Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking Sustainability to the Next Step

I've written previously about sustainability and my efforts to maintain a green lifestyle at home as well as create green data centers.

Now that my wife and I have moved to a rural location, we have have many more opportunities to implement alternative energy resources than in our slate roofed 1930's home in Wellesley. We've begun the study of solar technology in depth.

Photovoltaic prices have dropped, efficiencies have increased, and reliability has improved.   Federal tax credits (30% of purchase price) are available until 2016.   Massachusetts state tax credits for 15% of the purchase price up to $1000 are available.

Our barn is entirely south facing and we can install enough Hyundai Heavy Industries HiS-S245MG(BK) modules to generate 8351 kilowatt hours of power per year, about half the projected energy needs for the farm.

Although panels are at their lowest prices in history and the technology is better than ever before, the rapid evolution of panels means they will be obsolete within 5 years, although they will continue to function for at least 20.   The solar panels of the future may be a thin film directly applied to shingles or three dimensional high output arrays 

This presents us with a challenge - do we buy a technology that will rapidly evolve?   Do we lease the panels, give the tax credit to the leasing company,and avoid the capital costs of a purchase/the operating costs of maintenance/the need to own the panels.

We've looked at Sungevity and other solar leasing companies and the notion of capturing the savings of a 50% reduction in energy bills without having to worry about lifecycle management or obsolesce seems attractive.

Since we're replacing the roof on the barn over the next year, it makes great sense to put solar panels with a 20 year life on top of a new roof with a 25 year life.    At the end of 20 years, the leasing company simply hauls away the panels.   Our cost of the lease is about $100 per month, netting us about a $10,000 savings in energy costs over the life of the lease.

Have you purchased or leased panels?   Is leasing the right choice to capture the savings without the ownership risks of rapidly evolving technology?

For us, there's an opportunity to get closer to off grid living.    Capturing the tax credits and incentives before they expire seems like the right thing to do.   I welcome others experiences.


Alex S said...

We purchased a photovoltaic system a few years back based, with significant State and Federal support. It generates about 60% of our needs. While I like the low electricity bill, the ROI on the project is ~12-13 years. I installed the system when electricity prices were only going up, so it appeared to make sense at the time.

If I were to do it again, I would install a solar hot water system. They are much less expensive, qualify for incentives, and have a short payback.

One major problem with solar panels in the north east - when there is a snow storm, the snow builds up on the panels and then literally causes an avalanche. For a few panels it's not a big deal, but if you plan on covering your roof (like we did), it's quite a dangerous scenario. With a steeper roof than ours, it might not be an issue.

Send me a note for more information.

Anonymous said...


Have you looked into a geothermal heat pump? The heat pump technology has been around for decades, is tried and true, and can reduce your heat bill by 75%. For us, photovoltaics made no sense because our electric bill was $40.00 a month. It would take many years to make that pay for itself, especially with the cost of electricity very stable due to the new abundance of natural gas. But our oil bill could be $600 or more in the winter. The geothermal also provides central AC from the same system, and heats your water in the heating and cooling season. The federal tax credit is 30% with no upper limit. We are super happy with it, and now our electric bill (which runs the pump) is almost high enough to make photovoltaics make economic sense. Well, not really, but maybe if the price goes down...

I can send you links if you are interested.

Becky S