Can solar panels be put on any barn? How do I find a reliable installer? With the help of SunPower Builders, your questions are answered....
SunPower® Builders of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, is in its fourth decade of designing, supplying, and installing solar photovoltaic systems. “We’ve installed solar systems on a wide variety of barns and farms,” says founder Jon Costanza, “from small photovoltaic installations on historic barn restorations to large solar thermal installations on farms with multiple barns and outbuildings.”
Costanza answers some common questions about “going solar” here. You can check out photos of their solar barn and farm projects on the SunPower Builders Web site: www.sunpowerbuilders.com
Q: What can I “run” off solar panels?
A: You can run most any electrical equipment with solar power -- indoor and outdoor lighting, water pumps, trough bubblers, hot water heaters, even underfloor heating for tack rooms. Solar can also provide emergency backup for things like priority lighting, water filtering, and space heating during electrical outages. And since many farms have remote electrical needs (sheds, feeding stations) solar can provide power where electricity cannot.
Q: How much sun do you need to make a system viable? What if I live in a notoriously cloudy region, like the Northeast or Seattle?
A: New technology has made solar panels more effective -- even on cloudy days --so it is now possible to use solar in all parts of the country. All you need is a site on your property that receives approximately six hours of sunlight a day. A south-facing roof is a plus, but pole-mounting is a great option if you don’t have the roof area.
Q: Can solar panels be put on any barn?
A: Absolutely! SunPower has installed panels on eighteenth-century barns and modern, steel-roofed structures. The possibilities, varieties, and ranges for the use of solar on barns are endless. I should note that if the roof or roof-support systems are in need of repair, a barn may need structural adjustments before solar panels can be installed.
Q: Are there state or federal rebates available to help defray the cost of installing a solar system?
A: As solar has become more mainstream, individual states and the federal government have responded with incentive programs for solar installations. These incentives are awarded in the form of rebates, grants, and a variety of other programs. Programs differ from state to state and can defray the cost of an installation up to 50 percent. Information on state programs can be found through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (www.dsireusa.org). Additionally, there is a Federal Tax Credit available of 30 percent for both commercial and residential installations. The USDA also offers annual grants for farms going solar. Find out more at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/farmbill/index.html and http://www.usda.gov/rus/index2/0208/energytype.htm.
Q: Will I need to get zoning approval?
A: Yes, zoning approval and permits are required although they are not usually difficult to procure. Both zoning and permits are usually within the jurisdiction of individual municipalities, but some codes are national.
Q: Is there much maintenance involved?
A: There is virtually no maintenance involved with solar systems, with the exception of replacing batteries on off-grid systems. Solar panels have no moving parts and are warrantied by most manufacturers for 30 years.
Q: How do I find a reliable installer?
Although solar can be seen as a “new industry,” there are established solar contractors and it’s important to find and use them. Your solar equipment manufacturer can refer you to qualified installers and the following Web sites can also help you locate an installer in your area:
www.ases.org (American Solar Energy Society)