How does rooftop solar electricity work?
A solar electric system – using photovoltaic panels (PV) – generates electricity that can be used throughout your home to power the electric appliances and other devices or can be sold to your utility. To learn more about how this works, see “How do I sell my solar electricity back to the utility?” below.
What are watts, kilowatts and kilowatt hours?
The size of a solar electric system is often described in Watts (W) or kilowatts (kW). One kW = 1,000 W. Watts are a unit of power, just like the horsepower of an engine. They express the maximum possible output of energy the system can produce at any point in time. When sunlight strikes solar electric panels, they produce electricity that is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). One kilowatt-hour is a kilowatt of power sustained for one hour. Kilowatt-hours are the units of energy you buy from your utility and use in your home to run your appliances, lighting and electronics.
Is North Carolina sunny enough for solar?
Yes. North Carolina has twice as much solar potential as Germany, the current world leader in solar power. Environment North Carolina estimates that if solar were installed on 700,000 rooftops across the state by 2030, they would provide 14% of the state’s power.
Is my home right for solar?
After you sign up for your free solar assessment, Solarize will examine your property and let you know if it is suitable for solar. In general, solar works well on south-, west-, and to a lesser extent east-facing roofs. There should be little or no shading from trees, buildings, chimneys or roof gables on or adjacent to your home.
If your roof is old or damaged, you may need to replace part or all of your roof before installing solar. In some instances, an electrical upgrade may be needed if your home has older wiring. Your installer will help you assess these issues.
If your rooftop is not suitable, you might consider a ground-mounted system. Ground-mounted systems are priced individually, rather than receiving Solarize tiered pricing, but every ground-mounted system installed through Solarize helps us reach our program goals.
If I can’t install solar, or if I want to do more to reduce my energy bill or support clean energy, can you help?
Yes. We will provide some suggestions here. Check back soon! In the meantime, you can check out this U.S Department of Energy web page.
Who can participate in Solarize NC?
Anyone in a location with an active Solarize program can participate. See our Locations page for a list of locations and registration deadlines.
Can I participate in the Solarize program if I am not a homeowner?
We are working to develop solar solutions for renters but, at this time, you must own your home in order to participate in the Solarize program, unless you can convince your landlord to sign up.
Everyone – both homeowners and renters – can save energy and improve the comfort of their homes through weatherization. You can find information on energy efficiency and home weatherization on the Department of Energy website.
Do I need to be tied to the grid to participate in a Solarize project?
No, but this arrangement is generally most beneficial financially, at least in Duke Energy and Duke-Progress territory. Solar energy you produce is sent back out to the electric lines and is available for others to use. This provides greater community benefit for solar installations.
You also benefit because Duke credits you at the retail rate for the excess power that you produce (see “How do I sell my solar electricity back to the utility?” below).
How do I sell my solar electricity back to the utility?
Utility customers can choose whether they want to sell their solar power to the utility using net metering or a sell-all option (see next two questions below). Which option is best for you will depend on who your electric utility is, the size of the system you install, the amount of energy it is likely to produce, and how much energy you already use. Your installer will help you decide which option makes the most sense for your situation.
What is net metering?
When you install solar panels, if you opt for a net metering arrangement with your utility, your electric meter will be replaced. Your new meter will measure both the electricity you are purchasing from your utility and the electricity you are sending to the grid. The utility tracks both of these when it reads your meter, and you are charged only for your “net” energy use – the electricity you purchased minus what your solar system sent to the grid. If your solar system generates more kilowatt-hours than you purchase in a given month, you receive a credit on your account for those excess kilowatt-hours at the full retail rate. That credit can be used up in later months. However, all excess energy you have been credited gets zeroed out once a year, at the beginning of the summer billing season. This system of “net metering” is required of both Duke Energy and Duke Energy Progress by the North Carolina Utilities Commission (read more here). If you are not in Duke or Duke-Progress territory, ask your solar installer what your utility’s net metering terms are.
What is the sell-all option?
Under the sell-all option, you still buy all of your electricity from the utility company, but also generate electricity with your solar system. The utility purchases all of the power produced by your system, which goes out to the grid for distribution, and pays you a contracted rate for the energy. The rate that you can receive from the utility for your solar power is subject to many variables including the size of the solar system, the length of the contract, and the time of day the electricity is produced, but it is likely to be about half the retail rate. If you choose the sell-all option, you may be able to receive an additional payment from NC GreenPower, which pays solar system owners an additional incentive for the energy generated by their solar system on top of what they are paid by the utility. As of 2015, the NC GreenPower incentive for a residential solar system smaller than 5 kW was 6 cents per kWh.
Can I benefit from the state and federal tax credits?
The North Carolina renewable energy tax credit, which paid back 35% of the cost of your solar system, expired on Dec. 31, 2015. Legislation was introduced to extend the credit, but it never got out of committee, and efforts to extend the credit in the budget process also failed.
However, the federal tax credit that pays back 30% of the cost of your system, is in effect until the end of 2019; it drops to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. Beginning in 2022, the credit expires for residences and drops to 10% for businesses. The Federal credit can be taken over 2 years.
These amounts are deducted from the amount of tax you owe (before withholding), so if you do not owe enough taxes, you may not be able to claim the full tax credit. Since nonprofit organizations do not pay income taxes, they cannot benefit from the solar tax credits.
For more information on tax credits, please visit our tax information page.
NOTE: This information is provided as a guideline only. Consult your tax advisor for complete information applicable to your situation.
Can a nonprofit or government entity benefit from the tax credits?
No. Since nonprofit organizations do not pay income taxes, they cannot use the tax credits. Some models have been used by nonprofits in North Carolina to capture some of the tax benefit, and we are working on developing even better models. Please email us if you are interested in learning more about this.
Does my utility offer any additional incentives?
In previous years, customers of Progress Energy (now Duke Energy Progress) who installed between 2 and 10 kW AC of solar were eligible to apply for the SunSense program. They received a one-time upfront rebate and a monthly incentive payment for 5 years (for example, in 2015, Duke Energy Progress paid $250 per kilowatt AC upfront — down from $500 in 2014 — plus $4.50 per kilowatt AC each month for 5 years). SunSense customers had to switch to the time-of-use demand (TOUD) rate schedule, which was in some cases less advantageous than the flat rate schedule. Beginning in 2016, the SunSense incentive is no longer available.
Are there additional incentives for farms and other rural small businesses?
Are there any financing options available under the Solarize program?
If you are interested in purchasing a solar system through Solarize NC but would like financial assistance, your installer can tell you about various options. The Self-Help Credit Union has specialized loans for renewable energy systems. Details here. You may also want to explore your bank’s lending options, such as a home equity line of credit.
Will solar increase the value of my home or my property taxes?
While installing solar does increase the resale value of your home, it should not increase your property taxes. According to the North Carolina Department of Revenue, solar PV systems that are not used to “generate income in connection with a business” should not be included in the calculation of property taxes. (Details here.)
For an average-sized (6-kilowatt) system, we estimate the increase in home value to be $11,900 on the date of installation. Selling into the Sun is a January 2015 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that analyzed the increase in home value as a result of solar PV installation.
PV Value is a tool designed for real estate assessors to calculate the value of a solar installation based on the value of the electricity savings. It is based on research from the Department of Energy’s National Labs.
What solar products are available through Solarize the Triangle 2016 and what are the prices?
All systems will be installed by our pre-approved solar installation companies — Yes Solar Solutions and Southern Energy Management. Solarize keeps prices down by offering a limited number of equipment options. Email us for details on the pricing and equipment that the installers are offering in Solarize the Triangle 2016. The basic components are:
Modules (panels): REC Twin Peaks 280 kW and Hanwha Q Cell 260W; extra charge for Suniva (an all-black, US-made panel)
Inverters: standard — SolarEdge with optimizers; optional at no extra charge — SMA Sunny Boy TL (required if Secure Power Supply option is chosen; see below)
The SolarEdge optimizers allow each panel to operate separately from the others so that shading on one panel does not affect the output of the others.
Extra charges will apply for: steep roofs, three stories or more, vent-moving, online monitoring of production and any specialized equipment.
No battery storage systems are included in the Solarize package, but the systems offer flexibility for adding battery storage at a later date.
Commercial systems and ground-mounted systems will be priced individually and components will be selected on a case-by-case basis.
These systems generally do not provide power when the grid goes down. The reason is that they are automatically shut off so that power from the solar panels does not go out onto the grid and shock linemen who are working to restore power. However, the SMA Sunny Boy inverter includes an option (available to Solarize participants at no extra charge) called the Secure Power Supply, which offers a modest amount of daytime solar power when the utility grid is down. This optional feature requires the installation of an electrical outlet and switch.
What warranties are offered on Solarize products and what maintenance is required?
The warranties offered on the standard Solarize equipment package are: 10-year (SMA) or 12-year (SolarEdge) warranty on inverters; 10-year product warranty and 25-year power output warranty on panels (guaranteed 80% of original output after 25 years); and 5-year warranty on labor.
Solar panels are largely maintenance-free. Accumulation of pollen, pine needles and other material on the panels can affect power output, but rainfall in North Carolina is generally adequate to wash off the panels and keep that effect to a minimum. The installers offer maintenance contracts averaging about 4 cents per watt per year.
If I have solar panels, will I have electricity when the power goes out?
When the power goes out, your solar panels will automatically stop providing electricity to your home. Since your solar system is connected to the electric grid, if someone is working on the lines to bring the electricity back on in the neighborhood, the energy from the solar system could harm the worker if the system remained on.
However, if you choose the Sunny Boy inverter, you have the option of installing the Secure Power Supply feature, which gives you a separate outlet that provides a small amount of power from your solar system during a power outage.
Can my Solarize system be connected to battery storage?
Battery storage technology is advancing and becoming more cost effective at an astounding rate. This technology, when combined with a solar PV system, will enable homeowners to store excess energy created by their solar system to use when the sun isn’t shining. The SMA Sunny Boy family of inverters is designed to be used in conjunction with the SMA Sunny Island System Controller for battery storage should the homeowner decide to purchase such a system in the future.
How long will the installation process take?
The typical residential system takes less than one week to complete.
What kind of permits do I need?
Your installer will take care of building and electrical permits for you and the cost is included in your installation price.
What can I do if my utility is taking too long to install my new meter, or if I have other problems with my utility?
If your installer tells you that it is taking longer than it should to get your new meter, or if you experience other problems with your utility interconnection process, you can file a complaint with the NC Utilities Commission. Call 1-866-380-9816 or 919-733-9277, email Consumer.Services@psncuc.nc.gov or write to:
Public Staff of the Utilities Commission
Consumer Services Division
4326 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-4326
Can I put solar on my roof if I live in a historic neighborhood?
If your home is in a designated historic neighborhood, your system design might need to be reviewed prior to installation. Your installer and municipal planning office will be able to help you navigate this process and do their best to put solar on your home while providing a design that meets the requirements in your neighborhood.
Can my Homeowners’ Association prevent me from installing a solar array on my property?
Some HOAs may require prior approval from the HOA Board of Directors before installing a solar system on your roof – particularly if the system will be visible from any public space such as roads. We recommend that you review your HOA’s covenants to determine if there are any restrictions in place. Your installer can help you troubleshoot any problems you have obtaining approval from your HOA. North Carolina law places some restrictions on an HOA’s ability to prohibit installation of solar panels. Read more here and read the actual law here.
The Solar Outreach Partnership and the NC Clean Energy Technology Center (formerly the NC Solar Center) have produced these materials to help HOAs adopt solar-friendly guidelines in their covenants:
Model Solar Guidelines (2 pages)
The Benefits of Going Solar: A Resource for North Carolina Homeowners’ Associations (tri-fold brochure)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Procedures (28 pp.)
Does the material or condition of my roof matter?
Solar arrays can be installed on most roof types including shingle, metal and tile.
If your roof is in poor condition, you may need to replace it or make repairs prior to having a solar system installed. Your installer can help you determine the condition of your roof and what steps to take.
How much space do I need on my roof?
A good rule of thumb is that 1 kW of solar electric panels require about 100 square feet of space and will typically produce 1,000-1,500 kWh of electricity each year.
Will my system be covered by my homeowner’s insurance?
The Solarize installers offer a 5-year warranty on their work and the individual components of the solar system have warranties that cover any malfunctions of the equipment.
However, every homeowner should contact their own insurance provider when installing a solar array so that their coverage can be adjusted to protect their system in the event of storm damage, theft, or vandalism.
Your utility may require you to show that your homeowner’s policy carries a certain amount of liability coverage before they will allow you to interconnect to the grid. Your installer will tell you what the requirement is for your utility.