18 - 2008

Here comes the solar

This week, we received our utility bill. It included a newsletter encouraging us to consider solar power, and to do it now to take advantage of a combination of utility company rebates and federal tax credits.

If you are thinking about going solar, note that the federal tax credit for solar panels and solar water heaters is currently set to expire at the end of 2008.

Can you power a whole house with solar?

Potentially, yes. To figure out how much power you need, you have to track your electricity. Here’s what my electricity use graph looks like. The numbers at the left are kilowatt hours (kwh). (And for the record, I think this year is lower than last because of using electric blankets instead of space heaters, and switching more than 25 light bulbs to CFLs – plus not using our clothes dryer.)

electricity chart

(click the chart to see it full-size in a new window)

One calculator I found online said that a system generating enough power to provide about 400 kwh (enough to cover us most months) would take up just 215 square feet of roof space in our location (sunny Colorado). As I understand it, it doesn’t have to cover you every month if you are using an “on-grid” system (a system connected to your utility provider). Instead, the months when you use less than you produce generate a credit, and you can use the credit to pay for months when you use more than you produce.

How much does it cost?

According to Mr. Solar up above, and other sources I have seen, a system of this size, to power our house (not quite 2,000 square feet, and we apparently use about 65% of the electricity typical American households do) would cost around $20,000 installed. We could get credits for about half that cost right now. The system would pay itself off in 20 years … around the same time it would need replacement.

If I had $10,000 sitting around, I would seriously consider going for it simply to be using clean, non-oil-dependent energy.

But wait!

This article (via Green Daily) suggests that the price of solar will drop by two-thirds soon. That means the pricing for the solar components needed for my house would fall from $15,200 to $5,600. Even if installation makes up the other $5,000, the new price would be under $11,000 – not too different from my estimated price today, even if all incentives vanish. If any incentives remain, yowsa!

Do you have solar? Want it? Are you already saving your pennies … or thinking about it?

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