contacttwitterfacebookget started

 

Solar PV FAQs

Find answers to your questions about solar energy in Utah.

About Solar Energy

A kilowatt is a measure of electrical power that is equivalent to 1,000 watts. A watt is a unit of power that measures the rate of energy transfer; it is defined as one joule per second. Your electrical bill charges you for electricity in terms of kilowatt-hours (kWh). One kilowatt-hour is a unit of energy that is equivalent to one kilowatt of power expended for one hour of time. For example, an appliance, such as a hair dryer, that is rated at 1,000 watts (1 kW) and operates for one hour will use one kilowatt-hour of energy. If you have a 1 kilowatt solar system and 5 peak sun hours per day (an approximate average for Utah), then your 1 kilowatt solar system will produce 5 kilowatt-hours of electricity per day (a certain amount of energy is lost as sunlight is converted to DC, then AC, power, so an average 1 kW solar PV system in northern Utah will generate, on average, 1,400 kilowatt-hours a year).
Susie Hulet Community Solar is offering solar PV systems, which convert sunlight directly into electricity using semiconductor technology. Solar thermal systems, also known as solar hot water, use the sun's light to directly heat water and/or space for homes and businesses. There are several solar-thermal system configurations which employ the sun's energy to heat water; the most appropriate for Utah's climate, where freezing temperatures are common, is a closed-loop, active, solar hot water system. Closed-loop solar thermal systems use the sun to heat a heat-transfer fluid in the collector. Heated fluid is pumped from the collector in the bottom of the solar storage tank into a heat exchanger where heat energy is transferred from the fluid to potable water. Heated water is then held in the storage tank ready for use, with a conventional system providing additional heating as necessary. Solar thermal systems are not available through Susie Hulet Community Solar, but you can consult a solar contractor to learn more about solar thermal for your home.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are composed of solar cells that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. The DC electrical charge is then converted into alternating current (AC) electricity by a power inverter so that it can be used for your household electricity needs. Many cells are assembled to create a module (also called a panel), and many modules can be linked together to form a solar array.Cell-Module-Array

Your Solar Installation

The size of your system will depend on your current energy usage, your available usable roof space, your budget and financing options, and the percentage of your energy consumption you want to offset with solar. It is recommended that you first take steps to make your home as efficient as possible before (or in conjunction with) making your solar investment. Get some simple tips to help conserve energy and make your home more energy efficient. You can use the Solar Simplified calculator (a project of Utah Clean Energy) to estimate what size solar system will work best for you.
The output of your solar energy system will depend on the amount of sunlight the panel receives, the tilt of the panel, and the type of panel you use. You can use the Solar Simplified calculator (a project of Utah Clean Energy) to roughly calculate how much electricity a given system will produce. The average Utahn uses around 9,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, and a 6.4 kilowatt system would cover 100% of that usage. When your Susie Hulet Community Solar contractor provides you with a final bid, that bid should include an estimated production for your panels based on your specific circumstances.
There are no moving parts in a standard rooftop solar panel, so there is not much that will break or malfunction under normal conditions. Solar panels should be sprayed down periodically (usually in the spring or summer) with warm water to prevent dust and pollen build-up (the thin film of dust blocks a little bit of light from hitting the panels, reducing the amount of electricity they make. Ensuring that your solar panels are free of debris will help them operate at their maximum potential. Large amounts of snow can block solar radiation to the panels as well, so if you live in a snowy area your winter production may be decreased if you aren't able to remove the snow. As solar panels are black and tilted at an angle, the snow will usually melt fairly quickly.Solar panels and inverters are usually covered by warranties for the lifetime of the product, so if you need to replace a panel due to manufacturing defect it should be covered by the warranty. If you need to replace a component of your solar system due to damage, the solar contractor should be able to replace that specific component (panel, inverter, etc.) individually.If you need to replace your roof, you will have to remove the solar panels. Re-installing the panels is less time intensive than the original installation, but there will be a cost to have a solar contractor come to remove and replace the panels. If your roof is in need of replacement in the near future, it is often worth it to have the roof replaced before installing solar.
Solar panels can operate perfectly well in the winter, especially if you have good sun exposure and many sunny days a year. However, large amounts of snow can block solar radiation to the panel, so if you live in a snowy area your winter production may be decreased if you aren't able to remove the snow. As solar panels are black and tilted at an angle, the snow will usually melt fairly quickly. If you are able to safely access your roof, some people use a snow broom to remove snow from the panels. Removing snow from even a small portion of the panels can help the black panel absorb sunlight, warm up, and shed the rest of the show. The contractor can recommend snow removal strategies based on where your system is located and how steep your roof is.The vast majority of solar installations are grid-tied. These systems are installed on houses that are still connected to the power grid. Through net metering contracts with Rocky Mountain Power and other utilities, power flows to the house when the solar system is not producing as much electricity, and the panels feed extra electricity back into the grid when they are. In this way, excess generation in the summer can be used in the winter! Learn more about net metering >
Solar PV works on just about any home, as long as the site doesn't receive shade. If your roof is shaded, solar PV can be installed on a ground mount system, on a pole mount system, or on a garage, shed or adjacent building. Solar can be mounted on almost any roof type. In most cases, solar will be feasible and the contractor will help you to figure out the best solution for you and your energy goals.Solar panels work best when they are installed facing south or west. If you have a large area of roof that faces either south or west and does not receive significant amounts of shading, your home is probably suitable for rooftop solar panels. East facing panels can sometimes outperform west facing ones, so check with your solar installer to see if this is an option. East facing systems may not be able to take advantage of state tax incentives, however.Fire codes mandate that there is a minimum distance between solar panels and the edge of your roof for safety purposes - so you can not cover 100% of your roof space with solar panels. If you have a flat roof or a very steep roof, or you do not have optimal roof space due to shading issues, you will either need to mount the solar panels on an angled rack or use a ground- or pole- mounted system located on an auxiliary structure (like a garage), or in a sunny part of your yard. There are extra costs associated with these systems, but your Susie Hulet Community Solar contractor will let you know about those costs when they visit your home.
Unless it is specially configured, a residential solar power system will not provide power during a power outage. When an outage occurs, utility workers may be picking up downed lines or handling electric cables. When the power is out, they are generally safe to handle, as there should be no electrical current running through them. If the system on your roof is still generating electricity, however, it could create a safety hazard. When the grid goes down, your inverter will temporarily turn your system off until the grid comes back online.A 2008 study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that in the Mountain West region, there is a total of less than two hours (117 minutes) in an entire year that customers experience interruptions to their electrical service. There are more than 8,760 hours in a year, which means that power outages only result in a loss of grid connectivity for 0.0002% of the time. Additionally, less than 1% of these outages last more than 10 minutes.A grid-tied system can only have power during blackouts with the use of a battery back-up. Systems with battery backups allow you to keep using electricity generated by your solar panels when the grid goes down (the electricity produced from the solar PV system is stored in the batteries, for later use). Battery backups are made up of banks of deep-cycle batteries that are charged by both the panels on your roof and by the grid. Battery backups decrease the efficiency of your solar system overall because some of the power you generate must be diverted to charge and maintain the batteries. The batteries also have to be maintained and replaced periodically. The system and the batteries can be customized to cover a certain amount of electricity from key appliances in the home (i.e. refrigerator, lights, stove, etc); the system doesn’t need to be sized to cover the entirety of the home’s electricity usage, as this sort of system is typically used for emergency back-up. However, battery back-up systems are typically more costly than a standard grid-tied solar PV system.  Due to their additional cost and complexity, battery back-up solar energy systems are not available through Susie Hulet Community Solar.An off-grid solar system does not connect to the utility grid at all. As such, the solar PV system must be sized to cover the entirety of a homeowner’s electricity usage. Almost all off-grid systems require a backup energy source for times of high energy use or low solar production.  Off-grid systems are not available through Susie Hulet Community Solar.
All investor-owned and cooperative electric utilities in Utah (municipal utilities are excluded) are required to allow residential customers to connect renewable energy systems of up to 25 kWs to the grid and credit them when excess electricity is generated.In 2009, improvements to Rocky Mountain Power’s net metering tariff required that customers are given credit on a kWh-to-kWh basis for any excess electricity they produce in a month. The credits roll over month-to-month within the annualized billing cycle, which begins April 1st and ends March 31st. Any unused credits expire at the end of the billing year. Utah net metering laws do not allow you to “sell” electricity back to the grid beyond the amount of electricity you’ve used.You do not need to renew your net metering agreement with Rocky Mounty Power on an annual basis. Once your net meter is installed by Rocky Mountain Power, you are ready to start generating electricity!Savings will vary annually; you should expect to see higher solar electricity production in the summer and lower production in the winter. For example: If you produce 180 kWhs in June and only use 160 kWhs in that month, you will have 20 kWhs which “roll-over” as a credit on your bill in July. Those credits continue to roll forward until you use them (by using more electricty than your panels produce) or the annualized billing cycle ends on March 31st. At that point, any unused kWh credits will expire and you will start again with a ‘fresh slate’ on April 1st. In a month where you use more electricity (kWhs) than you solar panel produces, your bill will still reflect any kWhs generated by the solar PV system, and your net bill will only reflect the kWhs you used from the utility (i.e. the kilowatt-hours that weren’t provided by the solar PV system).Your Susie Hulet Community Solar installer will help you determine the best size for your system and complete forms for net metering and interconnection.Learn more about Rocky Mountain Power's Net Metering Policy.
Like many other home improvement projects, solar installations require a permit to ensure the system is safe and meets all applicable codes, standards, and local requirements. Permitting processes and costs differ across jurisdictions, but your Susie Hulet Community Solar installer will take care of the permitting process as part of your solar installation.
Susie Hulet Community Solar is offering the following product options.  For more information about products and pricing, see Group Discount Solar Pricing.
Wood shake and tile are the most challenging to install on and generally require that a roofer is involved. The easiest roofs to install on are asphalt and raised seam metal roofs. 
Solar panels and equipment belong to the homeowner, so you may do what you like with them. It is possible to have solar panels reinstalled, but there is an additional cost to do so. It usually does not make sense to uninstall and reinstall because it will require replacing parts and roof repair to the old installation area.

Solar Financing

There are many financing options available to help defray the initial upfront costs of residential solar. Susie Hulet Community Solar will host a financing workshop after the official project launch to answer all your questions about solar financing. You may also be interested in energy efficiency as an initial first step and smart investment for your home (that will save you money and energy). Energy efficiency investments also help make your home more solar-ready, which means you may not need as large of a solar PV system to meet your energy needs.
There are several financing options available to help homeowners defray the upfront cost of a solar installation. Learn more about solar financing options.What tax credits and incentives are available?
A state and federal tax credit are available for solar PV

  • The state of Utah offers a 25% rebate on residential solar systems, up to a cap of $2,000.

Unused credit can be carried over for up to four years, and the solar system does not have to be installed on your primary residence to receive the tax credit. Learn more about the Renewable Energy Systems Tax Credit.The Renewable Energy Systems Tax Credit is specifically for renewable technologies (see a list of eligible technologies). You can apply for the Renewable Energy Systems Tax Credit more than once, however the total of all credits you receive is limited to $2,000. If you have applied for this credit before (for passive solar, solar thermal or solar hot water, or other renewable technologies for your residence), you may not be able to receive the full amount of the credit for your solar PV system.

  • The Federal tax credit is a 30% tax credit with no cap.

This credit is for renewable energy systems installed before 12/2016. Excess credit can generally be carried over into the next year, at least until 2016. The credit can be taken against the alternative minimum tax.
Learn more about the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.

  • If you are not able to take state or federal tax credits, there are no other incentives that will be available during the Susie Hulet Community Solar timeline.

Learn more about solar incentives.

Unfortunately, this figure will vary widely: the time it takes you to recover your investment will depend on the technology you select, your energy efficiency and usage habits, your current and future electricity rates, the system size and configuration, and available incentives. However you should see a return of 4%+ the first year and 7%+ in future years.  Solar is one of the few things consumers can purchase that does provide a financial return on your investment; imagine what the ROI would be for your car that you fill with gas every week! One of the biggest benefits of solar is the fact that it is an inexhaustible, clean, and price stable resource that is warrantied to last 25 years. Investing in solar today helps you mitigate the future risks, fuel volatility, and uncertainty, while also improving your self-reliance and energy independence. Use the Solar Simplified calculator (a project of Utah Clean Energy) to learn more about your particular situation.
Utah has a tremendous and largely untapped solar resource, and the potential for solar development is widespread across the state. The technical resource potential varies for each type of solar technology and application, for example:

  • Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): According to the Utah Renewable Energy Zone Task Force Report, Utah's technical potential for CSP is about 826 Gigwatts (GW) - or 826,000 MW. This represents 16,500 technically potential 50-Megawatt sites, covering appriximately 6,371 square miles of land.This amount of concentrating solar potential could generate over 1.5 million Gigawatt hours per year (GWh/yr) - equivalent to the annual electricity demand of over 150 million average Utah homes.
  • Rooftop Solar Photovoltaics (PV): Utah's technical potential for roof-top solar PV (in 2010) is approximately 5 Gigawatts (GW), or 5,000 Megawatts (MW),1 which could produce 7 million megawatt hours of electricty per year (MWh/yr) - enough to power over 720,000 Utah homes for a year.

This will depend on the individual insurance you have. Insurance will, in general, increase a bit to make sure that the solar is covered in the cost of replacement in case of damage/loss. Also your insurance company should be notified of the installation. That way if there is damage to the system it can be filed as an insurance claim.   

Solar: the Details

Solar is a fuel-free energy resource, which means it is an infinite and inexhaustible resource with no volatile fuel costs. Solar is also a pollution-free energy resource; the more we replace conventional energy with solar energy, the cleaner our air and water. After the up-front initial cost, solar provides immediate energy savings and greater energy stability. Solar also reduces line losses on the grid and provides energy to the grid during the daytime, when energy is most expensive and in high demand.
There are a number of factors related to your roof that can drastically affect the suitability of solar on the roof of your home. Some of these include: orientation (north, east, south, west), pitch, shading, and others. Living in the northern hemisphere, it's ideal to have a roof that faces due south, isn't very steep or flat, and is free of shading from things like trees and chimneys. It's important to understand these unique characteristics before installing solar panels on your home. Of course, a solar contractor can help determine the suitability of solar on your home.
At this point, Utah maintains strong net metering policies and rules (receiving two A grades in Freeing the Grid for Net Metering and Interconnection since 2010). Net metering policies for regulated utilities, like Rocky Mountain Power, are ultimately decided by the Public Service Commission. Rocky Mountain Power has submitted a request to update the rates their customers pay, for regular homeowners and solar homeowners alike. The Public Service Commission will rule on this request in the next few months.  In 2014, the Utah legislative session included a bill that addressed net metering. Rather than take a step backward on Utah's strong A-grade rooftop solar policy, the bill simply directs the Public Service Commission to look closely at both the costs and the significant benefits that private investments in homegrown rooftop solar brings to Utah and all Rocky Mountain Power customers.  If you're interested in learning more about net metering, visit Utah's Clean Energy's website or recieve updates on this issue as they develop by signing up for Utah Clean Energy's newsletter.  
If your roof is not suitable for solar, or you HOA does not allow rooftop solar, solar panels can also be mounted on a pole or on the ground in your yard.  There is an extra fee to build the structure that ground- and pole-mount systems are installed on, but often ground- and pole-mount systems can be installed in optimal locations for sun exposure.  Solar panels can also be installed on accessory structures, like a garage or a shed.
It is possible to have your house stay powered during blackouts, just as it is possible to take your house completely off of the grid. Systems with battery backups allow you to continue using the energy generated by your solar panels during a blackout, but they are more costly than a simpler system. Due to the additional cost and complexity of installing a battery backup, these systems are not available through Susie Hulet Community Solar.  Battery backups are made up of banks of deep-cycle batteries that are charged by both the panels on your roof and by the grid. Battery backups decrease the efficiency of your solar system overall because some of the power you generate must be diverted to charge and maintain the batteries. Batteries also must be maintained and replaced periodically, adding costs to the system. 
DOE DiagramThe majority of solar PV cells are made from crystalline silicon. Silicon is the second most common element in Earth's crust (after oxygen) and, by mass, is the eighth most common element in the universe. In addition to crystalline silicon cells, solar panels can be made of cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, gallium arsenide multijunction, thin film silicon, and other materials. The most common type of installation uses a flat-plate module which contains silicon cells encased in an encapsulant material for protection and sandwiched between a transparent glass or plastic cover and a metal, glass, or plastic backing to provide structural support. The entire module is usually encased in a metal frame.
Solar panels are typically warrantied to be producing 80% of their original amount of power in 25 years. They are generally made with tempered glass that is rated to withstand a direct vertical impact of a one-inch diameter hail stone traveling 50 miles per hour.
Most solar panels have a 20-30 year warranty (and continue to produce electricity long beyond that time frame), so most solar panels have not yet reached the end of their usable lives. However, solar panels do contain potentially hazardous materials, so as more panels age the solar industry is beginning to discuss disposal and recycling of solar panels.

Learn More:

Producing solar panels does require energy consumption, which produces pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. It takes from 1 – 4 years for modern solar panels to produce enough pollution-free solar electricity to equal the energy cost of producing the panel.                                                                                   Tell me more about the carbon footprint of solar. How has the carbon footprint of solar changed over time?  
Most solar cells and modules are made of crystalline silicon, which use wafers of purified silicon. Purifying and crystallizing silicon are the most energy-intensive parts of the manufacturing process, but other parts of the process that consume energy include cutting the silicon into wafers, processing the wafers into cells, assembling the cells into modules, encapsulating them in glass and frames, and the overhead energy used by manufacturing facilities. The PV industry generally uses "off-grade" silicon from the microelectronics industry that is then recrystallized. While producing energy with photovoltaic (PV) cells does not emit pollution or use energy resources, producing the panels themselves does consume energy, which, depending on the energy source, produces pollution and CO2 emissions.According to a 2004 National Renewable Energy Laboratory study that analyzes several different panel technologies, it takes 1 – 4 years for the energy savings accumulated by producing electricity from solar to equal the energy cost of producing the panel. Solar panels generally have life expectancies of 30 years, so 87% - 97% of the energy produced by the panels is clean energy (i.e. no pollution and/or greenhouse gas emissions). This 2004 NREL study assumes 1,700 kilowatt-hours per square meter of solar insolation, and in northern Utah we receive more sunlight than that (from 1,800 – 2,000 kWh/m2), so solar panels will "pay back" the energy used in the cost of their production more quickly than estimated in this study.Solar technology has improved even in the years since this study was conducted, and production efficiencies have driven the "energy payback period" down even further. A 2010 study estimated that the energy payback for monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells is 1 to 2 years, assuming 4.7 peak sun hours per day (Utah receives about 5). In 2011, one solar company began offering a solar panel that generates the same amount of energy used to create it in one year (assuming 1,700 kWh/m2 per year of solar insolation).

More Resources:

   

Footnotes:

1 US Department of Energy, "Photovoltaic Basics." Energy Basics. <http://www.eere.energy.gov/basics/renewable_energy/pv_systems.html>
2 US Department of Energy, "Flat-Plate Photovoltaic Systems." Energy Basics. <http://www.eere.energy.gov/basics/renewable_energy/flat_plate_pv_systems.html>