Tag Archives: sbs

Solar Myth #2 – Busted

Myth #2  Solar doesn’t work in Montana

Fact:  Montana is a great state for Solar.  Solar electric systems have been installed and working in Montana for over thirty-plus years.  Our first company Sunelco helped to make many of these systems possible.  We lived off grid and used the products that we sell every day.  That being said, the true game changer in Montana was net-metering system.  This allows Montanans to harness the sunshine generated on our long solar days in the summer time, feed back into the utility grid and use the power during our shorter winter days.  Solar irradiation levels vary across the United States, but every state receives enough sunlight to make solar a good investment. Solar panels will continue to produce a significant amount of energy even on overcast days. Germany has more solar than any other country in the world (and six times the installed capacity of the U.S.), yet Germany’s solar resource is roughly equivalent to that of Alaska.  Solar can work in almost any climate, as long as panels are properly installed in an un-shaded location. Solar panels work with light, not heat so it doesn’t matter how cold it gets outside. In fact, solar panels perform better in cooler temperatures than very hot temperatures.


Bimodal Solar PV, Grid-tied & Off-grid Combo, Close to Missoula

9 kW array, just outside Missoula, Montana

SBS Solar was really excited to work on this bimodal system.  It is just a few minutes from downtown Missoula, and the customer wanted to be fully self sufficient when the grid was down.  The customer had a slightly higher then average residential load so we sized a 36 module Canadian Solar CS6P 250P for a total of 9 kW system capable of supplying over 10 Mega watt hours annually.
We used eight of the 6 volt Unigy II 1016 amp hour Gel batteries for storage.  At over 400 lbs a piece just getting the batteries in the basement was a feat for four strong guys.  We were concerned about the end nailed stair treads giving it up with the weight we were applying, but thankfully no issues.

6 volt Unigy II 1016 amp hour Gel batteries for storage, at over 400 lbs a piece!

We used the most advanced charge controller on the market (the Xantrex XW MPPT 80 600) capable of converting up to 550 volts DC from the array to battery bank voltages allowing us to use large strings of up to 12 modules in series.  This was a huge benefit on this system allowing us to achieve less then 2% loss running four strings of 10 gauge wire on a 250′ home run instead of 12 strings of 4 gauge with a standard 150 volt max controller with a dramatic cost difference.

Xantrex XW MPPT 80 600 Controller, Two Xantrex XW6048 inverters, Xantrex XW PDP Power Distribution Panel, and SCP System Control Panel

We used two of the Xantrex XW6048 inverters to supply the home, charge the batteries from the generator, and backfeed the utility from the PV Array for a total of 12,000 watts so there is room to grow in the future.  The combiners, disconnects, Xantrex XW PDP Power Distribution Panel, and SCP System Control Panel completed the system.  The Xantrex XW SCP allowed us to program the inverters and charge controllers to perform the complicated tasks of keeping our batteries happy through all temperatures, feeding critical loads during a power outage, and back feeding the power meter when the grid is up and the sun shining.
Our customer shut his power off the first weekend to see how the system would keep up with his usage and was very pleased with the power production.  When using the system off grid to power the critical load panel it only pulls as much juice from the array as is necessary to keep up with the loads and keep the batteries charged that weekend he only used approximately a third of his capacity.
This was a great system for the SBS Solar to complete, as we finished up just before installing the 22.5 kW Xantrex XW system in Hamilton with 5 times the battery capacity.  That post is coming soon!

The State of the Solar Grant in Missoula, And Beyond…

There has been much talk about solar grants in our region this summer.  It’s no secret that solar sales were up by near triple in first quarter for most solar installers in the greater Missoula and Western Montana region, as seen in this article in April 2012 in the Missoula Independent.  And then the grants suddenly went dry in July of this year.  Another article in the Indy shares the details.

Here’s the gist:

  • Northwestern Energy gave out $3/watt up to 2000 watts (or 2kw) for grid-tied Solar PV installs in their territory.  This amounted to the $6000 grant folks would commonly ask for.
  • After the 2010 election, some state legislatures threatened to cut the state tax credits of $500/tax payer, $1000/couple, but it stood true.  And the 30% Federal tax credit remained strong.
  • In 2011, hard costs dropped nearly 40% for Solar PV, taking that $6k grant on a 2kW from a 30% coverage on an $18.5K system to a 50-60% coverage of install total on that same 2kW system, now costing under $11K.
  • By early 2012, solar energy was hitting an all time high in popularity on a national and global scale – everything from solar in China and India to solar on the White House, to solar farms in the southwest and solar financing companies popping up.

At this point at SBS Solar, like most local installers, we were selling our grants faster than we could get them.  At the same time, Northwestern Energy was having more requests than ever for solar grants, especially in the Missoula area, and they were maxing out their grant fund.  This, coupled with the drastic drop in pricing, brought things to a (temporary?) standstill in early summer of this year.

What we do know is that Northwestern Energy asked the MREA for a recommendation on how to proceed.  We at SBS Solar, and many of our fellow installers, weighed in with similar sentiments.  Cut the grants per watt in half to $1.50, but keep the maximum grant at $6000.  This would mean that a 2kW system now gets a $3000 grants ,and someone could get a $6000 grant for a 4kW system.   This would be awesome!  A triple-bottom-line here: Customers get a great grant and are now incented to go with a larger system instead of stopping at 2kW, Installers are now selling larger systems (and perhaps more often) and Northwestern Energy is getting double the renewable energy put back into their grind for half the cost, thereby getting them to their renewable energy mandate faster.


So…. here we with no grants, a state tax credit and a federal tax credit that could be in jeopardy depending on the outcome of the November election, and little action in the market.

Enter the SBS Solar Private Solar Rebate.  We are offering a rebate for solar customers that is competitive with the aforementioned MREA recommendation to Northwestern Energy.  Roughly $1.50/watt.  We also have two different solar financing options, one state sponsored and one private.

If you’re interested in solar today, don’t wait for an answer until November (at the earliest), when you can get our rebate today:  www.sbslink.com.  406-541-8410.  Ask for Dan.

Thoughts from our Intern: MT Renewable Energy Factoids

Our Energy Intern/Office Manager, Nick Bowman, recently gave this short talk for one of his classes at UM.  We thought it made for an interesting blog post which has some talking points about renewable energy you might not have heard or might find interesting or useful:

Montana, with its huge potential for renewable energy, could do more to use its resources to help strengthen the economy.

Montana is currently ranked 22nd in the nation for the amount of renewable energy produced, yet has enough available resources to become 3rd in the nation if properly developed and invested.

Montana potential for wind is due to its topography. High mountains combined with spacious plains are perfect for developing wind farms. Wind Energy alone has enough power to produce 370 times the amount of electricity used by the state. Here is a great potential for economic growth.

In places where buildings are a barrier, as they decrease the amount of wind which can be harvested, we could use solar power to create renewable energy gains.  We need to increase the monetary incentives for solar installation, particularly in light of the cancelation of energy grants by Northwestern Energy.

Montana is also one of 13 states which can produce energy from geothermal hot spots. The technology of geothermal is constantly improving and needs to be developed in order for this technology to be effective without compromising the environment.

Yet with all this in mind Montanas still spend 4.7 billion dollars to produce fossil fuels every year.

Increased implementation of green energy is only possible through the contribution of the average American who wants to better this great nation. Political activism, alternative energy advocacy and service are among the few ways which people can contribute to helping renewable energy succeed in this struggling economy. I would recommend that, if nothing else, each and every person reminds their representatives that they support sustainable energy.

Let’s make a difference.

Nick Bowman

Top Solar PV Testimonial, Ever.

(What follows is quite possible the best Solar PV testimonial we could ever ask for.  With pictures!  We hope you agree.)


SBS Solar
401 South Orange St, Unit C
Missoula MT 59801

Dear SBS Solar:

Solar PV Pergoal, Central Missoula, Montana

I’m writing to share my great experience with your company and my 100% solar-powered home. In the fall of 2011, SBS installed a 24 panel, 6 kW, grid-tied solar PV system at my home in central Missoula. Because my house had additions, I don’t have one flat surface for the panels, so SBS hired subcontractors to design and install a covered back porch structure for the panels. I started producing all of my own power in the early spring and now in the summer am producing 50% morepower than I need. I will receive a credit for this extra power and it will mitigatethe power use in December or January when I might be producing as little as 30%of own my power.

100% Solar powered electric car, from home Solar PV system in Missoula, Montana

I recently installed more efficient appliances, and thus I will probably producemore power than I use this year. This surplus of power led me to decide to lease a 100% electric car, which will be 100% solar-powered car for at least 6 or 8 monthsout of the year.

I felt compelled to act because we can’t afford to ignore the signs of climate change or the role we play in it. I feel a moral obligation to reduce my carbon footprint, to protect biodiversity and protect the planet for future generations. Can you imagine the reduction of coal and oil consumption we could achieve if every family in Western Montana had a solar-powered home and solar-powered electric car? Maybe mega-loads, tar sands mining, and Otter Creek coal mining would all become unnecessary. The technology is available and ready for this now inWestern Montana.

The cost breakdown for my solar system:


Materials and installation for PV system: $28,570
New back porch structure:$8,640
Engineering of structure:$1,643
City building permit for structure:$285
Relocation of power/gas lines for structure:$3,605
Electric panel relocation:$620
GROSS Total:$43,363

Northwestern Energy Grant ($6,000)
Federal Tax Credit($11,208)
State Tax Credit($500)
NET Total including structure:$25,655


Materials and installation for PV system: $28,570
Northwestern Energy Grant ($6,000)
State Tax Credit($500)
Federal Tax Credit($8,625)
NET Total excluding structure:$13,625

So essentially, the solar system had a net cost of less than $14,000 for 100% annual power.

The system will eventually pay itself off and then the power I use in my home and the “fuel” I use for my car will be free. While this is certainly a meaningful reward, for me the bigger reward is knowing that my decision to choose an alternative to coal and oil is a concrete physical step toward a safer planet for future generations. As Terry Tempest Williams has said: “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come.”

Thank you for the important work you are doing.


Rebecca Smith
(contact info withheld to maintain customer privacy.  Please contact SBS Solar directly for more information) 



Demistifying Solar Tax Incentives

I recently gave a talk for the Montana Sustainable Business Council on the incentives available for energy conservation.  I touched on federal and state tax credits, utility based grants and rebates and the state of Montana DEQ Revolving Loan Fund for renewable energy.

In the talk I mentioned that there has been some question as to whether the 30% federal tax credit for renewable energy installation (which is no cap and can be carried forward for multiple years), is to be taken on the gross cost of the system or the net cost (after applied utility grants) of the system.

Turns out it’s either — depending on your system, residential or commercial, according to Kenton D. Swift, PhD, CPA, Associate Professor of Accounting, The University of Montana, School of Business Administration.

He was in the audience at my talk and was kind enough to approach me afterward to further discuss this question.  After some research he got back to me via email with the following information:

I wanted to give you a little information about one part of your presentation. When a homeowner installs a solar pv system, and receives a utility rebate, they need to reduce the cost of the system by the utility rebate before calculating the 30% federal tax credit. For instance, if the system costs $13,000 and the utility rebate is $6,000, the credit would be 30% of $7,000 or $2,100. This is actually the way you calculated the credit in your presentation, but you hinted it might be possible to take the 30% credit on the full cost. This seems to be a common confusion.

There are actually two separate 30% federal income tax credits, one for personal residences (IRC Code Sec. 25D), and one for business (IRC Code Sec. 48). Generally, the credits are the same except for this one issue about netting utility rebates. The law requires that the rebate be netted against the cost before calculating the 30% credit when taking the residential credit (IRC Code Sec. 25D). I have attached a recent letter from the IRS chief counsel’s office which describes this netting process. Again, it is the same way you actually did your example at the meeting, which is great.

For the 30% federal BUSINESS credit (IRC Code Sec. 48) there is no specific requirement to net the utility rebate against the cost of the system, before calculating the credit. Actually, there does not seem to be any current law explaining what to do. Thus, I believe that when taking the business credit, most taxpayers take the credit on the full cost of the system, before utility rebates. This is a better result than one can get when calculating the residential credit.

I hope that helps to clarify a confusing issue, which you have handled very well.

Someone at the meeting also asked about the property tax exemption for solar pv systems in Montana. Kent went on to clarify that “such systems are exempted from property taxes for 10 years.”

At SBS Solar we go to the DSIRE database for all of this information and have even been referred to this site by the IRS when we called them about the above questions!  This is also the site that Kent relies on for much of his information, or confirmation of information.  He notes that he has “checked their information for many states, and it always seems to be up-to-date, when I compare their explanation to state law.”

Feel free to be in touch with SBS Solar on your energy conservation incentive questions, or to get a project started in Montana.

SBS is now SBS-Solar; With a New Website, Too

The advent of heavily reduced rates in solar, the increased interest in solar locally and solar subsidies from utility grants and tax credits means we are putting more time and energy in Solar PV than ever.  As well, we have an additional owner/investor with a heavy interest in Solar.

NEW LOGO: SBS is now SBS-Solar

With this in mind, SBS is changing it’s name to SBS-Solar.  We’re keeping the “SBS’ part (sustainable building systems) and adding the”Solar” for a better representation of what we actually do.  SBS-Solar will have a heavier emphasis on Solar and continue its energy efficiency work in the form of home and business energy audits, third-party verification, consulting, and retrofitting.

In addition to the name change, SBS-Solar  is proud to unveil our new website.

Same URL: www.SBSLink.com.  Totally New Look.

You should find a cleaner feel, more information, and better organization.  We still feature our solar calculator, project examples and staff information. Highlights include an ever expanding solar and efficiency glossary, explanation of our staff certifications and memberships, and a greatly expanded services section including ground source heat pumps.  Expect to see a more robust project area with photo shows and videos, and an expanded glossary in the coming months.

Check it out and let us know what you think.