware and related facilities with very little, if any, impact on the environment.

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IQ – Are solar generators and solar panels becoming more affordable for the average homeowner?

Heid – The cost of solar electric equipment, especially solar panels, has been gradually decreasing worldwide for several years now. This cost reduction has been primarily driven by the reduced cost of production of solar related equipment coming from the Asian countries; Taiwan, China, Japan, etc. At the recent rate of cost reduction, the cost of installing a whole house solar electrical system would have become a financially feasible option for most new home projects within the next 10 years. Unfortunately, the US governments recent tariffs imposed on Chinese solar panels have seriously derailed this reality for the US housing market. The 250% cost increase on Chinese panels resulting from this tariff is actually increasing the cost of solar installations in the US market while the rest of the world is still experiencing the falling costs.

While the cost of solar panels is rising in the US market due to the government policies mentioned above, the price of solar generators is rising much less rapidly due to the fact that portable solar generators use far fewer solar panels than do most fixed installation residential and commercial solar arrays. As a result of this slower cost growth rate, solar electric generators remain a viable alternative to noisy, smelly, maintenance intensive gas and diesel generators.

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IQ – Can you dispel some of the myths about the limitations of solar power?

Heid – The solar power myths that would most apply to off-the-grid systems are that solar electric systems make sense in only a few applications. It only works in places like the US Southwestern States.

Solar electric systems make sense nearly anywhere electricity is needed. In fact, solar energy works in all 50 states. Germany has more installed solar capacity than any other country and it receives roughly the same amount of sunshine as Alaska. Less than one third of the PV capacity installed in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2011 was installed in California.

More PV was installed on commercial buildings in New Jersey than in California during that quarter. The number of these grid-connected solar PV systems is growing because they make sense economically, environmentally, and aesthetically. Solar electric systems make economic sense because they use free fuel from the sun and require little upkeep due to no moving parts. Every bit of electricity produced is used in the home or sold back to the utility for use by other customers. Solar electric systems also make sense for the environment and can blend seamlessly into the design of the building.

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Solar electric systems are unreliable and produce substandard electricity is another myth. Solar electric systems are some of the most reliable products available today. They are silent, have no moving parts, and have been tested to rigorous standards by public and private organizations. Many systems have been tested and listed by Underwriter’s Laboratories. Warranties of 20 -25 years are standard for solar modules. Solar modules are so tough that many modules can withstand a 1″ hail stone strike at 50 mph.

Solar electric systems connected to the utility grid generate the same kind of power as that from the power line. Today’s systems must meet the requirements of the NEC, the local utility and local building codes. Once these systems are installed according to these requirements, the owner of a solar-electric powered home has electricity of the same quality as any other utility customer thanks to modern day inverter technology.

The third myth is that it is difficult to make solar electric systems aesthetically pleasing and functional for homes and businesses. Today’s solar electric equipment can blend well with beautiful, functional and energy efficient buildings using modern solar electricity technology and design. Gone are the propped-up billboards of the past that made you wince. Today’s solar is sleek, low profile and integrates well into hip and valley roof configurations.

IQ – How much do seasonal weather fluctuations and rain impact the functionality of a solar generator?

Heid – As I mentioned, solar power systems can be used successfully throughout the entire continental US. Even on overcast days solar electric systems will produce power; but, they will produce less power than under full Sun conditions. . The areas of the country that experience longer periods of overcast conditions can utilize solar systems that are designed with larger solar arrays and battery banks to compensate for the lower levels of Sun received over a period of time.

As far as temperature effect on solar panels, they actually work more efficiently at lower temperatures and this helps offset the lower solar radiation levels experienced during the colder months. The very warm temperatures of the hot summer season actually causes reduced efficiency and power output, but this is somewhat offset by the higher levels of solar radiation associated with the summer season.

IQ – You helped Xantrex Technologies pioneer the solar backup power industry. What advances have occurred in solar power since the early days of mass productions off-grid power sources?

Heid – During the last five years the major advances in solar generators has not been so much technological as practical. Portable and back-up solar generators have primarily advanced in the area of usability. Our company has utilized the feedback from our many thousands of customers to increase the ease of use and available features on our generators. Our improvements have been along the line of ease of portability and ease of operator interface with the generators. Today are generators are easier to use and transport than ever before. And we have also made easier to power 12 volt DC accessories directly from our generators which also provide 120 volts AC.

IQ – Can you detail what a moderately priced solar generator would power in the common home?

Heid – This is probably the most common question we encounter from consumers and it is also probably the most difficult to answer. The reason it is difficult to answer is because the answer will ultimately depend on how the consumer wants to use his system and the types of electrical loads he wants to power from it. The best way to get a feel for how a solar generator will fit your needs is to visit our website where we provide runtime charts for our various models.

These charts tell how long various common appliances will run from a solar generator on a fully charged battery bank alone without any solar input. This will provide a good indication of how much power you can realistically expect to receive from our various models of solar generators.

IQ – Many Americans still possess the skillset to work on their furnaces, water heater, etc., when they break down. Do solar panels and solar generators require specialized training to learn how to maintain and repair when something goes wrong?

Heid – Maintaining the solar collection hardware of the system is relatively easy, primarily involving keeping the solar panels clean – no harder than washing a window. Maintaining the battery bank is not difficult but will probably require the average home owner to learn a little something about battery chemistry and proper charging routines.

The solar charger and inverter sections of the system are relatively complex electronic devices which will not be repaired if they fail, but rather replaced. The user who understands the basic operation of his system well enough to recognize which component has failed is usually competent enough to replace these components himself. Most any electrician can also replace these components for those who do not feel comfortable working on electrical equipment.

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IQ – What type of feedback have you received from a customer after they have made the switch using solar power to provide electricity to their home?

Heid – The main thing we hear back from our customers is the level of comfort they experience from having reliable power available following storms and other disasters when it is not available from the utility company for extended periods of time.

Would you feel better prepared if you had a solar generator kit or solar home?

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[Secondary Images Via: MySolarBackup]