A Homeowners Guide to Going Solar: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

An increasing number of homeowners are switching to solar power as a way to reduce energy costs.

Advancing solar technology and increased demand, have helped make solar panels more affordable and an easy alternative for homeowners who wants to pay less for electricity.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solar power system. The size of your home, how much energy you use, and your future plans will help determine:

  1. The cost of your solar power system,
  2. Your potential energy savings and,
  3. What kind of solar panels you should install.

As a homeowner, it is important that you have a basic understanding of how a solar power system  works before calling to get some estimates. To help you, this article provides some resources and basic information that will help you figure out what is best for you.

As we covered a lot in this article, we have laid out most of the content in the form of questions. Simply scroll through the points below and by clicking on the questions you are interested in, all the infromation related to that question will appear. 

If there are any questions that you do not see listed, or if you are ready for a solar estimate please call us at: (800) 340-0681.

In 1931, Thomas Edison supposedly told his friend Henry Ford: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Thomas Edison
The Two Ways Solar Power is Produced?

There are two technologies used to produce electricity from the sun. The most common one is called photovoltaics (PV). The word “photovoltaic” simply means converting sunlight into energy. Here, silicone cells in solar panels capture the sun’s photons and convert that into direct current, which is later converted into alternating current for your home. When you see solar panels on a home, they are using PV technology.

The second technology is used by large-scale solar power production, such as utilities. Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight into receivers that collect solar energy and convert it into heat, which is then used to produce electricity.

The Parts of a Solar Power System

To many homeowners, solar power is still new and raises a lot of questions. To help you better understand solar power and how it works, here is an article that describes the three main parts of a solar power system

How Do Solar Panels Work?

How does solar work?It’s no mystery that the sun contains radiation or ultraviolet (UV) rays. That’s why plants grow with sun light, that’s why the sun is hot, and that’s why when you go to the beach you get a tan or a sunburn.

The idea of capturing the sun’s ultraviolet rays/radiation isn’t new either. It’s almost as old as electricity itself. What’s new is very advanced technology that has made solar power available to everyone.

So, how do solar panels work?

To keep this simple I wanted to relate a solar panel to a sandwich!

Like a sandwich, a solar panel is made up of two layers. But instead of bread, the layers are made from silicon cells. One layer is made of a silicon called p-type silicon, which is positively charged. The other layer is made of silicone called n-type, which is negatively charged.

These special silicon cells capture radiation and ultraviolet rays from the sun (energy). The positively and negatively charged layers allow the captured energy to flow through the solar panel which in turn creates an electric flow. That electrical flow is in turn captured by wiring within the panel and direct current is produced.

Direct current from a solar panel is sent to an inverter that changes the electric flow from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) which can be used by your home.

I found the above visual produced by a company called SolarCraft that illustrated how a solar panel works, as well as how your solar power system will work with your local utility to make sure your home has electricity all day long.

Do Solar Panels Work in The Shade?

This is a good question. Of course, the more direct sunlight your solar panels receive the more electricity they will produce. However, yes, Solar panels can work in shaded areas as well as during cloudy days. Their output power capacity is compromised due to less exposure to sunlight. Certain solutions like solar panel design and roof orientation can help prevent excessive power loss caused due to less sunlight exposure.

How Do Solar Panels Power Your Home at Night?

The sun doesn’t shine at night. And the moon doesn’t emit the rays necessary to produce electricity. So how will your solar power system produce electricity during the night?

When we design your solar power system, we consider the total amount of electricity you use monthly and annually. And we design your system with enough solar panels to produce the total amount of electricity you need.

During the day, your solar panels will produce more electricity than your home needs. As shown in the above illustration, this excess electricity is fed to the local power grid and your electric meter runs backward.

During the night, when your solar panels are not producing any electricity, you will pull electricity from the lower power grid, however, will not pay for it because what you use during the night is usually offset by the extra electricity that your solar panels created during the day. Some utilities may provide you a refund or credits for extra electricity you produced but did not use at the end of the year, this is called net metering.

Because solar panels have become affordable, in the long run, the cost of a solar installation is usually cheaper than buying your electricity from the grid and most homeowners start seeing a return on investment within several years.

Are There Different Kinds of Solar Panels?

When deciding what kind of solar panels to buy, it’s important to understand the different kinds of solar panels that are available, and which are the best for your home. To help you better understand this we have written an article that covers the different types of solar panels

An Important Note About Inverters

Earlier in this article, I talked about the direct current produced by a solar panel being converted to alternating current by an “inverter”. An inverter is exactly that, it’s an electrical component attached to your solar power system that converts direct current into alternating current so that your home can use the electricity produced by your solar panels.

If you’re considering going solar, it’s important for you to understand the two main types of converters.

The first kind is a standard inverter. Here, each solar panel is connected to the next, and the last one channels all the power to the inverter that then converts the energy. If you have ever dealt with Christmas lights then you know that if a light breaks, the lights that come after that light won’t work.

In a normal system, like Christmas lights, each solar panel is connected to the next. When a solar power system uses a standard inverter, the effect is similar. Although your solar panels will still work, if one fails, doesn’t get as much sun, or for whatever doesn’t perform well it can reduce the overall amount of electricity your system produces.

The other kind, the kind we primarily use, is called a micro-inverter. In this system, each individual solar panel is equipped with its own microinverter that converts the direct current into alternating current. Alternating current is then fed into your home through a panel. A micro-inverter system is not only more efficient but should a single panel not perform for whatever reason, the rest of the system will continue to perform at 100%.

And, thanks to the micro-inverter system, we are able to detect exactly which solar panel isn’t performing and figure out why. In fact, our system alerts us to it as it happens.

How Long Does a Solar Panel Last?

Solar panels generally last between 25 and 30 years. 

When estimating various factors of your solar PV installment, like price, financing, and reliability, 25-30 years is a good answer to start with.

Other factors to be considered include: 

  1. The quality of the solar panels you buy/install
  2. The quality of the installation
  3. The warranties that come with the solar panels, and the guarantees that come with the workmanship.
  4. Your maintenance of the solar panels. 
What Is The Difference Between Tier 1, 2, and 3 Solar Panels?

When you buy a solar panel, you have a choice of buying a Tier 1, 2, or 3 solar panel. At first glance, the main difference is quality and price. But to better understand what makes these solar panels different, as well as to decide what solar panel is best for your home, read our article on the different tiers of a solar panel

What About Solar Batteries?

Because you still rely on the local power grid for your electricity, solar panels do not work during local power outages or blackouts. This is a common misconception homeowners have. If you want your solar system to be able to provide power to your home, even during a power outage, then it’s important that you ask about solar batteries.

While solar batteries can add to the cost of your solar installation, they are a very good option for anyone who wants to have a dependable source of power. One solar batter is usually enough to power a home for up to 10-15 hours without grid electricity.

The concept of solar batteries is pretty simple. Excess power produced by your solar panels is first channeled into your battery system. Once fully charged, the excess power is channeled to your grid the same way a normal solar power system would.

Should the local grid fail to provide power to your home or in the case of a power outage, a flip automatically switches and your home starts operating off the power reserve from your solar batteries.

Can I Take My Home Completely Off-Grid?

Increasing electricity costs, fees, and an unreliable supply has made more and more people want to disconnect from the grid.

There is a certain sense of freedom that comes with generating your own electricity and the idea of complete energy independence is pretty amazing. If you want to disconnect your home from the local power grid, solar panels along with solar batteries are perfect.

In most states, disconnecting your home from the local power grid is legal. However, before doing so, it is important that you check to make sure it doesn’t violate any local or state regulations. Also, it requires you to follow a specific procedure, which your solar installation company can help with.

States that currently allow homeowners to detach from the electric grid are Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.

As we primarily install solar systems in Florida, we thought it was important to say that unfortunately at the time of this writing, Florida regulations do not allow for a homeowner to disconnect his home entirely from the grid.

However, we can design a solar power system to make sure you are entirely independent of the grid, meaning you never need to rely on the grid for your electricity.

Should I Go Solar?

A lot of people wonder if their home is suitable for solar or not.

The good news is that solar panels are built to work in all climates. The advances in solar technology have not only made solar panels more affordable but also more efficient.

The main factor we will need to examine is how much energy you use, your roof space, and ensure there are no trees or buildings that block your roof from the sun during the day.

In Florida, solar is a fantastic option for pretty much every single-family home. If trees shade certain portions of your roof, we can either design the solar panel system to operate in the area of your roof that receives the most amount of sun, or we can trim the trees.

No matter the climate in your state, solar panels are a great way to reduce energy costs. For example, New Jersey was named as one of the best states for solar panels in 2020. While clouds, rain, and snow can reduce the output of your solar panels these conditions are generally temporary and as long as your roof gets sunlight, your solar panels will produce electricity.

If upon inspection, we determine that your roof is not suitable, or you do not own your home you can still benefit from solar by connecting your home to a local solar farm, also known as community solar.

Community solar allows people who are not in a position to install solar panels to benefit from a single, shared solar array that can be installed off-site. Costs associated with purchasing and installing a solar energy system are divided among all of the participants, who are able to buy into the shared system at a level that best fits their budget.

Should I Replace My Roof Before Going Solar?

As long as your roof can support the weight of a solar energy system, and it has a significant number of years of life left in it, there is no need to install a new roof at the same time that you install a solar energy system.

If your roof is already due for a replacement, we can often help bundle the expense of your new roof together with your solar installation making it more affordable.

How Much Does It Cost to Go Solar?

A survey done on thousands of homeowners that switched to solar found that the number one reason for going solar was to save money.

While the cost of your solar system will depend on the size of your home, how much electricity you use, whether you want solar batteries or not, and a few other factors, you could also ask yourself how much is it costing you NOT to go solar?

Every year electricity rates increase by 2-4%. Additionally, as regulations require utilities to generate more and more renewable energy, additional fees are added to your electricity bill to help pay for it. These are called “renewable energy charges” or “RPS charges”.

A renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is a regulatory mandate to increase the production of energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and other alternatives to fossil and nuclear electric generation. It’s also known as a renewable electricity standard.

As utilities invest in large-scale renewable energy production, they add small fees to your electric bills to help cover the costs.

Additionally, to meet renewable energy targets, most states are offering a limited solar tax incentive that allows you to credit a large part of your costs towards your taxes, making solar even more affordable than it already is.

As the solar tax credit changes each year, be sure to ask your solar installer if you qualify and how much credit you can receive towards your taxes.

When we design a solar system for a home, we always design it with two factors in mind:

  1. Can we lower your monthly payments, in other words, can we make the monthly cost of your solar power system less than your current electricity bill? And the answer is almost always yes.
  2. Can we get your system producing ROI in less than 10 years?

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has found that the payback period in many areas is less than four years and in others might be around eight years.

While the cost of a solar power system will vary in each state, we can provide the averages in Florida:

As of April 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Florida is currently $2.61 per watt. The two big incentives available to Florida residents are net metering and the 26% solar tax credit. In Florida, a typical 6 kW solar panel system will cost $15,660 before incentives and $11,588 after incentives.

Is It Worth Going Solar in Florida?

As a general rule, solar is worth it in Florida. Generous electricity buy-back rates, the Florida state sales tax exemption, the property tax exemption, and the Federal Solar Tax Rebate all combine to give an attractive solar payback period of 11 years on average, making solar well-worth it in Florida.

How Much Electricity Does One Solar Panel Produce?

One residential solar panel generates 250 watts per hour on average. The range is 170-350 watts per hour. Depending on the area and climate in which you live, these panels can significantly reduce your electricity bill.

Solar Increases Your Home’s Value

In addition to energy savings, solar panels will also increase your home’s value. A few studies have shown that solar installations increase a home’s resale value by up to $6,000 for each kilowatt of solar panels installed, or by about 4.1% of the home’s value.

Additionally, homes with solar panels are easier to sell and receive fewer negotiations.

How Many Solar Panels Will I Need?

Not all solar panels produce the same amount of electricity.

For that reason, the best way to figure out how many solar panels you will need is to ask a solar professional. We can help determine the best kind of solar panels for your system, how many you will need, and help get you the best and most cost-effective solutions.

However, to get an estimate, you can calculate how many solar panels you need by multiplying your household’s hourly energy requirement by the peak sunlight hours for your area and dividing that by a panel’s wattage. Use a low-wattage (150 W) and high-wattage (370 W) example to establish a range (ex: 17-42 panels to generate 11,000 kWh/year).

Is Solar Safe?

Absolutely! All solar panels meet international inspection and testing standards, and a qualified installer will install them to meet local building, fire, and electrical codes. Also, your solar energy system will undergo a thorough inspection from a certified electrician as part of the installation process.

Can I Install Solar Myself?

Unlike most home projects, as of this writing, you cannot go to your local Home Depot and buy solar panels to install yourself.

Maybe you are extremely handy, and you could do it. But for right now the best way to install solar is through a qualified professional who holds a certification to do so and works with high-quality solar panels.

Right now, solar installers are required to carry a license awarded from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

It is predicted that in the future you will likely be able to install solar yourself.

As technology advances, several solar developers are developing a plug-and-play solar array system that will enable homeowners to attach solar panels to their roof using an adhesive mounting system and connect the panels to the grid in less than 12 hours. However, that has not yet been fully developed or approved.

How Do I Choose the Right Solar Installer?

Solar installation is a very competitive industry. With that, as a homeowner, you have many solar installers to choose from. And of course, all will tell you they are the best choice.

So how do you choose the best installer for your needs? Instead of telling you, we are the best, we will give you seven simple steps you can take to help you make the best decision:

  1. Identify the kind of solar company they are.
  2. Choose a solar company with expertise.
  3. Make sure they are fully licensed and insured.
  4. Check their track record and experience.
  5. Check their reputation and credibility through
  6. Google reviews and other solar installation review websites.
  7. Check their solar warranties and their maintenance skills.

Probably one of the most important things to understand is the kind of solar company that you are dealing with. Although many companies call themselves “installers” they are in actual fact just consulting or sales companies and outsource their installations. While you may get a perfectly good deal and a great installation from such a company, we always suggest doing business with a company that handles every aspect of your solar installation in-house. From the sourcing of the panels and equipment to the initial design and consultation, installation, and most importantly after-sale customer service.

Can I Get Financing for Solar?

As a homeowner, you will have different financial options to select from when deciding to go solar. In general, a purchased solar system can be installed at a lower total cost than system installed using a solar loan, lease, or power purchase agreement (PPA).

If you prefer to buy your solar energy system, solar loans can lower the up-front costs of the system. In most cases, monthly loan payments are smaller than a typical energy bill, which will help you save money from the start. Solar loans function the same way as home improvement loans, and some jurisdictions will offer subsidized solar energy loans with below-market interest rates, making solar even more affordable. 

New homeowners can add solar as part of their mortgage with loans available which allow borrowers to include financing for home improvements in the home’s purchase price. 

Buying a solar energy system makes you eligible for the Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC. As the amount that you can credit towards your taxes changes each year, as your solar installer about this when discussing the costs of going solar. 

If you do not want to pay for a solar system, solar leases and PPAs allow you to host solar energy systems that are owned by solar companies and purchase back the electricity generated. Consumers enter into agreements that allow them to have lower electricity bills without monthly loan payments. In many cases, that means putting no money down to go solar. Solar leases entail fixed monthly payments that are calculated using the estimated amount of electricity the system will produce. With a solar PPA, consumers agree to purchase the power generated by the system at a set price per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. With both of these options, though, you are not entitled to tax benefits since you don’t own the solar energy system.

What Are the Environmental Benefits of Solar?

Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon and other pollutants that are emitted into the environment. Reducing the amount of carbon in our atmosphere translates into less pollution and cleaner air and water.

Can I Install Solar Panels for My Business?

While this article mainly speaks to homeowners thousands of businesses across the U.S. use solar panels to reduce costs and meet renewable energy goals. If your own a business and are interested in seeing if the costs of going solar will benefit your company we have done many solar installations for businesses in Florida and will be happy to schedule an onsite consultation with you.

How Do I Start the Process of Going Solar?

Great question!

The best way to start the “going solar” process is to call a solar professional near you to come out and give you an estimate.

As going solar is still new for a lot of homeowners, and because it is a big investment, a solar professional can help guide you through the entire installation process, as well as help answer any questions you may have.

Doing your own research online, like you are doing now, is also important. However, you can also run into a lot of information. Some of it is overwhelming, and some of it is misleading.

If you have any family, friends, or neighbors that switched to solar, you can also ask them which company they used, their experience, and if there is anything you should know about going solar.

But no matter what you read online or how your neighbors’ experience was if you are seriously considering going solar, a solar professional will be the best source of answers and information as well as an estimate of how much it will cost you to go solar.

Most solar installers are also part of special programs that provide financing for solar projects. These financial programs often offer very competitive interest rates and are suitable for all credit levels since their goal is to help finance renewable energy.

At Expert Solar, we have helped thousands of homeowners switch to solar for over a decade. If you live in the Tampa Bay area and are interested in going solar, we would be happy to provide you a solar estimate, as well as help, answer any remaining questions you have. We look forward to speaking to you soon.

Ricardo SolArticle by:
Ricardo Sol
Senior Editor
info@expertsolarfl.com

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