Is solar power worth the money?
How do I judge if solar power is for me?
Here are a few factors to think about:
- Does the area get enough sunlight during the day? If you are looking to generate your own power, your location is very important.
- Are you looking to buy solar power from a supplier that has a "solar power plant" and can provide bulk power to a group of people or community? Due to utility deregulation, you can now specify a mix of green power offered from power suppliers, ask your utility company about it.
- What type of power are you looking for, do you want to generate solar heat to heat a building, solar electricity from photovoltaics, solar daylighting or solar hot water; or all four. Solar day lighting is very affordable, and solar heating and solar hot water are much cheaper than solar electricity, and can be done on your own.
- The efficiency of solar photovoltaics (PV) for electricity is pretty low and the retail cost of installing them in the US is about $8-$12 per watt. But, with government incentive and rebate programs pushing renewable energy efforts, these systems can be bought anywhere from 30-75% cheaper, depending on what state you are in.
There are many rebate programs for many different types of technologies. Depending on the price you pay for your electricity rate now, say a US average of $0.15 per kiloWatt hour, this brings down the payback period of a typical solar electric system from 17-25 years to 4-8 years. And the system should last about 30 years on average. Also, electricity rates are rising, so having a solar system not tied to the electricity grid provides you with free, clean power after the cost is paid back with your savings.
- If you are looking to put up a building or house that is not close to the power lines, it may cost you a lot more to bring in utility power than to put up an independent solar system.
- If your system ties into the grid, most states offer net-metering, where you can dump surplus electricity back into the grid from your system, and have your meter "run backward", or get a credit on your utility bill.
- You can also lease a solar system, often with no money down, and pay a flat fee every month, which is usually a bit cheaper than the current utility rate, and is locked in for the duration.
- Also, there are a number of new PV/heat technologies where panels provide both heat and electricity, dramatically increasing the panel efficiencies. Not mainstream yet, but will be in the near future.
Ultimately though, the only way that solar or any other renewable technology will make sense economically, and environmentally - we still need to use power and resources to manufacture and transport the technology - is if we implement energy efficiency in all aspects of our lives and infrastructure. A house that is drafty will have higher loads, and need more power. That same house insulated and using efficient lighting and appliances will require a less heating and electricity, using less resources, and generating less pollution.