T Nation

Anyone Use Solar Power?


Has anybody installed solar panels on their home or business?

I am considering installing them on my residence. The cost is about $40,000 but with Federal and State rebates and incentives the out of pocket costs will come to about $12,000. With the energy savings and ability to "sell" power back to the utility, this cost will be paid back in about 6 yrs. Of course if electric rates go up, this looks even better. I can finance the 12K thru the install company at a favorable rate. I have a sunny property and will be able to use Solar Power most of the day.

Wondering if anyone has taken the plunge and done this already and if so what do I need to know or be watchful about?


I had a calculator than used solar panels. Didn't like it, I felt too green ya know?


Make sure you're doing your sums right is all I would warn, I've repeatedly heard of people being quoted peak output rather than average output, and basing the repay time off the peak value not the average, as they should. Otherwise, a good idea.


Be very careful on the pay back calculations. I do this type of stuff for the government and solar never really works out too well cost-wise. That said the out-of-pocket cost are looking pretty good here, so it might work out fine. The real question is, are you OK if the pay-payback ends up being 12 years instead of 6? Whats your pain threshold on this?


i'm an architect, and have done a bit of green consulting work in the past. i would second orcusdm's advice about checking the calcs for peak vs average output. if it's at all possible, you can hire a third party to make an energy model for your house to see the scope of the array you would need as well as output rates and expected payback times.

i will however add the caveat that even though i've done some consulting on this, only one of the clients actually installed the system so my build knowledge is admittedly less than my design knowledge in this case.


I worked for a solar/geo company a few years back and we quoted peak rather then average. those numbers were the sexiest.

what would you be using your solar for? direct hot water? electrical needs? both? or something else...

I like the idea of using it for direct hot water more then relying on it to provide electricity.



I did the calculations and even with a hefty public subsidy, I could not make photovoltaic panels to make sense. Hot water on the other hand can be worthwhile. If US houses weren't so crummy with regards to insulation, you could even cover a lot of your heating needs.


even making it soley for your showers would be simple. (and small)

hell i did that for a project in college and it was a low cost for an outdoor solar shower; that's what i'd like to make when i have the free time. "when"


I used to have solar heating for my pool. That was a nice inexpensive way to extend the swim season, but not an investment.

For electric solar, one thing you will need to consider is the cost of the meter. You would need a meter that allows you to sell back to the grid. Most utilities (especially here in CA) charge big bucks for those. They don't really want to be buying your power, they want to SELL you power. We have solar electric on our building at work. The payback (with the meter) is something like 20 years. We did it for PR purposes though, not really as an investment.

I also have a large industrial client that may be doing some solar to get carbon credits in order to beat back the cap-and-trade bullshit. That is the only scenario I have seen in which it makes financial sense. 20-year paybacks usually aren't attractive. Also, check the lifecycle of the components. Replacing/maintaining equipment can add to your cost.


Most everything seems to have already been said. A house in wisconsin I lived in with my parents had solar panels, didn't make a HUGE difference as I was told, granted this was 7 years back.

Also note that the cells need to be replaced every 10-20 years, depending. And they are expensive. Do ALL your research on this before you invest, the last thing you want to do right now if screw yourself in this economy.


My parents have solar, and the only reason it is fiscally possible is the voters of the State of Colorado passed some initiatives a few years ago that mandate some massive renewable energy investments by the power companies. Quintuple check your numbers.


I have a fun remote control car I use for demonstrations to high school / middle school students that uses solar cells to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. It can then use the hydrogen and oxygen to run the fuel cell to power the car ......

Basically its a way to explain that if we drove electric cars or fuel cell cars you really would not need gas stations except for long distances....

Interesting fact, one of the first cars Henry Ford built was electric, it had a range of 300 miles.... guess what the chevy volt has as a range? 300 miles.... /cry... 100 years and we progressed no where...


I am really thinking about it.
the amount you "sell back" to the power company is not even worth worrying about

it does help alot though. I would like to go off grid completely.
I have a private well already and everything in my home is electric so I was looking into it
it would be about 65 grand for me to go off grid.
BTW I live in the sunbelt where theres 300 days a year of sun, it would benefit someone like me more than it would someone in the northwest or northeast

up there you would use solar as a back up so to speak a supplement to your on grid power because you would be able to use it in the summer but thast the cheapest part of the year isnt it
with me summer is extremely high 550 a month average and thats running my ac at about 86 degrees. winter is less than 100 a month due to the fact I can run with my windows open all day

I would be able to have enough sun to charge up battery cells all day plus enough left over to run my home. even in winter
and at night when im sleeping its plenty of back up power to run my ac and fans .
only thing I have to worry about is the upkeep on the backup system and the cells
only thing I can not work on myself are the solar cells.

and during monsoon season I can run either propane or I can run a diesel generator and while the rest of the neighborhood is in the dark and hot I am in comfort
sounds like a sound idea actually.
I have looked into it for about the last 3 years now.

if nothing else I can run a single solar panel and attach it to my ac,water heater and well leave the lights and outlets to the power plant and that will cut a huge chunk out every month

if you can afford it I think its a good idea but figure your area and if it will benefit you or not.
if you are in a situation like me its a good idea in the long run.
but make sure you crunch the numbers and if you use it only to supplement your power needs dont expect an immediate savings on it it may take 15 years or more to see the savings


It's not a bad idea, but the technology is still stupid expensive for how long it has been out. This is primarily because very little research is conducted to lower the cost of producing solar cells.... Along the same reason I refuse to let anyone I know buy a prius... the battery technology is not there yet, and after 100k miles you have to replace 9k in batteries which are actually worse for the environment then if you had driven a hummer h1 around for 100k miles...

If you really want to, go for it, but I personally think your looking at a lot of money up front and I really doubt you will get the money back when you sell your house....


I've looked at financing large-scale solar projects, both in the U.S. and Canada for independent power producers voer the last few years. To date, we haven't financed any because they just don't make economic sense (from a lender's perspective) without the gov't subsidies because of the very high cost and the lack of reliability. And the govt subsidies are not a given for large-scale projects because they are recovered over a long time, not upfront.

A lot depends on the strength of the sun where you are, the efficiency of your equipment and the load requirement. I have also read and heard about local utilities not paying for the power you return to the grid, citing a lack of reliability. The grid is a complex system of generators and loads and the ISOs need to operate the grid within specific tolerances or it all comes down. Consequently, if you are a producer and your power output is unreliable in terms of volume, they can often choose not to take and pay for your power. This tends to be more of an issue with people that have installed windmills, but it also happens with solar.

Therefore, my suggestion is that you talk to other people in your area, if possible, that have installed solar panels to hear how things have worked out for them.

Ultimately, you may decide to do it even if you don't fully recover your costs, for other reasons, i.e. the environment, electrical independence, etc. But definitely do lots of homework and don't necessarily take only one source of information to make your decision.



i just drink fish oil and bask in the sun

this is how we live


hi hedo,

i see there is government incentives for grid connected pv installation in your state, and you have a sunny property.
it should be ok i guess, but you still have to do your own research about actual energy consumption of your household equipments and actual energy production of the pv systems - and calculate whether you will have excess energy production to sell to the utility or not.

you could learn more about grid conn solar from kyocerasolar.com and sma.de.