Over the past 50 years, solar energy has moved from being “fringe-science” to an affordable option for consumers to control and reduce their energy budgets. With solar panels now costing a fraction of what they used to, and with Federal tax incentives reducing the cost of an install by almost a third (1/3), solar has positioned itself as something consumers need to take a closer look at.
Now consumers have access to the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program. PACE is a means to finance any energy efficiency upgrades. This can mean anything from a new roof, to an installed solar project. This type of financing is attached to the property, rather than the individual, which allows commercial and residential consumers to implement solar with no money out of pocket. Along with the immediate reduction in utility bills, many can go solar and pay less for their energy expenses beginning with the first month of service.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reported that about 37% of all solar generation in 2016 came from small scale solar systems (less than 1 MW). This statistic shows the rising trend that individual consumers, both commercial and residential, are utilizing solar as their means for controlling their energy budgets.
While annual solar installations in the United States have skyrocketed over 300 % from five years ago, what the average consumer knows about the benefits of solar has stagnated. Everyone knows installing solar will reduce their carbon footprint, and reduce the amount of utility grid energy they use, but what happens to your service after the solar installation is complete?
The biggest challenge for the public to understand is, in most cases, the solar installation company is simply a construction company. They specialize in putting together the concept and design, but are not by trade “energy experts”. The point of contact that brings to life the connection between a consumer idea and the final product are typically salesmen who are knowledgeable about the product they are selling, but not so much about the customer’s utility rate structures, available financing options or what to expect post sale from the grid that customers are moving away from.
So, how can consumers arm themselves with the knowledge they need to feel confident about their decision and ensure they take the necessary steps after they put solar in place? Below is a little breakdown of which parts of a customer’s utility bill will be impacted by solar and how they can find out more information specific to how they use energy.
Understanding Your Utility Charges
No two utility companies have the same layout or specific charges to them. However, in most cases, there are some fairly consistent parts to all electric utility bills.
Utility customer charge: Sometimes known as a service charge. This component is a monthly fee charged to all consumers for their utility account. Choosing solar will have limited impact on this standard cost.
Supply (or Generation) charge: The cost of the actual electricity you consume. The overall cost will vary based on your geographic location and whether you are in a deregulated or regulated market. Choosing to go solar will reduce your overall usage and reduce this cost.
Delivery charge: The cost for your utility to deliver the electricity into your building. Measured in kilowatt-hours, this charge is determined by your service class within your specific utility. Choosing to go solar will reduce your overall usage, which in turn will reduce your cost.
Demand charge: The cost to ensure there is enough power on the electricity grid at any one given time to meet your peak demand for electricity. This charge is specific to how you use energy and can change over time as your need for electricity changes. Choosing to go solar could reduce your overall demand charge, however, results will vary greatly. Speaking with any energy specialist can provide you more clarity on whether you could expect changes after implementing solar.
Even though you now have a guideline on how going solar may affect your utility bill, it is best to discuss your specific utility account with an energy professional. With your usage patterns coupled with utility tariffs determining your final cost, an analysis of your account will provide you more clarity on what you can expect with a solar install.
How a solar PV system works
Ever wonder what PV stands for? PV stands for photovoltaic. This is the conversion of light into electricity. A typical PV system can be designed in many ways. Depending on your specific factors: rooftops, ground mounts, carports, or hybrid systems can be designed to fit your needs. All solar systems have 3 main components: panels, inverters and racking.
Solar panels – The main expense in creating a solar system. Solar panels are what transforms the sun’s photons into electrons of direct current, also known as (DC). Panels can produce different amounts of energy (watts) based on their rating. Usually, the more watts a panel creates, the more expensive it is.
Inverters – The devices that convert the above mentioned direct current into alternating current (AC). Alternating current is the standard electric that comes out of your wall sockets that power everything in your homes and businesses. There are 2 main types of inverters that are used in standard solar systems. A central inverter can convert power from multiple solar panels at the same time. A micro inverter, as the name alludes to, is a much smaller device that is attached to a single panel. When designing a solar system, the engineer will utilize the best solution for your specific situation.
Racking – Racking units are utilized to mount and secure panels to the solar design site. There are many different racking solutions that can be used in a solar system. Most are either fixed mounting solutions, which are set on a “fixed-tilt” and remain stationary, or solar trackers, which follow the sun to enhance light capture. As with inverters, the engineer who designs the system will choose the most efficient and cost effective racking for your system.
How much electricity will a solar system produce?
One of the hardest items for consumers to understand is how much electricity can a solar system produce. Above we discussed that different rated solar panels produce a different number of watts. As such, no two solar systems are going to produce the exact same amount of energy, even if the systems use the exact same parts. The reason for this is determined by three main factors. Your average solar panel will produce a different amount of electricity based on shading, azimuth and pitch.
Shading – The shading on your solar system will drastically reduce the system’s output. This can be caused by trees, building structures and other landscape impediments. Shading will also vary depending on the season. Solar inverters are designed to work with a specific output of a solar system. So, shading will affect overall efficiency. When designing a solar system, engineers will utilize special tools that determine the shading value of a specific geographic location.
Azimuth – This is the east-west angle that determines the proper placement of the solar panels to optimize the sun’s exposure. The azimuth is as important as shading as this will determine how much direct sunlight your system will receive.
Pitch – (also known as tilt) This is the angle that the panels are placed at. Although this is the least important of these items, it will alter the amount of electricity produced by a solar system.
Finding the solar company that is the best fit?
As with any major purchase, you will always be best served by receiving multiple quotes. The biggest issue with this is the time and energy spent putting together a RFP (request for pricing); making sure all bids are competing on a level playing field; and knowing what specific questions to ask before making a decision. Most consumers do not have the time to oversee this type of process. Combining lack of time with the lack of transparency most consumers have on their utility bills, they face more confusion than understanding.
Education is paramount to the continued evolution of the solar industry. Your best bet is to speak with an energy professional. This will allow you to have a trained advisor provide you all the information you need to understand your current electric accounts. It will also allow you to have a professional provide an analysis performed on your utility accounts, as well as an advisor to explain what will transpire before and after you decide to go solar.
If you are interested in finding out more about your potential with a solar system, or are interested in how you can participate in one of the strongest emerging markets, send me a message and I can provide you more information.
This articles was originally posted at: https://naea.today/solar-effect-making-sense-going-solar/ on