Going Solar or Going for Broke?
Some girls dream of diamonds. I have always dreamt of solar panels. When I was a child in the ’70s, I remember hearing about solar energy and thinking that someday it would be everywhere—a solar energy farm on every roof. What happened?
Last weekend, my husband and I took a field trip to Real Goods in Hopland, an innovator in solar technology, and as we wandered around the grounds checking out all the panels and reading the educational boards (note to self: take nephew there when he gets a little older), I was reminded once again why solar energy is the smartest choice for alternative energies. Why? Because it has no adverse affects on the environment, unlike hydro–which requires water, another precious resource—or wind power (the fickle nature of wind apparently makes it problematic). Feel free to debate me on these points, as I am not an expert on renewable energy and am always looking to learn more, but for now I’m going to be a cheerleader for solar. S-O-L-A-R, go solar!
So why aren’t there panels on top of every house and office building? Because the one problem with solar is that it seems to be out of the average person’s reach financially.
This is not an insignificant problem. I looked it up, and apparently the reason solar panels cost so much is that they are made from silicon crystal, which is grown from pure silicon—an extremely slow and expensive process. Because of gravity and how the crystals are grown it is very hard to grow large flawless (my diamond analogy is seeming more and more relevant, isn’t it) crystals. And the bigger the crystal the harder it is to make it perfectly flawless, a requirement for it to work.
The good news is that EcoGeek reported last summer that price of solar is expected to plummet as these problems are addressed. The article says prices for traditional silicon-based panels should fall from $3.66 per watt (2007 figures) to $2.14 per watt in 2010, and more impressively, thin-film PV should go from $2.96 to $1.81 per watt.
But in the meantime, I decided to do a little research about how much it would cost to outfit my 940-square-foot home with solar panels. I found this handy solar calculator and got to work figuring out what it would take to go solar.
So if I’m using an average of 200 kW of electricity per month and I want to offset 100 percent of that (might as well go all the way), it’s going to cost me about $13,000 to buy and install the solar panels I need. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of change, but I gotta say it’s not as much as I thought it would be. Especially when you take into consideration the 30 percent tax rebate, which is $3,900, plus rebates from PG&E.
Unfortunately, since my house is worth about 20 percent less than what I paid for it four years ago and my husband is one of the millions of people who was downsized last year, it’s still out of reach. Of course my husband’s got all that free time on his hands, maybe I should get him working on these DIY solar panels. Finally, my worst eco-sin—drinking diet soda—could pay off in a way that will help the planet!
But more likely I’ll file away the information and start saving for a sunny day. Who knows, it could even help the resale value of my house. Although, as a wise co-worker who got solar panels put on her house last year said, you donít do it because itís a sound financial investment—you do it because itís the right thing to do.