Solar power: Is it right for you?

The answer is as simple as a web search.

solar panelI’m working on an article for the magazine about solar power, and I ran across this great Web site: By using its solar calculators, you can find out whether installing photovoltaic (PV) panels makes any financial sense in your individual situation. You simply plug in your home address, the name of your electric utility and the amount of your monthly electric bill. Within seconds, you’ll learn:

— Which local, state and federal rebates and tax credits are available to you
— How big a PV system you need
— How big your roof needs to be to handle that size system
— The estimated cost of the system
— Your monthly and 25-year savings
— Your 25-year return on investment (ROI)
— The number of years it will take to break even.

I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, which has about 12 sunny days a year (or maybe it just feels that way). According to the calculator, to offset by 50 percent the amount of electricity we currently purchase, it would cost us $6,308 to install a PV system if we were able to take advantage of all the rebates and tax credits available. If we weren’t, it would cost us $25,235 to install the system. Using the $6,308 number (a giant leap of faith), it would take us about 15 years to break even and we would save $25 a month, which, over 25 years, would save us a total of $12,494 (an ROI of 198 percent). These totals include the cost of labor. An intrepid DIYer could do much of the installation him or herself and save a third or more, which would reduce the payback period significantly.

Hmmmmmm. It would be nice to go outside and mull over the feasibility of this whole solar thing, but since it’s raining (we haven’t see the sun in days), I’ll just keep doing my research.

If you’re curious about whether a PV system might make sense for you, go to and plug in your own numbers. And make sure to look for my article in the October 2011 issue of The Family Handyman magazine.

— Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor

To learn how to reduce your home energy costs, check out these great energy efficiency articles:
How to Save Energy and Cut Cooling Costs
Switch to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs and Save Energy
Energy Vampires

Popular Videos