How we do it ...
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is PV?
PV is the abbreviation for Photo Voltaic which refers to generating electricity with solar panels. Most electricity in the United States is generated by burning coal but recent advancements in technology have made it possible for everybody to generate electricity competitively by using the energy which comes from the sun.
- Could I put solar panels on my home?
The only obstacles to PV are shade, local covenants, and money for the initial investment. The unobstructed view of the sun is very important since 10% shade reduces wattage output by 90%.
- How well do solar panels hold up to hail?
We found a video that blasts golf ball size ice at 250 mph and they bounce off the panels. But even still, I checked with our insurance company and, if they are attached to the house, they are insured.
- How much does it cost?
An installation of 10 panels (2225 watts) might cost approximately $6000.00. There is currently a 30% tax credit from the federal government which will bring the cost down to $4200.00. Prices are always changing but the general trend is downward. (8 years ago an installation to generate 2225 watts would have cost 8 times this amount).
- How much electricity will be generated with 10 panels?
There are lots of variables. Average homes, in average Kansas conditions, with average sun exposure = 10 panels might produce 1/3- 1/2 of a typical household use. Energy efficiency is still the simplest way to cut electricity use. Panels are most efficient when cold.
- How big should I build my PV system?
Most homes are limited by roof space and sun exposure issues. Kansas state law limits a residential system to 15 KW which is about 60 panels. Panels are 64 ½ inch x 38 11/16 with ¼ inch between each.
- How heavy are the panels? Can my roof hold them?
Panels weigh about 40 lbs. each. Standard codes allow for panels without additional roof structure if there is only one layer of shingles. If there are two layers of shingles, you may be required to add structure to your roof.
- Will the solar panels allow me to be independent of the grid and the utility company?
No. The systems we install are tied to the grid. The micro inverter technology limits the generation of electricity when the grid is detected. This makes them safe.
- Will PV pay for itself?
Yes. Depending on conditions, PV will pay for itself in 8-12 years. Initial studies indicate that homes with PV are worth more so there are investment benefits, too.
- What does the FHREEC Co-Op do?
The Co-Op is comprised of volunteers who believe renewable energy is the way of the future. We promote energy efficiency in every way possible. We educate and guide other members to install PV systems.
- What would the system look like?
Each solar panel has an inverter mounted on it. The inverter changes the low voltage DC current from the solar panel to AC house current. At the end of the array of panels are wires which go into your electric breaker box (wired by a licensed electrician). There are other safety devices in between like ground wires, lightning arrester, and an outdoor cutoff switch.
- What are the steps to getting PV?
You would start by getting the city code agency to approve your plan. Then you apply for a net meter with the utility company. The step by step procedure is outlined here. Insert Steps to PV link here.
- What is a Net Meter?
A net meter is a replacement of your electric meter with one that reads both directions- electricity that you buy from the utility and the electricity you sell back to the utility. What you simultaneously create and consume is not metered by the utility company.
- How do I know if my PV system is working?
Besides the net meter showing you what you sold back to the utility company, you can purchase the optional monitor system. This monitor system details the health of each inverter, can produce reports, and send emails if there is a problem. It is a web based system.
- What will my electricity bill look like?
Normally you are billed by the utility company a fixed rate charge (for the overhead wire infrastructure, billing, etc.) plus “volumetric” charges (how much electricity you used between meter readings). Volumetric charges are in kilowatt hours (kWh). A solar net meter customer will have an additional line item showing how many kWh were sold back to the utility company.
- How much will the utility company give me for the electricity which I sell back to them?
This depends on your arrangement with the utility company. Currently, with Westar Energy, they will give you the “avoided” costs which are the costs of coal. This amounts to 3 ½ cents per kWh. You are billed about 10 ½ cents. Why such a difference? Write your congressman- arrangements like these are subject to change.
- Will the utility company ever send me a check for the electricity which I sold them?
You must be dreaming. Westar’s current plan is that, every month, they credit the bill for what you sold them and subtracts it from what you bought from them. If you overbuild your system, you are sending them electricity for free which they sell to your neighbor- but giving free power to the utility company is preferred over burning fossil fuels.
- My net meter has a bunch of flashing numbers- what do they mean?
The net meter has 4 different displays but only 2 of them relate to most people. The meter is like an odometer but it also keeps a separate number for going in reverse. When the meter is installed, it read zero/zero. One number is how many kWh came from the grid and the other number is how many kWh went to the grid. The meter reader from the utility company takes a snapshot once a month, subtracts last month’s number from the current month’s number, and then your bill is calculated.
- What about other sources of power- batteries and wind for example?
Wind power is great since the wind in Kansas usually blows 24 hours a day. However, since wind generators are on towers and have moving parts (which need maintenance), we don’t recommend them for residential use. Battery technology is improving and will certainly play a role in the future.
- Why should I not delay in getting PV?
There always are changes in the “friendliness” of the utility company who allow us to produce some of our power. There is currently a rate change being proposed by Westar, for example, which is not solar friendly. Getting your own system in place would grandfather you in and could be very important if the rate change is approved by the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC). Also the federal tax credit of 30% is set to expire at the end of 2016.
- Why should I delay in getting PV?
There are always advancements in technologies. Also, if your roof is old, you may want to replace it before covering it with panels.
- What is Peak Load and why is it so important in the big picture?
Peak load is the “rush hour “for electricity. It usually occurs on hot summer days when lots of air conditioners are running. Since the utility company has to be ready to meet this high demand, all their generation, transmission, and distribution lines have to be sized big enough. Also, peak period electricity generation is more costly to produce. PV generators provide some help in this since hot sunny days usually translate to high solar output. Perhaps with enough PV and a little battery storage, we will eliminate the need for the utility company to build another massive fossil fuel power plant.
- What is the Watt-saver Program and why is it being mentioned here?
The Watt-saver Program is where Westar installs a programmable thermostat in your house that they can control. Their thinking is that if they ever have more electricity demand than they can produce, they can temporarily cycle off your air conditioner and then move on to the neighbor’s house and do the same. It seems like a simple solution to peak load problems.
- Do panels degrade over time?
Panels lose about half a per cent/per year in efficiency and they are guaranteed for 25 years.
- What is the carbon footprint for making a panel?
I’ve heard that they pay for their own footprint in about 2 years.
- What is Tracking?
Some solar arrays utilize a system where the panels always aim at the brightest part of the sky. Sun tracking increases efficiency by at least 35% and is more helpful for peak periods. However, tracking adds a maintenance component plus lots of up front expenses. I mention it because some people don’t have the roof space or much land that can be devoted to an array of solar panels.
- Do solar panels require maintenance?
Although there is no empirical evidence that staring at solar panels produce more power than panels which are ignored, I still like to look at them. The solar panel manufacturer claims that they are made with “self cleaning glass” which has a coating breaking down organic material and allowing water to sheet off of it to wash it clean. If they are mounted at a 35 degree angle or more, snow won’t stick for long after the sun shines. They will be a tiny bit more productive if they are clean.
- My roof faces East/West, will panels be effective?
Sure, but they will be less effective than if they were facing South. West facing can catch the evening sun which would be most useful during peak load.
- Will my property tax go up because my house is worth more?
Kansas law states that any portion of a property devoted to renewable energy cannot be taxed.