Latest articles by The Solar Nerd

Keep up to date on industry news and articles relevant to green living and the solar homeowner.

Photo of a Sunny Boy inverter
Emergency backup power with the SMA Sunny Boy inverter series
If you have a home solar system, it won’t keep your house powered in a blackout unless you have a battery system. This is because solar inverters have a feature called anti-islanding. A solar inverter converts direct current (DC) power from solar panels into alternating current (AC) that your home and electric grid use. AC power has a frequency of 60 hz in North America. In normal operation, your solar inverter “listens” for power from the grid, and synchronizes its AC output to that of the grid.
Photo of hailstones.
Can solar panels be installed on a flat roof?
Most houses have sloped roofs, but flat roofs aren’t uncommon, especially with Modernist designs. These tend to be more popular in milder climates that don’t need peaked roofs to deal with snow loads, such as California. If you’ve seen photos of solar panels on a typical house with a sloped roof, you may have noticed the racking system holding the panels in place. In the most common case where asphalt shingles are used, the racking is attached to the roof deck with bolts that are drilled through the shingles and attached to the deck underneath.
Photo of solar panels on a tile roof.
Can you install solar panels on a tile roof and avoid leaks?
Tile roofs look great, don’t they? Not only do they really suit the architecture of the southwest where they are most popular, but they’re practical too. A well-installed clay or concrete tile roof can last 50 or even 100 years. But when it comes to installing solar panels, tile roofs represent the biggest challenge for solar installers. Not only can installing on a tile roof be more expensive, but there can be a higher risk of a poor installation causing damage to the waterproof integrity of the roof, leading to expensive repairs down the road.
Sunrun payment plans: a no-nonsense guide
With about 255,000 total customers, Sunrun is the largest solar installer in the United States. This means that if you’ve been shopping around for a solar installer, there’s a very good chance that you’ve come across Sunrun. When you go to sunrun.com, you’ll be given a breakdown of their 4 different solar payment plans. You’ll notice that they steer homeowners toward their leasing plan called Brightsave. While it’s possible to go the traditional route and have run Sunrun install a system that you purchase outright, their marketing is definitely slanted toward the no-money-down approach of leasing.
An example of a net zero home. Credit: Lord Contractors
Net zero homes explained (with 7 beautiful examples)
A net zero house is one that generates as much energy as it uses. Seems amazing, right? Even better: these homes look fantastic too. Think of all the things in your home that need power, from top to bottom: lights, cooking appliances, washer and dryer, heating and cooling, hot water, and lots of electronics. These things require a lot of electricity, but you probably have some appliances powered by fossil fuels: natural gas, heating oil, and propane are common heating fuels, depending on where you live.
Photo of a forest fire
PG&E blackouts and solar panels: what you need to know
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has been doing planned blackouts through the wildfire season in 2019 as an emergency measure to avoid deadly wirefires like the Camp Fire of 2018 that killed 85 people and burned over 150,000 acres. Today’s planned blackout will be largest yet: over 800,000 customers will be affected. The Camp Fire of 2018 was caused by a faulty PG&E power transmission line in Butte County. A fallen PG&E power line sparked a fire on the morning of November 8, and within two days more than 6,700 structures had already been burned.
Photo of a metal roof
Can solar panels be mounted on a metal roof?
The most common roofing material in the United States are asphalt shingles, and for good reason: they’re inexpensive and durable. But while they’re less popular, metal roofs have a lot of advantages. If you’re a homeowner with a metal roof, you might wonder: can you install solar panels on them? The answer is: yes! While the majority of solar homes have asphalt shingle roofs, metal roofs are actually a better choice if you’re planning to go solar.
Hazard sign
Do solar panels contain cadmium or other heavy metals?
Everyone knows that solar panels turn sunlight into electricity, and they do that without any pollution. But that doesn’t mean that making the panels themselves isn’t pollution-free. If you’re a homeowner who is thinking about installing solar panels, you might be wondering: what exactly is inside that sheet of glass? Maybe you’re worried because solar panels will go on top of your roof where rainfall hits the panels and washes off, or they’ll go in your backyard, where your kids or other people might be hanging out.
Illustration showing concept of financial break even period.
How long does it take to break even with solar panels?
Buying solar panels for your home is a large investment. How many years will it take for that investment to pay itself back? The answer is a little complicated, but that’s what The Solar Nerd calculator is for. If you put in a few details about where you live, what direction your solar panels will face, how much electricity you use, the calculator will give you a quick estimate of how many years it will take for you to earn your initial investment back.