Solar Has A Ways to Go

I have not ever been able to make solar installation on my house get a reasonable payback, even with rising electricity rates, the best location in the country for solar, and huge government subsidies.  Large solar installations remain a publicity stunt, a sort of really expensive indulgence bought to garner the "green" title:

Scott Gustafson runs the numbers on the solar installation at the revamped Phoenix convention center:

capital cost:  $850,000
operating costs:  not provided
annual electricity savings:  $15,000
return on investment (ignoring operating costs and interest):  1.7%

Solar is still a fine toy for the rich and public figures like Al Gore looking to disguise their true carbon footprint.  But the economics aren't there yet for big boy investors -- its still off by an order of magnitude, at least.

Hopefully, this will change as high energy prices encourage innovation.


  1. HTRN:

    For it to make "economic sense" Solar installations have to have extremely high electric rates, long "peak solar days"(IE lots and lots of sunshine, in the case of Arizona, about 5 hours worth), and a good rebate.

    Arizona has a long "peak solar day", but even with rising rates, electricity is still pretty cheap there. Southern California(17c/Kwh) and Hawaii(21c/Kwh) on the other hand both meet both requirements.

    As for rebates, well, believe it or not, one of the best places to get money back from a state government for a solar install is... New Jersey. I would also add that last year was better than this year to do a solar install from the rebate angle: FY2007 the Feds were giving a 30% rebate. Now it's gone back to what it was before, 10%.

    A 5Kw install will cost you about $27K in panels, about $3K for the Inverted and another 3-5K in wiring, electricians, mounting, etc. That's assuming you do most it yourself. So that's about $35K total. Supposing you get a third paid off in rebates/tax deferrment(a safe bet), that means it effectively cost you $23K. Assuming it mitigates all of your electric bill, it would have cost if you got a loan over 20 years of $164.78@6%.

    Doesn't make any econmic sense does it? But then, add in some benefits, like power when the grid goes dark(becomes more important depending on whether you live in an area where power is unreliable and you need electricity for water due to using a well), and spending the money looks like a better idea.

    It all depends on external factors - how fast rates are rising, how good a loan you can swing, whether or not power is reliable, how long a PSD is at your location, etc.

  2. Gringo:

    The economics are better for solar hot water in a place like Arizona. North Dakota,not so good. Your appraisal of solar electric is spot-on. Wind Energy is fairly competitive. There are two issues with wind energy that need to be worked on. First, because the best wind energy sources- Great Plains- are far from energy consumers, there will need to be massive investments in transmission lines. Second, because wind is sporadic, there will need to be a backup source: either conventional energy, or some developments in energy storage.

  3. solar:

    Yes! Keeping in mind the drastic environmental changes and rising fuel prices going Solar is one option open to all at minimal investments. The Solar Water heating systems are so easy to install and most of them come in a Do-it Yourself kit, With the technological advancement the once heavy, bulky hard to move panels are now available widely in light weight easy to carry by one personal only packages. The advancement in technology is not only limited to light weight, but for those concern about the aesthetics of the panels, the good news is that the panels are now available with a variety of trim colors to choose from and can be easily matched to your roof. Saving about $25.oo on ones electricity bill every month on a residence of 4. We all use hot water, as one of our basic needs and what can be a better way, than helping our environment, saving our resources and ourself's some money other than by investing in a Solar Water Heating System.
    There are a couple useful websites I'm aware off, that I would like to share with you
    1. - is a comprehensive source of information on state, local
    , utility ans federal incentives that promote renewable engery ans energy efficieny.
    2. - one of the many manufacturers of certified Solar Water Heating Systems available. One place I saw the light weight panels and trim color options I was mentioning earlier.
    Lastly, the local utilites in some areas also provide additional rebates and incentives for adding a Solar Water Heating Sytem to your exisitng water tank.
    Keep the look out on. Feel Good and save- money for you, environment for us.