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Solar 101 – A Beginner’s Guide

If you’re looking for a dummy’s guide to solar power, you’ve come to the right place. This guide is to provide an overview for everyone who is considering going solar; it covers everything that you need to know when investing in solar power.

If you are confident about what type of solar power system that you are looking for, and are just looking to get quotes, then click here.

Otherwise, here is what you should know before you get quotes for your solar power system:

What is solar power?

Solar power is the ability to convert energy from the sun into usable electricity. Sunlight is either directly harnessed as thermal energy (heat) or through the use of photovoltaic cells in solar panels and transparent photovoltaic glass.

Solar-electric or photovoltaics (PV) technology converts sunlight directly into electricity. PV can provide electricity for residential and commercial buildings, including power for security lights and air conditioning. It can also produce power for pumping water, electrifying fences, or aerating ponds.

What are solar panels made out of?

Solar Panel Components

Solar Panel Components

What role do these components play?
– The Encapsulation / Back Sheet provides a layer of protection for the solar cells from the environment and provides electrical insulation.
– The Frame is typically made up of aluminum and is necessary to provide structural stability and for mounting the panels.
– The Solar Cells are connected in series via Busbars and Cross-Connectors.

The primary difference across solar panels is the types of solar cells they utilize. A solar panel is broken into two cell types: monocrystalline and polycrystalline.

Monocrystalline solar panels – Are made with silicon wafers cut from a single crystal. Hence the name “monocrystalline.” For the most part, monocrystalline panels are capable of a higher efficiency compared to polycrystalline panels because they typically use a higher grade of silicon.

Polycrystalline solar panels – Like Monocrystalline Solar Panels, Polycrystalline solar panel are also made from silicon. The primary difference is that Polycrystalline solar cells are made by melting together many fragments of silicon rather than from a single silicon crystal. While polycrystalline solar panels are typically less efficient than their monocrystalline counterparts, they often have a lower price point.

It doesn’t matter if you get a monocrystalline or a polycrystalline solar panel. The most important element is to ensure that you will maximize your savings and have a low cost of maintenance. That is why it is important to buy a brand that stands by a performance guarantee that lasts at least 25 years.

How much do Solar Panels and Installation cost?

The cost of a solar panel installation varies by location, property type, roof material, and, of course, the panels used for the installation. Premium solar panel products with high efficiencies and advantageous warranties usually cost more money upfront but can offer higher potential long-term savings. The easiest way to calculate the cost is to look at the price per watt, which is consistent across the U.S. right now. Most homeowners are paying between $2.90 and $3.90 per watt.

– Labor: $0.30 per watt
– Solar Panels: $0.47/Wdc
– Inverter price: $0.12/Wdc – $0.39/Wdc
– Permit/Inspection: $0.06/Wdc
– Structural BOS: $0.10/Wdc
– Electrical BOS: $0.19–$0.27/Wdc (Differ by inverter option)
– Sales tax varies by location; weighted national average: 6.9%
– Electrician: $19.74–$38.96 per hour (Differ by location and inverter option)
– Laborer: $12.88–$25.57 per hour (Differ by location and inverter option)
– Burden rates (% of direct labor) Total nationwide average: 31.8%

Source: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf

Solar Pro Tip: Cheap solar costs more in the long run, from repairs and lost output. Avoid it. It breaks my heart to see cheap solar panels go to landfill after a few years.

How Long do Solar Panels Last?

Solar panels can last anywhere between 25 up to 30 years or even more. Though, this doesn’t imply that the solar panels on your rooftop will stop generating electricity after a couple of decades. It just indicates that the energy production of the panels will decrease by what their manufacturers consider optimal to meet the average American family’s energy needs.

Do Solar Panels works on Cloudy and Rainy days?

Solar panels work perfectly fine during cloudy or rainy days. Though they are most efficient during sunny days because of the direct sunlight that comes from the sun, solar panels can still generate power during rainy or cloudy days since the solar cells on the solar panels are powered by light and not by heat. High heat can even cause your solar energy system to work less efficiently. Thanks to today’s technology, they undergo rigorous testing to ensure that they run efficiently and effectively.

For a solar panel to be UL certified, they go through rigorous reliability tests including:

Damp Heat Tests – Induces stress from high humidity at high temperatures.
Tests for: Corrosion, Discoloration, and Connector Issues
Solar Panel Simulation: Constant temperature of 185* F, a constant relative humidity of 85%

Thermal Cycling – Induces stress with high and low temperatures
Tests for: Cell Cracks, Mechanical Instability
Solar Panel Simulation: 200 cycles of high heat to low from 185F to -40F

Humidity Freeze – Combines Thermal Cycling with High Humidity
Tests for: Cell Cracks, Mechanical Instability, Delamination
Solar Panel Simulation: High heat to low from 185F to -40F with 85% relativity humidity at 185*F.

These reliability tests help determine if your solar panels can survive in their respective applications. For Solar PV Systems in California, the thermal cycling test, in particular, provides great peace of mind that your panels will continue to contribute energy without failure. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your solar panels are UL certified.

What are the advantages of using solar power?

There is a reason why solar energy has become a trending topic when talking about renewable energy. Solar energy is a renewable form of energy and thus is sustainable energy, and it has now proved to be extremely beneficial – not only for the environment but also financially.

Here are just a few reasons why you might choose solar over another source of power:

Renewable Energy: Sunlight is an endless source of energy. The sun’s rays can be stored for energy over and over again without depleting the source.
Lower Electric Bills: Solar power costs just a portion of what you pay the utility company each month. An accurately sized system can cut your electric bill up to $0.

Electrical Vehicle Revolution: EV’s represent approximate 19% of annual US automobile sales as of August 2019, according to Bloomberg. All major automakers have also announced EV expansion in 2020 and beyond.

Remote Power: Living in a remote location may be too expensive or impossible to run power lines into your home. Solar power systems generate energy when you can’t take into the power line.

Improve Property Value: Homes equipped with solar systems sell for 3.74% more than homes without solar. Homes with solar energy sells for more on average of $14,329.

What is Solar Net Metering?

Net metering, or also known as net energy metering (NEM) is a billing structure that allows a homeowner to “store” energy in the electric grid. When your solar panels generate more electricity than what you need, that energy will be sent to the electrical grid in exchange for a credit against future consumption. For instance, if a residential customer has a solar PV system on their roof, they may generate more electricity than the what the home consumes during the time their system produces the most significant amount of electricity, day time hours.

If the home is on a net metering billing plan, the electricity meter will run “backwards” to provide a credit against the electricity that is consumed at night or other periods when the home’s electricity use exceeds the solar PV system’s output. A customer on NEM will only be billed for their “net” energy use, and their electrical consumption is calculated on an annual basis versus monthly. On average, only 20-40% of a solar energy system’s output ever goes into the grid, and this exported solar electricity serves nearby customers’ loads.

Even if you’re not home and not using the electricity that your solar panel produces, you do not need to worry about it going into waste. Net metering sells the electricity you are not using into the grid for credit and enables you to generate electricity efficiently. Most of the solar customers produce more electricity than using it; net metering allows them to export that energy to the grid and lessen their future electric bills.

Your utility provider will read your meter once a month, record the “net” amount of energy either consumed or generated over the entire month.

For individuals on a Net Energy Metering billing plan, a bill will arrive once a month and will include your net energy usage charges for the entire year. This annual billing period is called your “relevant period” and is a critical timeframe to remember. During your relevant period, your net energy usage charges or credits are tracked monthly. At the end of your relevant period, the energy usage charges from each month are added together, and any net energy usage credits are applied to the account. The balance is used to determine the total amount owed, and listed on your annual energy bill.

The NEM billing schedule allows customers to receive a credit for the excess electricity they generated. This excess electricity credit is then applied to a customers’ bills to offset all or part of the costs associated with the energy they consume. Under this billing option, customers are charged once a year for the “net” energy consumed over the previous 12 months, if any. Customers are also billed monthly for nominal costs associated with account administrative fees.

WE ENCOURAGE OUR CUSTOMERS TO PAY THE NET CHARGES MONTHLY

What are the parts of a solar energy system?

There are other essential parts to a solar system apart from the panels themselves.

To produce your own power, and gain independence from your utility company, you need a complete solar power system. The essential components:

– Solar panels, to capture energy from the sun
– An inverter, to convert that energy to a form that can power our devices
– Racking, the foundation on which you attach your system

You also need a way to store the energy produced by the panels. If you have access to power lines, this doesn’t require additional equipment. It can be fed into the utility grid and used later.

Batteries, to store the energy you produce

Charge controller, to control the rate at which batteries charge from solar

solar-modulesolar-panel-system-components

Is it complicated to turn my Solar PV System On-or-Off

Managing your Solar PV system is relatively simple, and with a few simple steps, you can easily turn on your Solar PV System or turn it off.

Turning your PV System On
1. Locate your Main Meter Panel
2. Open the Main Meter Panel door and identify the breaker labeled “Solar.”
3. Switch the Solar breaker to the “On” position
4. Locate the A/C Disconnect Panel
5. Move the A/C Disconnect lever to the upward/on position

Turning your PV System Off
1. Perform the steps above in reverse order

Is Maintaining my Solar PV System Difficult?

A solar PV system typically requires very little maintenance and are incredibly durable. If possible, we do recommend getting your panels cleaned once or twice a year. Using your garden hose should be enough to rinse your panels. If you’d like to do a deeper clean, we recommend using a 1-part vinegar, 2-parts water solution every six months to reduce mineral deposits and keep your panels operating at maximum efficiency.

We recommend that any rinsing be done in the early morning while the panels are still cool.

Federal Tax Credit

Solar Pro Tip: If you decide to own your solar system, you are eligible for an income tax credit. For individuals who are on a PPA or lease, they do not qualify for the tax credit since they do not own the system itself. A PPA provides immediate cost savings compared to your current electricity costs, and in a way already bakes in the Federal Tax Credit.

Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credits

Consumers who install solar PV systems can receive a 30% federal tax credit for the total cost of the system when placed in service between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2019. This tax credit is reduced to reducing to 26% for any solar energy system placed in service in 2020.

To receive this tax credit, you will need to file form 5695 available at:
https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f5695.pdf

Please consult your tax professional for proper tax filing.

Property Tax & Homeowner’s Insurance Impact

As a homeowner who is considering solar, I’m sure that you’ve been wondering what additional expenses having a solar PV system could add to your taxes or homeowner’s insurance.

Property Tax Information

Section 73 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code allows a property tax exclusion for solar PV energy systems installed between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2019.

THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED TO CONSTITUTE LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE. MORE COMPREHENSIVE INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE FROM THE IRS. INDIVIDUALS SHOULD ALWAYS CONSULT THEIR INDEPENDENT TAX ADVISERS.

Homeowner’s Insurance Information


Every homeowner’s insurance company handles their homeowner’s insurance policies differently. We typically find that installing a solar PV system on your home does not increase your homeowner’s insurance. But we recommend checking with your insurance agent to ensure that your solar PV system is appropriately covered or if there are any additional costs.