Solar Power Q&A
How does solar work?
There are two primary technologies that can harness the sun’s power and turn it into electricity. The first is the one you’re likely most familiar with – photovoltaics, or PV. These are the panels you’ve seen on rooftops or in fields. When the sun shines onto a solar panel, photons from the sunlight are absorbed by the cells in the panel, which creates an electric field across the layers and causes electricity to flow. Learn more about how PV works.
Is my home suitable for solar panels?
Solar panels are built to work in all climates, but in some cases, rooftops may not be suitable for solar systems due to age or tree cover. If there are trees near your home that create excessive shade on your roof, rooftop panels may not be the most ideal option. The size, shape, and slope of your roof are also important factors to consider. Typically, solar panels perform best on south-facing roofs with a slope between 15 and 40 degrees, though other roofs may be suitable too. You should also consider the age of your roof and how long until it will need replacement. If a solar professional determines that your roof is not suitable for solar, you could install a ground-mounted system.
How do I start the process of going solar?
There are a number of mapping services that have been developed by SETO awardees that will help you determine if your roof is suitable for solar and can even provide you with quotes from pre-screened solar providers in your area. In addition to those resources, an internet search can help you find local companies that install solar panels. Because you will likely have many options to choose from, it’s important to thoroughly read reviews of solar companies to make sure you are selecting the best fit for you and your home.
Can I install solar myself?
Right now, the best way to install solar is through a qualified professional who holds a certification to do so and works with high-quality solar panels. The industry-standard certification is awarded through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
How much power can I generate with solar?
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a tool called PVWatts for this purpose. It estimates the energy production and cost of energy of grid-connected PV energy systems for any address in the world. It allows homeowners, small building owners, installers, and manufacturers to easily develop estimates of the performance of potential PV installations, and can even compare solar’s cost to utility bills. These tools are great for getting started, but make sure to work with a solar installer for a custom estimate of how much power your solar energy system is likely to generate.
Will I save money by going solar?
The amount of money you can save with solar depends upon how much electricity you consume, the size of your solar energy system, if you choose to buy or lease your system, and how much power it is able to generate given the direction your roof faces and how much sunlight hits it. Your savings also depend on the electricity rates set by your utility.
In some cities around the country, solar is already cost competitive with the electricity sold by your local utility. The cost of going solar has dropped every year since 2009, a trend researchers expect to continue. Not only are the prices of panels dropping, so are the costs associated with installation, such as permitting and inspection—also known as “soft costs.” All of SETO's funding programs are working toward improving the affordability of solar and making it easier for consumers to choose solar.
It should also be noted that energy efficiency upgrades complement solar energy economically. Ouachita Electric’s HELP PAYS Program provides energy audits to our members at no cost. Upgrades to your home, such as air sealing, duct sealing, insulation, LED lighting and new HVAC units help to reduce the total energy consumption of your home.
Can I get financing for solar?
Yes, through Ouachita Electric’s HELP PAYS Program, members can finance up to 80% of the annual kilowatt hour savings generated by the solar system. Certified solar contractors are also offering low cost financing to our members.
If you prefer to buy your solar energy system, solar loans can lower the up-front costs of the system. In most cases, monthly loan payments are smaller than a typical energy bill, which will help you save money from the start. New homeowners can add solar as part of their mortgage with loans available through the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae, which allow borrowers to include financing for home improvements in the home’s purchase price.
Buying a solar energy system makes you eligible for the Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, which is a 30 percent federal tax credit on your system that is available through December, 2019. In 2020, the Solar Investment Tax Credit will be 26%.
How can I find state incentives and tax breaks that will help me go solar?
DSIRE is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewable energy in the United States. It is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. By entering your zip code, DSIRE provides you with a comprehensive list of financial incentives and regulatory policies that apply to your home. Additionally, an experienced local installer should be able to assist you in claiming any state and local incentives, as well as the ITC.
How will solar impact the resale value of my home?
Buying a solar energy system will likely increase your home’s value. A recent study found that solar panels are viewed as upgrades, just like a renovated kitchen or a finished basement, and home buyers across the country have been willing to pay a premium of about $15,000 for a home with an average-sized solar array. Additionally, there is evidence homes with solar panels sell faster than those without. In 2008, California homes with energy efficient features and PV were found to sell faster than homes that consume more energy. Keep in mind, these studies focused on homeowner-owned solar arrays.
The PV Value® tool is helpful for both home sellers and homebuyers. It calculates the energy production value for a PV system and is compliant with Uniform Standards of Progressional Appraisal Practice and has been endorsed by the Appraisal Institute for the income approach method. Make sure your appraiser uses this tool to get the most accurate estimate of your PV system’s value.
Is solar safe?
Absolutely! All solar panels meet international inspection and testing standards, and a qualified installer will install them to meet local building, fire, and electrical codes. Also, your solar energy system will undergo a thorough inspection from a certified electrician as part of the installation process.
What are the environmental benefits of solar?
Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon and other pollutants that are emitted into the environment. Reducing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere translates into less pollution and cleaner air and water.
Where can I find other resources to learn about going solar?
Making the Case for Solar Toolkit – This report debunks the myths of solar energy and provides the technical, environmental, and financial reasons why it makes sense to go solar.
Residential Consumer Guide to Solar Power – In an effort to make going solar as effortless and streamlined as possible, the Solar Energy Industries Association developed this guide to inform potential solar customers about the financing options available, contracting terms to be aware of, and other useful tips.
A Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs – This guide from the Clean Energy States Alliance helps homeowners navigate the complex landscape of residential solar system financing. It describes three popular residential solar financing choices and explains the advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as how they compare to a direct cash purchase.