Frequently Asked Questions

Solar Technology

What is solar energy?
Solar energy refers to heat or electricity from the sun’s abundant rays. It is plentiful, renewable, and one of the few non-polluting source of energy.

How do I know whether the solar system will work for my home / business?
Solar energy refers to heat or electricity from using sun’s abundant rays. It is plentiful, renewable, and one of the few renewable non-polluting source of energy.

To understand if you are ready for a solar system, take into account the following concerns:

  • Does my property have a good exposure to the southern sky?
  • Are there any obstructions or tall structures that cast shading over the south-facing roof?
  • What is the pitch of the roof?

So long as the shading is kept to a minimum, and the solar array can be exposed to unobstructed sunlight, the solar system will work generating renewable energy for years to come.

What is the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water system?
While both technologies utilize the energy of sun’s rays, solar photovoltaic system produces electricity by converting sun’s ray. Solar hot water system uses the heat (i.e., thermal) energy from the sun to heat water for home use, to heat swimming pool, or for a radiant heating system.

What components are needed for a typical solar (“PV”) system installation?
Components needed are solar modules to convert sunlight into electricity, an inverter to transform DC (“Direct Current”) to AC (“Alternating Current’), racking, wiring, and a net meter.

Can I use solar power to heat my home?
Yes. You have a choice between using solar hot water or thermal system to heat your home, or you can use the electricity generated from the solar photovoltaic system to heat homes by utilizing efficient electric heaters.

How much maintenance does solar PV system require?
Solar photovoltaic systems require little maintenance. If the solar modules can be washed down with a power hose once a month, that should suffice in most areas. In dry and dusty areas, the solar modules may require more frequent washing. The majority of solar system owners do not bother washing or cleaning solar modules as they rely on the rain to keep the modules clean. It is important to remember that solar modules should be clear of debris.

How long does the solar PV system last?
Solar panels come with 25-year power production warranty. Solar panel is expected to last about 40 years. Inverters come with 10-year warranty, and are expect to last about 12 to 15 years.

Do I need batteries for the solar system?
In the majority of instances, batteries will not be required for grid-tied solar systems. A back-up battery bank can increase the total system by 25% or more, further the solar array yield is about 7% to 10% less energy compared to grid-tied system. Unless the customer experiences long term outage or frequent outage in a remote area, battery back-up storage is not recommended. To put another way, solar system owners use the grid as a means to store electricity.

How long will it take to have the system installed?
In New Jersey, the current length of time from the moment the contract is signed to the moment the system is turned on officially (i.e., Placed In Service) is about 4 to 6 months. Actual installation of the solar system on a roof takes a day or two at most, however, due to regulatory hurdles, paperwork and financing processing, the length of time required to complete the project will be about 4 to 6 months.

How long can solar panels last?
Solar panels typically come with 25 years manufacturers’ power production warranty. All solar systems will degrade in performance over time, and most estimates of production will take into account about .005% degradation factor as the norm. Mass produced solar panels hitting the market are expected to last about 40 years.

Building


How much space is required for solar system?

A typical rule of thumb says on a bright sunny day, a square foot of conventional photovoltaic panel will produce about 10 watts of power. In order to install 2,000-watt system, space requirement would be 200 to 400 square feet, depending on the type of photovoltaic module used.

How do I know whether my property will receive adequate amount of sunlight required to produce the electricity?
While it is true that more sunlight means more electricity, the actual production of electricity from a solar system is based largely on geographical location of the solar system. For example, the state of NJ receives about 4.2 to 4.4 hours of sunlight per day average throughout the year. The number of sunlight hours does not change drastically from year to year. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (“NREL”) has sunlight data on 239 locations across the U.S., and the data is used in PV Watts calculator to estimate the production of a solar system installed at a particular geographic location. Simply put, just because there may be cloudy rainy weather for an extended period of time, it does not mean that the solar system will produce less electricity for the year. The solar system’s production figure is determined by the amount of average sunlight hours at the given location that remains steady and consistent year after year.

What happens to the roof when you install a solar system?
There are a few penetrations through the roof to secure the racking and solar panels to the house. Due to the use of flashing at the point of penetration, the roof will not suffer from leaks.

Are solar modules too heavy to put on the roof?
A typical solar panel weighs about 30 to 35 pounds. Racking, wiring, and solar modules altogether will add about 3 to 5 pounds per square ft (typically less than 4 lbs per sf). In northeast region of the U.S., houses and buildings are overbuilt to withstand the traditionally heavy snowfall; therefore addition of the solar system on a typical shingled roof would not pose a problem. A Professional Engineer will calculate the weight load as well as wind load in adding solar system to roofs.

What happens when it snows?
Solar modules generate heat when exposed to sunlight. Further, as the solar panels are typically installed on a south facing roof, the snow will melt quicker on the solar array than any other roofs. Even if snow accumulates overnight, it would take mere days for the snow to melt away with the solar installation compared to a few weeks without the solar installation.

Will I need to apply for permit to install solar system for my property?
No. EBR Energy will take care of all of the necessary permits and paperwork related to the solar energy installation. A solar system typically requires permits for building, electrical, and sometimes zoning permits. The cost of permitting is included in the total system price.

Do I need to change my roof before the solar system is installed?
It depends on the life of the roof in question. A typical rule of thumb states that if the roof has less than 10 years of life left, the property owner will be urged to update or repair the roof, or at least re-shingle the roof which will be covered by solar panels.

My house does not face north or south, but faces east and west. Does that prevent me from having a solar system installed?
No. Solar modules installed on east or west-facing roofs will still generate substantial amounts of electricity. East facing roof will generate about 15% less, and west-facing roof will generate about 10% less electricity compared to the same sized system installed on a south facing roof. If it is not objectionable, the solar modules can also be tilted up towards south to increase the production.

There are quite a few trees surrounding my house. Does that prevent me from having a solar system installed?
It depends on whether the trees in question are blocking the southern sky therefore casts shading over the solar array. While EBR Energy is mindful of conserving trees, at times it becomes necessary to sacrifice trim or remove trees to ensure the solar array can access sunlight. Since the cost of cutting or trimming trees can be quite high, EBR Energy will consult with the property owner to figure out whether it makes financial sense to go forward with the solar system installation.

If I have no roof space or I do not want to have the solar panels on my roof, what other options do I have?
Solar Panels can be installed on the ground, if there is an open ground space free of shading. Solar panels can also be mounted on a specially built poles, as well as carport type installation where the solar panels will provide for shaded parking spots. Solar panels can also be used to create an awning on a side of a house or a building. There are certain solar panels that can float on water, as well as solar cells that can be integrated into the building (e.g., BIPV).

Will solar system installation increase my property tax?
In NJ, the property tax cannot be raised due to the installation of the solar system for five years. After five years moratorium, the local government will have an option to raise property tax on properties with the solar system.
I live in a development where the Homeowners’ Association must approve any changes to the house.

Can my HOA prevent me from installing solar system?
In 2007, New Jersey legislation was passed specifically to prevent HOA from prohibiting installation of the solar system on residential properties. HOA may regulate certain aspects of the solar system installation, such as qualification of the Installation Company, location, concealment and size; however, any regulation or requirement by the HOA that increases the installation cost by more than 10%, or prevent the solar system from operating at maximum efficiency may not be enforced.

What happens if my roof leaks after the installation of the solar system?
The solar system comes with 10-year warranty on labor and installation. If the roof leak is due to the solar system being improperly installed, EBR will cover the cost of fixing the roof within the warranty period at cost to the home or building owner.

What happens if I need to replace the roof after the solar system is installed?

Just give EBR Energy a call, and the crew will come to your home or business to remove the solar system. Once the roof work is completed, the crew will re-install the solar system on the new roof. Removal and reinstallation should take no more than one or two days for most systems, and the customer will be asked to pay for labor at the then existing labor rate.

Incentives and Benefits

What is a Net Meter?
A Net Meter is a new meter that will be installed by the utility company towards the end of the solar system installation. Unlike the traditional meter, net meter is bi-directional depending on the low of electricity. When the solar system produced electricity is not used up by the home or business owner, the net meter will literally turn backwards, and capture the information about power produced and power used.

Once I have generated the credit with my utility company, how long can I use the “banked” power with my utility company?
A credit generated through net metering with the utility company is typically good for one year. If there is excess credit left over in the account with the utility company, the utility company may be required to issue a check, but typically only at the wholesale rate rather than the retail rate.

What are the current federal government incentives on solar system installation?
Currently, the US government provides for tax credit of 30% of the total system cost for residential and commercial installation of solar systems. There is no fixed dollar limit on the federal tax credit, and for individual taxpayers, 30% tax credit is applicable to both regular income tax return and alternative minimum tax. For profit entities installing solar systems in 2011, they can elect to apply for a federal tax grant of 30% in lieu of claiming the federal tax credit. The solar system must be installed or initiated in the year 2001 for the for profit entity to qualify for the tax grant. The tax grant is not available to new for profit entities that have not yet paid federal taxes. In addition to the tax grant, for profit entities can also benefit from bonus accelerated depreciation on the solar system installation. Instead of taking 10 or 20 years typical for depreciation of capital purchases, the solar system owner may elect to depreciate 85% of the total system cost as the depreciable basis.

Is the state of New Jersey still providing rebates for solar system?
Unfortunately, there is no rebate available from the state of New Jersey. However, with the available incentive programs at both the state and federal level, there are plenty of incentives to make the solar system much more affordable, and out of pocket cost to be fractions of the total system cost.

What is SREC?
SREC in an abbreviation for “Solar Renewable Energy Certificates” defined as 1,000 kWh produced by a solar system. For every 1,000 kWh produced by the solar system, the state of New Jersey will issue one certificate to the solar system owner. SRECs are bought by utility companies (i.e., ACE, JCPL, PSEG, and RECO) in order to avoid paying a fine (i.e., Solar Alternative Compliance payment) for failure to meet the renewable energy goal set by the state. SRECs will be issued for the first 15 years of the solar system’s life.

What is PSE&G Solar Loan II Program?
In 2009, PSE&G launched a program to lend money to would be solar system owners in exchange for 10 or 15 years of SRECs anticipated to be produced by the solar system. For residential installation, PSE&G will provide a solar loan in exchange for 10 years of SRECs. For non-residential installation, PSE&G will provide a solar loan in exchange for 15 years of SRECs. Residential borrowers will pay 6.5% interest on the loan whereas non-residential borrowers will pay 11.31% interest. There is also 2.5% fee for processing and administering the loan application that is withheld by PSE&G from the final disbursement amount. Currently, PSE&G Solar Loan represents about 60% to 70% of the total system cost. The solar loan is unlike traditional loan in a sense that the borrower does not make payments in dollars; rather the loan balance is reduced by the amount of SRECs generated by the solar system over the loan period. The most attractive features of the PSE&G Solar Loan program is that it comes with a guaranteed floor price. PSE&G guarantees that in case the SREC price drops below a defined pricing, PSE&G will guarantee the price of SREC against a drop in SREC market price. For example, the current guaranteed floor price is set at $400 per SREC for residential loan, which means that if the price of SREC drops to $300 next year, PSE&G will credit $400 per SREC produced in its quarterly statement provided to the borrower, and will not require the borrower to make up the difference between the guaranteed floor price and the current market price. This is a great way for borrowers to lock in the dollar amount of SRECs, and to hedge against the price of SRECs dropping in the market place.

My utility provider is JCP&L. Is there a similar program such as PSE&G Solar Loan provided by JCP&L?
For customers with JCP&L, ACE and RECO wanting to install solar system, the utility companies engage in SREC Sale and Purchase Program. Essentially, about 3 to 4 times a year, those interested in solar system installation are allowed to place a bid to sell SRECs for either 10 or 15 years to the utility company. These reverse auction processes have been held 7 times thus far, and there is another one scheduled for late August 2011. NJBPU, the state regulatory agency reviews and approves the each round of the process, and the results are published about 3 months after the submission of the bid.

What is the downside of going solar?
At EBR Energy we cannot think of a downside in going solar. The benefits of solar system are savings on your electricity bill; reducing global warming; becoming less reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear power; adding equity to your property; and measurable cooling of the building.

Can I make money-selling electricity to my utility company?
Unfortunately, most grid-tied solar systems are designed not to produce excess electricity due to state regulations. For example, in NJ, the solar system owner is allowed to offset up to 100% of the past 12 months’ consumption. In NY, the solar system owner can have the solar system generate up to 110% of the past 12 months’ consumption.
It is highly unlikely that a solar system owner will generate excess power enough to sell back to the utility company, if the solar system owner’s consumption behavior does not change drastically. Further, as the solar system is designed not to produce more than it is allotted, most likely result is that the solar system owner will be able to offset some portion of the their electric bill, but will not have excess electricity which can be sold for significant sum of money.

Cost & Savings

What is the average system cost?
It is difficult to say what the average system will cost, as there are many variables affecting the solar system size, including the past consumption, orientation of the house, and amount of roof facing towards south.

How much can I expect to save on my electricity bill with the solar system?
Savings will depend on several factors such as how much electricity was used in the past, how efficient are the appliances used at home, how much roof space is available for installation of solar modules. If the space permits and the orientation of the roof(s) are optimal, home and business owners can expect to save up to 100% of the past 12 months usage.

Can I get rid of my electric bill by going solar?

No. The solar PV system is typically designed to work with the system attached to the grid. Home and business owners will need to be connected to the utility company to realize the promise of savings on the electric bills. In order for a home or building to completely be cut off from the grid, the cost of the solar system in addition to the banks of batteries required would become cost prohibitive.

General questions

Does the addition of the solar PV system on my house increase the equity in the house?
Yes. According to a 1998 article in “Appraisal Journal” noted that every $1 saved on electric bill by the solar system would add $20 of equity to the house (i.e., a system saving $1,000 a year will add about $20,000 equity to the house). A more recent study by Berkeley National Laboratory showed that the addition of a 3,100-watt solar system added about $17,000 of equity to an existing home, which works to be about $5.48 per watt.

I want remove my boiler and install an electric water heater to take advantage of the solar system. Do you recommend that I replace or upgrade my appliances at home?
Unless the boiler is very old and requires replacement, it is not recommended. Just keep in mind that the solar system is designed to offset up to 100% of the past 12 months’ consumption of electricity. Therefore, if the homeowner decides to replace the oil or gas boiler with an electric boiler, the consumption of electricity for the property will invariably increase, and the homeowner may end up with additional electric bill to cover the usage of electricity by the new electric boiler. Of course, if you have inefficient appliances that require replacement, you should always consider Energy Start or other efficient appliances that require less electricity to operate.

Since I am going to have a solar system, should I care less about my energy consumption?
All solar system owners are encouraged to become more efficient with their usage of energy. Just keep in mind that the electricity from the solar system is not free. If the solar system owner uses more electricity than what is generated by the solar system, the electric bill would become substantial once again, as the utility company at its regular rate will bill any additional consumption not matched by the solar system. Rather, the solar system owners are encouraged to become even more efficient in their energy consumption as a hedge against, for example, rising oil or natural gas prices.