Solar Power Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is solar energy?
Solar energy takes advantage of the sun's rays to generate heat or electricity. It is an infinitely
renewable resource and unique for its ability to generate energy in a quiet, clean, and consistent manner.
Can't beat the sun for being oh-so-cool!
How do solar photovoltaic cells work?
In layperson terms, photovoltaic cells are comprised of a semiconductor material such as silicon.
Added to the silicon are the elements phosphorous and boron which create conductivity within the cell
and activate the movement of electrons. The electrons move across the cell when activated by the sunlight's
energy into the electrical circuit hooked up to the solar panel.
For more information, visit our Photovoltaic Electric Systems
What is the difference between solar panels versus building integrated photovoltaic products?
Solar panels are flat panels of photovoltaic arrays mounted on a roof or a pole to capture the sun's rays.
Building integrated photovoltaic materials are PV arrays that are integrated into the building material
itself, primarily windows, roof tiles, or walls. Solar panels work well for retrofits or remodels while
BIPV are appropriate for new construction or a major renovation.
How much does a solar electric power system cost?
A 2kW solar electric system will cost approximately $20,000. That total includes the cost for all
components – solar panels, panel mounts, and inverter – and labor associated with installation. It does
not however, reflect all the avoided costs, such as the tax breaks and the credits received through net
Go to our Solar Power Cost page for more information,
visit our Solar Calculator page to get an estimate, or find a
solar power installer to size and price the right system for you.
How much will I really save on my utility bills from a home electric solar power system?
Of course this is a relative question. It depends, in part, on how much electricity you use and how efficient
the appliances are that you operate. That said expect to generate excess electricity in the summer (when
days are long) which can potentially offset the energy you use from the grid in the winter. A combination
of energy efficient appliances and light bulbs can help reduce your homes energy bill by over two-thirds.
Find out more about the costs and potential savings from a residential solar power system in our
Solar Power Cost section.
What's the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems?
While both types of solar systems capture energy from the sun, solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic
panels to produce electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water for
domestic use, to heat a swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.
What are solar hot water systems?
Solar hot water systems, broadly termed solar thermal systems, use the sun's energy to heat water. Solar
hot water systems can be used to heat a hot water tank or to warm a home's radiant heating system. Swimming
pools and hot tubs use a modified solar hot water system for heating water.
Find more information on how solar hot water systems work in our
Solar Thermal section.
How do pool heating systems work?
Pool heating systems use a modified solar hot water system to capture the sun's rays to heat your pool or
For more information on how solar pool heating systems work, check out our
Solar Thermal section.
Can I use solar power to heat my home?
Absolutely! Radiant heating applies solar thermal technology. Transferring solar energy through pipes
into an under floor radiant heating system is a wonderful way to stay warm. Radiant floor systems
are typically 40 percent more efficient than their forced air counterpart and can be zoned to match
thermal comfort to each room.
Find more information about radiant heating in our Solar Heating Systems
How much maintenance do solar energy panels require?
Solar photovoltaic panels require little maintenance – no need to wash or dust. It is, however, important
to place panels where they will remain clear of shade and debris. Thus you will have to wipe them off if
too much snow or leaves fall on them.
Solar hot water collection arrays don't need much attention either. It does help to periodically
use a window wash brush, biodegradable soap, and water to clean the tubes.
Can I use a financing system?
Yes. Consider using a home equity loan for the purchase and installation costs of a solar photovoltaic
or solar hot water system to take full advantage of federal tax deductions. Solar energy systems are
viewed as a major home energy savings upgrade and there are financial tools out there that reward you
for your efforts. Remember, installing a solar energy system is comparable to any other upgrade you might
do to your home, such as installing a new deck or remodeling a kitchen.
Find more information about ways to finance your home's solar power system in our
Solar Financing Options section.
Do I need special insurance requirements?
Standard homeowner's insurance policies usually suffice to meet electric utility
requirements. Electric utilities usually require that homeowners who take advantage of net
metering sign an interconnection agreement.
Will I need a building permit to install a solar energy system in my home?
Yes. You'll need to obtain building permits to install a solar photovoltaic or solar hot water system.
Similarly, building, electrical, and plumbing codes also apply. That said, residential solar power systems
do not use "radical" building techniques and most jurisdictions have building codes that fully embrace
solar energy technology. Solar professionals will roll the price for permits into their cost estimate.
What if I'm the first person I know to install a photovoltaic system on my home?
First off, congratulations! Secondly, there are plenty of resources out there. Most solar electric building
standards are based on the National Electric Code (NEC) Article 690. If you happen to be one of the first
in your area to install a solar PV system, you can work with your contractor and local building officials
to successfully install your photovoltaic system. NEC Article 690 spells out the requirements for designing
a safe, reliable, and code-compliant system.
Locate a Solar Installer in your area to help you with your project.
When should I seek a solar professional?
Although solar energy systems work in parallel with conventional residential electrical and plumbing
systems, there are quirks in the process well suited to seeking out professionals who specialize in
solar power installation. Solar installation professionals can help you determine the type and size
of system most suited for your needs.
What should I ask a solar professional installer?
Solar professional installers can take the guess work out of installing a solar power system. Whether
you are considering solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, or solar heat for your pool, a solar pro can
help you determine the type and size of system that will work best and guide you through the process.
Why is it important to get multiple bids?
As with any major purchase, it's helpful to compare costs and information. Seeking information from
multiple professionals can provide constructive advice, set realistic expectations, and help you
fine-tune the design that will work best for your application.
How can I calculate the cost and payback time from a solar power installation?
You can estimate how much a solar electric or solar hot water system may cost if you determine your
current energy needs and costs and compare against your future anticipated use. Once you have a sense
of how much energy you use, you can evaluate the cost of purchasing and installing one or both of the
Luckily in today's market you can take advantage of multiple federal, state, and local tax credits,
rebates and other financial incentives that create attractive and competitive prices for solar PV and
hot water systems.
Find more information in our Solar Power Cost section.
How long will it take to install a solar power system in my home?
Planning, configuring, and doing any custom ordering for your solar energy system can
take up to a few weeks. However, the installation process itself can typically be completed
in only a few days time, in many cases even less.
How can Find Solar help me shop for solar?
Find Solar saves you time, money, and headaches by connecting you directly to the best solar
power companies in the country. Find Solar only works with experienced solar professionals
and firms with a track record of success and satisfied customers. We encourage you to look around our site
for all the information you need on solar energy installation.
When you're ready, all you need to do to get started is tell us about your project, and you can be assured
you'll receive competitive bids from the very best companies in your area.
Find Solar's service is completely free to use and there is no obligation attached.
What components do I need to install a grid-tied solar electric system?
You will need a photovoltaic array to capture the sun's energy, an inverter to convert
the direct current (DC) produced from the photovoltaic cells into alternating current (AC)
used by your home, and a house utility meter – called a net meter – that can record both the
electricity produced from your home's power system as well as any power you may use off the grid.
These three system components are then connected through a series of wiring. The photovoltaic panels
are secured to your roof with panel mounts or are installed on poles that can be adjusted for sun angle.
What is a net meter?
Net meters look very much like other outdoor meters with one notable exception – they spin both forwards
and backwards recording both the power produced and power used.
Do I need battery backup for my solar panels?
Probably not – a backup battery bank can add as much as 25% in cost to a residential solar PV system. It's not
necessarily more efficient either – a same sized solar array will yield about 7–10% less energy if it's battery-tied
than its grid-tied counterpart.
Though you will remain tethered to your local utilities' grid, you will not have to worry about not generating
enough power. You also gain the advantage of offsetting rising utility costs. Most solar photovoltaic experts
do not recommend adding a backup battery system unless there is concern about a long utility outage or the
residence is in a remote location.
How much space do I need for a solar photovoltaic system?
In bright sunlight, a square foot of a conventional photovoltaic panel will yield 10 watts of power. That's
a helpful rule of thumb for calculating a rough estimate of how much area you might need. For example, a
1000 watt system may need 100 – 200 square feet of area, depending on the type of PV module used.
How many solar panels do I need for an electric solar power system?
The size of the photovoltaic system is correlated to your home's energy-use needs, available space
for a system, and overall costs for the system components and installation. Solar contractors in
your area can help determine the best size for your solar photovoltaic system.
Find out how to estimate your home's solar electricity needs by checking out our
Solar Power Cost section.
To find a local solar installer, use our Solar Installer Directory.
How much shading is too much for solar photovoltaic panels?
Unfortunately shading a photovoltaic system dramatically decreases its output. Just shading the bottom
row of wafers alone amounts to an 80% reduction in efficiency. So above all, don't shade your array!
How do I know if solar panels will work on my home?
Take a look at the position of your home on its lot – and particularly your roof. Ask the following questions:
- Is there good southern exposure? Orienting solar panels to the south maximizes the effectiveness of energy collection.
- Is the exposure free of trees or buildings that could shade the panels or drop debris on them? Shading photovoltaic panels dramatically reduces their effectiveness.
- What is the pitch of your roof? Most roofs, from flat to 60-degrees can accommodate photovoltaic panels.
Do I need to have south facing exposure to have a solar energy system?
Although southern exposure increases the effectiveness of a residential solar power system, your
home may still work for solar power without having south facing exposure. Seek advice from a
professional solar designer or installer to ensure success.
What other factors are important to consider when installing a home solar energy system?
The location of your home and the local climate will play into where you place and how you install
your solar electric or solar hot water system. Wind speeds, heavy snow loads, and salt water can
all affect a solar array. Understanding how those inputs effect performance will determine the
types of mounts or how the arrays are angled. A solar pro in your area is likely quite knowledgeable
about your local conditions and can help you design that works well for you.