Let's start with the technical details
+ What are the components of a typical solar power system?
A typical residential photovoltaic (PV) solar system has the array of solar modules, the racking system attached to the roof, which holds the modules, the electrical wires that connect the modules, and the conduit for the wires to run through down to the inverter (typically near the home's service panel). There’s also an AC disconnect, which is required by your utility company.
+ What do solar energy systems look like?
Solar energy systems have a sleek, discrete appearance. As you might imagine, they’ve come a long way from the days when panels were awkwardly raised off the roof and angled to capture the most sunlight. Great leaps in efficiency and price facilitate design flexibility. We always install panels flush against the roof, unless otherwise specified.
+ How do photovoltaic solar panels work?
When sunlight hits silicon (aka “solar”) panels, it jostles electrons, creating a negative charge. And voila! Electricity! Panels produce direct current (DC) electricity, which is similar to what’s used in your car. That electricity then runs through an inverter, which converts it to alternating current (AC). That’s the type of power that’s useable in your house or business.
+ What's the different between a grid-tied and off-grid Photovoltaic (PV) system?
To say a system is “off-grid” means that it’s fully disconnected from the broader electrical grid. That’s often due to the fact that the system is positioned in a remote location. When off-grid systems produce power during the day, they store excess power in batteries for use during the night and on cloudy days.
Then there are grid-tied systems. These types of systems typically have no battery back-up. Instead, when they generate more energy than they use, they feed it back into the grid where it powers your neighbors' homes or businesses. This excess energy provides you with a "credit" with your utility company. During the night and on cloudy days, this credit pays for the cost of energy you do pull from the grid to power your house or business. So all the power your system generates gets used. Talk about efficiency!
Due to their excellent cost-per-kilowatt-hour performance, we generally recommend grid-tied systems. While off-grid systems may be appropriate for certain locations that lack access to power lines, the cost of the batteries generally doubles the overall cost of the system.
+ How does a solar thermal system work?
A solar thermal system pumps cold water through thermal collectors, which absorb the sun’s heat. These collectors then heat the water up to between 140 and 180 degrees. When that’s done, the water is stored in tanks until you need to use it. Thermal systems are typically used for large scale businesses that consume a lot of hot water – hotels, apartment complexes, etc. The only solar thermal installations we do at this time are for large commercial projects.
+ How does cloudy weather affect the efficiency of solar panels?
Solar energy systems work reliably in any kind of weather, the sunnier the better. They don't produce well in shady conditions (hence, the name “solar”). We can assess the sun availability on your property and design systems that maximize solar energy.
Solar power cost and reliability
+ Can I afford solar for my house?
Yes! Solar energy is already less expensive over the lifetime of the system than traditional utility payments. When you add on the 30 percent federal solar investment and the increase to your home's appraisal value, you'll find that solar is a great investment, whether you plan to stay or sell.
+ Will the installation of panels damage my roof?
No. The portion of your roof that’s shaded by the array of solar panels will actually increase in lifespan. Panels protect the roof from the sun's rays and the damaging effects of wind, hail, and other debris. We ensure every roof penetration is watertight. With over five years of solar panel installations, we've never had a roof leak.
+ How does solar measure up to electric and gas?
Over the lifetime of a system, solar energy is now cheaper than traditional sources of electricity.
+ How does solar compare to other forms of alternative energy?
Solar energy systems are easily the cheapest and most convenient option for homeowners and small to medium-sized companies when you look at the lifetime cost of energy. In general, solar is much less expensive than other sustainable power sources like geothermal and biofuel. Its scale is also better suited to most consumers than alternatives like wind power, which are only right for a very particular kind of location. In our opinion, solar is the best choice for consumers who are trying to live sustainably. But we’re flexible...and happy to integrate our systems with other alternative and traditional power sources.
+ Does having solar panels mean I’ll never lose power?
SMA, our inverter manufacturer and world leader in the inverter market, has developed a new inverter that will allow you to have a secure power source directly from the sun while your power is out. This allows you to use solar power when the grid is down and the sun is shining. You can do this without batteries, and there are no extra installation costs.
+ If I go solar, do I need to change my appliances?
No. Solar integrates seamlessly with existing electrical services. So you can keep your refrigerator and stove, and you don’t have to worry about blowing fuses with a teenager’s hairdryer.
+ What about durability? Can the weather damage solar panels?
Our solar panels are durable. They’re made to be completely waterproof for a minimum of forty years. As for enduring extreme weather, think about this: they’re built to withstand a Florida hurricane and a snowstorm in Buffalo. They can bear up to 30 pounds of snow per square foot and our panel manufacturers also test their durability against hail storms. They do this by firing golf ball-sized rocks of ice into their product at terminal velocity. They don't leave a scratch.