Thursday, May 13, 2010

To solar or not to solar...

If you know me personally, you know that I'm always looking for ways to increase my income apart from my day job, whether it be via arbitrage of goods through ebay or supplementing my income with poker or any other handful of ways I find in my daily travels (as well as looking for ways to reduce my daily / yearly expenditure like re-financing).

Recently, I have been toying with the idea of adding a solar panels to my roof as an alternate energy system.  I am writing because I want to know if anyone has thoughts on it, or has one themselves...  I have been talking with two companies and been provided estimates - the best of whom is $32,100 for a 24x230W (5.5kW total system).

The immediate benefits (at least in Maryland) are multi-fold:
  • Federal tax credit of 30%; $9630 off within the first year
  • Maryland state grant out of federal stimulus plan: $2500 + $2640 = $5140 off within the first year
    • $1.25/ watt for the first 2,000 watts of capacity
    • $0.75/ watt for watts 2,001 - 8,000
    • $0.25/ watt for watts 8,001 - 20,000 
  •  Montgomery county tax credit within 2 years (there is currently a waiting list for this credit): $5000
Add it up, and within 2 years, I expect to receive  $19,770 in refunded money, bringing the net cost of the system to $12,330.  But wait, that's not all!  None of the above accounts for reduction of energy costs, in addition to the secondary market for solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), which are quite lucrative.

The recurring benefits (at least in Maryland) are multi-fold:
  • According to PVWATTS, the energy generated / savings to my power bill will be approximately $720 / year, producing a total 6,443 kWh ideally throughout the year
  • The SRECs, assuming a price of $340 / kWh amount to roughly $2190 / year.
Therefore, I am looking at a cash flow of $2900 / year, which will pay off my system in around 4 1/4 years.

The question I have is: Is it worth the hassle for $2900 / year in the out-years?  The amount in question is less than 2% of our family budget, and the hassle factor would be opening a line of credit against the house (I don't want to lay out $32K).  The extra motivation is that this is "trickle" money; I don't have to do anything except sell the SRECs, once the system is installed an paid off... and the money is recurring EVERY YEAR.

What would you do?  Does anyone out there have a alternate energy system?  Am I being stupid not to jump on this and deal with the hassle?  I figure I can get a HELOC at around 6% (again, avoiding laying out the $30K), pay off the first portion and be stuck with a $240 payment / month, roughly the same amount that the system will generate, over 5 years.  Thoughts?


  1. What are the maintenance costs for Solar Panels over the years? Do they break down? Need maintenance? Or are they basically install and forget for a 100 years?

  2. They are supposedly warrantied for 10 years, parts & labor. I believe over time they degrade their potency, but I could be wrong. Even if they start producing $100 less power every 10 years, I figure that 10 years from now panels will be much more efficient anyway that I will be replacing them.

  3. Broadly, it sounds like a relatively break-even thing to do, if you only look out to 5 years.

    So the real question is -- do you want solar panels on your roof? If you want to be that guy with solar panels, then go for it!

  4. All part of the hassle-factor. I'm not so concerned about being "that guy" but it will certainly be different. I think my main concern is whether or not $3k / year is worth it.

  5. When I said 'that guy', I didn't mean a negative connotation -- although I realize now that probably didn't come across in my post. For example, I wouldn't mind having solar panels -- I like the cool factor of it, so that would compensate for the hassle.

    As a pure investment, I honestly do not think it is worth it. There are plenty of opportunities for such a setup to cost you more before you can recoup your money. For example, problems with the roof, maintenance, etc... could easily cost you more than you'd make after the initial five years are up.


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