In our search for new forms of sustainable power many scientists have focused on using the energy of our sun. Photovoltaic cells or solar cells convert one form of energy, sunlight, into another form of energy, electricity. While the creative idea of getting “free” energy from the sun is attractive to most, many consumers have concerns about the initial expense of installing a solar power system. That’s why the key to purchasing the right solar system for you lies in the “Solar Power Payback Time.”
Solar Power Payback Times for Solar for Photovoltaic Technologies
When considering the transition to, or even adding in supplement, solar power, many consumers have concerns over the initial expense. It’s easy to understand that over the long haul solar power will pay for itself, but how do you calculate exactly how long it will take? To calculate your payback time you will need to evaluate several factors that can influence your payback:
- Local Climate
- State or Federal Incentives/Rebates
- State Tax Credits
- Local Utility Pricing
- Net-Metering Availability
Solar Power and Rising Electricity Costs
Solar power is a unique resource because it is protected from inflation – as electricity costs inevitably continues to rise, any electricity you generate using your solar system will counter electricity charges at the current market price. The more electricity rates continue to rise, the more you will save.
If you generate excess electricity, under the right conditions such as net-metering, it is even possible for you to generate a monthly profit from your solar system.
Finding State and Federal Incentives or Rebates
Depending upon the state you live in you may qualify for incentives and rebates that cover as much as 60% of the total cost of installing a new solar system. How do you find what incentives and rebates you qualify for? Using the free web-based tool titled Database of State Incentives for Renewable & Efficiency (DSIRE), run by the North Carolina Solar Center, it’s easy to find the incentives and rebates you qualify for. You can find the DSIRE here:
What is Net-Metering?
Net-metering is a system that allow excess user generated solar energy to be sold back to your local electric company. Depending upon how much electricity you generate this may provide you either a monthly discount or a net monthly profit.
What is my Solar Power Payback Time?
As a result of the number of variables involved in calculating a particular solar payback time I recommend using a tool such as the OnGrid Solar Financial Analysis Tool. They offer a free demo version of their tool that can help you calculate your personal solar power payback time. The OnGrid Solar Financial Analysis Tool is available here:
While calculating your solar power payback gives you a financial picture of the total cost of ownership for your new solar system it doesn’t take in to consideration the environmental cost. To gauge the environmental cost of a solar system you need to evaluate its Energy Payback Time.
Energy Payback Times for Solar for Photovoltaic Technologies
According to the US DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) group the “Energy payback time (EPBT) is the length of deployment required for a photovoltaic system to generate an amount of energy equal to the total energy that went into its production.”
The energy payback time for solar power is based on three determining factors:
- The efficiency of the photovoltaic system
- The amount of sunlight the photovoltaic system receives
- The manufacturing technology used to create the photovoltaic cells
Using some average sunlight values, “about 1700 kWh/m2/ yr average for southern Europe and about 1800 kWh/m2/ yr average for the United States,” the EERE provides pre-calculated energy paypack times for a number of solar cell technologies:
- Single-crystal Silicon – 2.7 years
- Non-ribbon Multicrystalline Silicon – 2.2 years
- Ribbon Multicrystalline Silicon – 1.7 years
- Cadmium Telluride – 1.0 years
When one considers rising energy costs and the relatively low energy payback times for a variety of popular solar cells it’s easy to see solar power as a reasonable alternative to rising energy costs. While it’s true solar cells do require large quantities of energy to manufacture, and they also utilize precious limited resources such as silicon, copper and cadmium – in many cases they offer reasonable energy payback times. Even considering the overall environmental cost, solar power may be exactly what the world needs to wean itself off its fossil fuel dependency. Help fight global warming by moving away from fossil fuel generated electricity and moving towards solar power.