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FREQUENT QUESTIONS

Solar Panels on Trees

Common Queries

Here you can find a number of frequently asked questions related to our products and our services. We have tried to include a wide array of questions and answers, but if you still have a question that we haven’t answered, please get in touch directly and we will be happy to try and answer it in person.

General FAQ

How are roof solar panels installed?

Rooftop solar panels are installed with mounting systems either attached to the roof or ballasted with heavy blocks. Ballasted installations are used on flat roofs and require no penetration from the roof. For tilted or pitched roofs like asphalt, a small pilot hole is drilled into the truss of the roof frame. This pilot hole allows the mounting bracket to attach to the roof and the plate that holds the panel is flashed with the rest of the roof to prevent leaks. For metal roofs, clamps are used to hold the panels in place. In both cases, the panels and mounting system can withstand very high-powered wind loads and storms.

What are the financial benefits of solar energy?

Home and business owners may realize a 10% ROI or better. Given their longevity, the systems may pay for themselves well within their lifetime. As energy prices continue to rise, the return on investment should also improve.

How does solar help the environment?

Expanding solar energy in our electrical supply is vital for a transition from a fossil fuel-based grid to renewable energy. Solar panels are mainly silicon, glass and wires. It is estimated that in just two years, the renewable energy produced by your solar PV system will exceed the embedded energy used in the production of the modules. The glass, wiring, and metal used in solar panels can be recycled for raw materials for future construction projects.

How do I know what size solar electric system I need?

Your best starting point is to determine how many kilowatts of power you need is to look at how many kWhs (kilowatt hours) home, business, or organization used in each of the previous 12 months. With this, we can compare expected monthly solar energy production to your electricity usage. Annual electricity usage total is also a good start. You’ll find your monthly kWh records via paper copies of your utility bills, a phone call to your utility provider, or through your online utility account.

What is the best location for a solar array?

A south-facing area that gets sun from approximately 9 am to 3 pm is best. Solar systems also work well even when facing west or east, if that’s your best option. We can mount the systems on the majority of roof types, including a variety of materials used on pitched and flat roofs. Systems can also be ground-mounted.

How long do solar panels last?

Solar panels can last between 30-35 years, with manufacturers’ warranties typically lasting 25 years. Each year, the panel’s efficiency degrades by a small percentage. Yet after 25 years, high-efficiency panels produce 85-92% of the energy as they did in year one

Residential FAQ

How do solar panels work for residential homes?

Like plants and photosynthesis, solar panels take the power of the sun and turn it into energy. Here’s how it works. The photons from the sun shine down on the panels, they excite electrons in the panel’s cells, which then move to its circuits. This direct current energy travels from the roof to an inverter which converts the direct current (DC) energy to alternative current energy (AC) for your home’s energy use. The inverter connects to your home’s electrical system at the panel box or at the meter. In the installations Commonwealth Solar Energy completes, your home is always tied to the utility grid to receive power when the sun goes down. Alternatively, the energy can be stored in batteries to be withdrawn at night. Your bi-directional meter tracks the energy generated from your array that exits your home as well as the energy your home consumes from the grid. When the grid is down, and if you have no batteries, your inverter will not allow energy to exit your home to protect the utility workers repairing the lines.

How much can I save with solar panels?

It depends on how much your system costs, how much energy your array produces, and the cost of electricity in your area. This will determine how much money will need to be offset (the costs) and how much will be saved via lowered energy costs (savings). Some homeowners can reduce their energy bills by 50% or more in the course of the year. The paybacks for solar systems can range from 8 to 15 years, depending on the type of incentives offered and the size of the solar PV system.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover solar panels?

Homeowners policies typically cover solar arrays, but check with your insurance agent if you need additional coverage. In some cases, additional coverage may be necessary as you are adding value to your house. Your electric cooperative may also require proof of insurance before setting up your array.

What happens when you sell or buy a house with solar panels?

Your home with a solar array will be more attractive to a future homebuyer. Recent analysis from Zillow showed in mature solar markets, homes with solar were 4% higher in value than a comparable home without solar. When you buy a house with solar, you are getting an energy generation system that pays for itself. No other appliance in the house can create a positive cash flow. Contact Commonwealth Solar Energy when you sell or move into a home with solar. Our service department can show you how to hook up your system and ensure years of smooth operation.

Is my roof suitable for solar panels?

Solar can be placed on a variety of roofs, roof types, and buildings. While south facing roofs are the best place for a solar array, east or west facing roofs can also be suitable. However, it will produce slightly less energy. It is not advised to put solar on a north facing roof. Similarly, ground mounts should face the south and have no tree obstructions or shading if possible. We install arrays on asphalt shingle roofs, metal roofs and TPO-covered flat roofs, just to name the more popular roof types. We do not install on slate or tile roofs.

Can I afford solar panels for my home?

Purchasing a solar PV system is similar to buying a car. Purchasing an array with cash or financing depends on your current situation and goals. Financing allows you to spread out the payments of the system over several years, but you do pay for service and interest charges.

How much is my electric bill with solar panels?

It depends on how much energy can be offset with your solar PV system. A typical solar homeowner offsets about 70% of the energy with a solar PV system. In many cases, this amount of energy can provide all the energy needed for the high solar months of April to September. With net metering, you may only pay the customer charge during those months. The baseline customer charge will vary utility from utility.

Commercial & Industrial FAQ

How do solar panels work for businesses?

Like plants and photosynthesis, solar panels take the power of the sun and turn it into energy. Here’s how it works. The photons from the sun shine down on the panels, they excite electrons in the panel’s cells, which then move to its circuits. This direct current energy travels from the roof to an inverter which converts the direct current (DC) energy to alternative current energy (AC) for your business’ energy use. The inverter connects to your business’ electrical system at the panel box or at the meter. In the installations Commonwealth Solar Energy completes, your business is always tied to the utility grid to receive power when the sun goes down. Your bi-directional meter tracks the energy generated from your array that exits your business as well as the energy your business consumes from the grid. When the grid is down, your inverter will not allow energy to exit your business to protect the utility workers repairing the lines.

Impact on Property Assessment

Virginia offers a special property tax assessment for solar. The alternative valuation will be the lesser of two values: the value of a conventional heating and cooling system, or the value of the solar energy system, whichever is less. Missouri’s property tax exemption for solar states that solar energy systems not held for resale are exempt from all state, local, and county property taxes.

What equipment vendors do you work with?

Commonwealth Solar Energy works with a variety of top-tier solar energy equipment vendors. A portion of our solar components are sourced through our Amicus Solar Cooperative partnership, which allows us to obtain high-quality components with cost savings achieved through quantity.

Agricultural FAQ

How do solar panels work for farms?

Like plants and photosynthesis, solar panels take the power of the sun and turn it into energy. Here’s how it works. The photons from the sun shine down on the panels, they excite electrons in the panel’s cells, which then move to its circuits. This direct current energy travels from the roof to an inverter which converts the direct current (DC) energy to alternative current energy (AC) for your farm’s energy use. The inverter connects to your farm’s electrical system at the panel box or at the meter. In the installations Commonwealth Solar Energy completes, your farm is always tied to the utility grid to receive power when the sun goes down. Alternatively, the energy can be stored in batteries to be withdrawn at night. Your bi-directional meter tracks the energy generated from your array that exits your farm as well as the energy your farm consumes from the grid. When the grid is down, and if you have no batteries, your inverter will not allow energy to exit your farm to protect the utility workers repairing the lines.

What are the mounting options for a solar PV array at our farm?

You will have several mounting options for a solar array at your farm. We install on pitched asphalt and metal roofs, flat roofs, even buildings with a curved roof such as those commonly found in agricultural settings. You may find that a ground mount is an attractive option, provided we can help you determine whether you have adequate ground space for a solar array.

How long is the installation process from concept to activation?

The typical solar project timeline from contract signature to solar energy production is generally between 2-4 months, depending on the complexity of interconnection with your local utility.

Oftentimes we will locate your array in an area where livestock will not interact with it often, in order to reduce the risk of damage by livestock to your array.

How do I protect my array from livestock?

How involved is the REAP application process?

The REAP grant application process does involve paperwork, which is easier to manage if your business’ paperwork is already in good order. However, you will need to locate and pull the required records. Allow at least one month preparation time to organize and gather your files, submit them to the grant writer, and allow time for processing. For more information go to the Rural Energy for America Program Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loans & Grants website.

How long should it take to see a return on investment?

Many agricultural operations will have their entire investment paid back within 5 years.

Government & Non-profit FAQ

How do solar panels work for a nonprofit entity?

Like plants and photosynthesis, solar panels take the power of the sun and turn it into energy. Here’s how it works. The photons from the sun shine down on the panels, they excite electrons in the panel’s cells, which then move to its circuits. This direct current energy travels from the roof to an inverter which converts the direct current (DC) energy to alternative current energy (AC) for your building’s energy use. The inverter connects to your buildings’s electrical system at the panel box or at the meter. In the installations Commonwealth Solar Energy completes, your building is always tied to the utility grid to receive power when the sun goes down. Alternatively, the energy can be stored in batteries to be withdrawn at night. Your bi-directional meter tracks the energy generated from your array that exits your building as well as the energy your building consumes from the grid. When the grid is down, and if you have no batteries, your inverter will not allow energy to exit your building to protect the utility workers repairing the lines.

What tax benefits are we eligible for?

Tax-exempt organizations are not eligible to use solar tax benefits such as the 30% Federal Tax Credit or MACRS depreciation.

How do tax-exempt entities typically fund a solar project?

Tax-exempt entities may indirectly realize the savings of solar tax benefits by partnering with a for-profit third party who can purchase the solar equipment and perform the installation on behalf of your organization. Learn more about third-party financing for tax-exempt organizations by visiting our Government/Nonprofit Financing section.

Are there other ways to finance a project?

Aside from a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or Lease through Commonwealth Solar Energy and our financing partner, your tax-exempt organization could also form a single-purpose business entity, usually in the form of an LLC. Tax benefits for the solar array, chiefly the 30% Federal Tax Credit and MACRS depreciation, would trickle down to the members of the LLC. Filing for an LLC will require legal expertise and approximately $1,000 in filing fees.

How can I teach my community or my students about solar energy?

Commonwealh Solar Energy is dedicated to fulfilling our CLEARE values. In fact, the first “E” in CLEARE stands for “Educate.” We take this to heart by spreading knowledge about solar to not only customers, but also students, businesses, organizations, and anyone with a keen interest in learning about solar.

Solar Group Buy FAQ

Can a solar group buy be leveraged as a fundraiser for our organization?

Yes, a solar group buy program can be used to raise funds for your organization. A common model for fundraising with a solar group buy is to pre-designate a donation amount for each kilowatt (KW) of solar that is installed within the group buy program. Learn more about our fundraising opportunities for Nonprofits.

Is there a minimum level of participation for our community to realize savings?

A solar group buy will allow your community to save on solar with no minimum for participation. We’d like your solar group buy to have a certain goal in mind, and will work with your organization to set specific reward levels to encourage community participation. Generally, we scale these goals according to the size of your community.

What is the time commitment for our community to participate in a group buy?

Solar group buys can run for as much or as little time as your community would prefer and time commitment to adequately promote the program depends on the size and range of your community group. For a mid-size town, we’d recommend a 4 month program with educational meetings every other week for the first 3 months.

Does running a solar group buy program cost our organization/community money?

Depending on the exact design of the program, administration and promotion may be funded by a grant or by a fee paid by the installation partner selected by your organization.

Will our organization be liable for issues that may arise?

Your organization will not be liable for installation quality issues. Commonwealth Solar Energy is a fully insured and bonded local business and each installation entails a contract between the specific home or business owner and our company.

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