Frequently Asked Questions about Solar Electric (PV) Systems
What is a solar photovoltaic (PV) system?
A photovoltaic (solar electric) system converts the sun’s light energy into electricity by producing direct current (DC) in the PV panels. The DC current is sent to an inverter that converts the DC current to alternating current (AC) for general use in your house or business.
What is a grid-tied solar PV system?
A grid-tied solar PV system’s output is directly linked through your meter to the distribution lines that normally provide you with electricity. The grid both effectively “stores” any excess power produced by your PV system and supplements power when your demand for electricity is greater than your on-site solar production. Grid-tied solar PV systems avoid the need for costly, toxic, and high-maintenance battery storage systems.
Will a grid-tied solar system work during power outages?
Due to safety regulations, a grid-tied solar PV system will automatically shut down during power outages. If continued power is essential, you can invest in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) or generator. Grid-tied systems with battery backup are also available, although they will increase the installation costs, maintenance and toxicity, while decreasing the performance efficiency of your solar system.
What is two-way (or net) metering?
In a grid-tied solar PV system, electricity can flow through your meter in either direction, depending on the amount of electricity your system is producing and how much electricity you are using. When your solar PV system is producing more electricity than you need, the surplus is pushed back into the grid, spinning your meter backwards.
At other times, you may need to draw supplemental power from the utility grid, making your meter spin forwards. Net metering keeps track of the difference between the grid-supplied electricity you use and the surplus generated by your solar PV system.
Will the utility company pay me for the excess electricity I generate?
No, you won’t ever get a check from PG&E, but the value of your net production can significantly reduce your bills. Once a year you get a “true-up” bill from PG&E for any grid-supplied electricity that your solar system hasn’t offset. PG&E won’t credit you for any extra (solar) electricity that you’ve produced that exceeds your (grid) electricity use for the 12-month period. That is why it is so important to know your annual electrical use and to have Solar Works size your solar system accordingly.
What is Time-of-Use (TOU) metering?
A TOU rate plan from PG&E bases the price you pay for electricity on the time of day and the time of year you use energy. With TOU, you typically pay more for electricity during peak hours (1 PM to 7 PM weekdays) in the Summer. You pay less during all other hours (off-peak, partial-peak) and in the Winter.
TOU can be very beneficial to solar PV owners since, under the net metering laws, the power company must credit you at retail rates for any excess power you produce. So, if you can “sell” your excess electricity at peak rates and buy it back at off-peak rates, your PV system will have a greater impact on lowering your energy costs.
Is my home a good site for a solar system?
A site is most suitable for a solar PV system if there is clear and unobstructed access to the sun for 5 to 6 hours during the middle of the day. Shading from trees, buildings or other vegetation will compromise the performance of a PV system. If the roof is not suitable, a solar PV system can be mounted on the ground. Solar Works can find a solar solution for almost any site.
How many solar panels will I need?
The number of solar PV panels you need depends on your electricity needs, your goals, and system design. Call us for a quick and easy consultation. We can give you an idea about your system needs in a matter of minutes.
How much area will my solar array need?
A general rule of thumb is that you need one square foot of roof or ground area for each 10 watts of power, or 100 square feet per kilowatt. For example, a 2.5-kilowatt system will require approximately 250 square feet of space.
Because Solar Works uses only the highest-performing panels on the market, we can ensure you more power if you have limited solar space and access.
Where will the solar panels be mounted?
Usually, PV panels are placed on an existing roof using an simple mounting structure. If the roof is not suitable, PV panels can be mounted on the ground, using a freestanding support structure.
How long will my PV system last?
Solar Works uses PV panels with a 25-year limited warranty. Although panels have a useful life expectancy of more than 30 years, it is normal for panels to slowly degrade as they age, causing some reduction in output. Inverters have a 10-year warranty but you can expect to replace them after 12-to-15 years. Solar Works provides a 10-year warranty on all other materials and workmanship to make sure that clients don’t have additional costs during this phase of the system’s life. Even with the cost of service and repairs, which are very minimal, the systems are very reliable and cost effective.
How much does a grid-tied PV system cost?
Many factors determine the final cost for a grid-tied PV system, such as: system size, type of mounting system, roof material and pitch, wiring runs and various other installation details. Now is the most cost-effective time to buy.
Please contact us for a free estimate.
What incentives are available to help reduce my solar system cost?
The federal government offers a 30% investment tax credit for residential and commercial installations. Five year accelerated MACRS depreciation is also available to businesses installing renewable energy systems. Consult your tax advisor to discuss your eligibility.
Solar PV systems are exempt from property taxes in California (CA RTC, Section 73). While the value of your house or business will appreciate with the investment of a solar PV system, by law your property taxes cannot be raised.
What is the return for a PV system? Is it cost-effective?
Factors affecting the return on your PV system include: your electrical use, system size, future electric rates, available rebates and tax credits, loan amount and financing rate, system output and performance, among others. Owning a solar system pays- renting from the utility does not.
When you invest in a PV system, your monthly payment will help increase the equity in your home rather than simply disappearing to PG&E. Plus, interest paid on your mortgages is tax-deductible.
The financial benefit of your PV system will increase dramatically as electrical rates rise, since your loan payment will remain the same!
The earlier you go solar, the faster you convert your electricity costs into a power-producing asset.
What financing options are available?
The best way to finance a solar PV system for your home is through a primary mortgage, second mortgage, or home equity loan secured by your property. More lenders are recognizing the savings offered by a solar PV system and will make every effort to qualify you for a loan because they understand you are simply transferring your electricity payment from the utility to your lender without increasing your net monthly financial burden. A list of companies that finance solar PV systems is on the California Energy Commission website.
Sonoma County’s Energy Independence Program is a new opportunity for property owners to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements through a voluntary assessment. These assessments will be attached to the property, not the owner and will be paid back through the property tax system over time. Solar Works can assist with the application process and any related paperwork.
Who takes care of all the paperwork?
When you invest in a solar PV system, Solar Works will take care of all paperwork associated with your installation. We make going solar easy for you!
How long will the installation take?
The solar PV installation itself usually takes between two and five days, depending on the size and scale of the job. However, the entire process can take up to two to four months due to the permitting and application process. Click here for a Acrobat PDF of a complete flowchart of the residential solar PV process.
What other issues may need to be considered?
It is a good idea to find out about:
1) Required approval from a homeowners’ association, including covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CCR’s) that may exist.
2) Permit problems or illegal structures or issues you anticipate if a building inspector visits the property,
3) Roof condition, including need for (and cost of) repair or replacement before installation,
4) Need for (and cost of) removing trees or other vegetation that may shade the solar PV system area.