We do our best to answer all of the questions interested homeowners and businesses have about solar. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and the answers to them!
The Big Picture
- Why should I install a solar energy system on my home or business?
Grid-tied solar electricity offers a way to fix your electricity rate for more than 25 years. The maintenance-free panels come with a 25-year production warranty and the expected useful lifespan is up to 50 years (output starts to slow down over time but is still significant). A grid-tied PV system can protect you from electricity price increases for decades. That’s a feeling of energy security that is hard to duplicate. Solar hot water offers a different value proposition: the opportunity to offset hundreds of gallons of heating oil each year by shutting your boiler down in the summertime and letting the sun do the work.Many of our clients feel better knowing that they are producing their own electricity without any environmental harm – that they are part of the energy solution and no longer part of the problem.
- How bad are fracking, tar sands, and climate change?
Very bad. We have in-depth articles on problems with tar sands oil, fracking for natural gas, and the terrifying implications of climate change in Northern New England.
- Why should I go solar now? Aren’t innovative new technologies on the way?
Simply put – the sooner you get solar, the sooner you will enjoy its benefits! If you wait for some unproven technology down the road, you will have missed the opportunity to generate your own power now. Solar is like saving for retirement – the sooner you start doing it, the better.Learn more about why to go solar now.
- What’s better? Solar or wind power?
While we’re support of all forms of renewable energy, small scale wind power is generally not cost-effective in the Northeast nor easy to site. In other words, you’ll get more electricity, dollar for dollar, by investing in solar instead of wind. Read on for more about: wind energy vs. solar energy.
- How long will an installation take?
Our typical residential solar power job takes us about 40 hours of installation time on the roof, and about 10 hours inside the house. We typically send two technicians, so most jobs are completed in 2-3 days.That said, our installation queue is typically 6-8 weeks out, sometimes longer, so contact us as soon as you’re interested if you have a sense of urgency about your solar project.
- Will it pay for itself?
Many customers feel that the pride and peace of mind of solar ‘pays for itself’ as soon as the system powers on. From a financial point of view, solar will recoup the outright cash investment in roughly 12 years in Maine or New Hampshire (5 years in Massachusetts). Solar PV provides an 8-10% IRR over 20 years, or is immediately cash-flow positive (or neutral) if financed (see: own your power).The system also helps lift the grid overall by providing highly valuable ‘peak’ electricity. With multi-billion dollar grid improvement projects already in place, the one certainty is rates on grid electricity will go up. Maine’s CMP in is the middle of a $1billion upgrade project and PSNH rate increases are on the rise due in part to costs to maintain older power plants.
- What are the incentives?
Incentives change periodically, we keep an update to date guide to ME, NH & MA solar rebates. You can expect a 30% federal tax credit taken when you file your yearly taxes, and some sort of state rebate that arrives as a check a few weeks after your system is installed. Maine currently does not have a state rebate. Massachusetts has a “SREC” program that offers additional cash incentives for solar power sold as carbon credits on an annual basis.
- Does my roof need to face directly south?
In Northern New England, the ideal roof orientation is 196 degrees on the compass (known as ‘solar south’), but an installation of +/- 50 degrees (155 -245) is also fine. Within this range, power output stays within seven or eight percent of maximum. Even more easterly and westerly roof installations are viable, especially on shallower roofs. For example, a 7/12 roof that is due east or due west still achieves 77% of a system’s potential performance. More important than angle, generally, is shading. We don’t want to see any shading on a solar roof from 9 am to 3 pm, year-round. Technological improvements such as microinverters can compensate for shading issues to some extent. The best way to know for certain if your roof is viable for solar is to contact us for a free solar evaluation.
- Will the solar array put holes in my roof, or be too heavy?
We mount solar panels on a purpose-built aluminum rail system that is fastened about every four feet by penetrations into roof rafters. On a standing seam metal roof, these attachments are made directly to the standing seams, with no roof penetrations. On asphalt roofs, each mount is sealed with 50-year Tripolymer sealant to prevent any leaks. We guarantee all roof work will be free from leaks. As for the weight of the array, it is less than 5 pounds per square foot, so a typically framed roof is more than adequate to carry the weight.
- How much roof space will I need?
Every kilowatt of solar array takes about 75 square feet. So a typical 3kw array (twelve panels) will take a roof area about 11′ tall by 20′ wide (two rows of six).
- What if my roof is not adequate?
We can also pole-mount photovoltaic panels, or ground-mount panels on a concrete base. We also offer dual-axis solar trackers built by Vermont-based AllEarth Renewables.
- How will I know if the system is working?
Today nearly all inverters come with built-in monitoring that varies based on manufacturer. By reconciling your production with your electric bill, you can get a good idea what your household’s electric load is and how much of a difference the photovoltaic system is making.
- Can I save money by installing my system myself?
Solar energy systems are sophisticated pieces of equipment and not suitable as DIY type projects. With grid-tied solar electric, you need to contract with a professional company to meet most state rebate program requirements, as well as to perform the interconnection with the utility. With solar hot water, while you can do the plumbing yourself, the cost and risk associated with a poor installation greatly outweighs the cost of hiring a professional. Learn about the true costs of DIY solar.
- How will my utility bill be different with a solar electric system?
It will be smaller!With solar, your inverter and your household loads are all “behind the meter,” meaning that if the sun is out and you are in your house and running loads – say a TV, dryer, and electric stove – your solar-generated power will be consumed without it ever being registered by the utility company. So at the end of the month, your electric bill will say you’ve exported fewer kWh to the grid than your inverter says you have generated. This is because your home consumed some solar power before it was ever sold to the utility. Though it can be a bit confusing, you can feel good about this situation because every kWh you didn’t export, is also a kWh you didn’t have to buy! That’s putting your photovoltaic system to work.
- Will the solar increase the value of my home?
Yes! Several studies demonstrate that solar homes are worth more money and sell more quickly. See our blog post for more details: How Much Does Solar Increase the Value of Your Home?
- Will my property taxes go up because of solar?
The short answer is – it depends. Most municipalities will not increase your property tax values due to a solar installation, but it’s worth checking with your town (or city) hall to be sure. There is a list of municipalities in NH that have specifically opted-out of applying taxes to solar upgrades: http://www.nh.gov/oep/energy/saving-energy/documents/renewable-energy-exemptions.pdf.
- Will the system be noisy?
Power inverters are relatively quiet – emitting about as much noise as a refrigerator. They are generally installed in utility rooms or basements alongside existing mechanical systems, rather than in living spaces.
- Do I need to worry about solar panels in the snow?
Snow and ice are a reality of installing solar arrays in the Northeast and we design our systems to withstand the toughest weather we get. The reality is, after a snowstorm, your solar panels will be covered in snow. Don’t panic! Usually they ‘self clear’ quite well on the next sunny day. On an annual basis, the amount of energy production loss due to snow is fairly minor. If you are determined to do something to keep your panels clear, we suggest you read our article Solar Panels and Snow – Should I Be Concerned?
- Will I see a difference in my lights or in how appliances run, like on a generator?
Solar electricity is identical to grid power, so you will never notice that the house is running on solar power. What you will see, of course, is a smaller electric bill!
- How much power will I be able to produce?
On most decent sites in Northern New England, each kilowatt watt of grid tied solar will produce ~1,270 kWh/year of electricity. On our free solar evaluation we will use a professional solar survey tool to assess if shade or off-axis issues will affect your system performance, and present an independently verfiable production element in your system proposal consistent with NREL’s PVWatts tool.
- What happens when power goes out?
When the grid power goes down, the grid-tied solar electric system goes down, too. This is to prevent any accidental back-feeding of solar electricity to the grid which might endanger line-workers. However, a new generation of battery backup technology is available, providing clean backup power in event of a power outage.
- Can I go get rid of the utility company and go ‘off-grid’?
While the idea of cutting ties with the electric company may seem romantic, in reality it is anything but practical except for very specific cases (generally when utility power is not available and prohibitively expensive to install). Read on for a bit more about Off-Grid Vs. Grid-Tied Solar
- What panels do you recommend?
We use a variety of top, well-respect solar panel manufacturers depending on the application. We usually carry three options, which we call “Good,” “Better,” and “Best.” Our “Better” option is a panel by electronics manufacturer LG. All reputable solar manufacturers offer a 25-year warranty on their panels, which are expected to live roughly twice that long.
- What inverter do you recommend?
Again, we choose among a variety of top manufacturers depending on application. Currently the vast majority of systems we install use SolarEdge or Pika Energy inverter technology. All inverter companies offer at least a 10-year warranty, though the inverter is expected to last 25 years or longer.