Solar 101

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Solar FAQ

The first question in going solar is one you should ask yourself:

Q: What makes a site viable for solar?

A: There are three factors that affect how efficiently a solar system performs:

  1. Roof Orientation. A south-facing roof is ideal.
  2. Shading. Ideally, there should be no shade on the roof during the hours of greatest solar production (9am – 3pm).
  3. Roof Pitch. About 35-40 degrees is optimal, but a steeper or shallower pitch won’t make much of a difference in the efficiency of the system. It is really the roof orientation and shading that are the most important.

Q: How does a solar electric system work?

Solar Electricity is also known as Photovoltaics or “PV” for short. PV systems can be mounted on a roof or on the ground. They provide electricity for buildings such as your home or office; they can also provide electricity for factories or utilities.
How it Works:

  • Light from the sun strikes the PV module (also known as the PV panel) and makes DC electricity. DC means Direct Current. It is the same kind of electricity that batteries produce.
  • Your home runs off AC electricity, or Alternating Current. To convert the DC electricity from the panels to the AC electricity for your home, we install an inverter (see the diagram). The inverter is usually installed in your garage or basement. We try to install your inverter as close as possible to your circuit breaker panel.
  • The inverter will be wired to a new breaker in your panel which will feed electricity into your home, rather than pull it from the grid.
  • During the day, this will cause your utility to meter to slow down or spin backwards. Now the solar panels are supplying your house with electricity, with over production going to the utility grid. This can result in a credit on your meter and eventually your bill.
  • You will only be charged for what you pulled from the grid at night if it is more than what you produced during the day. We like to size systems that provide close to 100% of your annual electric use so that your utility bill will be negligible.

Q: What incentives are available?

A: There are a few incentives available to homeowners:

The Federal Investment Tax Credit:

  • Homeowners can deduct 30% of their out-of-pocket investment. This credit is utilized when the homeowner files their taxes at the end of the year. (Expires 12/31/2016). For more specific details, CLICK HERE.  
  • Business Energy Investment Tax Credit: Businesses are eligible for accelerated depreciation benefits. This tax credit applies to solar electric and solar hot-water systems. (Expires 12/31/2016)

In New Jersey and New York State, there are additional incentives available.

New Jersey Incentives:

  • Solar projects installed in New Jersey that are registered with the SREC Registration Program are qualified to generate Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). SRECs represent the renewable attributes of solar generation, bundled in minimum denominations of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of production. New Jersey’s SREC program provides a means for SRECs to be created and verified, and allows electric suppliers to buy and retire these certificates in order to meet their solar RPS requirements. In simple terms, your array will produce energy that you can sell on the open market. You can either sell them yourself, or we can sell them for you and just send you a check. For more details on the program in NJ, please click New Jersey S-REC Program

New York Incentives:

  • In New York, there is a personal income tax credit on Solar PV and solar-thermal systems, equal to 25% percent of the cost of equipment and installation. The credit is capped at $5,000. In August 2012 the credit was amended (A.B. 34) to allow it to be claimed for systems installed under lease or power purchase agreements (PPAs) of at least 10 years in length.
  • For third-party owned systems, the residential homeowner may claim a tax credit in the amount of lease or PPA payments made during the taxable year, for up to 15 years. The 25% incentive for such systems refers to aggregate amount of payments owed rather than the amount made during any single year. The maximum allowable tax credit amount of $5,000 applies to the total amount of credits claimed regardless of the ownership arrangement. For more details, click on the links below.
    Solar and Fuel Cell Tax Credits
    NYSERDA - PV Incentive Program
  • Lowering or eliminating your electric bill.

Q: What financing options are available?

For more specific details click here

Q: What is the difference if I own the system cash/ financing vs. Lease a system for no money down?

If you would like to use solar as an Investment, then purchasing would be the best option. One of our designers can help walk you through investment analysis and cost vs benefit which will give you a better idea of which route works better for you. You will save the most if you purchase outright, but you need to leverage more cash upfront. You save less if you use the loan (due to finance charges), but you don’t have to leverage as much cash upfront. Both options give you a very attractive rate of return over 25 years.

If you would prefer monthly savings/budgeting, the fixed payment, no money down lease option is likely the best option. You would not pay any more for your electricity in year 1 that if you bought the same amount of power from the power company and your cost would be fixed for 20 yrs, so any rate increases from your power company would not affect you.

Q: How does the solar system interact with the utility company?

A: The electricity produced by your solar panels is sent directly into your home, to be used by anything at your site that runs off of electricity. If at any time your solar electric system produces more electricity than you use, the system sends the excess electricity back onto the grid. A state “Net Metering” law allows individuals and businesses that generate excess renewable energy to send the excess electricity back to the grid. When you install a solar electric system at your home the utility company installs a new meter at your site. This meter, called either a bi-directional meter or a net meter, measures both the electricity you use from the grid as well as the electricity that your solar system sends back onto the grid. Your utility company simply bills or credits you for the difference in electricity you either take or send back to the grid.

Q: What happens to a solar electric system during a power outage?

A: When a solar electric system senses a power failure from the grid, it automatically shuts the system down to ensure that no electricity is sent onto the grid while the utility is working on the power lines. The system will sense once grid power is restored, and automatically turns back on. There is optional equipment that can provide power to your home from your solar system during an outage. For more specific details click here.

Q: Is it possible to power 100% of my home’s electrical needs?

A: It is possible for a solar electric system to produce 100% of a home’s annual electric usage, however, the exact amount a system can cover will vary according to the specifics of the site. We need to know how large the available roof space is as well as the annual electric consumption before we can provide an estimate on how much of a house’s annual electric usage we can cover.

Q: What happens when it snows?

A: We install solar systems on the sunniest spots of the roof, so snow naturally melts off that area first. Additionally, once the panels warm up in the sunlight, the snow often melts off the roof pretty quickly. Only in rare heavy snow storms will the snow cover the panels for multiple days.

Q: Does the age of my roof matter?

A: YES… It is best to install solar on a roof that has at least 15 years of life remaining. If your roof is nearing the end of its useful life, you may wish to consider getting a new roof where the solar panels will be placed.