Loyd Case on installing solar panels (one month later)

A couple months after Loyd Case from Extreme Tech installed solar panels on the roof of his Californian home, he's gotten his first monthly bill. Case's old electricity bills were routinely in the range of $300 a month. How much was his first solar assisted electricity bill? Eleven frickin' dollars. Over the course of a month, Case's system averaged 37.14 Kilowatt hours per day. Loyd goes into minute detail about the figures, and admits that this bill was in the middle of a cloudless summer and will certainly go up in rainier autumnal months. There's also the issue of ongoing maintenance: unlike just sucking in your electricity from the power company, solar panels need to be periodically washed free of dust, leaves and even (in forest fire season) ash. Even so, it seems hard to argue with Case's conclusion:
Given the power bill I've just received, though, I've become a fan of solar power. Sure, it's expensive, but the timing was right, at least here in California. And the money I once paid into electric bills is now going into an asset. So while my cash flow hasn't changed, I certainly feel better about where that cash is going.
We'll see what he has to say for the system in the winter months. Going Solar Power: One Month Later [Extreme Tech]
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14 Responses to Loyd Case on installing solar panels (one month later)

  1. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

    Maybe he should have waited a little more for this:

    Now, his implemented solution might not be terribly costly for a gringo, but I wonder what can be done here, in Latin America, as those costs might be enough to buy a new home (and in some countries/economies two).
    Closer to the equator you wouldn’t have problems with snow and the Sun shines hard and long for half the year, and slightly less during “winter”, so, the output energy would probably significantly better… Any ideas?

  2. Merc says:

    His original posts say the panel installation cost $35,000 or so. If he routinely saves $300 a month in electricity bills, that’s about 120 months or 10 years to break even. (And apparently the $300/month power generation offset is very high because the weather was unusually good)

    In that time, the solar panels will be sitting on a roof, exposed to the elements. I wonder what their estimated lifespan is in a climate like California’s?

    In the end, I wonder if current generation solar panels are economically or environmentally friendly. They may well be economically viable in california where you get good sun almost every day, there’s rarely hail, so the panels might last decades. Environmentally, it depends on the economic cost of producing them. AFAIK, the process for creating photovoltaic solar panels is still very costly to the environment, requiring vast amounts of energy and resulting in some very toxic byproducts.

    Then again, if there’s a market for current generation solar cells there’s an economic reason for companies to do research to make the cells more efficiently so they can undercut the price of the current models. The early adopters might not actually benefit the environment or their pocketbooks, but by establishing a market they might help the rest of us.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It will take much longer than 10 years to break even, and he will probably never do it.

    There’s two reason:

    1) He financed the #38,000 (he had to pay for permits, and other things, which increased his upfront costs). So, on top of the up-front costs, he’s paying finance costs in either i) interest or ii) lost opportunity.

    2) The efficiency of the system is not a constant. At 10 years, he will only get 90% of the rated wattage. That means he’ll have to supplement with expensive grid power to make up for the shortfall. At 25 years, pretty much the end of the useful life of the system, his system will only be delivering 80% of its rated power.

    (It should also be noted that you cannot get his system for what his cost was, since he got the benefit of a discount from his wife’s employer, so unless you marry his wife, expect to pay more.)

    Now, you might say this isn’t about saving money … but for the author, it was. And the point of his story is that he’s now paying MORE for energy than he was prior to his adventure.

    The very first sentence in his very first story said so. “This isn’t about going green,” he wrote.

    So, the moral of THIS story is that solar power is still so inefficient that you should not yet invest in it. Scientists need to work harder.

  4. Ceronomus says:

    Early adopters? I lived next to someone in the 1970’s who had solar panels for his home. So…30 years later we’re only still in the infancy of the industry.

  5. meddeviceengineer says:

    We had net metered solar system installed this year.
    We will get a 13% return on our investment which is better
    than you will do in the stock market right now.

    The market surveys are that the money we put into the
    solar system increases the value of the house by the
    cost of the system in case we want to sell some time
    in the future.

    The panels are warranted for 30 years but the estimates are
    they will last for 50 years.

    Nothing quite like going from $210 a month to $8 a month
    for electricity.

  6. jimkirk says:

    Nanosolar is looking very interesting. For Massachusetts residents especially, look at Evergreen Solar http://www.evergreensolar.com/app/en/home/

    Since they’re a Massachusetts company, the state provides extra rebates & such.

    That, plus maybe cheaper iron phosphate lithium batteries in a few year and I think we may have a winner.

  7. jimkirk says:


    A friend of mine with a solar array tells me they can withstand golf ball sized hail at 120 mph. Tempered glass is pretty strong.

  8. dougp says:

    I want to know how they hold up in a hail storm.

  9. strider_mt2k says:

    The system cost about 40,000.00 dollars to install.
    You have to go back to his original installation story to get that info.

    It’s not a knock (nothing is free) but you really should mention that it’ll take a few years of 11.00 dollar energy bills to get that investment back.

    Your average lead-acid storage battery has an operational life of about five years, so the battery bank will need periodic replacing also.

    Hopefully the saving will cover that expense, and hopefully the batteries will be recycled as well.

    It does bring up some questions about sustainability over the long term.

  10. John Brownlee says:

    Well, yes, it’s a significant investment. I wasn’t denying that. But as Case notes, he’s investing in an asset in his house… one that can be passed on to the next buyer of his home, since it will significantly raise the value of his property. As Case notes in his article, he thinks this is going to be a good investment in both the short and long term.

  11. strider_mt2k says:

    I don’t see a huge outcry against these systems based on my concerns so you are probably right, John.

    -and it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

    Either way, thanks for bringing it to BBG!

  12. knifie_sp00nie says:

    I doubt solar panels will increase the value of this guy’s home. There might be a short-term novelty effect, but in 10 years will someone want a house with outdated, inefficient solar panels and all the maintenance and upkeep? Maybe if they’re Ed Bagley Jr.

    You don’t have to drop 40k to use green energy. I signed up with a program that my utility company had. I get a rate lock-in for power that comes from wind farms. It started out a tiny bit more expensive, but now it’s about equal to conventional, with traditional energy prices only going up.

  13. Anonymous says:

    just want to add some nuance to this. Calculating cost of energy may be difficult over long periods (just see the price of gas over a 5 year span, you can even discount the last two years). price on the grid might fluctuate too. If he live in a western state, I think there’s a good chance that the grid will add a lot of alternative energy source soon. If the total capacity of the grid is enough to satisfy demand, price per watt would stay cheap perhaps go down and as others pointed out it would take a long time to break even. if he live somewhere in the east, and nothings is added to the grid, price per watt is likely to increase, then he may break even much sooner.

  14. maoinhibitor says:

    Nanosolar has announced, but not yet shipped, residential solar panels with a target price of $1 per watt and 25 years durability.

    This contrasts with current panels that cost ~$4.50 per watt with 25 year warranty.

    When this occurs, I will take another close look at the economics of going solar.

    Here in Mass, we’re paying about 19 cents per kilowatt-hour, which I understand is on the high end. We also have a good solar power rebate program from the state, the Commonwealth Solar program. Both factors make solar interesting, despite the climate and northerly latitude.

    If I wait just a few years longer for the Nanosolar panels to become available, the economics will be very much in favor of adding a PV solar system to my house. I could potentially break even in five years or less all parts, cabling, installation, incentives and rebates included.

    I do know a guy who installed grid-tied solar on his house. If you’re not familiar, this means there is no battery system to maintain and replace; you bank credit with the power company through net metering.

    His energy auditor, after reviewing the first six months of data, let him know that he’ll reach break-even in about 8 years, with 17 years left on the warranty of his solar panels. He will need to replace his $2000 AC inverter every 10 years, but this is money well spent over the long run. Not bad, considering he paid more like $4-5/Kwh for the panels.

    In the meantime, I’ve signed up for a free home energy audit from the state, and plan on replacing old storm windows and increasing the insulation in my attic by R30 before the winter. I’ll grab the low hanging fruit now.

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