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Frequently asked questions about solar power.
Questions need answers.
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Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions we've encountered from potential customers. If you don't find the answer you're looking for here, please don't hesitate to call or email us. That's what we're here for!
- How long does it take to install a solar system?
- Our turn-around time on a residential system is 4-8 weeks after local permit approvals. This includes all rebate paperwork, utility interconnection agreements, permits and inspections. The installation time for a commercial solar electric system will depend on the system magnitude, location, and other variables.
- How much power does the system produce?
- System power output is determined by the number and type of photovoltaic (PV) module used. The system size is determined by the energy requirements of the home or building and the amount of roof or ground area available. Typical home systems are between 5 kW and 10 kW, which is usually enough to provide 40% to 100% of the electric needs of property.
- What is net metering?
- Net metering is used when your solar photovoltaic (PV) system is producing more energy than your home or building can use. Instead of being wasted, this excess energy is pushed back onto the utility grid for someone else to use. You essentially get a credit for each kWh of energy that is pushed back onto the grid. You can use this credit when your home is using more energy than your solar system can generate, such as during cloudy weather or overnight. This is referred to as 'net metering' because you only have to pay for the net amount of energy your home uses from the grid (total energy used from the grid minus your credits). If you have unused kWh credits at the end of the month, your utility will keep track of those credits and pay you for them once a year at the full retail rate.
- How much roof space is needed to power my house?
- A good rule of thumb is to allow 100 square feet for every kilowatt (kW) of electricity production. A typical residential solar PV system will require approximately 700 square feet.
- How do you attach the system to my roof?
- Mounting systems on the market today are made entirely of anodized aluminum and stainless steel to ensure long life without rusting. The racking system attaches through the shingles to the roof rafters with stainless steel screws. The attachment areas are sealed with a high-quality polymer sealant for water tightness.
- Do I need to install a new roof before the solar panels are installed?
- Not typically. It depends on the age of your roof. Solar panels are designed to last more than 25 years. Therefore, the roof should be in good condition, as it does not make sense to remove and reinstall the panels after only a few years. Typically, if the roof is going to need replacement within the next 8-10 years, we recommend replacing the roof before installing a solar system. If the existing roof has plenty of life still in it, the installed solar panels actually will reduce wear on the roof by blocking ultraviolet rays, keeping most snow and ice off the roof, and preventing anything from hitting the roof.
- Do the solar modules need to face south?
- Not exactly. South is best, but modules installed facing southeast or southwest still generate a very high percentage of possible power. We perform a comprehensive site evaluation to determine the efficiency of the system, taking into account shading from trees or other sections of the roof. We use a device called a Solar Pathfinder to determine the overall efficiency of the system, and provide our findings in a full report and proposal.
- What is an inverter?
- An inverter converts the DC (direct current) power produced by solar panels into the AC (alternating current) power used in your home or building. The inverter outputs 240 Volts AC, which is split into two legs of 120 Volts AC used in the house.
- Do panels store energy from the sun?
- No, the electricity generated by your system is used directly by your property when it is produced. Any excess generation is sent back to the utility grid, establishing an economic credit that is used to buy back power at night or any time that your property's demand for electricity is greater than your system's production.
- Do I need batteries with the system?
- No, batteries are only required if you want backup power when the utility is out of service. Batteries are expensive, have a limited life and require maintenance. For these reasons, a backup generator is usually a more cost-effective solution for when the utility power goes out. Battery backup typically only makes sense in remote areas where there is no electric service (off-the-grid), such as at a mountain cabin.
- If the power goes out, will my solar system continue to produce electricity?
- No, you will not have any electricity if there is an outage. It is possible to store electricity, but the cost of batteries combined with their short lifespan and maintenance requirements makes them less than ideal. Unless you’re in an off-the-grid situation, batteries rarely make sense.
- What happens if there's a utility power outage?
- With a grid-connected solar PV electric system, when the utility grid goes down your PV inverter will automatically shut down and you will lose power. This is intentional to protect the people working on the power lines from the risk of electrocution.
- How long will my solar system last?
- Most solar modules come with a 25 year power output guarantee and are expected to last at least twice that long. The power output guarantee on the solar panels is provided by the manufacturer and states that at the end of the 25th year, the solar panels will still produce a minimum of 80% of their original power output.
- What is the current rebate amount?
- The PA Sunshine Program is in the third tier of rebates, at $.75 per watt up to a maximum of 35% of the cost of the system. This tier will remain in effect until 10 MW of rebates have been allocated at this level, at which point the rebate program will end. We expect the rebates to be used up by the spring of 2011, and urge you to reserve your rebate today. Please note that this is a rebate and not a tax credit. The Federal Tax Credit is 30%, and is in place at least until 2016. SunPrime Energy does not provide tax advice; please consult with your accountant or tax advisor on any taxation issues regarding rebates or credits.
- How do I get the rebates?
- SunPrime Energy will prepare the forms and applications for the PA rebate program. The PA rebate application takes 4 to 6 weeks to process. Because the rebate is sent directly to the customer, it reduces the cash needed by the homeowner. SunPrime Energy will also assist you in taking advantage of the Federal Income Tax Credit.
- What if I sell my house?
- Typically, a solar PV system will increase the resale value of a home. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a home's resale value rises an average of $20 for every $1 reduction in annual utility bills. For an 8 kW system, this would equate to an increase of about $33,000 in resale value. Alternatively, you can move the system to your new home. However, since the system is designed specifically for your current home, it is unlikely that the system would be optimal for your new home.
- Is my PV system covered by my homeowners insurance policy?
- In most cases, PV systems are covered by your homeowners insurance as a dwelling extension. Check with your insurance company to make sure that the system is covered and that you have enough coverage to repair or replace the system if needed.
- What about cloudy and foggy days?
- Your PV system will continue to produce electricity on cloudy and foggy days but at a reduced rate. The solar analysis performed on your site (see "Do the solar modules have to face south?" above) takes into consideration the average amount of the sun's radiation reaching your system and accounts for cloudy, rainy, foggy, and snowy days. This information is based on weather data collected over a 15-year period by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at different sites throughout our region.
- What's the effect of rain?
- A steady rain is great for cleaning your solar modules. However, as mentioned above, it will decrease your energy production.
- What about snow and ice?
- There will be times when snow and/or ice will cover the modules. While this does not harm the modules, it will reduce the energy production. During normal operation, the sun's radiation causes the modules to warm up. When the sun is shining again after a snow storm, even the reduced light filtering in
through the snow will usually be enough to warm the modules and melt any snow or ice buildup. As an added bonus, once the snow is melted, the reflection offthe snow on the ground and on the rest of the roof will actually increase the energy production of your system.
- What about hail?
- The solar modules are made of tempered glass with a silicon filler and PVC backer. This will absorb the impact of large hail. The module design is tested to withstand hail up to 1 inch in diameter at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
- Are the solar modules fragile?
- No. Although the modules are made of tempered glass, they are very strong. They pass severe wind and hail tests, and are regularly installed in areas prone to hurricanes as well as Arctic and Antarctic conditions.