Sunday, August 31, 2008

Seven Reasons to Go Solar

Here are reasons customers of mine decided to install photovoltaic systems (PV) for their homes or businesses. Usually three or more of these reasons motivated them to go solar.

  • Immediate Savings on electricity costs
  • Hedge against future rate hikes
  • Ideal sun exposure on roof or ground
  • Clean energy avoids greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power
  • Sets an example for children and neighbors
  • Backlash at energy monopolies

1) Savings: A PV system will save electricity charges from the moment it is turned on. Called commissioning, owners can see first-hand the benefit of their system; the standed meter wheel immediately slows and, in many cases at residences, the meter actually runs backwards. It's not unusual to see homeowners jump for joy at this sight. Their system is producing more than the house needs and the surplus is going into the power grid for which the new owner gets credit, called net metering. Heavier consumers of power, of course, will see the most savings.

2) Hedge against rate hikes: The roof top or ground-mounted system is always the primary daytime source of power. So, no matter how high future power rates go, the PV system will always defray what the customer would have paid without solar power. Furthermore, PV systems will last 30 years and longer at which time solar components should be off-the-shelf items and reasonably priced.

3) Ideal sun exposure: Ideal placement for a solar array is a rooftop tilting south to southwest; east/west works but with much less output. Rooftop chimneys, skylights, AC units, etc., and tree shade must also be deducted from total available area for panels. The roof must be in good condition to last the life of the PV system. Such factors are considered in the bid process by solar professionals.

4) Clean energy: Fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air when burned. A basic 2500-watt home PV system can avoid greenhouse gases by about two tons per year.

5) Reduce fossil fuel/nuclear dependence: Long-term use fossil fuels is heating the atmosphere melting ice mass at the poles and heating oceans that contribute to hurricanes/typhoons. Particulate from fossil fuels--coal in particular--contribute to respiratory ailments and ensuing absenteeism impairs labor output and GNP (Germany actually quantified this). Oil and gas are depleting commodities, too, so ever-increasing costs have already begun. Nuclear power is clean but accidents can be catastrophic and nuclear waste was, is, and probably always will be a storage problem unless safe, reliable recycling can be achieved. Even if achieved, nuclear accidents will always be a problem in an imperfect world.

6) Solar sets an example: A rooftop PV system advertises that homeowner's astute investment for the present and future and his commitment to a clean, renewable energy. About 18 months ago, I sold a PV system to a retired couple here in San Diego who were already frugal electricity users. In fact, they probably will not live to see a payback on the solar system--their electricity use being so low. I told them they really didn't need to buy to which the wife said: "We're not concerned that much about the savings. We want to be a visible example to our neighbors of the importance of clean energy. We also want our grandson to learn all about it and to remember his grandparents as concerned, forward-thinking citizens." Thinking back, I shouldn't have been surprised; they owned a hybrid vehicle and had a solar hot water unit on the backyard cottage that also supplied the house.

7) Backlash at utility monopolies: In 2000 and 2001 California had an "energy crisis" that involved rolling blackouts and tremendously spiked electricity rates for residents, renters and small businesses. Some ill-conceived legislation set the stage for energy price manipulation by Enron, Duke Energy, El Paso Corporation, Reliant Energy and Sempra Energy (parent of SDG&E). California ratepayers of the three major utilities were gouged by the billions in the process. Sempra/SDG&E customers were particularly outraged for being taken advantage by their own utility in their own backyard. A $24 billion (with a "b") class action lawsuit against Sempra is still in litigation. Some Californians are getting back with solar power. PV system owners get more control of their energy costs by producing it for themselves and not being beholden to a utility monopoly.

Did this article convince you to go solar?


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