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Until recently, the expense of putting solar panels on the roof meant that only a few eco-warriors with money could adopting it. Everyone else felt that the payback period was too long. However, every cloud has a silver lining. With the hefty rises in electricity and gas prices over the past few years all over the world as well as the recent advancements in research, the lining is that solar power could now become a realistic, cost-effective option for most of us.

Within the US, many people still believe that the solar power is not as cost-effective as grid power. A search on Google reveals that this is not always the case. News articles indicate that photovoltaic solar cells (PSC) are cost effective in Hawaii and some parts of California — meaning that PSC became cheaper than electric grid power if you wish to power a remote home that is more than 2 miles from the nearest power line — because the electric company will charge at least $20,000 in the US to extend the power lines two miles to a single home. Diesel electric generators (and other fossil fuel burning generators) have relatively low up-front costs, but over a 30-year period they will cost a lot to maintain and fuel.

Let’s take an example. Mostly electric companies charge us a basic amount. Furthermore, there are other costs of the transmission lines, electric meter and hiring someone to go to the home to read the meter. If all these costs conservatively total to $120 per year that is $3,600 total over 30 years, then we have $3,600 for buying solar panels (that will last the same period).

Today, solar panels can be obtained for as low as $3.75 per watt. The $3,600 would thus be available to buy a 900 watt solar electric panel array. If one’s home receives an average of 4-5 peak hours of sunlight per day (common for homes perennially for more than half of India), then this array would generate 3.6 kwh to 4.5 kwh per day. In fact, if a home in India typically consumed 3-4 kwh per day — that would be one 1 kwh AC unit continuously running for 3-4 hours (not unreasonable in middle-income towns) — then the house could entirely subsist on the 900 watt solar electric panel array.

Furthermore, let us now consider the cost of electricity usage. Suppose an electric company charges 6.5 cents per kwh for residential electric usage. If a home used 3.6 kwh per day this would equal to about $2,564 over 30 years. That $2,564 could be applied towards the cost of the photovoltaic racks, wiring, meters, controllers, batteries and installation labour. At 4.5 kwh per day, the savings in electric utility usage costs equal $3,205 over 30 years.

However, these facts are not yet it. There is more goodness in using solar power. The calculation above assumed a constant electricity rate. Now, consider the fact that electric rates (especially from the coal-based power plants) are very likely to rise over the next 30 years, both in terms of the monthly base fee and the usage rate fee, whereas the solar panel equipment would already be paid for and the sunshine is free. There would, however, be occasional battery bank replacements. Secondly, many states will start offering tax credits for renewable energy systems. All this will make a lot of savings over a long time period.

Looking into the cost of the solar panels, one finds that the main costs are: wiring connecting the individual cells and the glass and the manufactured silicon solar cell materials. Most recently, researchers at the Duke University perfected a simple way to make tiny copper nano wires in bulk. The cheap conductors are small enough to be transparent, making them ideal for thin-film solar cells. Currently, indium tin oxide (ITO) is used as the transparent layer for the electrode in thin-film solar cells. Copper nano wires hold the key to replacing ITO in solar panels. The latest research quotes that it would take about $3.00 worth of copper nano wires, less than half a gram, to coat 1m² of glass of solar panel. If this fact is true then this will make the solar cell technology a very different economic proposition in the near future.

Lowering costs of solar technology is critically important. The other side also can benefit, more efficient display panels can cut the electrical energy needed to expand the human standard of living. The returns already justify the outlay and, if you are worried about global warming, going solar is going the right way.

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15 Responses to “Cost of solar panels”

  1. Techy Mike

    …and there is the added prediction of civilisation failing (as mentioned in Nick’s book) as between 50 and 80% in the next decade…

  2. Techy Mike

    While I believe in climate change, lets take a step back for a second….

    If climate change doesn’t exist and you install a renewable energy system, what have you got?
    Potentially expensive (but not as expensive long term as generator based power (or grid power if the prices keep rising))
    Less pollutants in your local environment (pollutants from most power stations do cover a massive area which wont be improved by using renewables yourself, but generators still put out a fair amount of crap into the air around you – from carbon monoxide to sulphur dioxide and heavy metals)
    Energy security if the power grid fails you can keep working
    Security from price rises in fuel and electricity on the grid
    Noise – while not as quiet as the grid (unless you count ‘electrosmog’) most renewables are far quieter in production than a generator.
    No need to run massive pylons across the landscape.

    Even without climate change for many people this is a very good reason to move to renewables. If we add in the climate change as well then it should be compelling.

  3. Gary

    There is a lot to Al Gore’s theroies. It’s all Gore-Bull. Anyone who has a 3k utility bill every month and flies around in a private jet and has several SUV’s can’t be all bad. What a crock.

  4. StaceyShmacey

    WL- Kudos on your post….I agree completely. The idea that we humans are so insignifigant on the planet is ignorant. We have a collectively large footprint that is unknown to Mama Earth before us. And things are accelerating as developing nations start ‘westernizing’ and wanting all the cars and electricity and everything Americans and other industrialized countries have been entitled to all this time. We can argue over climate change being man made or not… doesn’t change that humans are having a BIG impact on the environment. Maybe in the end what we do won’t matter. But maybe in the end it will. I’d like to think it will. Only time will tell.
    I hope many people move past the idea of environmentalism being just a ‘liberal’ agenda. Democrat, Republican, Conservative or Liberal…don’t matter. It’s a people agenda. It’s a life agenda. Right now we’re not supporting life…we’re destroying it.

  5. sal

    wl you drank the al gore kool aid dident you ?

  6. WL

    Don S. and anyone else who believes that global warming is a sham, you’re wrong. And your incorrectness and stubborn refusal to listen to facts, evidence and experts and dismiss it as liberal, propaganda bullsh*t, and the same behavior of millions like you, is costing us both time and money that we can’t afford to lose if we hope to mitigate this problem. Face up to it, for the first time in the history of this planet, a species, US, is able to create massive and possibly irreversible environmental change, on a global level. We are not a pimple. The earth has never seen anything like us. That’s not my own personal opinion, it’s not arrogance it’s science, it’s the truth. Yes, climate has changed naturally before. Yes, five mass extinctions have occurred in the last 500 million years. Yes, the earth is likely naturally in a warming trend that’s part of its natural glacial-interglacial cycle. What’s different is the speed with which this climate change and mass extinction of biodiversity is occurring. The greatest mass extinction in history in history (at the end of the Permian iin which 90% of species vanished) likely happened over a period of at least 100,000 years. That’s as long as the human species has existed. When the climate warmed up 5-6 degrees C after the last Ice Age, it took at least 6,000 years. That is the pace at which the natural world changes. By the end of this century we might experience a comparable rise in temperature as the one at the end of the last Ice Age and an extinction of up to 50% of earth’s species. That’s between 60-1,000 faster than the natural pace of things. It’s inconceivable that that accelerated pace is in any way not man made. The only mass extinction that may have happened faster was the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. you could say that we’re as destructive as an asteroid then. That certainly makes us far more than a pimple. Don’t believe me? Read a book, or a magazine, or newspaper or damn near anything if you know how to and they’ll all pretty much say the same thing I just said. Of course you probably won’t because you wouldn’t want anything to ruin your precious, pigheaded, comfortable and narrow minded view of the way things should be in your humble and educated opinion.

  7. Phil

    For those of you that want the real truth and the costs of all of the various kinds of energy being produced today check out the book Alcohol Can Be A Gas .Com, it gives the facts of all of them including nuclear and how sustainable energy is totally renewable!

  8. Don S.

    Hadda chime in here. Interesting that a chat about solar panels can arouse emotions over the “global warming” issue. For you warming-globaliasts, take care that you’re not buying into the Gore-generated hype. There’s a key point to be made in contrast to it … the Earth-based timeline. Does “ice age” ring a bell? The fluctuations in climate on this planet have been SEVERE for millennia. If you step out of your self-focused delirium for two seconds you can’t avoid the fact that it’s NORMAL. If you use your human-based timeline to make judgments you’re putting on narrow blinders. Good ol’ Mom Earth has been through a LOT worse than a few of her children spraying a couple million gallons of CFCs. Claiming that humans are responsible for the coming-soon destruction of the Earth is pretty arrogant. Sure, we’ve been stupid … but we’re a PIMPLE, not a thermo-nuclear blast. Mass extinctions are a NORMAL part of Earth’s history. We’re just too selfish to see that. It’s our survival instincts that kick in and rabble-rouse us into a frenzy. All-in-all we’re learning, and making corrections. “The only thing permanent is change.” If you think your region of the world will stay exactly as it is forever, you’re in for a startling awakening. The Sahara Dessert was a lush, green river-laiden, triple canopy forest region at one time. What did the wildlife do when it changed? Did they bitch and point fingers at each other playing a blame game? No. They MOVED. Sure, don’t be stupid and foul your water and air. But don’t elevate yourself above the actual position of the “pimple” you really are.

    • Wretha

      Don S., I agree completely with what you said, it’s a real shame that this isn’t being taught in schools instead of the political propaganda garbage.


  9. Ross

    @ Patrick: ““Global Warming” is a complete non-issue, and has been proven to be so.”

    Um.. what? Where’s your “proof”? And its not accurately called just global warming, but climate change. The models predict extreme weather events, exactly as we’ve been seeing.

  10. GoneWithTheWind

    There is a fatal flaw in your theory. It takes a lot of energy to manufacture PV panels. When the price of energy goes up it appears to make the energy costs from PV cheaper. But that is true only if you can buy PV panels at the old price. With higher energy costs the price of PV panels increases. It is an endless spiral.
    I have been following PV power generation for almost 60 years and they have always been on the verge of a dramatic breakthrough in either efficiency or cost. There have been modest gains in both of these areas but in general the predictions of cheap PV have never been true. It is expensive energy and that is if you are lucky enough to live where the sun shines everyday. PV is best used in a small way, i.e. to power a light or two and a radio. But to power a house you need to pay about $40,ooo up front and then continue to pay maintenance costs for replacement batteries and unexpected problems. Large scale PV sufficient to power your home is a rich man’s toy. Federal and state subsidies merely taxes the common man to benefit the few and often the rich few. I wish PV were practical but it’s not. In fact a PV panel probably does not even generate as much energy in it’s lifetime as it takes to make it. Think about this: China recently built the largest PV manufacturing plant in the world. They built a large coal fired generation facility right beside it to power it. If there were ever a better opportunity to prove the viability of PV this was it. why not power the plant with PV panels??? But of course we all know the answer; it isn’t practical. The coal fired power plant is about 20 times more efficient then PV.

  11. MP

    Honestly I dont think all or anyone of us has all the answers yet when it comes to grid power or off grid power . The more I read and hear the moreI learn that its not going to be any one single source of power that will get us into 2030 unscathed. global warming is an argument that has a pandora’s box ending.
    With wind rain and sun shine over our heads we can all use what is avaliable to the best of our ablilties. Don’t wait for the goverment to tell you what you can and cant do. The goverment works for us it’s not the other way around. develop something and throw it on the web, forget the patent you wont get squat for the royalties ….

  12. Laura Beth MacDonald

    While I agree that solar power may not be viable in all areas, I think it is going a bit far to claim that global warming does not exist. The fact is we are depleting the earth’s supply of fossil fuels and it is time to look into other alternatives. While the initial cost of solar panels may deter some people, when you look at the benefit to the environment, I think it is really worth the initial cost. In addition, they will save you money over time because of the decrease in your energy costs. I have been doing a lot of research on this, and I think that Sharp’s solar panels are really worth looking into. They offer a great product that has a good electrical output and is really cost effective. In addition, when you look at the money you will save over time, the tax credits you may be eligible for, and the positive impact using solar energy versus fossil fuels has on the environment, solar panels make a great investment, and I, for one, am ready to do my part in helping the environment. While I recently started working for Sharp, I have always been impressed by the superior quality of their products- and their solar panels really are of superior quality!

  13. Patrick

    “Global Warming” is a complete non-issue, and has been proven to be so. Solar activity accounts for nearly all “climate change” of any significance whatsoever. Perhaps you’d like to talk to the folks in Chile and Brazil about “global warming”! … Also, in the cold, damp Pacific NW, solar solutions aren’t very effective. More than half the year, it’s gray and overcast all day long, everyday! Statistically, one ONE in THREE days does the sun come out, during an average year. … Now, if there was only technology to harness the power of DRIZZLE(!), then we’d be somewhere!

  14. elnav

    The first half of your post made sense but when you started talking about recent university lab developments you blew it. Quite often these test lab developments take a long time to reach the store shelf as a consumer buyable item. And today’s research product will not make one iota of difference to a product someone goes out to buy this week or next. Quit trying to make a sales pitch based on test lab hype. Secondly; its a bogus argument trying to make a sale requiring high up front costs based on amortization over decades when the potential customers simply haven’t got the money to spend up front. Only a few states have programs for low interest loans or outright grants for upgrading older housing stock. Those that did got scuttled by grants because the morgage companies objected to risking their excessive profit margin.


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