SOLAR FAQs


What is solar energy?

Solar energy takes advantage of the sun’s rays to generate 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 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.

 

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.

 

Do solar cells store energy?

No. Solar cells just convert sunlight into an electric current that must be used immediately or stored in batteries for later use.


Are solar power systems good for the environment?

Energy created through our solar electric system produces no pollutants. Our smallest system typically cuts greenhouse gas emissions as effectively as 50 trees.


Are solar electric systems safe?

Yes. Solar cells are mostly silicon, the primary component of sand. There is no exhaust and no toxic materials to leak out of the system. The electricity coming through the inverter is just like the electricity coming from household wall sockets; you should use the same care you would with utility power. All components are approved for utility interconnection and are installed according to standard construction practices.


Can I use equipment directly from solar panels?

Yes. Solar panels will directly power equipment such as fans and pumps as long as the load is accounted for correctly. Equipment load that is greater than the output of the solar panel will weaken equipment efficiency, as overcast or cloudy days reduce output. Equipment that requires a more stable voltage should pair solar power with a battery backup.


What type of maintenance is required on solar panels?

Solar panels benefit from a non-abrasive cleansing agent. When reviewing battery levels, check battery connections and fuse holders to ensure that they are clean and dry. If necessary, use a silicon sealant for sealing damages around the frame. Although the production of solar panels incorporates a high-tech manufacturing process, it's really very easy to use a photovoltaic system. Solar panels have no moving parts to wear out, they can be used alone or in combination with other energy sources, and they are silent, reliable and long lasting.




What are the possible problems with solar panels and how can I prevent them?

Solar panel failure is most often caused by water damage to the panel, sealant, or connections. To prevent damage or failure, mount the panel carefully. Be sure not to fix it horizontally, which encourages water collection in the frame. Also, allow for a sufficient air gap beneath the panel. Keeping your panel dry and clean will ensure efficient, maximum output.


How well do solar panels work in cloudy conditions?

A cloudy day provides sufficient diffuse light by which the panel will produce electricity. Optimum electrical production occurs with bright and sunny weather conditions. Under a light overcast, the modules might produce about half as much as under full sun, ranging down to as little as five to ten percent under a dark overcast day. In remote, off-grid applications, a PV system is connected to a battery storage system as a backup power source. In grid-connected applications, the PV system works in parallel with the utility power grid. So, if electrical needs exceed the solar power output, the local utility makes up for the shortfall. Conversely, when the PV system generates more energy than the building requires, the excess power is exported to the utility grid, reversing the electrical meter!


How well do solar panels work in the winter?

Solar panels work on light not heat. With shorter daylight hours in winter, solar panels produce proportionately less power. If the modules become covered with snow, they stop producing power, but snow generally melts quickly when the sun strikes the modules; if you brush the snow off, they resume operation immediately.


How much does a solar electric power system cost?

A 2kW solar electric system will cost approximately $20,000. 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.

 

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.

 

What are solar hot water systems?

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.

 

How do pool heating systems work?

Pool heating systems use a modified solar hot water system to capture the sun’s rays to heat your pool or hot tub.

 

Can I use solar power to heat my home?

Absolutely! Radiant heating applies solar thermal technology. Transferring solar energy through pipes into an under floor radiant heating system is a wonderful way to stay warm. Radiant floor systems are typically 40 percent more efficient than their forced air counterpart and can be zoned to match thermal comfort to each room.

 

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 wipe 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 use a financing 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.

 

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. 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.

 

What if I’m the first person I know to install a photovoltaic system on my home?

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.

Locate a Solar Installer in your area to help you with your project.

 

When should I seek a solar professional?

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.

 

What should I ask a solar professional installer?

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 process.

 

Why is it important to get multiple bids?

As with any major purchase, it’s helpful to compare costs and information. Seeking information from multiple professionals can provide constructive advice, set realistic expectations, and help you fine-tune the design that will work best for your application.

 

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

You can estimate how much a solar electric or solar hot water system may cost if you determine your current energy needs and costs and compare 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 one or both of the technologies.

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 PV and hot water 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.

How can SolarEnergy.net help me shop for solar?

SolarEnergy.net saves you time, money, and headaches by connecting you directly to the best solar power companies in the country. SolarEnergy.net only works with experienced solar professionals and firms with a track record of success and satisfied customers. We encourage you to look around our site for all the information you need on solar energy installation.

When you’re ready, all you need to do to get started is tell us about your project, and you can be assured you’ll receive competitive bids from the very best companies in your area.

 

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.

 

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 – 200 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. Solar contractors in your area 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.

    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 a professional solar designer or installer 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. A solar pro in your area is likely quite knowledgeable about your local conditions and can help you design that works well for you.

How does a solar system work?

How a solar system works

  1. Solar Panels : Convert sunlight to direct current (DC electricity)
  2. Inverter : Converts the DC electricity produced by the panels into alternating current (AC electricity).
  3. Meter : Monitors system production and sends the information
  4. Main Electric Service Panel : Solar electricity from inverter flows through this service panel to your home or the grid.
  5. Net Meter : Reads electricity that you use from the grid as well as the excess solar electricity that flows into the grid from your solar system.

 

 

General grid connect questions

What is a grid connect solar power system?

Grid connect systems, often located in built up areas, supply solar electricity through an inverter directly to the household and to the electricity grid if the system is providing more energy than the house needs. When power is supplied to the mains grid, the home owner usually receives a credit or a payment for that electricity. This is called a feed in tariff.

What can affect the amount of solar energy received?

The strength of the solar energy (radiation) available depends on the time of year, the time of day, and the latitude of the generation point. The amount of energy generated can be further affected by the amount of dust and water vapor in the air, the amount of cloud cover and any shading of the solar panels and the quality of the solar modules. You can learn more about solar radiation levels for your area in our solar power system builder.

Does roof orientation really matter?

Most certainly. For example, a system with solar panels facing in a southerly direction will generate far less than one with a northerly aspect. However, east/west installations can be a good option depending on the installation scenario.

How much does a grid connect solar power setup cost?

Prices vary according to size and location – try our quick solar quote tool to determine the cost.

What is a feed in tariff and how much will I get paid?

A feed in tariff is whereby a grid connect system owner is paid for the electricity their system generates by a utility or government agency. There are two different types of tariffs, gross and net. A gross feed in tariff pays a premium on all electricity produced whereas a net feed in tariff only pays on surplus energy created by the system. In Australia, net feed in tariffs are predominant.

What size system will I need to run my home? 

That entirely depends on your energy usage and your geographical location. A 1.5 kW system is currently the “entry point” for grid connect. It will cover between 16 and 25% of the energy consumption of a medium household. A 4-5 kW system will cover 100% of the energy consumption of a medium energy use household.

Any size grid connect solar power system will reduce your yearly power consumption and your power bill. Naturally, the bigger the system, the bigger the benefit.

To make the most of solar power, the key is to implement simple energy efficiency strategies. It is easy to conserve energy by using appropriate lighting and efficient appliances. Running high power appliances such as electric bar heaters, electric hot water systems and air conditioners etc. is really not economical.

Instead of considering a very large solar system; you can also invest in energy efficient heaters, solar hot water and design features such as strategically placed vents or insulation to avoid heat entering the house in the first place. In summary – all your energy can be supplied by solar power and your budget and daily energy usage will determine the size of your solar power system.

Is my building suitable for a solar power system? 

Several aspects will need to be evaluated to determine if your home is a good solar site, such as orientation, space available, shadows on the space available and your current electricity usage. The best site will be one with adequate north-facing roofs that have no shade. Variations on that will cut into the productivity of the system.

How long will my grid connect solar power system last? 

Solar modules have been tested in the field showing small reductions in power output after 20 years, mostly because the glass surface becomes a bit dull and reflects more light. All our solar panels carry an output warranty of 25 years. There are solar panels delivering power in Australia today that were installed more that 30 years ago. The electronic components such as inverters, being the most sensitive, will last 10 -15 years.

Learn more about the components Energy Matters uses in grid connect systems.

What type of warranty is supplied with the system?

Should I choose mono-crystalline, thin film or polycrystalline solar panels?

Between mono-crystalline and polycrystalline there isn’t a lot of difference except that a polycrystalline panel is slightly larger than the equivalent wattage in mono-crystalline. Thin film panels are larger again and the extra space can take up valuable rooftop real estate in terms of adding extra panels at a later date.

What can affect the costs of installing a grid connect system?

A base installation rate includes the grid connect system being installed on a
pitched metal roof facing north with appropriate surface area available.
Additional costs will be incurred for a flat or tiled roof; any equipment
upgrades and extended warranties.

Can I insure my grid connect system?

Most insurers will allow you to include the system under your home and contents insurance, but please check with your insurance company first.

If my energy requirements increase, can I upgrade the system? 

Yes. Additional solar panels can be added at any time to increase generating capability but you might have to upgrade to a larger inverter. Alternatively you could purchase a larger inverter when installing the system initially and then plan to add some extra solar panels later.

What happens on cloudy days? 

In  a grid connect system, as you are still tied to the mains power supply, any deficit will come from the mains grid.

How reliable will my system be? 

As the Energy Matters systems are designed to Australian Standards, the reliability of components and consistency of power supply will be more than adequate for the loads specified.

Carbon dioxide emissions and climate change

What about the energy it takes to produce a solar power system? 

Although solar electricity is pollution-free, PV systems require a certain amount of energy, which must be ‘reimbursed’ before they can be considered as renewable and clean. This is known as “embodied energy”. An assessment from the International Energy Agency concluded in mid 2006 that roof-top solar PV systems recover their energy content (from manufacturing and recycling) within 1.6 to 1.8 years in Australia. That figure has since improved.

Once they have reimbursed their initial energy input, roof-top PV systems can avoid the emission of 40 tones of CO2, depending on their location and on the local electricity mix available. Roof-top PV systems in Australia during their 30 year lifespan are expected to produce around 17 times the amount of energy needed for manufacture, installation and dismantling.

How much of a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions will I achieve? 

Using a comparison to a car, the average vehicle in Australia travels 20 000 km per annum, which is equivalent to 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide discharge annually. A 2kw grid connected system will prevent 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide being generated through coal fired power generation – so it’s the equivalent of taking a car off the road each year.

What does a typical home solar system consist of?

The heart of a photovoltaic solar system is the solar array. Made up of multiple panels (individually measuring roughly 1 by 1.5 meters), this array absorbs the energy of a specific range of available sunlight and converts this energy into electrical energy. The array is mounted on a frame that allows the panels to be securely mounted with minimal interference with the waterproofing and structure of the roof, as well as providing the correct aspect and elevation for the array so as that the maximum amount of available sunlight in received and converted.

A cable is run down from the array to the inverter, a device designed to efficiently convert the widely fluctuating power from the solar array into a predictable and usable energy feed. A second cable connects the inverter to your house’s switchboard, which is in turn connected to the main power grid, creating a continuous and dynamic system for the contribution of solar energy to your house. The inverter also acts as a simple data logger; an information screen on the inverter will display total energy production, daily energy production, and instantaneous power. These figures will fluctuate depending on the time of year, the cloud cover, and temperature, and will allow you to keep a record of your system’s performance.

Solar power systems can also be optionally fitted with easy-to-use remote monitors, internet enabled data loggers, and even sensors to determine solar availability, panel temperature, air temperature, and wind speed. Ask your sales representative for more information.

Is there any maintenance involved? 

With an grid connected system, there is very little maintenance required. Electronic components should be maintenance free. Energy Matters systems come with complete instructions for maintenance.

Electrical and installation

Is a solar regulator necessary in a grid connect system?

No, the inverter handles the incoming charge and converts it to AC electricity for use in your home. Solar regulators are used in off-grid systems.

Will I need a new switchboard and/or meter?

In order to install a grid connected solar power system at your premises, you will need to have a compatible switchboard and meter.

A meter exchange may be required after the installation of your new solar system. The energy produced by your solar system interacts with the main power grid and the loads in your house. Without an appropriate mains meter, any energy you sell to the power grid can be inaccurately measured, or even completely disregarded, greatly reducing the system’s effectiveness in reducing your energy bill. A ‘bi-directional’ meter is installed in place of the existing one-way ‘detente’ meter, allowing the reading of energy in both directions; both buy and sell.

How does electricity get stored for use after the sun goes down? 

Grid connect systems direct excess electricity produced during the day back into the local electricity grid. You then receive a credit for any power that your system supplied to the grid. During the night when your system does not produce and electricity you draw your power from the grid and your electricity meter measures your consumption.

What happens with grid connect systems during a blackout? 

The grid connect inverter will automatically shut itself off within a few milliseconds of a blackout, to avoid the potential of a dangerous “brown-out” in your home and to prevent back feeding into the grid. Therefore even though you have a solar system during a blackout you will not have power available. If you want to keep on having electricity available during a blackout then you would need to have back up batteries installed as well, which will add to the cost of the system.

 

Can you retro-fit battery backup into a grid connect system? 

Yes, battery backup systems require additional components – which can be costly; although pricing is rapidly dropping.

How does a solar system connect into current house power? 

The solar system is wired into your existing fuse box via a 15amp circuit breaker.

Where do you place the inverter?

Usually the inverter is placed alongside the fuse box. The inverter is silent and has a display to show the electricity generated and other data options such as total electricity generated since installation, are available.

What is the difference between solar power and solar hot water?

Solar panels take light from the sun and make electricity. Solar hot water systems take heat from the sun and heat water. It is easy to remember:

How much roof space is needed?

1.0 KW system needs approximately 10m2, a 1.5KW system needs approximately 15m2 and so forth.

What is the weight of the solar system on the roof?

The system weighs approximately 27 kilograms per square meter (a 1KW system is approximately 10 square meters).

 

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