Question: I've been reading a lot about solar electric PV systems lately, and really would like one for my home. Do you think now is the time to buy, or should I wait for prices to come down and technology to get even better?
Answer: I don't know if it is the $4-a-gallon gas prices or the high utility bills people paid this past summer, but I've gotten a number of emails in the past month asking this same question. My answer to all of you is simply “now is the time to buy.”
While there isn't enough room on this newspaper page for me to go into all the detail I'd like to share with you, let me just say that photovoltaic systems (usually just called PV) are reliable, proven, long-lasting and in many cases, affordable today.
Thanks to a tremendous number of financial incentives and government programs that support the use of PV systems, many homeowners can have a system installed for half or even less of the actual system cost.
There is a federal tax credit in effect until the year of this year, more than half the states have some type of their own state tax credit, and a number of utility companies and local governments around the country offer rebates, buy-downs and credits, as well as special programs that encourage the use of PV on homes and businesses.
By taking advantage of incentives, you can actually cut the cost of a system in half or even less. If the financial savings isn't enough reason to convince you that now is the best time to use a solar electric system at your home, then consider that PV power gives you a hedge against rising utility costs, cuts down on the burning of fossil fuels and thus helps the environment, and gives you the satisfaction of being energy independent.
If you're worried that the technology is still new and they're working to get the bugs out, consider that the first silicon solar cell was developed back in the early 1950s by researchers at Bell Labs, based upon a theory proposed by a French scientist back in 1839! The growth of America's space program in the 1960s and its need for remote power set off a huge research effort in labs around the country, and the result is a technology today that has been proven to work in all kinds of climates and to produce power silently, reliably and pollution-free.
Getting back to your question, yes, I think prices will continue to come down, and I think technology will get even better, but why wait? You can start enjoying energy savings the first day your home's PV system is turned on. A 5-kilowatt system that is big enough to power all the needs of a typical American home costs somewhere around $35,000 to $40,000 these days, though the financial incentives can cut this in half or even more.
But if that cost is too much for you, why not consider getting a smaller system that can offset just a part of your utility bill? Because PV systems are modular, you can add to your small system over time to power more and more of your home's energy needs.
I could use the rest of this newspaper page to tell you all the things a solar electric system can do for you, but since I have to share this page, you should check out www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/35297.pdf
for a detailed consumer guide to the technology from the U.S. Department of Energy.
After you learn more about photovoltaics, visit www.findsolar.com and get more information and a listing of solar contractors who can give you specific details for your home. There have never been so many financial incentives and programs supporting this technology, so now is definitely the time to consider how you can use it at your home.