solar basics

How can I tell if my home, commercial building, school or church is right for a solar PV installation?
The ideal conditions for a solar PV installation are a southeast or southwest facing rooftop with no shade. Degree of roof pitch is also an important factor. If your home or building does not meet these conditions, Convers Energie can still usually design a bespoke PV system that achieves the best energy yield possible, given the architecture of the structure. Many commercial buildings have flat roofs; in those cases, solar panels can be mounted at an upright angle. In the right hands, solar PV design can usually be adapted to accommodate most homes, commercial or public buildings and still produce excellent energy savings.
Will a solar PV system work in a cold, cloudy or rainy climate?
While solar energy is popular in sunny European countries like Spain and Italy – and in the southern US, especially in California – it is also well suited to cooler climates or regions where the sun shines less frequently. Germany, the world’s leading market for solar PV installations, actually has similar solar resources to Alaska! Even on a cloudy or grey winter day, PV installations can produce enough energy to power all your utility needs. On hot sunny days, PV installations often produce extra energy, which is then fed back into the grid, giving you an energy surplus and extra savings. In the UK, the solar market is growing substantially and is benefiting from government support, as is the US solar market. In the US, solar energy is one of the fastest growing industries, in fact. US solar electric capacity is expected to double in 2011 – for the second year in a row. The bottom line is that solar energy works everywhere. While sunnier climates produce higher concentrations of solar power, solar PV is a smart solution to energy concerns and lowering future energy costs in all parts of the world.
What is solar energy?
Solar energy is energy that derives from the sun. It is brought to use or converted in terms of either heat or electricity. The sun’s radiation is converted into electrical energy by the photovoltaic or PV effect. The PV effect is a physical process through which a solar cell (or PV cell) converts light into electric current or electricity. Solar thermal energy is radiation heat that is collected by a liquid medium. Wind energy is also a form of solar energy; every air movement originally starts from air being heated by the sun. The most common way to harvest solar energy is to use solar panels.

solar pv systems

Once the PV system is installed, does it immediately start producing solar energy?
In many countries with feed-in tariffs including Germany, after a PV system is installed, the installation must be registered with the local utility company before the system can be connected to the grid. Convers Energie will guide you through this process and complete the necessary paperwork to make sure that your conversion to solar energy is hassle-free. Convers Energie also install monitoring systems, so you can see how much energy your PV installation is producing or feeding into the grid each day.
What does the PV installation process involve?
Before the PV system can be mounted, scaffolding must be set up. After the panels are in place, the electrical cabling must be properly connected. The inverters for the system must also be connected. Convers Energie uses custom-made PV system blueprints for each installation. We also work with our network of partner electricians to ensure that your PV system is on grid and functions to the highest capacity.
How long does it take to install a solar PV system?
This depends on the size of the PV installation in terms of kilowatts (kW). If your solar provider has an experienced installation team, a PV residential system can usually be installed, for example, in one day. A larger installation may take 2 days, while a commercial installation can take anywhere from 2-3 days to 1-2 weeks.

technical terms

What is net metering?
Unlike in Germany and most other countries, the United States has no nationally mandated feed-in tariff. Net metering is the process by which owners of solar PV systems can sell excess electricity back to the utility company. When you are not using all the electricity produced by your PV system, your meter will spin backwards, selling the electricity to your local utility at the retail rate.
What is a feed-in tariff?
A feed-in tariff is the compensation you receive as a producer for the excess electrical energy you feed back into the grid. At times, your PV system will very likely produce excess electricity that you cannot consume in your household. In most countries, you can sell this electricity to your local utility company at a profit.
What is the “grid”?
The grid is the local electricity network – i.e., the utility company that operates the electrical network in your area.

financing solar

I live in the UK and want to go solar. What options are available to help me reduce the cost of financing a PV system?
The UK has government-sponsored programs to help consumers make the switch to solar energy. Although the new 2011 UK feed-in tariff was recently cut, solar PV energy is still a viable investment, particularly if you want to become energy independent and earn a higher than average rate of return on your initial investment. To learn about specific incentives available nationally or in your area, please contact our UK partner SolarTouch.
I live in the U.S. and have heard about national solar tax rebates and local grants. How can I take advantage of these incentives to finance a solar PV installation?
In the US, homeowners, commercial properties and utilities can take advantage of a 30% national tax credit for solar through 2016. Each state has its own program of tax rebates, grants and/or “green tags” that help consumers go solar. Get in touch with your local or state solar association, to find out how to apply for the specific solar incentives available in your area.

investing in solar

Can I sell energy back to the grid?
Yes. In countries with feed-in tariffs, your local utility company is obliged to buy your excess energy at the established feed-in tariff rate. In the US, you can sell excess energy to the local utility through the net metering process.
I’ve heard that the feed-in tariff rates are dropping substantially in Germany. If I install a solar PV system on my home this year or next year, how will that affect me?
A few years ago, consumers who invested in a PV system in Germany received a rate of return, based on the feed-in tariff at that time, approaching 12%. Although the German government has since cut the feed-in tariff to a lower rate, a solar PV system is still a smart investment that will earn you an annual rate of return that is higher than that of many standard investments. A great thing about solar PV is that your ROI or return on investment increases as the years pass.
I live in Germany and would like to join a solar PV investment group. How does that work?
In countries such as Germany, you can ask your local council or businesses in the community if it is possible to rent or lease a particular public or commercial building roof. With the proper permits and permissions, a group of private investors can install a PV system on a public or commercial rooftop. Because a public or commercial building has a much larger roof surface than a residence, the return on investment for this type of PV installation will be higher than the return on investment of a single residential PV installation. Convers Energie is a partner in a North Rhine Westphalia PV investment group; has worked with the city of Bornheim to create a city-sponsored community renewable energy investment program; and can advise interested investors on this type of PV venture.
Are there similar solar investment opportunities in the US or the UK?
In the US, the concept of “solar communities” is gaining ground. “Go solar” programs that offer discounts and incentives for very large group installations (1 megawatt) already exist in cities such as Los Angeles. California’s proposed “solar garden bill” would allow residents to purchase or lease solar panels in a shared solar facility and receive utility bill credits solar energy and offer a variety of options to offset the cost of a solar PV system. Although the UK government suspended grant funding for energy generating products in 2010, the “Clean Energy Cash-Back Scheme” or Feed-in Tariff is available to consumers who want to make the switch to solar PV energy. For PV systems generating electricity up to 4 kWp over 25 years, this represents an excellent return on initial outlay and a solid investment opportunity. No matter where you live, your local city council, business council or solar energy association – or even your neighborhood library – may offer neighborhood solar workshops where you can learn more.
Is a solar PV installation a safe and profitable investment?
Wherever you live — and whether you finance your PV system through nationally available solar PV loans, national or local tax rebates, solar grants, other types of incentives or a combination of these options — a solar PV system is one of safest and most profitable investments you can make. The annual return on investment is consistently higher than the ROI of many other market investments, including savings accounts, stocks, bonds or money market funds. As energy costs increase, the value of your solar PV investment actually goes up! And you will never to need worry that solar energy will be scarce, unavailable or more expensive. By investing in solar energy, you are one step closer to energy independence. Solar energy is not only a good investment – it will lower your monthly utility costs immediately and return increased savings that you can deposit in the bank, put toward family essentials such as college education, or spend on holidays and travel.

leasing and warranties

Will my solar PV installation be protected by warranty?
The main components of a solar PV system, from solar panels to inverters, are sold with a manufacturer’s warranty ranging from 2-5 years. Solar panels have an average life span of 25 years and nearly all of our PV installations run smoothly and efficiently from the day they are installed and connected to the grid. Convers Energie does not offer a separate company warranty on installations, but will always work with past customers to resolve the infrequent technical issues that may arise. Most of are customers opt to take out insurance on their solar installations to add an extra degree of protection to their investment. Although major technical problems are rare, Convers Energie had one customer whose home was hit by lightening only two days after the installation was finished! The insurance company covered the cost of new panels. Convers Energie provided the re-installation and was able to have a new PV system up and running in under a month, at no loss to our customer.
I’ve read about companies that “rent” solar panels to customers who don’t pay anything up front to have a PV system installed on their residential rooftops. Can Convers Energie help me to lease a solar PV system?
While leasing can be a good option for homeowners in some regions of the US, for example, who want to “go solar” but aren’t in a position to invest in or finance a residential PV system, Convers Energie does not lease PV systems to our customers. At Convers Energie, we believe that it is better to own your PV system outright in order to receive the maximum benefit from your investment. Investing in PV for your residence, for example, will immediately lower your monthly electric bills and will also raise the future re-sell value of your home. There are many programs available to help homeowners and businesses invest in solar energy, ranging from national financing plans (e.g., Germany) to national tax rebates or credits (US).

solar design

I’m an architect or builder with clients who would like to install solar PV on their homes or commercial buildings. What would you recommend?
Incorporating a solar PV system into a home being newly designed or renovated is the best scenario for achieving the optimal design, energy efficiency and return on investment for a solar installation. The architectural design can be adapted, for example, with a south-facing roof at a beneficial angle to allow for maximum PV yield throughout the year. Convers Energie can work with you to design a PV system that compliments your architectural plans and homeowners’ criteria. Adding a PV system up front in the construction stage can also boost a homeowner’s overall future savings in combination with other energy efficiency measures and green building criteria.
I’m worried that a solar PV system will ruin the look of my home or office building. Can a PV installation be attractive?
Whether you are constructing a new home or installing a PV system on an existing residence or building, a well-designed solar PV system can enhance the aesthetics of your home, commercial building or public structure. As solar is becoming more popular, people are realizing that the financial and ecological benefits of solar energy can coexist with sustainable architecture. Green buildings, net zero energy homes and environmental design will soon become the norm. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, at Convers Energie we think a renewable energy landscape of solar homes and wind turbines is the design of the future.
I’ve read about clear solar panels for high-end design. Would you recommend using this type of panel for my installation?
While transparent solar panels are sometimes used in high-end architectural designs, the yield offered by these panels is approximately 50% less than the yield of the more common darker solar panels. The return on investment on a PV system with “clear” solar panels is thus also cut in half. This type of panel is often a design choice, rather than an economic decision. As solar technology continues to improve, transparent or colorless solar panels with improved efficiency rates may be manufactured.

If you would like to know more or discuss Convers Energie’s consulting and engineering services, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Solar installations can look great too!

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