Solar Energy Facts

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Frequently Asked Solar Questions


A: What do we mean by photovoltaics? The word itself helps to explain how photovoltaic (PV) or solar electric technologies work. First used in about 1890, the word has two parts: photo, a stem derived from the Greek phos, which means light and volt, a measurement unit named for Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), a pioneer in the study of electricity. So, photovoltaics could literally be translated as light-electricity. And that’s just what photovoltaic materials and devices do; they convert light energy to electricity.

A: A PV system is made up of different components. These include PV modules (groups of PV cells), which are commonly called PV panels; one or more batteries; a charge regulator or controller for a stand-alone system; an inverter for a utility-grid-connected system and when alternating current (ac) rather than direct current (dc) is required; wiring; and mounting hardware or a framework.

A: The fact is each home is different, and the amount of solar energy you use is very dependent upon your lifestyle, how your home was built, and your appliances. As part of our services, we work with you to reduce your electrical consumption in easy ways.

A: Systems come in all sizes, and produce as much or as little power as required. Many systems produce a portion of the home’s required power, leaving room for additional conservation or generation in the future. A PV system rated at 1 kilowatt will produce about 1800 kilowatt-hours a year. Most PV panels are warranted to last 25 years or more. A 1 kW PV system could generate close to 36,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity over 20 years and close to 54,000 kilowatt-hours over 30 years. This means that a 1 kW PV system generates more than $10,000 worth of electricity over 30 years.

A: A grid tied residential solar electric system can vary in cost from $2- $5 per watt “BEFORE REBATES. Up to 60% of the cost may be covered in incentives. That total includes the cost for all components – solar panels, panel mounts, and inverter – and labor associated with installation. It does not however, reflect all the avoided costs, such as the tax breaks and the credits received through net metering.

A: Typical residential systems take from 1 to 3 days to install. Systems mounted on the ground and systems with batteries are more complex, and may take longer. Most of this time is spent outside your house, so there is little disturbance to you. Commercial systems can take several weeks to over a month to install, depending upon size and type of installation.

A:The solar panels have a 25-year power warranty from the manufacturer. This is longer than almost anything else you can buy. The rest of the system has a 5-year warranty in most areas. Inverters can have warranties up to 10 years.

A: In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will yield 10 watts of power. That’s a helpful rule of thumb for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you might need. For example, a 1000 watt system may need 100 – 200 square feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used.

A: Panels are often mounted on the roof, but can also be mounted on the ground. Ground mounts are great if the house is shaded, or if dormers or other obstructions limit available space on the roof.

A: South is best, but panels installed facing east or west still generate a very high percentage of possible power. It is usually more effective (and more attractive) to install the panels in the same plane as the roof direction, rather than build an awkward mount to angle them..

A: No. While the panels are made of tempered glass, it is quite strong. They pass hail tests, and are regularly installed in Arctic and Antarctic conditions.

A: Most systems we sell are “clean power” systems, without batteries. These systems do not generate power when the utility is out, even if it is sunny. If backup power is desired, a battery system can be added. This increases the complexity and cost. Most people find that what they want is Clean Power, and find that the very occasional outage does not bother them, so they do not purchase the battery option.

A: Batteries are only required if you want backup power when the utility is out of service. Without batteries, the system has no way to store power, and for safety reasons cannot produce power without the utility in operation.

A: Net Metering is the regulatory ability to get credit for electricity you generate with solar energy and send backwards through your utility meter. Exact provisions vary with each state, but the effect is to allow you to generate excess power during the day, and use it at night, without needing batteries.

A: In a Clean Power, non-battery system, power is not stored. It is either used immediately in the house, or sent backWards through the meter, creating a credit. If storage is needed, large batteries and other equipment are added to the system.

A: Solar panels will last many years (over 25). Because of this, we want the roof to be in decent condition, as it does not make sense to remove and reinstall the panels after only a few years. However, after the panels are in place, they will greatly reduce the wear on the roof by blocking ultraviolet rays, keeping most snow and ice off the roof, and keeping anything from hitting the roof. Most installations do not require a new roof prior to PV installation.

A: PV panels should be installed in areas where they get significant shade-free sun every day. Even small amounts of shade can significantly reduce the output. Our designs and installations also seek to minimize the impact of any shade issues through selection of the proper equipment and good engineering.

A: Most of our customers do not clean their panels. In most areas of the country, there is sufficient rain to clean the panels. However, if you are in a dusty area (very near a busy dirt road, very urban area, etc.) you may see a performance gain from cleaning the panels monthly. If necessary, a hose stream is usually sufficient for cleaning. Do not walk on or over the panels to clean them. Do not use metal, hard, or abrasive methods for cleaning. Do not spray water on the panels when they are very hot.

A: Anywhere electricity is used, solar electricity can be used.

A: There are many incentives for purchasing solar. These vary from state-to-state. Some common incentives include:

Cleanelectric generation
Stable electric cost
Backup powerfor utility outage
Fight climate change / global warming
Takecare of my children’s world
Create secure electricity supply
Politicalstatement for a renewable energy future
Strongly dislike buyingelectricity from the utility
Feeling of empowerment
Remotesite with no electric service
Sending electricity back to theutility (net metering) is cool
Solar energy just makes sense
Higherresale value for my property.

A: Yes. Consider using a home equity loan for the purchase and installation costs of a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water system to take full advantage of federal tax deductions. Solar energy systems are viewed as a major home energy savings upgrade and there are financial tools out there that reward you for your efforts. Remember, installing a solar energy system is comparable to any other upgrade you might do to your home, such as installing a new deck or remodeling a kitchen. Standard home owner’s insurance policies usually suffice to meet electric utility requirements. Electric utilities usually require that homeowners who take advantage of net metering sign an interconnection agreement.

A: In the City limits…Yes. You’ll need to obtain building permits to install a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water system. Similarly,building, electrical, and plumbing codes also apply. That said,residential solar power systems do not use “radical” building techniques and most jurisdictions have building codes that fully embrace solar energy technology. Solar professionals will roll the price for permits into their cost estimate.

A: Energy conservation and renewable generation adds value to a home. Surveys have shown that for every $1,000.00 saved per year, $20,000.00 is added to a home’s value. Solar energy can be one of the best home improvement investments you make.

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