Solar Questions & Answers

Published April 16, 2015

FAQ’s about solar energy systems that may help you with your research

Does a solar energy system make sense for me?

The answer is probably yes… but it depends on your particular situation. The reason is that you need to have enough sunlight exposure to justify the installation of a system as well as enough roof space. Many solar installation companies can give you a good idea of how good a candidate you are by looking at satellite photos of your home.

Is the area where I live in right for solar?

Most likely, yes. Even on cloudy days, solar panels generate electricity. And solar panels are actually more efficient in colder weather so climates in cooler climates with less sun may still be quite efficient versus those that are in more sunnier (and hotter) climes.

What do I need to do to my home or business to install a solar system?

Probably not much. Today’s solar systems are designed to work in a seamless fashion with the existing infrastructure in your home or business. There is no need for any change to appliances, your wiring, outlets, or any other part of your electrical system. The only difference you’ll notice is the savings on your utility bill!

What size system will I need to power my home or business?

This depends on how much power your home or business uses on average. In general, 1kW (kilowatt) of PV panels will generate about 1,300 or so kWh (kilowatt hours) on an annual basis. At 15 cents per kWh, that’s about $200 or so of clean electricity generated per year. Most home systems are going to be in the 5kW to 10kW range generating between $1,000 and $2,000 per year in clean electricity (at the 15 cents per kWh rate). So… in this example… If your electric bill is around $200 a month and you were to install a 10kWh system you would go from paying $2,400 a year in electricity to paying $400 a year. The NREL web site has a lot of information and a great calculator to evaluate a solar solution based on your location.

How reliable is a solar energy solution?

Modern solar energy systems are very reliable. They have been proven again and again with installations across the country – both in large business deployments and in small residential systems.

What are the maintenance requirements?

Solar energy systems typically require very little maintenance because there are no moving parts. In most cases, trimming trees to keep shade off the PV cells, occasional cleaning, and an annual inspection is all that is required. Many solar installation companies also include maintenance as part of their service offerings.

Do I need batteries as part of my system?

In most cases, the answer is no. Most installations today are connected to the utility grid directly. At night, or on cloudy days when the system may not be as efficient, you still can get power from your utility company.

What kind of savings can I expect?

It depends on the location where the system will be deployed, how much roof space is available, and what type of system you install, but it isn’t uncommon for bills to be cut by 50% to 60% and even more. Some consumers and businesses have even seen their bills go to zero!

Is the technology good enough?

Solar technology has advanced considerably in the past five years. Costs have come down dramatically and the systems that are available today are far better than they have ever been. Combined with special financing options, PPA programs, and rebates and tax incentives, there may not be a better time than now to invest in a solar solution.

Can my roof support a solar system?

Solar PV systems are very light. Most arrays weigh less than 5 lbs. per square foot, which is fine for most framed rooftops.

What size solar energy system should I deploy?

Because every business and home situation is different, you need to evaluate options when looking at a solar system. If you are looking at a system for your home, you will probably be looking at a solar energy installation that will generate between 5kW and 10kW. Commercial systems can vary anywhere from 10kW to 500kW or more depending on the needs of the business.

How much does a solar system cost?

The cost of a system includes the cost of the system itself, installation costs, interconnection costs (if applicable), and maintenance costs. As a general rule, you will pay between $5 and $9 per watt installed with maintenance and interconnection costs not included. Financing options, as well as leasing and Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) programs can make the systems very affordable as the savings on electricity often cover most, if not all, of the monthly payment. In addition, depending on where you live, incentives and rebates could substantially reduce the overall cost of the system.

Does it make financial sense to install a system?

It certainly does! Let’s say your current monthly electric bill is $250. That amounts to $3,000 per year you are spending on electricity – or $30,000 over 10 years. If the cost of electricity increases by just 5% per year for the next 10 years your 10-year electricity cost will total $37,734! If the system you install cuts your electricity bill in half you’ll save nearly $20,000 over that same 10-year period. Combined with the tax breaks and incentives that are being offered in many areas of the country, depending on the system you install, you could have much of it paid for over that same 10-year time frame. And with most systems having a “useful life” of 25 years or more, it is pretty clear that a solar energy system is a great investment.

Will a solar energy system increase the value of my home?

According to the Appraisal Institute, a home increases in value between $10 to around $25 in value for every $1 reduction in annual home fuel costs. As an example, if you’re solar energy system reduces your annual electric bill by $1,200 (just $100 per month), the value of your home could increase by $12,000 to $30,000! That is a substantial amount that cannot be ignored in the equation of whether or not to install a solar energy system.

How long will a solar energy system last?

Most of the parts on your system carry 25-year manufacturer warranties. Some parts, such as inverters, carry 10-year warranties. Many lease and PPA programs carry long-term system monitoring and repair services as part of the program. Most solar solutions far outlast their warranties and are still going strong even after 25 to 30 years.

What if there is a blackout, will my system still function?

No. As a safety measure for workers who are repairing the cause of the blackout, the system will automatically shut down.

What is the installation time-frame?

It depends on the system you want and the associated complexity of that system. Most home solar energy system installations are completed in less than a week. Commercial installs can take from one to four weeks depending on the system.