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What are the benefits of using solar electric power in my home today?

  • There are numerous economic, financial, and environmental benefits to solar electric systems.
  • Minimized electric bills and protection against future utility rate increases
  • Solar electricity reduces your consumption of utility-generated power and the fossil or nuclear fuel that generates it. Solar PV systems help reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources.
  • Significant financial incentives including tax credits and rebates are available, depending on the state in which you live.
  • Increased home value – According to the Appraisal Institute, a solar electric system increases home value by $20,000 for each $1,000 in annual reduced operating costs.
  • Producing electricity with photovoltaic (PV) emits no carbon dioxide, one of the prime contributors to global warming; it does not produce greenhouse gases, and uses no finite fossil-fuel resources.
  • Investment in a solar electric system demonstrates environmental stewardship.

What are Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Energy systems?

Solar energy electric systems use photovoltaic systems to convert sunlight – a clean renewable resource – directly into electricity you can use in your building, without noise or air pollution.

How much electricity can a PV system produce?

Systems come in all sizes, and produce as much or as little power as required. Many systems produce a portion of the home’s required power, leaving room for additional conservation or generation in the future. A 5 kW PV system located in the Northeast can produce approximately 6,200 kilowatts of electricity a year. On average, this is about 500 kilowatt-hours a month – approximately sixty percent of the needs of an average home, which uses about 800 kilowatt-hours a month.

What is a grid connected system?

Most solar PV systems are connected to the electrical utility grid and typically, do not store power. With this type of system, electric power is supplied to your building from both the electric utility (“the grid”) and your solar PV system. When the sun is shining and electricity is produced by your PV system, it supplies power to your building. Any surplus power being produced, is sent backwards through your electric meter to the grid. At this point, you are selling power to the grid. Conversely, when your demand for electricity exceeds the production of your solar panels (at night, for example), electricity is supplied by your local utility as usual.

What about power storage and battery backup?

A battery storage system is an option to be considered in the design of your system. As mentioned above, a grid connected system does not require a battery system. However, there are a variety of good reasons to add battery power storage.One of the best of which is emergency power during an outage.

If your property is subject to frequent power outages, you may want a system that provides power when utility power fails. Many businesses require continuous power for emergency, specialized equipment and/or critical computer systems.

Is there adequate sunshine in this region for solar energy systems?

On average, we receive approximately four to five hours of direct sunlight a day – sufficient sunshine for solar energy systems. Since power costs in our region are significant, and state incentives are strong, solar power makes more sense here than in many other places in the U.S

Will solar electric power work in my building?

If your roof is south-facing (or generally south-facing) and free of shade from 9 AM to 3 PM, you most likely have a good site. If your roof is oriented to the southeast or southwest, it may be usable, depending on the roof angle and shading. An alternative for buildings that do not have adequate exposure to the sun is to install solar modules on the ground. Once again, it is critical that the modules have an unobstructed view of the sun for all or most of the day.

How do I determine the best system for my building?

You should consider four key factors when choosing a system:

  1. Determine your electrical energy needs.
  2. The amount of the energy you can generate.
  3. Whether you want a battery backup system.
  4. The system cost in relation to energy savings and other financial incentives.

Your Building Energy consultant will work with you and discuss all these factors.

What happens when the utility has a power outage?

If your utility power is disrupted your solar electricity system will turn off automatically – a requirement of all utility companies for safety reasons. If you seriously want backup power, a battery system can be added. However, this increases the complexity and cost of the system. Most users are not bothered by an occasional outage, so they do not choose the battery backup.

How much does a PV solar system cost?

The cost of your PV solar system will depend on a variety of factors. Here are some of the key elements that will impact the overall cost.

  • The size of your system will be a significant factor.
  • Cost will also vary depending on the design of your system.
  • You will have choices regarding the equipment.
  • Installation in new construction will be different from installation in an existing structure.
  • State incentives and rebates significantly reduce the cost of a system.

We will help you determine the specifics for your situation and provide you with a price quote.

Is a solar system a good investment?

Solar PV systems can be costly, however, once installed they require little maintenance and will provide you with “free” electricity for 25 years or more. You will have immediate reductions in your monthly utility bill. The actual long-term payback of your system will depend on how much energy you use and how fast utility rates escalate, since you do not incur these costs as utility rates increase. Incentive programs, which vary by state, may also significantly reduce your cost of installing a PV solar system.

Solar thermal systems are based on simple, yet time-proven technology and can be adapted to existing buildings as well as new construction. They can provide as much as seventy to eighty percent of your hot water for a whole year, greatly diminishing the water heating piece of your monthly utility bill. Although solar hot water systems technology has been around for many years, new improvements have made today’s solar systems more effective, dependable and durable than those used prior.

As it becomes increasingly important and possible to move toward renewable energy sources, solar energy systems can be among the best new home features or home improvement investments you make.

Can I finance the purchase of a solar energy system?

There are increasing numbers of programs to help finance the purchase of a home with a solar energy system. Mortgage financing options include your primary mortgage or a second mortgage such as a US HUD loan. Solar energy systems are often financed as part of a home equity loan, because the interest on the loan is tax deductible. Additionally, some states offer low interest loans to assist with system acquisition.

Are there financial incentives for buying solar electricity?

There are many incentives for installing solar PV and thermal systems. Since 2006, a federal tax credit equivalent to 30% of the cost of installation has been available for each system placed in service. The Internal Revenue Code has a 5-Year Accelerated Depreciation Schedule for commercial solar systems Tax incentives vary from state-to-state.

What happens if I sell my home before the system has paid itself back?

When you sell your home, you should be able to request a premium price, because it has lower operating costs than a comparable non-solar home. Banks are now beginning to provide larger mortgages on energy-efficient homes because of their lower monthly cost of operation.

Can I sell my power back to a utility?

If “net metering” is available in your state, you can sell excess electricity to your utility. Any excess electricity that has been generated will cause your meter to turn backward, which has a similar impact as if you were to sell your extra power back to the utility company at full retail price. Each month, you only be required to pay the net of the power consumed within the monthly cycle.

What is “net metering”?

Net metering is the term for tracking your net power usage from the utility. When a solar PV system is connected to the electric utility grid, you sell power to the grid when you have a surplus, and you purchase electricity when you need it. When you sell power, your electric meter literally turns backward. Thus, the usage indicated on the meter is the “net” amount. Exact provisions vary with each state, but the effect is to allow you to generate excess power during the day, and use it at night, without needing batteries.

How do I purchase a system?

PV Solar systems should be purchased from qualified companies such as Building Energy. Of critical importance is the training, certification and expertise of the personnel involved. At Building Energy, our consultants have specific experience in PV system design and installation, as well as an understanding of the PV system within the context of all other structural aspects of your building. System design and installation are just the beginning of the process – knowledge of incentives and rebates and the ability to work with your local utility for interconnection to the grid are also key components of a successful installation.

How are PV systems installed?

By law, if connected to the utility grid, PV systems must be installed by appropriately licensed contractors, such as Building Energy, and must meet specific standards and conditions. PV systems require permits, and must meet local code requirements.

Do I need permits and approvals to install a PV system?

If you have a PV system installed, we will make sure you have the proper permits and approvals before work begins on your installation. The most common permit you’ll need for your PV system is an electrical permit. In some neighborhoods and local jurisdictions codes, covenants, and restrictions may impact your installation. Your Building Energy consultant will handle these details for you, but you should also be aware of them.

Does my utility need to know I am installing a PV system?

If you are connecting your system to the utility grid, you must carefully follow the rules established by the utility. Your Building Energy consultant is familiar with specific interconnection requirements.

How long will the installation process take?

There are many steps in the process, beginning with research and education, choosing contractors, getting permits, installation, testing, inspection, and final connection with the utility. The entire process takes several weeks, and may take several months. A typical residential solar system can take anywhere from two to five days to actually install. Commercial systems take several weeks or even month or more in some cases to fully install, which depends on the size of the system and type of installation.

How long will a solar system last?

Solar panels are calculated to have a life span in excess of 25 years. Panels typically include a twenty-five-year power warranty from the given manufacturer. The balance of the system has a five-year warranty on the majority of products. Inverters often include a warranty for up to ten years.

How does this system integrate with a conventional water heater?

The solar system pre-heats the cold water input to the conventional heater. On a sunny day, the solar system will be providing input water at 120-140 degrees so the backup heater will not need to come on at all.

What type is maintenance is required?

Daily operation is completely automatic. The only maintenance necessary is to replace the antifreeze solution (typically done every 8-10 years.) Circulator pumps are usually replaced during this service call as well.

What about cloudy periods?

A solar storage tank included with all of our systems will provide 1 or 2 days of hot water storage. During an extended cloudy period, water will be heated with the conventional backup heater as normal.

What happens when it snows?

Snow will cover the collectors. When the sun comes out again, some solar radiation will pass through the snow cover and start to heat the collector. This will cause the snow to melt and begin to slide off the collector. Mounting the collectors at a steep angle, 45 degrees or more, will enables the snow to slide off sooner after a storm.

Is the system freeze-protected?

Absolutely! All of our solar hot water systems are closed-loop with heat exchangers. This means that an antifreeze solution of non-toxic propylene glycol is circulated through the collectors on the roof. The solar storage tank is filled with potable water. Heat is transferred from the antifreeze collector loop to the storage tank through a copper heat exchanger.

Does it make sense economically?

Solar water heaters are the most cost-effective renewable energy systems available. Your exact return on investment will depend on many factors including your existing fuel source, future energy prices, your hot water load and the solar resource available at your site. That said, a typical system will save several hundred dollars per year on energy bills and most customers will realize a payback period of 8 to 10 years.

What is the life expectancy of a system?

With proper care, these types of systems will last 25 to 30 years.

How much space does a system require?

Most PV systems produce about ten watts of power for each square foot of PV module. This means that you can install a small starter system on as little as 50 square feet of roof space, or as large as 1,000 square feet for a more powerful system. A typical two-kilowatt system will need 200 to 400 square feet of unobstructed area, as well as space that enables you to access your system easily. This access space can add up to 20% to the total space you need for your system. A typical system will take up about 300 sq. ft. (20 x 15) of roof space and approximately a four-foot by four-foot amount of wall space next to your electrical service panel for the inverter, meter and disconnect switches.

Do solar panels need to be mounted on the roof?

Panels are more often than not mounted on the roofs of buildings, but can sometimes also be mounted to the ground. Ground mounts are a great alternative a house is shaded by trees, or if roof space is in limited supply due to dormers or any other obstructions.

Do solar panels need to face to the south?

Facing solar panels to the South is the best approach, but solar panels facing south-east or south-west can still often generate a percentage of possible solar power similar to south facing panels. It’s more effective (and eye-pleasing) to install solar panels on the same plane as the slant of the roof, rather than build a whole new and different mount to angle the panels.

What condition should my roof be in?

Solar PV systems have a 25 year-plus life expectancy. Your roof should be in good condition. As a rule of thumb, we recommend that your roof should be less than eight years old. This will prevent the need to remove the system when the roof needs replacement.

What happens when there’s a snowstorm?

During a snowstorm, snow can accumulate on solar collectors. Once the storm has passed and the sun appears, solar radiation heats the collector, melting the snow from the bottom up. If possible, clearing the snow off the collectors manually will help facilitate this. Panels are usually mounted at an angle, so as the snow melts, it easily slides off the collector.

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