Solar Energy FAQs - Most Frequently Asked Solar Questions
Got questions about solar energy? We have the answers to all your solar panel questions here!
Here are answers to commonly asked questions about solar power from homeowners considering putting solar on their roofs. If you have other questions I didn’t cover, feel free to ask them, and I'll add them to the list.
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Basic Solar Questions
• How Much Does It Cost To Install Solar Panels?
The average cost to install solar panels in the United States is around $12,000 after federal tax incentives. It can be more expensive depending on whether you're fixing up your current house and putting them on the roof or building an all-new home with them included in the specs - but it can also be cheaper. Smaller systems range from about $5,000 to $10,000, while others can cost upwards of $40,000 or more if they are tier 1 solutions.
Although this is the number one question, it's a bit difficult to answer. It's a little like asking, “How much does a house cost”?
Many things go into the cost of putting a solar system on your house. The state you live in, how much you pay monthly for electricity, how your roof faces, how much sunlight you get each day, and many other considerations.
Because there are so many variables is probably the biggest reason why online solar calculators don't help you figure out how much you will pay for a solar system. Every time you add another factor into the equation, the answer becomes much less dependable.
So while online calculators can help give you a “ballpark idea” of the price of your solar panel system, it's always a good practice to get a professional to come to your home and look over the situation. Then you can get an accurate quote.
• How Many Years Do Solar Panels Last?
Many homeowners are nervous about using such new technology as solar. Solar technology was introduced by the government way back in the 1950s. Since then, governments, universities, and large companies have been improving solar technology.
The average life expectancy of panels is anywhere from 20 to 40 years or even longer. Most installers will ensure that the system will be producing power for at least 25 years years, although at a diminished output in later years. Many vendors offer a warranty on both installation and the panels. It is not unusual to find a warranty and peace of mind support for 25 years.
Solar panels are also tough - probably longer lasting than your roof. As a result, they are a favorite to be used in remote areas where the conditions are very severe. Residential solar panels have been rigorously tested both in labs and in real-life environments over the years.
These panels have can withstand snow, hail, high winds, and of course, hot weather. It may surprise you that many panels installed in the 1970s are still in service generating electricity. Today's panels are the descendants of the panels installed half a century ago and enjoy decades of technological development.
• Is It Possible To Get An Approximate Solar Price Online?
You can find places online that will give you a ballpark figure after answering a few simple questions. But in reality, these prices are notoriously undependable. Therefore, a solar engineer should perform a site survey to take measurements and perform tests to arrive at a dependable cost.
These observations include your roof’s physical placement and orientation, the number of daily sun hours, your roof’s condition and material makeup, and many other factors. Then with the help of sophisticated software and years of experience, they combine these many factors to recommend the best panels and other equipment to meet your budgetary and electrical needs.
A solar panel installation proposal is complex and needs an expert’s opinion. I usually tell people that they should talk to 2 or 3 solar companies to make sure that they understand all of their options. Any quality solar company would be happy to come to your house, do a site survey, and give you a quote for a solar panel system.
You can start that process right now by entering your ZIP code in the form below. Then, we can match you up with two or three quality solar installers close to you.
• Where Can I Get The Best Solar Panels For My Location?
Many of our readers find it surprising that quality solar panels are readily available right in their own backyards. However, because these companies are known locally, the solar companies' experts are familiar with the panels that produce most efficiently in the local environment.
In addition, these solar professionals are usually knowledgeable about local, state, and federal rebates, incentives, and tax breaks. This inside information about the local solar industry and specifically the solar panels and equipment makes a relationship with a local solar company so valuable.
• How Do I Know If My Roof Is Good For Solar?
Approximately two-thirds of existing roofs are a good fit for solar panels. If the roof on your house is not suitable, several workarounds might be appropriate for your situation. Even if your roof is not ideal for solar panels, you might be able to install the solar array using a ground mount on an open piece of land.
To decide if a roof is suitable for solar panels, you need to consider four main factors: roof orientation, (facing south is best), amount of shading, roof material, and the condition of your roof.
ROOF ORIENTATION: For the best performance of your solar panels, your roof should be facing south, east, or west. A north-facing roof probably will not give you enough direct sun exposure to allow a solar array to pay for itself.
AMOUNT OF SHADING: For solar panels to work correctly, they need direct sunlight. Panels can still produce electricity with partial sunlight, but they won't be as productive.
ROOFING MATERIALS: Solar panels must be mounted some inches away from the surface of your roof. Panels need to have ventilation surrounding them at all times. Different types of roofing materials are better for fastening the mounting brackets that hold the solar panels. A roof made of tile or other similar material might present a problem because of the difficulty attaching the brackets.
CONDITION OF YOUR ROOF: Once you get your panels installed, removing them to repair or replace a roof would be costly. If your roof needs to be repaired or replaced, it's probably a good idea to do it before installing solar panels. If your home is less than 25 years old and your roof is in good condition, that probably won't be a problem.
A solar panel array usually needs between 300 and 500 square feet of space on your roof facing south, east, or west. Multifaceted roofs and those with various angles will probably require a custom design. But solar technology is sufficiently advanced; using microinverters during the installation, multifaceted roofs should not pose a significant problem. A high-quality solar company should be able to assist you with complex installations.
• Do Solar Panels Ruin Your Roof?
Solar panels don't damage or ruin your roof when installed correctly. Skilled solar panel installers know how to safely and securely install the panels on a sound, sturdy roof. Unlike faulty or incomplete installations, solar panels installed correctly can improve the integrity of your roof, which is important because roofs function as crucial components of our homes' overall health.
The only part of the solar system that touches the roof is the mounting brackets. Not only has technology advanced for solar panels but also in the area of the mounting bracket equipment. Installing a solar system presents similar challenges as installing skylights. One question you should ask your solar installer is how they waterproof any roof penetrations.
• Should I Replace Roof Before Getting Solar Panels?
If your roof is older than ten years or needs repairs or replacement, we recommend replacing your roof before installing solar panels.
Shingle roofs typically need to be replaced every 25 years or so, which means there's a good chance you'd have to remove the solar panels and reinstall them during the life of the solar array. This replacement activity can significantly raise the price of your overall investment due to the extra permits and labor required. So instead, it'll be much wiser to spend money on new roof installation before solar panel installation. This is especially significant when considering that asphalt shingles cost about half the price per square foot than solar panels do.
So, if your roof needs repairs or replacement, it's best to do that before installing solar panels. The only part of a solar system that will touch your roof is the mounting brackets and electrical wires. It is expensive to remove the solar array, fix the roof, and then replace the solar array.
• How Will Solar Panels Change The Look Of My Roof?
Most people think that solar panels look attractive, especially as solar systems become more common. Large solar arrays typically cause passersby to take a second look at them in admiration. Installed correctly, a solar array is neat, orderly and adds an attractive covering to your roof.
Also, it is becoming much more common to see solar arrays on roofs. Because the color of the panels is dark blue, it usually blends in well with the roof. There are also black solar panels if you prefer that color.
People in the trade generally consider solar panels tougher than roofing shingles. So, in effect, a solar array will add protection to your roof.
Costs, Deals, Incentives Questions
• I Heard Solar Was Expensive. How Expensive Are Solar Panels?
Panels that cost a lot are yesterday's news. The cost of solar panels has dropped between 75% and 80% in the last seven years. This price drop is the primary reason that solar has become so popular. Solar panels usually pay for themselves in the savings in your electric bill in about seven years.
The largest positive about solar panels is that you will lock in your cost of electricity for the next 25 years. Up until recently, the biggest hurdle for going solar was the cost of the panels.
• Will Solar Panel Prices Be Cheaper In The Future?
The decline in prices of solar panels has largely leveled out. The lower prices we are seeing now are due to efficiency in manufacturing and delivery. And prices certainly aren't declining as fast as nationwide electricity rates are increasing. Investing in solar panels today will allow you to start saving on electricity immediately. Also, acting soon will ensure you don't lose out on federal and state tax credits. These credits far exceed any possible decline in the cost of panels.
When you have the government rebate of 26% of the cost of your solar system - including installation, mounting brackets, and batteries, it makes the purchase much more affordable.
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• How Does Solar Save You Money?
The principal way people save money by going solar is that it reduces or replaces the higher cost of electricity from the utility with a newer, cleaner, more stable, and less expensive source of electricity. The electricity cost from the central utility has increased significantly over the last decade. It could be two to three times the rate it is right now in another ten years or so.
When you put solar on your home, you will be locking in a lower cost of electricity for the next 25 years. For instance, if a solar system that provides all of your electricity costs $15,000, that is all you will pay for your electricity for the next 25 years. In addition, solar panels often create more electricity than you consume; you might be able to sell that electricity back to the utility company through a program called "net metering" (depending on your location).
With the net metering program, a smart meter on the side of your house will keep track of the extra electricity you produce and send it back to the utility. Then, at nighttime or low light days, when your panels cannot produce enough electricity for your home, you will be able to withdraw the electricity you previously sent to the utility. Net metering policies are different depending on where you live.
• Do Solar Panels Really Increase Home Value?
Yes, solar does increase the property value of your home. Nationwide, the resale value of your home increases by up to $6,000 for each kilowatt of solar panels installed. In the average-priced home, that is about 4% of the market value. For a median-priced home, that's an increase in value of $9344.
House Value is an outstanding question and asked by most homeowners that decide to install solar. I’ll answer it in two parts:
First of all, you must have your system installed by an established, reputable solar company to know that you have a well-done solar system on your roof. When installed correctly, solar arrays will not cause any damage to your house. It’s easier and less expensive to do it right in the first place rather than repairs and adjustments later on.
Secondly, numerous “home value” studies have compared tens of thousands of homes with and without solar. The consistent conclusion from these studies tells us that solar panels add significant value to a home. Frequently, this added value exceeds the cost of the solar system and installation.
So, the definite answer is yes, solar does increase the property value of your home. But we learned something pretty surprising. These same studies discovered that homes with solar sell in a much shorter time.
• When Does The Federal Solar Tax Credit Expire?
The investment tax credit is a government program created to incentivize homeowners to install solar panels on their homes. With this credit, you can deduct a certain percentage of the cost of a solar system from your federal taxes. For years, the ITC (Investment Tax Credit) was at 30%. However, in 2020, the rate dropped to 26% - which it is today. Initially, the Feds planned to reduce the ITC to 22% at the beginning of 2021. However, they ended up extending the rate of 26% through the end of 2022.
As it stands now, the ITC rate will drop to 22% next year and disappear the following year.
Use our Solar Panels System Size Calculator to see how many solar panels you need.
• Is It A Good Idea To Lease Solar Panels?
When you lease a solar system, the leasing company or installer maintains ownership after it is on your roof. You will be able to enjoy the reduced cost of electricity but not the other financial benefits.
The most common, a solar loan, is just what it sounds like, a personal loan that you use to pay for your solar system. In the case of a personal loan, you become the owner of the solar system. But some people aren't able or willing to take out a loan.
The second approach is to use a solar lease. With the solar lease, the solar company or the leasing company maintains ownership of the solar system. In this situation, you will still enjoy the low cost of electricity, but you will not be able to use the 26% tax credit (unless the leasing company factors this into your price) or the other financial benefits of owning a solar system (increase property value, shorter “on the market” time when selling).
Leases are a good way to finance a solar system if you are unable or unwilling to take out a loan.
• What Type Of Incentives Are Available For Solar?
Homeowners can take advantage of three different types of incentives: Federal, State, and Local:
FEDERAL: Currently, the federal investment tax credit pays 26% of the cost of your solar system. This credit can be applied to 26% of all system costs (batteries, solar panels, racking, and any installation fees) can be deducted from any federal taxes you owe now or will owe in the future. The ITC is the most significant incentive available to homeowners.
STATE: State incentives vary from state to state and come in many different forms. Buying a system without paying sales tax is the most common. Additionally, there is usually no property tax on the increase in property value that a solar system brings to your home. There are various other state incentives to help people go solar. Any high-quality solar company will be able to tell you what is available in your region.
LOCAL: Across the United States, cities, counties, and even some utilities offer solar incentives. These incentives vary wildly from region to region. This mix of incentives is another good reason to ask your local installer towho would be familiar with the local incentives.
• What Is The Best Way To Finance Solar?
The most common form of financing is a personal solar loan. This is usually a loan with a low-interest rate, and it will allow you to take ownership. Ownership allows you to enjoy other financial benefits such as increased home value and government incentives. These types of loans allow most homeowners to pay for the loan in the savings they see in their monthly electric bills. In addition, there are financing companies that specifically deal with solar. These companies are familiar with the ins and outs of financing solar.
Most established solar installers have a relationship with one or more of these financing companies. When you finance the purchase of the solar system, you get to enjoy all of the financial benefits because you are the new owner of that system.
If the idea of saving 15 to 30% off of your electricity cost for the foreseeable future, but you don't want to or are not able to secure a solar loan, you should consider a solar lease. This situation might also be the case if you do not anticipate having sufficient tax liability to take advantage of the ITC.
Once again, you would probably want to talk to a reputable solar installer. These companies deal with financing solar arrays daily and can walk you through the whole process.
• How Do I Know If My Home Qualifies For A Solar Lease?
To qualify for a lease program, you will have at least four requirements. In addition, you might encounter some other conditions from your power utility, and the solar installer can help you with those. I should say, solar leases are not available in all states. You can check with your local solar company to see if your state does allow them. Usually, the minimum requirements for a solar lease are:
• You need to have an average electricity bill of at least $100
• You need to be the owner of your home or demonstrate that you will live there 2+ years
• Your credit rating must be good to excellent. They usually look for a credit rating of at least 650.
Remember, with a lease, the leasing company or solar installer maintains ownership of the solar panels.
• Is It True That I Can Really Go Solar With No Money Down?
In most states that allow solar leases, you probably will be
able to get a solar lease with no money down. Also, if you intend to finance
through a solar loan, most solar companies offer a solar loan package with no
money down and no upfront costs. So, yes, you can probably get solar installed
on your home with no money out-of-pocket.
• How Much Is The Cost Of A Monthly Solar Lease?
It varies depending on the size of your solar system and the size of your monthly utility bill. Still, most homeowners see between a 15% - 30% savings compared to what they are paying the utility company. If that is true for you, expect to see about a $40 savings per month.
• What Happens When A Solar Lease Ends?
Once you have finished paying your solar lease (at the end of the contract), there are usually three options open to you. 1. You can buy the system at fair market value. 2. You can have the system removed by the solar installer who installed it. And 3. you can extend the term of the lease period at the same rate.
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• Is Solar Technology Getting Better? Should I Wait Before Buying?
With the history of solar technology getting better and costs declining, this is a great question. However, solar technology is relatively mature now, and the path to improvement is pretty straightforward. So, most people decide not to wait! Significant changes to the solar technology growth curve are doubtful. Most improvements are due to the efficiency of manufacturing and are somewhat incremental.
In earlier years, when the technology was new, there were a few dedicated scientists pushing solar forward. Today, the industry is mainstream and the research and development are carried out in universities and businesses with clear goals in mind. We probably won’t see any grand discoveries and surprising new processes. Also, waiting for the next huge step in technology will prevent you from taking advantage of the immediate savings if you install solar now.
• Will My Solar Panels Generate Electricity During Cloudy Rainy Or Snowy Days?
LOW LIGHT: Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity and direct sunlight works best. However, even with indirect sunlight or light cloud cover, your solar panels will continue to produce electricity - but at a lower rate. If the clouds cover is heavy, the solar panels might still produce power but the panels might shut down until the light is stronger.
WINTER and COLD: The solar panels will continue to work in the winter but winter days have less sunlight because they are shorter. But panels love the cold. Heat actually reduces the ability of panels to generate electricity.
SNOW: But what about snow? Snow will reduce the amount of electricity that the panels can produce but light usually can get through the snow and activate the panels. Snow can be a challenge but there are a couple of things that reduce this problem. First, solar panels are usually installed at an angle. Most of the time snow slides right off of the slick surface of the panels.
The other thing that works in your favor is that snow usually doesn’t totally block the sunlight from getting to the panels. Unless it is a very thick blanket of snow, enough light will penetrate the snow and allow the panels to generate electricity. Also, when the light hits the dark surface of the panels, it begins to heat up and melt the snow.
• What Is The Most Efficient Type Of Solar Panel?
There are three basic types of solar panels - Mono-Crystalline, Poly-Crystalline, and Thin-Film.
Mono-Crystalline panels are the most efficient at producing electricity. Consequently, they require the least amount of square footage per watt. You might see a solar array that looks "totally black" - these are probably Mono-Crystalline panels.
Poly-Crystalline panels are the most common type of panel used in residential applications. That’s because they offer the best combination of efficiency and cost. The panels usually appear as a brighter blue color and are less expensive than the other primary panel, the Mono-Crystalline.
Mono-Crystalline panels are the most efficient at producing electricity. Consequently, they require the least amount of square footage per watt. You might see a solar array that looks “totally black” - these are probably Mono-Crystalline panels. The problem with these panels is that they are the most expensive.
Thin-Film panels are made by applying a thin coating of “solar paint” that contains tiny particles of metals that convert sunlight into electrical energy. Being the newcomer to the solar arena, there are still some technical challenges with Thin-Film panels. This type of panel requires the most square footage and is the least used in residential applications.
• Should I Buy Solar Panels That Are "Made In The USA"?
There are many solar panels that are produced in the United States. However, solar has become a worldwide industry. The volume of solar panels produced in a year is truly astounding. As with many products that have reached commodity levels, most of the panels that are installed on homes throughout the United States are produced in China. We have a similar case with most of our phones, clothes, and kitchen utensils. Currently, China produces a huge volume of solar panels.
With our global economy, that is a difficult question. Even defining "Made in The USA" is a challenge. Also, many American solar companies have panels manufactured in China. Also, there are offshore companies with manufacturing facilities here in the States.
However, the most significant economic impact of the solar industry is the vast number of American jobs it creates. In the USA, the solar industry is an employment juggernaut. Especially in the last few years, American job growth in the solar industry has been outstanding. Even when the panels are manufactured offshore, solar is a win for our country.
Complicating the “buy American” issue is that many of the American solar companies actually have them manufactured in China. Also, there are other off-shore companies with manufacturing facilities here in the States. We live in a global economy and most large corporations have facilities in multiple countries.
• Do Solar Panels Get You Off The Grid?
Most solar installations are tied to the power grid. They draw from the power grid when their solar panels can’t produce enough electricity for the home (nighttime, heavy overcast days, etc.).
These grid-tied systems also deposit excess power that they produce back into the grid for later use. To be detached from the power grid, a solar system must have a way to store excess power it produces during the daytime for use at nighttime.
This storage comes at a high cost in the form of storage batteries - a battery bank. Therefore, if you want to be “Off-Grid”, you will need to invest in enough battery storage to hold this excess power. This configuration is more expensive due to the high cost of batteries. The good news is that the price of batteries is coming down.
• What Are The Benefits Of Net Metering?
During the middle of the day, when the sunshine is strongest, solar panels are most productive. Unfortunately, that is the time when many of us are not using electricity at home because we are at work. Net metering allows us to send the extra electricity our panels produce back into the grid and get paid for it or get credit from the utility company to use at a later time.
Net metering is the process by which the electric company keeps track of the excess electricity your solar system produces and sends back into the grid. It applies the value of that electricity to your account. Net metering policies vary from state to state and sometimes even between counties or utility companies.
Net metering is a great system designed to help homeowners use their solar panel arrays efficiently. It essentially allows us to use the power grid as a giant battery bank.
• Do You Have To Use Batteries With Solar Panels?
You do not need to have batteries as part of your solar system for it to function. However, if you hope to use your solar system during a blackout, you will need battery backup. With the widespread power outages now a part of our national life, batteries are increasingly becoming part of solar installations. Batteries are also dropping in price, so more people include them in their solar system configuration.
• Will My Solar Panels Work In A Blackout?
Yes, if you have solar battery storage. Solar panel systems automatically disconnect from the grid when there is a blackout. This is to prevent your panels from powering the grid during repairs and causing injuries or death to power company workers. Lineworkers who are working to repair the power grid during an outage anticipate the grid to be dormant and safe.
So if you want to use your system during an outage, you must have it configured to disconnect from the grid during a power outage and run off your solar backup battery during a power outage.