Apple, Amazon, Target, Walmart - what do these tech revolutionaries and retail giants have in common? They run on solar energy. As the top four corporate solar leaders in 2018, these brands generate a combined 1,081.6 MW of solar electricity, according to SEIA’s 2018 Solar Means Business Report.
But does solar provide a reliable source of energy for these companies, and can it be trusted to provide energy for your business or home? What happens if something goes wrong, and how likely are you to cash out on a solar investment?
If you’re considering using solar energy to power your home, business, or farm, you’re not going to want to do so without understanding the limits that solar energy will place on the electricity you have available.
We’ll address these concerns, but here’s a quick spoiler: after several decades of use, solar has proved itself as a reliable alternative to fossil fuels, powering operations from the United States Military to your neighbor’s house.
What We’ll Go Over:
Will I Always Have Electricity If I Go Solar?
When it comes down to it, as long as your system is tied to the electric grid, you will always have access to as much electricity as you need, given the grid is up and running.
While it’s true that solar panels can only produce electricity when the sun is shining, you still have full access to the electric grid. And with net metering (available in most states) or New York’s Value Stack, you’ll be fully compensated for any electricity your system produces that you don’t use through a credit on your electricity bill. This means that your solar system can produce extra free electricity while the sun is shining to use at night or in poor weather.
However, a common misconception is that with solar, you’ll have electricity even when the grid goes down or the lights go out. Because your system is tied to the grid, it is required to shut off and stop producing until the grid is back up and running, unless you invest in a battery or other energy storage system.
How Reliable Are Solar Panels?
Solar panels, in general, are very reliable. According to a study, only .05% of PV modules experience failure per year during their lifetime.
Where does that number come from? In 2017, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) monitored 54,500 solar panels over 15 years. They found that only 5 panels of 10,000 failed each year. That’s 1 in every 2,000 solar panels.
And that number represents a wide variety of solar panels in a variety of environments. Depending on where you live and what you install, that number could be much less. The study showed signs of higher failure rates in very hot and humid areas as opposed to more temperate and dry areas. If you live in the northeast or other cooler areas of the country, that rate could be even less.
Another thing to consider is the quality of the solar panels themselves. If you opt for solar panels made from high quality, well-trusted producers, it’s likely that that failure of panels will occur less often.
And even if you’re one of the very unlucky solar owners who does have a solar panel that fails, you may be covered with the system’s warranty.
What Happens If My Solar Panels Fail?
If one or more of your solar panels fail, you’ll most likely be covered by the solar panel’s warranties, which typically extend 25 to 30 years. Solar panels typically come with both a product warranty and a performance warranty. The product warranty will cover any defects in the material or workmanship of the panel. The performance warranty guarantees that the performance of the panel will stay above a specified degradation rate.
As long as you did nothing to void the warranty (ie using a power washer to clean your panels), the failed panel will likely be replaced, though this may not include labor to remove the faulty panel and install the new one.
Is there a way you can keep track of your solar system to ensure you don’t lose out on energy savings due to faulty equipment? Take a look at your solar system’s monitoring software, or dive deep into your electric bills.
Many utilities break out how much electricity you used each month and how much you drew from the grid. If you purchased a lot more electricity from the grid one month than you normally do, it’s possible your solar system is producing less electricity due to an issue.
Just be sure this increase in your electricity bill wasn’t caused by an explainable increase in power you used, like Christmas lights or a new piece of equipment.
How Reliable Is Other Solar Equipment?
Solar panels aren’t the only thing you need to turn sunlight into electricity. Solar systems are comprised of a few different parts - the main ones including solar panels, inverters, racking, the distribution panel, and the electric meter.
The inverters - the part of your solar system that converts the DC electricity from your panels to usable AC electricity - are also backed by warranties, typically ranging from 10 to 25 years. While this may be the most likely part of the system to have issues, selecting a quality model from a trusted brand can save you plenty of time and headaches down the road.
Batteries, an optional add-on for solar storage, typically have warranties of five to ten years. Batteries have a much shorter lifespan than other components of solar systems, depending on how frequently they are charged and discharged.
The racking (what mounts your panels to your roof or your land) normally comes with a 10 to 20-year warranty on workmanship and material defects.
All this to say that if anything goes wrong with your system, manufacturer warranties may be there to cover it. However, it’s also a good idea to partner with a solar installer who offers additional warranties/guarantees.
At Paradise Energy, we offer a Triple Ten Guarantee for the first ten years, which covers any labor required for the replacement of warranty items, a workmanship guarantee for work that we did, system monitoring, and the crown jewel - a performance guarantee that backs up the total solar production of your system. If your system produces less than we guaranteed, we’ll send you a check for the difference.
Is Solar Energy a Safe Investment?
In the vast majority of cases, the truth is that solar is not a risky investment. In fact, for many, it’s the opposite. Solar power can be a very reliable and stable investment, as it is dependent on only a few factors that are somewhat predictable.
Your solar investment is going to come down to two things: how much the price of electricity increases, and how much your system produces.
First and foremost, take a look at your proposal. Most solar installers will include a cashflow outlining the payback of your system, along with the ROI. These figures are important.
While it’s impossible to tell the exact increase or decrease of electricity prices, it’s a fairly safe bet that they’ll rise over the 30+ year lifespan of your system. As demand increases, costly electricity infrastructure will need to expand to meet the growing need, driving up electricity prices from the grid.
In addition to electricity prices, the weather itself also has a significant impact on your system’s payback. Several extremely cloudy and snowy years may lead to less electricity produced by your system, which leads to a longer payback. However, bright and sunny weather will super-charge your system, leading to an above-average payback.
Your solar installer will take average local weather patterns into account when sizing your system and determining its production. This will give you a fairly accurate estimate that won’t fluctuate much from year to year, regardless of whether you live in Miami or Seattle. That keeps the paybacks on your proposal pretty close to what your system will actually achieve.
Is Solar Energy Reliable or Unreliable?
Since solar energy’s wide-spread adoption, it’s proven itself as a reliable energy source over fossil fuels. Solar-generated electricity offers consistent energy production with components that rarely experience failure and that are backed by substantial warranties.
It also has another benefit - one to your wallet. Solar energy is a stable investment that can transform your monthly expenses by generating free electricity.
If you’re tired of overpaying for electricity from the utility company, learn more about how solar energy can help lower your monthly bills, increase your property value, and help you save on taxes.