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Harnessing the power of the sun has never been more affordable or accessible.
How does solar work?
While solar is comprised of a diverse suite of technologies, there are three main types: photovoltaics (PV), solar heating & cooling (SHC), and concentrating solar power (CSP). Homeowners and businesses interested in going solar are primarily interested in the first two technologies, while utilities and large-scale energy project developers primarily utilize the latter.
PV panels directly produce electricity from sunlight, while SHC technologies use thermal (heat) energy to change the temperature of water and air. PV panels have no moving parts, and use an inverter to change the direct current (DC) power they produce to usable alternating current (AC) power. SHC technologies are often used to heat water for domestic or commercial use, but can also be used to heat or cool the air in buildings.
Most concentrating solar power systems use concentrated sunlight to drive a traditional steam turbine, creating electricity on a large scale. There are also concentrating solar technologies that use photovoltaic technology to produce electricity without a thermal process.
What accredations should I look for in my solar professional?
No industry is perfect, but organizations like the California Solar & Storage Association can give consumers confidence when choosing a solar professional. Our Members are vetted through an application and adhere to industry best practices and code of ethics. We have strict policies for dealing with ethics issues. You may also see that an installer is "NABCEP Certified". NABCEP is the solar industry's 'gold standard' of certification. NABCEP certified practitioners have met minimum levels of education and experience, passed a rigorous competency exam, and abide by a strict code of ethics.
What happens to solar panels when it’s cloudy or raining?
Photovoltaic panels can use direct or indirect sunlight to generate power, though they are most effective in direct sunlight. Solar panels will still work even when the light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds. Rain actually helps to keep your panels operating efficiently by washing away any dust or dirt. If you live in an area with a strong net metering policy, energy generated by your panels during sunny hours will offset energy that you use at night and other times when your system isn't operating at full capacity.
How much does a solar system cost?
Every rooftop is different, and solar installers in your area can provide the best information on what it will cost to go solar for your home or business. Once potential solar customers begin exploring their options, they often find that the total up-front cost of solar is less relevant than the financing terms, return-on-investment, and cash flow calculation. Solar leases and other innovative financing models mean that many people can go solar for little or no money down. Some solar customers save more on their electricity payments than they're paying for their panels, meaning that their investment is cash-flow positive from day one. Learn more about the cost of solar photovoltaics (PV), solar heating & cooling (SHC) systems, and the growth of the solar market in the U.S.
Several factors influence the cost of solar for your home or business, including:
- Your available, unshaded roofspace. In the U.S., roofs facing south receive the most sunlight.
- The current energy usage in your home or business. Your current energy costs will affect how quickly you recoup your solar investment. Also, the more energy you use, the larger system you'll need to fully offset your energy use. Many solar installers can also help you install energy efficiency improvements.
- The utility net metering policy in your area. Net energy metering affects the value of the energy your PV system feeds back into the electricity grid.
- The federal investment tax credit for solar, and any other tax credits, rebates or other state & local incentives for solar energy.
Considered broadly, everything from investments in solar research and development to streamlining local permitting can reduce the cost of solar energy to the end-user.
What’s a solar lease or solar power-purchase agreement?
In a solar lease or solar power-purchase agreement (also known as a "PPA"), a customer pays for the solar power system over a period of years, rather than in an up-front payment. Often customers can purchase solar for little or no money down, and often realize energy savings immediately. In a power-purchase agreement, a customer agrees to purchase all the energy from a solar system over a fixed period of time.
Third-party financing of solar energy primarily occurs through two models: power purchase agreements (PPAs) and solar leases.
In the PPA model, an installer/developer builds a solar energy system on a customer’s property at no cost. The solar energy system offsets the customer’s electric utility bill, and the developer sells the power generated to the customer at a fixed rate, typically lower than the local utility. At the end of the PPA contract term, property owners can extend the contract and even buy the solar energy system from the developer.
In the lease model, a customer will sign a contract with an installer/developer and pay for the solar energy system over a period of years or decades, rather than paying for the power produced. Solar leases can be structured so customers pay no up-front costs, some of the system cost, or purchase the system before the end of the lease term. Similar leasing structures are commonly used in many other industries, including automobiles and office equipment.
What rebates and incentives are available for solar energy in California?
The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a 30% federal tax credit for solar installations on both residential and commercial properties, reducing the tax liability for individuals or businesses that purchase qualifying solar energy technologies. More on the ITC here.
In addition to the federal ITC, California also has state and municipal incentives that can be seen via the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). Your installer will be able to provide the most up-to-date information on solar incentives.