The Basics

How does solar work? +

Solar Energy Equipment harnessing the heat and radiation from direct sunlight to generate power. Captured energy is converted into either heat or electricity, depending on the type of equipment and the specific application. Systems that generate heat are called Solar Thermal systems, including Solar Pool Heat, Solar Water Heat, and Solar Process Heat. Those that generate electricity are Solar Photovoltaic, or Solar Electric systems.

Solar Thermal Systems function by absorbing solar radiation onto specially coated materials and plates, which heat a set of copper tubes and water/glycol mix to up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Insulated pipes transfer the heat to where it is needed, generally for water heating, space heating, pool heating or commercial process heating. There are many different applications and options for Solar Thermal Systems; it is possible to provide up to 80% of your home heating and cooling needs with only the power of the sun.

Solar Photovoltaics use a special feature of semiconductors in which light is converted directly into Direct Current (DC) electrical power. Large sheets of this material are combined into sealed, framed ‘modules’, which are designed to last 25 years or more in rough outdoor conditions at high efficiency. Although variations exist, generally arrays of these modules increase and focus the power into an inverter, which will transform DC power into usable AC power for your home or business. A ‘Grid-Tie’ system will push any unused power back to the utility through a special ‘net-meter’, while a ‘Battery-Backup’ or ‘Off-Grid’ system involves a set of batteries to store all or part of the generated power for later use.

To get the most savings for my investment, do I choose Solar Thermal or Solar Electric? +

The solar technologies with the fastest ‘return’ on investment by a raw power per cost ratio are roughly the following: Solar Pool Heat, Solar Water Heat, and Solar Electric. Each technology absorbs solar energy in different ways and has certain advantages and limitations in its use. Solar Electric is by far the most versatile, and can be ‘fed’ back into the utility grid for instant savings or stored in batteries in case of grid failure. Solar pool heat offsets a large part of costly pool and spa heating bills. However, each installation is different and savings will depend greatly on the type of system chosen, property orientation and obstructions, and daily usage patterns. One of our designers will be glad to help you work through your best options.

What is Net Metering? +

When a Solar Electric system generates more electricity than is needed for a certain home or facility, it can ‘push’ the extra energy back onto the utility’s power grid for others to use, effectively ‘spinning’ the meter backward. A special ‘Net Meter’ is required for this. Net Meters accurately track electrical current in both directions and provide a net usage at the end of the month. The net meter replaces your standard utility meter, and the customer is generally paid wholesale electrical rates by the utility for any excess power in a given month.

In New Orleans and certain other Entergy-serviced areas, a special Net Metering Rider is available to customer accounts that provide annualized metering. This rider turns net-meter payments into ‘credits’ that are paid at retail value, and aggregated over the life of the account. For example, if you generate 100kWh of excess power in March, you’ll be paid an extra 100kWh in ‘credits’ that month. If your usage is higher than your PV generation in April, your account will draw from the credits first, before you are charged your normal rate by the utility. Annualized metering offers potentially large savings over wholesale payments, and can make it more practical to design net-zero systems for each facility. This helps customers save even more, up to 100%, on their overall electrical charges.

Is the technology new? +

Using the sun to heat water and interior space is by no means new, but technology and product standards have matured greatly in the past 60 years. We now have access to premium, high-durability, self-contained products from full-service established companies offering long-term warranties. Products are modular, with conversion and transfer equipment developed for rugged environments and continuous use. Solar Energy Systems serve our scientific curiosity deep in space, and our military forces deep in conflict zones. Solar Power is used on the smallest scale in a tiny calculator, and in the vast solar farms of the American and European deserts that power whole cities. Solar has been with us a long time, and is now an affordable and responsible option on a personal as well as commercial level.

Is solar reliable? +

Solar Energy Systems are made to withstand harsh outdoor conditions and continuous use. Most top-tier manufacturers warrant their products for 10-20 years, with life expectancies of 25-40 years. Most Solar Energy System installations will remain untouched for 5-10 years at a time, requiring only occasional maintenance or equipment upgrades. In that time the system will operate completely automated, at full power and efficiency. This translates directly into utility savings, peace of mind, and high return on investment.

On what types of property can a Solar Energy System be installed? +

Although residential and business applications have been popular for decades, Solar Energy is becoming more common among industrial and agricultural facilities as well. Off-grid Solar Electric solutions are especially popular in the agricultural sector, powering livestock water pumps, security lights, data sensors, and transmitting stations. Industrial needs are often easily met with clean energy by high-temperature evacuated tube Solar Thermal products and insulated storage tanks.

In Louisiana, the 50% tax credit for Solar Energy Systems is for installations on single-family residential property only, whether owned by an individual or corporation. This means multi-family homes, duplexes, or mixed-use facilities must first be converted to into single-family residences to qualify for the Louisiana Solar Tax Credit. The federal credit applies to nearly all non-pool applications of Solar Electric and Solar Thermal technology, for residential, commercial, agricultural or industrial.

How will solar equipment affect my property? +

Depending on system design, you will have solar modules on the roof, on a building-integrated structure (carport, etc) or on a ground-mounted array. Modules are mounted permanently using secure, redundant waterproof methods, with a design life of 20-30 years or more, and in a manner that will not violate most roofers’ warranties.

A properly installed system will generally increase the value of your property by thousands of dollars, providing a long-term energy source and a hedge against ever-rising utility costs. In Louisiana, the increased real estate value is free of property tax, and is often more than the out-of-pocket expense of the system!

How is equipment affected by hurricane force winds? +

All Solar Alternatives installations follow manufacturer and industry best practices, and are fully inspected by all local building code enforcement agencies prior to commissioning. Racking and strapping for all systems is designed to withstand multiple exposure to a minimum of 130mph+ winds, and is generally manufacturer-certified to 150mph. Solar Alternatives’ specially engineered Photovoltaic racking system provides 50% extra securement and attachment points on all vulnerable components, providing redundant protection for your investment and surroundings. This installation feature is unique to all contractors in the gulf region.

Will a solar energy system drop my utility bill to zero? +

Solar Energy Systems are designed to match your needs and interests with your budget and resources. A Solar Electric System can be designed to provide up to 100% of a facility’s needs, effectively making your property ‘net-zero’ use. Solar Thermal Systems are generally designed to provide 60-80% of a facility’s heating needs, in order to preserve the life of the transfer fluids and other components from overheating in the summer.

It is possible to design a combination of the two system types that effectively brings your net utility usage to zero, given enough space for equipment mounting.

Does a solar energy system operate when the utility power is down? +

Certain Solar Energy Systems will continue to operate when utility power is out. Solar Water Heating Systems running on integrated PV panels will continue to generate hot water without AC power, as will ‘passive’ Solar Water Heating systems (no pump). Solar Electric systems equipped with battery backup devices and battery banks will continue to power a select number of a home or facility’s critical circuits, and can continue running indefinitely with conservative power use and adequate solar recharging. On the other hand, a standard ‘Grid-Tied’ system is designed to shut down instantly when the grid fails, to protect utility personnel that may be servicing and repairing damaged power lines and equipment.

What is renewable energy? +

Renewable Energy (RE) refers generally to any power supply that is generated from limitless, non-polluting, or recycled sources. Wind, Biomass (crops and by-products), Solar, Fuel Cell (hydrogen), Geothermal (Earth’s heat), and Tidal technologies are examples of Renewable Energy.

What is solar air conditioning? +

A seemingly counter-intuitive solution, Solar Air Conditioning is a proven source of low-cost climate control for larger commercial and industrial facilities (20-300 cooling tons). In Solar A/C, a Solar Thermal System generates process heat for a standard adsorption/absorption chiller. This chiller receives the most solar input energy when it is most needed – in the heat of day, and uses stored solar heat and backup heat for darker hours. This means high-efficiency, high return on investment, and a clean energy solution to your heavy cooling needs.

What makes Solar Alternatives the right choice? +

When you choose to build a Solar Energy System, you’re making an investment to last a generation or more. At Solar Alternatives, we strive to match your priorities to the perfect system and design. We follow ever-changing Solar Energy technology and research to keep the broadest supply line, and recommend only the best quality and best value products that are built to withstand the harsh South Louisiana weather.

With Solar Alternatives, you get much more than a bottom line. You get quality, honesty, and peace of mind.

Will Solar Alternatives Staff install my system? +

Unlike some Solar Energy contractors, Solar Alternatives does not hand off its System Installation to unlicensed and untrained subcontractors. Your installation will be performed by experienced Solar Alternatives technicians, trained specifically for each technology, and with thorough engineering supervision.

Why is a professionally engineered system better? +

A Solar Energy System should never be installed without the involvement of an experienced engineer and designer. Nearly every system installed in an urban area is placed on an existing roof surface, and the windloading calculations crucial to safe, strong installation cannot be completed without proper experience and analysis. A thorough property inspection and the proper software tools that these professionals possess ensure performance and safety. In most jurisdictions, an engineer’s stamp is required for proper permitting; a requirement that is often neglected or avoided by inexperienced contractors.

What warranties apply to a Solar Alternatives system? +

Solar Alternatives provides a 10 year labor and service warranty on all of its Solar Energy System installations. This commitment is double the industry average, and will provide peace of mind during the most vulnerable time for a new system. Since Solar Alternatives is a licensed, insured, factory trained state contractor for Electrical and Solar Energy Equipment, all manufacturers warranties for every piece of equipment we sell are active in full.

Is Solar Alternatives a licensed and insured contractor? +

Solar Alternatives is licensed by the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors for Solar Energy Equipment, Electrical Work, and Building Construction, as well as all Residential Construction. SA maintains staff with Masters Electrical License in several parishes, as well as in-house Engineering resources. SA maintains General Liability insurance and Workers Compensation insurance to $2M, to protect our clients from typical workplace hazards.

Does Solar Alternatives provide service to existing systems? +

We strive to meet every client’s needs, servicing all makes and models of existing Solar Energy Systems.