Why should I go solar?

1. What are the financial benefits of solar energy?

When you install a solar energy system on your property, you save money on your electricity bills and protect yourself against rising electricity rates in the future. How much you can save depends on the utility rates and solar policies in your area, but going solar is a smart investment regardless of where you live.

2. What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?

Solar power, like other renewable energy resources, has many environmental and health benefits. Going solar reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change, and also results in fewer air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which can cause health problems.

3. How do I find out how much I pay for electricity?

The easiest way to find out how much you pay for electricity (and how much electricity you use per month) is to take a look at your utility electricity bill. Review EnergySage’s guide to reading your electricity bill to find out exactly what to look for.

4. What is net metering?

Net metering is the system that utilities use to credit solar energy system owners for the electricity produced by their solar panels. With net metering, you only pay for the electricity that you use beyond what your solar panels can generate. Net metering policies differ from state to state – from Massachusetts to California to Hawaii – so make sure to do your homework ahead of time.

5. How does solar impact my property values?

Studies have shown that homes with solar energy systems sell for more than homes without them. However, your property value will only increase if you own, rather than lease, your solar panel system. In most parts of the country, going solar will actually increase your property value more than a kitchen renovation.

How do solar panels work for my home?

6. How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?

Solar panels absorb the sun's energy throughout the day and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. Most homes and businesses run on alternating current (AC) electricity, so the DC electricity is then passed through an inverter to convert it to usable AC electricity. At that point, you either use the electricity in your house or send it back to the electric grid.

7. Do my solar panels produce power when the sun isn’t shining?

The amount of power your solar energy system can generate is dependent on sunlight. As a result, your solar panels will produce slightly less energy when the weather is cloudy, and no energy at night. However, because of high electricity costs and financial incentives, solar is a smart decision even if you live in a cloudy city

8. What happens if there is snow on solar panels?

Solar panels convert sunshine into power, so if your panels are covered in snow they can’t produce electricity. Snow generally isn’t heavy enough to cause structural issues with your panels, and since most panels are tilted at an angle the snow will slide off. If snow does accumulate, your panels are easy to clean.

9. Can I go off grid with solar panels?

When you install solar panels on your property, you will still be connected to the grid. This allows you to draw from the grid when your system is not producing all of the power that you need, and send power back to the grid when you produce more than you use. It is possible to go off the grid with a solar energy system that includes battery storage, but it will cost significantly more and is unnecessary for the majority of homeowners.

10. Will I still receive an electric bill if I have solar panels?

Unless your solar energy system includes battery storage and you are fully off the grid, you will still receive a bill from your utility. However, you can dramatically reduce your bill, or even cut the amount you owe to $0, with a solar panel system that matches your energy use.

11. Do solar panels work in a blackout?

If your solar panel system is connected to the grid, it will shut off in the event of a blackout. This is to prevent emergency responders and electricity utility repair-people from being injured by your panels sending power back to the grid. However, there are certain inverters you can buy that provide backup power in a blackout when paired with a battery.

12. How much will solar panel maintenance cost?

Solar panel systems are made of durable tempered glass and require little to no maintenance for the 25 to 35 years that they will generate power. In most cases, you don’t even need to clean your solar panels regularly. If something does happen, most equipment manufacturers include warranties, although warranty terms depend on the company.

Ten Solar Myths

Myth 1: Solar will get more efficient, so I should wait.

Fact:  These days the media loves to hype emerging technologies, but the truth is we're still using the same solar technology we were back in the 1960's. Since then, solar has become only moderately more efficient (unlike computers or cellphones which experience dramatic improvements in short periods of time). Given this stable technology profile and the 30 percent federal solar tax credit (plus many state incentive programs) solar makes sense right now. Once installed, your panels will continue to work for decades.

Myth 2: Solar doesn't work in cool, cloudy, or foggy climates.

Fact: Solar panels work just fine in ambient light and will produce significant energy in the fog or on overcast days. In fact, solar panels are actually more efficient at cooler temperatures than hot ones. Although this might seem counter-intuitive, consider that solar panels on a rooftop in cool, foggy San Francisco produce only one percent less electricity than one in nearby Sacramento, where it's sunny and hot. Consider too that Germany leads the world in residential solar right now, and doesn't have a sunny climate.

Myth 3: I will store the excess energy I generate in batteries.

Fact: Nearly all modern solar panel systems are grid tied which means they're connected to the conventional electricity grid. Your system generates power during the day and excess is fed back into the grid through a system called Net Metering. Batteries are an option for those who really want them, but they're expensive, bulky, and have to be replaced every five to ten years.

Myth 4: Solar panels require maintenance.

Fact: Solar panels have no moving parts and do not require regular maintenance. Typically the recommendation is to hose off the panels once a year or so, but many panel owners actually never clean the panels and instead rely on the rain to do the job for them. Typically this will cause only a very slight loss in efficiency (about 5 percent) over the lifetime of the panels. Of course, if any large debris falls onto the panels, it's recommended you remove it. These days, solar systems come with monitoring software that allows you to spot any drops in power generation right away. Often your installer is linked into your monitoring system too, so sometimes they'll even be aware of drops in a panel's power output before you are! Pretty slick.

Myth 5 : Solar panels will cause my roof to leak, deteriorate, or collapse.

Fact: Solar panels actually protect and preserve the portion of the roof they cover. If there's ever a problem with the roof that needs to be repaired, panels can easily be removed. Most solar panels are not attached directly to the roof itself, but rather to a mounted railing system. Installers add sealants to fill in any gaps and often the mounts are surrounded by metal 'flashing' or coverings that act as an extra barrier from the elements. Note: if your roof already leaks or needs to be replaced, it makes sense to make roof repairs first before installing solar panels.

Myth 6: Solar is still so expensive that it will never be able to pay for itself (just like hybrid cars).

Fact: Perhaps one of the most unfortunate solar myths is that it's only for rich people and/or environmentalists, when in reality many homeowners choose to go solar simply because it eliminates their big monthly electricity bill. In fact, solar is a very wise choice for people who could actually use the extra couple hundred bucks a month that they're currently paying in power bills. Modern financing options have all but eliminated the barrier to entry for solar (big upfront costs), so many households are now able to go solar for little to no money down. Solar is one of the very few household purchases that will actually pay for itself. Studies show that on average, solar panels return two to four times their cost in saved electricity bills and typically pay for themselves completely within 7 to 15 years. If you live in a state with good incentives, the payback period can be as short as 2 to 4 years.

Myth 7: When the power goes out, my home is still powered.

Fact: When the power goes out, grid-tied systems go out too. That's because it's not safe to be pushing electricity back out onto the wires while workers may be trying to fix the problem, so your inverter (the big box near your meter that turns DC electricity created by the panels into usable AC current) recognizes that the grid is out and shuts your system off. The solution? Spend a couple hundred on a generator or don't worry about it too much; the power doesn't go off that often.

Myth 8: Solar will look ugly on my roof.

Fact: Haven't you heard? Solar is the new black. In the last ten years there's been a growing awareness of how smart renewable energy is from both environmental and economic perspective, so solar panels are finally coming into their own and being regarded as an enhancement instead of an eyesore. It's about time! Homeowners' associations that used to be steadfastly against solar have changed their policies and are now going solar in groups. For homeowners who don't like the look of traditional solar panels, there are now many options and styles. These styles are discreet and lower-profile than the panels of the 1960's. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and the buck holder)!

Myth 9: Installing solar panels will increase my property tax.

Fact: In California and many other states, solar installations are property-tax exempt. From an investment perspective, this means that installing solar panels will increase the value of your house without costing you an extra dime in property taxes. The same cannot be said for other home investments such as swimming pools, a new deck, etc.  Would you pay more for a house that comes with free electricity?

Myth 10: Solar panels require a tracking system to follow the angle of the sun.

Fact: Though tracking mechanisms can provide efficiency gains for your solar panel system, they typically do not increase efficiency enough to justify the additional expense and maintenance of moving parts in residential situations. More importantly, most homeowners don't have the additional space required for these systems.  Recent solar panel price reductions make tracking systems completely uneconomical.