Investing in Solar Energy has Unexpected Returns – By Patricia Rattray

What do you really know about solar energy? The new applications of solar are worth investigating if you want to improve your quality of life. Your return on investment might include surprising financial and familial benefits.

Consider the home of a Kevin Porter and his family. They are residents of Easton CT, that decided to install a solar energy system in his 2500 sf colonial home. They recognized the financial benefits right away, and dramatically decreased their electricity bill by 65% in the first two months of use.

The Porter family was also eager to experience the obvious environmental benefits, which was an instant decrease in his family’s contribution to the emission of harmful co2 gases. Over a 30 year period, his family’s contribution to the reduction in these emissions is equivalent to the ecological benefit of planting 473 trees.

Kevin’s excitement about the solar experience is infectious. His solar panels are aesthetically pleasing, mounted seamlessly on the back of his house. From a distance, it looks like a solid piece of tinted glass lying elegantly on his rooftop. He chose to install Sunpower panels, made by a German company that he respected. In fact, these are the most efficient panels currently manufactured. Then, he called Sunlight Solar, a Sunpower panel installer, and had a professional and educational experience that propelled him forward.

The installation was fairly simple compared to the benefits that Kevin and his family derived. Sun Power Solar completed a two phased assessment approach and was able to install the system in just a few days. They also helped him secure the applicable state and federal rebates and credits to offset his cost.

A solar installation includes solar panels, an invertor box and a meter, similar to your current eclectic meter. Once installed, Kevin could keep track of energy generated and used, and also how much unused energy was going back into the grid and available to other households. In Connecticut, households can get credit for this unused energy from the electric company. Kevin was also eligible for a state rebate that can cover approximately 50% of the installation cost. A 5040 watt system comprised of twenty-four 210 watt solar panels would cost approximately $44,000. There are also state specific programs that provide low interest loans to finance the installation, as long as you meet an income qualification. (Note: Since this article was written, cost and rebates might have changed. Consult your state web site for up-to-date information.)

Other benefits can impact your family and your finances as well:

The financial and environmental benefits of solar use are obvious, but other benefits were soon realized. Kevin’s wife and kids became more aware and interested in impacting their home energy use and understanding energy sources and issues. The inverter box displays how much energy is generated by the sun and used by the home 24 hours a day. The family started talking about how much energy their rooftop was generating, and how much energy their family was using and saving each day.

This awareness motivated them to find other ways to save energy. One way is skipping the clothes dryer and making a small investment in a portable, collapsible clothesline, that can be put away when not in use. They also use rain water (grey water) collected in a 75 gallon barrel to water their garden, and are investigating a soaker hose to minimize wasting water while watering. The family also has begun to compost and use non-toxic, natural pest repellents, such as a Cayenne hot pepper spray in their vegetable garden. These self grown vegetables are yet another way to minimize household expenses. Inside the home, a wood burning stove installed with insulation around the flute helps reduce their heating bill.

Increased property values can also be a benefit of energy saving activities, according to a recent study by the Appraisal Group. The study was conducted by ICF Consulting with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and it confirmed energy efficiency improvements do result in higher home values.

[1]Homeowners can profit by investing in energy efficiency, even if they don’t know how long they will be staying in the home. “If their reduction in monthly fuel bills exceeds the after-tax mortgage interest paid to finance energy efficiency investments, then they will enjoy positive cash flow for as long as they live in their home, and can also expect to recover their investment in energy efficiency when they sell their home.”

Knowledge of new investment opportunities and the capabilities of eco-friendly manufacturers was another benefit of Kevin’s solar energy installation experience. By taking the initiative to research solar panels, Kevin learned about solar manufacturers. Since Kevin is a financial planner, he is now advising his clients to invest in the most promising clean energy and green companies. Such companies develop energy saving products, clean energy resources, and recycling processes and equipment.

The benefits of solar energy use are worth exploring. Whether your objectives are financial, environmental or moral, the outcomes might far exceed your expectations. You might save money, decrease harmful CO2 emission, increase your property value, get first-hand knowledge of green investments, and also create a home in which you truly understand your energy use and your impact upon the earth.  At the most basic level, a new understanding of energy use in your home is a priceless return on investment.

[1] Web Site: Energy Checkup web site May 19th, 2008

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