Frequently asked questions about solar

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity through a process called the photovoltaic effect — where photons from sunlight generate an electric current within a semiconductor material and it is transferred through your electric system. This current can then be used to power electrical devices in the home. Any excess electricity can be sent back to the grid or stored in batteries for use during periods of low sunlight.

How much does solar cost?

Every home is different because we build according to your energy use and how many panels can fit onto your roof. The industry median in the United States right now is $2.90 per watt, and can go upwards of $4.75 per watt. The average size of a system is 10.4 kilowatts. Considering the costs of supplies, labor, and permitting, systems typically range from $30,000 to $60,000 before rebates and tax credits are factored in. Learn more about system cost vs. power bill savings

How much money will I save with a solar energy system?

Right now, there are many rebates and incentives available to significantly lower the cost of the initial investment to install a solar electric system. After that, you generate your own electricity, so your power bills will go down because you need less power from the grid, and because you will not be subject to future rate increases by utility companies over time. Considering the incentives and being insulated from rate increases, solar panel systems pay for themselves over their lifetime, if not sooner. A typical return on investment is usually about 15 to 20 percent. Learn more about installation incentives and about ongoing savings from solar.

What incentives and rebates are available if I install a solar system?

It depends on your utility provider and household income. But there are many, including the Energy Trust of Oregon Solar and Energy Storage Programs, Oregon Solar + Storage Rebate Program, utility-specific incentives, and a federal tax credit that amounts to 30 percent of the total out-of-pocket cost of your solar photovoltaic system. If you cannot use the full tax credit the first year, it can carry forward to subsequent years. See which incentives are currently available within your utility’s territory on our incentives page.

Can I count on these incentives and rebates if I don’t do my project right away?

Don’t take for granted that currently available incentive programs for solar energy will always be around. The amounts of various rebates can change from year to year, or even be ended entirely. Some rebate programs are allocated a fixed amount of money for a year, and it’s possible the program runs out of money before the year is over. Currently the federal tax credit, however, is authorized through 2032 at 30 percent and then gradually phases out.

If I get a bid from Energy Design, will it show the available financial incentives?

Yes. Energy Design will include any available rebates or tax credits specific to your situation when you request a free assessment or bid from us.

What is the timeline for installation?

Due to a high volume of interest, it generally takes three or four months from contract signing to system completion. But it depends on permitting, application approval, construction planning, and inspections. The installation of the panels themselves will typically take two to four days for a crew of three, depending on the system size. In total, each project requires a minimum of 90 hours of labor to complete.

Why can’t my solar system be turned on immediately?

Your system will not be turned on immediately after we complete our work. We are mandated to wait for your utility to come out and install your new “net meter.” This can take up to two weeks after we complete our work. The reason for this is that your old meter will not understand if your system is pushing energy onto the grid or consuming power from the grid, so it will not calculate your power usage correctly. You would be billed for more grid power than you actually used.

How does payment work?

Typically we bill a third of the total cost when the contract is signed. We then bill another portion when we order supplies for your project, such as panels, inverters and racking equipment. The final payment is due once both electrical and building inspections have passed. Since every project is unique we can often work with you to set up a payment plan that fits your financial needs.

Do you offer financing?

Due to current interest rates, Energy Design is not offering a loan option. Often, when receiving a competitive quote that includes a loan, you’ll see that you will pay 100 percent more over a 25-year loan period, as opposed to paying cash upfront — because of interest. When you consider the cost of the interest, your solar investment will not be a net positive endeavor over the lifespan of the equipment. We are happy to help you understand the lifecycle cost analysis of a solar project. Please let us know your questions when you do your free assessment.

Is solar really free in Oregon?

No. There are currently tax rebates and program incentives to promote solar adoption, but anyone claiming solar is “free” is misleading or possibly scamming you.

How much experience do you have installing solar panels?

We were founded in 2004 – that’s almost 20 years of experience and growth! We have installed solar and battery systems for hundreds of homes and many well-known local businesses. We stay up to date on industry standards and new equipment. As a training agent, we work with the Oregon JATC to cultivate solar savvy professional installers. We currently have three licensed renewable technicians (LRT) on staff and two LRT apprentices. Our lead designer and owner, Vince McClellan, is a NABCEP certified PV professional. Learn more about our team.

Do power companies increase their rates over time?

Yes. Pacific Power and Portland General Electric were approved to increase their rates by 14.8 percent starting in 2024. As Oregon plans to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, many utility companies have started their own solar farms and infrastructure changes. Although this is commendable, the costs are passed on to the consumer. A solar system on your home gives you a way to use clean energy and not be subject to increased prices. You own your solar system, instead of paying more for the utility companies to build it.

Another important factor is that net metering is not guaranteed to be available indefinitely. Utilities hold the right to stop accepting it for new houses in the future – which is what makes solar possible for most homeowners. Houses that get net-metering approval are grandfathered in with their agreement.

How long do solar panels last?

The majority of the system components we use are guaranteed for 25 years. Panels degrade at a marginal percent per year. At 25 years, they produce approximately 80 percent of what they did when they were new, and even then they still have a lot of life in them. Often the solar inverter manufacturer will have a stated warranty period of 10 to 12 years with the ability to request a warranty extension to 25 years for an additional cost.

Does the warranty cover labor?

The 25 year warranty covers manufacturing defects in the equipment. Labor is covered for five years with us. After those five years, service requests will be billed for the labor associated with any fix necessary to get your system up and running again.

How much will solar increase the value of my home?

About 4.1 percent, according to Zillow. A solar system has great value because it decreases your monthly power bills, gives homeowners the ability to produce their own energy, creates clean electricity, and provides the option to have batteries in case of wildfire caution, power outages, or other emergencies.

What is “net metering” and “net billing”?

These are two slightly different methods that utilities may use to allow residential and commercial customers who generate their own solar electricity to sell excess electricity back into the grid. As a solar customer, you will only be billed for your “net” energy usage and the various monthly utility fees listed on your bill. Learn more about net metering vs net billing.

Do solar panels generate electricity in bad weather?

Yes. If you can tell it’s daytime then there is likely enough solar irradiance to activate your inverter and produce power, even on cloudy or rainy days. However, when the days are shorter in the winter and the sun stays lower on the horizon, a solar electric system will produce considerably less power than it will at the height of summer. If panels are obstructed by snow, you’ll want to carefully remove it with a brush on an extension pole for the panels to be active. This is especially important for off-grid and hybrid battery based systems.

Do solar systems require maintenance?

Very little. We do recommend an annual wipedown with a squeegee. Bird poop or debris can lower your panels’ production rate. We recommend dusting/vacuuming off the solar inverter, if you have a string inverter, a couple times a year as well. If we install a system for you, you’ll receive a custom Owner’s Manual, which outlines recommended maintenance.

Will I have power during a blackout?

No, not unless you have a battery backup system or secure power supply. If your solar electric system is tied to the grid, it will be unable to produce power until the grid power is active and stable again. Power company workers keep the grid off when they are working to fix downed power lines, and therefore your electricity will be out until the grid is safely turned on again.

Do I need a battery backup system?

It’s not necessary, but it can be useful in the case of a power outages or emergency. It really depends on your situation. If you live in an area with frequent blackouts, or if having power at all times is critical, you may want to consider a battery backup system. Battery backup systems add considerable cost and complexity to a project, but battery incentives too. If you think you might like to have a battery backup later but don’t need it immediately, you may be able to add batteries to your system at some later time. Let us know your situation when you get your free assessment.

Can I have solar even though there are trees around my house?

It depends where they are relative to your house. For projects west of the Cascade range, we tend to focus on south-facing and west-facing roof areas for solar panel arrays. If you have trees obstructing the sun in these areas, then your house may not be a great candidate for solar.

You may consider cutting the tree(s) down, but we don’t always recommend that. Depending on your energy costs and your house’s energy efficiency, the trees may actually be helping to cool your house and save you energy and money. It’s a case-by-case basis. If you want to get an idea of the shading yourself, type your address into Project Sunroof, and you can see a free shade report on your house. If you’d like more professional input, please request a free assessment from us.

Is my home suitable for solar panels?

A building suitable for solar will have a composite shingle roof that is no more than five years old (or you are planning to get a new roof), have roof pitches that are south- and/or west-facing, not obstructed by trees or buildings, have enough space to create a system that meets your energy needs, and have an electrical panel on the house.

How many solar panels do I need for my home?

It depends on how many kilowatts you use per month and over the course of a year. We will look at your utility bill and roof size to determine how many panels would be best, then adjust to fit your budgetary constraints. It’s all part of your free assessment.

Can I install solar panels myself, or do I need a professional?

While D.I.Y. installation is possible, it’s highly recommended to hire a professional to ensure safety, code compliance, and optimal system performance. Energy Design also has the ability to receive solar rebates and incentives on your behalf, which makes it so that it is not seen as taxable income to your household. Under certain situations, we can be hired to do the design documentation and deliver parts for D.I.Y. installs.

Why is my utility bill showing different energy production than my data app?

When your solar system generates energy, that energy is used by your house first. So, it never passes through the meter to be counted. When your solar system produces more electricity than your home is using, then it does pass through the meter and is counted as a credit by your utility.

Net energy is the difference between the energy produced by your renewable generating system and the amount of electricity supplied by the utility. Therefore, your net meter will only show the amount of energy that was excess and passed back to the grid. Your data monitoring app, however, will show many more kilowatts because it is calculating the total energy being produced by your solar electric system, including the watts your house uses immediately.

What does ‘Solar Ready’ mean?

It’s an Oregon construction standard that informs the electrical panel installation, conduit routing to the attic/roof, and spacing requirements for the adjacent meter and electrical panel where future solar equipment would be placed.

Learn details about it here from the Energy Trust of Oregon.