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Solar PV FAQs

Q: How do solar panels work?
A: Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells work by converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity. The DC electrical charge is then converted into alternating current (AC) electricity by a power inverter to be used for your household electricity needs.

Q: What benefits does solar provide?
A: Solar is a fuel-free energy resource, which means it is an infinite and inexhaustible resource with no volatile fuel costs.  Solar is also a pollution-free energy resource; the more solar energy we use, the cleaner our air and water.  After the up-front initial cost, solar provides immediate energy savings and greater energy stability.  Solar also reduces line losses on the grid and provides energy to the grid during the daytime, when energy is most expensive and in high demand. 

Q: What are solar PV panels made of?
A: The majority of solar PV panels are made from crystalline silicon.  Silicon is the second most common element in Earth’s crust (after oxygen) and, by mass, is the eighth most common element in the universe.  In addition to crystalline silicon cells, solar panels can be made of cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, gallium arsenide multijunction, thin film silicon, and other materials.

Q: How long do solar panels last?
A: Solar panels have an expected lifespan of 25 years or more, and they are typically warranted for 25 years.  They are generally made with tempered glass that is rated to withstand a direct vertical impact of a one-inch diameter hail stone traveling 50 miles per hour.  

Q: Why do solar panels need to go on south or west facing roof?
A: There are a number of factors related to your roof that can drastically affect the suitability of solar on the roof of your home. Some of these include: orientation (north, east, south, west), pitch, shading, and others. Living in the northern hemisphere, it's ideal to have a roof that faces due south, isn't very steep or flat, and is free of shading from things like trees and chimneys. It's important to understand these unique characteristics before installing solar panels on your home. Of course, a solar contractor can help determine the suitability of solar on your home. To learn more about what makes a roof suitable for a solar energy system,
click here.

Q: What kind of maintenance is required for solar panels?
A: There aren’t any moving parts in a solar panel, so maintenance is minimal.  Solar panels should be sprayed down periodically (usually in the spring or summer) with warm water to prevent dust and pollen build-up (the thin film of dust cuts out a little bit of light from hitting panels, reducing the amount of electricity they make. Ensuring that your solar panels are free of debris will help them operate and their maximum potential).

Q: What happens if the utility power goes out?
Unless it is specially configured, a residential solar power system will not provide power during a power outage.When an outage occurs, utility workers may be picking up downed lines or handling electric cables. When the power is out, they are generally safe to handle, as there should be no electrical current running through them. If the system on your roof is still generating electricity, however, it could create a safety hazard. When the grid goes down, your utility company will temporarily turn your system off until the grid comes back online. A 2008 study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates that in the Mountain West region, there is a total of less than two hours (117 minutes) in an entire year that customers experience interruptions to their electrical service. There are more than 8,760 hours in a year, which means that power outages only result in a loss of grid connectivity for 0.0002% of the time. Additionally, less than 1% of these outages last more than 10 minutes.

Q: Can I install a battery to back up my system?

It is possible to have your house stay powered during blackouts, just as it is possible to take your house completely off of the grid. Systems with battery backups allow you to continue using the energy generated by your solar panels during a blackout, but they are more costly than a simpler system. Battery backups are made up of banks of deep-cycle batteries that are charged by both the panels on your roof and by the grid. Battery backups decrease the efficiency of your solar system overall because some of the power you generate must be diverted to charge and maintain the batteries. Batteries also must be maintained and replaced periodically, adding costs to the system. They add significant complexity to the installation of the system, and therefore add significant cost increases, but they are an option for those who are interested.

Q: Do solar panels work in the winter? And what about snow removal?
A: Solar panels operate perfectly well in the winter, especially if you have good sun exposure and many sunny days a year (which Utah does!!). Winter weather actually offers some advantages. Photovoltaic panels, like other electronics, work best in the cold.Too much heat actually reduces the output of silicon solar panels. Winter means fewer hours of daylight, but most homes use much less electricity in the winter (i.e. no cooling needs). As for snow removal, you will want to speak with the contractor about any recommended solutions for removing snow, depending on where your system is located and how steep your roof is. One viable solution is a “roof rake” to get rid of some of the snow. With some of the panels exposed, current will start to flow, creating some heat on the panels' surface that should melt the snow. On many days, the heat of the sun and the panels themselves will take care of any snow.

Q: How will I know if solar energy can work for me?
A: Take the Solar Eligibility Survey can help determine your homes’ solar suitability. If your home appears suitable, the SLCS contractor will conduct a free on-site assessment of your home, provide you with an individualized quote, and help you determine whether or not solar PV makes sense for you.

Q: What rebates or incentives are available for solar PV systems in Utah?
A: Currently, the following incentives are available for residential solar PV. Your solar installer will help you determine your eligibility and complete the necessary paperwork to apply.  

  • State Tax Credit: 25% of total costs up to $2,000
  • Federal Tax Credit: 30% with no cap (expires  December 2016)
  • Utility Incentives: inquire with the solar contractor about availability