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Solar Power FAQ’s

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Know Your Rights: California Solar Rights Act

On January 1, 2005, the latest amendment to the California Solar Rights Act became effective, prohibiting local governments from creating barriers to solar energy installations or using aesthetic considerations or unreasonable health and safety issues to prevent solar power system installations.

Use the following links to get the complete text of the latest amendments:

California Civil Code § 714: Prohibits local governments from creating unreasonable barriers for solar energy installations. Additionally, any reasonable restrictions cannot cost more than $2,000 and cannot reduce the efficiency of the solar energy system.

California Health & Safety Code § 17959.1: Prevents cities and counties from denying solar energy system installation permits unless there is substantial recorded evidence that it would have a specific, adverse impact on public health and safety.

California Government Code § 65850.5: Cities or counties shall approve solar energy installation applications or require a use permit if they believe there could be a specific, adverse impact upon public health and safety.

Solar Resources

  • For a complete and up-to-date list of state and local programs, please go to DSIRE, the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy

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What is solar energy?

Solar energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate heat or electricity. It is an infinitely renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner. Can’t beat the sun for being oh-so-cool!

How do solar photovoltaic cells work?

In layman terms, photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon. Added to the silicon are the elements phosphorous and boron which create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons move across the cell when activated by the sunlight’s energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.

What is the difference between solar panels versus building integrated photovoltaic products?

Solar panels are flat panels of photovoltaic arrays mounted on a roof or a pole to capture the sun’s rays. Building integrated photovoltaic materials are PV arrays that are integrated into the building material itself, primarily windows, roof tiles, or walls. Solar panels work well for retrofits or remodels while BIPV are appropriate for new construction or a major renovation.

How much does a solar electric power system cost?

A 2kW solar electric system will cost approximately $11,000. That total includes the cost for all components – solar panels, panel mounts, and inverter – and labor associated with installation. It does not however, reflect all the avoided costs, such as the tax breaks and the credits received through net metering. With rebates that’s up to 35 % OFF!

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How much will I really save on my utility bills from a home electric solar power system?

Of course this is a relative question. It depends, in part, on how much electricity you use and how efficient the appliances are that you operate. That said expect to generate excess electricity in the summer (when days are long) which can potentially offset the energy you use from the grid in the winter. A combination of energy efficient appliances and light bulbs can help reduce your homes energy bill by over two-thirds.

What’s the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems?

While both types of solar systems capture energy from the sun, solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic panels to produce electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water for domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.

How much maintenance do solar energy panels require?

Solar photovoltaic panels require little maintenance – no need to wash or dust. It is, however, important to place panels where they will remain clear of shade and debris. Thus you will have to wash them off if too much snow or leaves fall on them.

Solar hot water collection arrays don’t need much attention either. It does help to periodically use a window wash brush, biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.

Can I finance a system?

Yes. Consider using a home equity loan for the purchase and installation costs of a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water system to take full advantage of federal tax deductions. Solar energy systems are viewed as a major home energy savings upgrade and there are financial tools out there that reward you for your efforts. Remember, installing a solar energy system is comparable to any other upgrade you might do to your home, such as installing a new deck or remodeling a kitchen, except solar saves you MONEY!!

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Do I need special insurance requirements?

Standard homeowner’s insurance policies usually suffice to meet electric utility requirements. Electric utilities usually require that homeowners who take advantage of net metering sign an interconnection agreement.

Will I need a building permit to install a solar energy system in my home?

Yes. We will need to obtain building permits to install your solar photovoltaic system. Similarly, building and electrical codes also apply. That said, residential solar power systems do not use “radical” building techniques and most jurisdictions have building codes that fully embrace solar energy technology.

When should I seek a solar professional?

Although solar energy systems work in parallel with conventional residential electrical systems, there are quirks in the process well suited to seeking out professionals who specialize in solar power installation. Solar installation professionals can help you determine the type and size of system most suited for your needs.

Click here for a FREE Consultation.

What should I ask a solar professional installer?

Solar professional installers can take the guess work out of installing a solar power system. Seeking information from an experienced professional can provide constructive advice, set realistic expectations, and can help you fine-tune the design that will work best for your application.

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How can I calculate the cost and payback time from a solar power installation?

You can estimate how much a solar electric system may cost if you determine your current energy costs and compare it against your future anticipated use. Once you have a sense of how much energy you use, you can evaluate the cost of purchasing and installing a solar system.

Luckily in today’s market you can take advantage of multiple federal, state, and local tax credits, rebates and other financial incentives that create attractive and competitive prices for solar systems.

How long will it take to install a solar power system in my home?

Planning, configuring, and doing any custom ordering for your solar energy system can take up to a few weeks. However, the installation process itself can typically be completed in only a few days time, in many cases even less.

What components do I need to install a grid-tied solar electric system?

You will need a photovoltaic array to capture the sun’s energy, an inverter to convert the direct current (DC) produced from the photovoltaic cells into alternating current (AC) used by your home, and a house utility meter – called a net meter – that can record both the electricity produced from your home’s power system as well as any power you may use off the grid. These three system components are then connected through a series of wiring. The photovoltaic panels are secured to your roof with panel mounts or are installed on poles that can be adjusted for sun angle.

What is a net meter?

Net meters look very much like other outdoor meters with one notable exception – they spin both forwards and backwards recording both the power produced and power used.

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Do I need battery backup for my solar panels?

Probably not – a backup battery bank can add as much as 25% in cost to a residential solar PV system. It’s not necessarily more efficient either – a same sized solar array will yield about 7–10% less energy if it’s battery-tied than its grid-tied counterpart.

Though you will remain tethered to your local utilities’ grid, you will not have to worry about not generating enough power. You also gain the advantage of offsetting rising utility costs. Most solar photovoltaic experts do not recommend adding a backup battery system unless there is concern about a long utility outage or the residence is in a remote location.

How much space do I need for a solar photovoltaic system?

In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will yield 10 watts of power. That’s a helpful rule of thumb for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you might need. For example, a 1000 watt system may need 100  square feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used.

How many solar panels do I need for an electric solar power system?

The size of the photovoltaic system is correlated to your home’s energy-use needs, available space for a system, and overall costs for the system components and installation. Smart Solar Power can help determine the best size for your solar photovoltaic system.

How much shading is too much for solar photovoltaic panels?

Unfortunately shading a photovoltaic system dramatically decreases its output. Just shading the bottom row of wafers alone amounts to an 80% reduction in efficiency. So above all, don’t shade your array!

How do I know if solar panels will work on my home?

Take a look at the position of your home on its lot – and particularly your roof. Ask the following questions:

  • Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the effectiveness of energy collection. East and west roofs are also good locations
  • Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on them?Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness.
  • What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate photovoltaic panels.

Do I need to have south facing exposure to have a solar energy system?

Although southern exposure increases the effectiveness of a residential solar power system, your home may still work for solar power without having south facing exposure. Seek advice from our professional design consultant to ensure success.

What other factors are important to consider when installing a home solar energy system?

The location of your home and the local climate will play into where you place and how you install your solar electric or solar hot water system. Wind speeds, heavy snow loads, and salt water can all affect a solar array. Understanding how those inputs effect performance will determine the types of mounts or how the arrays are angled. We are quite knowledgeable about your local conditions and can help you design a system that works well for you.

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