Solar 'Back-Up' for $3000? Really?

chisueJanuary 20, 2006

A story in today's Chicago Tribune Home Section is intriguing. It mentions a PV system of 200 - 500 watts to be used as a backup in power outages. The cost quoted is between $2500 and $5000 installed. Supposedly easy to hook up and even portable. We haven't had outages here but this sounded interesting.

So, I spent an hour browsing at and links.

I found that the Feds will credit you $2000 for some systems, but I didn't find any credit from my state, Illinois. It still looks very expensive for any big PV project at our existing house: $38,000 to provide half of our current electric use, with a 16 year payback. And, our biggest energy cost increase is our natural gas (up 35%)!

Our condo association in Maui is looking at PV. Hawaii has a very nice 35% tax rebate! Guess they don't have a coal lobby like Illinois.

Is there something between the "backup" and full HVAC and water heating I could do?

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I'll agree that financially at least; you are better off trying to utilize solar heat gain to reduce your bills. PV works and is great; but it is expensive; even with various tax / state incentives that are available. At this time; doing PV doesn't pay back very well in financial terms. I believe that most thermal collectors can justify themselves rather quickly in financial terms . . can be as simple as pre-heating water before going into water heater, etc . . . to dramatically drop consumption. It can also be signifigant in contributing to radiant hydronic heating as well . . since it runs at a relatively low temperature. Consulting with a place that designs / installs such systems will likely give you a very good idea quickly of what makes sense as well as any rebates / incentives / whatever that may be in place where you are.

I read that every dollar you spend in REDUCING your electric needs; will reduce the cost of a PV system by $ 20. By paying careful attention to what you have that uses electricity; and buying new stuff based on energy consumption rather than doo-dads; you can likely reduce you consumption signifigantly. I've got a 2.8 kW PV system here in central New York state; certainly NOT the sun capital of the world . . . am presently supplying about 80% of my annual electricity. 200 to 500W system is NOT going to run much of anything. Take a look at the power consumption of things you'd like to run at such times . . fridge, sump pump, whatever . . . see what they add up to. My system ( which included battery back-up at my request ) was a little over $ 30k. After state incentives, tax credit, and Fed tax credit; it was about half that out of my pocket. Still doesn't really "pay" for itself in financial terms at today's rates. But, I've got the satisfaction of knowing I've got back-up that kicks in IMMEDIATELY . . . ( you might see the lights flicker just a bit ), I'll never have to drain my heating system / pipes due to winter outages, my system WILL make financial sense when energy costs go up, and I'm doing something good for us all . . .


    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 11:21AM
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Gary -- Why aren't you "Sir Gary" by now? I think you deserve a knighthood for providing so much information on alternative energy!

I am very interested in your experiment with the window shade. Quick, get a patent!

We are about to leave for Maui, but when we return to Illinois I want to investigate options for at least *some* PV energy instalation here. We have a perfect south-facing 10/12 roof. I expect a battle with our city's community development department -- haven't seen a PV panel anywhere in this town. I want to add a loggia over our south facing bank of french doors, thinking a standing-seam PV-inegrated roof on it might pass the "looks" test with our city.

We haven't had power outages here, but did frequently in our prior home. Perhaps the grid-tied system would be sufficient for our 2900 sq ft single floor house with huge attic.

When I used the findsolar website it only came up with three vendors anywhere near me. None were BBB members. I'd really like to find more advice AND discover what government incentives are available or likely to become available in Illinois. Today's Tribune has an article on California's grants for new subsidies.

Thank you very much for all the information you post. I've already learned a lot!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 11:46AM
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Hi Chisue,
Thanks -- I think my wife would nominate me for the "Sir spends an awful lot of time in the shop" title :-)

Sounds like you have a great setup for a solar system.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2006 at 8:08PM
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Sure we just did some business with Nstar in SEMass who insisted that there was Federal money for co-generation.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2006 at 7:39PM
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