Frequently Asked Questions
What is a “solar electric” or “photovoltaic” system?
Is my home a good place for a solar electric or PV system?
Can my roof support the weight of the solar array?
Do I have enough roof area?
What size PV system do I need?
How much power do I use?
How much electricity will a PV system produce?
Can I really zero out my electric bill?
What does solar electricity do for the environment?
How much does a PV system cost?
Are there special loans for installing residential solar power?
Why should I borrow money to pay for solar?
Is solar electricity really cost-effective?
Is an incentive program available?
Are tax incentives available?
How does a solar electric system affect the value of my property?
Will my property taxes increase?
How long until my system realizes net savings?
What about permits and codes?
What happens to the solar electricity that I do not use?
What happens on a cloudy day or at night?
What are Utility Interconnection Standards?
What is Net Energy Metering?
What is the California Solar Initiative (CSI)?
Who gets the California Energy Commission rebate?
Who is eligible for incentives?
Are publicly-owned electric utility customers eligible for the rebate?
How much are the incentives?
What types of solar technologies are eligible?
What are the major components of a solar electric system?
What does the inverter do?
What is solar thermal?
What if there is a black out?
Why can't the utility pay me if I generate more electricity than I can
use during this one-year period?

What is a “solar electric” or “photovoltaic” system?

Solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) systems use the sun’s energy to produce electricity. These systems have been around for decades but have recently become more financially attractive and are becoming a popular home upgrade. Frequently these systems are confused with “solar thermal” or hot water systems that use the sun’s energy to heat water for use in a home or swimming pool. These were the systems that were popular in the 70’s and 80’s.

Is my home a good place for a solar electric or PV system?

Many factors go into determining how good a location is for a solar electric system. First consider how much sunlight your property receives. You should have a location with clear, unobstructed access to the sun between 9:00am – 5:00pm, throughout the year. In the US, the sun is in the southern half of the sky. Look for trees or other obstructions near the home particularly on the southern side. Shading will reduce the amount of electricity your system will produce. A solar power system can be installed on a flat composite, tar and gravel, bitumen, composite shingle, cement tile, or metal roof top. Solar panels are usually installed parallel to the roof surface. For this reason the orientation of your roof is important. The best orientation for a PV system is on a south-facing roof. Roofs that face east or west may also be acceptable. West facing roofs produce more power during "peak" times when power can be worth more money. This is important for utility customers who can take advantage of time-of-use metering (such as PG&E and SCE customers). On flat roofs the PV array can be mounted on frames tilting southward. A PV array can also be mounted on the ground.

Can my roof support the weight of the solar array?

Solar panels and the associated mounting equipment will add very little load to your roof. Typically the solar array will add less than 3.0 lb/ft2 of load to the roof. Some older homes may require some structural work prior to installing a system but this is very rare. If needed a more detailed engineering assessment will be conducted.

Do I have enough roof area?

The amount of roof space needed to roof-mount a solar system is based on the size or generating capacity of the system. Residential systems can vary in size from 150 square feet to 1,000 square feet. A rule of thumb is that 100 square feet or roof space is required for every kilowatt of electric capacity. For example, a 2,000-watt system would require about 200 square feet of roof area. The number of kilowatts required depends on energy usage and how much of your energy use you want to offset. For a typical Southern California home, dividing your monthly electricity use on your electric bill by 150 will give rough approximation to the system size to offset all your electricity use.

What size PV system do I need?

Several factors will influence the size of the PV system. Considering your present electricity needs is a first step in determining the appropriate size. Empire Solar Solutions will assist in this area by providing a complete site analysis.

How much power do I use?

You can find out how much electricity you use by looking on your utility bill or calling your electric utility. It is very helpful to get the last 12 months of your usage.

How much electricity will a PV system produce?

In California, a PV system will produce the most electricity in summer when sunlight hours are the longest and the sun is positioned higher in the sky. A 1 kW system can produce from 1,400 kWh to 2,000 kWh per year depending on the location within the state. Generally, a PV system in the southern part of the state will produce more energy than in the northern part of California.

Can I really zero out my electric bill?

If you have enough physical space, you can install a photovoltaic system that can offset all of your electricity use. There are frequently other small charges for being connected to the utility. Depending on the utility and customers energy usage, it is frequently most economically attractive to not fully offset your energy usage. An Empire Solar consultant can provide you with various economic scenarios based on system size. Click here if you would like to set up a free consultation.

What does solar electricity do for the environment?

Your system will reduce the demand on existing fossil-fuel power plants, thereby reducing pollutants and CO2 emissions responsible for global-warming. The EPA says, "Using solar energy to replace the use of traditional fossil fuel energy sources can prevent the release of pollutants into the atmosphere."

How much does a PV system cost?

Prices vary depending on many factors. These factors include the mounting configuration, PV system efficiency, and size of the system. It is difficult to predict how much an individual PV system will cost. Click here if you would like an Empire Solar consultant to provide you with a free consultation and quote.

Are there special loans for installing residential solar power?

Currently there are no state or federal sponsored financing programs for residential solar electric systems. However you can make use of any secured loan such as home equity loans (or lines of credit). These loans typically have the best terms and lowest interest rates.

Why should I borrow money to pay for solar?

By making monthly payments to the utility you are already essentially financing an indefinite, variable rate loan from your utility company. Installing a solar power system allows you to “refinance” this loan at a fixed rate and term, pay less every month, and have your loan payments go towards ownership of a valuable asset. Additionally, borrowing using a home equity or mortgage loan can have tax advantages – you should consult a tax specialist for further details.

Is solar electricity really cost-effective?

It depends on a number of factors but frequently YES. With decreasing costs, the systems are becoming more attractive for a larger segment of the population. In fact, in many cases a solar system can provide returns higher than the stock market average. Empire Solar Solutions can look at your specific situation and estimate what your return on investment will be and how much you will save over the life of the system. Click here for a free consultation.

The economic attractiveness of the system is tied to what future utility rates will be. This is difficult to predict but historically rates have increased 5.5% annually since 1970.

Is an incentive program available?

Yes, incentives are available through the California Solar Initiative (CSI), which is authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The program, which began on January 1, 2007, has a total budget of $2.165 billion to be distributed over 10 years. Municipalities and local utilities may have different or additional incentives.

Are tax incentives available?

Yes, the U.S. government provides a tax credit for commercial and residential systems. This credit is equal to 30% of the net system cost (system cost less rebates). Contact the Internal Revenue Service or consult your tax preparer for additional information.

How does a solar electric system affect the value of my property?

According to The Appraisal Journal, Evidence of Rational Market Evaluations for Home Efficiency, a $1 decrease in your annual energy bills results in a $20 increase in your property value. Using this formula, one can estimate the impact to your property value by estimating system performance and utility costs. Empire Solar is happy to provide an estimate of this for you. Click here to find out more.

Will my property taxes increase?

No. Despite the fact that your property value will increase, there is legislation that prevents your property taxes from increasing.

How long until my system realizes net savings?

If you finance your system as recommended, you may experience net savings as early as the first year. Instead of paying your monthly utility bill, you will make monthly loan payments for your PV system. You will effectively pay less for your loan over time than you currently pay your utility company. Solar power systems usually yield an initial return on investment of 7-11%. As utility rates increase your return will also increase. Systems will usually have a payback period of between 6-12 years. Your exact payback period will depend on your electrical usage, electric rate schedule, and cost of your system. In most cases the larger your electric bill the greater the return on investment and the faster the payback.

What about permits and codes?

Empire Solar Solutions will obtain all required permits from the city or county building department. PV systems require a building permit and/or electrical permit before an installation can begin.

What happens to the solar electricity that I do not use?

Any excess solar electricity produced will go back into the grid through your meter, running it backwards. You are credited for each kWh produced at the same rate that you would be charged. This electricity that you put back on the grid can then be used later when the sun is not out.

What happens on a cloudy day or at night?

Your solar electric system will not produce electricity without direct or diffused sunlight. On cloudy days you will still be generating electricity though not as much as on a sunny day. During cloudy days and at nighttime, you can draw electricity from the grid. You build up credits on sunny days and draw from these credits on cloudy days and at night.

What are Utility Interconnection Standards?

Interconnecting your PV system to the utility grid will require you to enter into an interconnection agreement. Southern California Edison has developed a standardized interconnection agreement. The agreement includes the terms and conditions under which your system will be connected to the grid, including technical requirements to ensure safety and power quality.

What is Net Energy Metering?

As a customer with a PV system, Net Energy Metering (NEM) allows you to receive credit for feeding surplus electricity to the grid. This credit can be applied to the subsequent energy you use. Once a year, you will be charged for the net energy consumed over the previous 12 months.

What is the California Solar Initiative (CSI)?

As part of the Governor's Million Solar Roofs program, California has set a goal to create 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017 - moving the state toward a cleaner energy future and helping lower the cost of solar systems for consumers. As of January 1, 2007, the $3.3 billion program consists of three components:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission, through its California Solar Initiative, provides incentives over the next decade for existing residential homes and existing and new commercial, industrial, and agricultural properties. The program is funded through revenues and collected from electric utility distribution rates.
  • The California Energy Commission manages a 10-year, $400 million program to encourage solar in new home construction through its New Solar Homes Partnership.
  • Local publicly-owned electric utilities will adopt, implement, and finance a solar initiative program by January 2008.

Who gets the California Energy Commission rebate?

You can elect to have the rebate paid to you or you can assign the rebate to Empire Solar Solutions and we’ll reduce the total cost of the system by the rebate amount.

Who is eligible for incentives?

All electric customers of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) are eligible to apply for CSI incentives. Other rebate programs are available for customers of other utilities.

Are publicly-owned electric utility customers eligible for the rebate?

Many publicly owned utilities (i.e. LADWP) already offer solar incentives. Empire Solar Solutions can help you determine if your Utility Company has a program and what your rebate could be.

How much are the incentives?

The incentives are based on the performance and size of the solar system. The incentive can be paid either up front through an Expected Performance Based Buydown (EPPB) or over the first five years through a Performance Based Incentive (PBI). The EPPB is calculated based of expected system performance for a given location and installation. The PBI is determined by measuring the actual output of the system. The amounts paid under the two scenarios can differ widely and Empire Solar Solutions can help you decide which rebate would serve you best. Click here to contact an Empire Solar consultant.

The incentive payment levels will automatically be reduced over the duration of the CSI program in 10 steps, based on the volume of MW of confirmed reservations issued within each utility service territory. The incentives will gradually phase out over the 10 steps. Note that your rebate amount is locked in from the date you make your reservation. It will not go down over the 10 years. This provides an incentive to act quickly before the rebate amount steps down.

What types of solar technologies are eligible?

The program currently funds only solar electricity (also called photovoltaic) systems. It does not provide rebates for solar hot water systems.

What are the major components of a solar electric system?

A grid-tied solar electric system requires solar modules and one or more inverters. AC and DC safety disconnects are the other necessary components. Please see “How Solar Works” for more details.

What does the inverter do?

The electricity produced by the solar modules is direct current, or DC. The inverter converts this electricity to alternating current, or AC, which is the same as the electricity that comes from the utility. Most electrical devices in homes and businesses run on AC electricity.

What is solar thermal?

Solar Thermal systems (also called solar hot water) heat hot water for a pool or domestic hot water use. Empire Solar Solutions focuses on being solar electric experts and does not currently install this type of system.

What if there is a black out?

Per code requirements, if there is a black out or brown out your solar system will turn off. There are special systems that can provide battery backup for important dedicated circuits in your home or business. Systems can even be designed for “off-grid” use where there is no connection to the utility. These systems tend to be more expensive and have higher maintenance requirements. For most customers they are not economically attractive. Empire Solar is happy to design a battery backup or off-grid system if you are interested in one of these systems.

Why can't the utility pay me if I generate more electricity than I can use during this one-year period?

California's net metering law doesn't require the utilities to do so per Public Utilities Code 2827.

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Empire Solar Solutions Inc.