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Has solar power finally arrived?

The sun is good for more than taking pictures! Last year, I researched the economics of solar power, but concluded that paying $20K upfront for a payback period of about 12 years simply made no financial sense given the vagaries of electricity pricing. (Related: see my Aug 3 2007 comments on power consumption).

But this year the solar power situation has changed in an important way: Foster City, CA company solarcity.com is offering a lease with no money down, and a promise of net savings of about $500/year (in my particular case). It sounds like a no-brainer: have Solar City install solar panels, and actually save money, with even greater savings in following years. Now that’s an exceptional return on investment (ROI); where else can you invest $0 and get a dividend every month?

In my particular case, the claim is $0 down, and that the savings will exceed the lease payment by $445/year, based on electricity usage of 1200 KWh/month, and a 3.2KW solar system, the optimal generating capacity to “lop off” the most expensive electricity pricing tiers (see below). Solar City also states that maintainance is included and power output guaranteed. A neighbor of mine with a 9KW system was very satisfied with Solar City’s prompt service when the inverter failed.

In my area, we have a tiered pricing system for electricity. Elsewhere in California rates can be lower, depending on how the crooks (oops—regulators) devised the balkanized pricing scheme. And my town tacks on another 6.5% “utility users tax”. So solar starts to look pretty attractive :


San Francisco Bay Area electric bill
(rates go higher—I’ve experienced $0.38/KWh)

The key thing to notice is that it makes no financial sense to invest in a system which lops off more than the top two price tiers. Also, if you generate more electricity than you consume, you forfeit all of it at the end of the year. So don’t play that sucker game unless you have a guilty conscience about the environment—in that case install a 10KW solar system and enjoy your electric golf cart “daily driver” clad in your recycled-paper underwear. Finally, if the electric grid is down or suffering from brown-outs, so are you— these systems are wired into the grid; your existing wiring continues to draw power as it always has.

Being a natural skeptic, a few minor questions do come to mind:

  • Who pays to wire the system to the grid? (from the solar system to the grid)
  • What if the roof develops a leak as a result of the installation?
  • How often do the panels need cleaning? Another chore...

Bottom line: the economics of solar power are definitely worth considering in some areas.


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FUJIFILM GFX 100S Medium Format Mirrorless Camera
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