What Are You Waiting For?


That’s not a comment in the form of a question—we really want to know. Over the years, Home Power has tried to figure out what it would take for home-scale rooftop solar to “explode” into use—becoming so commonplace among homeowners that seeing PV modules would no longer result in pointing a finger at the rare rooftop array and saying, “Wow, how cool.”

In the early ‘90s, we naively thought that point would be when PV modules reached $5 per watt. But some of us had the minds of early adopters, and I mistakenly believed that the general population would, like us, jump at the opportunity when solar would appear even remotely affordable.

We’ve been below that not-as-magical-as-we-thought $5 per watt point for awhile. In fact, entire installed systems—not just the PV modules themselves—are below that point in many cases. Assuming there is some perceived value in coolness and greenness, rooftop solar has been theoretically affordable for many years—even though it was costing a little more money than grid energy. But still no “explosion.”

Grid parity has been reached in many markets throughout the Western world. For the home-scale solar market, grid parity is the point at which the cost of electricity from a rooftop PV system is equal to or cheaper than what you would pay for utility electricity. According to a recent report from Deutsche Bank, grid parity has been reached in 11 out of the 25 countries they analyzed (including several energy markets in the United States) and is very close in others.

Yet the explosion still has not happened. It turns out that even though nearly everyone likes rooftop solar, it takes more than low cost to decide to implement it. I still think that most important is the desire—how much you really want solar. With enough desire, nearly any impediment to PV can be overcome.

Of course, along with desire and cost is access to funds. Solar could be half the cost of utility service, yet many still feel they cannot afford the upfront cost of installation. It is a lot gentler on the wallet to pay a monthly utility bill than come up with several thousand dollars to install a PV system. But in nearly all cases, that should no longer be an obstruction. Financing is available through second mortgages or refinancing a home to get improvement money. Financing is available from many solar installation companies too. And for those who cannot qualify for financing, there are leasing programs offered by some installers that can put a company-owned system on your roof.

So back to the original question. Now that PV-generated electricity is, in many places, cheaper than grid energy; and now that financing is readily available; and since the coolness factor has not decreased, and environmental situations have increased the value of the green factor—please let us know what you are waiting for. And if you already have a PV system, we’d love to hear what it was that helped you decide to “go solar.”

Michael Welch, for the Home Power crew

Comments (4)

Phil Manke's picture

The problem(s) with solar costing is not with array costs, but that we are supporting our backup energy systems full time, which is what burn-tec and nuke-tec energy needs to be seen as to keep it in accurate perspective. If the high deferred costs which we all must pay, I mean specifically, IF fouled air, water, soil, and climate, and the health costs associated, that the mainstream energy provisions are privileged to freely proffit from, were to be included in solar crediting, it would then be wholey proffitable for everyone to "go solar". -This is easily done!- I support the advent of a national RES with mandatory solar carve-out supporting SRECs in all states nationwide. The eastern states that have diligently used this venue have done well with solar crediting. DC is perhaps the best example so far, paying over $400 per SREC (=1 MWHr). It covers the costs of money to install solar heat and electric provisions.
This is better than reward programs which raise the costs of distributed energy for eneryone. It is covered with carbon credits paid by coal burners. Imagine the bounty available if the petro industries were also required to "carbon up"!

Margaret Hunt's picture

I would love to have some solar panels on my roof making electricity! Each fall I go on the local solar tour and see what can be done even here in the rainy Northwest, in Olympia. The local utility is onboard with this stuff. But this is the land of tall fir trees, and there are several of them--on neighbors' properties--that cut down my roof's solar day just a little too much. Maybe I could bribe the folks into taking out those trees, but it would negatively affect the neighborhood aesthetics, to say nothing of depriving some folks of shade. There is an outside possibility of a pole mount in the yard, where it competes with my veggies and fruit for sun. I don't know if the local utility would be as favorable if they can't be attached to the house. I guess more research is needed, which I haven't done yet.

Michael Welch's picture

Hi Margaret. I highly recommending contacting a local, reputable PV installer. They are experts at both the local and state laws and regs, and will be able to easily assess sites on your property. You have nothing to lose, and only good info to gain.

Wayne Johnson's picture

We went to 4.2 KW grid-tied solar last April. The decision breaker was ridiculously good rebates (ended Dec. 31) from our utility, which amounted to 43% of our total cost---and we still have significant tax breaks etc. to kick in this April----a complete no-brainer for me! I tried to convince several friends and business owners to follow me, but NONE did, and the only reason I can see is not having the cash up front to make the initial purchase. After taxes this spring, I will have 83% of my money back already ---and free electricity for 25 years!!! This deal (in Iowa) was SO GOOD THAT IT LOOKED LIKE A SCAM---the old, Too-Good-To-Be-True feeling once you heard the details. I'm so glad I jumped on board since I'm making free juice even when it rains, when I'm not home, and as soon as sunrise when the panels are in shade. This would have been a great deal even if I had to take out a loan. Our incredible utility rebates are over, and I'm not sure what they will offer this year. Getting my pay-back period to less than 5 years was a real incentive for me. The numbers don't lie---we are saving 2/3 on our electric bill now, and I have no regrets whatsoever.

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