So, have you been asking yourself, do solar energy systems work well in Minnesota (MN) or Wisconsin (WI)? after hearing ads on the radio, TV, or seeing them online.......... Heck, yes they do! And they can save you a ton of money on your electric bill. But don't just take my word for it, there are a lot of government resources out there, and I will outline some of those, but if you're someone that thinks jets are spraying toxins from the government, well I can't give you any information you think you know already.
Recent solar panel installation North of Ely, Minnesota.
So, solar works well in Minnesota because the sun delivers a good amount of irradiance to the state, even with all that snow. We figure all that information out through a platform called PVWatts, which uses weather stations (typically at Airports) around the state that are updating historical data over the past 10-20 years using pyranometers.
Even with light snow and light rain, solar panels continue to make energy. Most responsible solar panel companies will provide each customer with estimated solar production taking all aspects into account, like; snow, rain, shading, etc. based on the information provided from sites like NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) and similar. Below I provided a image of the United States on irradiance. We often compare how great the state of MN is vs. one of the worlds greatest solar producers, Germany.
Anything above Blue Shades are better than Germany.
As for the science around the product, the panels are made with in all practicality, purified Rock! Or silicon, which happens to be the 2nd most abundant element on Earth's crust, 2nd only to Oxygen. Silicon makes up 28.2% of Earth's crust. Therefore, the mineral is cheap, but the process to create pure silicon brings it costs into play in purifying it. Cells are created by growing ingots to create the cells that are cut from the ingots today. Now, there are some technologies that you may or may not have heard of like printable cells, or paintable cells, but I am yet to see a durable new technology or one that offers the efficiency to make it worth while. Solar panels today have a theoretical maximum efficency of 33.16%, and today's modules are packing cells with 20%+. The difference between cell and module efficiency is approximately 2-5% due to connections and other factors I'll discuss in another post. But a module that is close to 20% has cells around ~23%. That means that todays modules (Q4 2017) have likely found that sweet spot for bang for the buck.
So solar works well in MN and WI because of a few factors, we have a good solar resource with the sun, the efficiency of the products today, and the economies of scale with medium to large scale solar contractors. Image if, Xcel Energy or WE energies charged you without economies of scale, your transformer outside would cost $5,000 to install, your wires to your house, maybe $100,000. It's economies of scale that makes, cars cheaper, clothes affordable, etc. Solar has become a force in the Midwest and will continue to be for several years to come.
Plus, we have the 30% federal tax credit, that allows anyone that pays federal taxes to get their own money back in the form of a tax credit, that you can receive over several years if needed. Some utilities also offer incentives like in MN, Xcel Energy, Dakota Electric, and MN power. In WI, Focus on Energy most likely offers a rebate from your utility, like We Energies or WPS. Find out if your property qualifies-->
So, I have been designing and selling solar for 12+ years in Minnesota and Wisconsin as a licensed electrician, and over that time I have seen many technology trends, rebates, and manufactures, come and go, not only in the midwest but on the East and West Costs. Over that time its become clear between the conversations I have had with manufacturers and industry "experts", that solar is here to stay with the majority of market tricks a.k.a. "trends" died or dying off. Such as micro-inverters, centralized inverters, ULTRA DURABLE panels, reflected panels, etc.
The products we choose to use at my company are based on the industry movement. As an example in MN, we HAD a incentive called MN Made, and the two manufacturers we had to choose from for years was, Silicon and TenK. Now, we flew out to Washington to get trained on Silicon modules long before they where in MN, indicating our commitment, but never installed a single module actually made from Silicon, because their product was waaaaay to expensive and I didn't see a function in the market, well they are out of business now. TenK, almost the same discussion, I had several tours of their facility long before they hit commercial production, in fact their engineers would ask me for my expertise on some of the visits, only to never install any of their product only, because I knew their approach to the market was all wrong with their "technology". I watched local companies pitch their questionable product in disagreeance as they where outside of the industry standard. I compare it to tires, when a round tire works fine, why would you make a octagon tire? Does it work, yes, do you need a special incentive to sell it, yes..... well I'm out! In my long point, we will always be on the cutting edge of the evolution of technology, but will not simply pick the manufacturer that is waaaay outside of the box without economies of scale in their factor.
Well, I may have gone on some rants, but I hope it all made sense. If you have any questions please reach out to us and thanks for reading, as always, there is more to come.