What is the difference between high efficiency panels and regular solar panels?
Most Solar panels on the market today are roughly 18 square feet. High efficiency solar panels utilize mono-crystalline solar panels vs. regular solar panels which are poly-crystalline. High efficiency panels tout that they are able to produce more watts per square foot, making a smaller footprint on your roof, same amount of energy, just less space. If you have a small roof and high energy bills, this could be a good fit for you, otherwise it's lipstick on a pig.
What would my lease payment be?
For a standard $0 down 2.9% rate escalator a good starting point is $6 per panel per month. Ex: 20 panel system, $120 per month. 20 panels x $6 = $120 per month. This is assuming a 180 South orientation of your roof. For a $3k down locked in 0% rate escalator, $5 per panel per month is on par, same 20 panel system as above is $100 per month, fixed. There are many variables with regards to payment amount down and the rate escalator you choose, but a good representative will know how to use their lease generation software to find you the best sweet spot.
What are micro-inverters vs. string inverters?
A micro-inverter (power maximizer or DC buck booster) offer module level monitoring to protect against shade and panel mismatch. With a micro-inverter your system goes from DC (Direct Current) to AC (Alternating Current) right at the source and the energy then hooks into your main service panel. A string inverter, works by each panel sending it's power along a string to a main inverter, usually adjacent to the main service panel, where it is then converted over to AC and then into your home. Both systems work and there are merits for both. If you are arguing for the string inverter, you can say there are multiple points of failure with the micro-inverter solution. If you are arguing for the micro-inverter solution you can point to long warranties and if one panel is experiencing shade the remainder are still producing at max capacity. Every home is different, the string inverter is generally the less expensive option and the micro-inverter is an easier installation (plug and play) for contractors. They both work, there are times and places for both, every situation is unique. One piece of advice here is make sure your micro-inverter or string inverter has visibility online so you can see what your system is producing in real time, most vendors offer this service and their lease providers do as well.
What is a competitive cost per watt?
It depends on the market, type of equipment, roof mount, ground mount, electrical service upgraded needed,
So what size solar system do you need?
Let's say on average, you as a homeowner use 1000 kwh's per month. That is 12,000 kwh's per year. 1kw of solar energy (about 4 panels, depending panel wattage) will produce ~1500 kwh's per year. So it becomes a simple math problem: 12000 total kwh's/ 1500 kwh'sproduced per year = 8 or an 8kw system. This will offset 100% of your usage. If you want to get to 80% take your 8 x .8 = 6.4 or a 6.4kw system to offset 80% of your usage.
Why would I want to just offset 80% of my energy needs?
Opportunity cost of capital. If you spend $1 on solar in tier 1, your return is $.16 on the dollar. If you spend $1 on solar tier 2, your return is $.19. But, if you spend that money on solar in Tier 3 and Tier 4, your money works 2x as hard for you, returning you $.33 and $.35 per every $1 spent. Over time, that return on investment increases as prices of higher tiered power escalate (baseline energy, tier 1, is protected by state legislature). So not only is your money working harder for you from day 1, but it also offers a quicker payback period by focusing the energy of your assets on the upper tiers.
I want the Utility Company to pay me, so I want to produce more, can I do that?
Look, we all want the utility company to pay us, you are no different. The reality is the utility will buy back your energy under Net Metering at the same cost of power that they would have sold the power to you. Once you produce 1 more kilowatt hour per year than you consume, the buy back rate is $.05 per kwh, plummeting your ROI (return on investment).
What is Net Metering?
You will receive an energy bill once a month from your utility with a balance for the 20% you consumed (assuming an 80% offset). In March, April, May, June, and July (Primetime Solar Sunshine) you can expect to earn a credit, assuming consumption in the household is similar to previous years that the system was sized on. Keep in mind that just because you went solar, that doesn't give you free reign to leave the lights on and keep the doors open and AC on. It's still kilowatt hours out vs. kilowatt hours in and your system is scientifically designed to produce at your need level. I digress, you will receive an energy bill once a month from your utility, but you do not have to pay it, but you can. The utility will always take your money (no offense to the Utility big whigs and their bonus structure). Your system will receive PTO or Permission to Operate on a certain date, could be 12/15, could be 5/05, it's the date that your system is authorized to turn on. And that will be your marker going forward for when your annual balance is due to your utility, so 1 year after your PTO will be when your first bill is due.
Can I pay a little throughout the year?
Yes, you can pay your monthly balance at the end of each billing cycle, pay directly at the end of the year, or any variation in between.
Will my home need an electrical panel upgrade?
You can backfeed 20% of the rated value of the main breaker. If you have a 100A main panel, you can backfeed 20% or 20A back onto the grid. A 20A breaker will house about a 5kw system (20 panels). This will be suitable for a $175-$225 per month electrical bill. Most homes have a 200A panel and do not require any upgrades. If your home does require an upgrade, the answer falls into 2 buckets. Is the service above ground or below? If it is above ground (aka a power line attaches to the roof of your house) then the cost to upgrade is $1000-$1500 and most solar contractors will roll this into your cost for you. If it happens to be below ground, this can become costly as you can be dealing with trenching, new conduit runs, etc. If your electricity is below ground, your solar contractor will obtain a work order from the utility for what equipment is actually below ground prior to offering you a price. There are too many variables here to put a ball park price.
Can My HOA Prevent me from solar?
They think they can. Some HOA's are in place to prevent your neighbor from parking his RV in front of your house and having the in-laws set up residence for the holidays. Some HOA President's get their jollies by citing for having the wrong color plant pot on your front porch. The reality is you want to play nice with the HOA because you live in the community and learned to play nice with others. But when it gets testy, The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 is your Ace in the Hole:
Most HOA's from my experience just want to see a set of plans, usually presented at an “Architectural Review” at their monthly board meetings. My experience has been the form is a one sheet explaining what the home improvement is, a panel layout on your roofline, and a signature from a couple neighbors gets you a rubber stamp and moving in the right direction.
What Happens if My Lease Company goes under?
Because there is a recurring revenue stream held by lease and PPA companies, there will be a buyer for the notes on your system. For example, Wells Fargo holds the note on my home, if they go under, I don't get my home free and clear. Wells Fargo will sell the portfolio of Mortgage notes like mine (with good credit and in the same price range) to Bank of America or Chase whom I make my payments to will change. The payment, note, and service contract do not. Most of these lease companies are backed by large banks and they are simply service providers for the financial vehicle.
What Size System do I need?
Generally speaking, a well designed system will offset 80% of your energy. The utility offers their lowest cost power in Tiers 1 and 2. The upper tiers are where things really start to go awry. Example:
Tier 1: $.16 (~350 kwh's)
Tier 2: $. 19 (~100 kwh's)
Tier 3: $.33 (~250 kwh's)
Tier 4: $.35 (uncapped)
I rent my home, can I go solar?
No. But you can install Solar Powered lighting on your walkway. However, your landlord can go solar, if they need the tax credit or want to help out the situation on the homefront, but they will need to sign for the solar. You must be on title to sign for solar.
Talk to me about the roof, what needs to be done there?
Generally speaking, if a roof is 10 years old or younger, then it is in good shape. If it is not, no problems, but it is a high recommendation that the company inspect the roof line, roof paper, attic, for any issues that might occur. Many companies give a 5 or 10 year warranty anywhere they penetrate the roof, so they are as cautious as the consumer in not opening themselves up to risk.
What is the best direction for solar?
180 South is the best bet for solar. However, anywhere in the window from the 90 degree azimuth (due east) to 270 (west) will work fine with production deviations from .1%-10% based on roof azimuth.
I have trees, is that a problem?
It can be. Is your house nestled in a Eucalyptus grove that keeps the place so shady grass won't grow? We have a problem. Do you have a couple of palms in your front yard that throw shade in the late winter months in the afternoon on the solar preferred roofline? Not the biggest issue. Solar panels kick on about 8am, peak between 12pm-4pm, then start to drop off in production as the sun sets. The morning solar and the afternoon solar don't produce the same amount of kwh'sas the mid-day sun, so keep that in mind with regards to your trees. If you do have trees, and you don't want to part with them, your solar energy professional is equipped with a Sun Eye, which is a fish eyed lens that takes a panoramic view of the horizon scanning for obstacles that will obstruct the suns path to the panels. So he or she will be able to tell you to the branch, where to keep the trees trimmed to keep the panels at maximum production.
I own a condo with a shared roof, can I go solar?
Technically, Yes. But it's a headache. I would recommend investing your energy in Energy Efficiency Upgrades.
How do I finance the system?
Cash is a great resource. When that resource is scarce or you want to maintain your nest egg, utilize H.E.R.O (see H.E.R.O. tab for more information), talk to your credit union (great solar loans), or think about a lease product.
How much will my home value go up if I go solar?
The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) released a report in December 2013 that solar impacted a homes value by $5,911 for every kilowatt of solar energy installed.
Here's the reality to me. You have 2 houses side by side with comparable features (lot size, square footages, bedrooms, etc). One house is $20k more because it has a 4kw solar system on it. I know I can pick up a 4kw system on the retail market installed after tax credits for just shy of $10k. While some people might value their time and expertise at $10,000 for a couple hours work on BeatMySolarBid.com, I don't at this stage in my life.
However, if you are in an inventory shortage market of your style home, I feel you would fetch a higher dollar value. If there is a surplus on the market of comparable homes, with rising interest rates and a dwindling number of qualified buyers for your homes value, you might be hard pressed to fetch a premium and find yourself using it as a feature or selling point to retain your asking price.
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.
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.
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.
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 so make sure to do your homework ahead of time.
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.
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.
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.