Shining with solar

By Morris and James Carey

For The Associated Press

Alternative energy isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Say you buy an electric car and plug it in at home — you’re still powering it with fossil fuels.

Utility companies use fossil fuels to generate electricity. So while your home may not have an exhaust pipe, it’s still generating greenhouse gases.

But energy independence is not some far-off dream: High quality solar technology exists here and now. The initial investment cost is still high, but as more and more folks purchase solar collection equipment it will become less expensive.


During the last decade we have had the opportunity to install several solar energy systems. The first one that we contracted cost the homeowner over $110,000 (after rebates). Today that same system would run about $30,000 and will last for 40 years or more. Calculating life expectancy against installation cost, and amortizing the cost on a monthly basis, today’s average solar system will run its owner about $62 a month.

If you use that $62 a month to charge an electric car, you can replace both your gas bill and your electric bill, an obvious savings.

Since those of us in the U.S. live north of the equator you will want to be sure to have your solar equipment placed so that it faces south. More sun, more energy generated. Also, don’t let trees grow between the sun and the panels. Shade is to solar panels as holy water is to vampires.

Oh, and just like you can get a sunburn on a cloudy day, you also can generate solar power on an overcast day. So don’t quit on solar just because you live in an area like San Francisco. Less power is generated at times, but power is generated nonetheless.

If you add solar the next time you replace your roof, your home will be one of the most sought-after in the neighborhood. And its value will skyrocket. A solar system and a swimming pool now cost about the same, but a swimming pool will only improve the cost of your home by a few thousand dollars.

There are companies that supply and install solar panels on top of your roof and those that offer solar collectors that are an integral part of your roof shingle system. Both are a sensible alternatives.

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