Green Spot: Solar Powered

Ok, I’ll admit.  I have a bit of a eco-geek dream of building a house that produces as much power as it uses in a year (aka: a Net Zero House).  So obviously I’ll likely be looking at some solar photoelectric power generation to help make that happen.  The issue I’ve found so far with the plan is this.  Those damn systems cost so much and your return is so low, it’s like taking on a second mortgage to get the system to pay for itself.

Honestly depending on your local variables payback periods of 20 years or more are possible.  So what makes a system worthwhile and what makes it useless?  Well here are some of the common factors to look at.

  1. On/Off Grid – Living in the middle of no where honestly helps.  Why? Because sometimes bringing in from the grid to remote locations can cost more than building your own system.  For example, one couple I know found out it would cost $50,000 to bring in power to their location, so they skipped the power company and build a solar system and a wind turbine instead.
  2. Consumption – Before you can even consider a system you should make sure you already have a low power consumption lifestyle.  Otherwise you are going to find replacing 1000 kWhrs a month in power is going to require a system that costs more than your house.  It won’t make much sense.
  3. Cost of Grid Power – If you are paying more than $0.11/kWhr, it makes the math a lot easier to justify the cost of putting in a new system.  On the other hand if your power is around $0.07/kWhr because it’s all generated from hydroelectric you may not bother with the solar system at all.  You likely won’t be able to produce power for as cheap as you can buy it off the grid.
  4. Net Billing Policies – Find out if your power provider let’s you sell the power back to the grid at a higher rate than you pay for it.  That can really help justify a system, also in some cases you need to find out how bad the paperwork is to get a system connected to the grid.
  5. Sunshine – Let’s face it solar power generation doesn’t make sense in Vancouver regardless of how much you would like it to or if your house is surrounded by trees.  Some areas are better for solar systems than others.  Do some research to find out if you are wasting your time at putting in a solar system in your area (hint you might want to consider wind or a micro-hydro system instead).
  6. Are You Staying – Perhaps one of the most under looked at factors is are you planning to live in your house for a long time?  If not, perhaps you should face the fact that you likely won’t stay in the house long enough to see the payback in your system.  There is no guarantee that you will find a buyer who will pay a fair premium for your house to have a solar system.  So you could lose money on the project if you move.

Well that’s just a brief overview of some of the factors involved in determining if a solar power generation system is right for you.  If you want to learn more I suggest you check out your local library or the internet to find out what technologies would work well for you and what is all involved in putting in a system.

5 thoughts on “Green Spot: Solar Powered”

  1. Solar hot water heating is far more efficient than PV panels. You can build a solar hot water system for under a grand that would easily provide all the hot water and most of the heat for a house for a family of 4.

  2. Are there any financing or tax incentives to make the up-front cost a little more manageable? That’s the biggest issue for me- while it may pay for itself over the long run, it kills me to have to plunk down so much money to get things running.

  3. Great article. One of the first ones I’ve ever seen that breaks alternate power down in a realistic fashion – i.e an objective look at whether it makes sense to do it, versus a blind “green is good” approach that ignores real costs.

    Definitely your last point about “are you going to stay in the house long term” is a salient one. We scrapped plans to install a new heat pump system in our place because it wouldn’t pay back until after the timeframe we’d set for being in our current place.

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