About Solarize Allegheny

Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of our Frequently Asked Questions. You can also download the FAQ Sheet here: faqs_revised_101316_blackandwhite

A. Solarize Allegheny is a robust community-focused outreach program funded by The Heinz Endowments and the Allegheny County Health Department’s Clean Air Fund that makes it easy and affordable for residents and businesses to go solar—that is, to convert sunlight into electricity that we can all use in our homes and businesses. Solarize Allegheny provides participants with an easy way to shop for solar, by providing on-line competitive bids from local, pre-screened solar installers that makes it easy to compare. Solarize Allegheny gives homeowners and business owners access to significant savings on the cost of electricity for decades to come.

A. There are multiple ways that communities can work with Solarize. First, communities in Allegheny County apply to participate in the program through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Once chosen, the community core team of volunteers and SmartPower work in the community to provide in-depth information to residents and businesses about how to go solar and connect them with qualified solar installers during a 12 – 16 week period. Alternately, communities can host a modified campaign for which SmartPower provides a couple of workshops in the community without conducting the full-blown campaign. The community may work with SmartPower to host the workshops and agree to spread the word to residents. Lastly, Solarize Allegheny is looking for organizations or businesses that are interested in hosting a solar workshop with their members, employees or constituents. Please contact Sharon Pillar at spillar@smartpower.org if you would like to start Solarize campaign in your community or organization.

A. Yes, and it works very well. Germany is the leading solar nation, but only gets as much as Alaska. A home in western Pennsylvania, we can produce as much solar electricity as a solar home in Arizona by simply adding an extra panel or two.

A. Here is a great video from the Department of Energy that explains how solar cells convert sunlight into electricity: http://www.energy.gov/videos/energy-101-solar-pv

A.

SmartPower has selected Allegheny County’s most experienced solar installers for our program to provide customers confidence  To qualify, Solarize Allegheny installers had to be in business for at least three years, maintain certification by the National American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), maintain a good reputation in the community, have adequate workmen’s compensation and liability insurances and be headquartered in western Pennsylvania. Energy Independent Solutions and Scalo Solar Solutions as our preferred residential installers. To connect with them, you just go to the webpage and click on “Find out if my home is good for solar” on the front page and fill in the information, which will be automatically sent to both installers instantaneously – please do not contact them separately.

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 solar panel and inverter technologies can allow homes with east or west-facing roofs and moderate shading to benefit from solar PV as well. During a no-cost site visit to your home, an installer will evaluate your home’s solar potential and will let you know if there are any obstacles before you sign a contract. They will also calculate the size of the system that you will need based on your electricity use.

A. Yes, just not as much. Under an overcast sky, panels will produce electricity but less than they produce on a clear, sunny day. Solar panels will still produce some electricity even when covered with a thin layer of snow.

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,” is built into the solar equipment and stops electricity flow to the grid so that utility linemen can 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, but that can almost double the cost of the system. Ask the solar installer if you are interested in a battery back-up system.

A. Every home and business is different. As such, your system size will be determined by your roof space and electricity needs. The average residential solar system is approximately 5 kW to 7 kW and produces up to 7,673 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year (7kW system), 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 electric heating, you might require a larger system. Your installer will work with you to design a system with characteristics that will meet your specific needs.

Solar system sizes for businesses vary greatly upon the type of business, use of electricity and size of the building, so it is best to talk with an experienced solar installer who will help you design a system that is right for your business.

A. From the day you sign a contract with an installer, it can take between a few weeks to a few months before your solar PV system will be turned on. The physical installation of the solar system typically takes anywhere from one to three days, but the time it takes to order and receive equipment, secure permits, and schedule your installation and can vary. Once installed, systems will need to be inspected by an electrical inspector and an inspector from the utility before the system can be “turned on.”

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.

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! This is a great selling point for a home or business. A recent study shows that most home owners will recoup the cost of the solar system if they sell their home: http://emp.lbl.gov/news/berkeley-lab-illuminates.

A. Let’s first look at the cost of doing nothing. If you continue to rent your electricity from the utility, an average home owner will pay out more than $30,000 over the next 25 years. The electric bill provides no financial investment in your home.

However, solar provides a sound financial investment into your home. the average solar system (5kW) in the Duquesne Light territory will cost about $14,000 (after the 30% tax credit) and will save a homeowner about $15,000 over the next 25 years after paying off the system. Even with a loan, a solar owner is still predicted to save money over the life of the system. A monthly loan payment is often equivalent or less than the monthly electric bill. 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 your Solarize installer. The solar installer will be able to tell you 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 since electricity prices from the utility are expected to rise over time, whereas the price of solar remains the same over time.

A. Typically, an 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 “understanding my bill.” Your solar installer will need to understand how much electricity you use on average every month and also how much electricity you use in the past year (total kWh). This information is available on your electric bill.

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. If you produce more electricity than you use such in the summer months, your bill will be credited for any extra that you place back on the grid. That credit can be carried over to months when you use more than you produce such as in the winter. At the end of the billing year, the utility will “true up” your bill and pay you for an extra you produced. Even if your system entirely offsets your electrical usage, you will continue to pay the flat monthly service fee of about $13 to the utility.

A. Net metering allows you to produce extra electricity that you don’t use and place that on the grid for someone else to use. This situation will make your electric meter to run backward and the utility will provide you credit for producing extra on your electric bill. In essence, the grid is acting like your battery back-up.

A. If you prefer to own your system directly and either purchase it outright or finance it via a loan, you should check with your insurance agent to find out whether your system will be covered under your existing policy. There are insurance companies that will include the solar system in the regular home insurance coverage; others may add a fee, so it’s best to ask in advance.

A. The federal government provides an investment tax credit equal to 30% of your system’s total installed cost. Please consult with your tax advisor to verify how these credits apply to your personal taxes.

A. The Pennsylvania Sunshine grant program expired in 2013, but the price of solar is now cheaper than it was with the grant program a couple of years ago, because prices have dropped so dramatically. Pennsylvania does have net metering and a solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program that may produce extra income solar owners.

A. The Pennsylvania legislature passed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) in 2004 that mandated that 0.5% of our electricity comes from solar by 2021. Each year the required amount gradually increases until we achieve the 0.5% in 2021. In order to meet the requirement the utilities must buy a certain amount of solar energy each year, so they purchase SRECs to fulfill their requirement. If you are a solar owner, you generate one SREC for each megawatt hour of electricity that is produced your solar system. For example, a 7k-W system earns about 7 SRECs each year. That SREC is sold on a market and purchased by the utilities to fulfill their requirement. The price does fluctuate, but is currently worth about $10 per SREC each year.