What Happens to My Solar When the Sun Isn’t Shining?
The sun is your solar panel’s best friend, it’s what makes the entire system work. Obviously the sun goes down at night, and sometimes gets blocked by clouds or trees, which brings up the question: what happens to my solar system when the sun isn’t around? It’s a valid question, after all, what’s the point of going solar if a cloudy day makes it so you can’t power your home right?
To answer these questions we’ve got to understand what your solar system design was based on. When you decide to go solar with Simply Solar we will ask to take a look at your electric bills from the past 12 months. Why 12 months? Most people’s electric bills fluctuate throughout the year because of seasonal changes or behavioral patterns. If we only look at a couple of bills it would give us an inaccurate depiction of how much energy you really use on a regular basis. We take the average amount of energy you use in the entire 12 month period and design a system to cover that usage. Once your panels are up and your system is in place, it will only take your panels about 5 hours to create enough energy to power your home for 24 hours. You may be wondering why we don’t just install a smaller system then right? Well here’s where it gets interesting.
Your utility company takes all that extra electricity that your panels are producing during the day, and sells it to other people. They don’t get to do this for free though. There’s a law, California Net Energy Metering (NEM), that requires the company to compensate the homeowner (and don’t worry, even if the law gets changed, if you purchase solar before the change you are grandfathered into the original law for 20 years). The utility company will credit your account in the form of kWh (kilowatt hours). Kilowatt hours are the amount of kilowatts you use over time. This means that at night, when the sun is down and your panels aren’t creating energy, you’re using electricity from the utility company, but you’re not paying for it because you have the credits on your account! Whatever you don’t use just rolls over to the next day. You can think of these kWh credits as the old way that rollover cell phone minutes used to work. These kWh credits continue to rollover day by day, month by month, until you hit 12 months. When you get solar for your home, you no longer have a monthly bill from your utility company for your energy use. Your only monthly bill is minimum taxes and fees that everyone has to pay that are not related to the amount of power you used. You are on a 12 month billing cycle, so you will still receive monthly statements so you can track your usage, but there is no bill for your energy use until the end of the 12 months. The benefit of this system is that if you use a lot of electricity in the summer months trying to mitigate the heat, you may be using more than your solar panels are producing and therefore you are using some of the utility company’s electricity, meaning you would be paying an electric bill if on a monthly billing cycle. However, when the winter comes you may use much less electricity than your solar panels are producing and therefore gaining a lot of kWh credits in your account. As your usage and your credits roll over to the next months, they end up cancelling each other out! So by the end of your 12 month cycle, any extra power that you needed to use from the utility company will have been paid for by the kWh credits you accrued during the year thanks to your solar panels!
At the end of the 12 month billing cycle, this is where you will see the difference between a well designed system, and a system that wasn’t really designed based on your needs. If your system was too small, you will end up having used more electricity than you created, resulting in you needing to pay the utility company. If your system was too big you will end up with a large amount of kWh credits. Now, you may have heard that your utility company will buy those credits from you, so why not aim for extra at the end of the year? It’s true that if you produce more electricity than you consume then you are classified as a generation facility (basically a little power plant), and the utility company has two options; they can either buy it from you, or roll it over to the next year. The problem with this system is that they buy it from you at the wholesale price, which is pennies to the dollar. For example, if in Southern California a kWh costs $.23 from the utility company, they will only pay you $.03 for that same kWh. If you choose the roll over choice, they still only value it at the $.03 a kWh rate, so either way it’s a net negative for the homeowner. This is why it’s so important to get a solar system that is the right size for your usage, to limit the under and over production of electricity.
Does that mean you can never change your energy usage? We know that things change from year to year, and you may not use the same amount of electricity you did 5 years ago. Maybe you’re planning on getting an electric car, or adding air conditioning, your electricity usage is surely going to go up. That’s why Simply Solar chooses to use products that allow for easy expansions and add ons. An important part of a solar system is the inverter. These are where the DC electricity that the panels create gets converted into AC electricity that we can use to power our homes. Inverters come in two options, a centralized inverter or a microinverter. A centralized inverter requires that each panel in the system connects back to the inverter in order for the system to work. This means that the centralized inverter must be sized for the exact number of panels it connects to, you cannot simply add another panel to the system later because it would overload the inverter. The other drawback of the centralized inverter is that it is much more difficult to diagnose panel malfunctions because if one panel goes out, they all go out. Do you remember the old style of string lights, where if one went out then they all went out, making it nearly impossible to figure which bulb was burnt out? It’s just like that. A centralized inverter can only convert as much electricity as it’s lowest performing panel, so if one panel isn’t working, then nothing is working. At that point, each panel may need to be removed one at a time to try and find the issue. There may not even be anything wrong with a panel but if a neighbor’s tree got a bit taller and is shading a panel so it can only produce at 10%, then that means everything else is only performing at 10%. You can see why this is a less than ideal situation to be in. That’s why Simply Solar chooses to use microinverters. Microinverters are built into each panel, so each panel converts DC to AC. This means that there is no size limitation, and you can add on another panel whenever you want because it has its own inverter! This also means that since these panels can work independently, if something goes wrong with one, it does not affect the others. If that neighbor’s tree just keeps getting taller and one of your panels gets shaded to the point that it’s only performing at 10%, then that means you have one panel performing at 10% and the rest of them performing at 100%. The system is also monitored by an app that identifies the panels independently so if one is malfunctioning, we can determine which one it is immediately and it can be repaired or replaced under our 25 year parts and labor warranty. All of this may sound complicated when it comes to wanting to add on to your solar system, but we’ve made it simple for you. All you have to do is call us. We will look at your bills and design an addition for you. We deal with everything: design, permitting, installation, and inspections.
Now you know what happens to your solar power when there’s no sun, what we base our solar power systems designs on, how important the right equipment is, and how it all ties together. Choosing a solar company that understands all of this is crucial to getting you all the benefits that come with going solar. Simply Solar is that company. We pride ourselves on our customer service, quality products, and great workmanship that is done entirely in house from start to finish. You can call us at 1-844-SUN-EASY or email us at email@example.com, or fill out the form on our homepage to learn more about what solar can do for you!