When a PV (Photovoltaic solar energy) system is installed on the roof of a home or business, it is tied into the electrical grid and monitored. The process of monitoring how much electricity is generated is called net metering. The amount generated is compared to the amount of electricity used by a home or office. If the solar panels produce less electricity than is used, the consumer is charged for the difference by the utility company. However, the PV panels can also produce more energy than is used.
Extra electricity contributed to the grid is tracked so that the customer with the solar panels can draw on those energy credits, as if from a bank, on days when their solar energy system is producing less electricity. For instance, on a stormy day, heavy cloud cover may obscure the sun and reduce the amount of energy captured by the panels.
Utility consumers will usually draw on their electric credits at night, too. When the sun goes down their PV panels idly wait for the sun to come back up in the morning. However, in the night time when the solar panels are not generating electricity, the demand for electricity from the grid is usually down and the hourly rate for electricity also falls. In other words, the PV panels generally produce electricity during the peak hours of demand potentially saving consumers from the most expensive hours of electrical usage.
Solar panels also benefit the grid
There are scorching-hot days in the summer when everyone has their air conditioning running full blast. The strain on the electric grid is intense. The demand can even tax the grid beyond its capacity. In response, the utility companies may implement rolling blackouts in an effort to keep up.
Solar energy systems help. Each solar array is contributing to the grid and enhancing the grid’s ability to keep pace. Additionally, the PV systems are reducing demand, which can help keep the cost down for all consumers.
You’ve decided to install a solar panel array at your home or office. That’s a wise decision. You’ve taken a big step that will help you to virtually disconnect from the utility grid. Those big electric bills will begin to vanish as though evaporated by the sun. But, making the decision to go solar is only the first related decision you’ll need to make. And, along the way, you’ll need to decide whether to mount your solar energy system on the roof or on the ground.
Once you’ve decided to go solar, you’ll need to choose an installer and a solar panel system to install. If you choose the prior wisely, they’ll help you to make the latter decision wisely. They’ll also help you to make the right decision about whether to mount your solar panels on the roof or on the ground. However, here is a short overview of the questions to consider in making this decision:
Cost: Generally, a roof-mounted solar panel system is less expensive since the substructure is already available – your roof. Often, with a ground-mounted solar panel array, the installer has to build a substructure where they can mount the solar panels. It’s likely that they’ll have to pour concrete footings that are sturdy enough to hold the solar panels, and strong enough that they won’t blow away in a storm.
Appearance: Roof-mounted solar panels are generally less noticeable. They sit up on the roof where people simply don’t often bother to look. Of course, this depends on the position of your home and which side of the roof your solar panels are mounted on. If, for instance, the front of your home has a Southern exposure, your solar panels will sit on the roof above the front door and visible to traffic at the front curb. But, the appearance of a ground-mounted solar array also depends on where you mount the system.
Assuming you want the solar panels to soak up the sun’s energy obscurely – working quietly out of sight – the question is whether you have an out-of-the-way spot on your property where you can have a solar energy system installed. Keep in mind, it needs to be an area where the panels are directly accessible to the sun.
Positioning: How you position your solar panels on your roof depends on how your home is situated and which way the slopes of the roof face. Here in the Northern Hemisphere of Illinois and Wisconsin, a roof with a Southern exposure is ideal. If your home doesn’t offer that exposure, a Southwestern exposure is next best followed by Western and Southeastern. But, if you don’t have the ideal Southern exposure, you’ll probably need additional panels to make up the difference.
On the ground, you can generally point the solar panels towards the South as long as you have room and there aren’t any obstructions. This brings up the next point to consider …
Space: Usually, the square footage of a home is reflected, to some degree, in the amount of roof space you have. In other words, your roof will probably have enough space for your solar panel system, assuming the positioning works. But, on the ground, not only do you need the space for the system, but you’ll also have to be willing to give up that space for your solar panels. In other words, if you have a smaller backyard, would you be willing to use half the yard for your solar panels?
Typically, solar panels are 64” X 44”. Let’s assume that you’ll require 28 solar panels. With four rows of seven panels, the outside dimensions are 21’ 8” X 22’ 9”. That’s close to a 500-square-foot area.
Maintenance: Cleaning your solar panels is not a major concern. The rain will generally do a good enough job and there is a self-cleaning film on the panels. A solar energy system is also a low- to no-maintenance system. However, should your panels require maintenance, you’ll probably find it easier to maintain them if they’re mounted on the ground.
Is your home a good candidate for solar? The quick answer is most likely yes. However, a search of the internet will provide point-by-point articles to help you determine if your home is good for solar.
The points made in these articles are valid though hardly insurmountable. Consider the following points you should consider when you consider adding solar power to your home:
What kind of roof do you have? Do you have asphalt shingles on your roof? Maybe you have a wood shake, slate tile, or clay roof. You may have a flat roof. These are all reasonable considerations when determining if your home is a good candidate for solar. The type of mounting hardware may change depending on which type of roof you have. However, whatever type of roof you have, there is always a way for a qualified solar energy installer to place solar panels on your roof. And, if that’s not feasible, they can always mount your solar panels on the ground.
How much sunlight does your roof receive? This is a question affected by two questions: the orientation of your home and the proximity of obstructions. If you have a one-story home that sits in the Northern shadow of a high-rise building, you may be an exception to premise that most homes are candidates for solar power. Otherwise, it’s a question of optimal conditions. If one pitch of your roof has a Southern exposure, that’s great. If not, you may have to install additional panels to make up the difference. Otherwise, if there are trees blocking the roof from the sun, it’s a question of pruning or taking down a tree or two, or of putting the solar panels on the ground.
Another question is climate – does the climate in your area make a solar energy system cost effective? Once again, the answer is almost assuredly yes. Here in the Midwest, solar energy systems are nearly as effective as they are on homes in an Arizona desert.
What is the condition of your roof? This is a very good question. The solar panels will protect your roof from some of the elements. However, it’s still essential that your roof is in good condition before you install your solar panels. You don’t want to find yourself, five- or ten-years after installing your solar panels, needing to pull the panels up to get at the roof again.
How much do you give to the utility companies each month? This is a great, big question with an answer that’s liable to bring a big smile to your face. Translate the question this way: “How happy would it make you to increasingly disconnect from the utilities and their monthly bills?”
All of these are considerations you need to take into account when deciding if your home is a good candidate for solar.
Properly installed, your solar array will sit on your roof for decades soaking in the ultra-violet rays of the sun and creating energy that will increasingly allow you to thumb your nose at the utility companies. But, proper installation is key (which makes finding a truly qualified installer absolutely essential). Proper installation starts before the installation begins as the condition of your roof is a critical question before installing solar panels.
A qualified solar energy system installer won’t even consider installing solar panels over a roof that is more than 10 years old. Of course, they’ll also want to inspect your roof for any problems. They’ll want to rectify any problems before they start. A solar panel installer who doesn’t start with this kind of precaution is an installer to avoid.
Once the installation of your solar panels begins, proper installation will include leaving appropriate space between the roof and the panels. Customarily, four inches of spacing is the minimum. On a sunny day, the temperature up on a roof can reach 150 degrees. If the panels were flush with the roof, that heat would transfer through and into the attic.
No fear, no leaks – if solar array is installed properly over your roof
With an experienced and qualified solar energy system installer, the risk of an installation causing leaks is negligible. Paul LaBarbera, the owner of , has installed more than 100 solar panel arrays and has never had a leak. However, he’s also been called in to fix the work of other installers which did cause leaks.
There are other qualified solar panel installers. Regardless of who you hire, however, you may come to deeply regret hiring an installer who doesn’t know solar energy, and the installation process, thoroughly. On the flipside, if you hire the right installer, you and your roof will appreciate it for decades to come.
You can virtually disconnect from your local utility company by putting a solar panel system on your roof. As long as you’re making that move, why not take it a step further and disconnect from the gas pump, too? You can, as long as your solar panel system can handle charging your electric car, as well as providing electricity for your home.
If you own a Tesla, Nissan Leaf, or Chevy Bolt, for instance, a solar energy system on your roof can serve as a substitute for the gas pump.
Most people spend about $2,000 per year at the gas pumps purchasing gasoline for their cars. At that rate, with an electric car, it won’t take too many years to recover the cost for the solar panels required to charge their electric cars. And, if gas prices go up, they can cash in on the savings even faster.
Of course, this also depends on whether someone is purchasing a system for their home that will also provide electricity to recharge the batteries in their electric car or whether they’re adding on to an existing solar array for an electric car. It’s important to note that Illinois solar incentive programs do not apply when adding on to an existing system – they apply to new systems only.
The question is how many solar panels you will need to charge your electric car and will you have enough left over to provide energy for the home or office.
Assuming you have an optimal location for your solar panels – a Southern exposure without obstructions – six to eight panels (in addition to the panels providing solar energy for your home or office), producing 300 watts each, is generally considered enough to recharge your electric car when its battery is low. If your home has an East-West exposure, you may need additional solar panels to make up the difference in lower output per panel.
These numbers assume that, like most people, you drive about 1,000 miles per month. If you drive more than that you may need more electricity to operate your car; you may need more panels to keep up. The same is true if you’re prone to jack-rabbit starts. In other words, both the distance you travel and the way you drive your electric car are considerations.
To think that a solar array on your roof could help you to virtually disconnect from the local utility company and the gas pump is a little slice of Nirvana.
Enthusiastic audience engages solar expert in ongoing Q&A
The seats were still filling as Paul LaBarbera, the owner of Magitek Energy Solutions, a solar energy systems installer, stepped to the podium and began his presentation Wednesday night at the McHenry Public Library. There was a Question-and-Answer session planned for after but the audience was having no part of waiting. Only minutes into his talk, LaBarbera was interrupted by the first of a welcome barrage of questions.
The audience was engaged, on the edge of their seats: they wanted to know about the potential for solar energy at their homes and offices and LaBarbera is one of the foremost experts in the field. Having installed more than 100 solar energy systems, he has the most difficult certification from Underwriters Laboratory – the only installer in Illinois with that certification.
Instead of a presentation, LaBarbera led an energetic discussion about solar energy and its potential. Instead of a Q&A session, when finished, LaBarbera and his assistant, Jacqueline Stern, sat down one-on-one with those in attendance, who had brought their electric bills along, to provide estimates of the cost and viability of installing one of these systems on their home or office.
LaBarbera had created a slide presentation to accompany the discussion. It was loosely followed as a map for the interactive process that took over. The slide presentation included:
- How solar systems work
- Illinois solar market trends
- Components of a solar panel system
- Types of solar panels and manufacturers
- The ins-and-outs of inverters
- Mounting systems
- Benefits of going solar
- Incentive programs
- Finding a reliable installer
- Frequently asked questions, including costs, installation time and issues, etc.
LaBarbera put numerous concerns to rest, such as issues related to proper installation of solar panel systems and the risks of roof leaks following installation of a system. While he admitted that he’s had to fix systems installed by other suppliers that caused leaks, he added that “Of all the systems I’ve done, we’ve never had a leak.”
He indicated that these systems have improved in quality over the years and will provide electricity at virtually the same level for years to come, where older systems lost their mojo over time. In the process, he said the value of solar panel systems will only increase.
“What’s the one thing I can tell you – electricity prices will go up. If you install a solar system that won’t be your concern.”
You don’t have to be an expert on solar panels to know that Illinois is not the optimal place to install a solar panel system on your home, right? Think about it; with all that winter, certainly, you’re wasting half the year on days when the temperature is hardly conducive to solar energy production. Wrong!
Actually, Illinois is a great place for a solar panel system
How can that make sense? Winter in Northern Illinois generally lasts from early to mid-November through March and into April. Approximately, five months out of each year, in these parts, is under the blanket of winter. What good is a solar panel system in the middle of winter?
If the temperature had anything to do with the production of solar energy, you would have a point thinking that Northern Illinois is not in the optimal hemisphere for production of solar energy. But, the temperature actually has nothing to do with it.
In the winter, there is less sunlight and sunlight is the crucial factor for producing solar energy. But, there is still enough sunlight to make solar panels viable in Northern Illinois – plenty of sunlight. Even on a cloudy day, solar panels are producing solar energy – have you ever gotten a sunburn on a cloudy day? It’s the same principle. Even on cloudy days, solar panels can capture solar energy.
Look at it this way: you could even install a solar panel system on the North Pole. Granted, during that long night, from Dec. 21 until early March, there is no sunlight and your solar panels will generally stand by idle waiting for the sun to come back. But, you’d make up for it in summer when daylight lasts almost the entire season.
In Northern Illinois, we don’t have a night that lasts for several months. Then again, we also don’t have a day that lasts almost an equal period. Instead, we have 365 days out of the year that a solar panel system can create solar energy, assuming it’s properly installed. And, if optimally installed, we’re talking about a solar panel system that will take a big bite out of your electric bill, if not eliminating your electric bill altogether.
Statistics show that the Midwest is virtually on par with southwestern cities in the average solar resources available. This makes Northern Illinois an excellent location for adding a solar panel system to your home or office.
Not just for proper installation but for savings, too
Folks in your McHenry neighborhood are amazed at your skill as a Do-It-Yourselfer. The fence you put up, the garage you built, the windows you installed. Clearly, you’re not an amateur. Now, you’ve got your eyes set on the roof of your house, but not to replace the roofing. Rather, you see it as rich in energy potential and you’re thinking of installing your own solar panel system. Don’t do it. Solar panel installation is not a project for DIYers.
There are good reasons not to go all DIY on a new solar panel system. The idea of installing a solar-energy system on your roof is sound. It’s a wonderful idea from which you’ll derive benefits for years to come. You have an opportunity to chop a big chunk out of your electric bill with clean, renewable energy from your personal ‘powerplant.’ But, DIY …?
Working on the roof always come with the risks of falling off. Though, as a DIYer, you’re not afraid of working at heights, it complicates matters when you’re performing a less familiar task, particularly when working with panels that could catch the wind and sail you off your McHenry roof.
There’s also the risk of doing damage to your home or the solar energy system. Anytime you put screws into your roof, you have to know what you’re doing so that moisture won’t follow through the next time it rains or when snow and ice start to melt. With unfamiliarity, it’s also a concern that you could damage the solar panel system during installation. That is potentially costly. And yet, there is still an even better reason to skip the DIY solar-panel-system installation.
There are big savings if you skip the DIY and let the professionals install your solar panel system
That just doesn’t make sense, does it? One of the best things about Do-It-Yourself projects is that you experience substantial savings in the process. It’s a wonderful reward of DIYers. But, this proven benefit is turned on its head when it comes to solar panel system installation.
This illogical quandary didn’t travel through a black hole to land with energy potential on your McHenry rooftop. Rather, it arrived there as a result of a legal meteor launched from the state capital in the form of the Future Energy Jobs Act.
By “Jobs” they don’t mean DIYers. The goal of the law is to increase Illinois’ dependence on renewable energy while, at the same time, promoting job growth.
For someone with a residential solar panel system that generates under 10-killowatts per hour, they’ll receive a check from the state for 15 years of anticipated State Renewable Energy Credits. The payment is a lump sum at the time that the system is energized.
For someone with a system that is larger than 10kw, they will receive four annual SREC payments that are based on average use for the preceding year to cover the 15-year anticipated energy production.
When you stack those substantial savings aside of the 30-percent Federal Tax Credit that is available with the installation of a solar panel system, the Return On Investment for your solar energy system is three to five years. After that, it’s all gravy, assuming you resist the urge to go DIY on your McHenry solar panel system.