Last Updated: 6/12/2016

Plano Solar Advocates: Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. You are encouraged to visit the Texas Solar Energy Society website FAQ section - see FAQ-SolarPV. There are many great questions and answers provided.
  2. How big is a solar PV system? An average residential system is 5 kW (kilowatt), which is about 20 panels. Systems come in many sizes and vary depending on your energy goals. The solar installer will review your current and average energy usage to design a system that will produce the correct amount of power to suit your needs.
  3. How long does the system last? Solar panels last a very long time. Most companies offer a warranty for 20-25 years, but the system is expected to last longer. The panels are designed to withstand hail, hurricane force winds, and rainstorms.  Most homeowners insurance policies cover professionally installed solar energy systems.  Contact your own company for details.
  4. Do the solar panels need to be mounted on a roof? Panels are often mounted on the roof, but can also be mounted on the ground if the space is available. Keep in mind, wherever the panels are located needs to be free of shade. Roof mount systems are most common in residential installations.
  5. How much is solar worth? Based on the amount of energy that will be produced over the life of the system and using current installed system prices after incentives, a typical solar PV system in North Texas will be generating electricity for about the equivalent of 5-7 cents per kWh.
  6. What happens if it’s raining or cloudy? Does shade matter? The panels can still produce if it’s cloudy, but the production will not be the same as it is when the sun is shining. A permanent shade caused by a tree could seriously restrict the productivity of your panels. Your solar installer will review your surroundings to make sure your panels will not be unduly shaded.
  7. Do the panels need to face south? PV modules should be oriented geographically to maximize the amount of daily and seasonal solar energy that they receive. In general, the optimum orientation for a PV module in the northern hemisphere is true south. However, your modules can face up to 45º east or west of true south without significantly decreasing its performance.
  8. Can my HOA prevent me from going solar? In Texas, legislation prevents Homeowner’s Association from trying to stop you from going solar.  Contact us if you have any questions or problems. Also see our “Policy & References related to HOAs” section on our Useful Links page
  9. Is there any regular maintenance required? Cleaning the panels might be required occasionally. However, as long as it rains every once in awhile, then nothing extra is needed.
  10. Roof age and condition -  When preparing to install a solar PV system, you will want to make sure that your roof is in good condition.  After the system is installed, the roof can be replaced, but there will be the added expense of removing and re-installing the solar PV system. Therefore, if you don't know how old your roof is, or if you know it's more than 10 years old, you should consider getting a roofer to inspect your roof and give you their recommendations regarding the overall condition of your roof. Most reputable roofers offer free evaluations. For a composition roof, some warning signs might be:
  1. Your roof is over 15 years old
  2. Shingles that are worn or discolored, broken, cracked, or curling at the edges.
  3. Lots of shingle granules in the gutters
  4. Missing shingles or flashing
  5. Sagging roof deck
  6. Leaks!
  7. Note - You should have your system covered on your homeowners insurance policy and if the roof has to be repaired or replaced as part of a claim, the cost of removing and re-installing the solar PV system would generally be covered by the roof claim.
  1. Roof and building structure - A structural engineer, normally hired by the solar installation company will inspect the structural integrity of the roof prior to installing a roof mounted solar system. In addition, a structural inspection is often part of the permitting and inspection process for local jurisdictions.  In almost all cases in our area, there are no modifications required to the building roof structure because the structural load of the panels is well within the building code requirements that have been in force for many decades.
  2. Financial and economic considerations - What is my payback, ROI, etc... This question is understandably asked a lot.  However, to answer it with some reasonable amount of certainty, you need to know what electricity prices will be in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years... Try calling your electricity provider and getting them to commit to a price per kWh next year, let alone 5+ years out! Also, consider that the asset in which you are investing (a solar PV system) has a useful life of up to 30-40 years. If the payback was as short as only a few years, you probably wouldn’t be able to get one installed because everyone would be wanting one. And that would drive the price up! So here are a few alternative ways to look at this vs the traditional payback or breakeven estimates......
  1. When you install a PV system, you can reasonably estimate your cost/kWh for the electricity produced from the PV system over let's say the next 25 years (like we did in the information presentation). So for that energy generated from the PV system, you can know your costs.  So while you don't know the cost of electricity from the utility many years in the future, you can effectively "hedge" that future uncertainty by knowing what the cost of electricity from your PV system is -- in our two examples 4-6 cents/kWh for 25 years and then free after that.
  2. Compare your investment in a PV system to putting that same money in a Certificate of Deposit.  For example, if you invest $10k net for your system and it saves you $750/yr, that's like a CD earning 7.5% with no taxes due on the interest income.  I don't know of any CDs like that around these days....
  3. Investing in a PV system adds value to your home similar to having an energy efficient home. Some estimates are that for every $1 in annual electricity bill reduction, it adds $20 in value to the home. So if you save $500 per year, that's like adding $10k value to your home.  (Also see  www.pvvalue.com)
  4. How many homes have fireplaces and how many ROI calculations have been done on them? How much time per year do you spend in front of the fireplace vs hours of sunshine?
  1. How much does it cost? The cost of installing a solar PV depends on the size of your house. The average residential system is 5 kW and the average price per watt is about $3.50. (This is based on data for Texas residential sized systems from Figure 16 of this report - Tracking the Sun VII: An Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998-2013.) Therefore, an average 5 kW system would cost $17,500 before any incentives are applied. There may be incentives available to you from local utilities that will reduce the total installed cost. For example, Oncor 2015 incentives are about $1/watt. Additionally, after any incentives are applied, a 30 percent federal investment tax credit can be applied to the remaining balance. (This investment tax credit is currently available through the 2016 tax year.) These financial incentives will not be around forever, so now is a great time to go solar. Here is an example of how much a 5 kW installed solar PV might cost after available incentives are applied. Keep in mind this is just an estimate. If a 5 kW system costs $17,500 before incentives, the Oncor incentive (at $1/watt) would bring this cost down to $12,500. After the 30 percent tax credit is applied to the remaining balance, the final cost would be $8,750.
  2. Why does Oncor provide incentives? As the regulated part of the transmission and distribution utility that serves much of North Texas, Oncor is required by the Texas Public Utility Commission to control costs of their utility grid elements. One way to do this is to reduce the growth in demand of electricity usage. Oncor accomplishes this by incentivizing energy efficiency and distributed generation renewable energy. (Note – continued growth in demand results in Oncor having to spend more money on upgrades and expanded maintenance).  Incentives are short term spending investments resulting in long term benefits.
  3. Why is there a Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC)? The Federal ITC encourages the use of renewable energy, including solar energy to accomplish longer term benefits to our country. Like the home mortgage deduction promotes and encourages people to make long term investments in their homes, the Federal ITC promotes and encourages people to make long term investments in renewable energy.  See Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit
  4. Leasing solar panels or Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) - Regardless of whether you purchase, finance, lease, or sign a PPA, we feel it is very important to understand the basic cost elements and calculations. It is a crucial part of the consumer education for those considering solar. Overall there are some pros and cons to lease and PPA options. First, leasing and PPAs involves another party in the transaction that is in business to make money. Therefore, the overall long term costs are generally higher with a lease and PPA than a purchase.  Alternatively, some advantages to a lease and PPAs may include little or no upfront costs.  Also, for persons that cannot take advantage of the Federal Investment Tax Credit, leasing may prove advantageous.
  5. What is net metering and how does it impact my solar PV system? Most residential solar PV systems (i.e. interconnected with the electric grid and batteryless) will at some points during the day generate more electricity than being used by your home at that moment. The concept of “net metering” ensures that electric customers with solar PV get credit for each kilowatt-hour of excess electricity they deliver to the grid. These credits can then be used by the customer to offset power they purchase from the utility at other times. Access to net metering electric rate plans can be an important aspect of residential solar PV economics.  Your particular electric utility connection (e.g. via Retail Electric service Providers or electric co-ops) may determine the availability of the type of net metering type plans available to you at your residence. The solar installers and Plano Solar Advocates are available to help you better understand this concept and answer further questions.  Also, please see our section on “Net Metering” that includes helpful video tutorials. Go to our Useful Links page at and then scroll down to the section labeled “Net Metering”.
  6. Will hail damage my solar panels? Solar panels are quite durable, and should withstand most wind or hail storms.  Solar modules have passed tests for durability that require them to withstand high winds and 1-inch hail.  However, just like your roof, if your solar panels are pummeled by grapefruit-sized hail, they will probably be damaged.  Also just like your roof, a solar system on your roof is part of your house and is covered by your homeowners insurance.  If a hailstorm is intense enough to damage your solar panels, if would have damaged your roof. The tempered glass used in solar panels is similar to automobile windshields. Hail can damage the body of an automobile long before it breaks a windshield.
  7. Replacing Hail Damaged Roof with Solar Installed - What if I need to have my roof replaced due to hail damage, but my solar panels are OK?
  8. Is there a Texas property tax exemption? Texas provides a property tax exemption for solar PV systems. Search for exemption form 50-123 Exemption Application for Solar or Wind-Powered Energy Devices. However, so far (as of mid-2014), the county tax appraisal offices are not yet appraising and adding the value of the systems to the property tax roles. Therefore, our recommendations going forward are as follows:
  1. Every year when you receive your property tax notice in late spring, see if they have changed your property tax appraised value. If so, log onto the county website and see if the change was due to them adding an "improvement" to the property related to the addition of your solar PV system.  If so, then file for the exemption.  If no addition was made for the solar PV system, then do nothing.
  2. Repeat above step annually.
  1. I want to be off the grid. What does that entail? Well, it is pretty difficult to be completely off the grid. In addition to the solar PV system, you will need to purchase and install a battery system to store excess energy for use at night. Batteries are still an expensive technology, but like solar PV, the prices are continuing to come down.