Secondary Concerns You May Have About Solar
In considering solar, people often have questions or concerns of secondary importance: installation, appearance, use, maintenance, payback period, selling a house with solar, and environmental benefits.
These are in addition to the 4 main questions to consider when deciding whether to shop for a solar-PV (photo-voltaic) system: (1) Will solar pay, how much, and when? (2) Is your house suitable for solar? (3) Can you afford it? and (4) When is the best time to acquire it, now or later? The Solar Buying Guide - Step 1: Whether Solar Makes Sense for You is exactly what people need to answer these questions correctly for themselves.
This article gives brief answers to these secondary questions.
Solar Panel Appearance
Using Your Solar System
The system connects to the utility's electricity line that is already coming into your house. The electricity your system produces goes first to supply your needs at that time, with the surplus going back to the utility company for credit to you (called Net Energy Metering or NEM). Since you will be on a Time of Use rate schedule (TOU), most of these credits will be at the higher rates per kWh that apply during on-peak hours (2:00pm to 8:00pm weekdays for SCE/Southern California Edison).
If your system doesn't produce as much electricity as you're using at that time, the utility supplies the extra and charges you only for that extra amount. When the PV system isn't producing anything (as at night), you draw all the electricity you use from the utility company, just as you do now, but most of that will be at the lower rates for off-peak and super-off-peak hours. That way, you pay at low rates for most of the electricity you use and are credited for sending surplus electricity back to the utility at high rates. This differewnce contributes significantly to your electricity cost savings.
If you want to get off the utility grid completely, you can even install a battery to store up the energy you produce during the day for use at night. They're pretty expensive right now, but costs will be coming down.
Solar Maintenance and Monitoring
Monitoring your system's production can be done on your account on the solar manufacturer's website.
If something goes wrong (rare with good systems), the best manufacturers have a warranty for 25 years against everything. Either you will discover the problem by monitoring or the manufacturer or installer will catch it. A service call from your dealer, if a good one, should result in quick replacement of anything defective.
Solar Payback Period
Each year you live in the house after the payback period is just gravy. Since the best panels will last approximately 40 years, declining only .25% per year in output, our sample homeowners would have 30 more years of nearly free electricity.
Selling a House with Solar
A PV system adds to the value of a home, although how much it adds is tricky. Most real estate agents and appraisers haven't had enough experience selling solar homes to know how to value a PV system correctly, but this is changing fast, and new academic studies are helping.
The most recent and accurate study of this topic is the latest one by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in November 2015.* It gives very strong evidence that if you sell your California house before completing the payback period, you are likely to get back more for the PV system than you paid for it.
That means, for example, if you finance it with an interest-only loan, your only cost for the system is the interest on the loan. This issue is taken up in depth in the Solar Buying Guide - Step 4. But for now, this should reassure most prospective buyers that they won't lose money on a PV system, no matter when they sell their house. (The complete treatment of this complex subject is at Solar Increases Home Value.)
Environmental Benefits of Solar
Once these 7 issues are properly understood, they needn't trouble the vast majority of prospective solar shoppers.
* Sandra Adomatis and Ben Hoen, “Appraising Into the Sun: Six-State Solar Home Paired-Sale Analysis, An Analysis for Appraisers and Other Valuation Professionals” Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, November 12, 2015.