You may have had the thought at some time or another of switching to solar power as an alternative to having to continue paying high electricity bills to the power company. Or perhaps the idea of homesteading and living off-grid has a certain appeal to you and you would be using solar electricity in this case. Either way, the moment you researched solar energy, you may have noticed that despite all of the benefits, solar isn’t cheap.
It’s kind of a disappointment, really. The concept of being able to sustain your own electrical needs is one of freedom. No longer having to pay high monthly bills is a great feeling. Not to mention you’d be doing a great service to the environment by switching to a clean and sustainable energy source. But it’s really hard to get around that price point. So just why is a solar system so darn expensive?
Well, there are those who would tell you that it’s because “the man” wants to keep people from being easily able to generate their own power. While that is an interesting concept, it’s not really the truth. Instead, let’s take a more realistic look at it.
First of all, the solar cell itself uses silicone as a major ingredient. While silicone is itself in abundant quantities, it is expensive to work with. It has to be converted from its raw form into something that can be used, and that process takes a bit of work. So the manufacturing process is a part of the reason why the cost is so high.
Another factor is that of efficiency. Most solar cells are not models of good efficiency. The highest efficiency is about 40% (and that level will cost you even more) with the average being in the 15% range. So with such a low level of efficiency (also remember that you’re only producing electricity for the sunny hours of the day) you’ll need more panels to generate more power. This is part of why the cost is so high. You’ll need plenty of panels to supply your home’s needs.
Now, part of the price point isn’t just the cost of the panels, but for all the other equipment you’ll need. Think about this: Your solar panels are only producing electricity when the sun is out. So at night, they are not making any electricity. So you’ll need a place to store electricity for these times. For that you’ll need batteries. Lots of them. A decent sized battery bank can cost you over $1000 on just batteries alone. And you’ll also need something called a charge controller. A charge controller is a device that takes the power produced from the panels and charges the batteries. Without this, you could end up “overfilling” the batteries which will damage them. Finally, the power that you get from batteries is DC electricity. Your appliances run on AC. So you’ll need a power inverter as well. And one that can handle the amount of electricity to power your home isn’t cheap either.
Finally, there is the matter of installation. Getting the whole system installed and wired up also costs a good amount of money. You could install a solar system yourself, but most people lack the proper knowledge to do it right. So you’d rather pay a company to have it done thus increasing the total cost of the system.
So if you’re trying to purchase a solar system that will meet all of the electrical needs of your home, you’ll be spending upwards of $10,000 easily. That would actually be the low side. So let’s also assume that you are generating enough electricity to meet your needs year round. To do this you’ll probably have the ensure that you only use energy efficient appliances, cut back a bit on your own usage, install an electricity saver, etc. So if you pay $200 a month for electricity, the system will start giving a return after 4 years. Now, remember that $10,000 is on the cheap side. Chances are that is a $10,000 system can supply you with all of your electrical needs, then you aren’t paying anywhere near $200 for power each month.
So, many will continue to wait to see if the cost of solar equipment comes down before seriously considering making the switch. While it has already gone down, as you can see from the above, it’s not quite reachable for most people just yet.