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Solar Technology Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Solar Technology

Q1. Why should I go solar?

A. Solar energy benefits you and the environment, and it’s a good way to contribute to energy sustainability. You can reduce your monthly electric bill, receive rebates to subsidize the system cost and also play an important role in moving the state toward a cleaner energy future. 

Q2. What is a solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) system and how does it work?

A. Solar electric or PV technology uses the sun’s energy to make electricity. When sunlight strikes an array of solar panels, electrons are freed by the interaction of sunlight with semiconductor materials (typically silicon). The movement of electrons creates current, thus creating direct current (DC) power.

DC is the only type of current produced by solar cells. Appliances and machinery, however, operate on alternating current (AC) as supplied by your utility. The DC energy produced by the panels is fed into an inverter that transforms the DC power into AC power, which then feeds into the main electrical panel that powers your house or business.

A bi-directional meter connected to the electrical panel measures both the amount of electricity your system is producing and how much electricity you are consuming.

Q3. Is my home or business a good place for a PV system?

A. First consider how much sunlight your property receives. Your property should have a clear, unobstructed access to the sun for most of the day, and throughout the year.

In California, the sun is in the southern half of the sky and produces more PV electricity than in the northern part. Because shading will reduce the amount of electricity your system will produce, PV panels ideally should be installed in a location that is not shaded by trees, chimneys or nearby structures.

The best orientation for a PV system is on a south or southwest-facing roof. Flat roofs can also work because the PV array can be mounted on frames tilting south or southwest. In addition PV array can also be mounted on the ground.

Q4. Do I have enough roof area?

A. The amount of roof space needed is based on the size, or generating capacity, of the solar energy system. Residential solar energy systems can vary in size from 50 square feet to 1,000 square feet. A rule of thumb is that a square foot of PV module area produces 10 watts (W) of power in bright sunlight. For example, a 2,000 W system would require about 200 square feet of roof area.

Q5. What size PV system do I need?

A. Several factors will influence the size of the solar electric generating system. The first step in determining the appropriate size is to conduct a free energy efficiency audit and implement measures to reduce the amount of electricity you need. The second step is to review your previous 12 months of electricity usage. Typically, solar installers and contractors will be able to help you with these steps.

For CSI systems the average residential solar energy system size in our service territory is about 5 kilowatts (kW), and the average non-residential solar system size is 262 kW. The CSI program allows customers to size a solar system up to their previous 12 months electrical requirements, but in most cases homeowners only need to size a system to avoid the upper three billing tiers.

Q6. How much electricity will a PV system produce?

A. In California, a PV system will produce the most electricity in spring through fall when sunlight hours are the longest and the sun is positioned higher in the sky. A 1-kW system can produce from 1,400 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to 2,000 kWh per year depending on the location within the state. Generally, a PV system in Southern California will produce more electricity than one in Northern California.

Q7. What is a kW?

A. A kW is a basic unit of measure of real electric power or a rate of doing work. A kW is 1,000 W.

Q8. What is a (kWh)?

A. A kWh is a basic unit of energy consumption. For example, ten 100W light bulbs burning for one hour will consume 1,000 W-hours, or 1 kWh of electricity.

Q9. How much do solar systems cost?

A. The cost varies depending on many factors, including the solar energy system’s size, equipment options and labor costs. Typically, the installed costs are determined based on the size of the system’s output. The “cost per watt” ($/W) is often used for comparing systems of different sizes.

It is difficult to predict how much an individual system will cost. Visit www.californiasolarstatistics.ca.gov to find out the current average $/W for systems installed through the CSI program.

Q10. Can my city, homeowners association or neighbor prohibit me from installing solar on my roof?

A. The California Solar Rights Act, enacted in 1978, limits the ability of covenants, conditions and restrictions (typically enforced by homeowners associations) and local governments to restrict solar installations. Get more information on the California Solar Rights Act.

Q11. What cleaning and maintenance costs I incur?

A. Yes. PV output can be impacted by dirt accumulation. The frequency of cleaning depends on the location. For example, locations closer to freeways or industrial facilities, or in high-wind areas are likely to accumulate dirt more rapidly and should be cleaned more frequently.

Q12. Is a solar generating system difficult to operate?

A. No, a solar generation system operates automatically, and shuts itself on and off automatically.

Q13. What happens during a power outage?

A. If a power outage occurs, your solar energy system is designed to immediately shutdown for safety reasons. A grid-tied solar electric system does not provide power during outages unless it includes a battery storage system. Your power will be reinstated moments after grid power is restored; however, you may need to manually reset your solar system’s inverter back to service after your power is reinstated (most auto reset after power is restored).

Q14. Where can I get more information?

A. For additional information on “going solar,” visit CSI or Go Solar California.

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