• Q. Pennsylvania is pretty far north. Do we get enough sunshine here to enjoy all the advantages of solar panels?

  • A. Yes. Pennsylvania gets enough sunshine for solar energy systems to work very efficiently. For evidence, just look around and you'll see solar panels on homes, on businesses, on farms, and in fields all over Pennsylvania.

  • Q. If Pennsylvania is good, what places on Earth are best for solar?

  • A. One of the most interesting facts about solar energy is that over the course of a year, every place on Earth experiences just about the same amount of daylight, though certainly not the same amount of warmth. Countries at the equator, for example, get about 12 hours of daylight every day of the year, while here in Lancaster County, we range from 15 hours of sunshine in June to just 9 in December. At the poles, the duration of daylight varies from 24 hours in summer to 0 hours in winter.

    To see how much sunlight different locations receive on any day of the year, you can click here. Of course, clouds are a big factor in generating solar energy, so locations with more sunny days will be able to generate more solar electricity than places that are often cloudy. In the United States, the extremes range from Juneau, Alaska, which is sunny only 30% of the time, to Yuma, Arizona, which is sunny 90% of the time.

    Germany, which is hardly the sunshine capital of the world and which is much farther north than Pennsylvania, recently had a day when it generated more than half of its electricity from solar electric systems: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/23/uk-and-germany-break-solar-power-records

    These are the countries generating the most raw power from solar installations. Note that many of these countries are close to Pennsylvania's latitude or even farther north. In fact, the only one of these countries with a location significantly closer to the Equator than Pennsylvania is Australia.

    1. South Korea - 36 N
    2. Belgium - 50 N
    3. Australia - 25 S
    4. Spain - 40 N
    5. France - 46 N
    6. USA (PA) - 40 N
    7. Italy - 41 N
    8. Japan - 36 N
    9. China - 35 N
    10. Germany - 51 N
    Note: One degree of latitude equals 69 miles, so these numbers represent the approximate midpoint of the countries.

    Source: International Energy Agency

    It's also worth knowing that solar panels actually work better in cooler weather than in the blistering heat of the desert. http://www.keenforgreen.com/b/solar-energy-cold-weather.

    So, the simple answer to the question of whether Pennsylvania gets enough sunlight to reap the benefits of solar power is, "Yes. Solar electric systems perform very well here in Pennsylvania."

  • Q. How does solar power work?

  • A. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which convert sunlight into direct current (DC). An Inverter then converts the DC generated by the solar panels into alternating current (AC), which has many advantages over DC. The AC electricity is sent from the inverter to your electrical panel to power your lights and appliances with solar energy.

  • Q. How much energy does a solar panel produce? Can a solar energy system provide all of my electricity and lower my energy costs?

  • A. Yes, although producing all of your electricity is certainly not a guarantee because so many factors affect the answers. If you consciously conserve energy and never leave a light on, your energy usage will be much lower than that of many people, and your solar panels may actually produce more electricity than you need.

  • Q. What happens, then, if my solar panels do produce more electricity than I can use? Can I get any sort of energy tax credits?

  • A. In most places, you can send your excess power into the electric grid and receive credit for it. Through a process called Net Metering, your credit can then offset the cost of electricity that you may have to buy. Net Metering is a term that utilities use to describe the agreements in which they buy excess electricity from producers such as home owners and farmers.

  • Q. What happens at night, when the sun isn't shining? Can I store the solar energy that I generate during the day and use it at night?

  • A. Those nights are coming. Batteries that store solar electricity generated during the day are under development, and they're advancing rapidly.

  • Q. OK. The advantages of solar power sound good, but I know that a solar electric system will cost much more than a monthly electric bill, or even a year's worth of electric bills. So what is the real cost of solar panels? How much will a solar electric system cost up front, and how long will my payback period be?

  • A. These are questions with no single answer, but the cost of solar power has been dropping, and an average for a residential system is now between $15,000 and $25,000. And consider this: The effective rate for solar power spread across the life of a system is $0.08/kWh. The present average cost for conventional energy is around $0.12/kWh.

    Your cost will depend primarily on the size of your system, and most payback periods range from 5 to 10 years. Buyers now receive a 30% federal tax credit, and that credit comes directly off your tax payment, not as a deduction from your taxable income. Because solar power benefits are different for everyone, the only way to get an accurate estimate of the cost of your system is to call Trifecta Solar.