Green4Geeks Blog

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Solar Shingles

sun dollarThis article, which was published last week in the Tampa Tribune, really caught my eye.  I have been monitoring the prices, specs, and lease options on rooftop solar for a while.  I haven't pulled the trigger on an install yet for several reasons, but highest among them is that next year I need to replace my roof.  There is no point to installing panels over a roof that will soon be replaced.  I would prefer something like the shingles described in this article over traditional panels, but there are several factors I would like answers to first.. That said, here are my issues:

  • Not to sound negative towards an obviously happy customer, but I'm not sure the woman written about researched this as thoroughly as she could have before making a "$30,000 to $40,000" investment.  There are several manufacturers (or at least experienced installers) of this type of solar shingle in Florida, and they have been doing it for some time now.
  • The cost is still pretty high, and in my opinion, is teetering on the edge of reasonable payback.  Let's go with the $30K price tag to be fair.  For a twenty year lease, that is $125 a month before fees (the leasing company needs to make some money off of this too).  I am assuming (based on the attached photos of the control system) that there is no storage system for dark or cloudy periods, which means she will only be getting the benefit of the peak sunny times times on cloudless days - or about eight hours a day of usage.  In Florida, the average electric bill is generally above $300 per month.  Her savings therefore, would come much closer to 33% rather than the 60% she is hoping for.  Also, keep in mind that solar panels efficiency tends to degrade over time, further depressing the formula.
  • If she paid out of pocket for this system, her payback will be closer to the industry claimed 16-20 years.  It is also reasonable to assume the panels and associated electronics will require maintenance over the payback period, making it stretch out a little more.
  • If she leased the system, it can be written into the lease that all maintenance costs would be borne by the leasing company,  This seems like a good way to go for most homeowners.

Don't get me wrong; I sincerely hope that this happy homeowner gets everything out of the system that she anticipates, but I remain skeptical.  When I make the move, I prefer it to be a sure bet.

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Affordable Solar?

sunProbably the biggest barrier to more widespread use of residential solar panels is the tremendous outlay it take to get started.  For the past eight or ten years, the conventional wisdom has been that it takes about twenty years to achieve payback from your solar investment, making it hard to justify.  Sure, you will have lower electric bills, but you will also have that loan payment you took out to finance it, or for some, the out of pocket expense you are trying to recoup.  Now, there may be hope for those that are heliotrope inclined.  According to an article in Investors Business Daily, the affordability of a solar installation may be within the reach of many of us.  According to the studies written about in this piece, the payback may be as little as ten years now.  This is largely due to the dropping price of the panels, government subsidy programs, and rising electricity prices.

All that is great, but the 2013 price for a 600 square foot panel array, with inverter, electric company tie-in, and installation is still about $55,000.  The option that makes this affordable for many now is, the availability of a 20 year lease of the system.  If you can install the system, and not have to worry about maintenance or additional costs, why not go solar?  Initial studies are showing that the homeowner will benefit from the net-even lease versus electric bill ratio due to the projected rising costs of purchased energy in the future.  Watch for the next two or three years to make this even more affordable or even lucrative, as the price of the system components drop.

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Green4Geeks

It was about time for a retooling...

What is Green4Geeks?

Green4Geeks was concept site I started putting together several years ago, where I thought I might do a little blogging, publish some technology articles I had written, and in general be a holding place for whatever items I found interesting.  Now, I've decided to dust it off, and give it another run.  What I've found is, that I write a lot of commentary on various sites, and have felt a little confined in the formats or even the purpose of the sites I post on.  Posting here instead allows me to say everything that I want to, without limits, and then if it is appropriate, link to it from elsewhere.

Why Green4Geeks?

Green4Geeks is the concept that there are a lot of engineers, makers, tinkerers and the like, who love efficiency and "being green".  Sure, there are always the outlandish displays of pure power and excess; I fondly recall the muscle cars I've owned and raced in the past.  This is something a little different.  Now, I want to find out how low I can get my electric bill while maintaining my current lifestyle.  It has to be green, but that doesn't mean you have to give up everything.  How can I still drive a high performance vehicle without spending a fortune on energy to get that performance?  You get the idea.

Join the Discussion!

Email me or log on and leave comments.  Either way, I would love to hear from you.

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