Going Solar! FAQs

General Solar Questions

Q. How do I know if my home is suitable for solar?

A. The most suitable location for a roof-mounted solar PV system is a south-facing roof with little to no shading from nearby trees, chimneys or other obstructions. Any shading on the system can reduce energy output, so it is important to assess the locations of current trees and buildings around your home as well as that of other obstructions that may exist around your home in the future. Advances in panel and inverter technologies can allow homes with east or west-facing roofs and moderate shading to benefit from solar PV as well.

Q. Will the system produce electricity on cloudy days?

A. Yes, just not as much. Under an overcast sky, panels will produce less electricity than they produce on a clear, sunny day.

Q. Will my system produce power if there is a blackout?

A. Without a battery backup, grid-tied solar PV systems will not operate when the power grid is down. This safety requirement, called “anti-islanding” allows utility linemen to safely repair power lines during a power outage. You may choose to add a battery backup to your solar system to keep the lights on during a blackout, though they cost between $5,000 and $15,000.

Q. What sort of maintenance is required?

A. Solar PV systems require very little maintenance. Rain showers will generally take care of pollen and dust that fall on your solar panels. If your system is shaded by trees, you may have to trim and maintain branches to protect your system from falling limbs and to minimize shading and maximize production. In extremely snowy winters, you may have to clear snow from your roof to protect your solar panels and maximize winter production. It is important to note that snow will melt off of a tilted system except when there is an extremely heavy snow or prolonged freezing temperatures. Homeowners are cautioned to use a tool specially designed for solar with a soft working surface because metal or other hard surfaces can damage the panels.

Financing Questions

Q. Are state incentives available for my system?

A. NY-Sun offers incentives to help reduce the installation costs associated with solar electric systems up to 25 kilowatt (kW) for residential customers, and up to 200 kW for nonresidential applications (larger multi-unit buildings, schools, not-for-profit, and government) in most of New York State.

A 7 kW solar electric system located on a south-facing roof can typically offset 70-80% of a home’s electricity needs. When combined with improving energy efficiency, the savings on your electric bill can be even more significant. 

For more information, read the NY-Sun Customer Guide [PDF].

Q. Are federal incentives available for my system?

A. The federal government provides an investment tax credit equal to 30% of your system’s total installed cost, net of state incentives. For more information, visit the Energy.gov website.

Q. What financing options are available to help me purchase a solar system?

A. For residential customers (with existing homes of 4 units or less), Smart Energy Loans or On-Bill Recovery Loans are available for up to $13,000, or up to $25,000 with higher cost-effectiveness standards, and repayment periods of 5, 10, or 15 years. Smart Energy Loans are a more traditional loan that offers affordable interest rates and simple repayment options. On-Bill Recovery Loans provide the convenience of paying for energy improvements on your utility bill. Apply online or download an application at energyfinancesolutions.com For small business and not-for-profit organizations, Participation Loans of up to $100,000 at a below market interest rate and On-Bill Recovery loans of up to $50,000 at 2.5% interest are available, with repayment periods of up to 10 years. To access financing, request that your contractor submit a Request for Financing Form to NYSERDA on your behalf. Customers whose solar electric projects have been approved for financing can then take the NYSERDA approval letter to a participating lender to apply for financing. For more information, visit the NYSERDA financing web page. 

Installation Questions

Q. How long will the installation process take?

A. From the day you sign a contract with an installer, it can take between a few weeks and a few months before your solar PV system will be turned on. The physical installation of the solar system typically takes anywhere from two to three days, but the time it takes to order and receive equipment, secure permits or schedule your installation can vary.

Q. What size system should I install?

A. Every home is different. As such, your system size will be determined by your roof space and electricity needs. The average residential solar system in New York is approximately 7 kW and produces approximately 8,400 kWh per year, but this could be too big or too small for your home. If you use certain technologies that are highly dependent on electricity, such as an electric car or geothermal heating and cooling, you might require a larger system. Your installer will work with you to design a system with characteristics that will meet your specific needs.

Q. How will solar affect my home’s value?

A.Typically, solar systems add to a property’s value. This is due to the fact that unlike electricity rates, solar rates will never go up. Thus, a solar PV system insulates you from rising electricity rates. Once the system has paid for itself, the electricity it generates is absolutely free!

Q. How much will I save by installing a solar system?

A. Your savings depend on the size of the system you choose, your annual electrical usage, electricity rates, and any financing option that you choose from a participating installer. Click here for a complete list of participating installers. 

To start, ask your solar installer how much electricity your new system is expected to produce on an annual basis and then compare that number to how much electricity your household uses to get an idea of how much you could save. Additionally, a homeowner’s savings are affected by the financing package chosen. Installers can also help you determine how much money you could save if electricity prices escalate over time.

Q. I am confused about my electricity charges; can you explain my service rates?

A. Typically, a residential electricity bill is comprised of charges from a variety of supplier services, mainly: generation services, delivery services, transmission charge, and distribution charge. For further reference, please go to your utilities website and search for “average bill” in the “Rates” section.

Q. Will I still receive a monthly electric bill after installing a solar system?

A. Yes. You will receive a monthly bill from your utility company as you always have, but the amount owed will differ depending on your monthly electrical usage. Depending on how your system is sized, you may accrue credits in the more productive summer months which through “net metering” can be carried over and used in the less productive winter months. Even if your system entirely offsets your electrical usage, there is still a flat monthly fee required, in order to be connected to the grid.

Solar Myths

1. A Solar Installation Requires a Lot of Cash Upfront.

Home and building owners have three options for acquiring a solar electric system: buying, leasing, or entering into a power purchase agreement (PPA).

Buying | If you choose to buy, you will indeed need cash up front. To make the buying process easier, NYSERDA offers two low interest-rate loan options for residential installations, as well as for small businesses and not-for-profit organizations. Visit the NY-Sun Financing page to learn more.

Leasing | Many solar companies offer leases, which means essentially renting the system with the benefit of all the power it produces. Typically, with a solar lease, you will pay monthly with little to no money down at the start of your contract. The company assumes responsibility for all system maintenance. Note that maintenance of a solar electric system today is typically negligible as solar panels are highly durable and come with lengthy warranties.

Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) | This relatively new financing choice offers affordable energy, a power source that is clean, and a market rate that is locked in—without having to purchase the equipment associated with a solar installation. Through a PPA, you will enter into a contract with a third-party installer who will offer energy at a fixed rate that is generally lower than the price you would pay your utility. The installer takes on all responsibility for maintenance. Unlike a lease, where you pay a set monthly fee, you typically pay per kilowatt-hour with a PPA.

2. The Price of Solar Will Go Down, So It’s Better to Wait.

Pricing for solar is currently very competitive, the result of a robust and fast-maturing market. It’s true that both pricing and technology will continue to evolve. However, as the market continues to mature, and prices drop, there is less need for incentives. Under the NY-Sun Incentive Program, incentives will decrease on a prescribed basis over time.

NY-Sun incentives are granted on a first-come, first-served basis, and applications will be received until December 31, 2023, or until allocated funds are fully committed. In addition, you may be able to claim 30% of the cost of your solar electric system that is installed prior to the end of 2016 on your federal tax return. There is also a 25% New York State tax credit for systems installed on a primary residence.

3. I Won’t Own My Home Long Enough to Make My Investment Back.

The return on investment on a solar installation is estimated to be less than 10 years on average, although it depends on several variables including the cost of your system, the incentives available to you, and the electric rate you pay. If you’re planning on owning your home for 10 years or longer, your home’s value could increase 20 times the amount you save on your energy bill. According to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimate, if you save $1,000 a year on energy, you could add approximately $20,000 to the overall value of your home (assuming you own your solar electric system).

Some New York State municipalities offer homeowners a tax exemption should their property values increase as a result of adding a solar electric system. To access a list of municipalities that have opted out of the exemption, visit the NY Department of Tax and Finance’s website.

Source:http://ny-sun.ny.gov/Learn-About-Solar/Myths#4

Contact

Melinda Meddaugh
Agriculture & Food Systems Team Leader
mm2592@cornell.edu
(845) 292-6180 Ext. 116

Last updated November 21, 2016