From solar panels to home values, we have answers to your questions.
About Solar Panels
The output of your system varies, depending on a number of factors. However, the 2 most important considerations include:
- The size of your PV installation. Solar is a scalable technology, meaning that each additional installed panel helps to boost the total output of the system.
- The amount of direct sunlight. All things being equal, a 5 kW installation on the equator will generate more clean electricity than a similarly sized Solar PV system in Portland, Oregon.
The above factors are incredibly important. But what you should really focus on is the cost/benefit ratio of going solar. Even with low-efficiency panels in a moderately cloudy climate like Portland, Oregon investing in solar panels still makes a ton of sense.
In the US, solar panels typically come with 25-year warranties from the manufacturer. But is it possible to make your solar panels last even longer?
Yes, it is.
Although 25 years is the official industry standard, most panels can easily last 30+ years – with little to no maintenance. But if you’re serious about extending the lifetime even longer than that (i.e. 40 years), follow these tips:
- Make sure your panels remain free of debris, including snow, leaves, and dirt. Periodic cleaning with a garden hose is usually sufficient.
- Only select high quality solar components manufactured by trusted brands. Remember that warranties mean nothing if the original manufacturer goes out of business.
- Avoid DIY and amateur installations. Instead, stick with an experienced solar contractor who is properly licensed to operate within the states of Oregon and Washington. Higher quality workmanship translates to higher energy output and longer lifespans.
Modern solar panels are incredibly efficient – even during overcast days. And when strung together into rooftop arrays, your panels will be powerful enough to run all of the appliances in your home, with plenty of room to spare. In fact, many solar customers generate far more electricity than they need. And they sell this excess energy to the utility company in exchange for credits.
However, not all PV panels are created equally.
Some brands are more powerful than others. And whenever possible, you should invest in the highest quality components that you can. Solar is a long-term investment, and you want panels that will continue generating optimal output for many decades.
That being said, all panels degrade with time – regardless of quality. After 20 years, you can expect about 80% to 90% of the original power output. This degradation is already factored into the warranty, payback period estimates, loan agreements, and leasing contracts. So there aren’t any surprises.
Photovoltaic (PV) technology is one of the most durable energy generation materials on the planet. Unlike power plants that must be regularly serviced, solar panels can last for decades with almost zero maintenance. This is because PV technology doesn’t have any moving parts. And with nothing to move, there is nothing to break.
This also explains why solar manufacturers can safely offer warranties of 25 years or longer. But if you choose high quality solar panels installed by a licensed professional, you can expect to get 30 to 40 years out of your solar (PV) investment.
Solar panel (PV) technology needs sunlight in order to generate electricity. So at night, your solar panels will not work.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll be without power.
The most obvious solution is to use on-site solar batteries to capture all of your unused daytime electricity. When the sun goes down, you use those batteries to keep your lights on and appliances running. The downside of this approach is that solar batteries can be quite expensive. And they need to be replaced every several years.
But there is an even better solution – one that is free to use and easy to set up.
Most utility markets offer a special incentive called net metering. Under this program, you are allowed to sell your excess solar electricity to the utility company (usually in exchange for credits). And at night, you buy back the power you need from the utility provider.
At the end of each billing cycle, you are only responsible for the “net” difference in electricity bought and sold. Think of net metering as free “virtual storage” that safeguards your solar power for whenever you need it most.
Installing solar panels typically boosts the resale value of your home. It ultimately depends on how you choose to acquire your photovoltaic (PV) installation.
If you buy your system using cash or financing options, going solar can dramatically raise your property’s resale value. This is because future buyers are investing in a technology that offers free electricity and a smaller carbon footprint.
How large a boost can you expect?
Exact figures vary from property to property and installation to installation. But according to the US Department of Energy, average property increases approach $15,000.
As an added benefit, solar-enabled homes typically sell twice as
quickly as their non-solar counterparts do.
How you feel about solar panels is largely subjective – some people think they are beautiful, others don’t like the way they look.
However, this is quickly changing as PV manufacturers continue to develop solar panels in a wide range of colors and options. Although standard blue or black panels are still the most popular, you can now bUy photovoltaic tiles that look just like normal shingles. And thanks to newer installation methods, your solar PV system can fit flush with your roof – without anything sticking out.
In addition, many skeptical homeowners quickly change their minds about solar aesthetics once their systems go up. Although initially lukewarm, they soon regard solar as a badge of honor – a visual reminder that they are doing something positive for the environment and for their pocketbooks.
And far from reducing the value of your home, installing panels can actually increase the resale value of your property. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for every $1 in annual electricity bill savings that your panels provide, the average value of your home increases by a whopping $20. And according to the US Department of Energy, solar-enabled properties sell twice as quickly as non-solar homes do.
So will solar make your home uglier?
Again, it’s 100% subjective.
Done correctly, it’s possible to receive an elegant solar installation that complements your property and meshes seamlessly with its surroundings. But even if you have an objectively ugly installation, there is a certain beauty in having decades of lower electricity bills and a smaller carbon footprint.
The solar industry of today is a far cry from what it was back in 1839 when Alexandre Edmond Becquerel first discovered the photovoltaic (PV) effect. After shining light on different materials in his lab, Becquerel realized that it was possible to create an electrical current using nothing but sunshine.
Unfortunately, Becquerel’s setup was rudimentary, and his revolutionary discovery didn’t lead to many major breakthroughs for more than a century.
During the 1950s, several researchers working out of Bell Laboratories built on Becquerel’s prior work to develop the world’s very first silicon-based photovoltaic cell. A New York Times article of that period heralded the “almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”
Unfortunately, the sheer cost of developing these silicon solar cells was prohibitive. And researchers found very few practical applications beyond space satellites, handheld calculators, and roadside signs.
But then the OPEC crises came along, and countries began investing heavily in photovoltaic solutions for the commercial and residential markets. With each passing year, efficiency rates continued to climb, while manufacturing costs continued to fall. And today, installing a solar panel system is within easy financial reach – especially at a time when our utility rates continue to rise.
Concerns about climate change and global warming have merely accelerated the world’s transition to a truly sun-powered economy. Most major markets around the globe offer a mix of supportive green incentives designed to make going solar more affordable than it already is.
This trend is especially pronounced in the United States, one of the most active solar markets in the world. Local incentives and nationwide tax credits have helped make going solar a no-brainer for countless Americans across the country. And there now exist financing options that allow homeowners to go solar for free, with $0 down.
As a result, installing solar PV panels is often cheaper than continued reliance on the traditional utility grid – even in states that aren’t known for year-round sunshine or warm weather like Oregon or Washington.
Solar power inverters are a critical component of any modern photovoltaic (PV) installation. The clean electricity that your panels generate comes out as direct current (DC) power. But most of your home’s appliances run on alternating current (AC) power.
Solar inverters convert DC electricity into AC power.
But when choosing what type of solar inverter to use, you have several different options, including:
- Standalone inverters for solar PV systems that aren’t directly tied to the utility grid.
- Synchronous inverters that relay solar electricity to your home or to the grid, depending on your energy consumption.
- Multifunction inverters that combine standalone and synchronous capabilities into one unit.
There are 2 additional classifications worth considering:
- String solar inverters collectively convert electricity from multiple panels simultaneously. If one panel fails, however, the entire PV system stops working.
- Micro inverters convert electricity from each individual panel. So even if one solar panel stops working, your PV installation continues to generate and convert usable electricity.
Although some inverters offer much greater flexibility and reliability, they also tend to cost more.
Most of the appliances that you use in your home run on alternating current (AC) electricity. Everything from computers to refrigerators to televisions all relies on this bidirectional energy current.
But the clean power that your solar panels generate is direct current (DC) electricity, which only moves in one direction.
In order to use all of that clean energy, you need a solar power inverter that can convert DC to AC power.
A solar module (a.k.a. solar panel) is a packaged assembly of many individual solar PV cells strung together. Each cell in the series only produces a tiny fraction of electrical current when exposed to sunshine. But when combined together into panels or arrays, solar cells can generate enough clean electricity to power much larger applications.
Modern photovoltaic modules come in a wide range of varieties, with the 3 most popular being:
The key differences among these varieties are cost and power output. Thin-film, for example, generally yields the least amount of energy, but it is one of the most affordable PV materials in modern use. By contrast, monocrystalline and polycrystalline silicon tend to be high-performance alternatives, but they cost more to manufacture and install.
The same is true when exploring polycrystalline or thin-film alternatives.
It almost seems like magic – the way that free sunshine hits photovoltaic material to generate clean electricity. But the science behind this phenomenon is actually quite simple. And with a basic understanding of photovoltaic technology, you can make better-informed decisions as you begin shopping around Portland for a solar panel installation.
Solar PV installations come in all shapes and sizes. But the vast majority of systems follow the same basic structure, with 5 separate components working in tandem to deliver clean electricity to your home or business.
1. Solar PV Panels
Solar panels sit on top of your roof, capturing clean sunshine and converting those rays into direct current (DC) electricity. Each panel is made up of individual PV cells that silently convert captured photons into usable electrons.
2. Solar Inverters
The electricity that your solar panels generate isn’t usable within the home. Most residential and commercial appliances run on alternating (AC) current. And thus, you need a solar inverter to convert DC electricity into AC power.
3. Electrical Panels
Also known as a breaker box, the electrical panel redirects the newly converted AC electricity into your home so you can power your lights and appliances.
4. Bidirectional Utility Meters (Net Meter)
Standard utility meters only move in one direction. But once you install solar panels on your property, you become both an independent power producer and a power consumer.
During the day, your solar panels feed excess electricity into the grid. And at night, your home draws whatever power it requires from the grid. So you need a bidirectional meter that measures the inflow and outflow of power.
5. The Utility Grid
The last piece of the puzzle is the utility grid itself. Your entire solar PV system is connected to the power network so that you always have a reliable, 24/7 source of energy. During the day, the majority of that energy comes from your solar panels. And at night, all of the energy comes from the utility network, Portland General Electric.
ll over the country, solar power is quickly approaching grid parity – i.e. the point at which installing PV panels costs just as much as continued reliance on the electricity grid. Some utility markets have already surpassed this threshold, meaning that homeowners are financially better off installing solar on their properties.
If your state hasn’t already reached grid parity, you won’t have to wait very long. Experts predict that by 2017, solar will be cheaper than utility power in 47 states across the country.
Why is that?
The answer is actually quite simple:
- Thanks to technological innovation, economies of scale, and new green incentives, the cost of installing solar keeps trending downwards. PV panel prices have dropped more than 80% since 2008 alone.
- Thanks to fossil fuel scarcity, the cost of oil, gas, and coal keeps trending upwards. Utility power will be even more expensive tomorrow than it already is today.
Solar grid parity is a direct result of these 2 converging trends.
But it gets better.
Even after your PV panels go online, utility prices will continue to increase. So your monthly savings will actually grow larger with time. If utility rates double overnight, for example, so do your monthly savings.
Generating solar power is a straightforward process in which photovoltaic (PV) panels capture clean photons from the sun and convert them into equally clean electricity.
The conversion process is 100% silent and doesn’t emit any pollution.
The clean electricity generated, however, must be further converted from direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) electricity. This is because most residential and commercial appliances rely on AC power. So you need a special inverter to transform those clean electrons from DC to AC electricity.
That clean solar electricity is carefully monitored by your bidirectional utility meter (Net Meter).
With a large enough installation, it’s possible to generate a “net” surplus of solar electricity during each billing cycle. And the utility company will send you a $0 statement – maybe even a negative power bill.
However, you can further maximize the ROI of your solar investment by making simple energy efficiency improvements to your home. The less power you consume, the more surplus solar electricity your panels will generate.
A solar panel system certainly qualifies as being a solid investment.
First off, your electricity bill immediately begins to shrink once the panels are installed. Over time, those monthly saving really start to add up and eventually exceed the upfront costs of the solar panel system.
This is certainly true with solar leasing – a financing approach that costs $0 upfront. Your solar “investment” pays for itself the moment you save your very first penny.
But the investment is also worth it when you pay full price and buy or finance a solar PV installation that you own. Let’s say that you purchase a modestly sized system that costs $12,000. And with this PV installation, you’re able to save $100 every month. At that rate, it would take you 10 years to breakeven (this is a realistic payback period for many solar homeowners).
All solar electricity generated after that breakeven point is 100% free. And if you keep diverting your monthly savings into the bank for the next 10 years, you’ll end up with an additional $12,000.
And of course, this assumes that utility rates don’t go up. But they always do. So this year, you might save $100 a month. Next year, it could be $120 a month. And in 5 years, you could be saving $180 a month.
In other words, going solar is an investment that pays for itself very quickly. And that investment continues to offer increasingly large dividends with time.
Have you ever wondered how solar panels convert free sunshine into clean electricity? Below is a quick overview of how the process works, complete with brief descriptions about each component in your system.
Here is a brief overview of how solar works:
1. Solar PV Panels
Solar panels are the main components of your system. Each panel is composed of individual solar cells that convert free sunshine into direct current (DC) electricity.
2. Solar Inverters
Your panels generate DC power, but most homes rely on alternating current (AC) electricity. Solar inverters convert DC power into AC power so that you can run your home using nothing but electricity produced by the sun.
3. Electrical Panel
After the DC/AC conversion process, the electricity gets rerouted to your electrical panel (i.e. breaker box) before being fed into your home’s power network.
4. Bidirectional Utility Meter (Net Meter)
During the installation process, your old utility meter gets swapped out with a bidirectional one. When you use standard grid electricity, the meter moves in one direction. And when you feed excess solar electricity into the grid, the meter moves in the opposite direction.
At the end of every billing cycle, you’re only responsible for the “net” difference in energy bought and sold. This is why many solar customers have $0 electricity bills.
5. The Power Grid
Solar panels don’t work when it’s dark out. But because your system is always connected to the utility grid, you never have to worry about power outages. Solar electricity powers your home during the day and the utility network powers your home at night.
6. Solar Monitoring
Most solar (PV) systems also have monitoring access – i.e. the ability to check your systems’ performance throughout the day. Sometimes this access is provided via the Web. Other times you can monitor your system’s performance via a mobile app.
Not every home is suited for solar panels. Sometimes homes receive too much shading and solar panels aren’t a viable option, but for homes that receive adequate amounts of sun, does going solar makes sense?
There are 2 main factors that need to be determined before drawing up any sort of conclusion:
- The orientation, size, and slope of your roof. South-facing roofs are best positioned to capture the sun’s rays throughout the day. East and West facing roofs will suffice, however they don’t receive the same amount sun as a south facing roof gets. Ideally, your roof should have as much open space as possible, devoid of antennas, chimneys, and jutting angles. This analysis is best done on a property-by-property basis.
- Local and state incentives. Some utility markets make it easier to go solar than others do.
PPA, Lease, or Purchase?
No matter which financing approach you use, your solar installation will reduce your carbon footprint and offer measurable utility bill savings. The primary difference between leasing and buying your panels is how those savings are structured:
- Leasing is an affordable and hassle-free way to go solar. And the utility bill savings are immediate.
- Ownership costs more up front, but the long-term savings are much higher.
Which option to choose ultimately depends on your own goals and needs. Either way, know that your solar PV system will help to make the planet greener and more sustainable for many years to come.
When you decide to go solar, you can choose between:
- Solar ownership – i.e. you buy the PV system outright using cash or a financing option.
- Solar leasing – i.e. you pay $0 upfront and rent your system for 10, 15, or 20 years.
So which approach is better?
There is no “best” strategy. As a prospective solar customer, you must think about your own goals, budget, and power consumption habits. You’ll also need to determine whether you plan on moving any time soon.
Leasing is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to go solar. You can receive a brand-new solar panel system with installation for free. So if upfront cost is a concern, this may be the best option for you.
But when you buy your system outright, you enjoy even larger long-term savings.
Admittedly, not everybody has the upfront cash to purchase a new PV installation. But with a low-interest solar loan, you receive the benefits of system ownership without spending a lot of money upfront. In most cases, the down payment is $0. And instead of sending money to the utility company every month, you use your solar savings to pay down the loan balance and build up equity in your installation.
Done correctly, solar loans mean you don’t have to pay any money out-of-pocket. You’re simply redirecting utility spending towards an asset that adds tremendous value to your home. And you’re also helping the environment by reducing the amount of CO2 you release into the atmosphere.
You’ll never receive those same benefits if you stay with your utility provider. If you continue to rely on the electricity grid, you can expect many more decades of higher bills and worsening pollution.
The primary benefit of true solar ownership is long-term savings. Although you spend money upfront, you eventually break even and benefit from 100% free electricity for the remaining lifetime of your installation.
In effect, solar is an investment that offers predictable payback periods and guaranteed ROI. In many states, going solar provides better returns than if you had invested that same money on Wall Street’s S&P 500.
Below are some additional benefits of this approach:
- As the solar PV owner, all relevant incentives and tax credits come directly to you. These subsidies help to decrease the upfront cost of installing panels, and they also help to shorten the payback period of your investment.
- The property value of your home can increase – often by a lot. This is because future buyers will happily pay a premium if your home already comes outfitted with solar PV technology.
Some downsides of solar ownership include:
- Cost – you’re responsible for the full upfront cost of the system. However, incentives can help bring down the price considerably. And low-interest loans are an excellent option if you don’t have the cash on hand.
- Maintenance – you’re also responsible for PV panel upkeep and repairs. Fortunately, solar is one of the most durable energy generation technologies in the world. And aside from occasional rinsing of the panels, you won’t have to invest much time or money keeping your system in proper working order.
The primary benefit of solar leasing is cost. You receive a brand-new PV installation (parts & labor) for next to nothing. Most leasing arrangements cost $0 upfront.
Once your “rented” panels are installed, you only pay for the clean electricity they generate. And almost every single leasing arrangement is structured so that those monthly payments are less than what you once payed to the utility company.
In effect, solar leasing allows you to switch power providers. Instead of buying dirty and expensive electricity from the utility, you now by clean and affordable electricity from the sun.
And making the switch is incredibly easy, provided that you pass all relevant credit checks and qualifications.
Another major benefit is maintenance (or lack of maintenance). You never have to worry about upkeep or repairs. The solar leasing company handles all of that on your behalf.
But leasing isn’t for everyone. And here’s why:
- You’ll never have “free” electricity. For the duration of your contract, you will have to pay monthly installments to the leasing company.
- Most incentives, tax credits, and rebates go to the solar leasing company – not you.
Selling Your Home With Solar
Yes. According to a study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab called “Selling into the sun: Price premium analysis of a multi state dataset of solar homes” owning solar panels that are installed on your roof can significantly increase the value of your home. This study evaluated home pricing trends in California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania by analyzing the sales of 20,000 homes in these states. The conclusion of this study was that homes that include a purchased solar system sell for a premium.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study concluded that a owned solar system adds about $400 per kW in value inside of California, and $300 per kW in states outside of California. An average system size is about 5kW. That means that an average solar system that you own will add about $20,000 in value to your home within California, and $15,000 in value if you live outside of California.
A more recent recent study done by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs reported that Solar leases do not increase, or decrease property value.
Standard solar PV panels come with 25-year warranties. But a well-installed system can last much longer – sometimes 40 years or more.
What if you want to move out of your home during those 25 to 40 years?
It ultimately depends on how you finance your installation.
Let’s take a look.
Scenario 1: You Own Your Solar PV System
If you bought your system using cash or loans, selling your property will be extremely easy. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for every $1 in annual electricity bill savings that your PV system provides, the value of your home increases by an average of $20.
Equally attractive, your home might spend 50% less time on the market. According to the US Department of Energy, solar properties sell twice as quickly as non-solar homes do.
The reason behind this is simple.
Prospective buyers are investing in a property that will offer them decades of lower utility bills and a smaller carbon footprint. And for that luxury, they’re often willing to pay a premium.
Scenario 2: You Lease Your Solar PV System
If you rent your solar panels, selling your home becomes a little bit trickier. The next buyer will have to take over the remaining portion of your lease – a process that requires credit checks and approvals, but don’t worry. Every solar leasing company works closely with buyers and sellers to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Each additional kilowatt of solar PV capacity helps to shrink your carbon footprint. Even one panel is beneficial. And as you add more panels to your system, the environmental benefits quickly accumulate.
But how small can your carbon footprint really shrink?
This ultimately depends on the size of your system and the amount of direct sunshine it receives on an annual basis. But in a relatively sunny climate, a 5 kW PV installation can offset as many as 6 tons of CO2 annually. Over a 30-year period (which is a reasonable lifetime for a residential PV system), the offsets approach 180 tons of CO2 avoided.
That’s roughly equivalent to:
- Removing 400,000 miles of driving time from the road.
- Planting enough trees to cover more than 10 regulation-sized football fields.
- Preventing almost 180,000 pounds of coal from being burned.
And that’s just one residential PV system. As more homeowners and businesses decide to go solar, the environmental benefits quickly scale up.