Yes, solar is expensive. Each one of our panels was priced at $400 when we purchased them, although they’re a little more economical now. To make matters more difficult, the price of solar power is front-loaded. You’ll have a large expense at the beginning and experts assert that it will take around 10 years for the panels to pay for themselves. Of course, this figure is fuzzy, depending on whether or not you sell excess power back to your power company—yes, you can actually do this if your home is on the grid—and there’s always the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit to remember come tax season. The credit typically gives you a return on up to 30 percent of the costs of your solar equipment.
But the up-front costs—and the negative rumors associated with them—keep a lot of people from investing in solar. I know it’s difficult to make the components—and you want to make sure things like controllers and inverters work properly (fires suck)—but you’d think there would be more motivation to bring those costs down. Except that it keeps solar power a primarily commercial thing, installed by certified electricians. Is this the conspiracy underneath it all? Is it all just an effort to support the electricians’ unions around the nation?
LITTLE KITS ARE EASY TO FIND
The fact that small solar kits are easily accessible sounds like it should be a bonus, but it’s really not. Places like Northern Tool + Equipment sell all kinds of rinky dinky small off-grid kits that do little more than charge your cell phone. This is great if you want to power something in your RV or power a coffee maker at your campsite, but if you’re getting one of these kits with grand visions of saving the planet, you’re just talking to yourself.
Maybe this one’s not about a conspiracy theory, but it just gets annoying. When we embarked on this project, scores and scores of people sent us to hardware and electronics stores. When we got there, we were confronted with small kits that produce a handful of amps. To put it in perspective, a brand new full-size refrigerator (not that old monster still humming in your kitchen) runs at around 15 amps. So if you’re planning to run your fridge on one of these kits, think again. Another gripe? You can’t just walk into Home Depot and grab full-size solar panels. All of the panels that are worth anything are online. What’s with that?
RESEARCH AND THEN RESEARCH SOME MORE
Whether it’s a conspiracy or not, the whole solar power industry is confusing as hell. You have to do your research. If you think for a second that it’s going to be a walk in the park, you’re going to get discouraged and you’re probably going to walk away. As long as you go into your solar project with an open mind—and who am I kidding, a calculator—you can reap the benefits of solar power. You might want to buy a Chinese-to-English dictionary first.