Do I need batteries if I install solar panels on my house? What happens at night when the sun isn’t shining?
No, you do not need batteries if you install solar panels on your house. Most houses that ‘go solar’ in New York State remain tied to the electric grid. At night, or when the sun isn’t out and your panels aren’t producing electricity, you receive electricity from the electric grid like anyone else. So in this case, the grid is kind of like your battery storage. Best of all, the electricity you get at night from the grid might be free because of net metering!
Wait, what is net metering?
Net metering is a policy mandated by New York State that makes solar work for customers even though we’re not sunny every day of the year. It works like this – on a sunny day you may produce a bunch of electricity from you panels, more than you would usually use! Instead of letting it go to waste, your panels will send that electricity into the electrical grid to be used by your neighbors or anyone else connected to the grid. In return for you sharing this excess electricity production, the energy company will give you a credit on your bill equal to how much energy you gave back. That means if your house produces 5kWhs of energy but you only use 2kWh, than 3kWh will be credited to your account. Before you begin to pay for any supply or delivery charges, you’ll have to go through all the credits you accumulated.
So if I install solar panels, my electric bill will be $0?
Not quite, every customer connected to the electric grid pays a monthly service fee to help make sure the lines are maintained and to ensure that we can repair and replace faulty power lines that lead to power outages. As long as you’re connected to the grid you’ll have to pay this service charge, but in return you’re also making sure you always have access to electricity – a pretty good trade-off!
So what happens in the winter time when the panels are covered with snow and we aren’t getting very much sunlight?
It comes back to net metering. Installers where we live in New York design personalized systems that take into account how much energy you use throughout the entire year. They then create a system for you that will not only meet your needs in summer months but also generate excess power you can send back into the grid in return for credits on your bill. All summer during the sunny days you’ll slowly build up credits on your account. When late fall and winter hit and your panels electric production slows down, you’ll start to get more energy from the electric grid and burn through your credits. Net metering makes sure you keep your energy costs low and ensures your investment in solar panels pays back all year long!
So why doesn’t everyone go solar?
We see a lot of benefits associated with solar, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Residents that don’t use very much electricity probably won’t benefit financially by going solar (although there are environmental and energy independence reasons to go solar!). Also, not every house or property can handle solar – if you live in a really shady area or have a really bad roof, solar might not work for you (but maybe you can look into community solar!). Finally, if you live in a really drafty house with poor insulation and old appliances, you should consider getting an energy audit done on your house before going solar. There can sometimes be improvements to your house, like improving air sealing or insulation that will make your house more comfortable and save you money on your energy bills!
HAVE A QUESTION?
Email Energy Educator Terrance Carroll at the address below for specific questions.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County 323 Owego Street, Unit #5 Montour Falls, New York, 14865
If you have a more pressing question please call Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County at 607.272.2292 and ask to speak to an Energy Educator about Solar.
Aren’t solar panels really expensive? I probably cant afford them!
You should find out! Solar panels have steadily been going down in price and they’re now cheaper than ever before. Paired with state and national incentives, the sticker price on a solar panel system may go down by as much as 50-60%, and going solar through this campaign could save you another 8-15%! Best of all, new financing options can often make solar as affordable as your current energy bills! Instead of paying your electric utility, you’ll be paying off the loan on your panels that meet your electric needs. Once you pay off the panels all you’ll pay on your electric bill is the line service charge that everyone connected to the grid pays! Goodbye big electric bills!
And now, community solar is an option for those of us that always wanted to go solar but couldn't afford the up-front cost of purchasing panels. If finances have been holding you back from going solar, consider going with a subscription model of community solar!
So how do I know if solar is the right choice for me?
Well you’re already taking the first step, which is to become an educated consumer! We at Solar Schuyler believe that everyone should learn their options and make the decision that’s best for their family. We encourage you to look at some of the additional resources on our website or to come to an event to meet us and ask questions. If you think you want to explore solar – sign up to talk to an installer about options personalized for you. They should be able to tell you whether solar will work on your property as well as how much it might cost, including all incentives you may qualify for. If you do decide to go solar, talk to an accountant to make sure you qualify for incentives, and consider asking for quotes from multiple installers to make sure you’re getting the best deal
If you have any questions about the process of going solar, feel free to contact us!