top of page

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Find quick answers to the most common questions below. Select a category to browse by topic.

faq
  • General FAQ
    Do you offer free estimates? Yes. We publish a price sheet on our website. You can also get a recommendation by submitting our custom project form. Visit our Get Started page for a list of resources. Where are you located? We are in Rapid City, SD. Please see our contact page for details. What is your service area? We serve the Black Hills area within 100 miles of Rapid City, South Dakota. Are you a contractor or retailer? We are electrical contractors providing complete system design, sales, and service. We do not do retail sales. What types of systems do you offer? We install residential and commercial solar power and energy storage systems, electric vehicle connectors, power distribution panels, and related electrical services. Please note: We do not sell or service systems for recreational vehicles, mobile applications, hot water/air collectors, wind power systems, off-the-shelf/retail products. Do you support DIY or 3rd-party installations? We only offer complete design/installation services at this time. We do not support DIY or 3rd party system design or installation and do not install systems or components sold by others. If another party designed or installed a system you already own, please contact them as they are more familiar with it and are responsible for permits, customer support, and warranty-related issues. How long does it take to get solar installed? Depending on the complexity, projects usually take two to five days to system design, estimate/quote, and prepare permitting and interconnection paperwork. On-site installation time varies from two to four days in most cases. What is your project lead time? Lead times vary seasonally. On average, we have a one-month lead time. Get started planning your project with is in the first or second quarter to get scheduled in the same year. By late summer we may be fully-booked for the year. Installations are weather-dependent, so projects quoted in the winter may be scheduled for springtime. Are there tax credits or incentives? Yes. A federal tax credit allows you to claim a 30% tax credit on solar power and energy storage system installations. See IRS form 5695. Learn more here: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/homeowners-guide-federal-tax-credit-solar-photovoltaics What is your certification/experience? Our team includes PV Installation Professional certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners including Master and Journeyman electricians. Are you licensed? Yes, we hold building (Rapid City: AEC2369) and electrical contractor licenses (SD: EC-3543, Rapid City: AEC3533, Wyoming: M-52663). Are you insured? Yes, we are commercially insured by Acuity.
  • Purchasing
    How do I make a purchase? Following an initial estimate, we will provide a formal quote for your acceptance, followed by a purchase agreement (contract) for your signature. What are your payment options? We accept payment by check. Most projects require a 50% down payment and the balance due at completion. We accept credit cards only for transactions under $1,000. Do you lease or finance? We do not lease or finance directly. To learn about third-party financing options click here.
  • Solar Power
    How much solar power do I need? 3 to 6 kW of solar panels is good for reducing bills and to provide the quickest return on investment. Systems up to 10 kW are suitable for larger homes, battery backup power systems and net-zero goals. Some homes may utilize upwards of 20 kW of solar, to be more even more energy independent. We recommend a system size based on space available for solar panels (roof space), the monthly electric usage, and to meet your specific interests. It is also possible to start small and add more solar panels or a battery system later. Will solar power run my air conditioning? Yes. Solar power pairs perfectly with air conditioning since A/C is used most when there is the most sun. In many cases, the cost of air conditioning can be effectively eliminated. Will solar power run my electric heat? Some. Electric heat is at least partially powered by solar during the daytime. However, most heating energy is needed at night. When powering heaters from a battery, the battery must be large else it will deplete quickly. This is because electric (resistive) heat requires a lot of power and may need to run continuously. Heat pumps are an effective electric option, but generally, larger or older homes require more heating energy than solar alone can effectively cover. Can I charge my electric vehicle with solar? Yes. It works best to charge the vehicle during the daytime. The number of miles driven daily determines the solar power capacity needed to eliminate the EV charging costs from your power bill. See the EV category in this FAQ for more. Will solar reduce my power bill and pay for itself? Yes. By reducing the amount of power used from the grid, bills are reduced. Utility bill reduction correlates directly with the costs solar power is offsetting, so changing utility rates and other factors apply when estimating a timeframe for the payback. Solar power systems have high longevity, so they can reliably produce a return on investment at least once over the system's expected lifespan of 20+ years. Do batteries improve savings or payback? Battery systems do assist in bill reduction by storing excess solar for nighttime use and by reducing peak demand charges. However, batteries are generally not installed for just their ROI benefits, but instead for their functionality (i.e. backup power). Backup power may also save you money or heartache by keeping refrigeration powered during a grid outage and by maintaining power to other essential appliances or critical devices. Is there a warranty? Yes. All devices we sell carry a manufacturer warranty. All major components have a minimum of 10 years manufacturer limited warranty. Our tier 1 solar panels have a 25 year warranty. Black Hills Solar also warranties quality workmanship and warranty processing should a component failure occur. Is it better to install solar panels on the roof or on the ground? Roof and ground-based mounts each have their advantages. Roof mounts are popular as they install quickly and have a lower cost compared to ground-based systems. Ground mounts have the advantage of improved winter performance or may be used whenever roof mounting is unfavorable. Roof-mounts: Pro: highly cost-effective Pro: fast installation Pro: does not occupy or disturb land Con: limited to the roof orientation and pitch Con: panels must be removed for re-roofing Con: may be inaccessible for snow removal Ground-mounts: Pro: can optimize orientation/tilt for best performance Pro: accessibility for snow removal Pro: higher efficiency (due to air circulation, cooling) Con: construction and site work adds significant cost Con: 24" deep trench required for power line Con: may need to be fenced
  • Battery Systems
    Do I need a battery? In some cases, yes. Batteries are required for back-up power, and allow excess solar energy to be stored in the daytime and used at night time. A battery can also help to reduce power bills when time-based rates apply. Can I add a battery later? Yes. A battery system can be added to a solar power system at a later date. We often install solar power systems first, ready to add a battery later, but installing both together will reduce installation costs. What can I backup? In most cases the battery system will backup the entire property, as long as the battery can power the largest appliance or load. Sometimes, large appliances may be excluded from backup and only the essentials are powered when off-grid. How long much backup time is expected? Depending on the energy usage, available solar power, and the battery capacity, backup power can be short term or indefinite. At a minimum, the battery will be sized to power essentials for about a day, but in most cases one battery system alone can power essentials like lighting and refrigeration for a week or longer on a single charge. With adequate solar power for recharging, backup power will be continuous. What is the battery lifespan? Many lithium-type batteries designed for household use come with a 10-year warranty that guarantees a minimum 70% of the original capacity by the end of the warranty term.
  • EV Charging
    How much energy does an EV use? An average Electric Vehicle uses about 30 kWh per 100 miles (0.3 kWh per mile). Currently the most efficient EVs use around 0.25 kWh per mile. How many solar panels are needed for car charging? One solar panel generates 1 to 2 kWh per day on average (varies by location). That's about 3 to 4 kWh per kilowatt (kW) of solar capacity per day. Therefore, a 6 kW PV system can charge up to 30 kWh (100 miles) on an average summer day. Winter-time charging rates will be about one-third to one-half due to shorter days and cloudier conditions. It is also possible to use grid-power to charge the vehicle as needed from the same charging connector. If you know your average miles driven per day, you can determine how much solar capacity will offset the vehicle use. Though since excess solar power will be used by the home, oversizing is generally not a problem. For example, to drive 30 miles per day requires about 9 kWh of energy. Therefore about 3 to 4 kW of solar power capacity will offset that additional grid-power usage from your home for most of the year. What solar power system do I need to charge my EV? We recommend using a smart solar EV charger, which can direct solar power into the vehicle, reduce/eliminate grid use for the vehicle, and schedule charging times. Alternatively, if the EV charging connector is not a component of the solar power system (i.e. off-the-shelf options), solar power will go to all loads including the home, and more grid power may be used for vehicle charging. Either way, solar power will reduce total grid power use overall. Can I charge my EV at night? When charging is done mostly at night, solar will only power the home during the day while at night the vehicle will charge with grid power. You may get the same net benefit of bill reduction (with solar), depending on specific utility rates and what your home uses. Home batteries may also be used for vehicle charging, though the battery capacity will be large to do so. Will EV charging increase demand charges? Vehicle charging can use a lot of power at one time (except as limited by the charger). If your utility bill includes a demand charge (peak demand periods), these charges may increase significantly while fast-charging a vehicle during peak times. Options to curtail these charges include using a smart charger, demand controller, smart breaker panel, and/or home batteries.
  • Installation Requirements
    Does solar work if there is shading? Solar power is diminished from shadows cast by trees or other nearby objects and should be avoided as much as possible. A location with nearby trees may not qualify as a good solar location, or may require additional components to mitigate shading losses. Could my roof leak? We guarantee that the solar roof attachments will be completely waterproof. We use the appropriate flashed and sealed roof attachments which are both UL-listed and rated for the life of the roof. If a roof is apparently in poor condition or requires a reroof, we suggest that you have any necessary work done prior to the solar panel installation. Do I need an electrical upgrade? In most cases, no. Most systems require a single two-pole breaker to be installed in an existing breaker panel. Some systems or situations may require moderate to extensive electrical upgrades or additional electrical equipment. What is required by the utility? Your utility provider requires an interconnection application (usually completed by the installer), an interconnection agreement (signed by the property owner), and proof of homeowners insurance. This is a fairly straightforward process that we help you with. When the installation is completed, your electric utility provider will configure their meter to register the energy that flows back to the grid so they can apply the credit to your bill. Is permitting required? Yes. We get the required permits which may include a Rapid City wiring permit, South Dakota wiring permit, or Pennington County building permit. How long does an installation take? An average project is completed with 2 to 4 days on site, depending on the location, system size, type of system and electrical work needed. Total project time may be from 1 to 4 weeks, including the site evaluation, system design, permitting, scheduling, and installation.
  • Technical Specifications
    How much power/energy does a solar panel actually produce? In full sun a solar panel produces 70% to 90% of its rated power on average, depending mostly on the the angle of the sun to the panels but also the temperature of the solar cells. Over the course of an average day, each solar panel will generate 0.5 to 3 kWh of energy, depending on the panel, its orientation, the season and weather conditions. How big are the solar panels? We offer two sizes of solar panels. The residential size is approximately 75x42 inches. The commercial size are up to 90x45 inches (ground mounts only). How heavy are solar panels? The distributed weight of a rooftop solar array is less than 3 pounds per square foot (equivalent to a few inches of snow). Due to the weight distribution, the solar array will not cause a roof to sag or bow. Do solar panels resist hail? Solar panels are faced with highly-durable tempered glass, which is rated to withstand a minimum of 1-inch hailstones at 50 mph direct strikes. Flatter roofs are more susceptible to hail damage due to the angle of impact, while roofs of 5:12 pitch or greater rarely suffer damage based on our experience. Learn more. What is the longevity of a solar panel? Solar panels are designed to produce power for decades. An average panel will degrade by about 0.5% or less per year. Most solar panel manufacturers guarantee at least 80% of the original performance for 25 years. What is the longevity of a solar inverter? Most solar power inverters are warrantied for at least 10 years and up to 25 years. Does the battery need to be indoors? Preferably. Even though some batteries are rated for outdoor use, lithium batteries need to be warm and will use energy for temperature regulation in the wintertime, reducing efficiency. Inside an attached garage or in a utility/mechanical/storage area is best. How large is the battery? Generally, consider the floor space needed to be equivalent to a full-size refrigerator (minimum 3 feet wide for wall space), depending on the system model and number of units installed.
  • New Construction
    Learn more about new construction planning from our detailed page about New Construction. Should I design/plan my roof for solar? Design your roof for solar panels by considering factors such as orientation, slope, and roofing material. A 5:12 to 9:12 pitch is ideal for excellent year-round performance and snow shedding. The roof needs a south-facing direction (SE, S, SW), not have shading (i.e. from trees), and not have pipes, flues or a chimney in the preferred solar locations. Simple roof designs like gable and skillion roofs are the most favorable for solar panel placement, while hipped roofs and complex roofs with dormers are unfavorable. Standing-seam metal or rubber shingles are the ideal roofing materials for long-term durability and ease of installation. Is ground-based solar better? Ground-mounted solar systems may be more favorable in some cases, offering better performance overall to maximize energy independence; they may not be feasible in certain situations such as urban areas, small lots, or steep terrain, and they have a higher cost in materials and labor. What electrical work is needed? To reduce costs for a retrofit, we will help you plan for a solar installation during the construction phase. This includes planning of the utility service equipment, main breaker panel, backup generator (if any), conduits for solar circuits, and equipment locations. Where to install the solar/battery power equipment? The best location for solar/battery power equipment is in the garage or utility/mechanical room. Batteries must be in a conditioned space that is preferably between 50 and 80 degrees (F) year-round. Should I plan to be off-grid? Off-grid power systems may be preferable in some situations, but it's not for everyone. Do thorough research to determine if off-grid living is right for you. If a grid-connection is readily available, it is usually favorable to have the additional power source connected. A solar and battery power system that also has a grid connection is called a backup power system. Other considerations for building? The single most effective way to reduce the size and cost of the power system, enhance self-sufficiency, and increase the comfort and longevity of your new home is to build for high efficiency. Focus on reducing heating costs through improved building efficiency and insulation. Choose a quality builder who is knowledgeable in energy conservation and building methods. Ensure the building envelope is airtight and thoroughly insulated. Consider a blower-door test to measure air-tightness. Choose a builder who prioritizes quality. While cost-efficiency is important, performance should always take precedence, especially if you're looking to build an energy-independent home. Look for a builder who has a good understanding of energy conservation and modern building methods and is willing to go beyond the legal minimum standards. Don't build a leaky house. During construction, pay special attention to details such as windows, doors, ductwork, and wall penetrations. Once complete, get a blower-door test to measure airtightness. A home that fails this test is not only energy inefficient but can also indicate poor construction quality and lead to problems over time. Insulate thoroughly and reduce thermal bridging. Use exterior insulation, structural insulated panels, insulated concrete forms, and similar construction materials that improve energy efficiency. Install a mechanical air exchanger to maintain air quality and regulate humidity. This addition is crucial in an airtight building, as it not only improves air quality but also enhances overall health and comfort. Prepare the electrical system for solar/battery/EV integration to avoid future retrofit costs. Place the main electrical panel in the garage or a mechanical room. Choose an electric tank water heater instead of an electric on-demand one. Gas or propane water heaters are acceptable if properly vented. Use heat pumps for heating and cooling, and if possible, consider heat-pump clothes dryers and water heaters. Install high-efficiency kitchen appliances, with induction cooktops being a preferred option. Consider geothermal only if it's appropriate for your location, as it can sometimes be excessively expensive and inefficient if not used correctly. Learn more at greenbuildingadvisor.com and ecohome.net
  • Energy Efficiency
    How much electricity do I use? Your utility power company will provide guidance on to read your bill and understand your consumption. In most cases, a monthly graph of your energy use will suffice, but if your utility has an online system to allow you to log in and view your usage this is a great way to learn in more detail. If you need an in-depth understanding of your home's individual electrical loads, have us install a smart home energy monitor that can identify your individual appliances and help you find issues. Is my usage above/below average? Seasonal use varies based on heating/cooling needs, but you can take your 12-month total kWh use to compare to the average. The average South Dakota home uses about 33 kWh per day / 1000 kWh per month / 12,000 kWh per year. It is normal to have higher bills in the winter, primarily due to heating (especially electric but also furnace fans), but if air conditioning in the summer this is also a major energy consumer. Heating and cooling represent the largest portion of energy consumption (by far) for most buildings. How do I reduce my power bills? Here are a few energy-saving tips: Reduce or eliminate air leaks, especially around door seals and windows. If achieving a very air tight home, remember that an air quality control system like an air exchanger will be needed. Improve insulation, especially in attics and around hot water lines. When replacing siding, this is a good opportunity to address issues and add insulation from the exterior. Know your major appliances and how much energy they consume. Heating, cooling, clothes dryers, old refrigerators/freezer, and pumping systems represent a significant majority of total energy consumption. Replace inefficient appliances such as old refrigerators and water heaters, replace incandescent lamps with LEDs, and replace furnace filters regularly. Understand your power bill and review your monthly usage. Compare with previous years. Contact your utility provider for support, and ask about incentives and rebates for energy efficiency improvements. Use a home energy monitor to learn about and observe your energy use, and quickly identify specific problem appliances.

Learn more and get started:

bottom of page