How Does the Solar System Work?

The Solar System is comprised of photovoltaic cells, which allow photons (particles of light), to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. The term “Photovoltaic” means “to convert sunlight to electricity”. I can’t imagine who had enough spare time on their hands to discover the ability to do that! The solar arrays on your roof contain a series of these photovoltaic cells.

The electricity from the sun comes in direct current (DC), much like a flashlight battery. Your solar system includes an inverter, which converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), for use in your home.

The system is then installed in the power supply to the house down-line from the electric meter. The system supplies continuous power to the home, as long as the sun shines. Any power not used, is fed back through the meter to the grid; in essence, spinning the meter backwards. Thus, when the meter is read each month, it reflects the net amount of power supplied by the grid, which reflects the savings generated from the solar system.

What Happens When We Have a Power Outage?

The Solar System has an emergency cut-off that will not allow the system to feed power back to the grid in the event of a blackout. This is a safety feature designed to protect the service technicians who may be working on the lines. The solar system will not supply power to the house during a blackout.

The advancement in battery storage technology will change that in the future. As batteries become more efficient, and affordable, homeowners will be able to install and charge large battery cells that will power the house in the event of a blackout. In fact, the future holds even more promise. Eventually, people in many areas will be able to power their homes 100% with solar, including battery backup, and eliminate their need to be tied to the power grid, altogether. Those homes will be 100% energy independent!

You can presume that many utility companies, like PG&E and ConEdison, are not as thrilled about this concept as you and I might be…

What Are The Maintenance Requirements For The Roof-Mounted Modules?

Typically, the roof-mounted modules are cared for by the elements; the rains will provide the necessary cleansing.

There are incidents where the modules can become soiled such as when northern California experienced extreme forest fires. During that time, the soot and ash rained down on most of the state for weeks on end. Many solar owners turned their garden hoses on their solar panels during these times.

You will have the ability to monitor the energy output of your system. If you see any significant reduction in power, notify our office; if there is an issue, we’ll handle it.

NEVER, EVER, climb on your roof unless you are a skilled technician. Roofs are dangerous areas with uneven footing and plenty of obstacles for tripping. Likewise, there is electrical voltage running through your solar modules; they must only be handled by skilled technicians.

Roofers like to tell the joke, “It’s not the fall that hurts; it’s the abrupt stop at the bottom.” But, I can’t overstate the danger of climbing on your roof. It’s more dangerous than playing on a railroad track! DON’T DO IT!

What is the “True-Up” Bill?

When you add solar to your home, your billing arrangement with your utility provider may change. You may have the option of continuing to pay your bill monthly or you may chose to pay annually. If you chose the monthly option, not much will change other than the amount you pay.

If you choose the annual option, that is referred to as a “True-Up” bill. Once a year, on the anniversary of your solar system, you will receive a bill that is the total reconciliation of the debits and credits to your account over the past year.

If your solar system generated more than you used, it will reflect a credit and you will not owe anything; if your solar system did not provide 100% of your consumption, you will owe the shortage, called the “True-Up”.

Credits are, typically, not carried forward. Therefore, there is no benefit to “over-sizing” your solar system.

Either way, you will receive a monthly statement, showing the running tally of your account. If your solar system does not provide 100% of the power you use, the statement will reflect the amount due. It is wise to stay abreast of this amount to insure there are no surprises on your anniversary.

Every utility has a monthly service charge that is outside the amount of power you use. Expect to pay $10-$15 every month for your privilege of doing business with your power provider. If you chose the annual “True-Up” billing cycle, this service charge can add up.

What If I Need to Replace My Roof?

Most roofs today have 20-year, 30-year, even lifetime warranties. If your roof shows evident sign of wear, it should be replaced or repaired, before a solar system is installed. That said, the solar system can be removed and replaced but, that is less than ideal. The modules have to be secured and stored safely, space permitting.

Another issue involves the roof warranty. We’ve experienced roofers who state their warranty is void if the solar system is reinstalled. There is usually a workaround but that should be clarified ahead of time.

How Will I Know If My System Is Working Properly?

Solar monitoring systems operate through your systems inverter(s). Companies will often offer solar inverters that come with a proprietary monitoring software setup.

As your solar inverter converts DC current into AC current for use in your home, information about power levels and production is collected and sent to cloud-based monitoring systems and their companion apps. Homeowners can access this information several ways, including through mobile apps and paired smart home devices.

Often, the manufacturer or contractor will know you have an issue before you do. Your first sign of a malfunction would be an abnormally high utility bill but you will likely hear from someone before then. That said, solar systems have no moving parts and are extremely reliable. They do have electric and electronic components and we know they can fail from time to time. Still, most solar systems generate power for years without any maintenance at all.

If you ever have any questions about your system, we are your best initial contact. Call our office first: (833) 346-6376.

What Is “Time of Use” (TOU) Utility Rate

“Time of Use” (TOU) refers to a rate change throughout the day. It means, the utility company has the authority to charge more during certain times of the day when demand is high; typically 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This affects the value of the credit you will get as a solar owner. You solar system is at maximum production during the day, when the sun is high in the sky. This is typically the time when demand and rates are low. As the sun sets, and people return home, the electrical demand and rates rise.

In summary, as a homeowner with a solar system, you might sell power to the grid when the rates are low, and buy it back when rates are higher. To put this in perspective, utility companies buy electricity at a wholesale price and sell it to the customers connected to the grid at a retail price. If the customer has a solar system connected to the grid, the utility company is forced to buy power generated by the solar system at the retail price. That doesn’t make economic sense. To offset this inequity, the state Public Utility Commission allows the utility companies to charge less when demand is low and more when demand is high. Someday, batteries will change all of that.

What Is Net Metering? (NEM)

Net metering allows the customer to feed any excess power, generated by the solar system, back into the grid. The utility company can use this power to help supply your neighbor’s home.

The issue utility companies have is, as we discussed in the TOU section, when excess power is fed back into the grid, the electric meter spins backwards. In essence, the utility company is forced to buy power back at the retail price. That is inequitable, especially if the utility is investor owned.

Please contact us if you have any further questions or comments.

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