Solar 101

Solar Basics

What is solar energy?

Solar energy comes from the millions of photons emitted from the sun every day.  That is why solar panels are sometimes called “photovoltaics.”  In fact, enough photons hit the Earth in an hour to power the whole planet for a full year!

Solar is more than photons!  Cats lie in the sun for a reason… daylight gets pretty hot!   We can use this energy in solar thermal systems to heat water for your house.

Advanced Solar:

One common question we get is.. Does the U.S. really get enough sun to make solar work?  Will it only work in the deserts out west?

Germany leads the world in solar installations and recently installed its 1,000,000th solar system. Germany gets as much sun as Alaska. So, yes, we get plenty of sun to make solar work here in Tennessee!

Energy Audits:

The first step to take before installing a solar system is to have you house checked for energy efficiency.  The cheapest kilowatt-hour is the one you don’t use!

There are many resources on how to get a professional energy audit, or do a simple one yourself:

Different Types of Solar Panels:

Not all solar panels are the same.  There are 3 main types of solar panels that each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Mono-crystalline: The most efficient, but also the most expensive.  They are good for residential houses because you can fit more watts into less space.  They are available in silver or a less noticeable all black.








Poly-crystalline: Less expensive and less efficient than mono, more expensive and more efficient than thin films.








Thin film: light, flexible and easy to install, but are much less efficient.  They are good for metal roofs, or large areas.

Although each type of panels are different, they all require a non-shaded area that faces South or West.  South facing areas will produce the maximum amount of electricity, since we are in the northern hemisphere.

How much do solar panels cost?

The price of solar panels have been declining rapidly over the last few years. 

Although prices have been dropping rapidly, the cost of solar energy for the average person is still out of reach without incentives.

Current Incentives for a TN Resident:

TN State Legislation:

Tennessee lacks legislation in support of solar energy.

Most States have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires a certain amount of electricity generated in the State to come from renewable sources.  An RPS also creates a Renewable Energy Credit, which is a certificate equal to 1 megawatt-hour of electricity from renewables.  These certificates can be sold and traded on a market to organizations that are required by the RPS to buy them.  This can be a lucrative market, creating another income stream for solar system owners.


Is the U.S. ready for solar energy?


As prices decline, solar is expected to have explosive growth since it will be cheaper than buying from the utility.

17 Responses

  1. Lora Corder
    Lora Corder / 2-12-2012 / ·

    Hi. I am interested in your organization and have viewed your Web site. I’m starting a new Web site to educate people about available solar technologies that can be used in day-to-day life. I am having trouble with your site because I can’t see any of the pictures. Just the placeholders for the pics show up. Are you still an active organization? Thanks,
    Lora Corder
    Green River LLC

    1. SPartin
      SPartin / 2-20-2012 / ·

      I have fixed the pictures. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

      1. Sharon Lantz
        Sharon Lantz / 4-18-2012 / ·

        I have tried to read some of the information on the graphs and they are still out of focus. Enlarging them makes it worse. Thanks for giving it some attention.

  2. Clint Walker
    Clint Walker / 7-31-2012 / ·

    I have just started researching solar energy possibilities. I have having trouble understanding your chart on pay back periods could you explain?. Are you a state entity or do you use the Tennessee state name? It doesn’t matter to me I just want to know if your site is to educate and help the novice to become a solar energy user and help with things like , start to finish instructions or are you a retailer. Why I am asking this is during my search most sites are pointing to certified installers etc. I am looking for ” do it yourself” model. Thank you for the information you have provided. Again I have just started investigating solar energy.

    1. SPartin
      SPartin / 7-31-2012 / ·

      As the price of solar installations ($/Watt) goes down, the years to payback the system goes down. Currently, there is a 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit and the Generation Partners Program from TVA. There is not a RPS in Tennessee, but if one passes the state legislation we have estimated the payback with the green line. The graph shows you how many years you can expect to need to pay back the system. If you can find a kit and install it yourself for $4 per watt, you can expect to pay it off in about 8 years with the tax credit and TVA program.

      Also, we are planning on having a “do it yourself” workshop for solar in October in Knoxville. We will have more details soon, so keep checking in. It will go over all the details on how to choose a correct system, install it, and all the other requirements.

      We are a 501c3 non-profit, not a state entity.

      1. Clint Walker
        Clint Walker / 8-6-2012 / ·

        Would it be possible for me to send an email directly to you? I have some questions that will look stupid if I put them out here. I live in Memphis I will not be able to attend the seminar. Will it be taped? I am disabled due to chronic inoperable heart disease. I was a programmer for 35 years. I am very interested in learning all I can about how to convert a household or partial household to solar energy. I am well educated, just not in this type discipline. After training I could be a manufacturer’s representative here in Memphis for your company and work strictly on commission. I believe in clean renewable energy. Please let me know if I can send you an email and not put things like this out here for all to see.

        1. SPartin
          SPartin / 8-7-2012 / ·

          Yes, you can always e-mail us at or call us at (865) 974-9218.

  3. / 8-2-2012 / ·

    Hihow are the RECs calculated on a 50 kw system? Also is there any idea TVA will keep the 12 c gross feed in
    Thanks heaps

    1. SPartin
      SPartin / 8-7-2012 / ·

      1 REC is equal to 1 MWh of electricity generated from a solar system. For example, a 50kW system in Tennessee will generate around 66,700 kWh a year. 1 MWh is equal to 1,000,000 kWh, so it would take around 15 years to create one REC from a 50kW system.

      TVA currently receives all RECs from renewable energy in the region, as per their contract. The contract for Generation Partners Program is ending this October, but the new Green Power Providers will take its place. The 12 cent feed-in tariff will continue until the end of the year. At the start of next year, we highly doubt it will stay at 12 cents. Probably around 8-10 cents.

  4. SPartin
    SPartin / 8-7-2012 / ·

    What type of information are you looking for? Are you wanting college level or elementary school level info?

  5. Martins Molokwu
    Martins Molokwu / 10-21-2012 / ·

    I am interested in the solar energy trainings and I would like to join the organization. When next do you have the training. How can I contact you.

  6. randy
    randy / 1-25-2015 / ·

    I need to know something’s about solar power. 1. Is there anything that says I have to be hooked up to out side power company, if I want to run on my own power? Like a law or anything like that.

    1. Benjamin Maddox
      Benjamin Maddox / 2-12-2015 / ·

      Nope! Unless you’re tying into the grid. Then there are regulations you will have to find out.

  7. Folding Chairs Chicago - Wood Folding Chairs - A Fantastic Solution
    Folding Chairs Chicago – Wood Folding Chairs – A Fantastic Solution / 3-27-2015 / ·

    Hi there! This post could not be written any better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I’ll send this article to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hannan Ahmad
    Hannan Ahmad / 6-23-2015 / ·

    This is a very good explanation of the working of solar water heating. More people should consider this low cost alternative for water heating. House roof is the perfect place to install the water heater, just check the condition of the roof before installing such things. Damaged roof should be repaired first.

  9. Hannan Ahmad
    Hannan Ahmad / 6-23-2015 / ·

    Solar panels are growing in popularity, even in remote areas they are the best way to make electrical energy. People prefer to have them installed on their house roofs, there are clear advantages to having them installed on the roof as it will help save space. You should keep a close eye on the maintenance of the roof, before installing the panels. Make sure that the roof is strong enough to hold the weight of the workers and the panels.

  10. Kaila
    Kaila / 11-10-2015 / ·

    The warping was psiatlc I used for the headers. I changed it long ago for aluminum flashing. The lens is held on by the front flashing. It is not what was warped. Thanks for the comment, I am glad to hear that more people are doing this. Fun projects and good for keeping the power bill down a bit.

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