Solar Energy Frequently Asked Questions

Generally speaking, the primary reason most businesses install solar is for the economics.   Particularly in Maryland and Washington DC – where solar incentives are robust – the numbers simply work.   Your utility bill will be reduced from Day 1 and the solar system will hedge against inflation and utility increases in the years to come.

Another reason is public perception.  Cleaner, greener businesses are often perceived as more progressive and committed to the future environment in the communities they serve.

How will switching to solar benefit my business?

The primary reason most businesses install solar is for the economics.   Particularly in Maryland and Washington DC – where solar incentives are robust – the numbers simply work.   Your utility bill will be reduced from Day 1 and the solar system will hedge against inflation and utility increases in the years to come.

Another reason is public perception.  Cleaner, greener businesses are often perceived as more progressive and committed to the future environment in the communities they serve.

What about solar shingles installed on my roof?

Solar shingles are part of a relatively new form or solar PV called Building Integrated Photovoltaic’s (BIPV). BIPV includes siding, windows, and other structures/materials with PV cells integrated into the material. These systems hold great promise, but today suffer from relatively low efficiencies and uncertain long-term maintenance requirements. For this reason, these are only available at a significant premium relative to traditional solar rooftop panels. Developments in BIPV roofing so far have been most cost effective in the area of metal roofing, utilizing thin film laminate products.

What is solar electric (PV)?

This solar system provides electricity for your home. PV has seen a dramatic decrease in material costs over the past couple of years and is more affordable than ever, especially given current financial incentives. Due to a variety of factors, we can safely say that the price of electricity will continue to rise. A Solar Electric system is a way of locking-in your electricity rate for the next 25 – 30 years. Net metering allows you to earn credit from the power company for any excess energy you generate with your PV system.

What is solar pool heating?

Solar pool heating is the most widely used form of solar worldwide. Here in Maryland, a solar pool heater is THE cheapest way of heating an outdoor swimming pool and should double your swim season. Compared to gas or electric, your solar pool heater will pay for itself in 1 or 2 seasons and last decades.

What is solar water heating?

This solar system uses the sun to heat your home’s water for laundry, showers, dishwasher etc. The solar panels installed to heat your home’s water are entirely different from the solar panels installed to provide your home’s electricity. Even if you are considering solar electric (PV), for most households a solar water heating system is the first priority in terms of solar efficiency and cost-effectiveness, particularly if you use a lot of hot water, as is the case with most families. Solar water heating is a mature technology that is used extensively throughout the world. In fact, the modern domestic solar water heater was invented in the USA, over 100 years ago. In addition to domestic hot water, these systems can be used in a variety of other applications such as hydronic space heating, hot tub, indoor pool, spa, and even for multiple applications tied to one system basically anywhere hot water is needed.

Can I also heat my hot tub or swimming pool?

Yes – in fact, the more applications you have that require hot water, the more bang for your buck in terms of collector cost-effectiveness. The ideal solar heating system would have multiple applications that keep the collectors absorbing and delivering solar energy on a year-round basis.

Can my solar electric (PV) system heat my water?

Yes, it can.  However, solar water heaters (or solar thermal systems) are much more cost-effective – as well as energy efficient.  Most homes, particular those with a substantial hot water load (families over two people) are excellent candidates for solar water heaters in addition, to their electric (PV) systems, here’s why:

  1. Roof Space:  Solar Water Heating panels take up a relatively small portion of roof space (usually around 64 sq. ft).
  2. Solar Panel Efficiency:  Solar Water Heating panels convert 60 percent to 70 percent of the sun’s energy into heat, while photovoltaics top out at around 24 percent efficiency.
  3. Cost-Effective:  Solar Water Heating systems cost substantially less than solar electric systems.  It is far cheaper to heat water with THERMAL energy as oppose to PhotoVoltaic energy.  Electricity – whether by traditional or renewable energy – is still the costliest way to heat water.

How do active solar thermal collectors work?

There are a variety of types of solar thermal collectors. All of them are generally some type of all copper tube and fin absorber inside an insulated aluminum frame or box that is covered with glass. Copper pipes run from the collector to the storage tank. A non-toxic, food-grade anti-freeze (propylene glycol) transfers the solar energy form the collectors to a coil inside your tank where the water is heated. There is a circulator pump that moves the heat transfer fluid.  It is the electric/mechanical energy from the circulator pump that makes this an “Active” solar system.

How do I figure out what size system I need?

Solar systems for domestic hot water are typically sized per-person. On average, an adult consumes 15-20 gallons of hot water per day (including laundry, showers, cooking, washing, etc.) and the system is sized with this in mind. Most people size with a family of four or more in mind as an investment in the property value. Space heating requires further design considerations and needs to be considered on a case by case basis only.

How hot can my water get?

The answer depends on the usage and the weather, but the short answer is very hot indeed. All controllers have a high limit shut-off, but we like to set it as high as is safe because we like to “get it while we can.” In fact, we put an ASME certified anti-scald valve on every installation just to make sure it comes out of the faucets at a safe temperature.

How much will I save by installing a Solar Water Heater?

A family of four heating with electric would typically save close to $500/year with a solar water heater.  Domestic hot water can account for 10-20% of your annual utilities (about $150 per person annually) – depending on your current system and the cost of electric, oil, propane, gas, etc. The initial up-front cost of a solar water heating system is higher than a “conventional” system, however the solar heating system will typically pay for itself entirely in under 5 years and be almost cost-free for the rest of the system’s life. Furthermore, if you need to replace your traditional electric water heater, you have eliminated that pending expense, making the final cost of your solar system even less.

Is there any grant money or financial Incentives for solar systems?

YES! Currently there are variety of SUBSTANTIAL incentives available available through local, state, and federal government programs.  The incentives typically pay for 50-75% of the system. Check out Financial Incentives page for complete details.

What about heating my house with solar?

Interest in solar space heating is increasing every year.  While many homes are good applications for solar space heating, there are many more that are not.  New construction and renovations are the best times to consider solar space heating.  Sub-floor radiant heating is an extremely effective way of providing even and consistent heat throughout the house. Because of the low operating temperatures required for radiant floor, it is particularly well-suited for solar heating.  Baseboard, radiators, and even forced-air systems are compatible with solar heating, but to a lesser degree of effectiveness.

Any solar heating system will naturally include the home’s domestic hot water as well. The system is sized depending on the amount of square footage that requires heating, the thermal mass in that room, and the back-up heating system capabilities.

What are "flat plate" and "evacuated tube" collectors?

Flat plate collectors use a series of finned copper tubes in an insulated box with a sheet of tempered glass over it. They are cost-effective and commonly used on residential applications.

Evacuated tube collectors encase each collector tube/fin in a glass tube that is placed under a vacuum or “evacuated” of all air. A vacuum is, theoretically a perfect insulator for infra-red light (heat). Therefore, evacuated tube collectors work much better at higher temperatures, in high wind conditions, and are particularly effective in industrial applications.

What if it's cloudy or freezing? How does back-up heating work?

By law, all of our SWH systems will have integrated back-up. There are generally two ways this is handled, depending on whether it is residential or commercial.  Most of our residential systems have a single solar tank with a traditional electric element in the top of the tank to provide supplemental heating as needed. This is the simplest and typically the most cost effective approach for residential. For commercial systems or systems with natural gas back-up heating, we typically utilize a two tank system. In this case, the solar tank preheats the domestic hot water (often to a temperature greater than needed) and then feeds the preheated water to the existing water heater which only boosts the temperature if necessary. While consuming more tank space, this two-tank approach provides more solar storage which can improve the efficiency of the system. It also better accommodates natural gas as a back-up energy.  Freezing temperatures do not affect the solar system as propylene glycol (food-grade antifreeze) is used to transfer the heat energy between the collector and the tank.

What if my roof doesn't get a full southern exposure?

There are other options. Often an East or West roof will work.  Another option is to install ground-mounted systems and arrays on the side of homes/buildings.  See our photo gallery for examples of these systems.

What is the difference between an active and a passive solar system?

Active solar systems are mechanical or electrical and rely upon moving parts or supplemental energy to capture solar energy. Passive solar systems may be completely stationary and simply heated by the sun – they require no auxiliary power (i.e. electricity) to operate.

What sort of maintenance will my solar system need?

Minimal – While most solar water heating systems operate for years without needing service, manufacturers and installers are recommending system service every five years which includes an anti-freeze change.  In the mean time, a periodic simple visual check can confirm that the system is working properly.

What will the solar collector look like on my roof?

There are a variety of solar thermal collectors available and all of them typically integrate in the slope of the roof. There are also frames available that can tilt a collector upwards (for flat roofs). Most solar thermal collectors are quite sleek and are mistaken for large skylights.

Will my water "overheat" if the Sun keeps shining?

No – the solar system will come equipped with a pre-set automatic control that will turn the pump on and off to maintain the desired temperature.

Are SWH SRECs worth more than Solar PV SRECs?

Good question – there is a two part answer. All SRECs are the same when traded in the market place, regardless of whether they are produced by a SWH or a PV system. However, the SREC is a production-based incentive.   Because SWH systems are 3-4x as efficient per square foot of panel than PV, SWH systems will frequently outperform solar PV economics WHEN applied to a good SWH application.

Can I sell my SRECs for Solar Water Heating?

You sure can. Thanks to the efforts of SES, Skyline Innovations, MDV-SEIA, and other stakeholders in Maryland, the General Assembly and the Governor passed a bill into law in 2011 to include solar water heating in the states solar renewable portfolio standard (RPS). As a result, SWH system owners can sell the SRECs that they generate, helping to provide substantial additional cash flow to finance these systems.

How do you measure the SRECs my SWH system generates since it does not generate electricity?

Thermal energy is typically measured in BTUs which is readily converted into kWh. While most residential SWH systems are rated for a certain number of kWh per year, commercial systems must be metered with a certified “heat meter” (also known as a BTU meter) to quantify the solar energy delivered to a water heating system. The total BTU’s delivered is divided by 3412 BTU/kWh to kWh.

I need 140 degree water in my operation. Will solar work for me?

Yes, most likely.  Every application is different so qualified design is important, but keep in mind that all systems must have backup heating to provide what solar cannot. Even if solar is only heating your incoming water from 55F to 80F on a cloudy December day, that is still 25 degrees of heating that will not require the purchase or consumption of traditional energy.  You can always do the rest of the heating with your back-up system, but using far less energy than without solar.

Is the incentive paperwork difficult?

Depending on how you finance the project, this could be all in some one elses hands. However, if you are financing the project on your own, SES will help with the grant application and completion paperwork. We will also get you set up with a suitable contract for the sale of your SRECs.  The federal tax credits and Bonus/MACRS accelerated depreciation will be handled by your accountant quite easily.  We are here to help and have all the necessary experience with incentive paperwork.

My building is 50 years old. Can I really consider retrofitting for solar hot water?

Absolutely. As the building industry in the U.S. slowly begins to incorporate SWH in new construction, SWH retrofits are the most common installations today. SES has extensive experience working with very diverse commercial building stock in Washington DC, Northern Virginia, and all over Maryland. Every commercial system is custom designed to target the best economic return while making best use of the existing infrastructure.   We use independent engineers to validate our structural and mechanical requirements.

Shouldn’t I be concerned about roof penetrations?

On pitched asphalt roofs the mounts are attached by screwing lag bolts through the roof and directly into the rafters – and then properly sealed. This is a time tested approach that has been used for solar panels since the 1970’s. For flat roofs panels can be mounted on standoffs and sealed or, more commonly, evacuated tube panels are used where ballasting replaces roof-penetrating fasteners. Metal standing seam roofs can utilize “S-5” Clips, and avoid penetrations for mounting hardware. Pipe penetrations are made with flashed pipe boots or if necessary, through an exterior wall. All other roof styles need to be evaluated on a case by case basis. SES will happily work with your preferred roofing contractor for special requirements of any kind.

What is the cost? What about Solar Electric?

If your building has a regular hot water load, you will get a much better return on your capital investment with SWH than Photovoltaic (PV). Largely due to the fact that SWH is three to four times as efficient as PV, capital investments in SWH are typically 1/3 to 1/2 that of solar electric systems producing the same amount of energy. SWH typically requires 1/3 the roof space of PV as well. Once the appropriate system is sized for water heating, then PV should be considered if the budget supports it. If your facility has small water heating loads, then solar PV should be given first consideration.  Solar water heating systems can range from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands depending on size.  The simple paybacks on commercial systems in Maryland and DC are typically in the 3-7 year range.

What size hot water load makes the investment worthwhile?

There are many variables that affect cost and the associated return on investment for commercial solar water heating applications. Generally, a load as small as 250 gallons per day is worth investigating, especially if it is a regular daily load. This might be only 3-5 panels (40 SF each). Of course, the larger the REGULAR hot water load, the better the economics. While SWH is always a great investment where applicable, there are several criteria that make the economics work exceptionally well. These include: high summer demand, electric, oil, or propane water heating

How can I finance a PV System?

Solar Energy Services, Inc. offers Same as Cash financing to help bridge customer to the receipt of their incentives.  If you need longer-term financing, the best value might be a Home Equity Line of Credit. We are also now offering other financing and leasing options.  Please ask your solar consultant.

How does a solar electric system help the environment?

The majority of our electric power in this area is from coal-fired plants, and coal is the single biggest air polluter in the world today. Coal-fired operations contribute greatly to acid rain, surface water contamination, smog, mercury in the food chain, global climate change, and a variety of other concerns. Your solar electric system makes you a direct and vital part of the solution to these ever growing concerns.  Distributed solar energy also reduces congestion and energy losses on the distribution grid since most solar energy is used in the immediate vicinity of where it was generated.

How does sunlight create electricity?

In a nutshell, your solar electric panels are made up of silicon semiconductor cells. When light strikes the cell, a certain portion of it is absorbed within the semiconductor material. This absorbed energy knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely. This direct current (DC) energy is converted into alternating current (AC) by your Inverter, thereby powering your home’s electric.

How long does the installation last?

Length of installation depends on the size of your solar system and the pitch of your roof. The majority of our residential installs take less than a week, and your power supply will not be disturbed. Prior to the installation, time allotment needs to be made for permit requirements etc., depending on the site and jurisdiction. Solar Energy Services, Inc. provides all the necessary components from design through system commissioning for a seamless installation.

How much does a PV system cost? Will I get my money back?

Depending on size, typical PV systems are ranging from $20,000-$40,000 with 5-7 year paybacks after all the incentives and energy savings.  When you buy a PV system, you essentially ensure that your “rates” for electricity will not increase for the next 20 – 25 years; the abundance of sunlight available to us here in Maryland is not governed by variables such as politics, warfare, energy markets or other factors that generally increase the cost of energy. The Return on Investment (ROI) is typically 8 – 12% – not a bad return. Not only will you receive a low or Zero electric bill, but any extra energy will essentially “spin the meter backwards” giving you credit.  Remember, there are unprecedented financial incentives at the county, state, and federal level that provide excellent savings. See our FINANCIAL INCENTIVES page for the particulars.

Should I buy or lease?

In the majority of cases, if you can afford to purchase the system outright, your return on investment will be much greater than if you lease it. However if you don’t have the cash or financing to buy your system, leasing may be a good option for you.  Additionally, if you cannot leverage the federal tax credit (i.e. you don’t pay federal taxes), leasing may be to your advantage.

So will I be "off the grid" with a PV System?

Our most common residential system is grid-tied. This means that your system is directly linked, through your meter, to the power lines that normally provide you and your community with electricity. This ensures that you will

  1. Always have a back-up for days when you use more electricity than available sunlight — and
  2. You can “store” any excess power produced by your PV system by feeding the grid and receiving credit by “net metering”.

Alternatively, you can choose to install a system with batteries that will provide backup power for your critical loads in the event of a power outage.  This approach is considerably more costly.

What if my roof needs replacing?

Ideally, any solar panel should be attached to a roof that will remain in good condition for the forseeable future. However, should repairs be necessary, Solar Energy Services, Inc. will remove and re-install your solar panels for a reasonable fee.

What Is an inverter?

Your solar system creates a Direct Current (DC) which needs converting to an Alternating Current (AC) that powers the devices in your home. This is the job of the inverter, an essential part of your solar electric system.

What Is net metering?

Net metering, which is allowed in forty-four states including Maryland, Virginia, and DC, occurs when your solar electric panels are generating more energy than your home needs at any given moment. Excess energy is fed back in to the power grid, which means that you are generating full retail-value credit for all excess energy generation. These credits are then used to offset your power bill.

Where do you put the solar panels?

Ideally, the solar panels are most commonly attached to your South-facing roof, however other directions work also. You may opt to have them ground-mounted somewhere on your property – your choice, wherever the sunshine’s best!

Why can't we use solar electric to heat our water?

You can. However, it is far cheaper for you to install solar water heating panels and use the Solar Electric (PV) panels for other electric loads.  Solar PV panels are an entirely different technology from Solar Thermal (water heating) panels. Moreover, they are a more expensive technology. Solar Thermals panels will provide more energy, at a lower cost and using less roof space, than Solar PV.  SES is one of the few local companies that installs both systems for exactly this reason.

Why is solar energy referred to as distributed energy?

“Distributed Energy” – as is the case with most residential and small commercial solar systems – has a multiplier benefit since essentially all of the energy generated is used locally — therefore no “line losses” or other recurring transmission costs. Traditional electricity suffers from heat losses as a result of energy transmission,often up to 10% or more. Solar energy has none of these recurring transmission costs, saving energy and mitigating the harmful effects of coal.

Will a PV system work on my house?

This is the first question our sales team answers in your site visit (or looking at your roof via Google Earth). The ideal house has an area with full sun – zero shade – for at least five hours during the middle of the day. A roof with Southern exposure provides optimum solar insulation levels, however other orientations can also work well. Ground-mounted systems may cost slightly more, but can be beneficial in that they can be positioned anywhere around the house with perfect orientation – more sunlight, more energy collection!

If buying is typically a better value, who should consider leasing?

People who have limited or no federal tax liability should consider a lease in order to maximize the federal incentive.  For those who prefer a no-money-down option, a long-term loan would ensure that monthly payments are – usually – lower than the existing utility bill, without having to forfeit the grants and incentives to a leasing/solar rental company.

How much are my SRECs worth?

SRECs value differ from state to state, and year to year, depending on a variety of factors such as supply and demand, compliance fees dictated to the energy suppliers buying your SRECs, and other variables. Most homeowners have limited options for selling their SRECs because most energy suppliers are not willing to engage directly with small system owners. That’s why SES have partnered with Sol Systems to provide you with reliable financing solutions that are tailored to fit your needs.

How will SRECs give me a return on my investment?

Depending on the contract you choose via Sol Systems, you can reduce your solar electric system’s cost anywhere from 20 – 40%. There are a variety of contracts that Sol Systems may suggest. For example, Sol Annuity is a long-term solution that gives you guaranteed prices for your SRECs even when spot market prices fall. You will receive a fixed, quarterly payment for each SREC produced over a 5 year term. For example, a system that produces 1 SREC/Quarter at a fixed rated of $325/SREC would generate $6500 over a 5 year period. You will receive your first payment 4 to 6 months after signing up with Sol Systems. After that, you will receive a quarterly payment in Feb., May, Aug., and Nov. based on the number of full SREC your system produces.

There are other contracts that give you a lump-sum payment up front, based on the size of your system. There are still other Sol System contracts that monitor SREC trading platforms and legislative changes and establish a floor price and a target price for your SRECs. They will enter into SREC purchase agreements that clear their aggressive floor and achieve their target SREC price. You receive a quarterly payment, less a 5% brokerage fee.

Is the Federal Tax Credit Expiring?

The Investment Tax Credit was extended last year.  However this incentives is designed to decline over time:

  • 2016 – 2019:  Solar Systems qualify for a 30% tax credit on the fully installed upfront cost of the system.
  • 2020: Tax Credit reduced to 26% of the cost of the system from their taxes.
  • 2021: Tax Credit now 22 percent of the cost of the system from their taxes.
  • 2022 onwards: Owners of new commercial solar energy systems can deduct 10 percent of the cost of the system from their taxes. There is no federal credit for residential solar energy systems.
  • Types of Solar Energy
  • Residential Water Heating
  • Commercial Water Heating
  • Solar Electric (PV)
  • Leasing vs. Buying
  • Grants, Incentives & SRECs
  • Solar Pool Heating
  • Service
  • Commercial Solar Electric

What are SRECs?

SRECs = Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are tradable credits that represent all the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from a solar energy system. Each time a solar electric system generates 1,000 kWh (1MWh) of electricity, an SREC is issued which can then be sold or traded separately from the power.

When does the 30% federal tax credit for solar expire?

The 30% federal tax credit for solar was renewed in 2008 and is in law until 2016 when it is supposed to sunset.  At that time, it could be renewed, or it could revert back to a lower number.  Keep in mind that in case you do not have enough tax liability in one year to leverage all 30%, you can use it up in annual chunks until 2016.

Who will buy my SRECs?

Energy and/or utility suppliers will give you a cash check for your SRECs. Solar RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) requirements demand that energy suppliers or utilities procure a certain percentage of electricity from qualified solar renewable energy resources in a state. These suppliers can meet solar RPS requirements by procuring SRECs from homeowners and businesses who own solar systems and produce SRECs.

Do the solar collectors have to face South?

Not necessarily. The solar collectors should just be installed where they can be in the sun a good portion of the day. Depending on the angle of the mounting surface, East and West facing systems can function very effectively.

How does a solar pool heater work?

A solar pool heater is the simplest form of an active solar energy system. Thin, black solar panels are mounted on a nearby roof or ground mount.  This area should receive at least six hours of sun per day during the extended swim season. An automatic controller and three-way valve redirects the pool water through the solar panels and returns the warm water to the pool. A properly designed system will heat the water approximately 10 – 12 degrees.

How many solar panels will I need to heat my pool?

The number of solar collectors needed to heat your pool will depend primarily on three items:

  1. The surface area your of pool (i.e. 20′ x 40′)
  2. The amount of sunshine received by your pool
  3. The amount of sunshine hitting the area where the solar collectors will be housed

Is a solar pool heater cheaper than a heat pump or gas?

No question. Compared to gas or electric, a solar pool heater may pay for itself within 1 or 2 seasons.

What is the cost of a solar pool heater?

Residential systems are typically $3000-$7000 depending on how big the SURFACE AREA of your pool is (i.e. 20 x 40). Other variables such as pool shading, collector shading, distance between pool and collectors, can also effect the price. A fully sized solar pool heater can double your swim season and pay for itself in 1 or 2 swim seasons (when compared to gas or electric heating). System estimates are estimated by the square foot. Call today for site visit and exact quote.

What sort of maintenance will my solar system need?

Your solar pool heater will require no maintenance beyond your usual pool winterizing procedures.

Do my solar panels need some sort of "cleaning"?

Here on the East Coast, we have enough rain, snow, wind, sleet, and general climate change to naturally keep the panels free from particles.  Although there are solar panel cleaning companies, SES does not recommend using such a service unless the requirement is purely aesthetic.

I have a solar water heater, why do I sometimes hear my pump running after sundown?

The pump runs intermittently for a minute periodically when the collectors reach 240 degrees. This keeps the collectors from overheating.  For example, if your maximum tank temperature is set to 160 degrees and the bottom sensor, the TST reading, exceeds 160 degrees, the controller will run the pump briefly in the evening to bring the tank temperature back down to 160.

What if my roof needs replacing?

Ideally, any solar panel should be attached to a roof that will remain in good condition for the forseeable future. However, should repairs be necessary, Solar Energy Services, Inc. will remove and re-install your solar panels for a reasonable fee.

What sort of service does my solar electric (PV) system require over its lifetime?

Solar Electric (PV) systems require little to no service over their lifetime.  Most solar electric panels are warrantied for 20 + years, as are inverters, whether micro or string.

What sort of service does my Solar Water Heating system need?

We recommend a full system service every three to five years which includes an anti-freeze change and pressure check. Service costs are reasonable, based on time spent and materials used.

What sort of service requirements does my Solar Pool Heater have?

Your solar pool heater requires no maintenance beyond your usual pool winterizing procedures.

Are all solar systems roof-mounted?

Many – but not all.  Roof-mounted is usually the first consideration for businesses as the real estate is already established and usually sitting empty – other than HVAC equipment, vents and hatches etc.   Many racking systems are available that employ solar panels as sun canopies, car ports and standard ground-mounted systems.

Do solar systems require regular maintenance?

Most Solar PV (electric) systems do not have any routine maintenance items.   However, commercial systems with multiple inverters and a high number of solar panels protect their investment with a relatively inexpensive, customizable Operations and Maintenance (O & M) contract.  Ongoing remote monitoring alongside periodic site visits and electrical PMs insure that the system performance is optimal.  Any reductions in system output due to warranty issues, shading development or pests can be identified and remediated as efficiently as possible; ensuring the longest possible lifespan and maximum production for your investment.

Does my roof have to face Due South for the solar panels to be optimized?

Southerly  facing solar panels are optimal although East and West facing roofs still provide a substantial amount of power.  With the improving cost of solar, we are starting to see applications where panels on a north roof can be considered cost-effective, although these are typically low pitch rooftops.  Flat rooftops will always opt for the most southerly orientation, assuming no special circumstances.  Our solar designs and output analysis always take into account the expected output of all solar panels as it relates to orientation.

How much will a solar system cost?

Generally speaking, the upfront cost and Return on Investment will depend on three things:  1) Your location relative to available financial incentives (i.e. Washington DC’s incentives are different from Maryland’s).  2) Available shade-free roof space   3) Type of panels/equipment.

We are usually able to provide budgetary numbers fairly quickly.  This will assist in the decision to move forward with a precise solar design and 25yr cost/savings analysis.

Is it possible to be 100% free from the Grid

Possible – yes.  However, most of our installations are Grid-Tied ensuring that the business always has utility back-up during times of high usage or a power outage.   Furthermore, net-metering ensures that any unused energy feeds back the grid and credits the utility account – at full retail credit.

 Advancements in battery back-up (off-grid) systems continue in the marketplace.  However, these systems are still relatively expensive for what they offer.  A promising development for small to medium commercial customers has been the use of on-site battery storage to reduce energy demand charges during surges in electric demandSES does offer systems that may be retro-fitted for a battery system down the road.

Is it possible to supply ALL of my energy with a solar system?

This depends on the amount of available shade free area with respect to preferred solar array placement – roof or ground-mounted.    Most businesses maximize their available space in order to maximize their return.  Each kWh of electricity generated with solar offsets your grid-provided electricity which is subject to rate hikes.

We are usually able to provide a budgetary solar design fairly quickly that will illustrate how much of your current utility bill a solar system could offset.

What are my financing options?

The options beyond self-finance are many including: bank loans, leases, PPA’s and new off-balance sheet financing from programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy).   SES works alongside you and/or your financial advisor to find the most secure and cost-effective solution possible for your project.

What is the warranty on most commercial solar systems?

System warranties vary with equipment types and contract.  Here’s a typical commercial PV Warranty:

  • Solar Panels:  25 yr. warranty
  • Inverter(s):  12 yr. Warranty (extension to 25 years available)
  • Optimizers:  25 y.r Warranty
  • Workmanship:  2yr.  Operations and Maintenance Contracts available also.

Will my solar system work during a power outage?

Most of the systems we install are grid-tied.  Therefore, when the grid shuts down – so does the solar system.  This requirement insures the safety of utility workers during an outage  There are designs that allow a system to “island” from the grid in order to leverage the solar capacity during an outage.  Additionally, there  are new inverter systems that are able to offer small amounts of power during an outage, as long as the sun is shining.  Contact us for more details.