Exploring Solar Panels

This is the third post in a series. You can read Part One here, and Part Two here.

I think I hit a nerve with this go green conversation. Several people wrote after the last post. Some said, “Egads, I’m going in circles too, I just want someone to tell me what to do.” Others said, “Hey, I’ve got some swell ideas. Check out these links.”

So I figured, why not mash people up and get everyone talking to each other. Because, as we all know, it takes a (blogger) village.

First there is Elya. She sent me an email—she already drives an electric car, and now she and Jon want to convert their house to renewable energy. They are smack in the middle of unraveling the solar panel question(s): How much? How long? Who installs? Do we still get a bill from the utility? Do they pay us for generating energy?

Elya is super smart. She’s an attorney and loves to make graphs and do research. She understands things like upfront costs, tax credits, financing and break-even points. I, on the other hand, make my decisions in a different way. Do I like the color? Does it make me feel good? Does it contribute to world peace? It’s a good thing there are both Elyas and Davias in this world!

Here’s what Elya’s found so far. The start-up cost for Tesla Solar panels is $17,000. Hefty. The federal government will give you $7,500 in tax credits (don’t quote me, but I think that means that if you owe $8,500 in taxes, you subtract $7,500 and pay $1,000 in taxes. But like I said, this part is not my strong suit). Okay, $9,500 is a bit more manageable, but Elya currently pays very little in taxes, so the tax credit deal is useless to her. She told me it would take them eight years to break even. For people who can take advantage of the credit, it takes five years. She and Jon checked out another company whose start-up cost is $20,000 but has better financing. They’re still pondering their next move.

Elya asked me if California offered incentives for solar power. I shrugged my shoulders. Don’t know. But I bet Madam Google knows, so I searched around online. I still don’t know the definitive answer, but it seems like the feds are the only ones giving incentives.

I did find this definitive information, however: California–for all its renewable energy bravado–is knee deep in oil. Makes you scratch your head, doesn’t it? But it is slowly weaning off dirty and onto clean energy. Here’s what else I learned:

  1. California is one of the top producers of crude oil in the nation, accounting for 6% of total U.S. production in 2016. 
  2. California has the third largest share of petroleum reserves and is the third largest producer of petroleum in the U.S. after Texas and North Dakota
  3. California’s non-CO2 emitting electric generation categories (large hydroelectric, nuclear and renewable generation) accounted for 50%of total in state generation compared to 40% in 2015. 

Elya’s roof remains naked at this writing. But that’s not the point of this post. I’m here to get us talking. To get us thinking about our lights and water and gas and oil and wind and sun. To get us up and out and in action. I’m not an expert. I’m not a scientist. My name is Davia, my favorite color is blue, and it feels good to be talking, listening, and taking action.         

10 comments on “Exploring Solar Panels

  1. So when I was making the leap to putting solar panels on my roof, which was when both the State and Federal tax credit programs were active, I consulted a colleague who worked in the industry about the “payback” period. He had a great response.

    “So why is it that a solar installer has to be ready to discuss specific financial payback scenarios, but that doesn’t happen to somebody who sells and installs granite countertops?” His point was that there are other factors that contribute to one’s decisions about how to best spend your money.
    He told me that he was sure I was one of those people who after installation would stand in my driveway watching my electric meter spin backwards, experiencing great benefit (or to use the economist’s terms, greater “marginal utility”) from the experience.

    Turns out he was right. Being part of the solution is worth a lot to me, and I always encourage other to keep this aspect of the decision to “go green” in mind when weighing their options.

  2. I loved this blog, Davia. I support your goal to get me up and listening and talking and taking action. Thank you!

  3. An activist friend of mine, Madeline Merritt is a sales rep for PICK MY SOLAR. She will provide all the answers to Elya’s questions (and yours). madeline@pickmysolar.com. Madeline is an excellent resource and will help decide which panels are best for your location and all the ancillary information that you require. I highly suggest a conversation with her.

  4. I applaud Elya and Jon getting an EV, and especially since they want to power it, and their home, with solar energy. Doing both of those things is the most effective action one can take to fight climate change.

    Keep in mind that you don’t have to come up with the sale price of the solar system. Many solar companies offer leases for zero down, and your payment is about the same, or less, than what you were paying for dirty electricity, Either way, it’s a great idea to go solar if you have the roof for it.

  5. Thanks for this blog entry, Davia! I’ve been thinking of doing something similar myself, and have tried on a very small scale, but nothing very major.

    Regarding the solar tax credit, you’re exactly correct. Its a reduction by that amount in taxes you owe. But the solar tax credit used to be 30% (and I think still is for the next year or two) of the value of the panels. It seems that $7500 is a bit high for panels that cost $17,000. I think maybe they were reduced by $7500 to $17,000 by the tax credits from an original cost of $24,500? $7500 out of $24,500 is about 30.6%, so I think this might be the case. $7500 actually works out to be exactly 30% of $25,000.

    But I think it does depend state to state what options solar installers are able to provide (and even if there are solar installers in the state), depending on state clean energy rebates and maybe also on state clean energy mandates.

    Sudheer Shukla

  6. Hi Elya, have you considered a PPA, (Power Purchase Agreement) or a PPA Prepaid? These are great programs for people who can’t get the tax credit. If you need more information don’t hesitate to contact me. Many people don’t know enough about how solar works. This is my business. I’d be happy to explain.

  7. I decided in 2012 that putting solar panels on our house was an ethical choice and I was willing for it to cost more money if that meant lowering my personal carbon emissions. I also bought a plug in hybrid… couldn’t go all ev because of my driving patterns and not ready to buy a Tesla. So, inside I feel really good about walking my talk (though I probably offset all that “good” by traveling by air too much.) The panels are supposed to pay for themselves within 10 years and we’re into year 6 now. I love my low electric bills. My dilemma is how to move away from gas because I use it to heat my water and my home. I love my gas fireplace in the winter because it really takes the chill out of the room I’m in without touching the furnace thermostat. But, I have no idea whether I’m using more or less gas by doing that, and really haven’t figured out how to measure that. So not sure what the solution is for transitioning off a gas forced air heating system… without putting in electric baseboards or water radiators. Ideally all my decisions would be supported by economically sound hard numbers, but honestly, I’m not that person and probably never will be. The personal sense of satisfaction that comes from doing what I consider the right thing is what drives my decisions. Thanks for starting this dialogue. There is so much to know and there just isn’t the time or energy available to be an expert on all the climate related information that is out there.

    • I hear you Ellyn! I try to keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope that I’m making changes that matter. My guess is that sometimes I am and sometimes I’m not! Life! So complicated!

  8. Renewable energy is quite a trend now. Different companies are now exploring ways to gain profits in renewable source. China for one is active in making panels and market them all around the world. Hope they can make ways in minimizing their pollution as smog took some cities of theirs.

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