Frequently Asked Questions
About Solar Power in Pennsylvania
Does solar work in cloudy western Pennsylvania?
Yes, and it works very well. Germany, for example, is one of the leading solar nations, but only gets as much sun as Alaska. A home in western Pennsylvania can produce as much solar electricity as a solar home in Arizona by simply adding an extra solar panel or two.
How much solar energy is installed in Pennsylvania?
As of February 2022, Pennsylvania had more than 33,000 solar systems registered in Pennsylvania that have a combined installed capacity of 709 MW of energy. The adoption of solar energy is rapidly expanding across the state. Pennsylvania used to be the 4th largest solar state in the nation, but we have fallen to 21st in recent years because other states have increased their policies to expand solar beyond Pennsylvania.
How many people work in the solar industry in Pennsylvania?
According to the PA Department of Environmental Protection Clean Energy Employment Report of 2020 – Pennsylvania had 5,173 people working in the solar industry in 2019 in manufacturing, sales, installation and other who work in the real estate, legal and financial sectors and others that provide support services to the industry. That was more than any other energy generation sector in the state – and that’s while we were producing only 0.5% of our electricity from solar. Imagine the job creation if we moved to 10% solar!
What should I look for when selecting a solar installer?
Look for solar businesses that have several years of experience, maintain certification by the National American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), have a good reputation in the community (and list many of their projects on their websites), have adequate workmen’s compensation and liability insurances. Check out our qualified solar developer directory here.
How do I know if my home or business is suitable for solar?
The most suitable location for a roof-mounted solar PV system is a south-facing roof with little to no shading from nearby trees, chimneys or other obstructions. Any shading on the system can reduce energy output, so it is important to assess the locations of current trees and buildings around your home as well as that of other obstructions that may exist around your home in the future. Advances in solar panel and inverter technologies can allow homes with east or west-facing roofs and moderate shading to benefit from solar PV as well. During a no-cost site visit to your home, an installer will evaluate your home’s solar potential, conduct a shading analysis and will let you know if there are any obstacles before you sign a contract. They will also calculate the size of the system that you will need based on your electricity use and the amount of solar that your roof (or yard, if you’re interested in a ground mount system) can accommodate.
Will my system produce power if there is a blackout?
Without a battery backup, grid-tied solar PV systems will not operate when the power grid is down. This safety requirement is built into the solar equipment and stops electricity flow to the grid so that utility linemen can safely repair power lines during a power outage. You may choose to add a battery backup to your solar system to keep the lights on during a blackout, but batteries can add about third to the cost of the system. Ask the solar installer if you are interested.
What size system should I install?
Every home and business is different. As such, your system size will be determined by your roof space and electricity needs. The average residential solar system is approximately 5 kW to 8 kW and produces about 7,700 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year (7kW system), but this could be too big or too small for your home. If you use certain technologies that are highly dependent on electricity, such as an electric car or electric heating, you might require a larger system. Your installer will work with you to design a system with characteristics that will meet your specific needs. Solar system sizes for businesses vary greatly upon the type of business, use of electricity and size of the building, so it is best to talk with an experienced solar installer who will help you design a system that is right for your business. You can calculate your potential by using the tool called PV Watts – or check out Google’s Project SunRoof to see your solar (the cost estimates are geared for residential, but please consult the solar installer for the most accurate cost information).
What sort of maintenance is required?
Solar PV systems require very little maintenance. Rain showers will generally take care of pollen and dust that falls on your solar panels. If your system is shaded by trees, you may have to trim and maintain branches to protect your system from falling limbs and to minimize shading and maximize production. Because the panels are dark, it will cause slight melting of any snow that typically will slide right off after a day or two. The solar inverter is the piece of equipment that might need to be replaced before the panels. Most systems come with virtual monitoring systems that will allow you to detect if your system is functioning properly.
How much does it cost to go solar?
The cost of doing nothing – not going solar – will be about $30,000-$35,000 over the next 25 year, which is what an average homeowner will pay the utility over that time, particularly with rising electricity costs. The electric bill provides no financial investment in your home. However, solar provides a sound financial investment into your home. An average home solar system is about 7 kilowatts (kW) and would cost on average between $2,500-$3,500 per kW or about $17,500-$24,500 before tax credits and without energy storage, but it varies depending upon the steepness and composition of your roof and how much energy you use. After the 30% tax credit, the cost of the solar will be about $12,250 – $17,150. The system will save a homeowner about $15,000 – $20,000 over the next 25 years after paying off the system. Even with a loan, a solar owner is still predicted to save money over the life of the system. A monthly loan payment is often equivalent or less than the monthly electric bill. Your savings depend on the size of the system you choose, your annual electrical usage, electricity rates, and any financing option that you choose from your installer. The solar installer will be able to tell you how much electricity your new system is expected to produce on an annual basis and then compare that number to how much electricity your household uses to get an idea of how much you could save. Additionally, a homeowner’s savings are affected by the financing package chosen. Installers can also help you determine how much money you could save since electricity prices from the utility are expected to rise over time, whereas the price of solar remains the same over time.
How will solar affect my home’s or business’s value?
Typically, solar systems add to a property’s value. This is due to the fact that unlike electricity rates, solar rates will never go up. Thus, a solar PV system insulates you from rising electricity rates. Once the system has paid for itself, the electricity it generates is absolutely free! This is a great selling point for a home or business. A recent Berkeley University study shows that most homeowners will recoup the cost of the solar system if they sell their home.
Will I still receive a monthly electric bill after installing a solar system?
Yes. You will receive a monthly bill from your utility company as you always have, but the amount owed will differ depending on your monthly electrical usage. If you produce more electricity than you use- as possible in the summer months- your bill will be credited for any extra that you place back on the grid. That credit can be carried over to months when you use more than you produce such as in the winter. At the end of the billing year (May of each year), the utility will “true up” your bill and pay you for any extra you produced. Even if your system entirely offsets your electrical usage, there is still a small fixed monthly service charge fee of about $15 that everyone pays.
What is net metering?
Net metering allows you to produce extra electricity that you don’t use and place that on the grid for someone else to use. This situation will make your electric meter run backward and the utility will provide you credit for producing extra on your electric bill. In essence, the grid is acting like your battery back-up. See previous question for more details about the month-to-month crediting and banking of solar generated.
Does homeowners insurance cover my system?
You should check with your insurance agent to find out whether your system will be covered under your existing policy. There are insurance companies that will include the solar system in the regular home insurance coverage; others may add a fee, so it’s best to ask in advance.
Are federal incentives available for my system?
The Inflation Reduction Act bumped the federal tax credit back up to 30% of your system’s total installed cost. Please consult with your tax advisor to verify how these credits apply to your personal taxes. If you are considering solar for your business, you can claim the 30% federal tax credit as well as depreciate the full cost of the system over the first year of the system (called MACRS depreciation), which will provide you with an additional 20%-30% savings off the cost of your system. The IRA also provides businesses and nonprofits with extra incentives for using domestic content, paying workers with prevailing wage, building solar in low-income and/or energy transition communities. The 30% tax credit is now also available for batteries and nonprofits can claim a cash payment in lieu of the tax credits available to businesses.
Are there any state incentives available for my system?
The Pennsylvania Sunshine grant program expired in 2013, but the price of solar is now cheaper than it was with the grant program years ago. Pennsylvania does have net metering and a solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program that may produce extra income for a solar owner. The SREC value fluctuates, but is hovering about $20-$30 per credit. A typical house earns about five to six credits per year – or about $100-$180 per year in income.
What is an SREC?
The Pennsylvania legislature passed the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) in 2004 that mandated that 0.5% of our electricity must come from solar by 2021. Each year the amount gradually increases until we achieve that amount. In order to meet the requirement, the utilities must buy a specific amount of solar energy each year and they do this by purchasing SRECs. For each megawatt hour of electricity that is produced each year by a solar system, the solar owner earns on one (1) SREC. A 7-kW system earns about 7 SRECs each year. That SREC is sold on a market and the price fluctuates but is worth about $25 currently. Your installer can match up with an SREC aggregator – a company that can manage and sell your SRECs for you.