Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have been a hot topic of discussion for decades, but it hasn’t been until recently that they have become truly economically viable. Instead, they were purchased for a variety of other reasons. But now, it can be far better than money in the bank.
Last year, my wife and I started evaluating options for installing a solar system. We wanted something that looked aesthetically pleasing, was cost effective, and provided enough power to significantly offset our electric bills. Initially, we thought that we were going to go with “solar shingles”. These have really come a long way in the last couple of years both in cost and efficiency.
After a lot of research, we thought we’d go for the Certainteed Apollo or the BIPV Shingle. Then we started getting quotes and talking with the sales representatives about the options. Fortunately, all were straight with us – “if you want the best looking panels, go with the shingles, but you’re going to pay a large premium for it. Instead, look at some of the new conventional panels.” So we did.
Originally, we said we didn’t want to go with conventional panels due to the aesthetics. Sure, if we were really “green”, the aesthetics wouldn’t matter. But we’d put a lot of effort into renovating our home and we didn’t want the “industrial” look of conventional panels. You know the look – bluish panels surrounded by aluminum, forming a very visible matrix on the roof. That’s when our guys told us about the newer, low-profile, all black panels. Surprisingly, comparatively, they look really good! I’ll post pictures as soon as we’ve got them installed, but for now, you can see them on the SunPower site.
Even better, they are more efficient and cost much less than the solar shingles. That made our decision easy.
Moving ahead with the project, we started talking numbers with the solar installers when one of them told us about the “pre-paid lease option.” It turns out, there are currently favorable tax benefits for the solar companies to lease you the system at very, very favorable rates. The short story is that they get the tax breaks that normally come to the consumer.
I’ve typically been against leases because, frankly, they’re often a rip-off for the consumer. But this was different. Rather than paying an inflated monthly charge, you pay the entire thing up front. We would have had to do this regardless, so that wasn’t a problem. In return, they lease you the system with no additional payments for the 20 year lease period. Since they officially own the system, they have to maintain it which is good for the consumer. If the panel or inverter or anything else breaks, they fix it (assuming they’re in business still…).
The downside? We don’t “own” the system. After 20 years, we either have to pay the remaining fair market value for the system (likely to be very low after 20 years) or they remove the system from the house. 20 years is a pretty long way off and technology will keep improving, so this was a reasonable compromise for saving so much on the up front costs.
In the end, we got a system that produces about 30% more electricity and costs 1/2 to 1/4 as much as the quotes we got for other systems. At current electric rates, the system will pay for itself in under ten years which is a lot better and safer than any other investments I know of.
As our project proceeds, I’ll post more pictures and share the results.