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The electric company pays you — that’s the urban legend that surrounds the idea of powering your home with solar-energy panels. The problem is, first you have to put twenty to thirty thousand dollars into a solar-powered system for your roof, and then it’s a slow burn back to where you started in the cash department. Still, you might come out ahead in the long run.

A recent article from Fine Homebuilding gives the rundown on sun-powered homes, and the news is good and bad. Yes, it does cost a ton — but the technology has improved drastically since the ‘70s, and it’s better for the planet. Just don’t expect a return on your investment in less than 12 years.

The New Age of Photovoltaics [Fine Homebuilding]


10 Responses to Today’s Photovoltaics And You

  1. Simon says:

    Payback also comes in the form of less air pollution and no power outages. Monetary payback dramatically speeds up if energy prices go up. I think they will…

    And….it’s cool….

  2. Tony says:

    If I live in a snowy spot, do I need to be up on my roof every time we get more than a dusting?

  3. Stuart Deutsch says:

    Solar cells do not have as great an environmental payback as you think considering the research and production costs, in terms of non-renewable resource consumption and any resulting pollution.

    I also doubt that the estimated 12-year investment return takes into account any possible maintenance or replacement costs.

  4. Zathrus says:

    Stuart, depends on what research you read, but a recent article in Scientific American indicates otherwise — 90% less carbon emissions and toxic emissions even lower than that.

    And what maintenance and repairs are you expecting? As the article mentions, there’s a 25 year warranty on most systems, excluding the batteries (which last 10-15 years).

    I’m not sure where Sean got the 12 year estimate, although it’s probably a good general guideline. In some places you can do far better (I’ve heard 6-10 years for pretty recent installs), but it’s probably not a good idea to bet on that. Of course, given that the lifetime of the system is 30+ years, even with the output falling off over time (and it does), you’ll make a hefty savings in power even if rates don’t go up (which would be… surprising).

  5. ToolFreak says:

    When they start making panels that come in the form of shingles, I’ll bite. 30K for a 25 year warranty on the roof, with the probability of seeing a return on the investment halfway through the warranty period, compared to repacing a shingled roof 2 or more times in the same period for thousands with no return at all? Sure.

  6. Toolaremia says:

    Been done:

  7. Toolaremia says:

    Been done: http://www.oksolar.com/roof/

  8. Bee says:

    hey USA wake up. 6 cent a KWH electricity is gonna go the way of the gas prices and plane tickets any minute now.

    Here in NY City we pay 23 cents… in germany I heard its 35cents.
    they unplug their appliances when they go away for the weekend! bet they don’t have too many 1971 beer fridges out in the garage over there!

    Really 6 cents is out of control cheap… and your gonna have to replace your appliances a couple times over the next 20 years as they SLOWLY and then fastly increase efficiency every couple years like cars and computers… planned obselescence.

  9. Fred says:

    When a company buys a piece of capital equipment (say we buy a big dollar value tool) you need to know your cost of capital (discount rate etc.) to make a payback analysis. You can not just do a simple straight line calculation because paybacks and costs in 2008 are worth more than what you might have in 2009 and so on. You need to discount the cash flows back to present worth. Then you can add in (if you can monetize them – even better) what you consider to be the value of the externalities or fringe benefits.
    In some scenarios – you would not make a capital outlay unless it pays back in 3-4 years because your investment money would be better invested elsewhere.

    I also note that my utility does not provide net-metering – so if I installed a solar panel and had excess production – I would either need to store it (batteries are expensive) or forego the benefit.

  10. Hutch says:

    The best place resource on how to plan it, and do it yourself for solar and or any alternative energy system. The have killer system overview articles by folks who have done it, including graphical system diagrams and parts lists with cost breakdowns.


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