Q. Does it make sense to buy a PV system when prices are getting lower all the time?
A. When you buy a computer or cell phone you do it knowing that something better, and possibly much better, will come out soon, probably in a matter of months. This is not the case when you buy a solar electricity system. Today we use the same solar technology we have been using since the 1960’s. Over all those years solar has only increased moderately in efficiency. For this reason you can feel safe making your purchase now without worrying about dramatic improvements in technology, and the incentives and rebates, including the 30 percent federal solar tax credit make it a smart move now and one that will continue to work for you for decades.
Q. Does my system require batteries?
A. Most solar panel systems are grid connected. This means that they are “tied” to the local utility grid. You get electricity from your PV system but at night or on overcast days you may use grid power when your system is not generating enough. However, when it produces excess power, this also runs through the meter and back into the utility, turning your meter backward. This is called “net metering” and acts as a sort of credit. In this way you may not end up paying for much or any of the “grid power” you use. This is the most convenient method for most homeowners. You can also use batteries, which will store the excess energy for you to use at night or during power outages, but they are costly and need to be replaced a few times over the life of your PV system. Homes located remotely that are not connected to a utility use “off-grid” or stand-alone systems that require batteries.
Q. Does solar still work when it’s cool, cloudy or foggy?
A. Considering the fact that satellites are solar powered, we see that temperature is not a big factor in how much energy a system produces. Solar panels work best in direct sunlight, whatever the temperature, but also work in ambient light, without a significant decrease in productivity.
Q. What maintenance do solar panels require?
A. The only maintenance required by most solar panels is to be hosed off once a year or so. With no moving parts they do not need to be checked up on regularly. If they become covered in debris, this should be wiped off to keep the panels at optimal efficiency. Still, even without ever cleaning them at all you will only experience about a 5 percent loss of efficiency over their 25-30 year lifetime.
Q. Does solar pay for itself?
A. Too many people still have the (wrong) idea in their head that solar power is only for rich environmentalists. This may have been true decades ago but today solar is an option that, while requiring an initial investment, can stabilize or eliminate monthly electric bills and is one of the rare household purchases that eventually pays for itself. You can save money on electricity, especially with net metering and solar panels usual pay for themselves in saved electric bills over the course of 7 to 15 years, giving you many more years of completely free electricity. After incentives and rebates your system may pay for itself in as few as 3-5 years!
Q. Do solar panels damage roofs (cause leaks, corrosion or collapse)?
A. No. On the contrary, solar panels provide protection to the section of roofing that they cover. If something should happen to your roof (not related to the panels) they can be removed without a problem so repairs to be made to the roof. Of course if you will need to replace or repair your roof, doing it before installing a PV system is a good idea.
Q. Does solar provide power even when the power goes out?
A. Grid connected systems respond to power outages just as homes without solar electric systems do: when the utility power shuts off, so do they. The inverter, which converts the DC generated from the panels into AC, recognizes when the utility shuts off and also shuts off. This is because it is not safe for electricity to be flowing either into or out of the utility at a time when workers may be trying to fix the wires. Power outages are infrequent but if this is a problem for you, consider purchasing a generator.
Q. Will my property tax go up if I install solar panels?
A. In many states solar installations are exempt from property tax. If this is the case, solar panel installation will increase the value of your home without you having to pay any extra property tax. This is not the case with some other investments such as decks or swimming pools.
Q. Don’t solar panels make a roof look ugly?
A. No! The appearance of solar panels on a home is becoming an increasingly welcome sight as people understand more about the benefits of solar electric systems. Since using such a renewable energy source is wise both environmentally as well as economically it is gaining popularity and the appearance, in turn seems to be more attractive. At the same time, various styles are now available to give your solar panels a different, more discreet look such as thin-film panels or non-reflective solar panel roofing shingles.
Q. Do solar panels have to have a tracking system to follow the sun’s angle?
A. Tracking systems, which are structures that house PV modules and can move to follow the sun across the sky, are generally not used in residential settings. While they can increase the efficiency of a solar electric system, it is usually not enough to make it worth the added cost and maintenance required for moving parts. Also, they require a larger area of space which is less convenient in most residential situations.