Our current target here in the US is to generate 20% of our power from renewable energy sources by 2020, while Germany’s goal is 80% by 2050. Currently, about 13% of our electricity comes from renewable sources (mostly wind and solar), while 27% of Germany’s current electric needs are covered by renewable energy sources, Michelle Froese, editor of North American Clean Energy, reports. We have some work cut out to meet the climate challenges ahead of us.
It’s easy to go solar, and leasing your panels is easiest. So here are your options in a nutshell.
When you lease your panels you basically rent out your roof space in exchange for a lower electric rate. Not bad, since you don’t have to pay upfront for your panels, you pay a lower electric rate, and you don’t have to maintain your panels either. But the real profits land in the lap of the panel owner, the lessor in this case. When you own your own panels, on the other hand, all profits go back into your own pocket. And with the current federal and state rebates the purchase price drops to 1/3 of the acquisition cost and guarantees payback within 5-7 years.
There are two basic options with solar:
- Photovoltaic electric panels, or PVs, which produce electricity. PV panels can be grid-tied or off-grid. When they are grid-tied they tie into your electric carrier (O&R here in Warwick), and become what they call net-metered. This means that they provide for your direct electric needs, and even turn your meter backwards if you produce more than your consumption is. PV panel technology is still in its infancy and the panels are currently only 15%-19% efficient. Besides the technology, the output also depends on your site conditions (angle, shade, orientation). Off-grid PVs store excess electricity in batteries.
- Solar hot water panels look different from PVs and strictly produce your hot water. There are closed loop systems for cold climates, and open loop systems for warm climates. Solar hot water systems are quite a bit cheaper than PVs.
Of course you can have some of each. Like with any new technology prices will keep dropping and efficiency will go up (think PCs or cellphones), so frontrunners will pay more and set examples to followers. As to the lease vs. owning option, my stance is that the leasing option puts more solar panels out there without any upfront investment. More panels on rooftops increase public awareness of solar energy, spur sales and with it the improvement of technology and efficiency. Choose the best option for you.