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Solar Energy FAQs

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Q: What is solar energy about?

A: Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, and the U.S. has some of the richest solar resources in the world. Modern technology can harness this energy for a variety of uses, including generating electricity, providing light or a comfortable interior environment, and heating water for domestic, commercial, or industrial use.

Q: How does solar technology work?

A: While solar is comprised of a diverse suite of technologies, there are three main types: photovoltaics (PV), solar heating & cooling (SHC), and concentrating solar power (CSP). Homeowners and businesses interested in going solar are primarily interested in the first two technologies, while utilities and large-scale energy project developers primarily utilize the latter.

PV panels directly produce electricity from sunlight, while SHC technologies use thermal (heat) energy to change the temperature of water and air. PV panels have no moving parts, and use an inverter to change the direct current (DC) power they produce to usable alternating current (AC) power. SHC technologies are often used to heat water for domestic or commercial use, but can also be used to heat or cool the air in buildings.

Most concentrating solar power systems use concentrated sunlight to drive a traditional steam turbine, creating electricity on a large scale. There are also concentrating solar technologies that use photovoltaic technology to produce electricity without a thermal process.

Q: What happens to solar panels when it’s cloudy or raining?

A: Photovoltaic panels can use direct or indirect sunlight to generate power, though they are most effective in direct sunlight. Solar panels will still work even when the light is reflected or partially blocked by clouds. Rain actually helps to keep your panels operating efficiently by washing away any dust or dirt. If you live in an area with a strong net metering policy, energy generated by your panels during sunny hours will offset energy that you use at night and other times when your system isn't operating at full capacity. Thanks to all that sunlight and utility net metering programs, we can build energy credits in the summer months and work off of them during our darker months. Solar panels also operate more efficiently in our cooler summer weather, which means more power than hotter climates, not less. Solar energy systems keep on working on cloudy days too, collecting scattered light and focusing it into power. Sure, cities like Seattle and Portland may not produce as much solar power as the southwestern states, but we still generate enough to make solar a financially and environmentally viable solution. In fact, our solar resource is better than Germany’s, which leads the world in solar energy installations.

Q: How much does a solar system cost?

A: Every rooftop or ground/pole installation is different, and solar installers in your area can provide the best information on what it will cost to go solar for your home or business. Once potential solar customers begin exploring their options, they often find that the total up-front cost of solar is less relevant than the financing terms, return-on-investment, and cash flow calculation. Solar leases and other innovative financing models mean that many people can go solar for little or no money down. Some solar customers save more on their electricity payments than they're paying for their panels, meaning that their investment is cash-flow positive from day one.

Q: How many homes can be powered by 1 megawatt of solar energy?

A: The current national average of homes powered by a MW of solar photovoltaics is 164.

However, the average number of homes powered per MW of PV varies from state to state due to a number of factors including:

• average sunshine (also called insolation)
• average household electricity consumption
• temperature and wind

The average number of homes powered per megawatt of PV for a given state is simply the quotient of the average PV system performance estimate and the average annual household consumption.

Q: What's in a Megawatt?

A: The U.S. solar industry is growing at an unprecedented rate. In 2016, the industry nearly doubled year-over-year with a record 14.8 gigawatts (GW) of installations. With more than 42,000 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity, solar energy generates enough clean electricity to power more than 8.3 million average American homes.

As solar becomes a more significant piece of the U.S. energy generation mix, it is important to understand just how many homes a megawatt of solar capacity can power. Below, we share how SEIA estimates the number of homes powered per megawatt of installed solar capacity, both photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP), and the variables that need to be considered in this calculation.

Q: Is the number of solar users and installations growing?

A: U.S. Solar Market Has Record-Breaking Year, Total Market Poised to Triple in Next Five Years The U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, nearly doubling its previous record and adding more electric generating capacity than any other source of energy for the first time ever.

Report: Solar Market Insight Report 2016 Year In Review
U.S. Solar Market Insight™ is a collaboration between the Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) and GTM Research that brings high-quality, solar-specific analysis and forecasts to industry professionals in the form of quarterly and annual reports. Released March 9, 2017

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 Press Release
In its Largest Quarter Ever, U.S. Solar Market Saw Nearly 2 MW of PV Installed Per Hour in Q3 2016 The United States solar market just shattered all previous quarterly solar photovoltaic (PV) installation records. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Q4 2016 U.S. Solar Market Insight report, 4,143 megawatts (MW) of solar PV were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of the year, a rate of one MW every 32 minutes.

Report: U.S. Solar Market on Track for a Record-Breaking Year
In the first quarter of 2016, 1,665 megawatts (MW) of solar PV were installed in the United States with the solar industry adding more new capacity during this period than coal, natural gas and nuclear combined. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) U.S. Solar Market Insight, Q2 2016, the 1,665 MW accounted for 64 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the first quarter of the year.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 Press Release: #MillionSolarStrong gains widespread support as 70+ organizations sign pro-solar declaration
The #MillionSolarStrong campaign is gaining widespread support with more than 70 organizations signing an official declaration favoring a strong role for solar energy as a part of America’s energy portfolio. The campaign is a recognition that the solar industry has raced past 1 million solar systems in the United States and is rapidly accelerating toward 2 million.

Q: What is “Net Metering”?

A: Net metering allows our customers to become “100 Percent Solar Powered” even without batteries.

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on the home's rooftop, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours.

Net Metering | SEIA - Solar Energy Industries Association
Oregon is considered the most favorable states for net metering, as they are the only states to receive an "A" rating from Freeing the Grid in 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_metering

What happens when solar panels generate more electricity than the homeowner can use during the day – is that, in an area that has net metering, the excess electricity flows back to the grid to serve nearby neighbors while your meter essentially runs backwards. Net Metering is the billing arrangement with your utility that determines how you will get credit for any excess renewable electricity delivered to the grid. A 'net meter' tracks both the electricity consumed and the electricity generated by the on-site solar or renewable energy systems. solarsimplified.org/connecting-to-the-grid/interconnecting-solar-with-my-utility

Net metering allows the consumer of energy to work with the utility to interconnect with the electric distribution system. It allows the consumer to use energy created by the utility when needed, while also allows the consumer to provide surplus energy generated by the consumer to go into the electric distribution system. When receiving federal and/or State grant assistance, surplus energy generated by the consumer is “donated” back to the electrical grid. If one pays for the system outright, consumers can sell their surplus energy to the grid.

Get an affordable home solar power system.

Have you wondered if you can afford a solar power installation for your home? It can be as little as $3,500 after incentives

How to Size your Solar System

Is Your Home Solar Ready?

A Good Solar Site

South, south-west, south-east facing Free of shade from 9am-3pm On sloped surface about 30 degrees (west of Cascades); 12-45 degree slopes still provide 95%+ of the ideal.
A good solar site

Solar Power Oregon: All You Need to Know!

Oregon may be infamous for being a little rainy once in a while. But Oregon has a lot to offer when it comes to developing renewable energy. As a state, Oregon and its residents are committed to staying green. And solar energy is a fantastic way for Oregon to honor this commitment. But not only can going solar help you save the environment but it can help you save your wallet as well.