Frequently Asked Questions
Does Solar Energy work in Oregon?
Solar energy works in Oregon! The Willamette Valley receives about as much sunlight as the national
average. Yes, it rains a lot in the winter, but the constant summer sun makes up for the rainy winters.
Central and Eastern Oregon have about as much solar energy potential as Miami, Florida!
Does solar energy pay for itself? How long does a solar energy system take to pay for itself?
Solar energy systems installed in Oregon pay for themselves over time. There are many variables
which influence the amount of time it takes for a solar energy system to pay for itself, including available
government and utility incentives, the cost and forecasted cost increases of utility-supplied electricity,
the type of installation and related cost, and financing mechanisms used to pay for the installation.
Payback periods will vary, but typical payback periods generally range from just 2 to 12 years.
What monetary incentives are available for solar energy system installations?
There are many incentives which help make solar energy affordable to the end-user. The federal
government offers the 30% Investment Tax Credit to both residential and commercial system owners.
Many electric utilities in Oregon also offer cash payment incentives, or will pay for electricity generated.
See this US Department of Energy website for more information: http://www.dsireusa.org/
What types of solar energy systems are there?
Residential and commercial scale solar energy generally utilizes one of two very different solar energy
technologies. Solar energy may be harnessed to produce electricity, or to heat water.
Solar electric systems are also known as photovoltaic, or PV systems. A crystalline silicon solar
electric module or panel has silicon squares or octagons with small wires laminated in a glass and
aluminum casing. Solar electric modules will usually be installed in groups of 6 or more. Other types of
solar electric modules are available, such as amorphous silicon, also known as thin film, which are very
similar in function to crystalline modules.
Solar water heating systems may be called solar thermal, or solar hot water. Solar water heating
panels or collectors are typically larger than solar electric modules. Solar water heating collectors
also have a glass cover with a thicker aluminum frame, but appear dark on the surface, with none of
the copper tubing inside visible from the outside. Residential solar water heating systems are typically
installed using only one or two collectors.
There are other ways to harness solar energy, which may require utility-scale deployment to be cost-
effective or safe. Power towers, sterling engines, and parabolic troughs are examples of utility scale
solar energy technology.
Will my solar energy system work when there is an electric grid outage?
Unfortunately, a grid-tied solar electric system will not power your home when the utility grid is
experiencing a failure. Inverters have a mechanism which shuts down the PV system when they do not
sense utility-supplied electricity. This safety mechanism is in place to protect electric utility line workers.
If the line workers assume that the lines they are working on have no power, a nearby solar electric
system producing electricity could deliver a potentially lethal shock. Most utilities require a utility
disconnect for PV systems. The system will be disconnected before line workers work in the area, which
serves as an additional safety precaution.
How long does a solar energy system continue to operate?
Solar electric systems are expected to last 35 years, but may last longer depending upon the
quality of the solar electric modules. Over time certain materials in a PV module degrade, such as the
back sheet and encapsulate seal. While the silicon cells would last indefinitely, eventually moisture
penetration corrodes the electrical connections, reducing the power output of the module. For this
reason, AES recommends using high-quality PV modules, which we specify by default for all of our
Solar electric systems require an inverter to convert the DC electricity they produce into AC electricity,
such as AC electricity supplied by an electric utility. Inverters may need fine-tuning from time to time,
particularly in the first year of operation. After the first year of operation, an inverter should function
without interruption for 10 to 20 years. It is likely that the PV modules may outlive the inverter, and a
new inverter may need to be installed after approximately 15 years of system operation. Some inverters
carry warranties of up to 25 years. Many inverter manufacturers offer extended warranty options.
Solar thermal (water heating) systems may operate indefinitely, provided that regular minimal
maintenance procedures are followed.
Can I buy a few modules and install them myself?
Most solar electric systems are grid-tied, such as a system installed at a location which already
has service from an electric utility. Electric utilities have standard interconnection agreements with
customers who have solar electricity systems, as these customers both use and produce electricity. In
order to safely connect a solar electric system to a building’s electrical service, utilities and building
departments require a licensed electrician to perform the work.
Can I add a few modules at a time as my budget allows?
While adding modules to a PV system to slowly increase the system size over time may be technically
feasible, it is not cost-effective. Further, most modules available today will likely be discontinued in a
few years due to industry innovation, so it would be difficult to match new modules with older modules.
How come solar energy needs so many monetary incentives to be affordable?
How come solar energy needs so many monetary incentives to be affordable? Shouldn’t we just
stick with coal, hydo-electric, or nuclear power, which all appear to be a lot less expensive?
A: All forms of energy are subsidized in some way to make them affordable to the consumer. Whether
it is costs related to mountain-top removal in Wyoming, war in oil-rich countries, large dam projects, or
hazardous waste storage for thousands of years, there is always a cost which is eventually (though often
indirectly) realized by consumers.
Solar energy systems are unique among sources of energy in that they can be deployed on a very small
scale, such as on the roof of a home. Since solar energy subsidies are often paid directly to the system
owner, the system owner is aware of the full cost, as well as the full value of the subsidy. Another
difference between solar energy and other conventional sources of energy is that once the solar energy
system is installed, the fuel is free. While the up-front cost may seem expensive, solar electric is now
less expensive than utility-supplied energy when viewed over the course of the systems lifetime.
Is the price of solar energy falling? Should I wait until prices hit the bottom before I buy a system?
The price of solar electric modules in particular has dropped a great deal in the past few years.
Prices are beginning to stabilize, but may drop a little lower still. However, incentives for solar electric
systems in Oregon are also changing. As the prices for PV components drop, the incentives offered by
the government and utility companies are being reduced. Again, there are many variables which affect
PV system payback. Our advice: The best time to install a solar energy system is now!
Are there new technologies coming on the market all the time, should I wait for a new technological development?
Are there new technologies coming on the market all the time, should I wait for a new
A: PV module manufacturers are constantly finding ways to improve their products, slowly becoming
more efficient and less expensive. Occasionally a new breakthrough technology will make headlines.
However, standard crystalline silicon modules (which have been around for over 50 years) continue to
dominate the market, due to their reliability and low cost.
I hear that PV systems are only 15 percent efficient in their use of available solar energy, isn't that a little low?
It is true that PV systems do not harvest 100 percent of the sunlight they receive. Systems may typically be
between 12 to 20 percent efficient. You may be surprised to learn the efficiency of other things in common use.
For example, an automobile is about 15 percent efficient in its use of gasoline, but that does not make a car any
less useful! A coal plant may be only 40 to 45 percent efficient in its use of coal, etc. Also remember that solar
energy systems utilize a free fuel, so harnessing 15 percent of something that is free is free, after the cost of
installation. In other words, efficiency in this case is not a good measure of usefulness.
What kind of solar energy system is right for me? How much would it cost
Call for a free estimate, including a visit to your location, an energy usage and production analysis,
and a financial summary! 1-800-339-1596