I’ll admit it. To some people I sound a tad biased, believing as I do that photo voltaic solar panels are the greatest thing to bless humanity since the Scots discovered whiskey. But think about it, they actually are! These things have no moving parts, save the little electrons that get knocked off their seats by photon bullies from the sun. Then they produce electricity by running around, trying to find another place to sit. Okay, that’s a simplified version, but you probably get the idea.
Everybody should own a few of these little gems and put them to work. After all, once paid for, the little slaves will work for you for free. They don’t whine or try to form labor unions. You don’t have to provide food for them, or shelter, or a 401k! They just keep producing electricity day after day after day. In addition to the ones that serve my home, I bought two used solar panels that were made in 1980, almost 30 years ago. They are still hard at work, lifting water from an 80 foot well to a 2,500 gallon storage tank. I have never heard a single complaint out of either one!
My wife and I have made use of solar panels for years. Since 1998 we have lived happily off the grid. Achieving this state of bliss was not cheap. In fact the cost was significant. But since we installed the system, we have not paid PG&E a single farthing! Makes a man almost gleeful. And, I don’t want to keep all this joy to myself. I want more people to do this. But not the way we did. There is a better way.
Lately, more and more families are installing what is called, a “grid tie” solar system that connects to the electrical grid. In this system they are either contributing solar electricity to their home or the grid, or they are drawing electricity from it, the extent of which is determined by the size of their system or whether or not the sun is shining. If their system is big enough, it is quite possible to make your electric utility meter turn backward when the sun shines. Unlike our situation where we have no connection to municipal utilities, these people don’t bear the cost or maintenance of batteries. The grid is their battery. Sweet!
When explaining the workings of our system, there is one question that invariably comes up. I’m sure folks with grid tie systems are asked the same question too. It is, ” How long before I get payback?
The short answer is, the minute you flip the switch. The immediate return is the feeling you get of taking control of your own energy needs. It is a terrific feeling. Then, too, there is the feeling of pride from making a minor contribution to the war on climate change through your reduced use of fossil fuel.
But what most people really want to know is, “When will I get my money back?” They seem to want to know if there is a particular time when they will have recovered every dime invested.
If that’s true, then their question begs another one. Do they plan on selling the panels? Since they most probably do not, the answer is complicated. In fact, their may not be an answer. After installing their solar electric grid tie system, they will immediately begin to enjoy a return on their investment in the form of reduced or eliminated electricity bills. This is real money and could be compared to what is received as dividends from securities. And these dividends will continue to grow as the cost of energy grows.
A return of their investment would occur only if or when they sold their home. Of course they could sell their panels separately. But, why sell? Like the stock market, one should be investing for the long term. But unlike securities held in the stock market, one might not ever be inclined to sell or trade solar panels. This investment will not appear to go down in value. They do not seem to wear out! The energy savings are not only regular, but should grow with time. With this in mind, investing in a grid tie solar electric system may well be one of the safest investments one could find. A wise choice in this time of economic uncertainty!
Richard Douse is a north state resident who lives as energy-efficiently as possible, including using solar power.