How do solar energy systems work? We all know the basics: solar panels produce energy from sunlight. But how exactly does a residential/commercial solar power system work?
Rooftop solar systems are made up of solar panels strung together in what we call an "array." Each individual panel is made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells. When sunlight hits the panels, the PV cells convert it into electricity.
This brand new electricity then passes through an inverter so your appliances can safely use it. The inverter is necessary since raw solar energy is produced in the form of direct current (DC), but most home appliances use alternating current (AC). Once the electricity is converted, it passes through your meter back into the grid and you receive a credit toward your electrical usage. In the case of a solar lease, we will actually get the energy credit and you will pay the low fixed payment for the life of your lease agreement. You do not actually use or store the energy you produce unless you opt to have solar energy power banks or batteries installed, which at this point, in this region is uncommon.
Will solar work on my roof? Solar works on most roofs, but there are a few factors that will determine how well it works on your particular roof.
Roof orientation: South-facing roofs are ideal for solar. This is because roofs get the greatest amount of uninterrupted sunlight on their southern faces. More sunlight means more energy! If you don't have a south-facing roof, don't fret - you can have panels installed on eastern or western roofs. Keep in mind that these panels will only collect about 75% of the sunlight southern-facing panels would collect, though.
Surface area: The more surface area your roof has, the more panels you can install. Solar systems are most efficient when they cover a large, uninterrupted area. Features like chimneys, skylights, and air conditioners can interrupt solar arrays and decrease their efficiency.
Shade: This one may sound self-explanatory, but it's important to mention because it does impact how much energy your solar array produces. Since solar panels absorb energy from sunlight, any shading they receive during the day can significantly reduce their efficiency. Run-of-the-mill objects like chimneys, trees, and HVAC vents can create shadows over your solar panels and reduce electricity output. Your solar installation team will work with you to find an ideal spot on your roof.
Roof age: Roofs don't last forever and should be replaced every 15 years. If your roof is getting up there in age, you should strongly consider replacing it before installing your solar system. Otherwise, you'll end up having to tear up everything in a year or two when you replace the roof. Many solar system installation companies recommend using high-durability roofing materials that will last 25 years or more.
Ground mount systems: If you have the space, a ground mounted system can often save money on the cost of install. This isn't generally done in residential areas, but it can be a viable option in more rural areas.
Are there different types of solar energy systems? Click here to read about different kinds of setups.
Will my system need maintenance? Solar technology is virtually maintenance-free. The key to its durability is the fact that solar panels are built with no moving parts. Your system is unlikely to fail, and it's extremely unlikely you will need to replace any panels during their lifetime. In fact, the part that most often needs maintenance is the wiring, and that's only if squirrels or other critters get at it!
Keeping your panels clean will help them produce a little bit more electricity, but is not crucial. With normal rainfall in the Sacramento region, most solar panels will remain clean enough to stay efficient. Many homeowners prefer their panels to be cleaned to up keep the appearance of their homes. If your panels appear very, dirty, they should be cleaned. Although not usually necessary, annual cleaning is still a good idea and is very affordable.
How long does it take to install a system? Most solar installations take about two months to complete from consultation to finish. This sounds like a long time, but it includes everything from securing the proper permits, designing the solar array, and installing it. Oftentimes, obtaining permits is the longest part of the process. Depending on your municipality, getting a solar permit can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
Once the permits are taken care of, the installation process is quick. Your installation team will finish the job in just a couple of days.
What is the process to get my system permitted? The permitting process varies by municipality, but the gist of the process remains the same. Before you install your solar system, you need to have the final design approved by your local municipality. The permit essentially guarantees that your new array is safe and up to code. Once your plans are submitted by your solar installer, you'll receive permission within two to eight weeks. Then you're ready to install!
Call now to schedule your energy planning session. Produce energy, save money.