Everyone already knows that a solar photovoltaic (PV) system is good for the environment, but it has always been thought of as prohibitively expensive to install and maintain. The reality is that the costs of installing and maintaining such a system are falling every day. Over the years it has become an increasingly affordable and easy to maintain alternative source of electricity.
The primary costs for solar electricity are those associated with costs and installation. Converting a residential home can run the owner an average of 35K - 40K depending on what kind of system is purchased and how large their estimated energy needs are. On the positive side however, there are tax breaks and other financial incentives available to help those homeowners who are considering investing in a solar PV system. As the technology becomes more widely available, the costs are also decreasing.
At the same time, solar energy costs are higher than the use of coal or oil to generate electricity. Electricity from coal or oil is still produced at less than $.05 per Kilowatt Hour (kWh). On the same scale, solar energy costs average around $.37 cents per kWh. However what truly affects this number is the number of hours per day sunlight is available, ability to tilt panels in towards the sun and the 30-40 year lifespan of most current solar energy systems.
After that, there are minimal maintenance costs but even these diminish over time. A properly installed solar system does not require much maintenance. Over the course of its 30 year average life, there are few ongoing costs associated with the system as a whole, primarily with the batteries - for off grid systems (the majority of systems installed in the world are grid time systems). The average lifespan of the PV batteries is between 6 and 12 years. This means that within the initial 25 year warranty of most solar PV systems, the batteries may have to be replaced once or twice. However, depending on the included warranty, the batteries may be included and thus will cost you no additional fees.
In order to better compare solar electricity costs, one needs to compare it to what people are paying for traditional electricity. Understandably, the price of electricity varies from state to state, but it is still helpful to think about nationwide averages. With the price being the highest in Hawaii at $.242 per kilowatt hour (kWh), and the lowest in North Dakota at $.076 kWh, the average U.S. household pays $.115 kWh, for an average monthly electricity bill of $115 before taxes and fees.
As mentioned before, there are utility rebates and tax incentives to assist in purchasing the solar PV system. In many areas, owners also have the ability to sell unused energy to the utility company. Finally, there is an intangible benefit that needs to be discussed when comparing the costs of solar electricity to its conventional counterpart. Solar power is produced proportional to the demand. This means that at times when electricity consumption is greatest, the production of solar electricity is also highest, and the threat of suffering from a blackout is low.
With this in mind, there are many who would consider the initial capital and subsequent negligible maintenance costs of a solar PV system to be well worth it. Although the upfront investment is high, as well as the average kWh price, technology advances and increasingly available equipment decrease these costs every day. As new systems are designed to be even more energy efficient and last longer than 30 years, the kWh cost will continue to decrease, and it will continue to be a practical way to enjoy consistent and reliable green energy.
Solar systems generally have a 1-2% degrading factor per year depending on climatic conditions and can suffer up to a 8% production discount from soiling effects. Therefore it is important to clean your panels once a year and have your inverter and system in general tuned up. The Boston Solar Company offers yearly maintenance plans to its customers that can also be packaged with a system purchase.
Director of Marketing at Boston Solar