how do solar panels work?

How do solar panels work? How do they convert the sun into money in your pocket? It's simple, really. 

Any solar system that Renovus installs serves one important purpose, to save our customers money. These systems are made up of a complex chain of interconnected technological solutions that achieve that goal. Have you ever been curious about how we turn the sun's rays into money in your pocket? Well you're about to find out.

The Photovoltaic (PV) process is the process that converts sunlight into electricity. Solar panels are PV modules, built to generate electricity for your home or business. These panels are comprised of small photo voltaic cells,  wired together and sealed underneath a tempered glass cover. This panel is secured with a metal frame to combine all the panels elements into one unit, and to allow panels to be easily mounted and installed in series . Multiple panels are connected together in any given installation, creating an “array” of modules.

These solar modules create Direct Current (DC) power.  This DC power is converted into standard Alternating Current(AC) power with an inverter onsite. AC power is the most common type of power used for residential and commercial consumption, allowing it to be fed directly into your home to offset your electric bill or back onto the grid.

There are four or five components of a solar power system that help it produce energy for your home depending on your needs. Each component fills a specific purpose and helps you erase energy bills and be more energy independent.


When properly installed, solar panels directly convert the sun’s energy into DC electricity. Sunlight is composed of minuscule particles called photons which radiate from the sun. As these hit the silicon atoms of the solar cell, they transfer their energy to loose electrons, knocking them clean off the atoms.

Freeing up electrons is however only half the work of a solar cell: it then needs to herd these stray electrons into an electric current. This involves creating an electrical imbalance within the cell, which acts a bit like a slope down which the electrons will flow in the same direction. This flow of electrons is the DC current that will be fed into your inverter.


When the sunlight hits a solar cell, its photons are converted into electrons of DC electricity. This type of electric current is not directly applicable either at your home or business, and cannot be sent through the grid for use elsewhere.

Inverters allow you to convert DC power to AC power, which can be used by your home or transferred back to the grid. Modern inverters are also smart devices that allow solar array owners to monitor their systems production in real-time.


A utility meter helps consumers keep track of how much solar power is produced throughout the day. Utility meters are also known as net energy meters. Net meters keep track of the energy you consume as well as the energy you produce.

Energy credits are applied to your total net energy usage when your system is producing more energy than you are using at that given moment. If your meter is offsite, as is the case with a community solar system, those credits are applied to your bill monthly, rather than instantaneously.


While not all residential and commercial systems have on-site energy storage, they are becoming increasingly more common as industry prices decrease. Energy storage systems are available to anyone who has a solar system, be it on their home or off-site.  

Energy storage systems have the dual benefit of allowing consumers to use energy from their battery during peak -pricing hours, and store it in case of a grid outage. Batteries are connected directly to a home or businesses inverter, and come in a variety of sizes depending on the consumer's energy demands.


All Renovus solar systems are still connected to the grid. The reason for this being that grid-connected systems are both more reliable and easier to maintain for consumers.

The grid can both buy energy back from consumers when their systems are overproducing, and supply the necessary power to keep a home or business running smoothly when the system is not at peak performance.


What is the average cost to install solar panels?

What is the average cost to install solar panels for your home or business? Solar is an exciting new frontier and a way for home and business owners to take control of their energy generation, save thousands of dollars on utility costs and save the environment all at the same time.

That's all fine and good, but what does it cost?

Solar is modular

Solar is a scaled business, the more you need, the cheaper it gets. Unlike other types of energy generation, solar is entirely modular. As clients needs gets larger, additional panels, inverters and racking are purchased. There is technically no minimum or maximum size to a solar system, so for that reason coming up with an "average cost" is a bit of a misnomer.

Instead, we like to look at cost-per-watt and go from there. Of course, if you want a more specific look into your particular needs, you can always utilize our solar cost calculator, or call our team.

The cost per watt of a solar system is a great way to keep an eye a system's overall cost. Cost per watt is made of both soft and hard costs.


Hard costs with solar are things like the panels, inverters, meters, wiring, racking, and installation machinery. These components typically make up around half of the cost per watt of a system.

Soft costs are things like labor, development costs, and overall company overhead. These costs make up the other 40-50% of the system's costs.

The average cost per watt of solar varies state-to-state, country-to-country entirely due to differences in soft costs. Soft costs can increase drastically in communities where solar permitting is challenging, utility infrastructure is sub-par, or labor is expensive.

The average cost per watt of solar in New York State is around $3 a watt, whereas that same system cost in California is more than $3.50 a watt. It pays to speak with your local solar contractor to see where you fall on the spectrum. 


An additional factor to consider when determining the cost of a solar system is available incentives.

Currently, all United States residents can leverage the 26% (effective 1/1/20) Investment Tax Credit for solar. Individual states have different programs that can drastically decrease the post-incentive cost of a system. Some of these programs are delivered in the form of tax breaks, while others are provided through incentive programs and grants.

All in all, it pays to know your market. When asking yourself, what is the average cost to install solar panels, start with a local company willing to give quotes, and continue your research from there!

All in all, you're lucky you live in New York State as a solar customer. The incentives available to make going solar affordable here in NYS are unparalleled, and as a prospective customer, you have the opportunity to make the most of those incentives before they start to run out!

Are you interested in leveraging some of these awesome benefits to buy a solar system that can save you thousands? Reach out to our team and we'll happily draft you a no-nonsense quote that will help you understand all the options available to you!


Community solar allows you to save money every month on your electric bills without actually installing panels on your roof or property. Instead, you subscribe to one of our community solar farms and receive credits on your regular electric bill for the clean energy produced. If you pay an electric bill, you can participate in community solar and save money every month. It's that simple. There are far less upfront costs associated with community solar compared to installing solar on your roof or property.  Learn more about claiming your spot here.


what are solar incentives?

Solar incentives are exciting, but a sometimes confusing topic to address. There is no "one-size-fits-all" way to apply solar rebates and tax credits, and as the packages expire and change, one might feel that understanding these incentives is like trying to hit a moving target.

2021 is an important year for these incentives, as several key drivers in the solar market are set to expire in the coming years. We're here to help you understand what is available to you as a solar customer right now, so you can cash in on these savings before they disappear!

The federal investment tax credit

The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is the most important of the bunch. The ITC offers 26% of your project costs back in the form of a tax rebate the year after you install a system. There is no cap on this resource, so many clients can see as much as $10,000 off their system cost as a result of utilizing this credit. The 26% tax credit was set to expire in 2019, but thanks to a two-year extension included in the COVID-19 Stimulus Bill, the ITC is locked in at 26%. However, the residential rate is set to reduce to 22% in 2023 and expire in 2024, while the industrial credit will remain at 10%. 

What does that mean for you? That means you should act fast; don't leave money on the table. Installing solar is an investment for today, tomorrow, next year, and long after that. If you're considering purchasing a solar system for your home, act today for a big tax incentive. The 26% federal solar tax credit is available for purchased home solar systems installed by December 31, 2022. 

Accelerated depreciation

Like most capital improvement projects, Commercial solar customers can depreciate their solar investment as a means of getting tax relief on an ongoing basis. When the Federal ITC is taken on a project, the customer can still depreciate up to 85% of the taxable base of the project. With commercial customers, this amounts to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax relief.

Due to the most recent tax bill, customers can leverage 100% bonus depreciation on their project, or spread the depreciation over the standard 5-year MACRS schedule.

New York tax credit & other exemptions

Lawmakers negotiate the NYS Solar Tax credit on a year-by-year basis. As long as NYS continues to push its nation-leading renewable goals, we don't see this credit going anywhere. A New York solar customer can get as much as 25% of their system cost, up to $5000 back in NYS tax credits when they invest in solar tech.

Additionally, NYS has created some additional tax programs to incentivize investment that make solar in the empire state even more attractive.

In addition to the NYS solar tax credit, NYS is one of 29 states in the country with a solar property tax exemption in place. The NYS Solar Property Tax Exemption is a powerful tool that helps you increase your home's value, without paying the price. When applicable, the addition of solar panels to your home is exempt from property tax increases for a solid fifteen years. Individual communities have the option to opt-out of this program, but to date, the vast majority of the state has honored this exemption. While in some residential scenarios the impact of this exemption might be minimal, for commercial clients access to this program means thousands in savings every year. Solar can increase a home or businesses value up to $3 per watt installed. For an average residential system, that's $21,000 in increased home value you don't need to pay taxes on!

In addition to the property tax exemption, solar customers don't need to worry about paying sales tax on their systems. NY is one of 18 states in the country that leverages the benefits of reduced sales tax. Unlike other types of capital improvement projects investing in solar comes tax-free, saving customers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on the up-front costs of a project.

All of these benefits are currently accessible, and given NYS' recent goal of 100% renewable power by 2040, it's likely these programs will be expanded soon, rather than phased out.

New York tax credit & other exemptions

The NYSERDA incentive program in New York State is one of the tools that put the value of solar over-the-top. This per-watt incentive has been available to residential and commercial customers since 2015 and can make a massive dent in your up-front costs.

The NYSERDA incentive is administered by the NY-SUN program, a government-funded initiative aimed at speeding up the adoption of solar in NYS. NYSERDA is granted funding through the NYS government and passes along these savings to customers through the use of specific incentive blocks. Each NYSERDA block offers a different per watt incentive, and when that block runs out, the incentive will lower for the subsequent block. Each region in NYS has its own block that applies to homes and businesses in that region.

As you can see, many of the blocks in NYS are about to expire. Given the incoming step-down of the Federal ITC credit, many NYS solar companies expect that by 2020 every NYSERDA block will have been used up and stepped down in some way, shape or form.

What does that mean for you as a customer? You might see as much as a $.15 per watt (40%!) reduction in available incentives if you wait until next year.

All in all, you're lucky you live in New York State as a solar customer. The incentives available to make going solar affordable here in NYS are unparalleled, and as a prospective customer, you have the opportunity to make the most of those incentives before they start to run out!

Are you interested in leveraging some of these awesome benefits to buy a solar system that can save you thousands? Reach out to our team and we'll happily draft you a no-nonsense quote that will help you understand all the options available to you, including community solar!



In the solar industry, we talk about NYSERDA a lot. NYS is one of the most progressive states in the country when it comes to enabling the growth and sustainability of renewable energy infrastructure, and NYSERDA's programming is a significant reason why. NYSERDA is an essential tool to helping families and businesses all across NYS have access to clean, affordable solar power. 

NYSERDA is short for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and their vision statement is, in short, "Serve as a catalyst – advancing energy innovation, technology, and investment." The office itself distributes funds to a wide range of energy-related grant programs, including the NY Sun solar initiative. 

The NY Sun program provides incentives and financing to make solar-generated electricity accessible and affordable for all New York homeowners, renters, and businesses. Additionally, NY SUN runs program components including training for installers and public officials, standardizing permitting processes, and educating consumers. The program has been an astounding catalyst for the NY solar industry, helping to create hundreds of Megawatts of commercial and residential solar installations, and creating tens of thousands of jobs. 

NYSERDA distributes a solar rebate to any new community solar, or on-site solar installations on a per-watt basis. The current reimbursement rate amounts to .35 cents per watt. Before you scoff and say, "well that's nothing!" Considering the scale is essential.

The average Renovus customer is looking to offset energy bills somewhere in the ballpark of $100 a month. To offset those bills, the household in question would a 7.2 kW solar system. That's 7,200 watts of solar power, times  35 cents per watt amounting to around $2,520 in NYSERDA funding. All-in-all, that amounts to about 11.5% off the sticker price of a system.

Rates are slightly higher for commercial systems, at 45 cents per watt up to 750kW in size, and 25 cents per watt from 750kW onward. 

While these grants are hugely important to making solar more affordable, NYSERDA is more than just a financial catalyst. Their training, lobbying and research help push the envelope and propel NY's energy future.

NYSERDA is currently funded through the NY REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) initiative established by Governor Cuomo. Save an additional cash injection, the program's initial seed funding is on pace to expire by 2025 at the latest. Businesses and homeowners only have two years to leverage the full suite of state and local tax incentives as well as NYSERDA funding to get the lowest system costs available. 

Are you interested in learning more about how you could use NYSERDA to go solar at your home or business? Click below, and our team will draft a free estimate of your system size, cost, and paybacks.  


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what is a solar farm?

Chances are, you've been driving down the highway or on a back country road and you've stumbled across a vast field of solar panels. This solar power plant might be powering your town, school, or even dozens of homes and businesses in your community.

So, what is a solar farm? How does it work, and how can my home, business or non-profit get in on the action? That's what we're here to show you.

what are solar farms made of?

Solar farms are built with a few main materials. The racking, panels, inverters, and transformers. All these components work together to generate clean, renewable power that can is safely and efficiently transferred into the grid.

First, solar farms are made of large ground-mounted solar racks that hold thousands of solar panels. These steel and aluminum racks are traditionally pounded 5-6 feet into the ground and affixed to the land without the use of concrete. This allows a solar farm to be decommissioned at the end of its life, returning the land to its natural state with little to no impact whatsoever.

Second, solar panels are affixed to these racks using solar rack rails and spring-loaded bolts. Panels are arranged and interconnected in what is called a string. A string of panels can consist of as few as six and as many as 40 solar panels depending on the layout.

Third, these strings of panels are connected to a series of solar inverters. These solar modules create Direct Current (DC) power.  This DC power is converted into standard Alternating Current(AC) power with an inverter onsite. AC power is the most common type of power used for residential and commercial consumption, allowing it to be fed directly into your home to offset your electric bill or back onto the grid.

Lastly, all the inverters are wired directly into a utility meter and transformer owned by the utility company or grid operator. These pieces of equipment can measure the total output of the solar farm, and help the farm itself be safely connected to the grid. 

who owns the solar farm?

When asking who owns a solar farm, there is often not a simple answer. Solar power is a useful resource for anyone who uses electricity. For that reason, nearly every entity you can think of ranging from individual homeowners to the utility itself can benefit from the installation of a solar farm. Typically; solar farms in New York have one of four main purposes; For the utility, for a business, for subscribers, or individual homeowners.

The largest owners and developers of solar farms in New York are utility companies. Presently, solar power is the cheapest form of energy on the planet. For that reason, utility companies all over the country are developing solar farms to drive down the cost of their power. In 2018, what's referred to as "utility-scale" solar development rose 1000% in NYC alone.

Large businesses often construct solar arrays to help offset their sizeable electric demand as well. Businesses in NYS can build solar farms up to 5MW in size to help bring down their electrical demand and save money. While this type of development is far less common, companies across the state are starting to catch up to utility companies and deploy large renewable installations.

Solar farms often are built for residential and commercial subscribers as well. A central solar developer will build a large solar array, and customers opt into buying power at a discounted rate from that farm in 1-3 year contracts. While subscription is a relatively new frontier in New York, its popularity is proliferating due to the low barriers of entry for consumers.

Lastly, are community-owned solar farms
. With community-owned solar farms, individual homes and businesses own the panels on the farm and all the power produced by them. This decentralized ownership model provides the most significant financial benefit for homes and businesses in that area and allows customers only to purchase as large of a system as they need to offset their costs. 


It all sounds great. Solar farms are centrally located solar projects that benefit hundreds of homes? What's the catch?

Solar farms are quiet, easy to decommission and don't harm the local environment or residents. The farms offset hundreds of thousands of carbon emissions throughout their life-cycle and make sizeable strides towards decarbonizing the grid.  There are virtually zero long-term downsides of solar farm development.

Even still, disinformation and lack of knowledge have led to some communities rejecting solar farm development. Solar farms have been criticized as unsightly and large and can change an otherwise cleared agricultural landscape. Additionally, fencing required by local governments can cause slight changes in wildlife distribution in an area. The reality is that solar farms pose no risk to the local environment, and often actually help the soil on which their built recover due to the lack of fertilizer deployment and increased erosion from farming.

Solar farming is a key tool in reducing climate change, and creating a distributed energy network that powers our future. If you're interested in learning more about community solar farms, check out some of our content below.


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how does community solar work?

How does community solar work? How can off-site panels send you power and save you money?

Community Solar is shattering the way people think about accessing renewable energy. Since Renovus rolled out community solar ownership for New York solar customers in 2016, we have embarked on a relentless journey of educating consumers about their choices while going solar. We've traveled to every corner of the state teaching folks, hosting events and answering questions about this new frontier in renewable energy.

Community solar is exciting, affordable and accessible to anyone who pays an electric bill. We've chatted with thousands of folks from all walks of life, and they all have the same question: How does it work?


Before we dive into some of the more nuanced details of community solar, let's get the foundation out of the way, what is a community solar farm?

Solar farms are large aggregated projects where multiple homes and businesses own shares of a larger solar project. Renovus develops solar farms as small as 100kW and as large as 2.5MW. Renovus' average solar project can service about 25-50 homes in that utility area.

These solar projects are developed and built in areas with an ideal solar resource that will produce around 1200kWh per kW, or at about 93-95% of the total solar resource available in that location. Compared to some on-site systems, community solar can be 10-15% more efficient than a roof-mounted solar system, helping you get more bang for your buck.

A solar farm is developed in a location, and its solar power is aggregated on one "host meter" that helps both Renovus and the utility keep track of the farm's production. This meter is then connected to the grid, just like any power plant. You own a share of this total power production and get credit for whatever percentage of the farm you own.


We can hear you thinking..."So, off-site solar power plant. That makes sense. But how can they guarantee I'm getting the power my panels produce on that farm?".

Before we explain how this all works, we'll ask you one favor: Forget about the electron.
Short of running a dedicated wire from the farm to your doorstep, there is no way to guarantee that any given electron you are using at your home came from your solar farm. It's physically impossible. Lucky for you, that doesn't matter.

Deriving value from a solar farm is all possible because of one concept; Remote Net Metering.

Remote net metering (RNM) is an agreement between the public service commission and our utility companies that allows customers who generate their electricity from alternative energy systems, such as solar, to transfer power they do not use back into the grid in exchange for credits on their utility bills.

The amount of energy credits generated is directly associated with the amount of energy produced by any given farm. The system used to calculate these credits is called the Value of Distributed Energy Resources(VDER) Value Stack. Every farm's value stack is different, but in general, you can expect energy reimbursement at around $.08-.11/ kWh depending on your utility company and the farm's location.

This is huge for residential and commercial customers alike. Using this "digital energy" you can use a solar farm to offset your bill and zero-out your electrical expenses. With this type of metering, you also can maintain a great deal of flexibility by being able to use solar at less-than-ideal locations (think rentals, shady areas), or move and transfer credits to your new home!


The bottom line is this; Community Solar is a cost-effective, flexible way to use solar power to eliminate your electricity bills. Using remote-net metering is a slightly different method of deploying solar, but when a customer cannot go solar on their property, the overall financial returns associated with owning a share of a solar farm are incredibly compelling.

Generally speaking, most of our clients choose to finance a solar purchase. The goal in these scenarios is selecting a loan program whose monthly payment is lower than your electricity bill before going solar. Renovus helps its customers test the market to find the best options available, but we've also negotiated best-in-class loan programs with financial institutions such as M&T Bank, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Tompkins Trust Company.

When a customer finances a solar farm purchase, they often see monthly savings of 20-30% through the life of the loan, and 100% offset of electrical costs when the loan has been paid off. Our systems are guaranteed for 25 years, and most community solar clients will see savings north of $22,500 over the life of their system!

The amount of savings a solar farm owner will enjoy are entirely contingent upon the method of payment used. If you're interested in the different options for going solar, check out this blog from December 2018.

If you're interested in learning more about community solar, download our guide to community solar, or reach out to our team to schedule a conversation. We would be happy to help you gain all the information you need to educate yourself about all the options on the market for saving money with solar.

Did we recently build a solar system for you? It's common to have some questions about your equipment, billing and tax credits, and we're here to help. We've compiled some common FAQs and boiled them down to simple answers that can help you understand your solar investment inside and out.