Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS SOLAR POWER?
Photovoltaic (PV) systems, or solar electric systems, use PV cells to convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. PV cells are usually made from silicon and were originally developed to power spacecraft and space stations. These cells come wired together in panels. A group of panels mounted on a frame is called a PV array. The DC power goes from the panels into an inverter which changes it to alternating current (AC), making it available for your home and interconnection to the grid.
FUN FACT: Vanguard I, the first solar powered satellite sent into space in 1958, had it’s solar cells operate for seven years longer than conventional batteries powering another on-board transmitter.
HOW MUCH WILL A SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEM COST?
This is hard to say, a system price depends on your electrical usage and service area. A comprehensive residential system in California cost from $15,000 to $35,000 before substantial State and Federal rebates and tax incentives. The break-even point is usually in 3-7 years with a positive cash flow of around 30 years. In addition to monthly savings, your solar system will increase property value. The average return on investment for a residential system is around 10%-15%.
WHAT ARE MY FINANCING OPTIONS?
While most people self finance through home equity loans or available funds, there are finance companies that specialize in secured and unsecured solar energy system loans. Offline Solar will be happy to refer you to a reputable company.
Please note: With most leased systems the leasing company, not the home or business owner, get the benefits of government rebates and tax credits. To get the full benefit of government incentives and the increase in property value Offline Solar strongly recommends purchasing your system.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FOR MY SMALL BUSINESS?
Besides the benefits of reduced energy bills and a cleaner environment, small businesses receive California state rebates and a Federal Investment Tax Credit of 30% of the system's cost. This credit can be carried forward 15 years or back 3 years. A five year accelerated depreciation schedule is also applicable resulting in a much higher rate of return.
HOW MUCH WILL I GET BACK IN STATE AND FEDERAL REBATES?
Through the California Solar Initiative (www.gosolarcalifornia.org), you will receive a rebate of approximately 10% of total system cost. This is in addtion to the Federal Investment Tax Credit of 30% after rebate cost.
With Offline Solar you pay only the after rebate price. We do all the paper work and you enjoy the savings right away.
WHAT IS NET METERING?
At times your solar system will produce more electricity than you use. Your electric meter spins backwards, banking excess electricial production for future retail credit with your utility company. This process is called "net metering".
WHAT IS THE MINIMUM EQUIPMENT I WILL NEED?
Solar systems include several pieces of equipment in addition to the PV array. This balance of system components typically includes an inverter to change the DC electricity from the panels to AC, wiring from the array to the inverter and then to a service panel. Additionally if needed, a charge controller and a form of electricity storage, typically batteries, may be added.
HOW LONG WILL THE SYSTEM LAST?
Photovoltaic systems have been around for 30 years and so far most of the original systems are still working just fine. Accelerated testing is giving us numbers in the low forties with a 1% per year decrease in efficiency throughout the systems life.
DO I NEED SUN ALL DAY?
Pretty much. Early morning and late afternoon shading can be tolerable.
"California has enormous, although largely untapped solar resources. Analyses of the state’s solar resources show that PV can be deployed beneficially almost anywhere in California. Anyone who has walked through California’s Central Valley during summer recognizes that the state has an abundance of sunlight."
-California Energy Commission
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GRID TIED, GRID TIED WITH BATTERIES AND OFF GRID SYSTEMS?
Grid Tie: Over 75% of Offline Solar's projects in the Central Valley and Sierra are net metered grid tie systems. With this system you are still getting your power from the utility company and the power generated by the solar panels goes back into the grid to offset your utility bills. This system is the most efficient and cost effective way to use solar electric energy. The draw back however is that you have no electric back up during a power outage. It is possible to add batteries at a later time. Grid tie systems are eligible for the California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate.
Grid tie with batteries: By adding energy storage with batteries you gain the security of always having power. This additional capacity comes with a slight decrease in system efficiency and increase in system cost.
Off grid systems: This system design is for situations where there is no utility service available. It must provide 100% of your electrical needs, both day and night, so it requires batteries and associated electrical gear for energy storage. Because seasonal weather patterns are unpredictable, a backup generator is also generally required.
WHAT SIZE SYSTEM WILL I NEED?
System size is based upon your personal or business energy usage. Typical grid tied system usually cover about 50% of usage. Due to utility company rate structures, these systems actually decreases your bills by 60% -75%, making it the most cost effective size. Under the terms of the California rebate program you are allowed to install up to 100% of your typical energy usage. Offline Solar will design a system uniquely sized to your budget, consumption and available full sun space.
DO I NEED TO CHANGE MY APPLIANCES?
Modern solar power systems provide utility grade power allowing you to use standard appliances. It is recommended that all major appliances be rated as energy efficient to minimize energy use.
DOES THE SYSTEM HAVE TO GO ON MY ROOF?
While roof mounts are the least costly to install and the most efficient use of space, they often cannot be used due to shading or slope direction. Rigid ground mounts and pole mounted tracking systems can be installed anywhere there is full sun.
DO I NEED A BUILDING PERMIT?
Yes, but don't worry, Offline Solar's staff handles all the paper work and steps necessary to obtain your permit.