Solar panels are a great way to reduce those utility bills, offset your carbon footprint at home and go green… but at what cost? Today, with government and utility backed rebates from APS and SRP, the cost of solar is within reach for many homeowners mainly through third party financing. I have to admit that in the sustainable movement, solar is one of the most attractive features to homeowners. It is much sexier than weatherization and air sealing, that’s for sure. Even as a kid growing up in the 80’s, I was attracted to solar energy to produce “free energy”. Now, 20 years later, I still plan on having solar installed on my home, but my intuition, reason, and most importantly, my bottom line return on investment all tell me to reduce my energy consumption first, then go solar and I am going to explain why.
If I can reduce my energy consumption first by keeping my conditioned air inside, insulating the walls and roof, and make sure my heating and cooling systems are working properly. If I do this, I am in a much better position to go with renewable energy. Why? I can afford to put on a smaller PV system to reach my goals, whether it is to reduce my utility bills by half, eliminate my winter bills, or go completely off the grid. A smaller solar panel system equals less initial cost. With each kW you reduce, your solar panel size saves you roughly $500 upfront cost and it is more cost effective to do several smaller efficiency upgrades to your home, and then install a smaller sized panel rather than install one huge photo voltaic system for your house. I’ll do a cost analysis of this in another post if you'd like that much detail. On an aesthetic note, most of the panels out there today aren’t the prettiest things, although I do like the panels that look like roof tiles and sit flush with your roof. For a photo of those, check out “Our Green Building Projects” page where we used them on Greenbuild’s Legacy Project. Even though critics will say they have less efficiency, the whole PV industry has horrible inefficiencies, and these panels are much more durable than traditional panels.
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