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Published on July 10th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

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Really: Solar Is Actually Cheaper than PG&E

July 10th, 2009 by  


I am finding a strange thing as I sign up solar neighborhoods with 1 Block off the Grid – which is a great community organizing tool for getting more solar on more roofs more economically – because if everyone interested in solar can go ahead at the same time as their neighbors they can all get a better rate than if they were all approaching different solar installers and installing at different times.

I had expected that the people who haven’t learned much about solar would be the more difficult to reach. Instead, I am finding that some of the people who have gone to the trouble to get an estimate are the worst candidates for solar.

They tell me that a solar salesperson has told them that solar just doesn’t pencil out for them. What!!!?

Now, it’s true that solar saves more for people with higher bills. But solar is cheaper, even if you have the tiniest bill. For example:

Come to think of it; maybe solar maybe just doesn’t pencil out for that salesperson. A small system, enough to knock out a small usage of electricity, is going to bring a very miniscule commission, yet take the same amount of work to close as a larger system.

But here in Northern California, with the CSI-PG&E rebate, and the 30% tax credit, and the reduction in panel prices since the silicon glut, solar pencils out for everybody!

Here’s how to do your own solar comparison.

1. Look at your PG&E electricity bill, (don’t count the gas portion) to find your monthly payment.

2. Look at the chart below to find what you will pay for the next 25 years of PG&E. While 40 years is the full life of a solar array (so far– the first ones from the 1970’s are still going) but after 25 years they will operate at about 80% of the original capacity.  (Also, most solar loans are for 25 years.) So lets compare the cost of a solar system with the cost of just the next 25 years of PG&E, and consider the remaining life of the solar appliance as a bonus.

PG&E rates have risen over a period of 40 years 6.7%. More during crises like when we were extorted by Enron in 2000, and it’s gone up and down, but the long-term average has been 6.7%.

(Actually that PG&E inflation rate average is more likely to go even higher than 6.7% in the future for two reasons:

  1. Climate change is causing earlier snow melt, so our hydropower supplies (of snow melt) are available for a shorter portion of the year. This will require new sources to replace the hydropower we have had available previously. (New investments always will cost more than continuing to tap into old ones.)
  2. In addition, mandated new investments in cleaner electricity also cost more to build from scratch – just like any new power stations would.)

But calculated at the previous average 6.7% rates rise

Chart: what you will pay over 25 years to PG&E if your bill now is:

$20 = $14,646

$40 = $29,292

$60 = $43,624

$80 = $58,166

$100 = $72,708

$200 = $145,416

$300 = $218,124

$400 = $290,832

$500 = $363,540

$600 = $436,248

$700 = $508,956

$800 = $585,833

This amount is your 25 year energy budget. You will spend this if you do nothing; but just keep paying your monthly utility electricity bills. Next:


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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



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