Do you have questions about solar energy? Our FAQs are designed to give you an overview of solar technology, solar installation, and solar economics, so you’ll have the confidence to go solar.
Solar Terminology & How Solar Works
How Do Solar Systems Work?
Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells made of silicon. When the sun’s rays hit them, these cells convert sunlight to electricity. Individual cells are wired together to form a solar panel. Panels are typically three feet by five feet. They are coated in tempered glass, which allows them to withstand harsh weather.
The electricity produced by a single solar panel is not enough to power a home or business, so multiple solar panels are needed. The number of panels varies by installation, but every solar system (also called an “array”) will include a series of panels mounted and wired together. This array may be installed on a roof (“rooftop solar”) or on the ground-level (“ground-mounted solar”).
The electricity generated by solar panels takes the form of direct current (DC). However, most appliances and electricity-consuming objects (called “electric load”) require alternating current (AC). To convert the solar electricity from DC to AC, an inverter is needed. You will need to choose between two types of inverters: a central inverter and microinverters. While both perform the task of converting electricity from DC to AC, they differ in critical ways.
A central inverter receives all of the electrical output of your entire solar system and converts it from DC to AC at a single, central location. A single central inverter is required for a solar system. It is often mounted on the side of your home or building next to your electric meter. Central inverters are steadfast and affordable, but they are susceptible to variations in panel performance. If one panel is shaded and produces less electricity than the others, the total electrical output will drop.
If shading is of concern, microinverters or DC optimizers can help maximize production. Unlike central inverters, microinverters and DC optimizers individually mount to the backside of each individual solar panel. They capture the electricity that flows off of each panel. DC optimizers work with a central inverter that converts DC to AC. Microinverters convert DC immediately to AC right under the panel. With either DC optimizers or microinverters, if one panel is shaded, it will not affect the output of the whole array. By design, both DC optimizers and microinverters help maximize the conversion of electricity and are useful in situations with variable shading. What’s more, because they allow each panel to operate independently of one another, both make it easy to add more panels to a solar array in the future.
Once electricity is produced by the solar panels and converted from DC to AC by the inverter(s), it will flow through your electric meter and into your home or building. It will be used on site the moment it is created. Any excess will flow back out through your electric meter and onto the local grid.
How Long Does a Solar Array Last?
Think of your solar array as a 25-year investment. Solar panels will produce electricity for at least 25 years. (See “Do systems come with warranties?” question for information on the warranties you’ll receive with your system) Panels will continue to generate electricity after 25 years, but at a decreasing rate. While microinverters will likely last for the duration of the PV system, you may need to replace central inverters after 15 years.
How Do I Decide How Big My System Should Be?
The size of your optimal solar array will be influenced by many variables. Before analyzing those variables, you should understand how solar is sized and measured. The electrical capacity of solar panels is measured in watts (W). The typical solar panel is rated at 250-300 W. To get the total power (in watts) of your solar array, add together the wattages of each panel. Let’s say you had 10 300 W panels installed. The total wattage of your system would equal 3,000 W. 1,000 W is equal to 1 kilowatt (kW), so another way to describe the size of that system would be 3 kW. The average size of a solar array is 5 kW.
Your installer will estimate how many panels can fit on your roof given its footprint and shade susceptibility to determine the ideal size of your system. If the size of your roof is limited (meaning fewer panels can be installed), installers can compensate by offering high-efficiency panels. These panels will have a higher power rating (typically 300-350 W), and therefore will produce more electricity per panel. Installers will also use geospatial data to determine the optimal system size for your property, as roof orientation and climate factors will affect how much electricity your system produces. The final factor that will influence the size of your solar array is your project budget. Installers work closely with clients to maximize the amount of solar they install for the customer’s budget.
While sizing your solar array, installers will consider how much the solar electrical output will offset your electricity needs. While the power capacity of solar panels is measured in watts (or kilowatts), the amount of electricity produced by the panels is measured in watt-hours (or kilowatt-hours).
You may recognize the term kilowatt-hour (kWh) from your electric bill. Utilities charge their customers based on how many kWh of electricity they consume each month. If you look at your utility bill from any billing cycle, you’ll be able to see exactly how many kWh of electricity your home or building consumed that month. Each kW of solar you install will produce a certain number of kWh, which will directly offset your utility electricity consumption. The kW-to-kWh relationship varies with latitude and climate. Your installer will be able to accurately predict how many kWh of electricity your solar panels will produce each year.
To estimate how much solar you can install on your roof (and how much electricity it will produce each year), we recommend using the PV Watts tool. To get a sense of how much your solar will offset your electricity needs, divide the annual kWh production estimate by your annual kWh consumption of utility electricity (the sum of 12 monthly bills).
It is common for solar arrays to produce surplus electricity during certain times of the day, months, or seasons. Consider, for example, a sunny summer day. Your panels will produce a high volume of solar electricity during the day, but you are likely away from home and not consuming any of that electricity. In that case, the solar surplus will flow back out to the grid. Net metering enables you to receive credit for these seasonal or daily surpluses. Your utility will then apply those credits to your monthly bill, covering the electricity you purchase at night or during periods of low solar production. Should you have excess credit at the end of a billing cycle, you’ll be able to roll it over to the next month.
By allowing you to offset your utility electricity consumption with your solar electricity production, net metering helps you reap the full financial value of your solar array. Most states have passed laws enabling net metering. If you live in a state with net metering legislation, you are guaranteed the right to net metering, regardless of where you live or who your utility company is.
Will My System Need Maintenance?
Solar is a simple, minimum-maintenance technology. Unlike other energy technologies, solar PV contains no moving parts. This means it’s not likely your equipment will fail. You should not have to replace your panels at all during their lifetime. Wiring is the part of solar PV that most commonly requires maintenance because squirrels and other animals may tamper with it. Depending on your inverter type, you may also need to have your inverter replaced 10 to 12 years after installation. Extended warranties can cover this equipment replacement cost. Ask your installer for details.
In most cases, solar panels do not need to be washed, as rain and snow naturally clean them. In areas with less rain and lots of dust or pollutants in the air, occasional cleaning may improve performance. We do not recommend climbing up to your panels to wash them. If you live in an area where cleaning is needed, contact a solar professional.
Even though solar is low maintenance, we recommend asking your installer or another qualified solar professional to inspect your array every 3 to 5 years to make sure things remain in good operating order. They’ll do a visual inspection of all equipment, check for things like wire damage from critters, and make sure your system is performing properly.
What is Solar Water Heating?
Solar water heaters use the sun’s rays to generate thermal energy, or heat. The thermal energy heats up water, which flows into the home or building for later use. Solar United Neighbors supports the adoption of solar water heating, but does not include this technology in any of our co-op programming. We focus only on solar PV.
Yes, solar panels can be recycled. The Solar Energy Industries Association has put together a list of companies that provide this service. You can also find information on vendors, equipment donations, equipment resale, and solar recycling facts at SolarRecycle.org.
We expect the options for panel recycling to increase in the coming years, but there will be challenges ahead. The solar industry is young and market for solar recycling is small. The cost to recycle components and materials from those panels is still high. Additionally, as the industry is getting better at using less expensive materials in solar production. While this has the benefit of lower the cost of solar panels. It also lowers the financial benefit of recycling them.
Governments and the solar industry will need to work together to ensure that solar panel materials are put back into the manufacturing stream. There are good examples of this happening in other more well-established industries. For example, 99% of car batteries are recycled. New automotive batteries are made primarily from recycled materials.
Solar panels can work for 25 years or more. The best way to help with the recycling challenge is to keep your system installed, operating, and making you money for as long as possible.
On What Roof Materials Can Solar Be Installed?
Solar panels can be installed on almost any kind of roof material and almost any roof structure (flat roof, pitched roof, etc.). Panels are attached to your roof with a racking system. The best racking system for your home depends on how your roof is structured and what type of roofing materials you have. Your installer will recommend the racking system most appropriate for your property.
Below are examples of the most common roof types on which people install solar and special racking considerations for each.
Asphalt Shingle Roofs
Most homes in the United States feature roofs that are pitched (i.e.,angled) and covered with asphalt shingles. Roofers lay down these shingles in overlapping courses, or rows, that allow water to shed from them, waterproofing your roof. For asphalt shingle roofs, the most common racking arrangement will include flashings and rails. A flashing is a sheet of aluminum that slides up under several courses of shingles and attaches to the rafters of your roof. Aluminum rails are then connected to a standoff (small metal pole) that attaches to the flashing. Solar panels will be laid on top of these rails, securely connected with clamps.
In warmer parts of the country, clay tile roofing is common. Roofers lay down these tiles in courses, or rows, that overlap across your roof. The tiles protect the thick, waterproof underlayment that lies beneath them from the elements. For clay tile roofs, installers will use special flashings that feature a hook attachment. The hook extends out from between clay tiles and provides an attachment point for aluminum rails. The solar panels are placed on top of the rails ,securely connected with clamps. A special consideration for clay tile roofs is age. Some older clay tile roofs are too brittle to work with and may need to be replaced before you can install your solar array.
Installing solar on a slate roof is difficult. Many installers do not work on slate because of its fragile composition and the advanced age of most slate roofs. You should be able to find an installer willing to work on slate regardless of your location, but installation will likely be more expensive than for asphalt or tile roofs.
Flat roofs (also called low-slope roofs) are equally compatible with solar as pitched roofs. The materials used to cover flat roofs vary widely, and solar can be installed on almost all of them. The three main racking arrangements for flat roofs are parapet-to-parapet wall mounts, ballasted racking, and standing seam clamps. In parapet-to-parapet wall mounts, aluminum beams are attached between the two parapet walls of the home or building. The beams provide a structure upon which you can lay the panels and clamp them down. In ballasted racking, panels will be connected directly to the roof and tilted upwards at the appropriate angle. In these cases, non-penetrating hardware secure the panels to your roof via weighted blocks. For flat standing seam metal roofs, clamps are used to connect the standing seam of the roof to a series of aluminum rails, on top of which you attach the panels.
In some cases, your roof may not be suitable for solar. This can be due to obstructions on the roof (i.e., dormers, peaks, chimneys, HVAC vents, etc.), the roof’s integrity, shading, orientation, or other structural factors.
If your roof isn’t a good fit for solar, you may be able to install a ground-mounted system. For a ground-mounted system, you’ll need to have access to a clearing far away from trees and other objects that cast shadows. Most ground-mounted systems are composed of aluminum and stainless steel racking and are mounted on concrete footings in the ground.
If you cannot produce your own solar electricity on your roof or with a ground-mount, you may be able to purchase solar electricity from a community solar array. Learn more about community solar and see if it’s available where you live.
Most solar arrays are grid-tied, meaning they are connected to the local power grid. This allows solar homeowners to use their solar electricity when the sun is shining, and to switch seamlessly over to utility electricity on cloudy days or at night. For grid-tied solar arrays, it’s important to understand how a power outage will affect your solar panels and your home. Firstly, when the power grid goes down, your solar panels will automatically stop producing electricity. This is a required safety feature, designed to prevent your panels from feeding electricity onto the grid and injuring the utility linesmen who are servicing the wires. As a result, when the grid is down and your solar panels stop producing electricity, your home will not have power (even if the sun is shining).
If you want your solar panels to continue producing electricity even when the grid goes down, you will need to pair your solar array with batteries. This pairing – called solar + storage – allows your panels to produce electricity while remaining isolated from the grid, avoiding any safety issues. Your solar electricity will be stored in the batteries and can be consumed by your home when the grid is down, allowing your home to remain powered during a grid outage.
How much of your home can you power from batteries when the grid is down? How do your solar panels pair with batteries? For answers to all of these questions (and more!), download our free Battery Storage for Homeowners guide.
Energy payback is the amount of time it takes a solar panel to produce more energy than was used to produce it. This time varies by panel and by technology. Even as far back as 2004 when manufacturing processes were less efficient, it took less than four years for a standard solar panel to generate more energy than was used in making it. And remember, solar panels can generate electricity for 25 years or longer!
Most solar arrays don’t have batteries- yet. Most residential solar arrays in the United States remain grid-tied, meaning they’re connected to the utility electric grid. Grid-tied solar arrays are significantly less expensive than arrays with batteries. Standalone solar arrays are also more efficient than solar paired with storage. Batteries lose a small amount of their electrical charge as the current moves through them, making battery-paired solar arrays slightly less efficient that standalone solar.
The primary value of batteries today is for backup power. Pairing your solar array with batteries allows you to power your electrical needs even when the utility grid is down. Luckily, power reliability in the United States is high and grid outages happen relatively infrequently. Regardless, the opportunity to power necessary or desirable electrical loads during grid outages makes battery storage an attractive investment for many Americans. At present, batteries still come with a premium price tag (see our Battery Storage Guide for Homeowners for pricing information), however many home and business owners are taking the storage leap in order to access the backup power value batteries can provide them. As new rate designs and economic opportunities arise that increase the value proposition of battery storage (ex: time of use rates that incentivize customers to store electricity when it’s cheap and use it when utility prices are high), battery economics will change. Solar United Neighbors is tracking these developments and will share them with our network once they become available.
Beyond the economics of battery storage, there are other technical considerations worth keeping in mind. Batteries take up room in your home, can require maintenance, and will likely need to be replaced at least once during the lifetime of your solar array. Additionally, and most importantly, there are different types of battery chemistries that affect how much energy you can store and draw upon during a grid outage. For more information on how batteries work, download our free Battery Storage for Homeowners guide.
Absolutely! Many home and business owners chose to go solar today – leveraging the immediate cost competitiveness of solar to start saving money on their electric bills – and install batteries in the future, once hardware costs fall. There is nothing that prevents you from adding battery storage to an existing solar array. This arrangement is called a “storage retrofit.” There are a few important hardware considerations (including whether to AC- or DC-couple the system, and the most appropriate battery inverter for the desired coupling configuration) and financing considerations (federal tax credit eligibility) for storage retrofits. We detail these considerations in our free Battery Storage for Homeowners guide. Download the guide today to learn more about retrofitting an existing solar array with batteries!
There are four factors that determine if your roof is a good fit for solar:
Orientation: Ideally, you should have a south-facing roof. In the northern hemisphere, south-facing roofs maximize the amount of sunlight your solar panels collect. The more sunlight they collect, the more electricity they produce, and the quicker you can pay off your system. You can still mount solar panels to your roof if it faces due east or west, but the panels will produce less energy (about 75% of what a south-facing roof would produce). If you have a flat roof, the panels can be engineered to face due south no matter how your roof is oriented.
Shading: Once you’ve determined that your roof is oriented in the right direction, the next step is to ensure that your roof is not shaded. The portions of the roof where solar will be installed should be free of shade for most of the day, as shade can significantly reduce electricity production. Trees, chimneys, dormers, and HVAC vents are factors that can cause shading on a roof. If you’re not sure if your roof is shaded, your installer can use a tool called the “solar pathfinder” to figure out if trees or other objects will cast shade during the day.
Surface: Solar arrays are most efficient when they are installed in a large, uninterrupted space. Things like dormer windows, chimneys, vents, skylights, and air conditioning units can be obstacles to installing an array.
Durability: Finally, if your roof is more than 15 years old, you may want to consider replacing it before installing solar panels. Most solar vendors recommend using roofing material that will last as long as the system (minimum of 25 years).
Should I Repair or Replace My Roof Before Going Solar?
A solar array will last at least 25 years. It’s important that the roof underneath it be in good shape. If your roof is more than 10 years old, you should have it evaluated to determine its remaining lifespan. You may want to consider repairs or replacement before installing solar. NOTE: According to an FAQ on the IRS website, in most circumstances roof improvement or replacement costs can not be included in the basis for the federal tax credit. Solar shingles/tiles may qualify. We recommend reading carefully through the IRS FAQ and through the applicable tax form (IRS Form 5695) for more information.
It typically takes one to two months for an installer to design your solar array and secure initial permits (from your municipal government) and interconnection agreements (from your electric utility). Depending on your exact solar permitting office and utility interconnection team, this could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Once initial permits and interconnection agreements are in hand, your installer will typically need only one to two days to physically install your array (panels, inverter, racking system, and wiring). The installer will then need to get final approval from the municipal permitting office and secure final interconnection approval from the utility. This can take an additional one to three months depending on the jurisdiction.
When choosing an installer, you’ll want to consider many criteria. We’ve distilled the most important into a comprehensive list below.
Experience: It’s important to assess the installer’s installation experience. How many installations have they completed? How many were systems similar to your own in size, design, and materials? In addition to installation experience, installers should be familiar with the permitting and interconnection procedures relevant to your property. How many installations have they completed in your jurisdiction and utility territory?
Reviews: When researching prospective installers, be sure to ask for customer references. How were other peoples’ experiences with the company? Consider checking online reviews at sites like Solar Reviews and the Better Business Bureau.
Materials: With hundreds of manufacturers and products on the market, it can be hard to know what the best panel, inverter, and racking system is for your property. You’ll want to ask your installer what components they offer and what their experience has been with those manufacturers. Should you desire a specific type of material (an American-made panel, for example) you should express that preference upfront with your installer.
Labor warranty: Labor warranties cover the workmanship of the installer, most likely covering their electrical wiring and roof penetrations. These differ from installer to installer, so it’s important to know what each installer offers when choosing between companies. Be sure to ask if the warranty fully covers roof penetrations when researching labor warranties. Some installers do not offer that coverage under warranty. If having a robust, long-term labor warranty is important to you, ask your installer if they offer an option to upgrade to a longer warranty period.
Licensing and certifications: While no universal solar license exists, a leading industry certification to look for is NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners). All installation crews should include at least one person who is NABCEP certified. This includes electricians. You should request a copy of your installer’s electrical and contracting license.
Do Systems Come With Warranties?
Solar installations come with three warranties: product warranties, power production warranties, and installation warranties.
Product warranties guarantee the physical integrity of your solar panels and inverters. For example, should a soldered connection on one of your panels fail (adversely affecting its electricity production), that panel would be replaced under the product warranty. Product warranties are offered through the manufacturer, not your installer.
For solar panels, most manufacturers offer a 10-year product warranty. Some high-end panel manufacturers offer longer product warranties, up to 25 years. Inverters come with product warranties that range from 10 to 25 years. Central (or string) inverter manufacturers offer 10- to 15-year product warranties, while microinverter manufacturers offer 25-year product warranties.
Next, the power production warranty guarantees that the solar panel will produce at least 80 percent of its nameplate capacity for a minimum of 25 years. Just like the product warranty, the power production warranty is offered by the panel manufacturer. While details vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, the power production warranty assures that your system will continue to produce power over its lifetime. In practice, identifying whether your system is experiencing a drop in performance that violates this warranty is difficult without the assistance of an installer. Despite that, production warranties serve as a proxy for the expected performance degradation of your solar panels over time.
Finally, the labor warranty covers the installer’s workmanship, including their electrical wiring work and any roof penetrations they make to attach your solar array to the roof. Unlike the product or power production warranties, the labor warranty is offered by your installer. Labor warranties vary among installers and regional markets. That said, they typically range from three to 10 years. Some installers will offer an option to upgrade to a longer labor warranty.
What if my system has problems?
If you believe your solar system is experiencing problems, contact your installer directly. The majority of systems will be installed with an online monitoring program that tracks the production of your array. You can use the data in your monitoring system to verify if your system is still producing energy at the same rate as before. Note: Keep in mind that energy production fluctuates from day to day, month to month, and year to year based on weather conditions and other natural factors. Despite these fluctuations, you should see a consistent curve of energy production over time.
If you believe something is wrong with your system, contact your installer and send over any monitoring data you have. In some cases, installers will be able to view the production data themselves, and in others you’ll have to give them access to your monitoring system. Either way, they’ll be able to easily assess the problem and determine the best course of action. In extreme cases where the installer needs to dispatch a crew member to fix the problem, be sure to ask whether the costs are covered by their labor warranty.
What should I do if I’m a member of a homeowners association?
Many states have passed legislation preventing HOAs from denying their members the right to install solar. However, HOAs may still be allowed to place restrictions on how and where solar is installed on your property. Check out state-specific information on HOA solar laws.
Regardless of HOA solar law, it’s a good idea to be upfront with your HOA about your solar installation plans. Let them know your installation date and share all relevant information (system size, number of panels, installation timeframe, etc.). Most installers provide a mock-up image of what the array will look like on your roof (or ground) once installed, and this can be a compelling resource to share with your HOA. If you encounter resistance from your HOA, join your state Solar United Neighbors listserv and pose your challenge to the group. You’re likely not alone in facing HOA resistance, and others may be able to share their lessons learned. What’s more, let us know if you encounter HOA push-back. We can help you navigate the process and connect you with solar neighbors who have faced similar difficulties. We have also developed a guide to help homeowners change their HOA’s policies to be more solar-friendly.
What if I live in a historic district?
Solar installations in historic districts typically must go through an additional step in the permitting process to ensure the location and method of installation comply with local historic requirements. (e.g., solar panels cannot be visible from the street). In some jurisdictions, this review is part of the standard permit review process. In others, it is handled by a separate historic review board. Your installer will be familiar with the requirements in your area. You should expect your installer to work with the relevant review body to secure the necessary permits. The cost for historic district permitting should be included in your solar contract.
What is the process to get my system permitted?
Because solar permitting is handled by the local municipality, the permitting process will vary based on where you live. Most localities require installers to file for a solar permit, the stipulations of which differ by jurisdiction. Solar permits are in place to ensure that your system is installed safely and follows local code. From a customer perspective, you should not have to file any of the local permits yourself. Your installer should handle all permitting aspects themselves, including submitting the permit application and getting the solar system inspected.
Can I install solar on a mobile, manufactured, or modular home?
Generally speaking, it can be more difficult to install solar on these types of homes. The structural design of the home, the foundation of the home’s site, and local building codes can all prevent a solar system from being installed, regardless of structural integrity.
Manufactured homes might not be able to support a solar installation on the roof, which means you could not install panels directly on the home. We recommend having an installer check to see if the roof can support a solar system. Sometimes they can. Manufactured homes are built according to national HUD building codes, which override state and local codes. For this reason alone, the home may be disqualified for solar depending on local standards for installation. Similarly, local building code may require a home to have a permanent foundation for a solar installation to occur.
Modular homes may present the same challenges of structural integrity as manufactured homes. However, modular homes are built to state and local codes specific to the location where the home will be placed. If the roof and site are able to support a solar installation, it may be a bit easier for the system to pass permitting. As with manufactured homes, we recommend having an installer check the roof and site first.
With either type of home, if you find that the roof is not eligible, you may still be able to install a ground-mounted system on your property or a rooftop system on a nearby structure that can support it, like a carport or pergola.
How can I put solar on my RV camper or van?
Even before you install solar, reading your electric bill can be confusing. There are several charges and different line items to keep straight.
Once you install solar, your monthly bill will look slightly different. Most notably, the bill will take into account “outbound energy,” or the solar electricity (kWh) you’ve exported to the grid in moments where it wasn’t needed at home. It’s important to be able to read your bill in order to verify that your utility company is accurately crediting you for your solar electricity. Click here for guidance about how to read your electric bill after going solar.
How do I get compensated for the electricity I produce?
Typically, you are compensated for your solar production by net metering. Net Metering allows solar energy generators to offset their energy consumption with their energy production. When your solar panels produce more electricity than you’re using on site, the excess electricity is sent out to the local grid. When this happens, your electric meter runs backwards, crediting you for this contribution. When you’re using more electricity than your system is generating, your electric meter runs forward, pulling the necessary extra electricity from the grid. At the end of the month, your final electric utility bill is your total usage minus the electricity that your solar panels produced. For more information, see our guide on net metering.
While net metering is the primary policy that enables solar producers to be compensated, some states’ policies vary. To check the policy in your state, see DSIRE’s solar incentive database.
It is common for systems to produce more energy than a home consumes. This happens during the day when no one is home. However, it is uncommon for systems to be sized to produce more energy than you will consume over the course of a year. If you produce more energy than you consume on an annual basis, you will be compensated in different ways depending on the state policies in place. We do not recommend that you install a system that will produce more than 100 percent of your energy consumption, because you are often compensated for the excess electricity at a lower wholesale rate.
What factors affect system pricing?
Several factors dictate the price of your system, not just the cost of the panels themselves. Other factors include the price of the inverter, racking equipment, and engineering time as well as design, labor, and permitting. Many of these components are soft costs that are not based on the price of physical equipment. Solar United Neighbors aims to reduce these costs so home and business owners can see more savings when going solar.
How much will my solar energy system cost?
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Greentech Media Research (GTM), the average price for a residential solar installation is just below $3.00/watt. That means if you purchase a medium sized residential system of 5 kW, it would cost about $15,000. This does not factor in the federal tax credit or any additional incentives.
There are several factors that impact how much your solar system will cost. These include the size of your system and the equipment you use. Local factors will also influence the cost of solar. These factors include costs for permitting and the local cost of labor.
Your Installer will be able to walk you through several options depending on your budget and individual preferences. If you chose to finance your system, you may owe very little upfront and see savings right away.
What financing options are available to me?
When thinking about financing, it is important to consider the two ownership structures available when going solar: direct system ownership and third-party ownership. Direct ownership means you own your system outright and are eligible for all available incentives. Third-party ownership means another entity owns and operates the system. Each offers benefits. Which model is right for you will depend on individual preference.
What are the benefits of owning my system?
Owning a system outright means you purchase the system upfront. This can be done either through a loan or with an upfront cash payment. Owning a system means you will retain the rights to all of the system’s additional incentives. This includes the federal tax credit. Direct ownership of a system makes sense if you are able to pay for the system upfront or are able to take out a loan.
If you’re planning to sell your home shortly after going solar, it may make sense to purchase the system. Owning the system outright makes it easy to transfer ownership of the panels to the new homeowners and to incorporate their price into the value of your home. Selling your home after going with a third-party ownership model is more complicated. To do so, you’ll need to pay off the remainder of the lease, effectively purchasing the system. If you don’t wish to pay off the system, the new home owners will have to agree to take over your current contract and pay off the remainder of the agreement themselves.
Financing a system you own: Modern financing mechanisms have made solar more affordable and available to anyone interested. When going solar there are several ways to finance a system that you own, including loans, Property Assessed Clean Energy programs, and other incentives.
Unsecured Solar Loans
You do not need any type of collateral to get an unsecured solar loan. You can choose from many loan products ranging from 1 to 20 years in length. In most cases, these loans do not penalize prepayment. Standard solar loan products are available nationally and directly from banks and individual solar finance companies. New solar loan products are coming on to the market regularly and may be available directly through your installer.
Secured loans require some sort of asset as collateral. The most attractive loan often is a home equity line of credit leveraging the value of your home with the installation of a clean energy system. The interest rates on home equity lines of credit are often very low and the interest paid on them is usually tax-deductible. You can get secured solar loans from a number of banks and credit unions across the nation.
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)
Another promising financing method is Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE). PACE programs connect building owners with long-term, no-money-down financing for energy upgrades, including solar installations. Under PACE, you repay the project financing over time through an additional charge on your annual property tax. The PACE program administrator will work with your municipality to calculate the additional annual property tax so that it is less than the annual savings from your energy upgrade, making PACE financing cashflow-positive from day one. Unfortunately, PACE is not available in all markets. PACE financing must be enabled through state legislation and enacted by your local government. For a list of active PACE programs, visit pacenation.us.
Federal Tax Credit. The Energy Investment Tax Credit gives you a percent-based credit off the total cost of your solar system. This is calculated before other incentives. You still have to pay up front for the system. When you file your taxes, you will receive a credit (not a deduction) from the Federal Government. For systems installed by the end of 2021 the tax credit is 26%. The credit is 26% in 2022, then 22% in 2023, and goes away after that. Learn more about the federal solar investment tax credit.
Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). In some states, when you generate solar electricity from your system, you also generate an associated “green value” for your electricity. This is known as an SREC. Every time your system produces 1,000 kWh, or 1 MWh, of electricity, you get one SREC. These SRECs have a variable monetary value, like a company’s stock or commodity product, and, when sold on the open SREC market, can give you a revenue stream to help pay for your solar system. SREC prices are dictated by supply and demand of solar energy production and legislation called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Learn more about SRECs.
USDA REAP (Rural Energy for America Program). REAP offers grants and loans to agricultural producers and small businesses in rural areas to install renewable energy systems. It also provides funding for energy efficiency improvements. Learn more about the REAP program.
Additional Local Incentives. Several states and municipalities have developed additional incentives for those interested in installing solar: additional state tax or property tax credits, grants, rebates, and financing programs.
For a more comprehensive look at the incentives available in your state, see our state guides.
What does it mean to go solar through third party ownership?
Third-party ownership means that a solar company will own and maintain the panels installed on your roof. As the homeowner, you simply purchase the power the panels produce through a power purchase agreement (PPA) or pay a fixed, monthly rate (lease) for the panels. PPAs and leases can offer a no-upfront payment alternative when going solar, while still saving you money. Typically, the price of solar is lower than your standard electricity price, so you will see savings right away. A PPA or lease contract typically runs 15 to 20 years, but will often include an option for the homeowner to purchase the system outright later in the contract term. In this model, the company that owns the system will take advantage of the federal tax credit and any other available local incentives.
PPAs and leases can be complicated and organizations must dedicate time and money to ensuring that they negotiate a fair and equitable contract with the solar developer.
Since the third-party, typically the installer, owns the system, the individual or business will not be able to take any incentives like SRECs or grants.
At the end of the life of the contract (typically 15 years), you will usually have three options: purchase the system at fair market value, extend the life of your PPA or lease, or have the installer remove the panels from the roof.
Most PPAs may increase the price you pay for the electricity your system produces over the life of your lease. This is known as an escalation rate, or escalator, for short. Sometimes those escalation rates are very steep, so make sure you look closely at the fine print of your contract.
Third-party ownership is only available in certain states.
Questions to Ask About Leases and Power Purchase Agreements
Does the agreement include all components in the SEIA Transaction Disclosures?
What is the term of the agreement?
What is the cost of energy ($/kWh) in the agreement or the monthly payment?
What assumption does the proposal use to project how much my utility electricity costs will go up over time? (The assumption is usually based on 10- or 20-year historic information, but can vary by provider and even by proposal. The higher the assumed rate of increase, the better the economics will look in the proposal.)
Is there an escalator for my monthly payments? In other words, will my monthly payment go up during the life of the agreement? If so, by how much and how often? If your payment goes up over time, the cost of electricity from your utility has to go up at a higher rate than your solar payment in order for you to save money with the solar system.
What are my options if I decide to sell my house before the agreement ends?
What are my options when the agreement ends?
How long are roof penetrations warrantied?
Why this is important because an installation warranty describes how long an installer’s work is covered against problems encountered due to the act of installing components on the home (e.g., roof leaks). You should determine if your agreement covers that for the entire term or for a shorter period.
Will system components be covered for the life of the term or just for the manufacturer’s warranty length? What additional costs apply if equipment should fail after warranties expire? This is important because equipment warranties can range from 10 to 25 years. If you have a 20-year term on your agreement but the inverter (for example) is covered for 10 years, what happens in year 11 if it fails?
Will going solar affect my insurance?
A report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that most rooftop solar systems should be covered as part of your standard homeowner’s insurance policy. Contact your insurance company before you install your system to let them know about the addition to your property. You should be sure to verify that solar system replacement costs, don’t exceed your current policy coverage limits in the event of damage. Adding solar should not increase your homeowner’s insurance premiums. If it does, you may want to find an insurer that provides discounts to customers who “go green”. The NREL report does note that ground-based solar systems may not be covered and may require additional insurance.
What loans are available to help me go solar?
You have many different options to secure a loan for your system. You may be able to get a loan from your bank or credit union. The federal government has several loan programs to help you go solar.
How will solar affect my home value if I want to sell?
The answer depends upon your system’s ownership structure. The appraisal industry is training its workforce to accommodate the growth of solar nationwide. The Appraisal Institute now trains real estate appraisers on how to appropriately assess the value that solar and other energy efficiency measures add to a home. Make sure to request a real estate professional who is properly trained in evaluating the impact of solar when the time comes for your home to be appraised. If you own the system, it can convey with your home and help boost its resale value. A 2015 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, on average, a typically sized residential solar system adds $15,000 to the resale value of a home. The study included an analysis of more than 22,000 home sales across eight states – nearly 4,000 of which contained PV systems. The home sale data spanned 2002 to 2013. A 2019 study by Zillow found solar increased home values by about 4%.
If you lease the system, you may have a few options depending upon your lease agreement. It may be possible to transfer your lease as part of the home sale. Or you may have to pay off your lease before selling your home. You can then include the cost of this pay-off in your home’s sale price.
It’s important to make sure your home’s value includes the value of its solar installation. If you are a licensed real estate appraiser and want to learn how to assess the value of solar in your appraisals, read more about the Appraisal Institute’s Valuation of Sustainable Buildings development program.
For more information, check out “Selling Your Solar Home Guide.”
How does battery backup work?
Storing electricity in a battery bank can serve many purposes. In most parts of the country, battery storage for residential homeowners is mainly used to provide backup power during power outages.
When the utility grid goes down and you lose electric service, you can use a battery system to power some or all of your household electricity needs (called “loads”). The battery backup system works by isolating certain loads from the main utility system with something called an “automatic transfer switch”. You are then able to power these loads with electricity stored in the battery bank. Loads can range from small (light bulbs, a toaster, or hair dryer) to large (a refrigerator or a well pump). When the utility grid power returns, the backed-up loads in your home then automatically reconnect to the grid. The result is that these “critical” loads receive power even when the grid is down, switching seamlessly between utility electricity and stored electricity from your battery.
Battery banks in a home serve the same purpose as a traditional generator that runs on diesel, gasoline, propane, or natural gas. Unlike a traditional generator, a battery backup system does not require you to buy and store fuel or rely on fuel delivery during an outage. When paired with a solar array, the battery will be charged with the solar electricity you produce. If you do not pair your batteries with solar, the battery will charge and recharge only from utility-supplied grid electricity. This limits its usefulness for backup power purposes during a utility outage as it will only be able to discharge once before needing the utility grid to be restored for it to recharge.
Powering your entire home with a battery system can get expensive. This is why many homeowners install a smaller battery bank to power select “critical loads”, such as medical equipment or a refrigerator, in their home during the event of a grid outage. If you feel strongly about powering your entire home during an outage, a whole-house fossil fuel-powered generator may be more cost effective.
There are several different types of batteries available on the market to provide battery backup power to your home. Different battery types have different “chemistries”.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries have been around a long time. They’ve powered cars, tractors, submarines, and have been used to provide backup power to homes and buildings. The most common variety of lead acid batteries for backup power is called “sealed lead acid”. These types of lead acid batteries do not require regular maintenance to keep them operational, unlike their “flooded lead acid” cousins. Lead acid batteries have a lower upfront cost than newer lithium-ion batteries. They also take up more space than newer options. Depending on how often they are used (or “cycled”), they can last from 5 to 10 years.
The market for lithium-ion batteries is growing rapidly and prices are dropping. The technology offers a higher density of energy (more energy per unit of space) than traditional lead acid batteries and can be used (or “cycled”) more often during their lifespan. The upfront cost of lithium-ion batteries is higher than that of lead acid batteries. However, because of their longer lifespan (~ 10 years) and their ability to be charged and discharged more frequently, lithium-ion batteries have a lower lifetime cost than lead acid counterparts.
Two main types of lithium-ion batteries on the market:
Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide or “Li-ion-NMC” is the more commonly available lithium-ion battery type and is the least expensive lithium-ion battery on the market. It is important to recognize that Li-Ion-NMC batteries can overheat and catch fire in rare cases of overcharging or improper use. This is known as “thermal runaway”. You may have heard of this phenomenon with cell phones, e-cigarettes, hoverboards, and other small consumer devices. However, home battery storage systems include sophisticated management software that is designed to prevent overcharging and thermal runaway problems. To date, there have not been any examples of home storage systems catching fire.
Lithium Iron Phosphate or “LiFePO” is more expensive than the Li-ion-NMC variety. This chemistry, however, does not experience thermal runaway and does not contain cobalt, whose mining practices, especially in the Congo, have come under scrutiny in recent years.
What’s the difference between energy and power?
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are two different parts of our electricity system. Energy is what the electrical loads in your home consume over time in order to operate. It is measured in Watt-hours (Wh). A thousand watt-hours equals one kilowatt-hour (kWh). It’s the total amount of (electrical) work that can be done, and it’s what we pay for every month on our electric bills.
Power, on the other hand, is instantaneous and measured in watts (W). One thousand watts equals one kilowatt (kW). It’s the ability to do (electrical) work in a given moment. For example, if you took a cup of tea and placed it in a 1000-watt microwave for two minutes it would be just as hot as if you’d placed it in a 2000-watt microwave for one minute. Each time you used the same amount of energy (kWh) to heat the tea.
The size of the battery bank you need depends on several factors and is specific to your needs and to your home. A qualified energy installer should look at the following to determine what you need:
1) What kinds of loads you would like to run while the power is out
Your installer should look at which appliances, lighting, and other loads you want to power in an outage in order to determine how much energy they will use over the time period you want to keep them running. To size your battery system, the installer will add up the required number of watt-hours per electrical load over the desired backup period and the maximum number of watts you’ll need at any given time during a backup period. Bigger loads like electric stoves, electric water heaters and whole-house air conditioners may not be able to be backed up.
2) Suitable space in or outside your home to place batteries
Depending on the type, batteries may need to be located inside or outside. If located outside, and depending on batter chemistry, they may need to be placed in a shaded, temperate area. Your installer might need to adjust the size of your battery system to accommodate your available space.
3) How long the batteries are able to run without being re-charged
A battery system that operates your appliances and lights for one day would be smaller than a system that can operate the same equipment for two days without being re-charged. Your installer will guide you through how long you want to be able to run your appliances, but for most battery backup systems the standard length of run time is one day, especially if you have solar on site to re-charge your batteries.
4) Your budget
Because batteries can be expensive, most people size their systems to only power critical electrical loads while utility service is out. Your installer will help you decide which loads you want to power with your battery given your budgetary constraints.
Solar is the perfect partner for battery storage. A properly sized and configured solar system will re-charge your batteries on a daily basis, providing the fuel to keep your battery fully charged and ready for use. Unless you have special inverters which can allow you to use a portion of the array while the sun is shining, without batteries, your solar system will not provide electricity to your home during a power outage. This is because solar systems are required to automatically shut off if the grid goes down. This is done to ensure that they do not “backfeed” power onto the lines and injure workers that are repairing the electric line.
Are there different ways batteries can connect to my solar array?
When you’re thinking about integrating battery storage and solar, there are two ways to do it: DC coupling and AC coupling.
DC (or “Direct Current”) coupled systems are most common when installing both solar and battery storage at the same time. In this setup, the solar electricity is fed directly into the battery system (in DC form) without the need for any conversion. Often in DC coupled systems, the battery and solar systems share one inverter. DC coupled systems also have an easier time ensuring that your battery is only charged by solar electricity (as opposed to utility electricity from the grid). This is important for qualifying for the federal tax credit.
AC (or “Alternating Current”) coupled systems are made up of a solar array and battery system that are independent of each other. The AC coupled configuration requires two inverters: one for the solar array (to convert the solar electricity from its natural DC form to AC so that it can flow directly into your home) and one for the battery (to convert the solar electricity back to DC so that it can be used to charge the battery). Typically, the energy produced from your solar system enters your house. Then, excess electricity not used by your home is stored in the battery.
When adding batteries to an existing solar array, many systems will be AC coupled. This is done to allow you to keep your existing solar inverter and wiring. You’ll add a second inverter in addition to your existing solar inverter. It’s important to note that AC coupled systems make it more difficult to guarantee your battery is exclusively charged by solar which is an important factor for federal tax credit eligibility.
What’s included in the cost of batteries? How much are they?
There are several things that go into pricing out a battery storage system:
Soft costs – installation, permitting, system design, labor
Hardware costs – battery equipment, inverter, other electrical components
Maintenance – visits from a qualified professional to ensure your system is operating properly
The cost of battery storage priced by an installer will include both soft costs and hardware costs and can range widely from ~$7000 to upwards of $20,000 because it is customized to the amount of energy a homeowner wants to power loads in their home during an outage.
The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) available for solar installations can also cover the cost of battery storage. This is not a refund or a rebate. The ITC provides a non-refundable credit you can count towards your federal tax burden. The credit is worth a percentage off the total installation cost of your battery system. For systems installed by the end of 2021 the tax credit is 26%. The credit is also 26% in 2022, then 22% in 2023, and goes away after that. Learn more about the federal solar investment tax credit. You file for the tax credit when you file your taxes for the year the battery was installed.
There are strict specifications for eligibility. This is based on how much the battery system is charged by solar. According to the IRS, a battery system on your home must be 100% charged by solar energy to receive the credit. This means the solar panels connected to the battery system must be the source of its power to qualify for the full federal tax credit. The rules are different for commercial battery systems. These systems can receive a portion of the federal tax credit if at least of 75% their charge comes from solar. See our Battery Storage Guide for more information.
Some states and jurisdictions are also beginning to offer incentives. Maryland, for example, offers a 30% state tax credit off of the cost of battery storage with a maximum credit of $5,000 for residential systems.
Will batteries make me money like solar does?
In most places in the country installing battery storage will not make you any money because the electricity rate structures do not incentivize the storage of energy in the home. For most homeowners, battery storage is about backup power and being more resilient.
Unlike solar, for which there are numerous loan financing options, the number of options available for storage are more limited. Typical options like home improvement loans and home equity lines of credit are available for use. Some solar loan providers, like Mosaic, offer financing for storage as well. If you have PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing available in your area, this may also be available for storage. In some areas third-party owned systems may also be available. Under these arrangements you get the use of the battery system for backup power and the battery owner uses it to provide grid services to the utility. This kind of arrangement is still very new and not yet widely available. Ask your installer about financing options they can offer from the manufacturer or from third-party financiers and compare them to what you can acquire on your own.
Why does SUN talk about EV charging?
For solar owners, the idea of fueling your car with homegrown energy is especially compelling. Depending on where you live and your electricity consumption, many solar owners choose to add solar systems to power their electric vehicles in addition to their houses.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming a more affordable and lower maintenance option than traditional gasoline-fueled cars.
America’s EV adoption rate is quickly rising as more affordable, long-range models are introduced to the market.
Market studies show that “roughly one-half of consumers who have solar or EV technology have both.” Similarly, consumers who are interested in one of these technologies are also interested in the other. Utility planners who forecast how much electricity to provide the grid (i.e. load) will need to consider these findings as technology adoption ramps up.
How does Solar + EV work?
Solar United Neighbors runs Solar Co-ops and Solar + EV Charger Co-ops. In most of our co-ops, the solar installer that the co-op members choose can also install Level 2 Electric Vehicle Chargers for those who’d like them. Higher speed Electric Vehicle chargers can be installed at the same time as a solar PV system or separately from solar.
There are many different types of EV chargers available. Some are standalone and others work directly as part of a solar inverter. Many homeowners choose to install an EV charger while they’re installing a solar system. Others choose to install an EV charger or solar system first and the other separately.
Should I get an EV even if I can’t install solar?
While Solar United Neighbors focuses on Solar, there are many solar supporters who can’t get solar on their own rooftop. This is why we also work on Community solar, Community solar offers the benefit of solar to those who can’t, or prefer not to, install solar panels on their homes. These projects enable individuals, businesses, or organizations to purchase or subscribe to a “share” in a community solar project. If you join a community solar project, you receive a credit on your electric bill each month for the energy produced by your share. Many folks own a vehicle but not a residence and may be able to purchase electricity from a community solar installation to help power their residence or EV.
Even if you aren’t able to take advantage of Community solar in your area, owning an EV has many benefits including less frequent maintenance, savings from electricity generally being cheaper than purchasing gasoline, and fewer or no trips to the gas station. Also many types of EVs have large tax credits. If you are interested in an EV to reduce carbon emissions, there is a great tool here that uses your zip code and the different sources of electricity production in your area to tell you how much you are reducing your carbon footprint by driving an EV and plug in hybrid versus a gas powered vehicle.
What types of EVs are on the market?
There are many different types of Electric Vehicles currently available in the United States. Battery Electric vehicles (BEVs) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are available from almost every major automaker and range in size from small sedans to larger Sport Utility Vehicles and Minivans. Many plug-in hybrid vehicles run on batteries for the first 10-50 miles of driving and fully electric vehicles can vary in mileage from 87 miles per full battery charge to over 350 miles per charge.
EV Charging Technology
How does EV charging work?
Battery Electric vehicles (BEV’s) use electricity to power their motors. The electricity is stored inside a battery, which is recharged by plugging into an EV charger.
What are the different kinds of EV chargers?
Level 1 chargers
Standard level 1 EV charger uses 120v outlet.
Level 1 chargers plug into a standard household 120 volt electric outlet, and are the slowest and least powerful EV charger. They provide about four to six miles of charge per hour and are typically used for overnight charging, EV’s with smaller batteries, or where installation of more powerful chargers is not possible. They can be used wherever there is a standard 120 volt electric outlet.
Level 2 chargers
Level 2 chargers provide about 10 to 30 miles of charge per hour (depending on type of vehicle and power of the charging unit). They require installation by a professional electrician and utilize a 240 volt plug identical to a household clothes dryer. They can be installed in garages, on the side of buildings, or on pedestal mounts in parking lots for businesses. They charge three to six times faster than a level 1 charger, and are the most commonly-used EV charger. The cost of charging equipment can range from $500-$750 plus the cost of installation (typically between $500-$1,000).
With their relatively low cost and ease of installation, level 2 chargers are a great option for those interested in having faster charging capability. If you have a longer than average commute, an EV with a large battery, or simply want faster charging at home, a level 2 charger is a great solution.
Level 3 DC fast chargers
DC fast chargers can deliver more than 100 miles per hour of charge. Although much faster than level 1 and 2 chargers, they require costly, robust electric infrastructure for their installation and use, and are primarily used for public charging along transportation corridors. They are the least commonly-used chargers for homes or businesses.
Will all chargers work with my EV?
Nearly all level 2 chargers are equipped with the J 1772 or “universal” charging port that accommodates all major EV makes, with the exception of Tesla. Tesla vehicles have their own type of charging port, but also have an inexpensive adapter that can be used with standard universal charging ports.
How long does it take to charge my EV?
This largely depends on how big your battery is and what type of charger you are using.
The smallest plug-in hybrid batteries have a range of about 11 miles per charge and the largest fully electric batteries can go 370 miles between charges.
A level 1 charger runs on 120V and charges 4-6 miles per hour.
A level 2 charger runs on 240V and charger 10-30 miles per hour.
A level 3 fast charger is usually used at public facilities such as rest areas and can charge 80 miles per hour.
For a Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid which can run 33 miles on its battery, you could fully charge the battery to with a level 1 charger in 5-6 hours. A level 2 charger can charge the same battery in 1 to 1.5 hours.
For a Tesla model 3 standard range which can go 250 miles on a charge, you could charge the battery to 80% with a level 2 charger in 6 hours or with a level 3 fast charger in 1 hour.
*Different cars and models and chargers have different charging capabilities also batteries charge in different ways and it can be faster to charge a battery from 40% to 80% than from 80% to 100%.
What features should my EV charger have?
It is important to talk to your electrician or installer about the type of EV that you have and also about the power capabilities of your home. All level 2 chargers run 240V electricity but some older EVs and older EV chargers (pre 2017) aren’t as powerful as newer models. Some chargers are hardwired directly into the house while others are connected to a 240V outlet and some are connected to your solar inverter.
Your EV charger should be compatible with your EV (Tesla vs. universal EV plug) and should have a long enough cord that it can reach your vehicle without creating a tripping hazard.
Length of warranty is an important factor for many buyers as well when purchasing a level 2 charger.
Will I need to upgrade my electrical service when I install an EV charger?
A level 2 EV charger runs on 240V electricity and an electrician or solar installer can install a 240V outlet and a level 2 charger. An electrician can tell you if you need a wiring upgrade to your electrical system (most homes do not need an upgrade).
Where can I install an EV charger? How much space do I need?
An EV charger can be installed in a garage or house or on a freestanding pedestal in front or a home or next to a driveway. Chargers are small and don’t take up much space but do have a cord and must be connected to your power supply.
How do I find EV charging stations on the road?
There are many websites and apps that can help you plan a road trip and find EV charging stations on the road or on a road trip. Tesla has information for Tesla vehicles which have a proprietary charger and other resources include PlugShare, ChargeHub and A Better Routeplanner.
How do I know how much solar to install for my EV?
Click here to check out our detailed guide to sizing solar for your electric vehicle. In general, without accounting for your household electricity usage, the following chart can help you figure out how big a solar array to get to power your EV:
Miles driven annually Solar Capacity needed
3,500 1 kW
7,000 2 kW
10,500 3 kW
14,000 4 kW
17,500 5 kW
21,000 6 kW
EV and EV Charger economics
At Solar United Neighbors, we focus on solar and think that everyone that can possibly get solar at their home should use that to power their electric vehicle. Since some folks won’t be able to have their own solar and will be using community solar or buying solar power from other sources, we are including savings by using electricity that you purchase compared to the cost of gasoline below. This doesn’t include fewer car repairs and brake jobs due to regenerative braking. Recent data shows that EV’s cost 50% less to maintain and fuel over their lifetime.
As an example, a 2020 Standard Range Tesla Model 3 uses 24 kilowatt hours (kWh) to go 100 miles. Using a national average of 14 cents per kWh, that means that this electric vehicle costs $3.36 in electricity to go 100 miles or $403.20 to go 12,000 miles (the national average for what most drivers drive annually). The cost of gas is currently lower than usual due to the pandemic but using the national average of $2.20 per gallon and 25 miles per gallon, a gas powered vehicle would cost $8.80 in gasoline for 100 miles or $1,056 annually going 12,000 miles. Using 2019 data in a non-pandemic year, gas prices averaged $2.65 per gallon so this annual number would have been $1,272 in a gas powered vehicle. This is just an example based on average numbers but shows that driving an EV can save $600-$900 annually by using electricity as a fuel rather than gasoline.
Are there available incentives for EV chargers?
There are many available tax credits and rebates available for installing EV chargers. There is a federal tax credit of up to $1,000 for installing an EV charger plus many states and municipalities have credits or rebates as well. In addition many utility companies and municipalities and states have incentives for EV charging. Make sure to do your research as some of these incentives are only available if your EV charger is publicly available on the street or in a shared parking lot.
What affects the cost of buying and installing an EV charger?
The average cost of an EV charger is $500-$750 and the average installation cost is $500-$1000. Prices vary and are often cheaper if you buy your EV charger from the installer directly versus buying it on your own and having the installer put it in for you. The price of the charger depends on quality and also on the size, cord length, capacity and product warranty. Pricing of the installation depends on where it will be installed such as outdoor vs. indoor and how much electrical conduit will need to be run from the electrical panel to the outlet that the charger is plugged into.
How much space will I need for my batteries? Where will they be installed?
Lead acid batteries
Lead acid batteries are generally installed indoors because they have a preferred charging and discharging temperate range of 50°F – 80°F. While you can operate lead acid batteries outside of this temperature range, it will reduce the system’s lifespan and efficiency.
Lead acid batteries are also less energy dense than lithium ion systems. This means they will take up more space per installed kW or kWh unit. A single lead acid battery takes up about as much space as a shoebox. Multiple batteries are strung together to make a system large enough to power multiple loads in your home. Lead acid batteries must also be connected to a separate inverter, which must be wall-mounted.
Lithium ion batteries have a much wider preferred temperature operating range, typically between 32°F – 100°F. Additionally, lithium ion systems are more energy dense than lead acid batteries and are typically contained in one singular unit. Depending on the manufacturer, Li-ion batteries may or may not contain an integrated inverter. This further reduces the space required for these types of systems.
With lithium ion’s wider temperature range and smaller footprint, some manufacturers have designed systems that can be installed outdoors, typically mounted on the side of your home near your electric meter or solar connection. If you live in a climate with extreme seasonal temperature swings, you may want to install the battery indoors to maximize operating efficiency and battery life.
How much space will I need in my home?
The amount of space needed depends on how much storage you want and can afford to cover your needs while the grid is out. The chemistry also matters. Sealed lead acid batteries can take up more space and require a custom or pre-made cabinet. Lithium ion batteries are pre-wired and often come in a wall or floor-mounted enclosure or cabinet. Another important factor is where your critical loads sub-panel will be located. This is the electric panel that will contain all the circuits in your home that will be powered by the battery bank when the power is out.
Lead-acid battery cabinet.
What’s a smart inverter and do I need one?
Smart inverters are a vital – yet overlooked – piece of the battery storage system. Smart inverters have the ability to manage when and how your batteries run. All battery storage systems require an inverter and will be programmed to run based on your preferences and needs.
Some batteries come with an integrated smart inverter, designed to give the battery owner more programming control over when and how their battery is used. As opposed to standard inverters that are programmed to work in a predictable, static manner, smart inverters can be programed via mobile apps and web portals to run when it makes the most sense, given physical, financial, or owner-preference signals. If your utility offers a rate structure that allows storage to provide you economic value, batteries can be programed with their smart inverter to take advantage of these rates. However, in most utility territories there is not yet an economic incentive for storage and storage is only used for backup power.
Do batteries come with warranties?
Warranties for batteries take two forms: number of guaranteed operational years or number of guaranteed cycles. A “cycle” refers to the battery being discharged and then re-charged. The number of cycles used in a given year will depend on how you operate your storage system. For instance, if your system is only used to provide backup power during grid outages, you may only cycle your batteries a few times a year. However, if you configure your storage system to maximize self-consumption of any solar electricity you produce, your storage system may cycle once a day. On average, lithium ion batteries are under warranty for 10 years or for 7,500 to 10,000 cycles. Lead acid batteries are under warranty for much less time, typically 2 to 5 years.
Do I need to update my home insurance?
Just as we recommend with solar, it’s a good idea to let your insurer know that you plan on installing a battery system. This way, your system can be added as an additional appliance in your home that is covered. Installing battery storage should not change your insurance payments.
Will I need a permit to install a battery? What about my utility?
Your local permitting office will have requirements for how your battery system should be installed. Your installer is responsible for reaching out to them and securing the necessary permits. Because battery systems are relatively new, some local permitting jurisdictions may not have updated their code requirements to include residential battery storage. If there are hurdles along the way, your installer should help navigate through this process.
Some utilities may require interconnection review and approval for battery systems in addition to permitting by the local jurisdiction. Interconnection is the approval process you go through to connect an electrical resource to the electric grid. It is unclear whether utilities will require this step for systems used for battery backup purposes only when the grid is out. This is because residential battery systems are still relatively uncommon and can be used for many different things. This includes providing services to the grid while the grid is working. You can work with your installer to identify your utility’s requirements.
How do I select a qualified installer?
When looking for an installer for battery storage, it’s important to consider their background, experience, and qualifications. Here are a few things you should look for:
Experience in your area (number of battery installs)
Experience with the specific technology/equipment you are interested in
Availability of equipment
Access to your preferred equipment (if you have a preference)
Installer workmanship warranties
NABCEP certification, a common certification for solar installers that includes battery backup knowledge as well
What should be included in my battery backup proposal?
What should be included in my battery backup proposal?
A thorough battery proposal should contain:
Full cost of the storage system, installation, and additional equipment
Battery size (kW and kWh)
Battery model and manufacturer
Inverter model and manufacturer (if separate from battery)
Battery management system (if used)
Critical load sub-panel size and cost
List of all warranties (battery, inverter, installer workmanship)
Details of additional work needed (electrical work, inverter swap, etc.)
Pricing guarantee for all equipment
Solar co-op basics
What is a solar co-op?
A solar co-op is a group of homeowners in a defined geographic area who use their combined purchasing power to ensure they receive the most competitive solar installation. Solar installers face significant costs finding, qualifying, and educating solar customers. By forming a group of interested buyers, co-op members ensure the most competitive pricing because Solar United Neighbors has already done some of the work for the installer.
More importantly, when you join one of our co-ops you get a free 1-year membership with Solar United Neighbors. Co-op Members have access to our installer-neutral and unbiased staff of solar experts to guide them through the installation process and understand topics like the value of their solar, local policies, and financing options. Solar United Neighbors provides educational resources, public information sessions, and one-on-one support for all Co-op Members. All of our members are able to join the growing movement of solar owners and are keyed into important issues and updates in solar.
How does the co-op purchase work?
Our unique co-op process helps ensure each Co-op Member gets a quality install from a vetted and neutrally-selected installer. What’s more, it cost nothing to join the group! We help each solar co-op develop a request for proposals from local installers, resulting in a competitive bidding process. We help the co-op form a selection committee to review each bid and select which one is best for the group. Solar United Neighbors is entirely installer neutral. The installer selection decision is solely up to group members. We provide support by ensuring each selection committee member understands all of the components of the bids and can make a fully informed decision. The winning installer’s bid will then set the price, equipment, warranties, and any additional components for all proposals issued to co-op members.
We work closely with Co-op Members once the installer is chosen to evaluate their solar contracts and advocate on their behalf during the installation process. We are able to provide one-on-one support to any Member who needs additional help. We ensure that our Co-op Members have everything they need before going solar.
Once the installer has finished work on all of the co-op homes that have gone solar, we throw a big party to celebrate the success of the co-op and recognize everyone that helped along the way. The support of our installers, partners, Co-op Members, and local leaders makes our co-ops possible.