How Solar Electricity Systems Work

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How Solar Works

We can change sunlight directly to electricity using solar cells. Every day, light hits your roof’s solar panels with photons (particles of sunlight). The solar panel converts those photons into electrons of direct current (“DC”) electricity. The electrons flow out of the solar panel and into an inverter and other electrical safety devices. The inverter converts that “DC” power (commonly used in batteries) into alternating current or “AC” power. AC power is the kind of electrical that your television, computer, and toasters use when plugged into the wall outlet.

net energy meter keeps track of the all the power your solar system produces. Any solar energy that you do not use simultaneous with production will go back into the electrical grid through the meter. At night or on cloudy days, when your system is not producing more than your building needs, you will consume electricity from the grid as normal. Your utility will bill you for the “net” consumption for any given billing period and provide you with a dollar credit for any excess during a given period. You can carry your bill credit forward for up to a year.

Solar Cells

Solar cells are small, square-shaped panel semiconductors made from silicon and other conductive materials, manufactured in thin film layers. When sunlight strikes a solar cell, chemical reactions release electrons, generating electric current. Solar cells are also called photovoltaic cells or “PV cells” and can be found on many small appliances such as calculators.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System Components

A PV system components include PV modules (groups of PV cells), which are commonly called PV panels; one or more batteries; a charge regulator or controller for a stand-alone system; an inverter to covert solar power from direct current (DC) to the alternating current (AC) of the utility grid-connected system; wiring; and mounting hardware or a framework. A PV module arranges individual PV cells, and the modules are grouped together in an array. Some of the arrays are set on special tracking devices to follow sunlight all day long and improve system efficiency.

PV System Installation, Maintenance, and Longevity

You could install a photovoltaic (PV) or solar electric system yourself. But to avoid complications or injury, you will probably want to hire a reputable professional contractor with experience installing solar systems. While they are sophisticated electric systems, PV systems have few moving parts, so they require little maintenance. The basic PV module (an interconnected, enclosed panel of PV cells) has no moving parts and can last more than 30 years while requiring little maintenance. The components are designed to meet strict dependability and durability standards to withstand the elements. The best way to ensure and extend the life and effectiveness of your PV system is by having it installed and maintained properly. Most PV system problems occur because of poor or sloppy system installation. Solar systems that receive rebates through California utilities are required to have a 10-year system warranty.

Incorporating PV Systems into Your Home and Business

PV systems today can be blended easily into both traditional and nontraditional homes, powering appliances and electric systems. PV cells can be installed as a stand-alone module that is attached to your roof or on a separate system, or using integrated roofing materials with dual functions – that as a regular roofing shingle and as a solar cell making electricity. The most common practice is to mount modules onto a south-facing roof or wall. PV systems likewise can be blended into virtually every conceivable structure for commercial buildings. You will find PV used outdoors for security lighting as well as in structures that serve as covers for parking lots and bus shelters.

Sunlight Requirements for PV Systems

A photovoltaic (PV) system needs unobstructed access to the sun’s rays for most or all of the day to be effective. Shading on the system can significantly reduce energy output. Climate is not a major concern because PV systems are relatively unaffected by air temperatures, and snow cover typically melts quickly because panels are positioned directly into the sunlight. Abundant year-round sunshine makes solar energy systems useful and effective nearly everywhere in California.

The Size of Your Solar PV System

The size of your solar system depends on several factors such as how much electricity or hot water or space heat you use, the size of your roof, how much you’re willing to invest, and how much energy you want to generate. Contact a system designer/installer to determine what type of system fits your needs or use one of the Go Solar California online calculators to determine what system size will offer you the best financial payback.

Other Solar Technologies

  • Concentrating solar power (CSP) systems concentrate the sun’s energy using reflective devices such as troughs or mirror panels to produce heat that is then used to generate electricity.
  • Solar water heating systems contain a solar collector that faces the sun and either heats water directly or heats a “working fluid” that, in turn, is used to heat water. For more information on installing a solar water heating system, please see the CSI Solar Thermal section of the Go Solar California website.
  • Transpired solar collectors, or “solar walls,” use solar energy to preheat ventilation air for a building.

Useful Links to Learn More about How Solar Works

PV Basics
Solar Water Heating
Solar Photovoltaic Cells Explained
How Does Solar Power Work and How Do We Use It?

How to decide if solar is right for your home

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There’s a lot to consider when thinking about upgrading your home. Deciding on the details of an upgrade usually involves comparing costs, choosing contractors, reading reviews, and doing a ton of research. Luckily, homeowners are now getting some extra help from tech companies to help them decide whether going solar is a smart upgrade for their home. Online services, like those offered by Google and Zillow, reflect a rising interest in residential solar energy and provide an increasingly easy way for homebuyers and homeowners to find out if their home is solar eligible.

An important thing to remember is that while the technology is great it doesn’t replace getting an actual solar quote from a true solar professional who can determine how much energy your roof can produce and how much money you’ll save.

Google’s Project Sunroof calculates your potential solar savings.

Google is using increasingly sophisticated technology to calculate the potential savings you can expect from going solar. Project Sunroof uses Google Maps, Google Earth, 3D modeling, and machine learning technology to estimate the amount of sunlight your roof gets throughout the year. Project Sunroof also looks up typical electricity rates and solar energy prices for your region, as well as available solar rebates and incentives provided by your state. Google’s proprietary algorithm then crunches the numbers for you to determine how much you could save over the next 20 years by switching to solar energy.

Over 60 million roofs across the country have been analyzed since the tool launched in 2015, and the results are encouraging. A whopping 79% of roofs in the United States could save by going solar! Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Antonio, and New York City have the highest city-wide solar potential of all cities analyzed, with San Diego, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Albuquerque rounding out the top 10. According to Google, 8 million homes across the country could be powered if just these 10 cities reached their solar potential!

When one neighbor goes solar, so goes the neighborhood.

As of June 12 this year, Project Sunroof will not only tell you how much money you’ll save by switching to solar energy–it’ll also let you know which homes in your neighborhood have already made the switch. That’s right–when you view a map of your neighborhood in Project Sunroof, you’ll see a red dot over every home or structure that appears to have rooftop solar panels installed. Soon, your home could be one of them: it’s never been easier to evaluate your options, and solar energy prices are at an all-time low.

Zillow’s Sun Score makes it simple to consider solar potential when shopping for a new home.

Homebuyers can now look to Zillow’s Sun Score to determine whether a home they are considering is well-suited for solar energy production. The scores are calculated by Sun Number, a Minneapolis-based company, using a proprietary algorithm. Much like Project Sunroof, Sun Number accounts for variables like the size and shape of the roof, shade from nearby trees, and the amount of sunlight the home can expect to receive each year. Homes are rated from 0 to 100, with a Sun Score of 100 indicating the highest possible solar potential for a home.

Zillow now lists Sun Scores alongside more traditional real estate information like square footage, number of bedrooms, and lot size. The company’s decision to include Sun Scores shows that solar energy potential has become an important consideration for a growing number of homebuyers.

The future’s looking bright.

A big reason why so many homeowners are becoming interested in solar: the savings potential is huge. In the past, homeowners considering going solar were faced with the high cost of installing panels. Today, however, solar panels are more efficient and affordable than ever before.

Solar leases and power purchase agreements provide additional financing options beyond purchasing your solar system outright. As pioneers of the solar lease, Helios Solar Development has made it possible for homeowners to go solar for little to $0 down, getting access to the solar power without having to purchase the panels. That said, as the largest residential solar provider in the country, we know that every home has unique needs. That’s why we offer a variety of products to suit every home and every homeowner’s preference.

To top it off, modern solar panels have a lifespan of about 20-30 years, which means you could lock in lower energy rates for decades at a time by making the switch to solar. In fact, the average price of solar energy nationwide has dropped 67% in the last five years. Compare that to the rising cost of electricity, and you could be saving 20% on your energy bills for the next 20 years.

Going solar is a smart decision, and it’s easier than ever to find out which product is best for you.

How much do solar panels cost in the U.S. in 2017?


You’ve probably heard about how solar energy can reduce your electricity bills, but how much do solar panels really cost? The easiest way to calculate the average cost of solar panels is to look at its price in dollars per watt, which is relatively consistent across the United States.

How much do solar panels cost?

In 2017, most homeowners are paying between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt to install solar, and the average gross cost of solar panels before tax credits is $16,800. Using the U.S, average for system size at 5 kW (5000 watts), solar panel cost will range from $10,045 to $13,475  (after tax credits).

That’s nine percent lower than it was a year ago, and solar panel system costs are continuing to fall. However, to really understand what a single solar panel will cost and what a complete solar system will cost, it’s important to compare prices quoted to homeowners in your area – total costs can vary depending on the state that you live in.


Average cost of solar panels based on system size

Knowing the average cost per watt is helpful, but what does $3.16/watt actually mean for you? The cost of installing solar on your home or business depends on how much electricity you want to generate – a bigger system will cost more, because you’ll need to buy more equipment and more labor will be needed to install it.

The average solar energy system size in the U.S is approximately 5 kilowatts (kW). Based on the average price of $3.16/watt, a 5kW system would cost $11,060 after tax credits. Below are some average 2017 quotes for other solar energy systems by size:

  • 6kW solar energy system cost: $13,300
  • 8kW solar energy system cost: $17,700
  • 10kW solar energy system cost: $22,100

These prices reflect the cost of a solar energy system after deducting the federal solar tax credit, which reduces your solar system cost by 30 percent. Some states, local governments, and utilities also offer rebates and other tax incentives that can further reduce the solar system costs in your quotes from solar installers.


The price of solar panels will also vary from state to state. EnergySage analyzed quote data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to develop a range of solar panel system prices for top solar states:

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