Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Is a Solar Photovoltaic System a Good Investment?

Is a photovoltaic (PV) system a good investment? Many “financial guru’s” will tell you that it’s not. When considering the high cost of a PV system, and the modest savings you’ll see on your electric bill, it’s easy to understand why financially savvy folks tell you to invest elsewhere. Adding insulation and replacing inefficient appliances are far better investments they say. Buy a hybrid car and some compact fluorescent lights instead, we’re told. These suggestions have merit, but what do you do AFTER you’ve done those things? You’re still burning fossil fuels! Chances are you’ll continue to pay for electricity at an ever-increasing rate for the rest of your life.

Will you earn a bigger return if you invest in mutual funds? Possibly, but what fun is that? You should be investing anyway, perhaps for your children’s education and for your retirement. Hopefully you have an investment plan that will meet those goals, but do you want to put ALL of your extra money into that? Life will be dull if you don’t use a portion of your earnings for other purposes. I’m not saying that the addition of solar panels will make your life more exciting, but we do tend to take for granted all of the comfort and convenience electricity brings to our lives. If you’ve experienced an extended power failure recently, you know what I mean.

Having your own power generating equipment not only shields you from inevitable rate increases and power outages, but also prepares you to cope with fossil fuel shortages that are predicted to be a part of our future. I suspect that many of us will someday be driving plug-in electric vehicles (PHEV’s), and those of us who have our own PV systems will be able to recharge ours at no cost. Instead of burning gas or paying high utility company rates, we’ll be traveling on free power from the sun!

When you produce your own electricity from PV panels, you’re also reducing the load on a coal-fired power plant. This benefits all of us in many ways. Coal is dirty when it is mined, dirty when it’s transported, and dirty when it’s burned to produce electricity. Coal mining in Appalachia is responsible for the destruction of mountains and forests. Pristine streams are buried under debris that is the byproduct of mining operations, and ground water sources are polluted. Coal dust and smoke pollutes our air, and carbon dioxide that results from burning coal is a major contributor to global warming. Many lives have been adversely affected by mining-related activities. By choosing to install a solar electric system you become part of the solution, instead of contributing to the problem.

The savings you can expect as a result of installing your own PV system are only part of the story. Without such a system an extended power outage may force you from your home, cause your food to spoil, and damage your plumbing. Dealing efficiently with power outages not only saves you money, it’s comforting to know that a backup system is in place.

The next time a financial expert tells you solar PV is a bad investment, ask to see his (or her) crystal ball. The value of PV as an investment can only be known by someone who can see into the future. We’ve already seen sharp price increases in gasoline, and perhaps we should feel lucky to have gasoline at all when we look at the current situation in the Middle East. Another crisis in that region may result in a shortage that will trigger a rush to have alternative systems installed. If that happens, you might find yourself near the bottom of a very long waiting list for system components and installation service. I’m glad that I’m able to purchase panels and equipment now, and I hope to have a system large enough to meet all of my needs before it’s too late.

Financial experts tend to ignore everything but the bottom line. The idea of conserving natural resources for future generations doesn’t seem to cross their minds. If you can’t get a decent cash return on your investment today, it’s bad, period. It’s unfortunate that bean counters tend not to see the big picture, the true cost of producing electricity by burning coal and the true value of a PV system. Not only that, I wonder if they ask themselves "is this a good investment" when they buy items like toilet paper or sox.....


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