How does solar work?

A solar panel is made of photovoltaic cells. When photons from the sun hit the cells, electrons are released and can then be converted into electric power.

Solar Energy Defined
Solar energy refers to the conversion of the sun’s rays into useful forms of energy, such as electricity or heat. The amount of solar radiation a location receives depends on a variety of factors including geographic location, time of day, season, local landscape, and local weather.

How Solar is Used to Create Energy
When converted to thermal (or heat) energy, solar energy can be used to:
Heat water – for use in homes, buildings, or swimming pools.
Heat spaces – inside homes, greenhouses, and other buildings.

Solar energy can also be converted into electricity:
Photovoltaic (PV) or solar cells change sunlight directly into electricity.
Concentrating Solar Power Plants generate electricity by using the heat from solar thermal collectors to heat a fluid which produces steam. The steam is used to power a turbine and generate electricity.

Passive Solar Heating
A building can be designed to provide natural heating from the sun’s energy. A well-designed building can capture heat in the winter and minimize it in the summer by using heat absorbing building materials and positioning windows and shade structures where they will absorb or reflect the desired amount of heat from the sun.

Solar Heat Panels
Situated on the roof of a home or building, solar heat collector technology is used for water heating, space heating, and space cooling. Hot water solar collectors are often thin, flat, rectangular boxes with black transparent covers that face the sun. In the box, small tubes carry water or an antifreeze solution. Heated water can be transferred to storage tanks or antifreeze liquids can pass through coils in water tanks, thereby transferring the heat to the water. Solar collectors can also be used for space heating and even space cooling to heat or cool the air used in a building’s ventilation system.

Is solar a good investment for me?

The cost of solar PV systems has been declining dramatically in the past several years. Over the long run, installing solar on your home can save you money.

Why solar in South Carolina?

People

  • Installing solar systems in South Carolina means a variety of good jobs for South Carolinians. Click here for more information >>
  • According to the National Solar Jobs Census 2013, solar related jobs grew at 19.9% vs. 1.9% for the economy as a whole in 2013.
  • Generating electricity with solar PV systems does not pollute the air that we breathe, which means fewer asthma attacks and other health problems in our children and elderly.

Planet

  • Solar PV systems generate electricity using only the sun.
  • No greenhouse gas emissions to increase global warming.
  • No hazardous waste to pollute our rivers and lakes.
  • Doesn’t require large amounts of water to generate electricity
  • Doesn’t require large-scale mining for fuel.
  • www.ucsusa.org

Profits

  • Over the long run, putting up solar on your home can save you money.
  • You lock in the cost of electricity now and not have to worry about increases in utility rates down the road.
  • You can break even on your system in 9-10 years and you will still have 10-20 more years left on your system.
  • Your home will be worth more than your neighbor’s as a prospective buyer will receive a reduction on their electricity bill.

How much does solar cost?

The cost of solar PV systems has been declining dramatically in the past several years. Depending on the size of your system and after tax credit rebates; it can cost $3,600 – $4,000 for a small system to $9,000 – $10,000 for a large system that will cover 50% of an average SC electricity bill. Your solar installer can help you determine what size works best for you.

How long will it take to break even?

The short answer is about 9 to 10 years depending on many different factors such as your initial cost of the system, the change in your utility’s price of electricity, the orientation of your roof and any shading from trees. While this seems like along time, many solar PV panels have warranties of 20 years or more with lifetimes of 30 years or more. Over the lifetime of a system, your return on investment (ROI) could be 6% -7%! Your solar installer can help you determine how much electricity will be generated over the lifetime of the system.

For a more detailed spreadsheet on how costs are determined click here.

For updated information and fine print on incentives for solar, see www.dsireusa.org

Current Residential Tax Rebates (8/6/14)

  • State Tax Rebate 25% of total system cost up to $35,000. Can only take $3,500 or 50% of your tax liability per year for up to 10 years.
  • Federal Tax Rebate 30% of total system cost with no cap. This is set to expire 12/31/2016

Current Commercial Tax Rebates (8/6/14)

  • State Tax Rebate 25% of total system cost up to $35,000. Can only take $3,500 or 50% of your tax liability per year for up to 10 years.
  • Federal Tax Rebate 30% of total system cost with no cap. This is set to expire 12/31/2016
  • Federal MACRS depreciation (5 year property schedule)

Other incentives and resources:

PaCE (Palmetto Clean Energy Program)

Become A Generator and Qualify for a $0.10 per kWh Premium!

For a limited time, PaCE offers a premium of $0.10 per kWh for new renewable energy generators of 6 kW or less. This premium is available on a first-come-first-serve basis. PaCE, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, allows customers of South Carolina’s investor-owned utilities (Duke Energy, Progress Energy and SCE&G) to buy tax-deductible blocks of green, renewable energy for as little as $4 per month and have them added to South Carolina’s power supply.

Rural Development – USDA Rural Energy for America Program – Renewable Energy System and Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loan and Grant Program

www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_ReapResEei.html

How do I get started with solar?

Converting to solar energy doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Our certified installers can help assess your situation and advise you on how to move forward.

First, you must determine your objectives and describe them to your contractor. Determine:

  • The budget you’re comfortable with
  • The percentage of utility bill you’d like to cover
  • Which type of metering you want to use: net meter or sell all/buy all

Then you must ask:

  • For an appraisal of your site suitability
  • If the contractor will conduct a site evaluation and provide an estimate for free
  • If the estimate will be for a turnkey installation
  • If the contractor will provide a production estimate
  • If the contractor provides a service warranty

Always check for:

  • Contractor license and insurance
  • Contractor’s experience – previous jobs and success stories
  • Contractor’s knowledgeable – gives thorough answers and talks from experience
  • References – past customers and sub-contractors

Make a site evaluation checklist:

  • Is array location suitable (e.g., age of roof, position, shading)
  • Is the space sufficient for the size of the array – are measurements taken
  • Is there a good equipment location – tie in point

With all of this in mind, get quotes and research:

  • Review quotes with your original objectives in mind (price, % of your utility bill to be taken off, type of metering)
  • Make sure all of the quotes you look at are comparable (similar size, equipment, and warranty lengths)
  • Note technology differences (e.g., efficiency)
  • Compare equipment and service warranty
  • Power output estimate
  • Turnkey prices – estimated price for system that includes equipment, labor, etc.
  • Stability of installer – system life 25 years +
  • Contact your local utility for information about their practices
  • Check out the national Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy for rules, regulations, and policies for where you live

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