Going Solar: Answers to Common Questions

By Erica Sofrina, Author of Small Changes, Dynamic Results! Feng Shui for the Western World

Solar energy has been around for decades, but in the past few years it has finally started to take off in residential markets. Previously it was considered too expensive, but times have changed. The rising electricity costs, improvements in panel technology, mass production of them as well as federal and local governmental incentives have driven costs down.

Given all these current factors, going solar now is a much more affordable investment which can lead you to free energy, increased property value & a chance to do your part in going green.

As a part of my green home series, I interviewed my friend David Javate of SolarUniverse and asked him if he would demystify solar and answer some common questions and misunderstandings:

Erica: Could you explain in simple terms exactly how solar energy works?

David: Solar panels consist of “cells” of chemically treated silicon. These silicon cells, when hit with light, induce a chemical reaction which produces DC current. An inverter converts DC current into AC current
which can then be used by your household. Any unused electricity gets fed back to the grid, which in turn spins your energy meter backwards.

E: Is solar reliable?

D: Absolutely. Solar energy has been around for over 50 years, and is a safe and reliable source of energy. Panels are normally warrantied for a 25 year lifespan, but usually last longer. There’s a reason
that NASA chose solar panels to power their satellites. You may also notice them on street signs and some public buildings.

E: What are the environmental benefits of solar energy?

D: Traditionally, electricity is generated through the use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Use of these fossil fuels produces carbon emissions which cause pollution and global warming. The main environmental benefit of solar energy is that using solar does not produce any carbon emissions. Throughout the lifespan of a photovoltaic solar system for a 3 bedroom house, one could potentially reduce the carbon emissions equivalent to 140,000 tons of carbon, 227,00 miles not driven, or 2,500 acres of trees saved.

E: Is solar a good investment for the basic homeowner?

D: It depends on the household and your usage. Physical issues first need to be considered: Your roof should be south or southwest facing, should have minimal shading obstructions and should also have enough space to hold the appropriate number of panels to cover your energy goals.

In California where we are based, we usually recommend it as an energy solution if your electric bill tends to be over $130/month if you are considering a leasing option; however, if buying is an option, homeowners with bills of $50-75/month can reap the benefits.

Currently, there are a number of incentives available, such as a 30 percent federal tax credit, rebates through your utility company, and local incentives, such as the GoSolarSF initiative which provides a $2,000 grant towards installation for homes in San Francisco. If you choose to buy your system, typical systems can have a payback period of 5-7 years. After you’ve paid it off you’ll be able to reap the benefits
of free & clean energy for the next 20 years!

E: What if someone doesn’t have the money now? Are there financing alternatives?

D: The most attractive financing alternative is leasing. These come in different forms, with or without a down payment, with or without a fixed interest rate, and in a prepaid form, where a bulk amount of the
lease payments are made in advance at a discount. Depending on the lease you secure, you should be able to take advantage of a substantially lower electric bill, at a monthly predictable rate, without the upfront cost of buying.

E: If someone is interested in looking into a solar alternative, what should they do next?

D: Do some research:

  • Look at your electric bill. Has it become a rising and annoying cost for you? Is it causing you to limit your enjoyment in some activities?
  • Research solar companies in your area. Check them out on review websites like Yelp & Angie’s list.
  • See what solar incentives are available to you through your utility company, your city and county.
  • Consider buying versus leasing.Buying can be a great investment which pays for itself in a few years. Leasing can reduce your electric bill, while also giving a predictable fixed rate for energy.

Solar energy can be a great energy solution which can zero out your electric bill, add value to your property, and help reduce carbon emissions which harm the environment. Not all homes are ideally suited to take full advantage of solar, but with the info given in this article you should have a good starting point to figure out if going solar is a wise choice for you.

David Javate is a SUN Advisor for SolarUniverse South San Francisco, and currently services homeowners in the San Fransisco Bay Area.You can reach him at djavate@solaruniverse.com

Readers please note: This article is solely for educational purposes, I have no financial connection to the company mentioned.

More Articles on Green Living by Erica Sofrina:
The Green Home Remodel
10 Tips for Creating a Zero Waste Home
More from the Green Home Series


Jake B.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thanks for the effort, keep up the good work Great work, the thoughts you state are truly awesome. I expect you will write several more posts.

Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper

Angel Campbell
Angel Campbell5 years ago

I'm originally from New Zealand and I'm travelling through Germany right now, I'm so amazed and happy that most of the houses here have solar panels!!!!!!!!!!!!! My boyfriend just told me that about 25% of the countries energy comes from green sources like wind mills, water, and solar. The people here are a lot more conscious about recycling and pollution too. The government rewards people for recycling by giving you money for your empty bottles :)

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

We have had solar and wind power for 30 years, when it was really expensive. We simple realized that we had No other choice.

We have produced our own fuel for 15 years @ $1.00/gal , BioDiesel.

We have an Aquaponics station, where we raise Tilapia, fruits, veggies and herbs. What we do not utilize, we sell at our various Farmers Markets.

In the end, it is not at all difficult, it is only a matter of ones priorities and conscience.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago

helpful. thanks

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Gloria picchetti
Gloria picchetti5 years ago

Great article.
BTW that is not a drawing. It's a photo. The lady is very beautiful. She has certainly giving a lot to gifts to our care2 causes. I flagged the inappropriate attack on her looks. We are here to help our causes not attack.

Jodi H.
Jodi Hendon5 years ago

We added 44 solar panels over 2 years ago. Because of the way our roof is pitched, we had to have them put in the back yard, but they aren't unsightly. In fact, people who've tried to find us to see them have said they drove up and down the street several times before finding us.

Before the installation, in August, 2009, our electricity bill was just under $700, and that's keeping the A/C at 80 or above. In August, 2011, it was about $200. Last year, we had two negative bills. This year, our April bill was $8 for a 3500 sq. ft. home.

Sunlight is free.

We received about half the initial investment back in rebates and tax credits. We're figuring a 7-10% return on our investment. A lot more than if we'd left the money in IRAs.

Florence Eaise
Florence Eaise5 years ago

I wish i could switch to solar power i just dont have the money! Thanks for sharing