Frequently Asked Questions
The information below addresses some of the common misconceptions about solar
How do PV panels work?
Photovoltaic (PV) Panels are made or silicon and react directly to sunlight. Through the photovotaic effect, electrons are discharged from the cells thereby generating DC(direct current) electricity. Using wire, the electricity is routed from the panels to an inverter which converts the DC to AC(alternating current) electricity for use in the home. (see visual explanation here)
How long do the panels last?
Every panel installed by Collaborative Solar carries at least a 25 year manufacturer's warranty. Due to the tendency of panels to degrade over time, most are warranted to produce 80% of their rated power until year 25. Most solar systems, however, last 30-40 years with minimal maintenance because of the durability and lack or moving parts.
How much do systems cost?
The range of cost depends on the size, mounting location(roof or ground), and equipment chosen. Keep in mind that the system is sized to energy needs of the location and the roof space available. Current costs usually end up totaling $2.50-3.00/watt for a roof-mounted system before financial incentives that substainally impact the return on investment. It is very important to do your homework as prices vary greatly. See NREL data for national averages here: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf and Contact Collaborative Solar for a free analysis and cost estimate based on your specific needs.
What size system do I need?
A detailed site analysis will provide the specific answer, yet most systems are typically decided on one of three primary factors: Available roof area, Client budget, or Energy Bills. In our utility footprint, budget almost always is the limiting factor. The average installed size in the Boone region is 6.5kW (about 18 panels) with the national average being 6.2kW. This typically offsets half of your homes consumption.
Does my roof have to face south?
Not at all. South-facing systems are ideal. Other orientations can be used with surprisingly low loss of production.
Should I sell energy to the utility or net-meter?
In most cases, net-metering is your easiest option, but it depends on your utility. Currently New River Light and Power of Boone has no net-metering standard. A "sell-all" arrangment is necessary whereby the utility buys your power for "avoided-cost" or the price they pay for fuel. This usually amounts to about $0.04/kWh. . "Sell-all" is required if the system owner is not the utility customer (usually with non-profits) or there is no load on site (like an installation in a field).
What kind of permits do I need?
We take care of them for you. Collaborative Solar obtains all building and electrical permits for each system. We also handle all documents necessary for your utilty company and NC GreenPower.
What happens when the utility power is down?
If the utility power is shut off for any reason, the grid connected inverter will disconnect and shutdown in under one second. All UL 1741 listed inverters provide this safety to prevent power from backfeeding the grid and harming electrical workers. If you require power when the grid is down, a back-up generator or a battery bank will be necessary. This increases complexity and cost. In most cases, customers opt to tolerate an occasional power outage. Battery-based systems can increase cost to $3.50-$5.00 per watt depending on the battery size.
How long does the typical system take to install?
Installation time depends on the size of the system, but the typicall residential install occurs in 2-4 days. However, the overall time frame including equipment procurement, obtaining permits, installation, inspection takes about approximately 3-4 weeks.
Can my roof support the weight of the solar array?
Yes. Solar equipment adds little load to the roof. Almost all modern construction is designed to support loads greater than the typical 2.5lbs / square ft. Some older construction may require structural work prior to installation.
How do we get started?
The best way forward is to simply give us a call. Using your address, Collaborative Solar will survey your home or business digitally as well as analyze a years worth of electric bills. Second, we design a system for your needs and submit a proposal of costs. Last, we adjust the proposal to meet your budget and other goals and sign a contract. After installation, we monitor the system for any problems free of charge.
Will installing panels affect my homeownes insurance?
Most homeowners policies cover residential solar panel installations. We recommend that you speak to your insurance company to confirm or bind additional coverage where necessary.
Do solar systems require maintenance?
In the Southeastern US, maintenance is almost non-exixtent. It is a good idea to check the solar installation periodically for dust or debris and washing them off with a garden hose. All of our system are designed with monitoring in mind to make it easy to see production and problems.
Which solar system is better, photovoltaic or hot water?
25% of your utility bill usually comes from an electric water heater. Most folks have traditionally started with solar hot water, but the age of heat pump water heaters and low-cost PV have changed those metrics. We only install solar electric systems, however.
How do solar water heaters work?
Thermal energy from the sun is captured in a roof-mounted, glazed collector and transferred to the hot water storage tank. When collector temperature is hotter than tank temperature, a pump moves the fluid from the collector through pipes to a heat exchanger inside the water tank. The water inside absorbs the heat and the cycle repeats until sunset.
Where does energy efficiency fit in?
Energy efficiency is always an excellent bang for your buck especially when your house could benefit from insulation, air-sealing or replacing old light bulbs with new technology. This should always be addressed first. An energy audit can help identify highest returns from such improvements even though they are not as glamorous as putting solar on the roof. Contact us and we can arrange an energy audit in conjunction with your new solar system from our local partner ReNew Homes, Inc.
What kind of warranty comes with the system?
Every panel installed by Collaborative Solar carries at least a 25 year manufacturer's warranty. Inverters vary from 12 years to 25 years. Extended warranties can be purchased but should always be compared to the replacement cost for a new inverter.
What is the payback time for renewable energy systems?
Payback time varies and depends on system type and size, but at times (especially in the business setting) they can be as short as 4 years. Payback depends on the prices you pay for energy and what incentives you are eligible to use. As part of our proposal, we will include a detailed payback schedule that will outline what you can expect from your system. However, we encourage focusing on an internal rate of return and comparing that to other investment rather than simple payback. Payback doesn't take into consideration the time value of money nor does provide detail after the payback period. A solar investment in unique in that you turn an expense into an investment.
What financial incentives are available?
Although Collaborative Solar will translate what incentives you can use, the list below is a general dollar value outline for what is available in NC:
Federal Credit 30% of system cost
MACRS Depreciation Dollar value = (85% of system cost) x (your tax rate) *eligible to business entities
local subsidies Vary
Do solar panels have to be placed on the roof?
Solar panels can be ground mounted if your property isn't suitable for a roof-mounted installation. We will explore the various options during your site assessment and provide the most cost-effective & visually pleasing install for your location. At a little larger scale, ~100kW or greater, the ground can be the most cost effective place to install solar.
Are batteries required?
While batteries are not required, some clients prefer to have backup power in this manner. Adding batteries can significantly increase the cost of a PV project and add maintenance to the system. Generators are also a viable option for backup and often a more cost-effective solution. If backup power is an option that you desire, Collaborative Solar will explore the best solution for your needs.
Can I own a system on another person's property?
NC allows ownership of a PV system on another person's property. A lease agreement is usually necessary for host/system owner relationship. However, selling electricity directly to a third-party is not allowed in NC, and the system owner has only one option in selling energy to the utility for the "avoided" (~wholesale) cost. Although the complicance Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) market doesn't pay much, RECs can be sold on the voluntary market for whatever a buyer decides they are worth. A good example is NC GreenPower.
What is a REC?
Renewable Energy Credits are the property rights to the environmental, social, & non-power qualities of renewable electricity. There is a compliance market and a voluntary market in NC. The voluntary market is most useful to 3rd party-owned solar systems because it provides a fair additional price on top of the avoided (wholesale) cost under a "sell-all" arrangement with the utility. Local governments and nonprofits can create their own "NC GreenPower-like" program to stimulate the adoption of solar energy that will further subsidize the investment and provide a more competetive return on investment
How much impact does shading have on PV?
The impact of shade can be enormous. For this reason, we install microinverters by Enphase or optimizers by Solaredge almost exclusively. The cost differential is almost unoticable, panel by panel production increases output, monitoring is included, and they are basically required to meet the 2017 National Electric Code.