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May 23, 2018  |  Login
Powering Your Home with Solar Energy
By Dan Chiras
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Three Ways to Power Your Home with Solar Energy

Solar electricity is something of a paradox: it is by far the most expensive means by which we humans generate electricity, yet is it one of the most popular choices of the poorest people in the poorest nations, for example, residents in remote villages in India.

The reason for this is simple: although solar electricity costs quite a lot, in rural areas in less developed countries it’s cheaper to install solar electric panels than to string electric lines to villages hundreds of miles from central power plants. Far cheaper.

Solar electricity is also much cheaper than conventional electricity in certain areas in the United States. For example, when building a new home more than a couple tenths of a mile away from a power line it is often cheaper to install a solar system — especially if your home is energy efficient and the local utility won’t foot the bill for grid connection. Contact your local utility to determine their line extension policy and pricing. Some companies don’t charge much to connect.

If you are building a home more than half a mile from a power line, it often makes more sense to install a solar electric system than to connect to grid power. Although some local utilities have generous line extension policies, many typically charge $50,000 or more to run a line to your home if you’re a half mile from the electric line. That $50,000 investment to hook up your home to the grid will buy you an enormous solar system, nearly double what you will need. Moreover, the fee to connect to the grid doesn’t pay for a penny’s worth of electricity. It just gets you utility poles, an electric line, a meter, and a connection to the grid. You’ll be charged for electricity on top of the hookup fee. In contrast, a $25,000 to $50,000 solar electric system provides you a lifetime of electricity (although you will need to replace batteries every 7 to 15 years, depending on how you maintain them).

Solar electric systems also make sense in states or countries in which electrical costs are extremely high. In California and Germany, for instance, conventionally produced electricity goes for premium prices. Solar electric systems also often make sense in states in which utilities offer generous financial incentives to install them. In California, for example, customers can receive rebates from various local and state agencies, totaling about half the cost of the system. Such generous incentives dramatically reduce the cost of solar electricity, driving it down to about 12 cents per kilowatt hour. By the way, Californians are currently paying about 30 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity from the grid.

Illinois also offers generous incentives totaling about 50 percent of the cost of a solar electric system. New York State provides a 25 percent tax credit. The state of Florida currently exempts solar electric systems from certain taxes, and some areas like Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, home to the prosperous town of Aspen, offer zero-interest loans for homeowners who install solar electric systems.

If you live in a state like Arizona, Illinois, New York, Colorado, or New Jersey, or are served by a progressive utility that offers generous financial incentives that slash the initial costs of a solar electric system, you may want to do it right now. (I predict that many states and local utilities will be offering rebates as the energy picture becomes more grim.) To determine whether you are qualified to receive a rebate, call your local utility. Better yet, check out incentives on the Database for State Incentives for Renewable Energy (

But what if there aren’t any incentives available in your area?

You may want to install a solar electric system as a hedge against rising prices. more


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