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Frequently Asked Questions

What financial incentives are currently available in the state of Pennsylvania?

Pa Sunshine Grant Program:

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Grant Program is a state run program that helps make solar energy more affordable for Pennsylvania residents and small businesses. PA gives .75$/Watt of power output for a given system. For example, a 10KW system will receive a $7,500.00 check after the installation is complete and inspected by the PA Sunshine Program. You must be certified by the PA Sunshine Program as an installer in order to get this grant. The program is close to the end of funding and it is important to apply for your funding as soon as possible.

Tax Credit:

As of 2/19/2009 the IRS published a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit for 30% of system and instillation cost with no upper limit. This is a tax credit that customers can take advantage of at the end of the year after they install their system. According to the IRS this tax credit carries forward until 2016 so if you can use the total credit amount the first year you can do so in years to come. Contact your tax advisor for information on how this credit will help you.

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates:

A SREC is a certificate issued to renewable energy owners after each 1MWh of energy is produced. These certificates are coded to distinguish the location and type of renewable energy used. States are mandating that the utility in their states must keep a minimum renewable energy amount in their portfolio. Within 3 years Pennsylvania utilities must have at least 18% of their energy from clean energy sources. If they do not meet this quota they are fined a certain amount for each 1MWh they are under their quota. The utility companies are allowed to purchase the SRECs from other sources in their state to offset their deficit. SSE will provide brokerage services for our customers. We will broker your SRECs to minimize the documentation burden for our customers and only charge a 10% service charge for selling your SRECs.

Energy Generation:

The energy your system creates is utilized by you in your home will save you money on your electric bill. If you create more energy then you use you can sell it back to the electric company at a profit! The electric companies are required to buy back the energy you create.

What does an average solar electric system cost?

Most residential solar PV systems cost between $8,000-$35,000 (after rebates and incentives) which includes the cost of all materials, installation, freight, permit fees and sales tax. Solar PV systems for small businesses typically range from $35,000-$100,000 while large-scale commercial projects can range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

What is the size of an average solar electric system?

Averages won't help in sizing a solar system for your specific home or business any more than an "average" shoe size will help you find a comfortably fitting shoe. Sizing a solar PV system involves careful consideration of three main factors: (1) project budget, (2) a customer's electricity requirements or consumption; and (3) available sunny space where a system can be installed.

Can you determine the cost of a solar system based on the square footage of my home?

There's a rule of thumb indicating that it costs about $10 per square foot to supply 100% of your electrical needs. However, at Sonic Solar Energy, we do not use that rule of thumb because we custom-design all of our systems based on each individual customer's specific site, energy needs and budget.

So how do you estimate the cost of a solar electric system for my home or business?

We start by analyzing your recent utility bills to determine how much electricity you consume per month (measured in kilowatt-hours = kWh) and on an annual basis. We then factor in specific issues that are unique to your home or business such as available roof area and shading from trees or other buildings. We'll then be able to show you the investment required to produce as much as 100%, or even as little as 10%, of your electrical power needs.

What is "net-metering?"

For solar electric systems installed on a home or business that's connected to the grid (i.e. "grid-tied") net metering allows you to have only one electric meter which can spin forwards or backwards at the same rate. So, when the sun is shining, your solar system is producing electricity that can be directly used by your home or business, thereby offsetting the amount of electricity being purchased from the utility company. However, if the electricity is not immediately used, where does it go? (for example, many homes are empty during the day while everyone is away at work or school, etc.) During these times, the electricity is actually sold back to the utility company, causing your electric meter to spin backwards to give you RETAIL credit for it. So, your electric meter may spin backwards and forwards on a daily basis, but you'll only be billed according to the "net" reading on your meter at the end of each month. In this way, net metering allows you to take advantage of, and get retail credit for, every unit of electricity that your solar electric system produces. If you produce MORE power than you use each month, the credits will carry over for later use for up to 12 months. If you still have a credit leftover at the end of the year, the utility may pay you for the excess power you produced, but it will only be at the WHOLESALE rate which is much lower than retail.

What modifications would be necessary for my house to run on solar electricity?

Very little, if any. Solar panels are relatively lightweight, so there are rarely any structural modifications required. Conduit and wire must be installed from the solar panels to the electrical panel. Typical installations take only 1-3 days, with only 1 hour without power.

Would I need to rewire my house before installing a solar system?

Not at all. Grid tie systems simply feed into a breaker in your main service panel. Adding back-up power capability requires the installation of a sub-panel to isolate your emergency loads (refrigerator, well pump, furnace blower etc), but this work is common and simple.

Would I need to use different appliances? Do I need to use DC appliances if the solar panels only produce DC electricity?

No, the solar panels feed DC electricity to a device called a "grid-tie inverter." This device changes the solar electricity into utility-grade AC electricity so that it can be used by your home or fed back into the grid, thereby making your utility meter spin backwards.

Do I need batteries in my solar electric system?

Batteries are only necessary if you are (a) living "off-the-grid"; or (b) living in an area with a high occurrence of power outages. Most solar electric systems in urban areas, where grid connections already exist, forgo batteries and effectively use the utility grid as a battery. Not having batteries in a system will reduce the overall cost and virtually eliminates maintenance.

If I don't have batteries, how will I get electricity during the night or when the sun isn't shining?

If you're tied to the grid, then you simply take electricity from the utility. This happens whenever you are consuming more electricity than your solar system is producing - such as at night or during rainy weather. When the sun is shining, however, and you are producing more power than you're consuming, then the solar system will feed the excess electricity back into the grid, causing your meter to spin backwards. Each month, your utility meter may spin backwards and forwards on a daily basis, but your monthly utility bill will only show the "net" change that occurred. This is called "net metering" and it allows you to achieve a "net zero" bill by selling back the power that you use at a RETAIL rate. If you produce MORE power than you use each month, the credits will carry over for later use for up to 12 months. Afterwards, if you still have a credit leftover, the utility may pay you for the excess power you produced, but it will only be at the WHOLESALE rate which is much lower than retail.

What happens if it's cloudy or rainy for several days in a row?

Your solar electric system would produce less electricity, but you wouldn't notice the difference inside your home. Grid-tied solar systems never "run out" of electricity. Although solar panels only produce their maximum output in full, unobstructed sunlight, they will still produce power on cloudy or rainy days - albeit much less than normal. During these times, you end up buying more power from the utility company to make up the "deficit." When we design systems we take into account weather variables and can accurately estimate monthly and annual solar electricity production.

Can I heat my home with a solar electric system?

Yes, it is possible, but it's usually not the most cost effective method for heating your home. In general, using electricity to generate heat requires a huge amount of electrical power. A better investment would be to minimize your home's need for heat by installing additional insulation and investing in high quality windows and window coverings.

How long do solar panels last?

For a long time: solar panels carry 20-25 year warranties, with life expectancies of 40+ years.

How efficient are solar panels? How much power can they produce per square foot?

The most commonly used solar panels have efficiencies ranging from 11%-14% and produce about 10-13 watts per square foot. New panels are on the market that reach up to 20% in efficiency; however, in general, the price per watt rises significantly with increasing panel efficiency. So, although efficiencies can reach up to 30% or more, the cost is usually prohibitive except for military or space applications. At the end of the day, panel efficiency really equates to how much power can be generated in a given amount of roof space. So, for basic planning purposes, a good rule of thumb is 12 watts per square foot.

How much do solar electric systems weigh?

In general, solar electric systems are very light and only weigh about 2.5 to 3 pounds per square foot. Almost all roof structures can handle the additional weight of a solar system.

What if there's a hailstorm? Can the solar panels withstand hail?

Solar electric panels are built with high-impact tempered glass. The solar industry standard dictates that panels should be able to withstand 3/4” hail at 60 mph. One of our solar PV panel manufacturers even performs tests by shooting ice cubes at their panels at 140 mph. If your solar panels do suffer any hail damage, you can claim the damage via your homeowner's insurance policy.

Will I have to pay more for or make any changes to my homeowner's insurance policy?

Usually not. Many utility companies require that you have at least $300,000 in liability coverage, but this is a standard amount for most homeowner's insurance policies. Note that this is not the same as the basic coverage amount for your policy. In the end, we recommend that you contact your insurance agent if you plan to install a solar electric system to discuss the possibility of increasing your coverage. For many residential systems this may not be necessary. For larger systems, however, your premium may increase to reflect a the substantial increase in your coverage.

How are solar panel prices expected to change in the near future?

In general, we expect solar prices to decline starting in late 2010 or 2011 (and note that incentive amounts are designed to decrease in conjunction with this.) The problem lies with the constrained supply of purified silicon, which is the raw material required for manufacturing the majority of solar PV cells. Starting in early 2005, the rapid growth of the PV and semiconductor industries began to outpace the global capacity to refine silicon, leading to the first price increases in the PV industry in decades. Solar panel prices increased by 15-20% from 2005-2007 and then leveled off in 2008. The silicon shortage is expected to end in late 2010, but this will depend on how quickly demand continues to grow. Please contact us for further details and to learn the latest news about solar panel supply, demand, and pricing trends.

How can I maximize my solar energy investment? and how else can I make a difference?

By using your electricity as efficiently as possible. Appliance upgrades to EnergyStar-rated models can make a huge impact. An EnergyStar refrigerator or clothes washer purchased today will use half the energy of a standard model that's just 5 years old. Improvements to your home's lighting, insulation, windows, appliances, etc., can all reduce your electrical demand with relatively small investments. Not only are energy efficiency improvements the "low hanging fruit," they are also the most effective way to make a difference - both from an economic and environmental perspective. Afterwards, if you still decide to install a solar electric system, it will be able to offset a larger percentage (or all) of your home's electricity consumption.

For more suggestions on what you can do to make a difference, reading this article titled, "Ten Ways To Protect Yourself From High Energy Prices" may provide you with some good ideas.

Our Mission

To provide our customers with affordable energy while reducing our carbon footprint.

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For more information about solar energy and how solar can save you money..

  • Sonic Solar Energy
  • 1201 Centre Street
  • Easton, PA 18042

info@sonicsolarenergy.com

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