So you’re interested in solar energy and want to know facts and logistics.
There are a number of common questions we get which we’ve conveniently answered below. We’ve also provided you with links to more in depth articles for your reference, where possible.
Don’t hesitate to reach out should you have any further questions!
How does solar photovoltaic (PV) work?
Individual modules are combined into a solar array, which converts the sun’s energy to direct current (DC) electricity. This DC electricity is channeled from the PV array to an inverter that converts the DC current to AC power. The AC electricity is used by the home or business and any excess power is fed back into the utility grid. For a more detailed explanation, click here.
How do I decide what size system I need?
A Sun Pacific Solar representative will perform a free evaluation of your property’s solar potential. Based on this data and your energy goals (covering a portion of your energy usage, the entirety of your bill or adding additional panels to an existing installation), our design team will custom tailor a solar system to fit your needs.
What kind of solar panels should I buy?
Sun Pacific Solar Electric can purchase and install any type of panel, however we are particular about the products we adopt because quality is very important to us.
When considering which type of solar panel to purchase, factors such as aesthetics, price, quality, efficiency and warranty are all important. But there are other aspects to review that are equally important. For example, as companies make higher efficiency panels, their size generally changes. So if you ever need to replace a panel in the future, it becomes very tricky to find one with a similar square footage and aesthetic. SunPower is the only company that keeps this in mind and maintains the same square footage for their panel models. Also, how well-established and diversified a company is is important. Evergreen Solar is an example of a solar manufacturer that went out of business and left their customers with terminated warranties and no one to turn to.
For your convenience, we have put together a comparison of the panel manufacturers we feel are the top 5 on the market and we address all of the considerations listed above.
Is there a certain direction that my roof or property must face?
South or southwest-facing alignment of a solar PV array is ideal. Not all home, business, or property roofs are situated for maximum production, however our no cost site evaluation will clearly analyze and assess your property’s solar potential. Sun Pacific Solar Electric will determine whether a ground or roof-mounted system would be best as well as what angle and configuration will maximize your solar productivity.
Do I need a new roof?
Adding solar to your home does not require a re-roof. However, depending on the type of roof you have and whether you are considering re-roofing soon or not, we work with either your original roofer or a subcontracted roofer to ensure any work we do maintains your roof warranty. This also ensures that there are no leaks (in our 14 years of business we have never had a leak!), that the added weight of the solar will not affect the integrity of your roof and that the installation is aesthetically pleasing.
How do I get the permits I need?
As a licensed contractor, Sun Pacific Solar Electric adheres to all local and national codes and we take care of all the required electrical and building permits (including interconnection paperwork with your local energy provider). We provide turn-key solar systems and oversee all installations from start to finish.
What are the advantages of a Solar PV system installed by Sun Pacific Solar Electric?
You will get a custom built solar electrical system that is designed and installed by a team of solar professionals who have been working together for over a decade. Sun Pacific Solar Electric uses cutting edge technology and the highest quality materials while tailoring each installation to achieve the greatest potential in functionality and aesthetics of every project site.
Solar PV installations also make great financial sense in that they increase property values, are exempt from property taxes and can be very attractive financially after federal income taxes are filed. Business depreciation tax incentives also make Solar PV a smart investment.
Sun Pacific Solar Electric will help you gain energy independence while harnessing California’s greatest natural resource.
What is Net Energy Metering (NEM)?
When a solar electrical systems is connected to the utility company, the customer goes into a program called Net Energy Metering (NEM). During the day, when the solar panels are producing and feeding your house, the excess energy produced is sent into the grid through your meter and counted as credits. The meter tracks these credits and allows you to use them at night or when the sun isn’t shining. Because of the seasons, a system will generally produce more in the summer than in the winter, giving you a log of credits to use in winter. NEM essentially works like an electrical banking account. A debit or excess is carried over from one month to another with a year’s production and usage balanced out at the end of the cycle year, at which point you can either decide to roll over the remaining credits or cash them in.
How long will my system last?
Sun Pacific Solar Electric installs only equipment of the highest caliber available. The majority of our installations are SunPower systems – an industry leader and world record holder for efficiency. SunPower is the manufacturer of the most efficient solar panels in the world. SunPower panels have the longest warranty at 25 years and are expected to be performing at a high rate of efficiency for at least 30 years.
What kind of warranty is available?
Sun Pacific Solar Electric offers a 10 year installation warranty from the date of completion of the installation. Manufacturer’s warranties for system components (solar panels, inverters, remote monitoring system, etc.) vary depending on the product, but range from 10-25 years. For more specific warranty information on products, follow these links: for solar panels click here, for inverters here, for batteries here and for generators click here.
If the power goes out, will my solar keep working?
The short answer is no. Because of safety reasons, your solar array must shut off by law during a power outage so that linemen can perform their work without getting electrocuted and get the grid back on. Unless your solar system is paired with a battery backup system, solar always back feeds excess energy to the utility grid, making it unsafe during an outage. For a more thorough explanation of this topic, check out our blog post.
Do I need batteries for my Sun Pacific Solar Electric system?
Whether you have a residential or commercial solar installation, having a battery backup system or a generator is a good option for either. If you install a grid-tied solar electrical system and experience a power outage from the utility company, your system will shut down as required by law. In the event of a power outage, energy stored in your batteries will power your home or business at night, and during the day your solar panels will continue to provide you with power as well as recharge your batteries. You become the owner of your own power company! The battery backup system will give you peace of mind and security. With our optional custom automatic transfer switches, you can power your whole house/business or just a few essential circuits such as your refrigerator, and a few lights and plugs, what we call your “critical loads.”
Sun Pacific Solar Electric can integrate battery back up into your solar PV system or provide you with complete independence from the grid with a battery storage system that powers your property independently of the energy companies.
For more information on battery backup storage, click here.
To know more about why solar must shut down by law during a power outage, read our blog post.
How much does home battery backup cost?
The answer to this largely depends on the type of equipment you choose (lead acid batteries vs. lithium iron phosphate batteries), which manufacturer made the equipment and whether you want to back up your whole house or just your essential loads. (You can find more about whole house vs. essential load backup here.) However, the California Solar Storage Association recently published this helpful guide with a list of backup power option prices and a comparison of battery backup vs. generator backup. Please keep in mind that these are estimates and do not include installation costs or permitting costs. For more information on which type of batteries we recommend, you can read our blog post on the topic.
What type of rebates and incentives are available?
The federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is 30% of the system’s net cost for both residential and commercial properties. This rate qualifies for all solar systems installed until the end of year 2019. This means that solar installations installed after December 2019 won’t qualify for the ITC unless congress passes an extension. Adding panels or purchasing batteries for backup on an existing system both qualify for this credit. Other services that qualify for the ITC are installing an Electric Vehicle charger, re-roofing, electrical service upgrades, and any expense for water pumping as long as it’s in congruence with the addition of solar panels (or a new system).
As of 2020 this rate will decrease over the next 3-4 years (depending on if the installation is residential or commercial). Year 2020 installations qualify for a 26% rebate, 2021 for 22%, 2022 for 10%, and 2023 installations only qualify for 10% if it is a commercial installations. For more information on the ITC, click here. Qualifying commercial solar energy equipment is also eligible for a cost recovery period of five years according to the Internal Revenue Code.
The California Solar Initiative (CSI) Incentives are available for both market price homes and low income housing at different rates per kW of solar installed. Applications are handled by the homeowner via an independent verifier after the installation is completed. Follow these links for more information on the CSI and to a list of FAQ’s.
There are also incentives for the agricultural sector through the EPA and USDA.
This is a condensed version of the incentives available for solar. For a more thorough overview, check out our page on the subject.
Is there financing available?
Sun Pacific Solar Electric can help you determine if a solar lease or loan provided by SunPower is a good fit for you as opposed to one from your financial lender. Depending on your situation, the competitive pricing offered by SunPower may be the better option for you.
Below is more information about the options SunPower provides:
With a solar lease you are renting your solar energy system. For qualifying customers, solar leases usually cost no money upfront, so you may begin to see savings immediately. The leases run for 20 years and when it ends, you can choose to renew it for an additional term, purchase the system, or have the panels removed.
Monthly lease payments are typically fixed. Some leases, however, include an annual price escalator, which increases your monthly payments each year by a certain percentage. To help ensure customers have a good value proposition, many leases also include a performance guarantee, which compensates the homeowner should the system fail to produce within a certain pre-specified range of electricity every month.
A solar loan allows you to borrow money to buy your solar system outright.
Many solar loans are unsecuritized so you don’t need equity to get one and you don’t need to pledge your home as collateral, but you do need a fairly healthy credit score. There are often $0-down options (to qualifying customers), with flexible repayment terms of 5-25 years and relatively low interest rates. So depending on the duration of the loan, customers may be able to save money immediately.
In addition to solar-specific loans, it’s also possible to pay for solar through traditional bank products such as home improvement loans, HELOCs, mortgages, refinancing, etc. However, these may require more effort depending on the familiarity of your bank with solar and often require more significant collateral and liens.
For more information on SunPower leases and loans click here.
How do I add an Electric Vehicle charger to my home?
1. Call Sun Pacific Solar Electric so we can come evaluate your electric service and make sure it can accommodate the extra load.
2. Determine how much solar you would need to add to cover your car’s charging needs.
3. Schedule the installation of solar & charger.
4. Get the Federal Tax Credit if you choose to install solar and an EV charger at the same time.
For a more detailed account of what it takes to add an EV charger, click here.
Solar Electric Terminology
Amorphous thin film: Materials that produce Solar energy that are made by depositing a thin layer of PV material onto plastic, glass or a metallic foil.
Azimuth: This describes the sun’s location on a horizontal plane that runs from east to west. The sun’s azimuth will change from morning to night as it rises in the east, crosses to the south, and sets in the west. Optimal production for PV system would be attained at an orientation between 180 and 270 degrees.
Building integrated PV array (BIPV): Solar electric arrays that are integrated into the design of the building. This can be accomplished by constructing an awning with modules, or using Solar roof tiles that seamlessly integrate into a roof.
Types of Solar energy systems
Grid tied with battery backup: A grid tied PV system that has battery storage as a backup in case the grid goes down. This type of system will supply instant backup power on selected circuits.
Off Grid: A PV Solar system that is not connected to the electric grid. These systems require battery storage to supply power when the sun is not shining.
On Grid or Grid tied: A PC solar system that is tied in to the electric grid and uses the grid as a back up instead of battery storage or a generator.
Passive Solar: A system that captures the sun’s energy and uses the energy as heat. This type of system can heat water for pools and the inside of a home, or the home itself using south facing glass and strategically placed thermal mass to capture the sun’s energy stored as heat.
Common electrical terms
AC power: The power supplied by the electric grid.
Current: The flow of electrons in a circuit measured in amps.
DC power: The power supplied by an inverter that is then converted to AC power for use in your home or business.
Energy: The actual work done by electricity measured in watt hours and kilowatt hours. Measuring the rate of power times the amount of time flowing.
KW: One thousand watts. A unit of power.
Kilowatt-hour (kWh): The amount of energy or electricity needed to burn a 100 watt incandescent light bulb for ten hours. One kilowatt equals 1,000 watts.
Load: The amount of electric power used by any electric unit or appliance at a given time.
Peak output: A measurement describing the maximum power produced by a PV array under ideal cloudless conditions.
Pitch: The angle or the steepness of the roof or slope measured in degrees.
Power: The rate of delivery of electricity.
Voltage: The measurement of the force or pressure of the current.
Crystalline Solar cells: The most common PV cells today. These solar building blocks are wafer thin and generally made of Silicon. Two main types, mono and poly crystalline.
CSI: California Solar Initiative. California’s rebate incentive program that promotes solar electric installations.
LEED: A voluntary rating system set up to promote the design and construction of higher energy efficiency in “green homes”. The LEED rating system is the nationally recognized standard for green building.
Net metering: An arrangement with your utility where you bank the energy produced by your Solar array, receiving credit for excess energy produced. Generally a 12 month agreement that allows the power producer to use the grid as a back up source of energy for cloudy days and at nights. Your meter goes backward and forward, recording energy used by your home and produced by your home.
Power purchase agreement (PPA): An agreement for the sale of electricity from one party to another that typically involves third party financing.
PV system power rating
CEC-AC: The energy produced by a PV system after module and inverter efficiencies have been accounted for. This is the rating that California CSI uses to calculate rebates.
Insolation: The amount of Solar irradiation falling on an area usually expressed in kilowatt -hours per square meter.
Irradiation: The amount of energy falling on an area or the solar power incident. Irradiance multiplied by time equals Insolation.
Power: The rate of delivery of electricity.
PTC: The rating of a module in “real world” conditions based on tests set up by the California Energy Commission.
Standard Test Conditions (STC): The DC output rating of Solar modules, under factory conditions, used to rate module outputs from manufacturer for comparison.
Solar electric system components (listed in order of the progression of the components through the system design)
Combiner box: A fused utility box where wire from strings is reduced to a conduit run to the inverter.
Inverter: The component of the PV system that converts DC electricity to more commonly used AC electricity.
DC disconnect: A means of shutting off the flow of DC current from the array to the inverter to allow for maintenance or troubleshooting.
Photovoltaic cells(PV): Solar cells convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are made of semi conducting material (silicon based) that is similar to materials used to make computer chips. Sunlight is absorbed by this material which knocks electrons loose from their atoms. This allows the electrons to flow through the silicon layer to produce DC electricity. The PV process converts photons of light into electricity or voltage.
Solar module: Also called a Solar “panel,” is comprised of Solar PV cells.
Solar array: A series of modules in a group of strings.
String: A sub group of modules in an array interconnected in a series.
Time of use rates: Electricity pricing structure that varies depending on the time periods in which electricity is used. Higher prices are charged during utility peak-load times, lower prices at off and part-peak times.