Solar Montana provides free estimates in the Helena area, and a reasonable rate for site analysis out of town.  Each estimate receives a detailed shade analysis report, and a detailed estimate highlighting Return on Investment.

There are two basic types of solar installations: Grid-tie and off grid.

Solar modules contain no moving parts, and include power production warranties up to 25 years. There are many different mounting options available, including roof mount, ground mount, and pole mount.

Helena, Montana, has excellent solar irradiance; we receive about 4.7 hours of peak sunlight on average. “Peak sunlight” means the amount of time when the suns rays are producing about a 1000 watts per square meter.  Peak sunlight hours are typically used to calculate solar module production.

Solar Montana will conduct a thorough site analysis to insure that the proposed installation is optimal for solar production. Through the use of a Solar Pathfinder, we can accurately tell you if any obstructions will cause shading at any time of the year.

Here is an example of a report you will receive.

 

2_02.5 KW System Report

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We use a large variety of the highest quality modules including but not limited to: REC, Hanwha Solar 1, Suniva, and SolarWorld.

 

Net Metering (Grid Tied)

Net metering systems are becoming the most common application for solar electric modules.  This is because cost of components has dropped, electricity prices have risen, government incentives are still around, and you install-and-forget them.  They typically need about as much maintenance as a roof does.

In a net metered system, no batteries are needed, as the utility acts as a battery bank. Energy produced during the day is first used by the home. Excess electricity is fed out into the grid, in effect spinning your utility meter backwards and crediting your power bill. This credit is 1 to 1; therefore power is traded at the same rate. With some energy conservation it is very possible to zero out a typical electrical bill with a 4000 watt system.

The components in a typical net metered system are very simple. First, energy is produced in the solar electric modules; this is wired down to an inverter, which transforms the DC electricity into AC, and then feeds electricity into the utility grid.

We use SMA, SolarEdge, Enphase, Fronius, Power-One Aurora, and  PV Powered inverters for our grid-tied systems.  These are the highest quality inverters available.

Safety is one of our principle concerns, therefore all components are clearly labeled and all systems pass rigorous electrical and building inspections.

Costs vary depending upon components and mounting options. A general “ball park” figure is around $2.50 a watt for residential systems, and $2 for larger commercial installations.

Use the chart below to estimate the size solar array needed to supplement your current use. However, take into consideration your current usage can probably be significantly reduced.

Avg. Monthly Utility Home Usage KWH Estimated Solar Electric System (fixed mount) in KW
300 (3600 per year) 2.2 (8 modules)
350 (4200 per year) 2.5 (9 modules)
400 (4800 per year) 2.8 (10  modules)
450 (5400 per year) 3.2 (12 modules)
500 (6000 per year) 3.5 (13 modules)
550 (6600 per year) 3.8 (14 modules)
600 (7200 per year) 4.2 (15 modules)
650 (7800 per year) 4.5 (16 modules)
700 (8400 per year) 4.9 (18 modules)
750 (9000 per year) 5.2 (19 modules)
800 (9600 per year) 5.6 (20 modules)
850 (10200 per year) 5.9 (21 modules)
900 (10800 per year) 6.3 (22 modules)
950 (11400 per year) 6.7 (23 modules)
1000 (12000 per year) 7.0 (25 modules)

Stand Alone (off grid)

Stand alone systems are the reason we got into this business. We’ve lived with these kinds of systems and know their ins and outs intimately.  Why would you choose to be “off–grid?” Typically individuals that have a stand alone system have no other choice, as traditional utility power is too expensive to be brought in, or they decide they would like to be more self reliant. More often than not, Solar Montana is approached with the inquiry of having battery back–up for a traditional grid connected home. This is desirable in areas prone to grid failures.  However, it does add significant cost to the systems, as well as a component that has a relatively short life span – batteries.

In a stand alone system it all comes down to the load. We can make educated guesses about what you might need; however, filling out a load chart will ultimately give Solar Montana a better idea of your energy goal.

You Are Your Own Utility

Being your own utility has some great advantages (no more power bill, self reliance) and it also has disadvantages (constant energy awareness, maintenance). It’s important to understand the restraints and maintenance in your system in order to ensure that you will get the maximum mileage out of all your components.

Power Source

A typical off–grid power system is comprised of a Solar Array and/or some other power generating source, such as a wind generator or an internal combustion engine/generator. A solar system may consist of one or many solar modules. These are a solid state technology, which require little to no maintenance, have excellent warranties, and generally don’t fail.

Solar Charge Controller

All solar arrays must utilize a charge controller which regulates current into the battery bank. The controller insures that the batteries will not be overcharged, and can also manipulate the solar array’s amperage and voltage to increase battery charging productivity.

Battery Bank

The battery bank is the heart of any off–grid system. Sizing is crucial to supply adequate power storage for any particular load. Battery banks can range in size, and come in many different forms. For solar homes, the most popular types are flooded acid, but typically for cabin systems, Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM) or Gelled Sealed Batteries are utilized because of they are maintenance-free. Battery bank voltages can vary and inverters are designed for a particular voltage such as 12, 24, or 48 Volts.

Inverter

This piece of electronic wizardry does most of the work in an off–grid system. It takes in the DC power source from the Battery bank, and converts this into AC power in the form of 120 or 220 Volts, which is “house” current. It is also the job of most inverters to take in an external power source from a back–up generator to charge the battery bank. Some inverters can automatically engage an external back–up generator when battery bank voltage falls below a specific voltage.

As every system is custom designed, prices will differ. Solar Montana will give the most competitive price possible and the highest level of quality.

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  Solar Water Pumping

The sun is a natural source of energy for an independent water supply. Solar pumps operate anywhere that the sun shines, and the longer it shines, the more water they pump. When it’s cloudy they pump less water, but often you need less water when its cloudy.

Solar water pumping systems operate on direct current. The output of the solar power system varies throughout the day, and with changes in weather conditions. The nature of variable electricity in the form of direct current (DC) is quite different from conventional, steady alternating (AC) current from the utility grid or a generator.

To use solar energy economically, the pumping system must utilize the long solar day, drawing a minimum of power. This means pumping more slowly than conventional pumps. Pumping at rates of less than 6 gpm requires different mechanisms from the conventional (centrifugal) pumps. Small solar pumps are unique, both electrically and mechanically.

We use Groudfos, SHURflo, SunPumps, Solar Slowpump, and LVM pumps.