Solar 101: Helping Businesses Understand the Basics

Nov 11, 2019 11:19:49 AM

Customers often have several initial questions when they begin to research the benefits and considerations for implementing solar for their business. The following is a general overview to help those just starting their research:

1. How do solar photovoltaic (PV) panels work?

Photovoltaic panels are comprised of many silicon semiconductor cells. Phosphorous and boron are added to the silicon; these elements create conductivity within the cell and activate the movement of electrons. When activated with energy from sunlight, electrons move across the cell into the electrical circuit connected to the solar panel. One cell produces very little power on its own, but when strung together in a series, the cells work together to create substantially more power.

2. How much does solar cost?

Every SunPeak project is unique and pricing varies depending on system size and other parameters. Overall, the cost of solar has dropped significantly over the last decade due to manufacturing and installation efficiencies and greater worldwide adoption. In fact, several years ago the United States experienced “grid parity”, the point where standard utility prices surpassed the average price of solar electricity. The margin between the two is only expected to grow as utility rates rise with inflation and diminishing fossil energy sources. Conversely, the levelized cost of solar remains constant and predictable over many decades.

An additional solar cost consideration is the availability of current incentives. With the Investment Tax Credit, any business investing in solar energy can receive a generous federal tax credit to offset the total cost of a solar PV system by up to 30%.

3. What’s the difference between solar photovoltaic and solar hot water systems?

Solar photovoltaic (otherwise known as PV) systems use photovoltaic panels to produce electricity. Solar hot water, or thermal, systems capture sunlight to heat water. SunPeak does not offer solar thermal systems.

4. How much maintenance do solar panels require?

Solar photovoltaic panels don’t have any moving parts, so unlike other equipment that wears out with use, solar panels require very little maintenance. In fact, occasional rain is enough to keep them clean. With SunPeak’s cloud-based monitoring platform, energy production and system data is communicated 24/7 to both the customer and the operations and maintenance team at SunPeak. If a panel or component needs attention, SunPeak can assist with diagnosis and repair. All of the parts in our system are warrantied as well, and SunPeak manages all warranty claims on behalf of its customers.

5. Do solar panels stand up to weather? What about wind?

SunPeak systems are very robust. In addition to being built exclusively with tier-one, quality components, SunPeak systems are designed and installed to withstand a margin of safety on all existing codes for regional wind, vibration, sunlight and snow loading conditions. SunPeak systems undergo independent wind tunnel testing and have received approval from the solar industry’s foremost expert on the topic. SunPeak also engages a third-party structural engineer for every project to review and approve the roof structure and system attachment methods. These measures fall within our extensive Quality Assurance and Quality Control process and provide customers with peace of mind regarding their system’s durability and safety.

6. Is financing available for solar?

Yes, a variety of flexible solar financing options are available. SunPeak’s sales team can help you better understand the benefits of direct ownership versus leasing, and advise you on other aspects of financial assistance including federal tax credits and how to apply for local incentive programs.

7. Are there special insurance requirements for solar?

Standard business insurance policies typically cover the system with no additional premium costs, but it is still prudent to talk with your insurance provider. SunPeak has experience working with very large commercial insurers such as FM Global. FM Global requires PV systems to meet a very thorough set of system safety and quality metrics that exceed industry standards. All of our FM Global-insured customers have received approval.

8. Is a building permit required to install a solar energy system for my business?

A building permit is normally required, but it depends on your local jurisdictional rules. SunPeak takes care of all permitting, paperwork and inspections on behalf of the customer.

9. What is the lifespan of a solar PV system?

Solar electric systems are generally useful for 30 years or more. Solar panels carry a 25-year warranty and the inverters are warrantied for 10 years.

10. What happens if the solar PV system produces more electricity than needed for my facility?

Excess electricity that isn’t needed for your facility will be fed back to the utility grid. Your business will then receive a credit on your utility bill based on your utility's net metering agreement. SunPeak systems are generally sized to match, not exceed, the expected energy needs for a facility.

11. What is net metering?

Net metering is a billing mechanism used by utilities that allows customers to be billed only for "net" energy use. When a favorable net metering agreement is provided, solar energy system owners receive credit for the electricity they produce and send back to the grid.

12. Do I need battery storage for my solar panels?

With favorable net metering, battery storage is not necessary. Excess power that is generated by your solar PV system is “stored” for you in the grid in the form of utility credits. Additionally, storage adds significant cost and maintenance to the system, which can significantly reduce the return on investment. If you are concerned about having power during an outage, a backup generator is much more cost efficient than maintaining onsite battery storage.

13. How many solar panels will our facility need?

The size of the photovoltaic system is dependent on several factors: your facility’s energy-use needs; the available space for a system; and the overall costs for the system components and installation. During the design phase, our engineers will determine the optimal system size based on these factors in order to maximize the cost-benefit ratio for each customer.

14. Do I need to have south-facing exposure to have a solar energy system?

While southern exposure increases the energy produced per panel, it’s not a requirement for a successful system. SunPeak’s DeltaWing design uses an east-west orientation which maximizes solar density for flat-roof applications.

15. Is solar technology changing? Should I wait?

Solar, like all technology, changes over time. However, solar’s capabilities are already so efficient, reliable and cost effective that investment is generally very easy for businesses who calculate the savings benefits associated with solar versus maintaining the status quo. Especially with the current federal and local financial incentives, now is an ideal time to choose solar.