YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE’VE GOT ANSWERS!
What is solar energy? Why should you switch to solar? What are solar panels? Everyone has questions and our company is dedicated to educating everyone on why going solar is good for both you and the environment.
Provided by SolarEnergy.net
WHAT IS SOLAR ENERGY?
Solar energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate heat or electricity. It is an infinitely renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner. Can’t beat the sun for being oh-so-cool!
HOW DO SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC CELLS WORK?
In layperson terms, photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon. Added to the silicon are the elements phosphorous and boron, which create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons move across the cell when activated by the sunlight’s energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOLAR PANELS VERSUS BUILDING INTEGRATED PHOTOVOLTAIC PRODUCTS?
Solar panels are flat panels of photovoltaic arrays mounted on a roof or a pole to capture the sun’s rays. Building integrated photovoltaic materials are PV arrays that are integrated into the building material itself, primarily windows, roof tiles, or walls. Solar panels work well for retrofits or remodels while BIPV are appropriate for new construction or a major renovation.
HOW MUCH DOES A SOLAR ELECTRIC POWER SYSTEM COST?
A 2kW solar electric system costs approximately $20,000. That estimated 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.
HOW MUCH WILL I REALLY SAVE ON MY UTILITY BILLS FROM A HOME ELECTRIC SOLAR POWER SYSTEM?
It depends, in part, on how much electricity you use and the efficiency of the appliances you’re currently operating. So really the answer is different for everyone. But what we can tell you is to expect to generate excess electricity in the summer (when days are long), which can potentially offset the energy you use from the grid in the winter. A combination of energy efficient appliances and light bulbs can help reduce your homes energy bill by over two-thirds.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC AND SOLAR HOT WATER SYSTEMS?
While both types of solar systems capture energy from the sun, solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic panels to produce electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water for domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.
WHAT ARE SOLAR HOT WATER SYSTEMS?
Solar hot water systems, broadly termed solar thermal systems, use the sun’s energy to heat water. Solar hot water systems can be used to heat a hot water tank or to warm a home’s radiant heating system. Swimming pools and hot tubs use a modified solar hot water system for heating water as well.
HOW DO POOL HEATING SYSTEMS WORK?
Pool heating systems use a modified solar hot water system to capture the sun’s rays to heat your pool or hot tub.
CAN I USE SOLAR POWER TO HEAT MY HOME?
Absolutely! Radiant heating applies solar thermal technology. Transferring solar energy through pipes into an under floor radiant heating system is a wonderful way to stay warm. Radiant floor systems are typically 40 percent more efficient than their forced air counterpart and can be zoned to match thermal comfort to each room.
HOW MUCH MAINTENANCE DO SOLAR ENERGY PANELS REQUIRE?
Solar photovoltaic panels require little maintenance – no need to wash or dust. It is, however, important to place panels where they will remain clear of shade and debris. Thus you will have to wipe them off if too much snow or leaves fall on them.
Solar hot water collection arrays don’t need much attention either. It does help to periodically use a window wash brush, biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.
CAN I USE A FINANCING SYSTEM?
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 because of this, 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.
DO I NEED SPECIAL INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS?
Standard homeowner’s insurance policies generally suffice in order to meet electric utility requirements. Electric utilities often require that homeowners who take advantage of net metering sign an interconnection agreement.
WILL I NEED A BUILDING PERMIT TO INSTALL A SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM IN MY HOME?
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. Be aware that 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.
WHAT IF I’M THE FIRST PERSON I KNOW TO INSTALL A PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM ON MY HOME?
First off, congratulations! Secondly, there are plenty of resources out there. Most solar electric building standards are based on the National Electric Code (NEC) Article 690. If you happen to be one of the first in your area to install a solar PV system, you can work with your contractor and local building officials to successfully install your photovoltaic system. NEC Article 690 spells out the requirements for designing a safe, reliable, and code-compliant system.
WHEN SHOULD I SEEK A SOLAR PROFESSIONAL?
Although solar energy systems work in simultaneously with conventional residential electrical and plumbing systems, there are unique situations that may arise during the process, which are well-suited to seeking out professionals who specialize in solar power installation. Solar installation professionals can help you determine the type and size of system most suited for your needs.
WHAT SHOULD I ASK A SOLAR PROFESSIONAL INSTALLER?
Solar professional installers can take the guesswork out of installing a solar power system. Whether you are considering solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, or solar heat for your pool, a solar pro can help you determine the proper type and size of system that will work best for you as well as guide you through the process.
HOW CAN I CALCULATE THE COST AND PAYBACK TIME FROM A SOLAR POWER INSTALLATION?
You can estimate how much a solar electric or solar hot water system may cost if you determine your current energy needs and costs and compare against your future anticipated use. Once you have a sense of how much energy you use, you can evaluate the cost of purchasing and installing one or both of the technologies.
Luckily in today’s market you can take advantage of multiple federal, state, and local tax credits, rebates and other financial incentives that allow for attractive and competitive prices for solar PV and hot water systems.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO INSTALL A SOLAR POWER SYSTEM IN MY HOME?
Planning, configuring, and doing any custom ordering for your solar energy system can take up to a few weeks. However, the installation process itself can usually be completed in only a few days time, in many cases even less.
WHAT COMPONENTS DO I NEED TO INSTALL A GRID-TIED SOLAR ELECTRIC SYSTEM?
You will need a photovoltaic array to capture the sun’s energy, an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) produced from the photovoltaic cells into alternating current (AC) used by your home, and a house utility meter – called a net meter – that can record both the electricity produced from your home’s power system as well as any power you may use off the grid. These three system components are then connected through a series of wiring. The photovoltaic panels are secured to your roof with panel mounts or are installed onto poles that can be adjusted for the sun angle.
WHAT IS A NET METER?
Net meters look very much like other outdoor meters with one notable exception – they spin both forwards and backwards, recording both the power produced and power used.
DO I NEED BATTERY BACKUP FOR MY SOLAR PANELS?
Probably not – a backup battery bank can add as much as 25% in cost to a residential solar PV system. It’s not necessarily more efficient either – a same sized solar array will yield about 7–10% less energy if it’s battery-tied than its grid-tied counterpart.
Though you will remain tethered to your local utilities’ grid, you will not have to worry about not generating enough power. You also gain the advantage of offsetting rising utility costs. Most solar photovoltaic experts do not recommend adding a backup battery system unless there is concern of a long utility outage or the residence is in a remote location.
HOW MUCH SPACE DO I NEED FOR A SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM?
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 estimating 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.
HOW MANY SOLAR PANELS DO I NEED FOR AN ELECTRIC SOLAR POWER SYSTEM?
The size of the photovoltaic system is correlated to your home’s energy-use needs, available space for a system, and overall costs for the system components and installation. Solar contractors in your area can help determine the best size for your solar photovoltaic system.
HOW MUCH SHADING IS TOO MUCH FOR SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC PANELS?
Unfortunately shading a photovoltaic system dramatically decreases its output. Just shading the bottom row of wafers alone amounts to an 80% reduction in efficiency. So above all, don’t shade your array!
HOW DO I KNOW IF SOLAR PANELS WILL WORK ON MY HOME?
Take a look at the position of your home on its lot – and particularly your roof. Ask the following questions:
1. Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the effectiveness of energy collection.
2. Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on them? Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness.
3. What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate photovoltaic panels.
DO I NEED TO HAVE SOUTH FACING EXPOSURE TO HAVE A SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM?
Although southern exposure increases the effectiveness of a residential solar power system, your home may still work for solar power without having south facing exposure. Seek advice from a professional solar designer or installer to ensure success.
WHAT OTHER FACTORS ARE IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER WHEN INSTALLING A HOME SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM?
The location of your home and the local climate will play a large role in determining where you place and how you install your solar electric or solar hot water system. Wind speeds, heavy snow loads, and salt water can all affect a solar array. It is important do understanding how those inputs affect performance as this will help determine the types of mounts or how the arrays are angled. A solar pro in your area should be knowledgeable about your local conditions and can help you design that works well for you.
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RENEWABLE ENERGY (RE)
Renewable energy sources include the sun and the wind. Harnessing energy from water currents, tides, and waves are also classified as forms of renewable energy. In contrast, the traditional energy sources we rely on to generate power namely coal, oil, and natural gas are non-renewable sources of power. Once these resources are sufficiently depleted, they become too expensive to retrieve.
Mind you, not all renewable energy sources come devoid of consequences (think about issues surrounding hydroelectric dams in the West). Solar power has the distinct advantage of tapping energy from the sun without really impacting any other natural resource.
PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN
If you are involved in the construction of a new home, consider ways to take full advantage of the sun. This is known as “passive solar design.” Homes that incorporate passive solar design into their structure can greatly augment the effects of a solar power system.
Key features to passive solar design include:
- Positioning a home on an east-west axis and ensuring that the home’s south side receives the maximum amount of daylight.
- Designing interior spaces so that rooms used most frequently are along the building’s south face.
- Taking advantage of thermal mass spaces to absorb, store, and distribute heat.
- Installing overhangs, selecting windows, and adding insulation to maximize sun (and shade).
- Planting trees and other vegetation strategically around your home to provide natural shading and a buffer from intense heat.
NET METERING (OR REVERSE METERING)
Net Metering or Reverse Metering is the ability to record both power produced and power used. Utility companies record the information, as they do for all home meters, and charge customers for the power they use as well as credit them for any excess power they generate.
A common unit of electric power consumption is known as a “Kilowatt-hour.” One kilowatt-hour equals 1000 watt-hours and can be used to define the amount of energy used over a one-hour period. For example, a 60-watt incandescent light bulb turned on for one hour would use 60 watt-hours of energy.
A side note: Interestingly, a 19-watt compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) packs the equivalent amount of output as a 60-watt incandescent, but saves 68% of the comparable energy. There are two reasons for this: (1) 75% of the energy incandescent light bulbs use ends up as heat, only 25% gives off light; (2) CFLs last 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs and save $30 or more in energy bills over their lifetime. So use CFL bulbs wherever possible to cool down the planet too.
Photovoltaic cells are made of parallel clusters of semiconductor materials such as silicon. Although silicon has been by far the most frequently used material, primarily because of its abundance (it’s the second most plentiful element in the Earth’s crust), it takes a lot of effort to produce a highly efficient PV cell. Until recently, the cost for PV arrays prohibited most people from using it.
Today those costs have come down considerably and are further reduced by the plenitude of federal, state, and local tax credits, rebates and other monetary incentives designed to make installing a solar energy system a viable and cost effective energy alternative. The future looks brighter still as scientists continue to explore ways to create other non-silicon based photovoltaic panels. There is the hope among many that eventually producing solar cells at about one-tenth the cost of silicon-based products will become a reality and solar power will be even more readily available.
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SOLAR PANELS DO NOT WORK IN COLD, CLOUDY PLACES/STATES.
UV light is all that’s needed and even the cloudiest of places have had successful runs with solar energy. Germany, who ranks low in sunny days, is the solar energy capital of the world. In fact, when the solar panels are cold, they are able to better conduct electricity.
SOLAR SYSTEMS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE.
Solar Energy Installations are more affordable than they have ever been. In every state, incentives cover a minimum of 30% all the way up to 85% of the system costs. The cost per watt, installed, is at an all time low.
SOLAR PANELS REQUIRE CONSTANT MAINTENANCE.
The panels rarely require maintenance or cleaning, plus the average warranty lasts 25 years!
SOLAR SYSTEMS ARE UGLY, LARGE AND BULKY.
Solar panels have come a long way over the years. Now systems are virtually seamless thanks to solar shingles. Solar cells can be combined with slate, metal, fiber-cement, and asphalt roofing.
FEW STATES OFFER REBATES OR FINANCIAL INCENTIVES FOR SOLAR ENERGY INSTALLATIONS.
According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy, 48 states have a solar/renewable energy incentive on top of the 30% federal tax credit!
THE SOLAR PANELS CANNOT WITHSTAND HARSH CLIMATES (SNOW, HAIL, WINDS, SLEET).
The University of Vermont (which receives considerable snow fall) has a system that has proven to be effective and virtually maintenance free–even during the winter months. The color of the solar panels is dark which aides in melting the snow, plus a South facing position allows for a quickened process.
SOLAR SYSTEMS ARE UNRELIABLE AND INCONSISTENT.
On the contrary, solar electric systems can be more reliable than the utility company. They have no moving parts and off-grid systems are not subject to power outages. In fact, solar technologies are used to power many vital systems: aircraft warning lights, railroad-crossing signals, navigational buoys and more.
I CANNOT USE SOLAR ENERGY BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE SOUTHERN ROOF EXPOSURE.
East/West roof exposure is also effective for photovoltaic systems. Another option is a ground mounted system, in which case all you need is a relatively flat, unshaded area.
SOLAR ENERGY IS INEFFICIENT.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar panel efficiency has more than quadrupled since the 1970′s. With an average between 15-19% it sits in the same efficiency range as the gas in your car. Unlike gas though, solar technology continues to advance and in turn, so will efficiency.
I WON’T LIVE IN THE HOME LONG ENOUGH TO MAKE MY INVESTMENT BACK.
Actually, a solar system increases the value of the home. For every $1,000 that has been saved in annual electric costs, your home’s value rises $20,000 according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
There are a number of ways solar can be installed. . For residential home solar, there are three common installation methods.
The most common and inexpensive way to install solar energy is through roof mounting. Because you already have a structure, you gain the advantages through cost savings, the height (which helps avoid shadows) and electric panel proximity. Negatives can be the high temperatures, little roof space, and a fixed angle that may not be optimum.
Ground Mounting is a common option for residences with large amounts of land and steep electric bills. The advantages of this system is that it is not limited to size, stays relatively cool, and operates more efficiently due to the angle precision it allows for. While Ground Mounting can be more expensive than other systems, it can also be the ideal solution for your home.
Other structures include mounting on a patio cover, parking garage or a customer built structure, but keep in mind we aren’t just limited to those types of structures. If you have or need a structure that can support solar panels the above are great alternative options and in cost. Give us a call to discuss your structure and we’ll be happy to see if solar panels will accommodate it.
While local energy costs are skyrocketing, you can now lock in your electrical costs by producing your own energy. Installing one of our custom solar systems, allows you to decrease your power bill or eliminate it altogether. And along with the economic benefits provided by solar power, your property value increases, your carbon footprint decreases, and help hedge against future utility rate increases. Below are common financing options for investing in your clean energy future.
Cash purchases continue to be a popular way to invest in a solar energy system; it also provides the best return on investment. This option requires a minimal deposit with 80% due at the time materials are delivered and 20% due at the competition of the system.
Sunpro Solar works closely with several banks and credit unions which offer special solar financing. Some of these options include solar home equity lines of credit and unsecured loans. Many of these options allow the Federal Tax Credit portion of the loan to be paid up to 18 months after the loan funds or will re amortize the loan once it has been applied. One of our Energy Consultants can help you determine which option will work best for you and your financial situation.
SOLAR LEASES AND POWER PURCHASE AGREEMENTS (PPAS)
Solar leases and PPAs are two third party ownership options that allow our consumers to install solar energy systems without the upfront cost and also allow non-profit organizations to take advantage of tax-related incentives, such as investment tax credits and accelerated depreciation.
A solar lease is very much like a car lease, where you lease the equipment for a set period of time and benefit from the electricity it produces during that lease period. A power purchase agreement is similar, although with a PPA, you only pay for the electricity your solar system produces. It’s like paying for a car by the mile. In both cases, the customer is essentially hosting a solar power system on its roof that is owned by a third party and enjoying all of its benefits with little or no upfront payment. The monthly payment is typically structured in a way that the power generated by the system costs less ($/kWh) than that of the local utility company.
HOME ENERGY RENOVATION OPPORTUNITY (HERO)
The HERO program partners with local governments to make energy efficient, water efficient, and renewable energy products more affordable for homeowners. HERO will finance up to 100% of the cost to purchase your system or to prepay your solar lease or power purchase agreement. HERO offers low-fixed interest rates, flexible payment terms including 5/10/15/20 years for most products. The repayment of HERO Financing is included in your property tax bill, which is delivered and collected by the County. You will see a line item titled HERO Financing on your property tax bill. If you make property tax payments through an impound escrow account, your lender will adjust your monthly payment to include the amount due for HERO Financing. Additionally, if the property is sold before the HERO Financing is paid in full, the remaining payments can be passed on to a new property owner.
A properly installed and maintained system not only saves you money and gives you energy independence, but is environmentally friendly, too. Solar power panels, or modules, are what most people think of when they think of a solar power “system,” although they are in fact just one cog in the system.
This guide is a short introduction each component in the system and is designed to help give you a clearer picture and better understanding as to how the system works to provide clean, affordable energy for your home.
THE INDIVIDUAL SOLAR CELLS
The “photovoltaic effect” is a straightforward process by which solar cells convert sunlight into usable electricity. The earliest solar cells converted only 1-2% of the sun’s light energy into usable electric energy, whereas today’s units can convert some 15-20% of sunlight’s energy. Increasing panel efficiency allows for smaller, cheaper systems, which in turn allows for greater accessibility for varying income brackets as well as physical applications.
THE SOLAR POWER MODULES (SOLAR PANELS AND OTHER TYPES)
A solar power module, often called a “solar panel,” is essentially an array of many individual solar cells; a module will produce from 50 to 220 watts.
All of the major manufacturers—Kyocera, PowerLight, Sharp, SunPower and others—build modules with 25-30-year useful lives. It is fair to say that solar modules of all efficiency ratings from any of the established manufacturers are reliable options and offer good return on investment.
A key component in your solar system device chain is the inverter. Inverters modify the solar energy modules’ current and voltage to maximize output, and convert their DC power to the AC power required by most of business and home equipment.
Inverters are rated and compared to one another based on their capacity, their voltage rating and their battery capabilities. Often they are installed along with fuse boxes, switches and other electrical components in a “control center” that relies on certified electrical service boxes. Inverters should typically be mounted in dust-free, dry and well-ventilated areas.
RACKS, MOUNTS AND ROOF ATTACHMENTS FOR SOLAR SYSTEMS
To withstand years of exposure (wind, weather, corrosion, etc.) the solar array should be solidly mounted. From street level that solar panels appear to be directly atop a house’s roof, but this is not the case. Roof mounting requires a detailed survey of the roofing materials, their condition, their future replacement needs and much more. Hire a professional solar installer who knows the ins and outs of roof mounting and similar alternatives.
WIRING AND METERS
For long-term stability and efficient operation, there is really no more important component than the one you will see least, the wiring. It’s critical that you abide by construction codes as well as the National Electrical Code, and use devices that carry a rating agency certification (such as from Underwriters Laboratory). Check with your installer to ensure that he/she is up to date with these codes and installation requirements
Connections can become loose over time as a result of ongoing “rooftop heat cycling.” This is a common cause of poor system performance, so it’s always a good idea to have a plan in place should your system ever experience an issue.
To monitor system performance, it may be useful to install a separate solar power electric meter. In fact, you may also consider a separate “AC disconnect” so you can isolate your solar power from the utility’s power. Your solar power system will likely include a DC disconnect as well to isolate your array output from your inverter. If there is a power outage at your utility, your solar system will continue producing power and has the ability to feed power into the grid while utility crews work to resolve the power outage.
A solar system is a chain of devices that takes power from once source–the sun–and makes it usable in your home. You can think of it as an organism, taking in fuel and converting it to practical use by way of light bulbs, radios, toasters and other appliances. All of the pieces of you solar power system need to work together; and when they do, you are able to reduce your energy costs, help the environment and make a serious contribution to a realistic, sustainable future.