Sunday, July 6, 2008

Solar "Investment"

Ken Ulman is in the media promoting the solar panels that were installed on the roof of the East Columbia branch library. According to an official Howard County news release, the solar panels are expected to generate an average of 500 kilowatt hours of power each month. More energy will be produced in the summertime than in the wintertime, for obvious reasons. The cost of installing these solar panels on the roof of the library was $45,000, presumably paid by tax dollars. The solar panels will be hooked to a computer that will show library patrons exactly how much electricity that the panels are producing. In other words, these panels are primarily an educational tool.

Let’s analyze how long it will take these solar panels to pay for themselves: according to my BGE bill, the cost of my electricity is about $.15 per kWh. The solar panels on the roof of the library will generate 500kWh per month, which means that $75 will be saved per month on the library’s electricity bill. At an initial cost of $45,000 for the solar panels, it will take exactly 50 years to recoup the investment at current energy prices. Note that this analysis does not consider any forgone interest on the initial $45,000 outlay, which if taken into consideration would only serve to make the payback period even longer than 50 years.

Given that these panels will essentially never pay for themselves, I am a little confused as to what the educational message of these solar panels is supposed to be. Unless the message is that our County Executive is incompetent at spending our money and thinks we are all stupid, I don’t think I am getting it.

The slogan on the county website is “Live Green Howard County”. I suggest that a much more appropriate slogan is “Spend Green Howard County”.


jim adams said...

It's a gamble, but if you trended out the future cost of electricity using the percents of incremental increases just over the last 10years, I think the investment cost recovery period would be a lot shorter. Possibly even reasonable.

Now the cost of energy could stay the same or even go down, - no, don't think so - , that sounds like a dumber assumpation then my orginal statement.

Freemarket said...

Even if electricity prices double tomorrow, we are still looking at a payback period of 25 years. I doubt the useful life of the solar panels is that long.

This is about perception, not practicality.

Anonymous said...

We're being responsible rather than adding to problems.

What we really need is better technology. I absolutely believe someone somewhere can develop a cheaper way to install and use solar. It's very difficult to believe that we cannot focus on the expensive components and redevelop for affordability.

wordbones said...


I had this very conversation with a couple this weekend. They had installed 20 solar panels on the roof of their home and they told me the lifespan of the 3X5 panels is closer to 40 years. The bigger concern is that the roof itself would need to be replaced before then which would necessitate removing and then reinstalling the panels.

PZGURU said...

Although I do believe in conserving energy, and trying to develope and use alternative energy sources, this is a perfect example of the difficulties of turning wishful thinking into a practical reality.

One big thing that solar advocates fail to address, or simply try to sweep under the carpet during these discussions, is what happens to all of those battery cells that part of the solar energy systems? They have a life expeectancy also - then into the landfill they go.

The reality of ANY energy source is that there must be a by-product (that is to say a "waste" product). Burn wood you get ash and smoke emission. Burn coal, smoke emission. Wind power, used batteries. Solar, used batteries. Even hydrogen powered cars emit water vapor and some gases, both of which are contributing factors to the greenhouse effect. So is there really a "perfect" energy solution? Is oil really the energy boogeyman it's made out to be by the enviro-radicals? I'm not sure what the answer is or if using oil is even a "problem" when you take a look at other alternatives and the side effects they will have.

I know thing for sure, and that is that as long as these alternative energy options have a LOOOOOOONG pay off timeline, I will probably not be partaking in their use.

jim adams said...

Pzguru, interesting point of view, one that I have never taken.
This concern with waste products.

Not to defend it, it is still a major concern as you have pointed out, but battery technology is improving by leaps and bounds.

The point that we are all aware of, but seldom impute in the cost of oil is, the cost to acquire.

Wars, political stress,loss of life and limb (hospital, medical expense, etc), disruptions to national economies, and so on. If anyone could capture this cost per barrel, $4.00 per gallon would look too cheap. But we are paying this additional cost through other taxes, and with the sorrow of lost lives.

We are not going to do solar, electric, wind or anything else until we are forced into a corner.

My hope is that the U.S. is not so broke that it can't develope it's own energy sources.

Like the fall of Rome, it may look like the barbarians have invaded, but in reality it will be our internal weakness in our society and economy due to greed and being short sighted.

Boy! Why hasn't someone stopped me, I have to get off this stump, I am becoming an old wind bag.