It's clean, sustainable, and getting more effective all the time, but how soon can we expect to see solar energy become a part of our everyday lives? Well, right now, of course!
Is Solar Energy Becoming More Common?
Yes, and incredibly so. If you consider your commute a part of your everyday life, many of you are already passing by solar panels that provide power to electric road signs. However, if that's not exactly the sort of info you're looking for, check this out:
According to Global Solar Center, "In the U.S., market demand for solar power has risen on average 30% per year for the last 15 years...In 2007, the U.S. solar market increased 57%." Add to that the fact that ServiceMagic.com's requests for solar panel installations last month has risen by 873.5% compared to the same month last year, and you can easily see that much of the overall demand is coming from homeowners like you!
Is Solar Still more Expensive than Buying Electricity from a Utility Company?
In most cases, yes. However, as solar technology becomes more efficient, the amount of panels that need to be installed to power a typical house will decrease; this will certainly have a marked effect on price. Today, the supply of solar energy equipment is just not enough to meet the demand, but many predict a significant drop in price will come as supply increases (which everyone agrees it will continue to do).
But I Want a Solar-Powered House NOW!
According to trustyguides.com (who is adamant that this is a "very general rule of thumb"), right now, a small single solar panel runs about $900, installed. To provide enough electricity to power the average American home, between $30,000 and $40,000 worth of solar panels would need to be utilized.
Of course, the more energy-efficient your home is to begin with, the less money it will cost to install enough solar panels to power it. Though the U.S. government and many state governments are offering homeowners who go solar thousands of dollars in tax breaks and incentives, it will still take quite a while for whole house solar systems to be cheap enough for every one to afford (even in sunny California where the incentives are high).
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What about Solar Water Heaters?
Most of the solar power used in this country comes in the form of water heaters. Though some put the average cost of installing a solar water heater at $7,000 or so, here at ServiceMagic we've certainly seen installations for $3,000 or even less. According to The Solar Guide's FAQ, "A solar thermal water heating system can pay for itself in three years or less. Typically, these cost under $5,000, and can reduce your monthly hot water heating bill between 50-100%."
Note: Heating water for bathing and cleaning isn't the only way solar thermal energy is used. In fact, more consumers use solar energy to heat swimming pools than for any other use. (In 1996, Home Energy Magazine estimated that over 300,000 US pools were fitted with solar heaters and that impressive figure is sure to have gone up since then!)
What this all Means
Basically, what the figures boil down to is this: solar energy is here, and in some cases it's affordable. Though few of us have the means to power our whole house by the sun, a solar hot water heater is now within the budgets of many families. Will we see lower prices on electricity derived from the sun in the future? The answer is a near unanimous "yes." How should we prepare for that day? Probably doing what we do naturally: save money by making our homes as energy-efficient as they can be without solar power, and hope the day comes soon that whole house solar power becomes affordable for all.