Solar

Is Solar In Your Future?  We hope so.  If you want to reduce energy costs, reduce your carbon footprint, and increase your energy independence this is the time to do it.  The future is now.

South Mountain Company (SMC) is the premier solar integrator in the region.  When you select our suite of solar services – design, financing, installation, production monitoring, rebates and incentives – you’re choosing the best. 

Residential, commercial, institutional:  we do it all.  Rooftops, ground mounted, covering capped landfills, parking lot canopies – we have begun to explore the diverse ways we can successfully deploy solar technologies.

Most of our work is solar electric, otherwise known as photovoltaic (PV).  This is a technology whose time has come.  There are cases when we also recommend and install solar thermal systems to heat water.

Can You Afford It?

When you call us, we will arrange for a solar assessment of your property to determine the optimum system.  We will work with you to determine the most economical financing plan for your budget and lifestyle.  Think solar is beyond your budget?  Not anymore.  Our financing plans are flexible, and they include no money down options and monthly lease options.

Economics

As the cost of electricity rises, the value of each kWh generated on site increases too.  A typical residential installation can realize $50,000 in energy savings in 20 years, and possibly produce for another 20 years after that. 

When you install solar, you take control of your energy production and lock in at least a portion of your electric rate for years to come.  Solar is a robust hedge against inflation and spiraling energy costs – an important way to avoid future risk. When we show you the numbers you’ll see that this is as good an investment as you can find these days.

Incentives and Rebates

Federal and state tax credits and rebates are enabling our clients to recover half of the cost of installation in the first two years, and are projected to recover all of the initial investment in five to seven years after installation is complete. The available incentives are so favorable right now that it is hard to imagine near-term changes that will make solar electric more affordable.

  • Federal Tax Credit: This one’s easy: 30% of the cost of installation comes right off your tax bill.  If your credit is more than your bill, roll it over and over until it’s used up, or until it expires in 2016.
  • Massachusetts Residential Tax Credit : If the system is being installed on your primary residence, you qualify for a personal income tax credit too.  15% of cost of installation up to $1,000 maximum credit.
  • Solar Renewable Energy Certificate: Massachusetts law requires utility suppliers to generate a specific percentage of their electricity from solar, and this percentage increases slightly each year.  If they don’t comply, they pay a fine.  As an alternative to owning solar or paying the fine, utlities can buy the attribute of your system (not the energy, just the attribute) in order to comply with the law.  The SREC is the tool that enables this process, and it is an important part of the financial package,

The SMC Energy Advantage

South Mountain is responsible for more than half of the solar installations on Martha’s Vineyard.  We have done multiple installations in every town.  We’re well versed in island permitting processes and know what needs to be done for local approvals.  Whether you’re looking to provide energy for your seasonal or year-round home, your business, or even your new dairy farm and creamery (like Grey Barn Farm shown above), we’ve got you covered.We’ve even done whole neighborhoods.

We are a premier dealer for SunPower, the largest American solar company and the manufacturer of the most efficient panels on the planet.  We use SunPower whenever possible because they are able to produce more power per square foot and more power over the life of the system than other modules.

In most of the potential installations we evaluate, un-shaded aperture is at a premium, so using the most efficient product allows us to optimize the cost-effectiveness of the installation by installing more rated power in a given space. Where available area is not a limiting factor, we sometimes select a lower efficiency, lower cost product such as a thin film laminate.

SunPower Solar Electric systems are superior because they:

  •  Outperform other modules early in the morning, late in the day, on cloudy days, and at higher temperatures
  •  Effectively absorb different wavelengths of light to generate more electricity
  •  Maintain efficiency during initial break-in (most panels lose 3% efficiency when first exposed to sunlight)

SunPower also offers a highly advantageous leasing program.

Regional Benefits

In the Northeast, our utility grid is approximately 30% efficient at generating and transporting electricity to your home.  That means every kilowatt hour (kWh) you buy from them requires the consumption of three kWhs to generate and transmit!  This is a tragic waste!  By choosing to install solar you’re not only eliminating that inefficiency for electricity you use, but when your surplus is fed back into the grid, you are helping to make the whole system more efficient!

Vineyard Power

In 2011, South Mountain Company was selected in a competitive process to be the preferred solar installer for our island based electrical co-op, Vineyard Power. It’s an exciting concept – solar power by islanders, for islanders – and we’re proud to be partnered with Vineyard Power in this endeavor.

 

Now or Later?

Our prospective clients often ask us if now is the right time to install a solar electric system? Are the costs coming down rapidly?  Are technology improvements going to make the system I install obsolete in a few years?

We put this question to our Director of Engineering, and nationally acclaimed Systems Engineer, Marc Rosenbaum, PE. Here’s his very thoughtful response:

“One question is – what’s on the horizon? 

Solar electric technology has undergone a continuing drop in cost and increase in efficiency. The most efficient technology uses mono-crystalline silicon cells. A second option, multi-crystalline silicon cells, costs less but these have been less efficient and therefore require more system area to generate the same amount of power. The third technology is thin film, which uses much less material but relies on rarer elements such as cadmium, tellurium, indium, and gallium, and typically achieves lower efficiencies than the mono or multi crystalline silicon products.  There are also emerging technologies, which include organic solar cells that can be printed or coated onto films. We are not aware of dramatic, game-changing efficiency gains on the horizon in conventional solar electric technology. This means that the area of sunlight needed to generate power – the square feet of panel per kilowatt of power - is not likely to decrease significantly.

There is a tremendous amount of research and development occurring in solar electric technology. Companies such as 1366 and Suntech are focusing on learning how to produce highly efficient multi-crystalline cells using less silicon and less energy. These near-term technology efforts are aimed at reducing cost and are close to market or on the market. We recommend this type of technology in an application without an area constraint. Other approaches include a variety of efforts to build a better concentrator system, which replaces costly silicon cells with concentrating mirrors that focus more sunlight on a given cell area. A good example is Skyline Solar; their single axis tracker with a 14:1 concentration factor incorporates passive convection cooling in order to avoid overheating the cells. Technologies like this are aimed at large scale systems beginning in the hundreds of kilowatts (kW), whereas our typical residential systems are 5 – 10 kW. Both the multi-crystalline and the concentrator efforts noted above are part of the ongoing trend to dematerialize solar electric systems and thereby reduce both their economic and environmental cost.

We do envision an ongoing incremental drop in system cost coupled with modest increases in system efficiencies. We do hope for a game changing technology that drops costs radically, yet we know that fundamentally there is a given amount of energy in a given area of sunlight intercepted, and that the idea that the arrays we are installing today will be replaced by a three foot diameter dish is illusory.   That doesn’t mean there is nothing new on the horizon . NPR’s Science Friday reports on an artificial leaf  that could be a game-changer in the future: even the inventor is saying 8-10 years, and it is usually the case that early in the life of a new technology cost is high and efficiency and reliability are low.  It has taken 30 years for the cost of our current PV technology to drop from $5.00/kWh to +/- $.20/kWh.

Unlike the exponential improvement seen in the computer industry, which forces a rapid obsolescence, the incremental improvements in solar technology will not eliminate the value of a solar electric system installed today; it will be producing a predictable amount of energy twenty years from now and beyond.  That much we know.  Newer systems may be less costly, or more efficient, but not dramatically so.  Waiting for what might enter the market in the future foregoes the energy generated by (and environmental benefits of) the system installed now, the current incentives, and the opportunity to positively affect the U.S trade balance and economy.  I believe it is an excellent time for anyone who can to install solar, and we have taken this advice to heart:  we are currently planning to expand the system that we have at the SMC offices and many of us at SMC have recently installed solar, or are planning to soon.”

MIT’s Technology Review report on Solar Power provides more detailed information.