Know Before You Buy

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Going solar is a process, and there are some things you should be aware of before you sign a solar contract.

1. Energy Efficiency Comes First

Before considering a solar system, energy efficiency improvements in your home should be considered. Lowering your energy use will assist in lowering the cost of your solar system because a smaller system may be installed. Not to mention, energy efficiency is usually a faster return on your investment! 

2. Solar Will Not Eliminate Your Electric Bill

Unless you move 100% off the electrical grid with absolutely no connections to your electric utility, you will continue to have electric bills. After you install solar, the utility will continue to standby and supply power when your system is not producing. Even when your solar system is sized to offset 100% of your energy load there will be months where you purchase energy from the utility and months when you over produce and export back. This is because the solar system produces different amounts of energy each month depending on the sun's angle and the amount of available sunshine. Try our solar calculator to investigate monthly energy use and solar energy production. 

3. When the Power Goes Out, the PV System Stops Working

The solar system typically does stop working when the power goes out. Solar electric systems sold for use in California are designed with a power inverter which automatically disconnects from service if the inverter senses a loss of power from the electric utility. The inverter only re-connects the system once utility power has been re-established.

4. Solar Myths, Solar Truths, Solar Misconceptions

What’s the truth about solar? Since the public’s first real awareness of electric solar panels in the 1950s, a lot has been written about what solar will do – and what it won’t do. Here are some common questions with some straight forward answers.

Solar means that I will never again pay an electric bill. Incorrect
Unless you move 100% off the electrical grid with no interconnection to your electric utility, you will continue to have electric bills. The utility will continue to standby and supply power when your system is not producing. And even if your system is sized to offset 100% of your energy load there will be months where you purchase energy from the utility and months when you over produce and export back. 

Solar is experimental and not reliable. Incorrect
Solar electric panels and systems have been in use since 1954. This technology is well proven and very reliable. In California, all systems must come with a full 10 year warranty; some solar module manufacturers offer 20 year performance guarantees.    

Solar is too expensive. Depends
Expense is relative to what you now pay for your electric power and what you will pay in the future. If your electric utility is a low cost provider, solar may not be less expensive than your present bill. Depending on the “ownership” model you select (lease or purchase) and your utility’s ability to keep future costs low, solar may or may not be a good hedge against future electric cost increases.

Be prepared before you decide. Investigate your utility’s past electric rate history. Ask them if future electric costs will go up. And find out if electric rate structures (how your electric bill charges are organized) will remain the same or possibly change in the future. Answers to all of these questions may impact your decision. In the end, it remains that you’re in the driver’s seat to make the best decision for yourself. 

Solar requires a great deal of space to install. Incorrect
Solar has become much more efficient in producing electricity. This means that it takes much less space than in the past.

Solar energy production isn’t greatly affected by a little shading. Maybe
Shading of solar panels affects solar electric production. There are systems that use “micro-inverters” where impacts can be decreased, but the inescapable truth remains the same. Shading of solar panels affects solar electric production.   

Solar can supply all of my electric energy needs.  Incorrect
At some point, you will need utility power. A solar system creates energy only when the sun is shining.  If you want solar to provide ALL of your power you will need to install batteries with the solar. Batteries can be charged during the day by the solar and then discharge energy at night to provide your power.  Solar systems only produce power about 19% of the 8,760 hours of the year. Batteries are not yet commonplace with solar interconnections in California, but interest in this technology is growing. Use of batteries would disqualify the system from a simplified rapid interconnection application track and take longer to receive interconnection approval.    

Solar will act as a backup power supply if I lose power from my electric utility (allow the system to “island” from the utility). Incorrect
Generally, solar electric systems sold for use in California are designed with a power inverter which disconnects from service if the inverter senses a loss of power from the electric utility. The inverter only re-connects the system once utility power has been re-established. GWP does not allow system to island when utility power is lost.

Solar only works where it is always sunny and warm.  Incorrect
It is true that solar panels perform best where there is clear and unobstructed sunlight.  But, solar panels are powered by UV light from the sun. This means that solar panels will even produce some power in cloudy places. Be sure to “model” your proposed system based upon your actual location, the angle of installation and shading. The contractor will do this as part of your solar project installation. Or, you can check it out for yourself at CSI EPBB.

Solar requires a lot of maintenance. Incorrect
Solar requires very little maintenance. Routine cleaning of the panels in dusty or dirty environments is recommended, along with annual wiring connection and inverter inspections. Talk to your contractor to make sure you follow their maintenance recommendations. 

Solar requires an ideal sun exposure.  Incorrect
Solar produces energy when the sun is shining. A south facing roof with full sun exposure will provide an ideal location. Deviations from the ideal position and full sun exposure will impact the solar system energy production. Sometimes there is a minimal reduction; sometimes it is great – depending on the installation. 

As an example, the same system characteristics evaluated in four different orientations, with full sunlight, result in different amounts of energy being generated. 

  • The south orientation provided the highest amount of energy production

  • The east and west orientations were very similar results with a 15% reduction in energy production

  • The north orientation resulted in more than a 30% reduction in energy production as compared to the south facing array   

Your house or building location is unique; the roof design, shade from trees or other obstacles, and aesthetic preferences may dictate which orientation(s) are selected for your solar system. When considering the size of the solar system start with the orientations that provide the most energy production, they will be the best “bang for your buck.”

Ask the contractor to share the CSI EPBB report with you for each orientation to understand the affect placement and orientation of your solar system has on your system's energy generation.