Solar Power FAQs

Frequently Asked Solar System Installation Questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions in regards to the installation of solar power systems.

Can My Home Owner's Association (HOA) Keep Me From Installing My System Based On Aesthetics?

No! The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 states that a Solar System Installation can not be denied for Aesthetics. The HOA can ask for "reasonable" changes to the installation for aesthetic purposes, but these reasonable changes can not increase installation costs by more than $2000 or decrease performance of your photovoltaic system by more than 20% in general. The law is on your side.

Is it Cost Effective for me to Go Solar or is it just for Environmentalists?

Yes, solar does benefit the environment, but with all the solar rebates, tax credits, and incentives offered today, it is one of the best financial investments you can make. Read our page on making a Solar Power Investment for details. Don't forget to read about the other benefits of using solar power as well.

Can I Have a Solar System Installed on my Condo?

Yes! Our solar energy experts offer a unique solution that allows individual tenants in a condo to own and benefit from their own solar investment. Each tenant can individually monitor his or her individual system performance, even though they all tie back to the same utility service! Read our solar power for condos page for details on how they make this work.

Can I Completely Eliminate my Electric Bill?

Assuming you have the roof space for it, your system can be sized to produce as much power as you consume over the course of a year, leaving you with the minimum bill of around $1.50 (depending on who your utility company is, this minimum can be different by a couple dollars).

How Long Does it Take to Install a Photovoltaic System?

A general rule of thumb for a standard grid-tied system is one day per kilo-Watt (kW) of solar. In other words, if you have a 4kW system installed, it will take about 4 days under normal circumstances.

Does the Utility Company Pay Me for Any Extra Power I Produce?

In the past, the "net-metering" program stated that you will be "credited" for any excess power your produce to offset any power you use from the utility company. If you produced more than you used over the course of your net-metering year, then those extra credits were forfeited. Now, with California Assembly Bill 510 signed into law, you are now eligible to roll over those credits to the following year, or be compensated for them. This is a huge win for solar, making the financial return even bigger.

How Does Photovoltaic (PV) Technology Work?

See our Photovoltaics page for a detailed explanation.

Is Solar Power Cheaper than Utility Power?

Yes! Not only does the utility charge more for electricity than you would pay having a solar system, but the utility prices have increased by an average of 6% per year since 1970. In addition, the money you pay for your solar system gives you a tangible asset, where as giving money to the utility for electricity is like paying rent, money that you will never get back.

Will I Still Have Power If the Utility Grid Goes Down?

If you have a standard grid-tied system, the answer is no. Your inverter is designed to shut off in the event of grid failure (known as anti-islanding) so that it does not energize the transmission lines when the linemen are working on them. If you are concerned with having backup power for your grid-tied system, a hybrid solar system can be installed which utilizes batteries or a generator to power critical loads during a power failure. Only certain contractors will install this type of system. Solar Source is one of those contractors.

Will My Solar Power System Still Work on a Cloudy Day?

Yes! Your solar system will still produce power, but at a reduced level.

How Long Will my Solar Panels Last?

Your photovoltaic panels typically come with a 25 year manufacturer's warranty. In reality, they should last well past 30 years if installed properly.

Are Solar Power Systems Safe?

Yes! Your system will be installed by a licensed solar contractor, and will meet all required National, State, and Local electrical/building codes.

What Maintenance is Required Once My System is Installed?

Virtually none. A photovoltaic system does not have any moving parts. Periodic cleaning of your panels ever few months is recommended, even though a dirty solar array will typically only loose between 3%-6% of its power output. Remember, on a rainy day you don't produce much power, but the rain cleans your panels for you!

What Does A Solar Power System do to my Property Value?

Your property value will increase with the installation of a solar system, however, it will not raise your property taxes. This is a win win. Click on the link above for details on how much your property value will go up.

What Appliances and Loads Can I Power with my Solar System?

Everything that you already power in your home. Since your solar electric system is connected to your main utility panel, it provides power to everything in your house, just as if it was coming from the grid. You won't have to do anything different to use the power from your photovoltaic system.

Do I Need Permits to Install A Solar System on my Property?

Yes, you need building and electrical permits, in addition to a permit from the utility company to interconnect to the grid. However, a good solar contractor will take care of all of this for you!

Does My Solar System Produce Alternating Current (AC) or Direct Current (DC)?

Your photovoltaic panels will produce DC, however, since all of your household appliances, electronics, and the utility grid use AC, it must be "inverted" to AC. This is done in the inverter. To better understand AC and DC, see our electricity 101 tutorial.

Will My Home Owners Insurance Cover My Photovoltaic System?

Your insurance company is obligated to cover your system since they typically insure all of your household items. Make sure you confirm this with your particular insurer, and let them know you now have a photovoltaic system so that there are no surprises if you ever needed to make a claim.

How Big of A Photovoltaic System Do I Need?

Your system is sized based on the amount of power you use each year. The solar contractor will request your monthly kilo-watt-hour (kWh) usage for the previous twelve months. They will then use this information to compute a very accurate estimate of the required system size. Other factors such as average solar irradiation for your area, roof shading, roof tilt and azimuth, and available roof space are all taken into account when computing your system size. Don't worry, the contractor does all this for you!

Does my System Need Batteries to Store the Electricity Generated by my Panels?

For a standard residential/commercial grid-tied system, no. Since you are tied into the public utility grid, and feeding power into it, you are essentially using the grid as a giant battery, which you then draw from at night when your system is not producing any power. You only need batteries if you desire a hybrid solar system which contains a backup to be used in the event of a grid failure, or in an off-grid system used in remote areas.

How Big is a Solar Panel?

A solar panel's size is dependent on the panel's wattage. They come in a variety of wattages, but a good general rule of thumb for an average size photovoltaic panel is 5 feet by 3 feet.

How much are the Tax Credits and Rebates for a Solar System Installation?

Read our Solar System Tax Credits and Rebates page for details.

How do I Know if I Have the Right Roof for A Solar System?

A South facing roof will give your system the most output over the course of a year. A West and East facing roof will produce less power, however, a West facing roof will produce more power during peak hours when electricity is the most expensive, which can be an advantage for customers of PG&E and SCE who use time-of-use metering. As far as roof type, it can be virtually any type of material, from flat composite, composite shingle, metal, bitumen, and tar and gravel. If your roof is old, it is recommended to have your roof replaced in conjunction with the solar installation.

Can I be Totally Independent of the Utility?

Yes, by using an off-grid system. This however, will not give a good return on investment, if at all, due to the added initial/replacement costs of the batteries needed. This type of system is really not practical unless you live in a remote area where it would cost a lot more to have the utility run transmission lines to your house. Read our comparison of the different type of solar power systems page for more details.