As reports come in on another government subsidized solar company's bankruptcy, I wonder is solar and wind energy really viable today? I want to take a trip off my usual path for just one day. I have a brother-in-law who is extremely bright and a born entrepreneur. Back in the mid 70's he started his own solar business. It was mostly water heaters at that time. They were bulky, huge and really didn't make as much hot water as was needed by a family. It might have been viable for just 2 people in a household, but that wasn't the case of his first sale... his parents. They still had 4 children living there too. Bonnie has always laughed that her dad would shut off the hot water in the middle of her showers leaving her to finish in cold water. There just wasn't enough to finish and have some for others.
Today, the solar systems are much improved for sure. If I were constructing a new home, I'm sure I would include some solar panels into the mix. With all the tax credits and advertisement, we looked into solar and wind for ourselves in an existing home. Here's what we discovered.
Wind was totally out of the question. It takes very windy conditions to make that viable at all. We thought we had a good windy spot on top of our 66' TV antenna tower. But no good. Still not enough wind and then there is the generator motor rebuild every other year and the other yearly maintenance that made it un-affordable and good for nothing.
We do have lots of space for solar panels though. After getting all the estimates we sat down with the expert and started asking questions. The cost was really high and when pushed he finally told us that we would start breaking even sometime in year 17. That wasn't including any interest from that money over that 17 years either. So then we asked how long are these panels good for? He said about 20 years they think. Now I have Lifetime windows in place that some are in need of replacement after only 10 years. I also have 50 year caulking that I have to replace every 5 years... So I am skeptical that these things will last 20 years. So then I said what is the cost of replacing them in 20 years.... he said about the same as the cost of putting them in new with a small savings since the brackets are already there assuming there is no rusting taking place in them.
Now, why would I spend $80,000 of today's money to save $200 a month on our electric bill and not see the $80K repaid until year 17 and again assuming the panels last that long? That $80,000 was after the tax credit payment by the way. I really don't see other than new construction where it's part of original cost of building, that this is a viable energy source as of yet. I know there is some satisfaction in knowing we are reducing our carbon footprint and all but I believe I will do my part better when I stop breathing out.
I have one friend who found a loophole that makes it all work for him. He raises hogs for a company and they pay for his once enormous electric bill. He put thousands of panels on his hog barns to where the electric company actually pays him back most months plus the hog people pay his agreed amount for electricity every month. I'm wondering how long that contract will last with them knowingly paying for electric he's not using anymore. Time wil tell. Aw.. the price of good bacon! I hope it works out for him because of what it cost him to install all those panels, it was much more than $80,000... about 10x more.
The most viable option I believe available today is still ground source heating and hot water, but then again not for an existing home when you figure out the cost recovery time. So I ask again, is solar really that viable with today's techology?