Q. Will the system pay for itself?
A. Yes, many times over! If you are paying cash, it will pay for itself in a little more than 5 years. If you finance at 8%, it will pay for itself within 6 years. The Massachusetts SREC program is funded through 2022 and that will currently earn you almost twice what you’re saving in electricity. But your electricity rates are projected to increase between 4-5% annually so your electrical savings will become a much larger portion of your savings as we approach that date. And those savings will continue beyond that throughout the 25-plus year lifespan of your panels.
Q. What maintenance do I need to do to keep my panels running efficiently?
A. Both my solar panels and micro-inverters have 25-year warranties. In general, solar panels have no moving parts to wear out so have very little maintenance requirements. It probably couldn’t hurt to occasionally squirt the hose on them to get off any dust or dirt but that’s it. And since the sunlight will pass through the snow to heat up the panels, any accumulated snowfall will melt quickly.
Q. What is the lifespan of the panels?
A. I don’t think there’s any official lifespan after which the panels will stop functioning. I think the more likely possibility is that they will become obsolete by future technological improvements like most everything. One of our recommend installers, Sunlight Solar Energy, guarantees that at year 25 they’ll perform at a level equal to at least 80% of year one performance or you get a new system of comparable size. And since most panels these days are all made in China and of similar composition and efficiency, this same estimated long-term efficiency should apply to all of them.
Q. The installers are quoting me different size systems. What size array should I get?
A. If you have NStar, realize that they will not send you a check if you generate more electricity than you use. So you should target your generation capacity to equal between 80-90% of your usage. A 5-kW array will produce just short of 6 MW annually. You should check your electric bill for actual usage and adjust your system size accordingly.
Q. What's the most common mistake you see people make when they get solar panels?
A. Not getting micro-inverters. With micro-inverters, each panel has its own inverter so if one panel is covered with snow, it does not reduce the production of the rest of the system. Additionally, regular inverters only have a 15-year lifespan and must be replaced at a cost of around $5,000. Many installers will not include this cost on their ROI sheet. Micro-inverters, on the other hand, have a 25 year lifespan.
Q. Will my electrical meter run backwards when I’m generating more electricity than I’m using?
A. It certainly will! Massachusetts is a net metering state, which means you only pay for the net difference between what you use and what you produce. Your electric utility will need to install a special Net meter that is capable of running backwards. I can’t tell you how cool it is when you first see that meter running backwards!
Q. Will I still have power if the electricity goes out?
A. You would think you would, but you won’t. However, the reason is kindof cool. Since you’re connected directly to the grid, your generated electricity is always flowing into the wires attached to your house. And quite simply, if there wasn’t an automatic cutoff of this power, you could electrocute one of the utility workers working with presumably “dead” wires.
Q. What if I got batteries?
A. If you purchased batteries, you could store your power in them instead and then once they are fully charged, pump any excess back into the grid. But these battery systems are very expensive and, unless you are considering using solar as a green alternative to a generator, are not worth the cost.
Q. Are solar panels safe?
A. Yes. The main component of solar cells is silicon, which is also the main ingredient in sand. There are no toxic materials in the panels to leak out. And the electricity produced by the panels hooks up to your circuit panel and is subject to the same safeguards that currently keep your home safe from the dangers of electricity.
Q. Will a full moon generate any electricity?
A. I would have thought that it would but it doesn’t. In order to generate electricity, solar panels need direct sunlight and its charged photons.
Q. Who did you purchase your panels from and why?
A. I got three estimates and while they were all very close on price, there was only one that could offer me the type of financing I wanted which resulted in only a $200 minimum monthly payment and a positive quarterly cash flow. That company was Absolute Green Energy and I would recommend them without reservation.