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Top 10 Most Common Solar Power Questions

Solar Spicey!

OK, fine. Spicy or Yellow is not one of them… But I do visit new homes daily for solar power evaluations and here are the 10 most common questions I hear:

1. If the grid goes down, I stay up, right?

No. If you have a grid-tied system, that means that the solar system is tied to your utility, and that when you produce more power than you use, you send (sell) them (your utility) power, and when you use more power then you produce, you buy power. If the grid power goes out, so do you.

2. So if I don’t want my power to go out, can I get battery backups?

Typically only if you are very rich and eccentric. If you hate your utility with a passion, and you have money to burn, then “Islanding” as it’s called is for you. Battery technology is weak at this point in history, and it’s expensive. On top of that, hooking batteries to your solar system is a HUGE maintenance issue. Solar power itself has no moving parts, it RARELY breaks… Batteries on the other hand, wow. If you have lead acid batteries you have to ventilate them, not to mention replace the water as it gets eaten up. It’s a pain. If you have gel-cells you have to replace them every 5 years. All in all, just get a generator and plug it in if the power goes out. It doesn’t happen often.

3. Solar power doesn’t work when it’s cloudy, right?

Yes, it does. Ambient light and lots of UV light still get through. Figure between 10-50% effectiveness depending on how crappy the weather is.

4. How is it attached to my roof?

In different ways… but solar panels can catch wind like sails, and if they’re not attached to your beams, they can rip your roof off. We always attach them securely to the rafters so they are a part of the infrastructure of your house. I’ve never personally heard of a panel flying away. We use a high grade sealant and I’ve never heard of a roof leaking, but I’m sure it happens. If your ever talking to a salesperson make sure you nail down (ha) they’re mounting practices. Don’t hesitate to email me and ask me questions, I don’t care where you are, I’ll answer.

5. At the end of the year if I produce more than I use, I get a check from the utility, right?

Probably not. It depends on where you live. Check your state resource page on our homepage for net-metering laws in your state. For example, if you produce more power than you use in California in one month, you can use that as a credit for other months…. But at the end of the year, if you have produced more than you used in total, no, you don’t get a check, and your utility thanks you for the free power. So you want to optimize but not go over. In some states you can’t even sell back power at any time.

6. Is there anything I can apply for to get this subsidized?

Almost definitely. Check our state pages to see the kind of free money that is available in your state. Also, there is a 30% tax credit with a cap of $2000 for residential (no cap for business). Your installer should be aware of all credits/rebates/incentives for solar power available in your area.

7. Do you have to rewire my house?

No. The solar system has two parts: the panels and the inverter. The panels take photons and turn then into direct current (DC) electricity. Conduit is run from the panels to the other of the two parts, the inverter, which turns that direct current into alternating current (AC) which is the kind of power your appliances use. This inverter is connected to your main breaker and also the utility’s meter, so that you may draw power from the utility when you are not producing enough from your solar, and sell power to the utility when you are producing more than you are using. All the wiring in your house stays the same.

8. Isn’t solar power getting cheaper? Shouldn’t I wait?

I could talk about this forever, but I’ll try to keep it someone short. For starters, and contrary to EVERYTHING you read in the media, solar power is getting more expensive. Transportation costs, the energy required for production, increased demand, and suppliers shipping overseas to places like Germany and Spain are only some of the factors behind why solar power in the US is getting more expensive. In California in particular, the California Solar Initiative credits are decreasing, and the Federal tax credit ends after 2008. Couple this with increasing product cost and solar will not be cheaper than it is RIGHT NOW for a long time.

9. What about thin film and nano-solar?

The new “fancy” technologies get a lot of media buzz because they are new, and the reporters don’t have all the facts, which leads to a mislead public. Thin film is extremely cost effective – IF YOU HAVE A GIANT WAREHOUSE. Almost all non-PV technology is effective only for large surface areas. This doesn’t work with residential… If you own a house or a small business, PhotoVoltaics are the ONLY GAME IN TOWN and it’s going to be that way for years and years.

10. Don’t I have to clean them like all the time?

Nope, just hose them off once or twice a year and get any large items like bird poop or twigs off of them.

Last modified: July 24, 2017

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Ben ZientaraKrystal H.MySchizoBuddyKen Dreger Recent comment authors
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Installed 21 panels this year. I’m thinking of adding 7 more panels but they may not be installed until 2018. Will I still qualify for the 30% federal tax incentive in 2018 on the additional panels?

Krystal H.
Krystal H.

I am looking at two bids for solar. The prices are pretty similar but one company is offering bi-facial modules (Sunpreme) and one is offering LG. I have a regular dark shingle roof and this will be a standard flush install – not raised. The company with the bi-facial modules is promising about 2,000 kwh a year more in production. They say that reflected light on the back of the panel will be captured. It just doesn’t seem like there would be a lot of light reflecting off a dark roof when the panels are only a few inches off… Read more »

Ben Zientara

Hi, Krystal- That’s a really good question. Sunpreme modules are beautiful and functional, but the degree to which the backside will receive light reflected from a dark composite roof is something we don’t exactly know. All the case studies of residential installations on the Sunpreme website seem to show light- or medium-colored tile roofs. Still, Sunpreme claims the reflected light only adds about 8% to the production of the modules. Other gains come from lower instance of heat-related performance issues (transparent panels absorb less heat overall), and lower instance of Light-Induced Degradation (a near-immediate effect of exposing traditional crystalline solar… Read more »


I am interested in solar panels, but I notice some of them remain open and are very unattractive Why are some panels open and some closed? Penny L


This is all good in countries where the Utility companies allow you net metering. In countries that don’t allow this you are pretty much stuck with Batteries. One scenario is to have only SOME of your appliances on solar panels and the rest working of the Utility power. You will also need a switch to switch those appliances to utility power ones the sun goes down. Or batteries to store your power and use them at night as well. We get like 8 hrs of load shedding DAILY and our best option is to store the excess energy during the… Read more »

Ken Dreger
Ken Dreger

We are looking for used or B grade panels to install in our camp ground in California. Our group is NOT rich, but our electric bill is now running us $700/mo and we are only there one-2 weekends per month! Camp is in San Diego county and about 2.5 miles North of the US border. If someone knows how we can get some REALLLLY Cheap panels please let us know.

Thanks in advance

David Pryor
David Pryor

do you have any information about solar power in the state of Mississippi, companies that install the panels, etc.
david pryor
clinton, ms


Re item 1) Have you heard about grid intertie? or are you just trying to keep it simple?

I happen to be an inventor focused on designing cheaper solar panels. Do you have any idea how much cheaper a panel design would have to be to make for a manufacturer to consider licensing?
a) ~10% cheaper
b) ~20% cheaper
c) ~50% cheaper

b) and c) would require solar tracking.


what do short people particularly have to do with solar? “I’ll try to keep it someone short” :)

I agree with you about all the hype about new cheaper stuff coming. It can take a long time for something just discovered in a lab to turn into a real product. What matters is real solutions you can do now. Get what you can now, if it is cheaper in 10 years, add more.


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