What You Should Know Before Going Solar

Source: By The New York Times • Posted: Monday, October 3, 2016

Solar panels in Jackson Heights, Queens. Karsten Moran for The New York Times 

How do home solar systems work?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are made from silicon cells that join together to form a circuit. The panel collects the sun’s energy and makes direct current (DC) electricity. An inverter changes the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is what most homes use. The inverter is a metal box connected to a meter, which in turn is connected to the utility’s electric grid.

Do I need a new roof?

Most installers prefer a roof that has been fixed or replaced within the last five years. This is because the roof must be sturdy enough to support a mounting system and a rack.

What happens when it snows?

The snow typically melts right off the panels, especially if the panels are tilted.

Who fixes a panel if it breaks?

Most solar panels come with a 25-year manufacturer’s warranty, and it takes only a few hours for a solar installer to make replacements. Usually the installer will have a monitoring system that continuously checks the working condition of its solar panels.

What is net metering?

When solar panels generate more power than a household uses, the excess kilowatts are pushed back onto the electric grid. Net metering is the billing system that credits a homeowner for the excess power on the home’s future bills. This helps during the winter months, when solar systems generate less power since the sun’s energy is weaker. Solar system owners still use the utility’s grid, which is why you still need to pay a monthly connection charge.

How can I pay for a solar system?

You can get a solar or home improvement loan from a bank or go through a private solar financing company. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has low-rate loans and financing options available, some of which can be paid through your monthly utility bill. The return on investment for most home solar systems is five to seven years.

Should I lease or buy?

About a decade ago, leasing was the way to go, since the price of a home solar system was high. Now that prices have come down by 70 percent, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, it is better to pay for something you will eventually own. According to Christopher Russo, a founder of Russo Appraisals on Staten Island, owning your own system will add about 3 percent to the value of your home.

How can a renter tap into solar energy?

It is tough to do now, but renters one day may be able to join a shared solar group. In theory, an owner of a large rooftop, say on a warehouse, could become a host and could enter into an agreement with an energy developer, a company that would finance, install, own and operate the solar system on the host’s roof. Area residents could join this group and pay a subscription fee to the developer in exchange for credits on their electricity bills.

The idea sounds simple, but there are many hurdles before these groups can be up and running. Issues include the difficulty of finding a large rooftop space; creating enough government incentives to entice building owners to give up their rooftops for 20 years or more; and calculating the optimal size for such a group.