Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time to go solar?

According to an article entitled "Cost of Solar Energy Plummets" that I first read in the April/May 2012 edition of Mother Earth News, the cost of a residential solar power system has dropped about 40% in the last couple of years. The same article is posted online at a site called Academic Articles.

The writer, Dan Chiras, points out that conventional energy costs about 17 cents per kwh in New Jersey and in many major cities conventional electricity costs 10 to 12 cents per kwh. In the Midwest, the unsubsidized cost of solar has fallen to 13.7 cents per kwh and federal tax credits bring it to less than 10 cents. To sweeten the financial incentives even more, some U.S. utilities currently buy renewable energy credits from customers that help them meet state goals for renewable energy production.

I get my electricity from Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and, since I'm just beginning to check this out I, don't know if it makes economic sense in my situation. At our pre-Civil War home I mostly heat with propane (and wood) and cook with propane. In addition to lighting, the water heater and dryer (we hang 75% of laundry on the line) are electric and one room has electrically warmed flooring. In short, we are far from a totally electric home. I do know that (including the basic consumer charge; riders, distribution charges, and adjustments; and local/state taxes) I am paying about 11.75 cents per kwh used.

At this point I don't know the viability and costs of installing a photovoltaic (PV) system at my location. I don't know how quickly I could recoup the upfront costs or how it would impact resale value. I don't know how cooperative my co-op will be, although I am reasonably impressed with their conservation programs and overall service. And, I certainly don't know if federal tax credits will make a PV system cost effective.

But, I recently watched construction nearby of a solar system to provide heating at a poultry house and I do know that with costs of PV systems coming down quickly, the current environment may be a good time start humming the 1969 George Harrison song, "Here Comes the Sun."

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