Solar Panels for Your Home? Maybe!

March 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Recently, the Oakdale Environmental Management Commission recommended to the City Council that solar panels be installed on the roof of City Hall.

Because of the potential for energy savings, the council agreed, the project was begun last fall, and it is nearing completion at this time. This project made me wonder whether solar panels would bring similar energy savings in residential applications.

Since issues regarding solar energy and solar panels are much too complicated to address in one article, I narrowed my thoughts to three basic questions: the expense, the return on the expense, and the product’s durability.

But before I could even think about the basic cost of solar panels, I realized solar panels are not for everybody. Unless you have a good straight southern exposure with a fair amount of roof square-footage and lots of sunny days, solar energy is likely not an option for you. One article I read suggested windy days can reduce the efficiency of the panels due to the dust and dirt on the panels. As to the cost, the range can vary from $16,000 to $27,000; and you can attribute many variables to this wide range of costs.

While the cost may seem discouraging, you have to think of this as a long-term
investment; every indication is that solar panels would pay for themselves through electricity savings. Most experts suggest payback would be between 14 and 16 years, and the average lifetime of the panels themselves is about 20 years. With proper upkeep, though, experts think 25 to 30 years is possible. Warranties are often offered and should be requested.

There are incentives that can considerably reduce the costs as well as the payoff time.

The federal government offers a tax credit, while both the state of Minnesota and Xcel Energy offer rebates. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was recently extended through 2017 with a 30 percent tax credit on the cost for both commercial and residential installations. The extension also removed the $2,000 tax credit limit on the residential buildings.

In Minnesota, Xcel Energy offers a $2.75 per watt rebate for Minnesota-made panels in addition to a $2.25 per watt rebate for Xcel Energy customers.

According to the January edition of the Midwest Energy News, a Chinese imported panel would cost around $12,000 to $18,000 before incentives, but a comparable project using Minnesota-made panels costing $25,000 to $27,000 could be reduced to $5,000 with the federal credit and the rebates.

Hopefully this information gives you a place to start if you are interested in solar panels for your home. For more information check resources available through the Minnesota Department of Energy Resources, which offers a list of helpful questions you should ask a renewable energy installer as well as an outline of the complexity of the project. Other resources are available at the City of Oakdale’s Generation Green page.

One final point: do not lose sight of the literally hundreds of tons of carbon emissions saved by this alternative energy source.

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