I'm really excited about a project put solar panels on my house. I'm going to share some of the experiences with this process here as unrepentant solar evangelist in the hopes of convincing even the most hardbitten oil-burning wild catter to give solar a chance.
Before I go any further, I want to shout one key message from the rooftops: I'm doing this because it's cheaper than natural gas and oil in the short, medium and long run. I heat my Maine home with two high efficiency electric heat pumps and we have a third that heats our water, so we pay a hefty $140 per month on average in electric bills to keep our house a toasty 70 degrees. That's water, space heating and electric for about $1700 per year. I'm taking out a 10 year loan with a 3% fixed interest rate for $13,000 (the price of the system after a 30% federal tax rebate). These solar panels will offset 100% of my annual electric usage and the monthly payments on that loan will be $127. So I will pay about $13 less every month than I pay now, and each bill represents a mini-mortgage payment to own my own electrical generating system rather than "rent" electricity from the coal-fired grid. After 10 years of loan payments, my space heating, water heating, and electric bills simply...stop. For 20+ years. Over the 30 year life of this system, I estimate I'll save about $25,000, averaging about $865 a year. Although I'll break even in 8 years, because I'm financing this (rather than using my own money), the savings start on day 1. So I'll shout it from another rooftop, solar can be radically cheaper than oil or natural gas. Plus it can't catch on fire, explode, pump pollutants into our atmosphere, get spilled into the gulf of Mexico, or lend support to petro-state monarchies and dictatorships. Well, I suppose you could dump a panel into the Gulf, but you know what I mean.
The wheels started turning in my mind back in college when I learned enough about science to realize that we're on the brink of catastrophic climate change within the next 100 years. If you believe in science, that reality of climate change is not up for debate. What is up for debate are the countless details of how the catastrophe will unfold: how fast will it happen? When? Where? What impact will feedback loops have? Which populations can adapt and which must migrate? How much coastline will be lost and where? How badly will different argicultural regions and societies fail? When will we lose the glaciers? Can we capture carbon and terraform Earth to slow this down? If we can, should we? When will the Great Barrier Reef be gone? When will Greenland's icecap melt start contributing to significant sea level rise? Will polar bears go extinct? Will it get really bad by 2030, 2050 or 2100? These are all urgent questions that our best scientists and climate models can't answer with great precision and they are also great excuses for the complacent to do nothing because firm answers are not forthcoming.
End Part 1