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Electrical FAQ

Q.1 When is it time to call an electrician?

When you are resetting circuit breakers or changing fuses too often. When you turn on your air conditioner and the lights dim in the room. When your lights flicker or go on and off. When you can smell electricity burning. When you have six electronic devises going into one outlet in back of your electronics center. When you have receptacle outlets overburdened by multi-plug strips. When a three-prong plug needs a two-prong adapter. If you have to run extension cords to plug in electrical devices.

Q.2 What size service do I install in my home?

Most states call for 100 amps minimum, but with all the new electronic devices, air conditioning and electric heat, I would suggest 200 amps especially in new homes. This also gives you some space for future additions. This is not a job for an unlicensed person to attempt. In most cases it involves replacing everything from the service loop (this is the wire that extends from the top of your meter to the utility tie in ) up to and including the main panel.

Q.3 Where do you put G.F.I.'s?

Any bathroom or garage outlet within 6' of a sink must be GFCI protected. The code also requires all kitchen outlets for countertop use to be GFCI protected. GFCI outlets must be installed in any area where electricity and water may come into contact, including basements, pools, spas, utility rooms, attached garages and outdoors. At least one GFCI outlet is required in an unfinished basement and for most outdoor outlets.
The are two types of GFCIs in homes, the GFCI outlet and the GFCI circuit breaker. Both do the same job, but each has different applications and limitations.
The GFCI outlet is actually a replacement for a standard electrical outlet. A GFCI is not dependent of a ground to function. It does not measure shorts to the ground, it measures the current difference between the hot and neutral wires. A sudden difference of 5 ma. or more, indicating that there is another path for the electricity to flow through will trip this device. The only downside to this is there may be some nuisance tripping in highly inductive loads like large motors or even fluorescent lamps or fixtures on the same circuit. But the newer models seemed to have corrected this somewhat.
It protects any appliance plugged into it, and can also be wired to protect other outlets that are connected to it. The GFCI circuit breaker controls an entire circuit, and is installed as a replacement for a circuit breaker on your home's main circuit board. Rather than install multiple GFCI outlets, one GFCI circuit breaker can protect the entire circuit. There is a test button and a reset button on these units. If you press the test button the reset should pop out. To reset just push the reset button in.
Not a good idea to put lights on GFCI. protected circuits so you aren't left in the dark if the circuit trips. Generally, equipment such as refrigerators, freezers and sump pumps that cannot go without electrical power for an extended period of time without causing costly losses or property damage should not be placed on a GFCI. protected circuit. GFCIs are very sensitive and are subject to nuisance tripping. GFCI receptacles don't last outdoors even under the best of conditions. Be sure to test the device using the "test" button before you use one

Q.4 Do I have power when the lights go out?

Only if you buy a system with battery backup. CE Solar offers systems both with and without battery backup. Systems with battery backup are somewhat more expensive and less efficient, but they give you the peace of mind of never being without power.

Q.5 Will the utility company send me a check if I produce more power than I use?


Q.6 Isn’t solar still really expensive?

NO! Solar is actually far more economical over the long term than buying your power from the utility. After the state rebates and tax credits, if you finance the system over it’s warranty period, the monthly cost of solar will run about the same as your current electric bill. The big advantage is that this cost will never increase, while the cost of electricity from the utility has increased at an average rate of 6% per year over the last 30 years. Solar is a great investment for the long term.

Q.7 Do I need to buy a system that will eliminate my electric bill?

No. Many people buy systems that only eliminate part of their electric bill. The utilities have adopted a rate structure that increases the cost of electricity as you use more of it. Many people choose a system that will only eliminate the most expensive electricity. This increases the return on your investment.

Q.8 Will solar work on any house?

No, but it works in many locations. You need an unobstructed south, southeast or southwest facing roof top. Alternatively, you can mount the system on the ground.

Q.9 How much does it cost?

Grid-tied PV systems are typically $ 3 - 5 per watt - installed. An average residential system big enough to take care of a family of 3 or 4 in a 2500 sq. ft. house, would be about a 5 Kilowatt system. So, the gross cost of that system would be $45,000-50,000 installed (before the rebate and tax credit are factored in). In order to give you a more exact estimate of the cost, I would need to know exactly how much power you use – in terms of kilowatt hours per day, or per month – we usually just go back and look at your old bills to get an annual average. The prices above are based on a worst case scenario, your cost will most likely be much lower.

Q.10 How much is the Cash Rebate? / How much is the State Tax Credit?

The California Solar Initiative Cash Rebate has been going down over time. The rebate has dropped way down in recent years. The Federal Government also passed a 30% tax credit for Residential Solar, but these rebates will be decreased as more people will install solar systems.

Q.11 What kind of financing is available?

We offer Title One Loans, Hero Program where available. We offer financing programs with lenders specialized in Green Power Financing, with very low interest rates.

Q.12 What's the 'payback period'?

A residential system will typically pay for itself in around 7-8 years, but can be as low as 3 years on some systems. Considering that the panels come with a 25-year warranty, and have a 30-40 year design life, that basically means that after the first 7 years, they’ve paid for themselves, and then they go on to generate 20-30 worth of ‘free power.’ That’s 30 years of positive cash flow, money in your pocket in the form of avoiding electric bills. Payback is typically used to describe the time it takes for an investment to pay for itself…similar to Return On Investment. However, the basic assumption behind a payback calculation is that this is a discretionary expenditure, I can choose to invest in this energy equipment, or not, and if I don’t, I can put that amount of money in the bank and with no risk, make some 3-4%. Well, paying your electric bill is not a ‘discretionary’ expense for most people, they have no choice! Without making that basic assumption where the money is coming from in the first place, then ‘payback’ doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning.

Q.13 Will I ever have to pay another electric rate increase if I buy this system?

NO! That’s the real beauty of these systems. Investing in a solar electric power system is like buying insurance against future rate hikes, you’ll never get another electric rate increase for the next 30 years, you become your own power company, you’ve bought the generator, now the fuel (sunshine) is FREE!!!

Q.14 How does net-metering work?

With a grid-tied solar electric system you still have your “line-coming-in” from the utility, just like before, only now you also have a “line-out” to send your extra electricity back to the utility grid. Net Metering measures the difference between the electricity you buy from the utility and the electricity you generate with your solar electric system. When you are making more electricity than you are using, like typical summer days, your extra electricity automatically gets metered back out (sold) to the utility grid. You receive credit for this power at the same rate they sell it to you. Net Metering allows you to use the electric utility grid like a bank account. You can put electricity into it that you don’t use immediately and you can withdraw the same amount later on at no net cost to you. The Net-metering billing system is a 12-month billing cycle. Because you make more in the summer, and less in the winter, they allow you to credit your summer months into your winter months. At no time will the utility actually write you a check, net-metering requires the utilities to credit you for “up to the amount that you use.” The idea is to get a system that just meets your needs and avoid paying any electric bill at all.

Q.15 Can I run (power) my whole house?

Yes! a C.E. Solar System can easily produce all the electricity you need for your home. They come in many different sizes, and we have a system that just the right size to meet your needs. We typically go back and look at your old electric bills to see how many kilowatt-hours per month you have been using. Based on that we can easily point to a power system that meets that electric load.

Q.16 How Much Power will my Solar System Really Produce?

71% of all California Installations occurred in the past 3 years. Most Solar Companies have been focused on Solar Hot Water and do not have the Engineering Expertise to provide accurate power output estimates for Photovoltaic Systems.Power output depends on the microclimate that you live in, temperature, cloud cover, azimuth orientation, roof or ground mount pitch, and wind speed. Additionally, losses can be mitigated with good design techniques, proper wire sizing, and by proper string sizing. Choosing the right modules for hot climates is extremely important.

Q.17 How much should I attempt on my own?

At The present time most states allow you to do whatever you want in your own home. But doing electrical work yourself is a gamble. How much are you willing to risk to save money. There is a reason why it takes so much training to become an electrician. Do not make a mistake by taking electricity lightly, even the smallest job could be a safety hazard. Why take a chance. Get a professional to do this work.
Also In some states the homeowner can pull his own Electrical permit for work in his single family home, what he does not know is that in case of damage or fire caused by his work, his homeowners insurance will not pay, they will only if the work is done by a licensed Electrical Contractor. You should check with your homeowners Insurance Co., and they should sign a document or something to this effect to acknowledge this when they pull a permit.
The most dangerous time is when you tell yourself. This is easy. I can do it myself. Why should i get an electrician? Than when you don't remember where all those wires went, or your hair is standing straight up, you say to yourself. Well maybe we better call someone to straighten up this mess. Now it will cost you double what you thought you were going to save in the beginning.

Q.18 How many convenience outlets in each room?

In every kitchen, family room, dining room, living room, parlor, library, den, bedroom, or similar room or area of dwelling units, receptacle outlets shall be installed so that no point along the floor line in any wall space there is more than six feet, from an outlet in that space. This is to prevent the use of extension cords. Outlets are usually placed about 18 inches above floor level. Switches usually go about 48 inches from floor level. For convenience outlets each single receptacle in a single branch circuit is usually figured for 1.5 amps, duplex outlets for 3 amps in estimating total amperage for that circuit. Air conditioners should be on a single dedicated circuit.

Q.19 How should outlets be installed in a kitchen area?

All 15 and 20 receptacles installed within 6 feet of a kitchen sink or wetbar shall have G.F.C.I. protection. Receptacles in a kitchen used to serve counter tops should be supplied with at least two 20 amp branch circuits, for small appliances. Each fixed appliance (refrigerator, stove, dish washer) shall have its own dedicated circuit. On counter tops 12 inches or wider a receptacle shall be installed so that there is no more than 24 inches between outlets. Receptacles outlets installed to serve island counter tops shall be installed above, or within 12 inches below the counter top. There shall be no more than 24 inches from center line of counter top. No receptacle shall be installed face up on a sink counter top.

Q.20 What is an AFCI?

Starting January 1, 2002, The National Electrical Code , Section 210-12, requires that all branch circuits supplying 125V, single phase, 15 and 20 ampere outlets installed in dwelling unit bedrooms be protected by an arc-fault Circuit interrupter. Eventually they will be in more areas but the NEC selected to require them on bedroom circuits first because a CPSC study showed many home fire deaths were related to bedroom circuits.
The AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) breaker, will shut off a circuit in a fraction of a second if arcing develops. The current inside of an arc is not always high enough to trip a regular breaker. You must have noticed a cut or worn piece of a cord or a loose connection in a junction box or receptacle arcing and burnt without tripping the regular breaker. As you can guess this is a major cause of fires in a dwelling.
There is a difference between AFCIs and GFCIs. AFCIs are intended to reduce the likelihood of fire caused by electrical arcing faults; whereas, GFCIs are personnel protection intended to reduce the likelihood of electric shock hazard. Don't misunderstand, GFCIs are still needed and save a lot of lives.
Combination devices that include both AFCI and GFCI protection in one unit will become available soon. AFCIs can be installed in any 15 or 20 ampere branch circuit in homes today and are currently available as circuit breakers with built-in AFCI features. In the near future, other types of devices with AFCI protection will be available.
If a GFCI receptacle is installed on the load side of an AFCI it is possible for both the AFCI and the GFCI to trip on a fault if the current exceeds the limit for both devices. It is also possible for the AFCI to trip and the GFCI to not trip since the two devices could race each other. However, in no case is safety compromised.

Q.21 What Size System do I need?

Once we know how much power you use, we can easily do a sizing calculation to figure out how big a system you’ll need. Very simple calculation, there are 5.5 Equivalent Sun Hours (ESH) in Southern California, that’s the annual average sun that’s available, we multiply sun hours X system size to calculate kilowatt hours per day of energy production. That 4 kilowatt system I was talking about before would produce 20 Kwh’s of electricity per day, on an average annual basis.

Q.22 How much space does it take on my roof?

C.E.Solar power systems take approximately 100 sq ft of surface area (collector area) per 1 kilowatt of generating capacity. Therefore the average 4-kilowatt system we were talking about would require about 400 sq ft of area of good southern exposure.

Q.23 Does it have to go on my roof?

No! While roofs are usually good locations because they are high enough to be above any shading from trees, and many times they are facing south, there are many different mounting options for these systems. Detached structures, garages, covered patios, trellises, and ground mounts are a few other installation options.

Q.24 Can I install it myself?

Most people don’t try to take this on themselves. Although we will work with owner-builders, and you can put your own system in and still qualify for the Cash Rebate, there is a pretty steep learning curve that makes this a difficult option. Unless you really have some trade-skills under your belt, we advise most people to have a professional install the system.If you decide to install a system yourself, we can help you design your system and walk you through installation and the paperwork process.

Solar Systems - Factors Explained

C. E. Solar is committed to providing systems with exceptional performance over the entire life of the system. This section describes the assumptions we use for our Solar designs


Known factors effect actual array performance and system design. The inverter manufacturers' string sizing programs do NOT include these factors and they request that you accept responsibility (liability) for system design when using their tools.
The result of most of these ignored factors is that the array voltage is sized too low for the inverter to perform well over the life of the array especially on the warmest days of the year as the array ages.

Factors Explained:

Degradation The biggest of these factors is array degradation over time. We are designing systems to last 20 plus years, so we must look at anticipated voltage degradation when specifying an array design. Data on array degradation is hard to find. By comparing long term testing reports, module warranties, and discussion with manufacturers we have come to the conclusion that it is prudent to expect 0.25% per year loss in voltage and are allowing for 25 years worth of loss in our system designs.

Tolerance The tolerance could also be called the minimum guaranteed wattage. A module with a -9% tolerance could be rated 9% less than the spec sheet says it is. We assume 1/2 of the power tolerance is due to lower voltage. If you assume the rating of the average module will be 1/2 of the allowed tolerance and that 1/2 of this will be represented in voltage, we come to the decision to take 1/2 of the tolerance off of the design voltage for this factor.

Voltage Drop Array wiring will always have some voltage drop. We assume a voltage drop of 1% on the array side.

High Grid Voltage The grid voltage will be higher than 240 in some locations (close to a transformer). The allowed grid voltage for inverter operation is up to 264V (10% high). When the inverter is pushing power to the grid, any voltage "drop" in the AC wiring of the inverter is seen at the inverter terminals as a voltage rise. We assume the grid voltage will be 2% higher than 240. This is applied as a 2% lower voltage of the array.

Maximum / Minimum Temperatures at Site The temperature at the site will affect array voltages (variable by site). We assume the temperature minimum will be 14 Deg F and the maximum will be 113 Deg F. If your array location experiences wider temperature extremes, discuss other options with your sales person.

Partial Shade Performance The average modules we sell have 2 or 3 bypass diodes. When a full cell or more is shaded, the voltage from that bypass diode area is lost while the current is allowed to bypass the shaded area. (ALL of the voltage from every bypass area with a cell shaded is lost in partial shade conditions). We assume no shading, but if you have partial shading at your array site you should select relatively higher voltage array designs.
By incorporating these known factors into array design we have more restrictive criteria and a few less designs that we find acceptable when compared to inverter manufacturers’ string sizing tools.
This inconvenience is unfortunate but it means that the designs we approve will perform better over the life of the system.