December 7, 2005
Is solar power in Minnesota an oxymoron?
I think that we as a country and individually should be using alternate forms of energy. I own a duplex, and have been investigating the pros and cons of installing solar panels. I found a web site called mrsolar.com they offer solar panel packages that do not have battery systems, the solar panels are there to offset energy usage. Any excess power that you do not use is put back into the system and you are given credit for it. These systems are referred to as â€œon the gridâ€? meaning that you will still be hooked up to your local electrical supplier.
The fist thing I was told do is conserve. They said start at your lights; if you use all compact fluorescent lights (CP light), which are still bright but save substantial power, you can save 55 watts of power per bulb. I think that this is good advice that can benefit everybody. After the conservation recommendation I was told to find our average kWh usage per month. I then found that throughout the entire house we use about 1100 kWh of power each month. The company supplied a chart which showed the average sun patterns and found that if I wanted to have 100 percent of my electric bill paid by using solar energy I would have to have enough room for 1000 square feet of roof space that is unblocked by sun, facing south and not at an angle of more than 30 degrees. My house is tall so blockage is not a problem and the roof is not at an angle greater than 30 degrees, however I only have 550 square feet of space on the southern side of my house. With an area that size I would be able to produce about 600 kWh per month. They had a system that size that would cost $36,682, not including installation. Wow! According to my current energy bill if you include taxes and fees I pay approximately 11 cents per kWh. If I produce 600 kWhs per month thatâ€™s $66 dollars the system could save me. At that rate it would take me 46 years to pay back the investment, not including the instillation. I would imagine that the panels might need some sort of maintenance over those 46 years and that would increase the cost higher. It would be different if I lived in Arizona, New Mexico or the southwest in general, with the same amount of solar panels I could produce 840 kWh per month. It would then take only 33 years to pay for the package. I also found some other grid packages on the Solatron Technologies web site that had prices varying between $33,000 and $40,000 for a similar amount of energy output. I found an â€œoff the gridâ€? package at solardepot.com that would run $60,823 for about the same power output. Their package would come with a battery and work with a generator, not included, and is intended to provide all the power I could use.
After all this research I still believe in exploring alternate sources of energy production but it seems to me that if you want to use solar panels to produce electricity in Minnesota you either have to be very rich or be willing to pay a lot of money for the environmental benefits of solar energy. Many of the sites I looked at encouraged people to start with just two panels and add from there. This would reduce the initial cost which makes it better in the short run but it still would take years to payback the original investment. I think that what Iâ€™ll do next to my house is replace the windows, a smaller investment $14,000, and a quicker return, especially with the cost of gas this year. My house is of 1920â€™s origin and the windows are stock. I now understand why many of my neighbors, 3 this year, are replacing their windows and not putting up solar panels.
Posted by at December 7, 2005 8:30 AM | 6. Energy, Economics, and Policy