What is a de-regulated grid?

The governance of an electric grid is a common states rights issue. Sometimes, a state decides its grid will be a monopoly, and that is called a regulated grid. A deregulated grid, therefore, is a grid where you can pick and choose who you buy your electricity from.

There are competing theories on which option is better. In theory, a regulated grid should be more efficient and offer greater consumer benefit. However, deregulated grids provide more flexible rate options than regulated grids, and so it is possible to find cost savings by changing your electricity provider. That can be a hassle, but depending on the size of your electric bill it can save a lot of money.

So, if you want to know the answer to whether you are on a deregulated grid or not, you might as well ask “Do I have the option to choose where I buy my electricity?” If the answer is yes, then you are on a deregulated grid.

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Future-proofing a Smart Home

Figure 7 – Keep it Simple 

The main advice I’d recommend when building a local smart hub is to learn from my mistakes and keep it simple. I got into smart home because I was building an off-grid array for a luxury retirement home with a relatively open scope. Does a smart home mean that every light and every switch be motion sensing and connected with smart devices? Starting off with a whole house conversion gets very complex very quickly.

Many smart home enthusiasts approach this differently, adding a few devices at a time to test system stability and building from there. It’s not to say that you can’t do whole house innovation but many of the products being replaced are already on local controls and swapping them out for a cheaper solution can in fact create headache, if the previous solution worked in an analog fashion off the volts and amps within communication wires, whereas the smart solution is based on actual smart communication. For example, traditional security alarm systems used electrical sensors and relays to see when doors and windows open and shut. A do-it-yourself smart security system might be easier to set-up, but it is also way more complex, might not last as long, and requires a new programming process anytime the smart hub fails. In short, wireless communication of any type is more complex than the marketing information indicates, not all wireless communication is equal, and keeping it simple is never a bad idea. 

Figure 8 – Windows

So how do you future-proof a new build for smart technology integration? One area I think builders are being a little short-sighted on is window blinds. There are smart light bulbs and smart light switches and all kinds of smart audio and visual devices, but with window blinds in particular, a motor control and power source is needed to pull these blinds physically open and shut. To start out with, the motorized blind itself is expensive being a few hundred dollars itself for each curtain, so automating all the curtains in a building really isn’t for everyone at this time. But if the infrastructure for the motorized window blind doesn’t get built into the house, then at the time of a retrofit there isn’t any power out to the window blind. What Ikea does is to run the motor off a battery pack, but a smart window is not like a push button on a wall. Rather than opening and shutting on command, an automated window curtain may open and shut every day, perhaps multiple times. That is going to drain the batteries, creating a new chore for the user. Every couple of months they will need to swap out batteries on their heavy use smart devices and window blinds are at the top of the pack. Well Ikea also sells a solar panel that charges the battery that runs the motor and guess what, that starts to get really expensive.

If you are budget constrained you might say to yourself, “Let’s skip the window blinds for now” but the absence of window shades that adjust to the sun is notably absent from an otherwise high-end smart home. A new build can seem obsolete right out of the starting gate. 

In the solar industry, if the project isn’t happening just yet, future-proofing the building might include running conduit through the walls and up to the rooftop, which is relatively cheap but allows for a high-end installation down the road. 

Figure 9 – Cheap LEDs 

Likewise you don’t necessarily want smart home products on the low end of the price range.  This is true of many things not just smart tech. Without getting into too many details, there are low end LED lights and high end LED lights with better power conversion bits inside them, and when planning a solar and battery powered home, using the higher end components usually pays off. 

Figure 10 – Server Rooms 

How does one ensure that a home is “smart ready” to avoid obsolescence? One technology that provides a solution are “powered over ethernet” devices. Although ethernet can only deliver a small amount of power to a device, that power capacity can be augmented if the device has an onboard battery such that it receives a continuous trickle charge. And delivering the power on an ethernet cable means intelligence is being driven somewhere by a computer at the other end of the ethernet. Right now there are only a couple startups making powered-over-ethernet windows, but I think it is a safe bet there will be more options down the road.

In fact I believe running ethernet everywhere, to every possible smart home device location is a pragmatic future-proofing solution. Every window, every possible location of a security camera indoors or outdoors, the doorbell, and even select lighting circuits can benefit from power-over-ethernet. Tucking away an ethernet cable in the wall next to each window location can provide a cheaper manual window blind solution now but leave the home ready for a better solution later.

Here’s our server rack. This was my first server rack, and one thing I would do differently next time is to run all the ethernet into the wall, on a panel called a patch panel, and then ran pre-made wires from the patch panel into the server. In another example, one smart door sensor costs $10 more than the other, but it comes with a removable lid to assist battery swaps, the cheaper sensor involves unscrewing the sensor from the door, which does not bode well for long term use.

So like in other industries, there are savings to be had for do-it-yourself, but professional installation services usually make up for the added cost with increased professionalism and decreased schedule. Still, you shouldn’t have a smart home network at home without someone on site willing to learn about how it works. 

Anyway, a server rack in the home for all the electronics, plus a UPS power system to provide the whole system with battery backup has benefit. Smart home projects can be small, but they can also go into the tens of thousands of dollars just at the residential level. In other classes, we discuss shortcomings of onsite solar battery solutions, and having a heavy continuous load such as the power circuits for all the home media services and lighting on its own backup power source is useful not only for power during a grid outage, but also in optimizing variable peak rate structures throughout the day, something we discuss towards the end of this class.

Turning a server room into a smart-energy management center can be accomplished with smart wall plug controlling the UPS that charges the battery which runs a properly sized UPS system and the battery, at which point the cost is pretty comparable to one-way battery inverters which do not backfeed onto the grid – covered in our residential off-grid class. I had good results buying refurbished quality products online. In many cases, the battery can be replaced with some tinkering. This UPS system is 1.5 kW and can help the home skate over a spike in electrical demand for a short period of time, such as when the air conditioner defroster or electric heating turns on. 

The promise of energy automations really is to provide user comfort without much sacrifice in lifestyle, but batteries are expensive. There is a lot more we could say about the cost-effectiveness of distributed, cascading 100 amp distribution panels on their own backup power inverters as a standard in smart home design, but that would really require another class to set up. And in this class, we want to start with something simple, low cost, and valuable.

Figure 11 – Design Principles

If you want a kitchen that magically helps you cook, an indoor camera with a good view of the cooking area can enable proximity based triggers. But that kind of device needs to be hardwired, and so in a smart build, the building will have substantially more ethernet compared to a traditional build. 

I know the concept of putting cameras all over the house can seem weird. Many retirees only want cameras outside their home, not inside. Although, many burglars prefer to be inside the home rather than outside of it. Likewise millennials who’ve never experienced a world without internet are much more comfortable with cameras inside the home. Facial recognition is one thing, but many proximity-based triggers are done better with a camera than say, an infrared sensor, but the camera requires more bandwidth, and it begs for an ethernet cable. So with regard to future-proofing, it is not a bad idea to go crazy with the ethernet. A camera might be above the stove to help someone cook, or in each room to customize the lights and power up the TV. These locations can be planned and considered with a relatively low cost ethernet run even if the rest of the system is not implemented today. And even if wireless speeds exceed that of Cat5 or Cat6 in the future, certain devices will never need speeds greater than what ethernet cable delivers today but these devices will benefit from a hardwired ethernet connection.

Putting devices on hardwired ethernet reduces bandwidth requirements on the wireless network, whether it be wifi or some other wireless network. Response times improve, energy consumption improves, so hardwired ethernet through the house and dedicated server space is good thinking for project planning.

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Why Discord?

We use Discord as our classroom because we enjoy talking with our community. Texting too.

Discord provides the thrill (and compliance requirements) of a live program with the convenience of an on-demand schedule. Take the program at your own pace, but still interact with the instructor and other students.

The solar industry is a small world and there is value in our community even after class. Unlike other training platforms, Discord allows us to provide you with unlimited course access while respecting your privacy.

These programs are long and serious, we want you to be able to watch this on the couch, up on the big screen. Or in the carpool. Basically, the classes are videos links within a chat room. So you can watch the videos and you can chat with us.

Over the years we have tried various learning management systems, including Google Classroom, WordPress, GotoWebinar, Zoom, WEbex,LearnDash, BigBlueButton, Slack, Drupal, SurveyGizmo, Youtube Live, Google Hangouts, Join.Me etc. We like Discord because we use it for work (team chat) and find its other technical communities to be active and skill-building. It’s the only platform that we’ve found which offers value beyond the class itself.

What we really want is our community to talk to each other. That networking experience – what people want at a conference – is available at your desk on-demand with Discord.

There is a small learning curve. It helps to download the desktop app and cell phone app. It is browser-based too, which might be easier on your IT department.

Here is our advice:

  1. Click the invite link. You will be emailed this link upon direct registration here or through your training provider. If you join Discord without clicking on the invite link, you will not see our classroom.
  2. Use the Desktop App. Don’t be lazy, if taking this on a computer, get the Discored app. It is easier to use than the browser.
  3. Discord has “voice channels” and “text channels”.  We use voice channels to track time, so be sure to click on those while in class. You can keep your microphone muted like in a webinar.
  4. If you are in Discord and you do not see our classroom, either
    a) click the invite link – you only joined Discord and not our classroom!
    b) you are on the homescreen – click the construction guy icon in the lefthand menu.
  5. If you cannot hear, speak, or screencast, check the user settings menu in the lower left with the “gear” icon for Streamer Mode or Voice&Video settings.
  6. Don’t be a stranger. You will get more out of class the more you participate. Have fun!
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Energy Toolbase sponsors NABCEP training with Community.Solar

Energy Toolbase and Community.Solar have announced a sponsorship that will help 100 solar installers receive their NABCEP certification or recertification.

The sponsorship provides a 50% discount to solar installers registering for the NABCEP certification or recertification classes offered by Community.Solar. In addition to the training, students will also have the opportunity to interact with the Energy Toolbase team during courses and learn more about utilizing the industry’s leading software product for modeling solar and energy storage projects. The program is held in a real-time, on-demand environment, creating networking opportunities between registrations and sponsors, similar to a traditional conference, which are currently being impacted by COVID-19. The sponsorship is available to anyone seeking NABCEP certification as well as recertification, and can be funded by any industry stakeholder wanting to help the solar installer community by reducing the cost of industry certifications.

“Community.Solar has always been a big supporter of the Energy Toolbase platform,” said Tracy Fosterling, Marketing Manager at Energy Toolbase. “We’re excited to help launch this sponsorship program and reduce costs for NABCEP solar installers who are so critical in the growth of our industry. ”

For more information, visit https://www.community.solar/sponsor

Energy Toolbase

Energy Toolbase is an industry-leading software platform that provides a cohesive suite of project estimating, storage control and asset monitoring products that will enable solar and storage developers to more efficiently develop and deploy projects. The Energy Toolbase products are used by more than 1,200 distributed energy organizations worldwide to accurately, objectively and transparently analyze projects.


Community.Solar provides interactive, at-your-own-pace online solar training to engineers, architects, and NABCEP solar installers. Their classes are taken by office and field professionals across the United States for industry certifications and general training.

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Community.Solar has moved chat to Discord

Communities grow, things change. We understand that some people don’t like change, and that is why we are trying to make our chat transition to Discord as smooth as possible for everyone. Join us now with just a click!


Discord is a very easy platform to join. New users can immediately jump into the conversations without first having to create an account. Just provide your name and you’re in!

This is incredibly valuable for us and will make our community even more accessible than before.


Discord has the fastest and most feature-rich mobile app that we’ve tried! For those of you who like to post pictures, you can! It doesn’t stop there; they also provide well-polished clients for Windows, macOS and even Linux. If you’re more of a browser-based chat client person, their web client will be perfect for you.


We have been quite lucky so far as to not have much inappropriate behavior (spammers, trolls, etc) in our chatrooms. However, as our community continues to grow, this common issue might come up. Discord has the features that will help us shut this behavior down before it gets out of hand.


One Discord account works with every Discord server. It is extremely easy to switch between servers or join new ones. we strongly recommend you also join the Home Assistant discord server.


We are big fans of self-hosted apps and services, but everyone knows they require a fair amount of maintenance and attention to keep them running smoothly. Discord is hosted on its own servers, so it’s better to let them maintain the service while we keep busy improving Community.Solar to bring you new and exciting features!

We are very concerned about privacy, but fundamentally feel that user accounts are more vulnerable on our website then within a dedicated chat service like Discord. We believe this is the best way to encourage program interactivity while protecting your contact information from spam. and because it’s hosted you have the ability to use discord for other communities – while originally built for gamer Chad it is also a popular tool for office chat, as a competitor to Slack.


Syntax highlighting, voice chats, ability to search chatrooms, private messaging, and even custom emoji! Discord has a great set of features that will keep us all happy for a long time to come.

The fine print…

As growth continues, chat rules might change.



Please carefully read through these rules before engaging in conversation.

  1. New members: Welcome! Feel free to introduce yourself, as we are all friends here!
  2. Do not insult, belittle, or abuse your fellow community members. Any reports of abuse will not be taken lightly and will lead to a ban.
  3. Our moderators are kind enough to volunteer their time to help keep this a great community for everyone. Any inappropriate or unconstructive comments toward or about them will result in a ban.
  4. Please use the appropriate channel as it pertains to the nature of your discussion.
  5. Spam will not be tolerated except for modest self-promotion from paid registrants. Spam includes flooding, codewalls (longer than 15 lines) and unapproved bots.

These rules are not to be interpreted how you like, there are no “loopholes.” Anyone claiming not to be breaking the rules due to it “not being in the rules” will result in the according consequence. If you are unsure about something, please ask either myself (@JohnCSolar) or the community.

If you have any issues with anything or anyone on the server please PM me (@JohnCSolar) with any relevant details. I cannot help anyone if I am unaware of any issues.

Infractions and Bans:

Bans will be issued after one serious infraction or failing to acknowledge warnings of minor infractions. This is non-negotiable.


John Cromer

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