How Solar Works on Your Home

When people think of solar electricity, most often they are referring to a "grid-tied" system, which means your home solar system is connected to your utility electrical grid. The benefit of these types of systems is that the electrical "grid" of your existing electric utility is used like a battery that stores energy. The utility will buy power from you at peak rates during the day when your system is generating energy and you will buy power from the utility at low rates during the evening when your PV system is off. This all happens by design, so there is no need for you worry about it.

Most systems are placed directly onto your roof, but if there is not enough roof space, there are a variety of other ways to install a system utilizing the land or other structures on your property.

Solar panels are made of crystalline photovoltaic (PV) cells, which convert sunlight into DC (direct current) power. However, your home runs on AC power, so the DC current from the solar panels is sent to an inverter, where it is converted into AC (alternating current) power. AC power travels from the inverter to the electrical panel, or breaker box, as it is commonly referred to. Your home is interconnected with the utility grid, and all electricity flows automatically. On sunny days, you will be feeding the grid. And at nighttime or in winter, you will be pulling from the grid. Depending on the size of your system, you may even have credit at the end of the year!

Installation Process:


Is it complicated to change over to solar power?

No, major solar companies make it easy to switch to solar. Your solar provider will get your solar system up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible so that you can start saving money and using clean energy. You won't experience any changes inside your home.

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How long does it usually take to install my solar power system?

The only factor that determines the length of time it takes to install your panels would be the complexity of your roof and the number of panels that will be installed. Most residential roof installation takes about 3-5 days. Your solar provider will have an estimated installation time and this information will be included in the design proposal presented to you by your solar provider.

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What happens after I've installed solar panels and I need to fix my roof?

Prior to installation a solar company's site auditor will come out to inspect your home, he or she will check to make sure that your roof is suitable for a solar installation. Solar panels actually help to protect your roof from the natural elements that affect your roof like rain, sunlight, etc. If you do need to make repairs on your roof, the solar panels will need to be removed and re-installed. Most solar companies offer this service for a reasonable fee.

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Net Metering

Net metering was designed for solar system owners to sell excess power generated by your solar system back to the utility company at retail prices. You should check your usage patters to see which plan will work best for you but, your solar provider will suggest the most favorable utility rate plan for you based on your electrical production and consumption patterns.

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How Does Net Metering Work?

Net metering is a metering and billing agreement between the utility company and the solar system owner this allows you to buy and sell energy with your utility provider. Usually the utility provider will give you a kilowatt for kilowatt and or you can get paid for the excess electricity you produce.

When you use more power than what is being produced, the meter runs forward. But, when your solar system generates more power than what your home uses, your excess power flows back to the utility grid and your meter spins backward.

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Your meter will spin backwards when your solar system generates more power than you can use.

Net metering customers are charged only for the "net" power that they use over a certain time period. Most utility companies will credit you for the power you generate for up to a year, but unfortunately, they will not send you a check for the net excess electricity production.

What are Time-of-Use Rates?

Time-of-Use (TOU) rates are a utility billing system where the price of electricity depends on the hour of the day. Rates are higher during the afternoon when electric demand is at its "peak" across all utility customers. "Partial-peak" hours are generally in the morning and evening and "off-peak" hours are usually during the night and on weekends.

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Buy Low and Sell High!

Residential solar customers receive full retail rate credit for the solar electricity that they produce based on the time of day that the energy was generated. This is an advantage to you because your solar system is producing maximum energy at high peak afternoon hours, when the utility rates are their highest. So you are "selling" electricity to the utility company at high peak rates in the afternoon.

At night when your solar system is not producing energy, you will need to "buy" the electricity you need from the utility company, but this will be at the lower off-peak rates. So you buy low and sell high!

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A public service of the California Solar Initiative

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Solar Guide works with the CSI-Solar Program which is funded by California investor-owned utility customers and is administered by regional Program Administrators under the California Public Utilities Commission. 2012 Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Company. Copyright and trademarks belong to their respective owners. All rights reserved.

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