Solar FAQ's

How does a solar electric system work?

Solar panels or photovoltaics, work by converting sunlight into electrical energy. This happens when certain types of semiconducting materials such as specific types of silicon are exposed to sunlight. When sunlight hits them, they emit small amounts of electric energy. This is called the photovoltaic effect. When linked together, these photovoltaic panels can create enough electricity to power external loads. 

What are the components of a solar system?

Solar systems are made up of PV modules which are commonly referred to as Solar Panels, racking to attach the panels to a sub-structure like your home’s roof, an inverter to convert the DC charge produced by the solar panels to AC and wiring to connect the panels to the electric meter. 

How long do solar systems last?

Most systems have a warranty of 20 years. The average system degrades in output by approximately 1% per year. So, you can expect that your system which originally may have produced 1,000 watts of electricity when new will produce just 800 watts 20 years from now. 

Will my rooftop solar electric system heat the water in my pool?

No. Solar pool heaters use a different process to heat water. Solar water heating systems contain solar collectors that either heat the water directly or, heat a “working fluid” that then is used to heat the water. This process is called a solar thermal system. Solar thermal systems and photovoltaic systems do not share any components.

Do rooftop solar systems require maintenance?

There is very little maintenance required for your home solar system. Your solar contractor can provide you with tips to keep your system operating at its best.

How do I choose a solar electric contractor to install my system?

We recommend that you get at least three estimates prior to agreeing to install a solar system. The emerging renewables program requires PV systems to be installed by an appropriately licensed California contractor.  For PV systems, this requirement means either an “A” (general engineering), B or C-10 (electrical or C-46 (solar) contractor’s license.

As with any project that necessitates hiring a contractor, due diligence is recommended.  The California Contractor’s State License Board maintains records of all licensed contractors and their work history.  These records can be access at (800)321-2752, or on the board’s website at http://www.cslb.ca.gov.

How do I obtain and choose among competing bids?

You should get more than one bid for your system installation, making sure that the bids are made on the same basis. Comparing a bid for a ground-mounted system to a bid for a roof-mounted one, for example, would not result in a fair comparison. Similarly, there are different types of PV panels, some of which generate more electricity per square foot than others. 

Bids should clearly state the quantity, make and model of the equipment and include details about where it will be installed and the maximum generating capacity of the system, measured in watts or kilowatts. Bids should also include estimates of the system's annual energy production, measured in kilowatt hours. 

Bids should also include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connecting to the grid, permitting, sales tax and warranty. 

Will my house be a good fit for solar?

A house with a southern-facing roof with little or no shade is the optimal situation for solar generation. East and West facing rooflines can be used as well but, their output will be decreased.

What type of roof can accommodate a solar system?

Solar contractors have created mounting systems for most commonly used roofing systems.

Will my roof leak?

Newer mounting systems have been improved to be more resistant to leaks. You should ask your contractor how the system will be mounted and the attachments sealed against leaks. 

How much money will I save on my electric bill?

The potential savings will depend on several factors, including your current utility rate structure, the size of the solar system you install and the amount of sunshine your system will receive.  Your solar installer should be able to provide you with an estimate based on those and other factors. 

What size solar system do I need?

Several factors will influence the size of the solar system you need.  Determining your present electricity needs is a first step in sizing your solar system.  You should conduct an energy efficiency survey of your home or business before you determine the size of the system- by installing energy efficiency measures, you’ll require less energy and could save thousands of dollars on panels.

Do I need a battery backup for my solar electric generating system?

A battery backup for your solar system is unnecessary when your system is connected to your utility’s electric grid.  The grid serves as a backup during times when your system is not producing electricity, for example at night and on very cloudy days.

What happens during a power outage?

Your solar electric system is designed to shut down immediately for safety reasons, unless it includes a battery storage system.

Does a solar PV system have to meet local building codes?

Yes.  You will probably need to obtain a permit from the city or county building department, and may be required to purchase a building permit and/or electrical permit to legally begin installation.  A solar installer should be able to assist you with local permitting issues.

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