There is a lot of information to sift through about how private solar works. Here are a few of the most common questions. The answers given are formed with a combination of research and real-world experience by local professionals.
Q: If I install private solar, won’t I be off the grid?
With traditional systems, no. Most systems are grid-tied so the home can receive power from the power grid when the panels aren’t producing (at night, cloudy days, etc.). While battery storage is becoming a more viable possibility in the near future, it is still expensive and relatively untested in home use.
Q: How do I clean or maintain my PV system?
With no moving parts and made of very inert materials, solar modules are tough. Most of the related system components should also last for many years without major problems. It is often recommended that the installer do a service check once a year. To clean your panels, avoid using detergents if possible as these may streak the glass of the panel. Use of abrasive powders also risks scratching the panels. Given the nature of good quality solar panel glass, clean water and a little scrubbing with a coarse cloth covered sponge or soft brush should remove the most stubborn grime.
Q: When the power goes out, will I still have power because of my rooftop solar?
When power goes out in an area, the power will go out for solar and non-solar homes alike. Thus, in the usual configuration, solar panels do not make a house energy-independent. Safety is the main reason: The equipment cuts off the solar generators when the line goes down so the house doesn’t inadvertently electrocute firemen, police or electrical linemen trying to fix a problem.
Q: What happens to my solar power at night, or on cloudy days?
Sunlight must be present for your solar panels to produce power. At night, the power for your home comes from your utility. On cloudy days they produce less electricity. Under a light overcast sky, panels might produce about half as much as under full sun.
Q: Can solar panels stand up to Kansas weather?
The short answer is yes. They are specifically manufactured to withstand the most severe weather conditions, including wind and hail. Most solar panels are fitted with tempered glass and considered to be reasonably hail resistant. This type of glass is designed to withstand a direct vertical impact of hail up to 1 inch in diameter, travelling at 50 miles per hour. Larger hail is still not likely to cause damage because of the orientation of a solar array. Typically, solar panels are oriented to the south and at a tilt which is not the prevailing course that severe hail storms could make direct impact on the panels. Of course, there aren’t many things that can withstand direct contact with a tornado or large tree falling on them, solar panels are no different.
Q: What is the life expectancy of a solar PV system?
The majority of manufacturers offer the 25-year standard solar panel warranty, which means that power output should not be less than 80% of rated power after 25 years. Some of the technical equipment involved may need serviced or replaced every five to ten years. Consult your local solar installers for specific warranties.
Q: Energy from the sun is free, why does it cost so much for solar?
While the fuel source for solar power (the sun) is free, the technology needed to convert the sun’s energy into energy we can use is not. From the solar cells and panels to the inverters and materials needed to deliver the energy to your home, all of those things add up to create the price.
Q: Will rooftop solar allow me to generate heat or hot water for my home?
Not typically, residential solar power systems are designed to provide electricity to run your lights, appliances and other electric devices in your home. Other solar technologies are designed to turn the sun's light into heat instead of electricity. If your home is heated by a heat pump or other electric appliance, or your water heater is electric, residential rooftop solar would contribute to operating them.
Q: What is the ideal situation for my home to be a good candidate for rooftop solar?
Four things to remember: south facing, minimal shade, minimal obstructions and a roof less than five years old. South facing: for solar installations in the northern hemisphere, the consistent rule is: The more south facing the surface, the more energy the system will produce. Ideally, one would want to install the solar system on a surface within 40 degrees of directly South (180 degrees) to ensure optimal production from the solar system. Systems on flat roofs or mounted on the ground will be tilted to provide a south-facing exposure.
Minimal shade: anything that casts shade on your roof will affect your solar output. This could mean trees or other natural obstructions, or other homes and buildings.
Minimal obstructions: How much usable roof space do you have? Is your roof angular or does it have a lot of dormers? The more clear space you have on your roof the better, but check with an installer.
A roof less than five years old: The panels are expensive to install and to remove. If you have to replace your roof during the life of the panels, it will cost you to remove the panels and then put them back on your roof.
Other helpful resources
The technology and process behind how the sun’s energy is converted to usable electricity is fascinating. Here are a few more resources to show you how Westar is using renewable resources, and what’s happening across the country in renewable energy.
Westar Energy resources:
Is private solar right for me?
How does private solar work?
Additional solar resources
Non-Westar Energy Resources:
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
The Open PV Project (Real time status of the solar PV market in the U.S. from NREL)
Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (detailed info on how solar energy works from the DOE)