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The trials, tribulations and rewards of going solar

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Save the Earth, Save Money—There’s No Need to Choose

Earlier this year, I blogged about a new website set up to ease the chore of shopping for solar panels, EnergySage, and since then the company’s own blog has described two financial benefits of... -- Read more on

It Used to be a Super Pain to Shop for Solar Installers, but No Longer

Whenever a dinner party has an awkward pause and could use a horror story to liven it up, I tell my story of shopping for solar panels. My wife and I started in 2008 and spent months finding an installer. Some never returned phone calls. Estimates ranged over a factor of two. It was hard to tell which was worse: their knowledge of physics or of finance....

Should You Add Backup Batteries to Your Grid-Tied Solar Array?

My neighbors took a newfound interest in my solar array after Hurricane Sandy. Most of our town in New Jersey lost power for two weeks, and everyone who knew about my panels was asking: Did they keep my lights on? Alas, no. When the grid goes down, our array goes down. The inverter mounted on my basement wall, which converts DC photovoltaic power to...

Caveat Emptor, Solar Homeowners

Comly Wilson at CleanEdison, which runs training and certification programs for green-tech installers, has put together a list of five things homeowners should know before buying solar. Definitely worth reading, but don’t let them scare you off. Our solar panels are going strong after three years and we’ve already paid off half of our out-of-pocket...

Clouds Over the Solar Industry in Britain [Guest Post]

A couple of years ago, I reported on the experiences of a solar homeowner in England, and I was curious how the situation in Britain has evolved since then. Alex Hole, owner of Strenson Solar, a British firm which provides solar panels in Sussex, recently approached me and I invited him to write the following guest post. I can’t vouch for what he reports,...

My Electric Bill Was WHAT?!? Analyze Your Power Use with These 3 Web Sites

In one of the best quips I’ve ever heard at a scientific conference, cosmologist Max Tegmark complained about a lecturer’s vagueness and pleaded for some quantitative predictions: “numbers—you know, the kind with decimals in them.” Like Tegmark, I love data. Concrete information beats hand-waving speculation any day. So it’s awfully fun to use a home...

Can You Really Get Solar Panels Installed for Free?

It sounds too good to be true: you can go solar without paying a cent. I first mentioned this proposition, known formally as a power-purchase agreement, two years ago: a company such as SunRun or... -- Read more on

How Optical Illusions Can Build a Better Bulb

At the SciFoo conference last weekend, brain scientist and illusionmeister Steve Macknik elevated a basic principle of energy conservation—turn off the lights when you don’t need them—to a whole new level. He showed how you can turn off the lights in a way that no one will even notice. Right now, an AC light bulb turns on and off 50 to 60 times a second,...

Could Hackers Break into Your Electric Meter?

When I was getting my solar panels installed, I couldn’t wait to see my electric meter literally spin backwards. Alas, as part of the process, the utility swapped out the old analog meter. That spinning metal disk had been a reminder of the raw mechanical power—giant turbines, mighty waterfalls, searing furnaces—that stood at the other end of the dainty...

20 Solar Apps for Your iPhone

The iPhone seems like the perfect accessory for a solar power enthusiast. Right now, you have to navigate a maze of websites such as PV Watts to calculate how much energy you can expect to produce and how many years a solar array will take to pay itself off. The iPhone could cut to the chase. It even looks like a miniature solar panel. And indeed the...

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