Frequently Asked Questions

How long do solar energy projects take to install?

Construction of solar roof, carport and ground systems can take between 2-6 months to complete, depending on design, size and access. While most construction work is completed outside of the building, some limited internal work is required to connect to the building’s electrical gear. Systems connected directly to the utility grid do not typically require any internal work.

What type of roofs are applicable for solar energy systems?

The simplest roof types for solar energy systems are fully-adhered EPDM roofs (modern and industry standard). However, solar can also be installed on ballasted EPDM and metal roofs. Built-up roofs (older technology and generally being phased out) are the only roof type that could make solar infeasible.

How high do solar panels sit above a roof? How high are ground systems?

The height of the panels depends on their tilt. A standard rooftop system is tilted at 10˚, which correlates to a maximum height of 18” above the roof (typically lower than the parapet). However, Unico has designed and built system with as low as 8” in height.

On ground systems, the top edge of panels are typically six to eight feet off the ground.

How much weight do solar energy systems add to a roof?

A standard, fully-ballasted roof system adds 5-7 pounds per square foot. A mechanically adhered system adds roughly 3 pounds per square foot. Most roofs that meet current building codes have sufficient load capacity to support solar energy systems. However, Unico always reviews as-built drawings and completes a structural engineering study to confirm the existing roof structure can support the weight of solar.

Do solar panels extend the useful life of roofs?

Yes, research has shown that rooftop solar energy systems decrease roof temperature by an average of 5 degrees and reduce the amount of heat reaching a roof by 38% helping to reduce roof damage and prolong useful life.

How do solar energy systems impact snow loading on roofs?

Solar panels are made to attract the sun. As such, snow typically melts off the panels much faster than snow melts directly on the roof surface.

Do solar energy systems create roof penetrations?

On a standard rooftop system, Unico connects solar panels to ballasted racks which sit on the roof surface. The ballast is designed and positioned to keep the solar energy system stable and secure on the roof under all but the most extreme wind conditions (up to 160mph). If needed, only one or two penetrations may be required to accommodate conduit lines. In rare cases, like high wind zones and seismically active locations, building codes may require the system to be partially attached to the roof, reducing or eliminating the need for ballast.

How are roof warranties maintained?

Unico ensures that your existing roof warranties are maintained by working with the building’s roofing contractor prior to, during, and after installation to protect the roof from damage and to ensure that warranties remain in effect. If penetrations are required, the building’s roofing contractor will be hired at our cost to perform flashing work and provide documentation verifying that such work does not void the existing warranties.

What happens if a roof needs replacement during the term of the power purchase agreement?

Unico will decommission and reinstall our system if a roof needs to be replaced prior to the end of our contract term. Typically, we try to avoid reinstallations within the first five years and the last five years of the contract term, but this is not always disqualifying.

How are solar energy systems connected to building electrical systems?

Under a standard “behind the meter” system, the electricity produced by the system is connected from the system through to the building’s switchgear. This connection typically requires conduit running through one or two roof penetrations. A short building shutdown, prescheduled during off hours (overnight or on weekends), is required to connect solar systems to building electrical infrastructure. Once energized, the solar system’s connection to the building’s switchgear works in tandem with electricity from the utility grid always allowing for an uninterrupted supply of electricity and is unnoticed by building users. In no instance is electricity service to the building and its occupants compromised due to solar energy being present at the facility.

Under a grid-connected system (“in front of the meter”), the system is not connected to the building’s switchgear, and is instead routed directly to an additional utility meter, typically on the outside of the building. In these instances, the conduit from the system to the meter can generally be run on the building’s exterior without any roof penetrations.

What type of equipment is used, and do they have warranties?

Unico uses Tier 1 investment grade solar panels, which have 25-year manufacturer production warranties. These warranties state that in year 25, the panels will produce at least 80% of their original electricity production. Our inverters have 10-year manufacturer warranties against malfunctions unrelated to user error.

How much do the solar panels degrade over time?

Unico’s approved solar panels typically degrade at 0.5% annually.

How is system size determined?

At an existing property, Unico conducts a utility consumption analysis by reviewing bill history and property use type to determine the projected annual electricity consumption. We then size the system based on the projected annual consumption pattern. For new construction buildings Unico conducts a building energy model using building and mechanical design information and anticipated building use type (i.e. office, distribution, manufacturing, etc.).

Is there an operations and maintenance plan?

Unico implements a robust operations and maintenance program under a national service contract. This program includes real-time monitoring of our systems as well as scheduled preventative maintenance inspections, cleaning, and corrective maintenance when needed.

What is a solar services agreement?

A solar services agreement is an agreement between the owner of an electric-generating facility (Unico) and an electricity consumer (your business). Unico’s solar services agreement requires Unico to pay for all upfront capital cost and ongoing maintenance expenses related to the system. Unico then sells the electricity it generates to your business at fixed, discounted rates for the term of the solar services agreement. This arrangement allows businesses to access clean, affordable energy without incurring the time and cost associated with building and maintaining a system.

How long are solar service contract terms?

Contract terms span the length of the real estate lease between your business and your landlord and renew only if you renew your real estate lease. Our average contract terms range from 7 to 15 years.

How are solar energy rates established?

Unico completes a sophisticated analysis of current and future business-level consumption, utility tariff schedules, and property demand charges to determine the rate of electricity for a given property. We then discount our solar energy rate against the utility rate (typically 5%-20%) to provide savings and fix a low escalation to the solar rate to provide secure, long-term cost savings and predictability.

What is Unico’s relationship with my landlord?

Unico signs long-term solar leases with property owners to use roof and ground areas (typically 20-36 years) which survive the length of the solar services agreement with your business. This allows future building tenants to enjoy the benefits of solar for the life of the system.

What happens if my landlord sells the property?

Your solar services agreement will not be impacted. Just like your real estate lease, Unico’s solar lease agreement will be assigned to the new property owner when real estate trades.

Are there additional insurance costs?

Unico has liability and property damage insurance for our systems and your business will not be required to carry additional insurance costs.

Are there additional real property taxes?

No. Case law provides a precedent that solar energy systems are not permanent fixtures of real property, meaning the value of the system cannot be included in real property assessments and associated tax valuations.

Are incentives available?

There are three incentives currently available for solar energy installations, depending on location: the Federal Investment Tax Credit, MACRS Depreciation, and (market-dependent) renewable energy credit (REC) payments from utility providers. Under the terms of our solar services agreement, Unico claims these benefits, which help increase the savings we can provide to your business.

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