The costs and benefits of solar power

Published on Thu, Sep 30, 2010
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It has been possible for years if not decades to provide all of a home’s energy needs with solar power. The technology is here and is only getting more efficient and less obtrusive every day.

The only real stumbling block is cost: Solar systems capable of meeting all of an average U.S. home’s energy needs start at around $25,000.

Given how inexpensive the grid-based power we now get all across the country remains – and, bear in mind that many utilities are working more and more renewable energy sources, like wind power, into their mix – going solar alone just doesn’t pencil out economically for most people.

Of course, many of us are starting to think beyond our individual bottom lines when it comes to energy usage as global warming nips at our heels. The federal and many state governments feel likewise and have set up generous rebates and incentives to encourage homeowners (and businesses) to embrace alternative renewable energy sources (including solar but also, wind, geothermal, biomass and even tidal power, among other choices).

The federal government offers up a 30 percent personal tax credit (with no ceiling) on the cost of photovoltaic or other solar installations.

To find a list of what’s available from states, check out the free listings at the website of the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE).

Even with such rebates, and the fact that solar energy is essentially free once the equipment to harness it is installed, the costs of converting an existing home to solar power is tough to swallow for most people, given that the cost to instead connect to the existing grid is zero. But if you’re building a new home, incorporating a solar system from the get-go is simply a matter of choosing solar over something else.