When do I go solar?
September 30, 2008 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Is now the time use solar power for my house?

Is there some big breakthrough right around the corner I should wait for, or should I stop waiting and get solar power for my home now?

I want a grid-tied system, but mostly so I can still have power after a hurricane.

Power where I am is really cheap, (my bill rarely exceeds $100 a month) so I'm not really in it for the money. On the other hand, Louisiana has a great state-tax incentive program this year, so it would be cheaper to get.

Would it be safe to get it now, and then upgrade with new panels as they come on the market?
posted by atchafalaya to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
One of the great things about where I work is that I get to talk to really smart people for some portion of my day. I ask this question about every six months.

Most of the solar guys now say to wait about two years for residential systems. They claim that recent research breakthroughs coupled with economies of scale will be together at about that time.

I'd run the numbers; your power rates, the tax consequences, and total costs should give you a guess on the break-even rate.
posted by answergrape at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2008

There are some crazy new advancements with solar that will be coming online soon, like cheap, thin-film printable cells, and solar cells that store energy as hydrogen.
posted by specialfriend at 3:54 PM on September 30, 2008

Here's a calculator that will tell you how much you can save by installing solar. Unless you can get some crazy deal, it's probably not worthwhile, maybe $1000/year at most, compared with $25000+ installation cost.
posted by electroboy at 3:57 PM on September 30, 2008

My limited understanding of grid-tied solar systems is that in the event of losing grid power (eg from a hurricane) you will not be getting any power from your solar cells. Its some kind of safety shutoff thing. In order to get power when the grid is down, you would need to a have battery setup in place too, which increases the cost. Annoying, because I would love to do the same thing at my house in case of earthquakes or the inevitable CA power brownouts.
posted by Joh at 4:09 PM on September 30, 2008

A couple have said great things are around the corner. I'm not familiar with what, but to me, great advances have been happening continuously in solar since forever, and all that happens is that each year, average prices lower a minuscule, almost imperceptible amount, and efficiency (which is no advantage to you) raises a minuscule, almost imperceptible amount. Over ten years, it's a noticeable difference, but my feeling is that this years breakthroughs just continue that established trend. Solar isn't going to reinvented overnight.

Furthermore, the nifty thing about solar is that most panels are similar voltage (above 15V) for charging lead-acid cells, which means it's very easy to just add more panels in parallel to an arrary as you can afford them. This means you can start out with something to help you through a blackout, without committing to the whole shebang, and it's not wasted investment - you just add more panels at a later date, so you can get solar now, and still wait those two years to see if anything changes before really taking the plunge.
FOr a grid-tied system, expanding it over time might not be as trivially easy (I don't have experience with those), but you'll need some kind of battery setup anyway if you want it to be useful in a blackout.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:16 AM on October 1, 2008

(Note, when I suggest that it's possible to start small, that does mean the power you can use will also be small - you won't want to run incandescent (ie inefficient) bulbs off it, let alone anything big, like hairdryers, toasters, AC, fridge, etc).
The cheapest thing by far for a blackout, is a portable generator. And that WILL run your big stuff.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:23 AM on October 1, 2008

You can actually piece together your own solar panel fairly inexpensively using damaged (slightly) cells bought off ebay. Mike Davis has some detailed instructions on a DIY solar panel, where he prices the project cost at just over $100. I haven't tried the project myself, although I'm tempted. It seems like an excellent way to get your foot in the door on solar. But, consider that this panel only is rated at 60 watts so would only deliver enough power for some lighting and not much more. For more power check out the $600 Home Solar Project written up in Off-Grid.net blog.
posted by sdinan at 2:04 PM on October 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

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