In 2020, solar energy accounted for 3% of the U.S. electricity generation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that it will account for 5% of U.S. electricity generation in 2022 and as much as 20% by 2050. If you’re like us and interested in helping to increase solar generation, then you probably have a one hundred and one questions.
That’s why we reached out to Shyam Mehta, Assistant Director, Distributed Energy Resources at New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). Shyam has been part of the solar industry for more than 13 years and answered 12 frequently asked questions to help you decide if solar panels are right for your home.
#1 – What actually is solar energy?
Energy comes from the sun in two forms – heat and light. Solar panels on homes receive light energy or photonic energy that they then convert into electric energy.
“Basically when we say ‘solar energy,’ we really mean what’s called ‘photovoltaic energy,’” says Shyam, “which solar panels can convert into electric energy for residential, commercial, industrial, or other applications.”
Thus, solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it into electric energy for use by the home for specific appliances. For homeowners, solar panels on their home can generate more than just energy; they can generate savings, too.
“These solar energy systems are typically designed to offset all or most of the annual electric consumption of a household,” says Shyam.
If solar panels on a home produce extra energy, that energy is exported to ‘the grid” to be used by neighboring homes or other consumers.
#2 – How do you know if your home is suitable for solar panels?
The ideal roof will have a large, shade-free section that faces either south, southeast, or southwest.
“Because of our location in the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing roofs get maximum exposure to the sun,” says Shyam.
Homes with east- or west-facing roofs can receive solar panels, and some homes even get solar racking on the ground, though that is rare. Since home solar panels are generally mounted on metal racking, which is securely fastened or bolted to the framing of the roof, the status of your roof is important.
“Before the installation, the solar installation company will look at the roof,” says Shyam. “You don’t need to have a brand-new roof, but it’s not uncommon for a roof to be replaced before solar panel installation.”
#3 – Do solar panels increase home value?
A 2015 U.S. Department of Energy study says yes! The team analyzed more than 22,000 homes sales across eight states from 1999 to 2013 and found that homebuyers were willing to pay more for homes with solar panels. In fact, the study found homebuyers generally were willing to pay $15,000 more!
#4 – How easy is the solar panel installation process?
Once you decide to get solar panels, the process is fairly straightforward.
First, you’ll need to reach out to solar panel installation companies in your area. The installation companies will provide price quotes and system designs. A professional may also come out to the house to take measurements of the roof and the solar resource.
“The homeowner then enters into a contract with an installation company,” says Shyam.
The installation company will apply for governmental approvals, such as building permits and the interconnection approval from the utility company. (The interconnection approval is a contract between the utility company and customer regarding the operation of the home solar system.) The installation company will also apply for incentives or loans that may be available in your area. This process generally takes one to two months.
Once approvals are secure, your installation company will schedule the solar panel installation.The physical installation of the equipment typically takes one to two days.
Following installation, the utility company will inspect the system and then issue permission for the system to be turned on.
“This is called ‘energizing the system,’ at which point the system begins producing electricity,” says Shyam.
#5 – How do you choose the right installer or contractor for your home?
Like any multi-thousand-dollar purchase, it’s best to do comparison shopping. Shyam suggests reaching out to at least three solar installers for price points. NYSERDA maintains a list of residential solar installers on their website.
“We list installers that have we have inspected to have consistently high-quality installation standards and accredit them with what we call ‘a Quality Solar Installer designation.’”
Check if your state offers a similar site and use all available resources to cross-check potential installers and get a sense of their quality accreditation.
Then, of course, read the contracts carefully before signing.
#6 – How much do residential solar panels cost?
Unfortunately, there’s no bottom-line number when it comes to installing solar panels as there are so many variables.
“The cost varies a lot by the size of your system, which is a function of the size of your roof,” says Shyam. “It depends on where you are in the state, whether you are in the upstate region, Long Island, or New York City. Then it also depends on what kind of loans or rebates you are eligible for.”
Many states and utility companies offer grants and rebates to homeowners that reduce the out-of-pocket cost of home solar panels. The federal government also offers a tax credit that equals 26% of the system cost. Depending on where you live, most cities also offer property tax abatements and other credits. Typically, all these incentives total several thousand dollars.
“On top of that, most solar installers offer loan options or even lease options where you pay a monthly lease instead of paying for the entire cost of the system upfront,” says Shyam.
All these options help to bring down that initial, upfront cost, so how can you take advantage of these offers?
“Typically the installer or the contractor handles all of that for the homeowner,” says Shyam. “Once you are in a contract with an installer, they will apply for the NYSERDA incentive, the federal tax credit, the state tax credit, etc.”
#7 – Is solar worth it for your home?
Having solar on your home doesn’t just reduce your electric consumption: any excess electricity the system produces also results in bill savings. For each unit of solar power exported by the homeowner’s system, the home’s electric bill is reduced accordingly.
“We call this net energy metering or net metering,” says Shyam. “Basically anything your system generates over and above what it produces for your home usage offsets your electric bill, and that’s how you get compensated.”
#8 – Do you need to worry about any electrical fields and your home?
“These claims of electrical fields are really not merited,” says Shyam. “There’s no evidence to suggest that solar panels create any kind of electromagnetic fields or electric fields are dangerous to human health.”
#9 – Once installation is complete, do you need to complete any maintenance?
Compared to other systems in your home, solar panels are relatively low maintenance.
“In general, you do have dust accumulation on the solar system in dryer climates,” says Shyam. “In New York, just given the frequency of rainfall that we have, that tends to not be an issue.”
If you’re in a dryer climate, you may have to clean the panels with a simple garden hose and water. (If you’re uncomfortable doing this, talk to your installer about a maintenance plan.)
There is one part of the system that will need to be replaced – the inverter.
Explains Shyam, “That’s the part of the solar system that converts the solar electricity, which is DC, or direct current power, to AC, or alternating current power and the form of electricity that is used by most household appliances.”
The inverter typically needs to be replaced after 10 to 15 years, about midway through the life of the system.
#10 – What if my solar panels are damaged?
You don’t need to worry too much about physical damage to your panels, though it’s important to be mindful of severe weather events.
“[Solar panels] are pretty resistant to hail,” says Shyam, “but in extreme weather, like a hurricane, they can be damaged or displaced.”
Shyam recommends that homeowners discuss potential damage with their installer prior to signing the contract.
“It’s important to establish who’s responsible in the event of damage to the system,” says Shyam. “NYSERDA requires that installers offer at least a five-year warranty.”
You should also contact your insurance company to discuss additional coverage for your property.
“A homeowner’s insurance may cover certain types of damage, such as falling tree limbs, for example.”
#11 – How long do solar panels last?
The lifespan of solar panels and system is at least 20 to 25 years.
“The solar panel manufacturers also offer a production warranty that lasts for 25 years,” says Shyam. “However, it’s not uncommon that a system can continue producing energy well beyond that period.”
#12 – What if solar panels aren’t right for your home?
If for whatever reason – financial, technical, or ownership-related – you are unable to install rooftop solar panels on your home, then you may want to consider community solar options.
“This model has gained a lot of steam, not just in New York, but across the country over the last four to five years,” says Shyam.
(New York currently has the largest community solar market in the nation.)
Subscribers pay for a portion of the output in exchange for a discounted rate on the energy that is produced by the system, which is typically located off-site, but in the surrounding community.
“It’s generally located in the same utility territory as where you live, but it’s not necessarily next door or in your backyard.”
If you’re interested in solar panel communities, check your utility company’s website or reach out to your state’s energy department.
For New York residents, NYSERDA has a great resource with an interactive map where homeowners can search by zip code for community solar providers.
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