Aerial view of a home with black solar panels on the roof

15 Things You Need to Know to Go Solar [Part 2]

Going solar should be simple, but the reality is there’s a lot to know about how solar works before you can start saving. Having a good understanding of solar basics will go far in guiding your decision of what company to work with and which proposal to sign. Your solar journey will be a much smoother one by being able to point out fishy information from misinformed solar companies (unfortunately they’re out there) when they come knocking on your door. Our solar educators are standing by with answers to any questions you may have as they come up. But to get you started with a few basics, here is Part 2 of the 15 things you need to know to go solar.

Basics & Benefits of Solar Power in North Carolina

Learn how solar works, how a solar system is designed, the costs and benefits, and why you should use a local solar company in NC from Graham, our solar designer!

8. What happens when the power goes out?

Solar panels generate electricity but they don’t store it. When the power goes out your system will not produce electricity without a battery. This is a common misunderstanding (and an understandable one) about how solar systems work!

Almost all the systems we install are grid-tied, meaning the solar system is connected to the utility’s grid and sends power back to the grid when more electricity is produced than the home needs. In the event of a grid failure, National Electrical Code requires that the solar system automatically shut-off to protect utility workers. If your system were to continue to generate power, it could injure linemen working to repair power lines that are being fed live power by your solar system. The only way to ensure their safety is by shutting the system off.

In order to have power during an outage, you’d need to add a battery backup system like a Tesla Powerwall. This will hold the energy your system produces to the battery so you can continue to power your home off stored energy and recharge during the day. Learn more about battery storage and everything you need to know about the Powerwall in our Tesla Powerwall Guide.

9. How does weather impact solar production?

As sun lovers, we’re over the moon (and sun) that North Carolina sees an average of 214 sunny days per year. But what happens to solar production on those cloudy, rainy, and snowy days in between?

Clouds & Rain

On gloomy days you can expect your solar production to dip, and when rain rolls in your production will dampen — just like our team’s spirit. However, not all hope is lost! Your panels will still be able to produce some energy even when it doesn’t look like the sun is shining all that much. 

Snow

When it snows, your solar production will grind to a halt as snow accumulates on your panels. Luckily for us sun-loving North Carolinians, we don’t see very many snow days. Once the flakes stop falling, the snow on your system will either melt or slide off — no need to sweep off your solar panels! Up north where the skies are greyer and snowfall is heavier, snow loads have to be accounted for when engineering the structural design for solar panel systems. Fortunately for us, that’s not an issue here! Fun fact, after the storm passes, you’ll get great solar production because your system will be nice and cold which means there will be less resistance in its wires, allowing the electricity it generates to flow more easily from your panels to your home.

What You'll See On Your Monitoring

The graphs below show the types of production and consumption patterns you might see on your energy monitoring depending on the weather.

10. How does an off-grid system work?

One of the most common goals we hear from solar curious people is “going off-grid”. In a true off-grid scenario, your home would not be connected to a utility company’s electric grid. You would produce all the electricity your home and family needs through your solar system during the day while also having a large battery storage system to hold enough energy to power you through the night. To maintain the average family’s lifestyle, this would mean a much larger financial investment.

Additionally, for a home that is already connected to the grid — or for a new home that can easily connect to the grid — going off-grid provides little to no practical benefit. It’s much less expensive and less complicated to reach annual net-zero energy usage (or even net-positive) by investing in a solar system while still maintaining your connection to the utility grid as a secondary source of power.

Energy independence and reaching a net-zero electricity use are definitely achievable — we just don’t typically recommend trying to go off-grid.

11. Battery Storage Overview

Whether you’re looking for energy security to keep your power on when grid outages happen, or if you want to power more of your home with clean solar energy, battery storage will help you reach those goals. Batteries store the extra power your solar system produces to be used later by your home. When the power goes out, batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall will still operate and the home will automatically switch over to the batteries to draw power. On top of that, the solar system will keep recharging the batteries so you can keep the lights on and ice cream chilled while the utility is fixing its issues.

Beyond backup power, battery storage can also be used to capture a higher value for solar in areas served by utility providers that don’t offer net metering or have more expensive rates during certain times of the day. In these scenarios, homes are able to maximize their solar savings potential by programming the battery system to store energy when rates are low to then be used when rates are high. Get the full scoop in our Home Battery Storage + Solar PV In 2019 blog.

12. Do solar systems require maintenance?

Solar panel systems in North Carolina require little to no maintenance or cleaning. In areas like Arizona that have high dust and little precipitation, cleaning your solar panels is a thing. However, here in the South-East, our temperate climate and relatively frequent rainy days means dust and dirt don’t really build up so cleaning your panels is not something you need to have on your to-do list. At most, homes with heavy tree coverage might experience some tree sap buildup. But if there is a significant amount of sap on your panels, you probably have trees too close to your home. We recommend that homeowners do not attempt to get on their roof to clean their panels — safety first!

For our friends at the coast, there is an official salt mist resistance test (IEC 61701) applied to solar panels. Any module that has this certification is rated to be installed along the coast. There are different levels to this test that give better protection the closer you get to the ocean, but most panels have at least level 1 certification.

Pollen

As for the NC pollen surge each year, there’s no need to add your solar system to your spring cleaning list. We model in the production loss from soiling (pollen, leaves, dust, water, deposits, etc.) when we design your system. One of our customers actually put their system to the test by tracking the impact of pollen on their solar system’s production. Based on what they tracked and calculated from their monitoring data, there was an insignificant decrease in production during pollen season. With solar panel cleaning packages in our area starting around $200, the lost production value is minimal and not worth the service fee. You’re best to tap into mother nature’s free cleaning service by waiting for the next rain to come through.

13. How durable are solar panels?

With hurricane season approaching, knowing how your solar system will hold up in wind and hail is important. Luckily, this isn’t something you  need to spend much time worrying about. 

Through our design and permitting process, the solar systems we install are specifically engineered to endure high wind-speeds and typically tested by manufacturers to ensure they can survive hurricane conditions. Most solar panels are certified to withstand winds of up to approximately 140 miles-per-hour. As long as your roof is in place, your panels will be right there with it. Additionally, the typical aluminum and glass casings that hold solar cells are highly waterproof, even during extreme rain. As for hail, most panels are engineered to bear the impact of hail 1” in diameter.

With that said: trees, falling limbs, and other debris could damage your solar system or the surrounding roof may be damaged. The good news is that the racking system we use allows us to easily remove the panels so that the roof can be repaired. If either of these events occur, the damages should be covered by your homeowners insurance and we will work with you to make sure you have all the information you need to file a claim.

14. Solar System Warranties

Most panels typically carry a 12 year product warranty and a 25 year power output warranty. The power output warranty guarantees that, in 25 years, each panel will produce approximately 85% as much electricity as it does when it’s first installed (the exact percentage varies by manufacturer). Note — after year 25 your panels will still continue to produce energy and will continue to degrade at the same rate. If a panel’s production level drops below the linear degradation rate defined in its warranty, the manufacturer will replace the panel! The inverter also has a standard 12 year warranty, while the optimizers will come with a 25 year warranty.

15. Basic Process of Going Solar

Every solar company’s process for helping you go solar is a little bit different, so we can only speak to how we do things.

  • Get Started. Here at Southern Energy, your solar journey begins as soon as you let us know you’re ready. Just fill out a free quote request online, give us a call, or even stop by our office!
  • Solar Education. Once you’ve reached out, one of our solar educators will be in touch to answer any questions you might still have about solar power and provide you with a preliminary site assessment to determine if solar is a good fit for your home.
  • Site Visit. If your home checks all the boxes for solar and you’re ready to continue on your journey, your educator will schedule a site visit for one of our solar designers to come out to your home to perform a shade analysis, review your energy use, and go over your goals for going solar.
  • Custom Design. Your designer will use this data to design a custom solar system for your home and needs with a detailed breakdown of your installation costs and solar savings. We’ll work with you to modify our proposal as many times as you want to make sure we’ve built the perfect solar energy system for you. Here’s some helpful tips for what to look out for on a solar proposal.
  • Sign Up. Now your solar journey really kicks into gear. Once you’re happy with your proposal and have signed your contract to partner with us, our in-house team springs into action to make your on-paper solar energy system a reality on your roof.
  • Pre-Install. Our solar dream team gets to work securing the right permits from your utility and local inspections department and ordering all the equipment for your solar project. This phase generally lasts 30-60 days, depending on the permitting requirements.
  • Solar Installation. This is the fun part! We’ll work with you to schedule a time-frame to install your solar system and then knock out all of the required follow-up inspections. All this happens without you lifting a finger (unless it’s summer and you decide to make our field team some ice cold lemonade).
  • Start Saving! Your solar journey is complete! Your system is up and running generating clean solar energy everyday. You can sit back and enjoy the financial and environmental benefits of solar for the next 30+ years!
Colonial home with a roof mounted solar system
Complete solar install on a gray roof in North Carolina

What’s Next?

By now you should be well on your way to becoming a solar educator yourself! If you have more questions or are ready to take the next step forward on your solar journey, you know what to do. Reach out to our professional solar educators, Mike or Davis, and let them know how we can help you.

Free Solar Power 101 Guide

This comprehensive PDF guide covers everything you need to know about home solar power basics!
PDF Guide

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