Solar power questions, economic, practical, physical

There is talk in California of subsidizing solar power. Would it work well for me to put a roof-top system on my 2000-sq-foot house? I’m thinking 10-20-30 years down the road.

I’m asking for comment on the assumptions you would have to make, and on the facts.

For instance, assuming we have cheap petroleum right now, with energy costs rising in the future; that would make the photovoltaics pay for themselves better than if energy costs stay flat.

This thread discusses photovoltaics to some extent, but I’m confused about it.

For instance, making PVs is expensive energy-wise; how does the cost compare to setting up an array of mirrors and using steam to generate the AC power?

The financial section of the newspaper sometimes contains analyses that show an inflationary future (due to deficits and resource limitations), sometimes a stagnant economy, sometimes a thriving strength. Do you toss a coin?

Basically I want to make a realistic long-term decision on this.

The web is full of “research” reports claiming PV arrays will produce net power after 2 to 5 years. My personal hunch is that the reports are based on faulty and incomplete research, and that no PV array has ever generated one net watt. But again, that’s just my opinion, and I do not have a cite to back it up.

At any rate, it sounds like you’re more interested in it from a cost angle. Compared to grid power, solar is quite expensive per kilowatt hour. I wouldn’t do it, at least not at this time. We can only hope PV cells will advance to the point where they will be economical and efficient…

While solar power for electricity sounds like a losing proposition from practically any angle unless you live in the Sahara, hooking your hot water system onto solar can give you significant savings for a much cheaper set-up cost.

If you’re seriously considering it, why not give a call to a solar power contractor? Over the phone you could give them the basics of your situation, ask for a non-binding rough estimate of costs for the installation they recommend and find out what the average power output would be in your area. Also find out from the contractor what state or federal tax benefits would apply.
Then look at your electric bill and do the math (understanding that the contractor’s estimates are probably a little optomistic).
The installation may also add a bit to the resale value of your house, but frankly I wouldn’t count on much.

I don’t think this is asking too much from a company (as opposed to having them come out to your house and do a full work-up), and you’d get some real-world numbers.

I’m guessing that after doing the math, from a purely financial viewpoint, the stock market would be a better investment, but the return may be reasonable enough to make it worthwhile if you like the idea of helping the planet or having cool gadgets.

For a PV system to be cost effective for someone now, you must be in a very unusual situation(i.e. miles from the grid), or will have to believe the future will be very unlike the past in regard to fossil fuel prices.

Some people seem to believe energy prices has risen sharply for many years in real terms. You can show that as a fact if you very selectively choose the beginning and end points, but generally it’s not true. There’s good reason to believe the future will be subtantially more expensive. The question is how much??

Here’s a page showing a survey cost of electricity:

California has a continueing program to rebate a portion of home based PV costs – its now about $3 per watt. That implies about $6,000 for a 2-k system. The site given above reports the average total cost for a 2-K system is about $17,500.