By John Neville
Verde Valley AZ (February 7, 2014) – You’ve likely heard this before: “Now is a great time to go solar.” While that statement has been true before, it has never been more true than it is today. But wait a minute! Haven’t the utilities eliminated most of their incentives?
Yes, but even with the loss of utility rebates, solar photovoltaic electric systems are less expensive now than ever before. Also, installation costs are less, without incentives, than they were just a few years ago.
People interested in solar systems for their homes or businesses should make a few calls. They will find that complete systems can be designed, permitted and installed for a fraction of what one might expect.
If the upfront costs are still daunting for those on tight budgets, there are lease and financing options that can put a solar system on a home for less than the typical monthly electricity bill.
There is some controversy about net metering. This is the program where solar producers trade solar electricity for utility-provided electricity. When solar electric customers provide extra electricity from their solar panels to the grid, those kilowatt hours are banked in their utility account. Then at night when the customers need utility-provided electricity, they first draw on the banked solar electricity credits. After those credits are used up, the customer pays the utility as usual for the electricity used.
The interesting thing about this deal with the utilities is that solar customers provide electricity to the grid during “peak demand” hours when the sun is strongest and the customer demand can be highest. It’s also when electricity is more expensive. Utilities typically charge several times more for electricity used during peak hours. However, with net metering, they provide very cheap nighttime electricity to their solar customers in exchange for the very expensive peak demand electricity they receive. It’s not really a net metering trade. It really works out to the advantage of the utilities.
However, the utilities complain that they have grid maintenance costs to meet. Every utility customer, including those with solar panels, pay something each month to cover grid maintenance. In addition, the profit utilities make on net metering can offset any loses they experience from solar customers using less electricity. So, any reasonable consideration of the net metering issue should be decided in favor of the expansion of solar resources in this sunny state.
That’s the financial argument for going solar. It’s also the right thing to do for a couple of important reasons. The first is obvious: solar customers reduce the electricity produced by burning polluting fossil fuels. The less utilities depend on fossil fuels the better it is for human health and the natural environment.
Another reason to go solar is less obvious: it helps conserve water. The average power plant in the USA uses 2 gallons of water to generate 1 kilowatt hour of electricity. So, a home with a solar system that generates an average of 10 kilowatt hours of electricity a day will help conserve 20 gallons of water a day. That is more than 7 thousand gallons of water a year.
If all the homes in Yavapai County had small solar systems generating just 10 kilowatt hours of electricity a day, they would save 2.2 million gallons of water a day. That’s more than 800 million gallons of water a year. So what are we waiting for?
There are excellent solar companies right here in the Verde Valley. Several are part of the One for the Verde project. They not only help you save energy, save money and save water, they help us preserve our water resources and the natural environment. Visit OnefortheVerde.org to learn more about it, and to find a great deal on going solar.
Solar is an interesting technology, which has been subsidized by the government since it was discovered in the late 1890s. Obviously a lot has transpired since then, but is still remains one of the most inefficient ways to produce electricity…but getting better.
I think it is important to get all the facts before making any decision. A couple of additional considerations:
• Panels do not last indefinitely, typically about 20-23 years. If you are not going to stay in your house that long, it probably does not matter but they may not carry the value in selling your home that you expect based on how many years are left on the panels. The cost of install and projected cost (probably less) of replacement in the future should be considered.
• Inverters, the heavy duty devices that convert DC (Direct Current – the output of a solar panel) to AC (alternating current) last about 7 years, and are expensive, and must be replaced. You will replace them at least two times during the life of the panels, so figure that into your accounting process.
• APS gives you a CREDIT, never cash, for the power that you put back on the grid. That credit goes against your bill. Your bill could technically be zero, but do not expect a check.
• APS can buy power all day long for 3.3 cent per KW, coal, nuclear, hydro etc. They are MANDATED by the state (read YOUR TAX DOLLARS) to buy a certain percentage of their power from “green” sources, like wind, if you believe in “green” sources are really “green”. They pay around 9.9 cents (3X) for that power, and that is the only way wind and these other “green” sources are economically viable.
• The credit you are going to get is about the same they pay from their primary sources, 3 to 4 cents. Remember, they are giving you credit as a power generator, so do not expect them to give you more credit than they have to pay their primary suppliers. They can and do figure in the cost of building additional power plants etc. into their equation, but not a lot. As THEY cannot control you or your system.
• The author talked a bit about water usage to generate power. That is true, but let us remember that water is a renewable resource. We are drinking the same H2O that the dinosaurs did.
• The examples of water usage are a bit misleading, in that hydroelectric power uses water – that is flowing anyway, Geo Thermal uses water, typically recycled, and nuclear uses water, but that water is either recycled OR in the case of our own Palo Verde, the largest nuclear plant in the US, west of Phoenix, it uses waste water that is processed from the city of Phoenix.
So, have fun with the solar program. There are a lot of applications that can save you money, especially passive solar to heat your pools, or your hot water that are VERY inexpensive as they do not use expensive eclectic panels. You simply circulate water through them, and the payout can be less than a couple years in energy savings.