1. Q: I have a cabin and I use a generator, how can solar help?
A: A properly designed solar electric system can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need for a generator at your off-grid cabin. Solar power is clean, silent, and free. The initial cost of installation usually outweighs the noise, fumes, expense, maintenance, and aggravation of a generator.
2. Q: Can I run the air conditioner in my RV on solar power?
A: A solar power system can be built as large or small as you can afford. A basic system in an RV can easily run the lights, water pump, furnace, and appliances like the microwave and toaster. Building an RV system large enough to run the air conditioner might be possible, but not at all practical due to the high cost of such a large system.
3. Q: Can I use solar power to operate power tools on my jobsite?
A: Yes you can. We at Huffman Electrical Systems, Inc. regularly use our solar power system to silently run our power tools on free electricity. A solar electric system built into a trailer or a work truck is a great way to operate power tools, battery chargers, and radios at work sites with no available or permanent power. Avoiding the use of a generator eliminates the constant noise, exhaust, maintenance, and fuel usage that take their toll on your bottom line. We offer a portable power system product designed as an alternative to a portable generator. These units come complete with a solar panel and are housed in a rugged case with handles and casters for portability.
4. Q: I want to install a solar electric system my self, where do I get the components?
A: Specialized solar power equipment is hard to find at a hardware store or home center. We have access to a comprehensive line of parts and equipment to complete any solar electric system. We keep some items on hand and we can usually receive any ordered parts in one to two weeks. Please Contact Us if you need help with solar electric components.
5. Q: What’s the difference between solar electric panels and solar water heating panels?
A: Solar electric panels, call photovoltaic, consist of a piece of silicon covered by a piece of glass and framed in aluminum. Photovoltaic panels, as the name implies, produce voltage when light strikes them. Photovoltaic panels actually produce more power when they are cold. Solar water heating panels consist of tubing behind glass and framed in aluminum. The tubing and all the internal parts are painted black to absorb as much heat as possible. This heat is transferred to the liquid in the tubing. In climate where freezing occurs, the tubing usually carries antifreeze. In climates where freezing is not an issue, the tubing can carry the actual water being heated.
6. Q: Does Huffman Electrical Systems, Inc. install solar water heating systems?
A: Since we are an electrical contractor, we only install solar electrical systems. We do get a lot of calls from people interested in solar water heating. We can give you the names of several contractors in the area who do install solar thermal systems.
7. Q: My energy bills are very high, what can I do to reduce them?
A: The first step to lower electric bills is to install compact fluorescent lighting in place of old fashioned, energy wasting, incandescent light bulbs. Compact fluorescents can pay for them selves in a matter of months. Adding insulation to the walls, floors, and ceilings will greatly lower heating and air conditioning bills. Getting rid of old, inefficient appliances and replacing them with newer, more efficient models is also a great way to lower your energy costs. Heating your domestic hot water with solar power can pay for itself in 5 years or less and is a great way to lower energy costs. Heating a pool or hot tub with solar will usually pay for itself in just a few years. Only after taking these energy conserving steps should you consider installing a solar electric system for the purpose of lowering your utility bills.
8. Q: Will adding solar panels to my house reduce my electric bill?
A: If you already have utility supplied electricity to your home, adding solar power won’t do much initially to reduce your energy costs. Using current electric rates, a solar electric system will pay for itself in about 8 to 10 years. As electric rates rise with other energy costs, the payback period for your solar investment will shrink. A solar electric system, if equipped with a back-up battery bank, can also serve as an excellent source of emergency power when the commercial power grid goes down. The security of having an emergency source of power and the satisfaction of generating your own clean, renewable energy is reason enough for some people to invest in a solar electric system. For more information, please see Economics of Electrical Solar Power Systems in Virginia.
9. Q: How many solar panels do I need to run my house?
A: The electricity usage of a home varies tremendously because of many factors: the number of people in the family, the type of appliances and heating system, lifestyle, and usage patterns. To determine your electricity usage, look at your electric bill. Your bill will tell you how many kwh (kilowatt hours) you used in that month. Some bills break this down into a daily average.
In Virginia, we average 4.5 hours of full sun each day. A 1000 watt (1 kw) solar array will generate an average of 4.5 kwh per day. As an example, if your home uses 18 kwh per day then you would need a 4 kw solar array to meet that demand.
10. Q: How much does a solar electric system cost?
A: The minimum expenditure for a home, in most cases, is about $10,000. A small system for a cabin or RV may cost much less. A large system for a completely off-grid home can cost $30,000 or more. Many times the power company will charge more than this to run power to a home that is a distance from their power lines. This makes solar power an economical solution in some cases. A grid-tied system typically costs $5 - $6 per watt, installed. An off-grid system with a battery bank typically costs $8 - $10 per watt installed. For more information, please see Economics of Electrical Solar Power Systems in Virginia.
11. Q: What kind of government tax incentives and credits are available?
A: he federal government offers a 30% federal income tax credit to people who install solar electric systems on their homes and businesses. VA recently had a limited state rebate program in place paying $2,000 per kilowatt. To investigate tax incentives you may be eligible for, check out the web site www.dsireusa.org.
James Madison University, in association with the government, offers a grant program for installation of wind turbine systems. Information on this wind program can be found at vwec.cisat.jmu.edu. When incorporating solar equipment into new construction, the costs can usually be included in the mortgage amount. If buying a new RV, many dealers offer factory solar packages or can incorporate systems installed by an outside contractor, into their financing.
12. Q: Is solar electricity worth the cost?
A: That’s a complicated question. Different people take many different factors into account: economics, environmental impact, the desire to live independently from the power grid, the security of having an emergency power supply, insurance against rising energy costs, and the novelty of generating your own free electricity. As energy prices, technology, and economic forces change many people will decide that solar electricity is the right choice for them.