Frequently asked questions

Savings

Why do you sell panels in pairs?


Microinverters are designed to support either 60-cell or 72-cell panels. Our pair of 36-cell panels is equivalent to one 72-cell panel when connected in series, and the panels’ smaller size makes them easier to lift and handle. Each panel is rated at 190 W. The panel pair is rated at 380 W. You will be hard-pressed to find a 72-cell panel with a power output this high. These are premium panels. Just so you know, commercial installs typically use 72-cell panels and residential typically uses 60-cell panels.




What savings will I get on my electricity bill?


As an example, in Michigan one panel pair facing south with a 35° tilt will reduce your annual electric bill by $80. If the panels are set up to the east or west, you still receive 80% of those savings. Compare calculations from these U.S. cities to estimate your savings:

  • Albuquerque $91
  • Austin $69
  • Boston $126
  • Buffalo $87
  • Charlotte $66
  • Denver $77
  • Detroit $88
  • Los Angeles $122
  • New York $97
  • Phoenix $69
  • Portland $49
  • San Francisco $126
  • Washington, D.C. $74
Payback for your solar power investment depends heavily on how much your utility charges you for electricity. San Francisco is often cloudy but has very expensive grid electricity, so any power you make goes a long way toward saving you money. Installing solar panels in Phoenix may give less savings because, although it is one of the most ideal locations for sunny days and power generation, grid electricity is not as expensive. You may visit these links to do your own calculations: Choose Energy - Electricity Rates by State, PV Watts Calculator





Installation

How do I install the panels? What will I need?


Easy Installation VideoOnly a single tool is needed: a battery operated drill with a 5/16” hex driver bit (the most common bit size). Our cardboard template is shipped with every panel pair. You simply lay down the cardboard sheet where you want the panel, place the four mounts in the notches, and run in the self-sealing screws. Now the mounts will be perfectly spaced to take the panel, which slides into the hooks on to the mounts. At this point, you can tilt up the high end of the panel to make the no-tools wiring connection. A pin gives extra security to the assembly.




Where should I put panels on my roof? How many can I fit?


South-facing is best, and east and west still provide 80% of the effectiveness. All solar panels need sun and hate shade. Our type of panels are somewhat shade-tolerant, but it is still best to choose the place on your roof which receives the most sun throughout the day.




How do I plug your panel kits into my house?


Simply plugging the microinverter into the wall will cause it to offset your power use from the grid. The National Electric Code requires the outlet and its circuit to be dedicated for this purpose. In other words, a circuit breaker must connect to only one outlet; the outlet your solar system will plug into, and no other outlets. The microinverter will begin to supply electricity five minutes after it senses a connection to the grid. Thus, the microinverters produce zero power when disconnected or when the grid is down due to a power failure.It is possible that the solar panels and microinverter can produce more power than your house consumes, thus outputting power to the grid. In this situation, you have two options. One is to configure your microinverters for “zero export”, also known as “customer self-supply”. This requires extra hardware and a particular brand of microinverters which support this functionality. “Zero export” is often done in Hawaii. The second option is to enter into a “parallel operating agreement” with your utility. In Detroit, the utility has some additional system requirements.




Will there be a power cord hanging off the edge of the roof?


You can run it along a roof edge and then down a corner to a dedicated outlet, hiding it behind your gutter downspouts. A neater way to run the cord is through the roof into the attic, and we offer a roof accessory for that purpose, which uses the same sealing technology as our mounts.




How do I know installation won’t damage my roof?


We use the same mounting technology (butyl mastic roof seal) as do three other sellers of higher-cost mounting systems, which have been field-proven with millions of installations.




How do I plug your panel kits into my house?


Simply plugging the microinverter into the wall will cause it to offset your power use from the grid. The National Electric Code requires the outlet and its circuit to be dedicated for this purpose. In other words, a circuit breaker must connect to only one outlet; the outlet your solar system will plug into, and no other outlets. The microinverter will begin to supply electricity five minutes after it senses a connection to the grid. Thus, the microinverters produce zero power when disconnected or when the grid is down due to a power failure.It is possible that the solar panels and microinverter can produce more power than your house consumes, thus outputting power to the grid. In this situation, you have two options. One is to configure your microinverters for “zero export”, also known as “customer self-supply”. This requires extra hardware and a particular brand of microinverters which support this functionality. “Zero export” is often done in Hawaii. The second option is to enter into a “parallel operating agreement” with your utility. In Detroit, the utility has some additional system requirements.





General

What is the optional monitor for?


The microinverters just plain work when you plug them in, indicated via the blinking blue LED. However, it’s way more fun to watch one’s energy production via the monitor. The only connection the monitor needs is any wall outlet. The monitor reads out on its display and ships that data to the cloud over your home internet. Once on the colud, your smart phone will report out the energy production.




Will I need to do any maintenance, such as cleaning the panels or replacing parts?


No maintenance is required. A panel with at least 10° of tilt will self-clean from rain. The solar panels and microinverters have a life-expectancy of 25 years, minimum - six times longer than the typical payback period.




How does solar reduce my electric bill?


There are a few scenarios here: Offset Let’s say that your typical daytime electrical use is 2 kW and you install one of our system that has a peak output of 0.5 kW. Thus, your daytime use would drop from 2.0 kW to 1.5 kW while the solar is producing at maximum. It is this reduction in daytime power usage that yields the $80 per year savings. Homes and businesses with high daytime electric use are ideal for this strategy. Parallel Operating Agreement with Net Metering Net metering is a great deal and it is available in approximately 45 states. In this scenario, the power company acts as the battery. It buys any excess power at the same price it sells power. Typically, it is possible to buy enough panels to reduce your bill to zero. Parallel Operating Agreement without Net Metering In this case, the power company agrees to accept your excess power but pays you nothing or perhaps pays a reduced rate for your excess power. Zero Export In this scenario, the microinverters are controlled such that one does not export power. Not all microinverters have this capability but Enphase, one of our (non-standard) microinverters, does.




How do I get net metering?


We can only speak to the process in Detroit. DTE Energy requires that you fill out an application ($100 fee). They require an electrical inspection, an AC disconnect within 5' of the electrical meter, and a photo of the microinverter. Check with your own electric utility on their requirements.




Can you explain how your kits meet the National Electrical Code and other code requirements?


The microinverter meets: NEC 204 Section 690.11 DC Arc-Fault Circuit Protection Not applicable because our maximum DC voltage (37 VDC) is less than 80 volts. NEC 2014 Section 690.12 Rapid Shutdown of PV Systems on Buildings Layman’s explanation: The microinverter ceases to output power when if disconnected or during a power failure. NEC 2014 Section 705.12 Point of Connection (AC Arc-Fault Protection) Further, the NEC requires that all the equipment is certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. All of our equipment has a rating such as UL or ETL.




Why don’t I just buy a Harbor Freight 4 panel system for $189.99?


Harbor Freight claims a rating of 100 W DC. At $200, you are paying $2 per watt. 1stStepSolar’s system is 760 W DC for $1000. That is $1.32/W, meaning you are buying 1stStepSolar watts at a far lower price than HF. Further, the HF system only makes 12 V DC power which won’t reduce the electricity you buy from the grid. The 1stStepSolar system includes a way to mount it to your roof, a grid-tie microinverter, wiring, an electrical production monitor that allows you to track your electrical production via your smartphone. We would rather you compare 1stStepSolar to Tesla, who in the 6 states that they serve offers a 3800 W DC system for $10,800, installed. That is $2.85/W which is a great deal for a contractor-installed system. Please buy the Tesla system. But if you don’t or can’t, buy 1stStepSolar. It’s half the price and you can Start with OneTM.




What is done to make sure the solar panels don’t electrify the grid when the power is down (for electrical worker safety)?


This question comes from having heard about connecting gasoline generators to the house without first disconnecting from the grid. Every grid-tie inverter on the market, including any in our kit, has a feature called rapid shutdown. A gird-tie inverter is designed to work when the grid is up and cease output when the grid is down. UL 1741 inverter compliance requires that inverters cease operation whenever the utility parameters fall out range.





Lingo

What is “dollars per watt” all about?


This is the industry-standard number for the installed cost of a solar system. This number is the ratio of the price from the installer divided by the DC watt rating of all the panels. Our panel pair has a DC rating of 380 W. If the cost is $465, that is $465/380W = $1.22 W. For example, in a hot solar market like the southwest, there is a lot of competition and you should be able to get a residential install for $3 per watt ($3/W) before the federal tax credit. In places with less solar installers, the price may reach $4/W. In addition to showing how economical our kit is, this number also shows how fast the payback will be: our $1.22/W system pays back in 4 years, while a $3/W system will pay back in 12 years.





Warranty

Would the panels come off in a wind storm?


We modelled our mounts after commercially-available mounting systems which have been tested to 105 mph winds.




Do your parts have a warranty?


The solar panels and microinverters come from large, well-established companies. The solar panels have a manufacturer’s 25-year warranty on their output. The microinverters have a manufacturer’s 10-year warranty. However, the cost of shipping is high relative to the cost of these products, thus it is not practical for us to offer both low prices and long warranties. We will work with you to make sure the parts are working when installed. After that, we expect the products to last well past their predicted lifespan. Should you experience a rare product failure, we sell all the parts for our kits.It takes significant customer confidence to pay $18,000 for the typical home solar system that pays back in 12 to 15 years. This being the case, the solar contractor has to offer long warranties. Since our systems pay back in about 4 years, our warranty need not be as long.





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