FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
1. 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.
2. What is the difference between solar panels and 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.
3. 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 use the sun’s energy to heat water for domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.
4. 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.
5. What size solar electric system do I need?
The recommended size of your system will depend on your power consumption and what portion of your current electricity needs you would like your PV system to meet. Before investing in solar we recommend that you calculate your total annual energy consumption (available from your utility bill). We then suggest a quick home energy audit (which you can do yourself) to find ways to reduce your energy use by upgrading appliances, windows, insulation and lighting or by changing your energy use habits. If you reduce your electricity loads, you can generally buy a smaller, less expensive PV system. Purchase your system based on your budget, your present needs, and future expansion potential for more solar electric power and/or batteries.
6. How is the size of a solar electric system calculated?
Once you’ve become as efficient as you can (or want to) be, solar is a perfect way to reduce or eliminate how much power you are buying from your utility. A system should be sized to meet no more than your whole load on the sunniest day of the year, and rely on some grid power or battery backup during winter or on cloudy days.
In addition to how much electricity you’d like to generate, the size of your system also depends on these factors: The site’s solar resource or available sunlight; The system’s orientation and tilt; The system’s efficiency at converting sunlight to electricity; Other electricity sources, like a utility, a wind turbine, or a fossil fuel generator.
Solar electric systems are generally sized in the 2 kW to 8kW (2,000 watt to 8,000 watt) range. The cost of your system will vary depending on which products are best suited for your application and what incentives are available in your specific area, but as a ballpark you can expect to spend between $6 and $8 per watt of solar installed (at 2010 prices).
7. Will solar increase my property value?
Yes. According to the National Appraisal Institute, for every $1 of electricity that you offset with a renewable energy system your home value will increase by $20. Also, a home with a renewable energy system is generally more attractive to buyers, even when compared to an otherwise identical home right next door; big pluses in today’s tight housing market.
8. How much roof space will my system need?
9. Does my roof have to face south?
Though a South facing roof is always best, SE to SW also work well. In our region, SE to SW orientations result in annual energy production at about 96% to 98% of a South facing array . Even due West or East orientations are workable, but the amount of power generated is reduced to about 82% to 88% of what you would get with a Southern orientation.Adding a few more panels to your array will often compensate for these losses.
10. Does it matter what type of roof I have?
Different roofing materials and pitches require different mounting systems, but pretty much any roof can be installed with solar. The type and pitch of your roof will affect the overall installation cost of your system, so it is important to enlist the help of an experienced solar professional to determine the best method for mounting your array. This will insure the panels are at the best angle to take advantage of year-around variations in light, and that the installation does not compromise the integrity of your roof. Standing seam metal and composition roofs make installation the easiest; flat and wood shake roofs make installation more difficult. If your roof will need to be replaced during the next ten years we recommend you either wait to install solar or that you replace your roof now.
11. Are surrounding trees a problem?
The general rule is to have no shading from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Tall trees to the SE or SW can be a problem, particularly in the winter when the sun is lower on the horizon. However, it is possible to compensate for many winter shading issues.
12. Is there financing available for solar?
Yes. Every year more financing options become available for installing renewable energy at your home or business. Here are some options currently available: 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. Many utilities offer rebates or low interest loans for solar electric and solar hot water systems. Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) for information on state and federal incentives for renewable energy and home energy efficiency measures at www.dsireusa.org.
13. Do I need special insurance?
Standard homeowner’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.
14. Will I need any permits to install a solar energy system in my home?
Probably. Many areas still do not require a building permit for solar photovoltaic or solar hot water systems, but as far as we know all areas do require an electrical or plumbing permit based on the type of system.
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