Solar Power: Frequently Asked Questions originally appeared on EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. Audubon is working with EnergySage and others to educate our members about solar energy as a solution to climate change. EnergySage provides solar information for consumers, and we point to their vendor-neutral online marketplace to help bird-lovers compare solar options.
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- Why should I go solar?
- How do solar panels work for my home?
- What are my solar financing options?
- Am I ready for solar?
- How do I evaluate solar quotes?
- What is shared solar?
1. What are the financial benefits of solar energy?
When you install a solar energy system on your property, you save money on your electricity bills and protect yourself against rising electricity rates in the future. How much you can save depends on the utility rates and solar policies in your area, but going solar is a smart investment regardless of where you live.
2. What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?
Solar power, like other renewable energy resources, has many environmental and health benefits. Going solar reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change, and also results in fewer air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which can cause health problems.
3. How do I find out how much I pay for electricity?
The easiest way to find out how much you pay for electricity (and how much electricity you use per month) is to take a look at your utility electricity bill. Review EnergySage’s guide to reading your electricity bill to find out exactly what to look for.
4. What is net metering?
Net metering is the system that utilities use to credit solar energy system owners for the electricity produced by their solar panels. With net metering, you only pay for the electricity that you use beyond what your solar panels can generate. Net metering policies differ from state to state – from Massachusetts to California to Hawaii – so make sure to do your homework ahead of time.
5. How does solar impact my property values?
Studies have shown that homes with solar energy systems sell for more than homes without them. However, your property value will only increase if you own, rather than lease, your solar panel system. In most parts of the country, going solar will actually increase your property value more than a kitchen renovation.
6. How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?
Solar panels absorb the sun's energy throughout the day and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. Most homes and businesses run on alternating current (AC) electricity, so the DC electricity is then passed through an inverter to convert it to usable AC electricity. At that point, you either use the electricity in your house or send it back to the electric grid.
7. Do my solar panels produce power when the sun isn’t shining?
The amount of power your solar energy system can generate is dependent on sunlight. As a result, your solar panels will produce slightly less energy when the weather is cloudy, and no energy at night. However, because of high electricity costs and financial incentives, solar is a smart decision even if you live in a cloudy city.
8. What happens if there is snow on solar panels?
Solar panels convert sunshine into power, so if your panels are covered in snow they can’t produce electricity. Snow generally isn’t heavy enough to cause structural issues with your panels, and since most panels are tilted at an angle the snow will slide off. If snow does accumulate, your panels are easy to clean.
9. Can I go off grid with solar panels?
When you install solar panels on your property, you will still be connected to the grid. This allows you to draw from the grid when your system is not producing all of the power that you need, and send power back to the grid when you produce more than you use. It is possible to go off the grid with a solar energy system that includes battery storage, but it will cost significantly more and is unnecessary for the majority of homeowners.
10. Will I still receive an electric bill if I have solar panels?
Unless your solar energy system includes battery storage and you are fully off the grid, you will still receive a bill from your utility. However, you can dramatically reduce your bill, or even cut the amount you owe to $0, with a solar panel system that matches your energy use.
11. Do solar panels work in a blackout?
If your solar panel system is connected to the grid, it will shut off in the event of a blackout. This is to prevent emergency responders and electricity utility repair-people from being injured by your panels sending power back to the grid. However, there are certain inverters you can buy that provide backup power in a blackout when paired with a battery.
12. How much will solar panel maintenance cost?
Solar panel systems are made of durable tempered glass and require little to no maintenance for the 25 to 35 years that they will generate power. In most cases, you don’t even need to clean your solar panels regularly. If something does happen, most equipment manufacturers include warranties, although warranty terms depend on the company.
13. What solar energy rebates and incentives are available?
Solar rebates and incentives vary depending on where you live. The most significant is the 30 percent federal investment tax credit (ITC), which allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of your solar energy system from your taxes. Some states offer additional tax credits, and certain municipalities and utilities also offer cash rebates or other incentives.
14. What are my solar financing options?
There are three solar financing options: you can purchase your system in cash, take out a solar loan to buy your system, or sign a solar lease/power purchase agreement (PPA). EnergySage’s Instant Estimate Tool can help you assess the costs and 20-year savings of each solar financing option; its calculations are based on your roof plus real quote data from your area.
15. Should I buy or lease my solar panel system?
The decision to buy or lease your solar energy system depends on your reasons for going solar. If you are interested in maximizing the financial returns of your solar energy system, buying the system is probably a better decision for you. However, if you prioritize an easy, maintenance-free way to reduce your energy bills and help the environment, you should consider a solar lease.
16. Which is better – solar loans or solar leases?
Solar loans and solar leases each have advantages and disadvantages. Both options reduce your monthly electricity bills and your impact on the environment, but the terms and conditions of each type of agreement are different. Compare solar loans and solar leases on EnergySage to determine which one is right for you.
17. What is the difference between secured solar loans and unsecured solar loans?
The primary difference between secured and unsecured solar loans is that secured solar loans require that you promise an asset, usually your home, as collateral for the money that you borrow. Unsecured solar loans do not, but their interest rates are generally higher to compensate for the increased risk taken on by the lender. To understand which financing option is best for you, evaluate offers for both secured and unsecured loans on EnergySage.
18. How do I choose the best solar loan?
Many different institutions offer solar loans, including local and national banks, specialty financing companies, manufacturers, and credit unions. To choose the best solar loan for you, compare options from a few different financing providers. Use the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to review multiple equipment, installer, and financing options.
19. Can I afford to go solar?
If you can afford to pay your electricity bill you can afford to go solar. $0-down solar financing options, including both solar loans and solar leases, make it easy for homeowners with good credit to start saving on their electricity bills by going solar. Register on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to compare costs and savings for multiple financing options.
20. Is my roof suitable for solar panels?
Southerly-facing roofs with little to no shade and enough space to fit a solar panel system are ideal for installing solar. However, in many cases there are workarounds if your home doesn’t have the ideal solar roof. Register your property on EnergySage to learn more about all of your options; all installation offers are based on images of your actual roof.
21. What size solar energy system should I get?
The size of your solar energy system will depend on how much electricity you use on a monthly basis, as well as the weather conditions where you live. Take a look at your past electricity bills and compare offers from licensed, pre-screened solar installers to determine the best system size for your needs.
22. Do I need to replace my roof before installing solar?
Solar energy systems can last for 25 to 35 years, and it can be costly to remove and reinstall them if you need to replace your roof. If your roof needs maintenance in the near term, you should complete it before you finish your solar installation. One of EnergySage’s pre-screened solar installers will be able to tell you whether to replace your roof before going solar.
23. How long will my solar power system last?
In general, solar panels are very durable and capable of withstanding snow, wind, and hail. The various components of your solar power system will need to be replaced at different times, but your system should continue to generate electricity for 25 to 35 years.
24. What happens if I sell my solar house?
If you own your solar energy system, your solar house will sell at a premium: studies have shown that solar increases property values. However, if you lease your system, that is not the case. You will need to either buy out your lease before you sell your home, or work with your leasing company to transfer the lease agreement to the home’s new owner.
25. How do I choose a solar installer?
There are a few criteria that everyone should use when choosing a solar installer. Confirm that they are certified, licensed and insured, have relevant experience, and can provide references. All EnergySage-approved installers are pre-screened to ensure that they meet these high quality standards. Meet with your solar installer in person before you sign an agreement to ensure that you are comfortable working with them.
26. How do I compare solar quotes?
If you have multiple quotes from different solar installers, comparing them can be difficult. Not all solar installers use the same underlying assumptions and metrics when they provide equipment and financing options to homeowners. In the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can make easy side-by-side comparisons to ensure that you understand the costs and benefits of each option. Homeowners with preexisting solar quotes can upload those onto EnergySage as well.
27. What are the different types of solar panels?
While every solar panel brand and product has unique specifications, EnergySage has grouped solar panels into three broad categories: Economy, Standard, and Premium. Premium panels perform the best, but have a higher price tag, while Economy panels are inexpensive but often less durable over time. Your decision about which category of solar panel to purchase depends on your priorities.
28. What are the different types of power inverters?
Power inverters convert the electricity your panels produce from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) power. There are three types of inverters: string/centralized inverters, microinverters, and power optimizers.
29. What happens during the solar power installation process?
The first step to going solar is to register on EnergySage to receive and compare multiple installation quotes. These quotes will include a variety of equipment choices, financing options, and solar company reviews. When you find one you’re happy with, your installer will conduct a site visit to assess your property. Once you accept a quote on EnergySage, your installer will file the paperwork necessary to have your system approved. The actual installation takes a day or two to complete.
30. Should I ask for a solar monitoring system for my solar panels?
If you are interested in receiving detailed information about how much energy your solar panel system is producing, ask your installer about solar monitoring system options. In many cases, solar lease agreements will include free programs to track your system’s performance. If you own your system you may need to pay for one separately.
31. Do I need to install solar batteries with my solar power system?
Solar power systems that include solar batteries, known as solar-plus-storage, are increasingly popular, but can be pricey. Luckily, batteries are not necessary for most solar homeowners. As long as you are connected to the grid, your system does not need a battery: excess power goes back into the grid, and you can draw from the grid if you need more electricity than your panels can generate.
32. How is this different from rooftop solar?
When you buy into a community solar project, you receive a portion of the energy generated by a large solar panel system that is located elsewhere in your area. Unlike a home solar panel system, a community solar project isn’t installed on your roof. Community solar and rooftop solar both result in net savings on your electricity bill, but each offers distinct benefits. Compare them to find the right one for you.
33. How should I evaluate my options?
First, decide whether you’d prefer to own your share or find a subscription-based program. Ownership means you make an up-front investment in order to save money in the future, while subscription-based programs offer savings over a set period of time. There are a number of different subscription structures for you to consider when comparing community solar offers. Other considerations include the location of a project and how soon it will begin delivering savings.
34. What if I move or have to cancel?
When you move, you can keep your share of the community solar project as long as your new home is within the same service area. If you move outside of the service area, you will have to sell your share (if you own it), transfer a subscription to another account, or potentially pay an early cancellation fee (if you choose a subscription-based model). Cancellation terms vary by project and provider.
35. How does it save me money?
Community solar saves you money by allowing you to invest in solar panels that produce electricity for your home or business, even when you can’t install them on your roof. When you participate in a community solar project, you are paying for access to less expensive solar electricity so that you don’t have to buy electricity at standard utility rates.
36. How will it appear on my electric bill?
If you own a share of or subscribe to a community solar project, you will receive virtual net metering credits on your electric bill from your utility. Each credit is equal to one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. For example: you use 1,000 kWh at your home in one month, and your community solar share produces 800 kWh. The 800 kWh in credits from your share are applied to your electric bill, and your utility bills you for the remaining 200 kWh. You pay your community solar provider directly for the cost of your share or subscription.