Helpful Oregon Solar FAQs

How does solar electric work?
Sunlight photons strikes the semi conductor cells and bumps electrons off in a continuous stream called direct current (DC). This DC current must be converted to (AC) in order for your household appliances and lights to operate. This conversion is the job of the inverter. If your solar array is generating more electricity than your house is using, the surplus is metered back to your utility and logged in your new bi-directional power meter. Any excess energy produced is credited back for your use during evening hours and periods of inclement weather.

What happens when the power grid goes down, will I still have power during daylight hours?
If your system is design and installed as a grid-tied system (connected to the electric grid), your inverter will shut down all production. This is done as a safety measure to prevent photovoltaic systems from back feeding the grid and potentially causing harm to the utility line workers. All grid-tied inverters are automatic and will once again energize once the grid is up.
Backup and redundant solar power generation systems can be designed and installed but are generally more expensive requiring automatic transfer switches, batteries and charging systems. It is generally not cost effective to install these solar backup systems unless there is a definite need for electrical power during power outages.

What happens if part of a solar panel is shaded?
Photovoltaic panels are sensitive to the angle and intensity of the sunlight striking them. However, the greatest impact to energy output is shading. Panels are made up of an array of solar cells which are interconnected in series like a chain. If a shadow falls on one cell, the chain is broken and the output of that entire panel is degraded.

What is a solar lease?
Solar leasing is an increasingly popular option for individuals and businesses that want solar on their roofs but do not have the means to purchase the system. A third party owns and installs the system, and has a (unusually long term) agreement with the building or land owner regarding the cost for purchasing the energy generated. The third part enjoys the incentives and the tax credits for the system, while the building (home) owner shows their support for clean and renewable solar energy.

Does solar add value to my home?
Energy conservation and renewable generation adds value to a home, Surveys have shown that for every $1,000 saved per year, $20,000 is added to a home’s value. Solar energy can be one of the best home improvement investments you make.

Do I need batteries with the system?
Batteries are only required if you want backup power when the utility is out of service. Without batteries, the system has no way to store power and delivers the generated power first to your home loads with any excess power delivered through your power meter into the grid.

How does the solar power get stored?
In a grid-tied system, power is not stored. It is either used immediately in the house or sent backwards through the power meter, creating a credit.

Do the solar panels need to be mounted on my roof?
Solar arrays are often mounted on the roof, but can also be mounted on the ground. Ground mounts are great if the house is shaded or if dormers or other obstructions limit available space on the roof. Ground mounts are often more practical for larger arrays.

What happens if the solar panels get covered with snow?
Solar electric panels need sunlight to generate power. While some does make it through several inches of snow, little electricity is generated when the panels are snow covered. Depending upon the pitch of the roof, panels will warm in the sun and the snow will slide off in a short amount of time. It is not recommended to clear the snow manually unless the array can be reached without a ladder.

How does solar energy help the environment?
Half of the electricity we use in Oregon is generated by power plants which burn fossil fuels. The emissions from these plants contribute to the climate change and pollution. The sun is a clean, renewable source of energy that can help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

How long does it take to install a solar electric system?
Typical residential systems take from 2 to 5 days to install. Scheduling local building authorities and your utility will take from 5 – 10 days. Systems mounted on the ground and systems with batteries are more complex and may take longer. Most of the time is spent outside your house, so there is little disturbance to you.

Can homeowners install their own solar electric system?
Yes, however there are many important facts to keep in mind:
You will be working with up to 500 volts DC at anywhere from 5 to 50 amps. Remember, only 15 milliamps can stop your heart.
To qualify for an Energy Trust incentive or an Oregon State tax credit, your system must be installed by an eligible Energy Trust Ally.

Will I need to replace my roof before I install a solar array on my home?
This dependents upon the current state of your current roof. Energy Trust of Oregon requires that the current roofing must have at least 10 more years of life prior to their approval of an incentive. The life determination will need to be performed and documented by a reputable roofing company. In most cases, the installation of a solar array will extend the life of the roof as the array blocks much of the damaging sun and weather exposure.

Why does my power company let me connect to their grid, isn’t this competition?
First, under Oregon’s new net-metering law, local utilitys are required to allow you to spin their meter backwards.
Second, your utility needs to add 5-6% more generation capacity per annum not to mention the need to replace end of life fossil fueled power plants.

Are the solar modules fragile?
No. While a solar modules is made of tempered glass, it is quite strong. Many manufacturers conduct impact tests to withstand up to golf-ball sized hail. Furthermore, the solar panels are regularly installed in extreme conditions such as those found in the Tropics to the Arctic regions.

What are the incentives for solar electric in Washington?
The State of Washington currently has a production based incentive program for solar electric installation. This means that the grid tied Washington residents with solar electric systems earn a certain price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of production starting at a base rate of $0.15 per kWh.
The base amount is then subjected to a multiplier depending on if the system is installed with an inverter and/or panels manufactured within the state of Washington.

  • X2.4 – for solar modules
  • X1.2 – for inverters

These multipliers can raise the price up to $0.54 per kWh up to $5000 max per year.
Washington residents can also take advantage of the Federal Tax Credit.