Saturday, May 28, 2011

Solar Power: Cheap and Green?

Solar panel installation at an information cen...Image via WikipediaMy commute to and from work each day is at least an hour each way.  On Friday and Saturday nights, I deliver pizzas.  On average, I probably spend about 20 hours a week in my car with the radio on.  During that time, I get to hear a lot of radio commercials.

One commercial that I have heard frequently that caught my attention was one from a company called Solar City.  They are a company that offers to install solar panels to your home or business.  The commercial advertises that they will help you save on your electricity bill with as little as zero down with their solar lease.

Let me restate here my position on anthropomorphic global warming.  I believe that the vast majority of climate change occurs as a natural phenomenon.  Any man made contribution to that change is miniscule.  Attempts to try to reverse climate change would be unnecessarily expensive and essentially futile.

That being said, I do believe that conserving our natural resources is a good thing, providing that the effort to do so is not too expensive or overly inconvenient. Take for example CFL light bulbs. Due to the mercury in them they create a potential hazard if thrown in the garbage, however, I would guess that most people do just that.  Plus they are a lot more expensive than incandescent bulbs.

Anyway, back to Solar City.  On their website, they have a solar calculator so you can see how much money you could save on your electric bill by having one of their systems installed.  You input your address and info on your home, and they give you four different scenarios.  Since I am all for saving a little cash, and not averse to conservation, I decided to check them out.

If I went with their zero down option, my monthly bill (combined electric bill and lease) would go up $33 per month and my total expense over 20 years go up nearly $11000.  The next option would be to put a $3600 down payment on a system.  My total monthly bill would still go up in the near term.  Assuming that electricity rates rise according to the scenario of their calculator, I would not start saving on my electric bill five or six years.

They also offer a scenario of putting down $11000 or purchasing a system outright for $24000.  If I purchased a system outright, my electric bill would go down about $70 per month, but it would take nearly 30 years for me to recoup my initial investment.  Since I look at things from a cost vs value perspective, none of their programs would be for me.

Solar energy is often touted as being good for the environment.  Once the panels are installed, that would definitely be the case.  However, the manufacture and disposal of solar panels is another matter entirely.  They are manufactured with toxic heavy metals and gases, some of which are carcinogenic and poisonous.  Their lifespan is usually 20-30 years, and once they are no longer operable would need to be disposed of in special toxic waste dumps.  So much for green.

I actually used the Solar City calculator a couple months ago.  At that time, the calculator said that I would save about $15 per month under the zero down scenario.  I guess that since then, the various tax incentives that were available at that time had expired because the calculator did not show any savings for those incentives as it did the first time I checked them out. 

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  1. Eventually someone is going to figure out a better technology to go solar rather than just making the current ones more efficient. That's what really needs to happen until it's viable for standard use.

  2. that is the problem; the viability of things like wind and solar.



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