+ Can I start small and increase the size of my solar array later?
We generally recommend sizing the system to meet expected energy needs now instead of installing one size system now and increasing the future. A lot of the system needs to be sized based on the kW of the array, such as wire size and inverter, so it’s not as easy as just adding more solar panels in the future. In addition, adding more panels in the future requires going through the drawing, permitting, and installation process again, so it becomes much more expensive doing an installation as two separate projects over time rather than all at once.
+ I have a lot of shade on my property. Can I still go solar?
Solar panels create energy from the sun, so the less shade the better. We typically like to see 10% of shade on your roof or less over the course of a day, 20% at the highest. We can still install panels on rooftops with more shade but find it becomes less cost effective the more shade you have. A ground-mounted array on an un-shaded part of your property or removing some trees may be the best option for going solar.
+ Can my solar panels power my house if the power goes out?
Unfortunately, no. Your solar array with automatically turn off to protect utility workers who may be working in the area, servicing their utility lines and poles during a power outage.
+ Can I store my solar energy in a battery system?
In short, yes. There are battery backup systems available to store solar energy but, unfortunately, a battery system typically doubles the cost of a system and requires more maintenance than a grid-tied system. For most customers there are less expensive means to meet their needs, such as buying a generator for emergency power.
+ Does it make sense to add more panels and sell extra energy back onto the grid?
The advantages and disadvantages of selling back to the grid depend heavily on your utility. Some utilities pay you full rate for the electricity you push back onto the grid. Other utilities pay a low rate when buying back overproduction. And finally, some utilities switch buyback rates depending on how much you are overproducing. We generally do not recommend overproducing because we want to help customers save on the overall cost of powering their home, but depending on your environmental and economic goals, and utility, overproducing may be an option for you.
+ I was thinking about re-roofing my home in the next couple years. Should I do that before I install solar panels?
Yes, you should. And in fact, if you would like to replace your roofing material in the next 5 years, you should do this before you install solar panels. When this is a cause for concern, many solar customers go ahead and simply re-roof the area where the solar panels will be installed, and leave the remainder of the roof to be replaced years down the road. Most deterioration of roofing materials is caused by UV radiation, and while solar panels will certainly significantly slow this process by shading your roof from the sun, keep in mind that the panels will be on the rooftop for at least 30 to 40 years.
+ Will there be a technology breakthrough soon, making panels more efficient?
Much like computers over the past 20 years, solar panels have become incrementally more efficient but substantially less expensive, making it possible to get a lot more energy production for your dollar. There are a lot of 'breakthrough' messages in technology magazines and popular TV shows, but the truth is that there hasn't been a technology breakthrough with PV panels for decades and there does not look to be a 'breakthrough' in the foreseeable future. Solar panels will continue to get a little bit more efficient every year, but there is no reason to wait to switch to cleaner, more affordable energy now.
+ How long do these systems last?
In general, your solar system will last at least 30 to 40 years. All of the panels we use are warrantied for 20-25 years, but are expected to last much longer. Most solar owners will have to replace the power inverter, an easily replaceable part of the system, after 15 to 20 years. Our calculations include the cost of replacing the inverter ($1,500) after the first 15 years with the solar system to give you an accurate picture of the costs over the lifetime of your system. For more information on the lifespan of solar panels, check out this article at http://energyinformative.org/lifespan-solar-panels.
+ What direction and tilt are best for solar panels?
It's a common misconception that solar panels should only face south. While true that they will produce a bit more facing due south, solar is still a good economical choice even if they face due east or west, although the Focus on Energy rebate is only available for arrays that face SW, S, and SE. Almost all houses that aren't covered in shade or have broken roof planes have at least one great spot to install solar panels. Regarding the tilt of the array, it's best to install the panels at the same pitch as the roof. If the panels are mounted on a flat roof or on the ground, a tilt of about 30-40 degrees is the best, but anything between 15 and 50 will work great.
+ I've heard of solar leases, ppa's and loans*. Are any of those available to me?
No, No, and Kinda. We can thank the great success of solar leases and PPA's for the near-unbelievable growth in the solar sector in the last 10 years. They allow solar contractors to offer an amazing deal to their customers: they get the solar system for free, and just pay the contractor a monthly fee for the electric production. And the truly amazing part is that the monthly fee is less than what the customer has been paying on their monthly utility bill. For the average customer with a $100 monthly electric bill, after getting free solar panels on their house, they might end up paying $20 to their utility and $60 to their solar contractor on a monthly basis. Free solar panels and a lower utility bill - who wouldn't want that? Unfortunately our utilities and government in Wisconsin don't want that, so these financial agreements are not generally available here. To date, they are widely available in VT, NH, RI, PA, NY, MA, CT, NJ, DE, MD, DC, SC, CO, TX, NM, AZ, CA, WA, OR and HI. If you would like to finance a solar installation in Wisconsin, we recommend speaking to a bank about a loan. Many banks will give loans for solar arrays and based on your credit score and a number of other variables you should expect an interest rate in the ballpark of 5%-10%.
* Solar leases and PPA's are financial agreements between a financial entity (typically a bank and/or solar panel installer) and a customer. The financier retains ownership of the solar panel system for a term (generally 20 years) and the customer buys the energy produced by the solar panel system. With leases, the customer pays a flat fee to the financier independent of the amount of electricity the system produces (but a minimum amount of electricity is guaranteed), and with PPA's (power purchase agreement), the customer pays the financier a "per kWh" rate for the solar production, similar to how you might pay $0.14 per kWh to your local utility. The downsides to these types of agreements are that the customer doesn't own the system nor receive the government incentives. But the main upsides are that the customer receives the solar panel installation for free, and the financier sells electricity to the customer at prices below what the local utility is charging. The two primary requirements for customer eligibility for these programs are that the customer must own the property and have a credit score of at least 670-700. If you think that leases and PPA's would help boost the adoption of solar in Wisconsin, consider reaching out to your state representatives.
+ I don't want this system to raise my home assessment. It won't, correct?
That is true - the value added to your home by a solar energy system, per Wisconsin law, cannot increase your property taxes.
+ It makes sense to wait, right?
We get that question all the time. And in all honestly, that used to be the case - but not anymore. Solar panel prices started leveling off a few years ago, and since, prices have been fairly steady, sometimes even going up. You might save $300 by waiting another few years, but when the average customer saves $800-$1,100 per year when they go solar, waiting no longer makes sense.
+ Do I have any legal rights if my neighbor plants a tree or erects a building that will shade my system?
Yes you would. According to Wis. Statute 700.41, you are eligible for compensation from the owner of a tree or structure that was planted or erected after the installation of your solar array and shades your array between 9am and 3pm.