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Is Solar Energy Really Too Expensive?


Is Solar Energy Really Too Expensive?

Jill Richardson

In order for solar power to compete with other forms of energy, the conventional thinking goes, it needs to become way cheaper.

Installing rooftop solar panels can be prohibitively expensive, after all, and it takes years before the resulting energy savings pay off. For the individual, it doesn’t matter whether solar panels will save you money in the long run if you can’t afford them in the short run.


I've thought this same thing for years. It's akin to a saying I used to hear that we'll have solar when they figure out how to meter the sun.


good article. I don't have much income (retired) although I have some savings and could pay some of the cost...but as it now is I can't afford solar panels because I don't have enough income to be eligible for "tax credits". I would wind up paying twice as much as people with more income! Something weird here if the goal is to encourage solar.


Re that last para

Do we want the corporations responsible for the problem profiting off the manufacture and sale of a major part of the solution?

Their "wins" never seem to dovetail with ours in the end, do they?


We live in New Mexico which is a great place for solar. It became cheaper than coal years ago, yet we are still fighting the fossil-fuel corpse whose lobbyists grease the palms of legislators and state officials. PNM our electric provider plans to burn coal for decades. They even own a coal mine.

Along came SolarCity. They sold us rooftop solar panels on interest just like you would buy a car. Today our system put out 209% of what we actually consumed. The rest goes back to the grid into an account that we can draw from at night or on a cloudy day. Last month's bill from PNM was $5.69 and if we watch when during the day we use our electrical appliances we can almost always use the power from the roof rather than that derived from burning coal. My brother-in-law tells me that he could have designed a better system for less money. Maybe he's right but I have solar on my roof and he doesn't.


BAD Governance - too many of them collapses the western civilization. Guaranteed.


The title of the article led me to expect real meaningful content. Whereas, in my opinion, it is woefully lacking in substance.

Uhhh... Where is the math? Where are the various major installation scenarios and related climate zones? Where is the information from widely accepted peer-reviewed studies?

A stratified chart of costs would detail the start-up, yearly maintenance as well as break-even analysis for a certain types of installation scenarios and climate conditions. One could thereby see the savings flow that should occur after the break-even point, as well as estimated energy amount that ultimately end up being redirected into the central utilities' power grids.


I bit the bullet in 2013, got a 10kW system. I did run a lot of simulations before that, with different scenarios of cost/Kw, tax incentives etc. The results were more or less that after "tax incentives" you'd start break even after about 7 years. With no tax incentive after 10 or 11 years. That's considering full payment of the system upfront with no interest. No matter how "green" someone is, once it comes to money and instant gratification, those figures are not gonna cut it. It's the old talk the talk vs walk the walk, and most people ain't walking when push comes to shove.

I got about 90% of my consumption covered by rooftop solar.


To the headline writers:

Oh come on, when do we stop reading headlines that reinforce our opponent's frames, especially about this topic?


Exactly how much cheaper is solar than the other choices?
Solar: what makes it cheaper and better than coal?

Etc. Maybe not the best, but examples that don't defeat ourselves the first step out of the gate.


How do we get them to do what is right for everyone? The modern workd where the citizenry is educated and aware of the issue but is relatively powerless to see its wishes carried out by the utilities.

More and more we seem to find out that we have little say in the things that affect our lives. Yes as the author says - we should have utilities sell solar or whatever. We should have net metering. We should - they should!

We do not have representation! Doesn't seem like we do almost anywhere. A corporatized government in action. Representation is never part of the equation. So how do we get them to do anything?


No we don't want dirty energy! We could source 100% of our energy from renewables now if only we had leaders who were serious about it.

And this is just from roof top solar! Forget nuclear or natural gas they are antiquated.


This article is 9 months old but......


Yes, you are right on with this general observation: How do we get representatives who truly represent US, the needs of most of us, the need for clean renewable energy to keep the planet livable for our futures? Maybe this new group coming from the Sanders campaign, 'Brand New Congress' is one way to go. Check it out online.
When our combined tax dollars actually get allocated for a good purpose, e.g., renewables, then the investment isn't on homeowners or landlords so much as on our common government allocation (like the $billions/trillions of subsidies to the fossil fuel companies have been, for generations).


There are essentially two approaches to moving to solar as an electricity source (I make the distinction since the sun can be used for home heating and water heating directly). One is: set up a solar system that supplies all the appliances, bells and whistles that a good consumer is supposed to have: many thousands of watts of solar panels, huge battery collection, massive controllers, etc. The other is to realize that we don't need all that stuff and to decide on how much energy one wants to use and reduce the "stuff"that runs on electricity to what is needed. I live off grid with 600 watts of solar panels and a small battery array. All my needs are met for a computer system, food storage, entertainment, etc.

The per capita use of all manufactured energy sources must be reduced. This will never be done until people either cannot get energy at all (death and destruction) or until the convenience of unlimited energy all the time is replaced by another energy delivery design, like small limited solar systems that are sufficient, but not profligate.


You're hitting on a good point re instant gratification - because what's not to like about an investment that eventually pays for itself? If people are able to use simple financing mechanisms PV (and other energy improvements) should be a no brainer.


goal is to DISCOURAGE solar....can't have people independent....control of masses of asses is the duopoly mode. Vote green...Hillary is the devil...Trump will be much better but Jill is the best.


With SolarCity our downpayment was the federal tax credit we were eligible for. Monthly payments are roughly what we paid for electricity before we put the panels on the roof, but we are paying off the principle as fast as we can. Wasn't buying a car on time Henry Ford's idea? He sold a lot of cars that way.


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I wouldn't take that at face value.

Let's look at it this way: if wind and solar would really be cheaper than fossil, then all energy companies would trip over each other to build solar and wind generation facilities then sell the electricity at the same price they do now and make a killing... Now obviously that ain't happening so my best guess is, we're not there yet with the pricing.


Right, you've got a viable argument. /s
I'm calling bullshit on your entire premise. Your best guess is a terrible one, and one reason is stranded assets.
The concept of the privately owned or shareholder owned regulated utility with a guaranteed annual rate of return was a horrible idea. Publicly owned municipal utilities are a better idea. Lazard is a financial advisory and asset management firm. They're providing information for investors -- basically their report is telling you which technologies might be worth investing in, and which ones are total losers (from an investment perspective) because they can't compete on price. The Lazard report doesn't include any of the nuclear cleanup costs. There's a decommissioning reserve fund, but they are ALWAYS too small. Much much much too small. Doesn't include waste or spent fuel disposal. Insurance is only for really small accidents, the federal government absolves them of liability for Chernobyl-scale stuff. Nuclear is massively subsidized and they still can't compete economically. Nukes are total losers. Coal is a total loser. So you're saying your feelings are more intuitive than Lazard, who have $186 billion of assets under management? What a joke.

Coal is energy dense. The cost of a kWh of electricity from a new coal plant is > 10 cents/kWh. Add in the external health costs paid by taxpayers and the price rises to about 20c/kWh.

Wind is not energy dense. The cost of a kWh of electricity from a new wind farm is now under 4c/kWh. Unsubsidized.

Sunshine is not energy dense. The cost of a kWh of electricity from a new solar farm is now about 6c/kWh. Unsubsidized.

Oil is energy dense. The cost of driving a mile in a 30 MPG vehicle burning $3/gallon gas is 10c/mile.

Drive that mile with electricity from wind and solar and the cost is less than 4c/mile.

What's left out of those comparisons are the costs of health damage caused by burning fossil fuels and the extreme cost of climate change. Fossil fuels are unaffordable.