FAQs About Solar

What is the difference between watts, kilowatts, and kilowatt-hours?

Once you understand how energy is measured, you can understand much energy your household uses, what size solar electric system you would need, and the differences in costs between solar and grid electricity. A solar installer would make the final size determination, but a properly sized and installed solar electric system can provide a significant percentage of your electrical needs and creates no air, water or noise pollution while operating.

One watt is the standard unit of electrical power. Watts = Current (Amps) x Voltage. The unit of measure is named after James Watt, Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, and indicates the rate at which energy is produced or used, and is measured at an instant in time. A kilowatt (kW) is 1,000 watts. For example, a 25-watt light bulb requires 25 watts of electric power at any given moment to give off light. A 7-kW solar electric system is capable of generating 7,000 watts of energy at a moment in time.

A kilowatt-hour (kWh) represents how much energy is actually used over a period of time. For example, the 25-watt light bulb, over the period of one hour, will use 25 watt-hours, or .025 kWh. A 7-kW solar electric system, over the period of an hour, may produce 7 kWh of energy.

How do I figure out the right size solar electric system for my home or business?

Your solar installer will work with you to assess your energy needs for your home, small business, or nonprofit organization or large commercial business. A good starting place is to gather a year’s worth of energy bills. Then your solar installer can use that information along with assessing your building’s sun exposure, the size and slope of your roof, along with available roof space and other factors to make this determination.

Everyone’s finances are different. Your ability to take advantage of the tax credits may also be a factor in determining the appropriate system size. For some people it may make more sense to offset 50-60% of their usage if that size results in a maximum tax credit.

Your installer can also tell you if a ground mounted or pole mounted system may be a better option for your site than a roof mounted system.

How much maintenance does a solar electric system need?

Solar panels require very little maintenance. However, you should consult with your solar installer for tips on how to maintain your panels.

What is the lifespan of a solar electric system?

Solar electric systems are usually operational for approximately 20-25 years.

Is solar electric the same as solar thermal technology?

No, they are different, but they both use the sun’s rays as a renewable resource. Solar electric (also known as solar PV) directly converts the sun’s light into electricity. Solar thermal (heat) technology concentrates the sun’s rays to either directly heat your water or indirectly heat your water with a nonfreezing liquid. The liquid is circulated through solar collectors by a pump, and then the collected heat is then transferred into water. The hot water is stored in a tank for use as needed. A solar thermal system will use rooftop solar collectors to heat domestic hot water.

Installing a solar hot water system can potentially reduce your energy bill by up 20 percent.

Where is solar being installed in New York?

Visit this interactive map on the Open NY website to see how many solar electric systems have been installed near you.

Where can I learn more about solar terms and technologies?

Visit the following sites for additional information about solar electric and other renewable energy sources:

How do I figure out the right size solar electric system for my home or business?

Your solar installer will work with you to assess your energy needs for your home, small business, or nonprofit organization or large commercial business.

Where can I learn more about solar terms and technologies?

Find out more about solar terms and technologies.