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?

8 thoughts on “Here comes the solar

  1. Megan says:

    Would love to go solar.

    Our big thing is to be independent. We have a well, and a septic. We heat our house with a wood stove (although we do have a furnace we used 2x last winter). We have a garden, we can and freeze as much as possible, we have chickens. We drink powdered milk which is almost $1 per gallon cheaper (when you know where to buy it). And it tastes just like the real thing.

    Electricity is the one thing that is tripping us up. We don’t have the money now. In the next 5 years, we hope. At this point though, I would like to get the well hooked up to one of the 2 solar panels we have. That way if an emergency were to happen, we would be just fine.

    I hope that solar goes down in cost. I would love to eliminate the electricity bill.

  2. Condo Blues says:

    My city and state do little if anything to encourage residents to go solar. Add in that in my area, 58% of the days of the year are overcast, and the replacement costs when our frequent hail and ice storms damange potential solar panels and the ROI of solar panels doesn’t make financial sense for me right now.

    Instead I tried passive solar this winter and it worked well (even better it was free!!). I opened the thermal shades of the south facing windows of my always cold bedroom and the passive solar heat from the window warmed up the room significantly. So doing passive solar in the winter to warm up my bedroom and using solar garden lights in summer (I don’t get enough light in winter to charge the panels) are the only ways I’m going solar right now.

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    Great points, both of you. I guess either way — with or without solar — one cannot really *eliminate* the electricity bill unless one eliminates electricity use. It’s pay up front (to install solar) or pay as you go (to receive electricity from the power company). For us the latter is currently much more cost-effective.

  4. Ellen Moeller says:

    I absolutely plan to power our entire home with solar, but we are planning to move in 2 years, so we are saving our pennies. it will be one of the first things we do when we move in.

  5. kelli says:

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of months, but this is the first time I have ever posted. I like your tips and have incorporated several of them into my daily routine. Thanks!

    Anyway, what prompted me to post is that I live in Michigan and when we bought our house, it already had solar panels installed on it.

    We were never really sure whether the panels even worked or not until recently when gas and electricity prices starting rising and our friends and neighbors were all complaining about how much their utility bills had gone up. My husband and I realized that ours really hadn’t changed all that much. For example, my mother in law had a gas bill in january for $300.00 while ours, in the same month was $80. We live on the same street and I keep my house much warmer than she keeps hers. So it was a significant savings!

    I know that they are expensive, but I think that if someone can save for it and eventually afford it, it will be better for your wallet and for the environment.

  6. Gregory says:

    I too see that our local power company is encouraging its customers to consider solar panels, and I plan to make some inquires into it.

    But I am curious, by encouraging its customers to consider solar panels, wouldn’t that potentially cut into its (the power company’s) profits?

  7. cheaplikeme says:

    @Gregory, yes, but I think it cuts their costs too … and some of the year, in most places, customers are generating excess solar power, which the utility buys from those customers to resell to other customers, so perhaps they profit there?

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