Frequently Asked Questions

We’re asked these questions quite…frequently. See if we’ve been able to address your questions or concerns below.

How does solar power work?

Solar panels capture sunlight and convert the solar energy into DC electricity. The DC electricity then flows through wires and conduit to a solar inverter. The inverter converts the DC electricity into AC electricity that can be used in your building. The inverter is the heart of your solar system and is constantly monitoring the utility grid to make sure that the solar electricity being generated matches the Volts/Amps of the grid electricity, so your lights will never know the difference between solar electricity and the utility electricity.

The power from your system flows from the inverter to the loads in your building. If there is more power generated by your solar system than is being used in your building at the time, then that “surplus generation” will flow backwards through your meter and into the utility grid. Your account will be credited for any generation you feed into the grid at the retail cost of electricity that your utility charges you at the time the solar electricity was generated – typically a higher rate in the daytime and a lower rate in the evening. Later, when your solar system is not running, you can buy electricity back from the utility by first cashing in the credits you earned with your surplus generation. A properly designed commercial solar installation may be capable of offsetting close to 100% of your electricity usage bill over the course of a year.

How Does solar energy benefit the environment?

Solar energy can’t fix all of the world’s problems, but it can help!

  • CO2 SAVINGS – Even when you factor in the energy it takes to make, transport and install a solar panel, it still offsets 1.5 pounds of CO2 per kWh generated. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, we can all agree that a less polluted planet is a better planet.
  • SOLAR ENERGY IS A TRULY RENEWABLE ENERGY RESOURCE – We can run out of coal, natural gas and even the wind can stop blowing, but if the sun stops shining we’ve all got bigger problems.
  • SOLAR IS SAFE – Coal mines collapse, nuclear plants meltdown, wind mills kill birds. When was the last time there was a solar meltdown?
  • HELPS THE GRID – The utilities have to provide the most power to customers during the day in the summer – often sending energy long distances from the power plant to your outlet. Rooftop solar systems deliver the most power at the source when it’s needed most – freeing up the utility lines for better distribution to the rest of the grid.

How does solar power work during the night? What if there is a blackout, can solar work even then?

Most solar electric systems today are designed to operate as net metered systems. Net metered systems will supply electricity to the building when the solar system is running. Any excess generation from the solar system will be sent back to the utility grid, and credited to the system owner’s account.

When the solar system is not running, in the evening or on stormy days, your building will run on electricity provided by the utility as it currently does, but you will be able to cash in the credits for electricity your solar system previously contributed to the grid.

In essence, the utility acts like a large battery bank for your commercial solar installation. This is a great benefit because the maintenance and initial investment of an additional battery backup bank is eliminated!

However, net metered systems are not able to operate during a blackout, since there would be a safety risk for Utility Linemen. If you are in an area with frequent blackouts, then you might want to consider a battery backup system, but for the majority of us, the amount of inconvenience/cost associated with infrequent blackouts isn’t enough to justify the cost of a battery backup.

How big should my solar solution be?

The size of solar system required will vary based on the efficiency of the modules being used, your building’s solar access, and the cost of electricity on your utility rate schedule.

A site evaluation and rate analysis should be performed by your installer in order to provide an accurate system size and savings estimate. However, a general rule of thumb for basic estimates is that you will need about 1,000 ft. sq. of clear roof space for every $2,000 in annual utility bill savings desired. For example, if you have an annual electric bill of $100,000 and you would like to offset 100% of the bill, then you would need approximately 50,000 ft. sq. of usable roof space in order to achieve that savings.

Are solar panels available in different varieties or are they all the same?

Like you, no one is just like you. Same for solar panels.

There are over 600 module manufacturers worldwide, solar panels come in different shapes and sizes, and the power of each solar panel can range from 80 Watts to 435 Watts!

Considering the solar modules you select for your commercial solar installation will be on your rooftop for several decades, it’s important to choose a reputable solar manufacturer that can stand behind their warranty. A good solar installer should be able to guide you to the module that maximizes your short and long-term savings.

In some cases it’s worth investing a little more upfront for a higher-efficiency module in order to earn significantly larger savings revenue over time. Whereas, a standard efficiency module may provide the best return on investment for other clients.

Do solar panels require any type of maintenance?

For solar systems located in California there is usually very little, if any, maintenance required for a solar system. If you’re in a high dust area, such as an agricultural environment, you may need to do periodic rinsing of the panels during dry periods, or after nearby fields have been plowed.

Why should I get quotes from multiple vendors?

Getting competitive quotes from multiple vendors will give you confidence in your decision to go solar when you finally do – knowing that you are receiving the best installation, by the most qualified installation firm.

While it’s tempting to treat solar purely as a commodity and require exact apples to apples quotes from multiple vendors, we encourage you to resist the urge.

Designing solar systems that are tailored to your electricity needs is a science, and how a solar firm approaches the project tells you a lot about their capabilities. One firm may focus on selling you the largest possible system – maximizing the sale for the installer.

Another firm may focus on your return on investment and suggest a smaller system – maximizing your savings. We encourage you to ask each solar installer to propose the system that they feel best meets your needs and then evaluate them on their professionalism, attention-to-detail and the system Payback, ROI and LCOE.

How do i calculate the return on investment from solar panel installation?

While generating return on investment analysis for solar is a complex process that requires detailed knowledge of utility rate schedules, weather history and solar product data, there are three key metrics that are generally used to evaluate a solar investment, which you should become familiar with:

  • Payback Years: In its simplest terms, the payback is the number of years it will take for the system to generate enough electricity savings and tax incentives to recoup the initial investment. So if a system costs $100,000, receives $60,000 in tax incentives and generates $10,000 in annual electricity saving per year, it would have a payback of 4 years.
  • ROI (Return on Investment): The ROI on a solar investment is generally calculated by taking the net solar investment and dividing it by the cumulative savings of the system over 25 years. For example, if your net investment in a $100,000 solar system after tax incentives is $40,000 and the solar system generates $250,000 in electricity savings over 25 years, then you would have an ROI of 16% ($40,000 / $250,000).
  • LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy): LCOE is helpful in evaluating the cost of electricity generated by two different solar designs, or against the utility rate. LCOE is calculated by taking the net investment for the solar system and dividing it by the cumulative generation of the solar system in kWH (kilowatt-hours). For example, if the net investment for the solar system is $40,000 and the system generates 1,125,000 kWh over 25 years, then the LCOE for the system is $0.035 per kilowatt-hour. This is important, because the single year average for most utility rates range from $0.08 – $0.46 per kilowatt-hour.

What's the most common method of connecting solar power to an electrical grid?

The most common method of connecting your commercial solar system to the utility grid is via a Net Metering Agreement with the utility. The system is installed and connected to your main service panel with either a back-fed breaker, or a direct connection to the service panel buss-bar.

The electricity generated by the system will first feed the loads (your usage) in the building and then any surplus generation not being used by the building will then feed back into the utility grid. If you’re on a Net Meter Agreement, then the Utility will install a bi-directional net meter in place of your current meter. The Net Meter does everything your current meter does, but is capable of recording the electricity that your solar system contributes to the grid, so that your account can be credited for the generation.

Is south-facing exposure important to install a solar power system?

A south-facing array will produce the most annual energy. However, any orientation from south-east to due west is considered acceptable for solar. Depending on the utility rate schedule you are on, it may be favorable for the system to be oriented towards the south-west in order to maximize your overall electric bill savings.

When the solar lease culminates what are the options left for me?

Solar Lease terms vary slightly based on the financing institution that is offering the lease and the credit strength of the Host Customer. Generally, at the end of the lease term you (Host Customer) will purchase the system at a fixed percentage of the system cost, or FMV.

How dependable is solar power?

Very dependable! With no moving parts in the panels or racking, and the introduction of transformer-less inverters, there are virtually no serviceable parts for a solar system – making them extremely reliable.

Solar panel manufacturers back their products with 25 year warranties, inverter manufacturers offer standard 10 year warranties, and Vista Solar carries a 10-year workmanship warranty. What other equipment investments can you make to your property that carries similar warranties?

What is the expected life of a solar power system?

Solar panels are engineered and built to have a minimum 40-year life cycle. In addition, solar panel manufacturers have standard 25-year production warranties that guarantee the panels will be producing, at least, 80% of their rated power at the end of 25-years.

After installing solar panels, will it still be possible to make roof repairs?

Yes, but some methods of installation are easier to perform roof repairs with than others. For instance, a flush mounted solar racking system that sits only a few inches off of the roof will require panels to be removed in order to access the roof for repairs. Many ballasted, or tilt-up, racking solutions sit 12 inches to 36 inches above the roof, making it possible for minor repairs to be made without removing any parts of the system.

Can the cost of installing a solar solution be reduced with government rebates?

Yes! In most cases, 60% to 70% of the initial system investment is recovered within the first 5-years through government incentives. The Federal Government offers a 30% tax credit on the total value of the system, as well as a 5-year accelerated depreciation schedule.

Many of the State utilities are also offering modest rebate programs as well. Because such a significant portion of the solar investment is recouped through tax incentives, there are several financing options available today that allow the financing company to monetize the tax incentives and pass on the savings to you in the form of a lower monthly payment.

How do I determine if an investment in solar is justified for me?

Due to the financing options available for solar today, going solar can be a great investment for virtually anyone.

If your monthly electric bills are above $1,200 and you own your own building, or have >10 years left on a long-term lease, then you’re likely a good candidate for a commercial solar installation.

If you have a good cash position and have been paying taxes to the IRS, then you may want to consider a cash purchase for the system. If you want to reserve your operating capital, or generally do not need to pay much in taxes, then you will likely want to go with a Lease or PPA option that saves you money right away with no capital investment.

Our Team is happy to review your bills and discuss your option in detail.

What are the types of solar financing options are available with Vista Solar?

We are able to offer many solar financing solutions. Through our various financing partners we are able to offer Loans, Capital and Operating Leases, PPA’s and government subsidized Agricultural financing. We’re also always happy to work with our client’s bank whenever possible.

What does Vista Solar's Solar Lease include?

In general, our solar leases are between 7 and 10 years in length and conclude with a modest buyout of the system – after which you will see 100% of the system savings. Our goal is to generate a Solar Lease that is cash flow positive (the lease payments are covered entirely by the electric bill savings generated by the solar system). In order to achieve this, we have to vary the terms of the lease (length, and buyout). In addition, the credit strength of the Host Customer affects the lending rates and the length of lease term we can offer.

When my solar PPA contracts ends, what are my options afterward?

As with the solar lease, PPA contract terms vary based on the investors offering the contract. However, most PPA contracts will allow the Host Customer (you) to either, 1) extend the contract, 2) purchase the system, or 3) ask to have the system removed by the Owner (PPA Investors).

Vista Solar is a California based commercial solar electric design and installation firm.

We specialize in analyzing commercial and agricultural utility rate structures and optimizing solar system designs to generate the maximum energy bill savings for our clients – with little or no money down. Solar is more than equipment, it’s an investment that pays dividends for decades – let us help you start saving money today!