Frequently Asked Questions about Solar Energy
+Q. WHAT IS SOLAR ENERGY?
A. 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!
+Q. HOW DO SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC CELLS WORK?
A. In layperson 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.
+Q. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOLAR PANELS VERSUS BUILDING INTEGRATED PHOTOVOLTAIC PRODUCTS?
A. 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.
+Q. HOW MUCH WILL I REALLY SAVE ON MY UTILITY BILLS FROM A HOME ELECTRIC SOLAR POWER SYSTEM?
A. 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.
+Q. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC AND SOLAR HOT WATER SYSTEMS?
A. 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.
+Q. WHAT ARE SOLAR HOT WATER SYSTEMS?
A. Solar hot water systems, broadly termed solar thermal systems, use the sun’s energy to heat water. Solar hot water systems can be used to heat a hot water tank or to warm a home’s radiant heating system. Swimming pools and hot tubs use a modified solar hot water system for heating water
+Q. HOW MUCH MAINTENANCE DO SOLAR ENERGY PANELS REQUIRE?
A. 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 wipe them off if too much snow or leaves fall on them. It does help to periodically use a window wash brush, biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.
+Q. CAN I USE A FINANCING SYSTEM?
A. 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 you might do. 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 to your home, such as installing a new deck or remodeling a kitchen.
+Q. DO I NEED SPECIAL INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS?
A. 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.
+Q. WILL I NEED A BUILDING PERMIT TO INSTALL A SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM IN MY HOME?
A. Yes. You’ll need to obtain building permits to install a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water system. Similarly, building, electrical, and plumbing 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. Solar professionals will roll the price for permits into their cost estimate.
+Q. WHAT IF I'M THE FIRST PERSON I KNOW TO INSTALL A PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM ON MY HOME?
A. First off, congratulations! Secondly, there are plenty of resources out there. Most solar electric building standards are based on the National Electric Code (NEC) Article 690. If you happen to be one of the first in your area to install a solar PV system, you can work with your contractor and local building officials to successfully install your photovoltaic system. NEC Article 690 spells out the requirements for designing a safe, reliable, and code-compliant system.
+Q. WHEN SHOULD I SEEK A SOLAR PROFESSIONAL?
A. Although solar energy systems work in parallel with conventional residential electrical and plumbing 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.
+Q. WHAT SHOULD I ASK A SOLAR PROFESSIONAL INSTALLER?
A. Solar professional installers can take the guess work out of installing a solar power system. Whether you are considering solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, or solar heat for your pool, a solar pro can help you determine the type and size of system that will work best and guide you through the proces
+Q. WHAT IS A NET METER?
A. 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.
+Q. DO I NEED BATTERY BACKUP FOR MY SOLAR PANELS?
A. 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.
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