Conservation Corner - Q & A about Solar Energy

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Promoting Energy Awareness, Conservation and Sustainability

By The Staff

Over the last two months we have shared background information about solar energy, solar water heaters and solar electric panels.  Now we’d like to answer some of your questions.


Question 1:  OK, so I’m convinced I would be doing something good for the environment in the long run, but how much is it going to cost me now?


Answer:  The best way to answer that question is to talk about Solar Water Heaters and Solar Electric Panels separately.


· Solar Water Heaters – The cost of a solar water heating system varies depending on the type of system chosen, and the payback period depends on the amount of hot water you use in your home.  For this example we will use the cost of a typical passive/indirect system that would be a reasonable choice in Cedar Key (see previous article on solar water heating systems, Aug. 6, 2009).  Active systems do not require draining during severe freezing temperatures but need an additional water tank and are more expensive.  For the purposes of determining the payback period, it is generally accepted that 25 percent of your electricity bill goes to heating water.


   “approximate cost”       $5,000 (includes installation & sales tax exempt)

   “minus incentives”       - $ 500 (Florida Rebate)

                                           -$1,500 (30% Federal tax credit)

                        NET COST               = $3,000


       Payback Period:  4 - 5 years (systems should last 25-30 yrs)


NOTE:  Although you can heat water using a solar panel system, this is less efficient than installing a separate solar water heating system.


· Solar Electric Panels – There are a number of variables that affect the cost estimates and payback periods for solar electric panels, including (1) how big a system you choose to install, usually 2000-5000 watts (2) the location, roof pitch and exposure of your panels and (3) how much electricity you use in your home (this can vary from less than 1000 KWH/month to over 2,500 KWH/month).  For this example we will use a 3570 watt system, with no shading and a southern facing roof (estimated to generate 6500 KWH/year at our latitude) on a 1,500 sq foot home using 10,000 KWH/year.


   “approximate cost”        $28,500 (includes installation & sales tax exempt)*

   “minus incentives”         - 14,280 ($4/watt – FL Rebate approved thru 06/10)

                                             -  8,550 (30% Federal tax credit)

                        NET COST                 = $5,670        * Actual cost in Cedar Key


Payback Period:  8.6 yrs in this example and generally the payback will be 8-9 years.   It is reasonable to estimate that systems will last 20-30 yrs, although we do not have a significant amount of long-term experience with solar systems (it could be longer). Remember, as prices for electricity go up (which they undoubtedly will), your payback period will improve.    


Question 2:  OK, so how much space do I need on my roof? 


Answer:  You will need a south facing surface that is not shaded (SE and SW facing roofs can be used but are usually less efficient).   The installation site can be a roof or a solar “field” can be installed on open ground space.  The amount of space depends not only on the size of your panels/system, but also on the shape, complexity and relative pitch of the surface on which the system will be placed.


·  For a typical solar water heating system 50-100 sq feet will be necessary. 

·  For the 3570 watt system used in the example above, 350-400 sq feet would be necessary (most residential systems will require 200-500 sq feet).

· When roof conditions are optimal (like at the Cedar Key Community Center), a larger 5000 watt system can be installed in 400 sq feet.


Question 3:  I’m still a little reluctant to make this investment because I feel that the technology and costs will improve.  What are the pros and cons of doing it now instead of waiting?


Answer:  You are correct that the technology should improve and probably the prices will continue to go down somewhat, but there are several reasons to go ahead now.


·  Prices have come down fairly significantly just in the past year because of increased interest in solar energy, better government rebates and an improved competitive environment.  Future declines could be more gradual because of the technological limits of the current panels and the saturation of the competitive market place.  Future technological breakthroughs could lead to more improvement but are not known at this time.

 ·  The state and federal incentives listed above may not continue forever.  Presently the Florida State rebates are funded through 6/2010 and the Federal tax credit through 2016.   In addition, the federal tax credit can be rolled forward until 2016 if necessary to use all of the credits.  Recent communication with the Governor’s Energy Office indicates that state funding for 09/10 (including a federal stimulus allocation) will be $14.4 million compared to slightly over $5 million in the previous year.

· The present technology is reliable, reasonably easy to install and will get you up and running sooner rather than later – thus, making an immediate difference!

· You will be a role model for your children, neighbors and the community and you will have an edge as the cost of traditional energy sources continue to rise, which they undoubtedly will do.


Question 4:  What resources are available in our area, if I want to learn more about installing solar water heaters or solar panels?


Answer:   There are two solar companies in Levy County -- EZ Solar in Bronson and Delta Coast Energy Solutions in Cedar Key.  There are also at least four solar companies in Gainesville as shown in the yellow pages. Delta Coast Energy Solutions can be reached at 352-543-9187 or 352-210-1144.    EZ Solar can be reached at 727-641-8215 or 352-486-0063.  There are four grid connected solar systems currently in use in Cedar Key.  Delta Coast Energy Solutions has completed three of these installations and the fourth was installed by ECS of Gainesville. There is one non grid installation in Cedar Key that was built by ECS of Gainesville.


Questions or comments can be sent to daleregister@gmail.com or to beverlyring@bellsouth.net