Sunday, June 29, 2008

Solar panels: some pros and cons

How long does it take for a solar-panel system to pay for itself?

Unsurprisingly, that depends on where you live. According to Toby Littin, managing director of importer-installer Elemental, it can take 20 to 30 years for a solar system to pay for itself in major centres such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, where the cost of grid electricity (including line charges) is quite low. But in areas such as Northland, East Cape and Southland, which have high line charges, a system can pay for itself in 10 to 15 years.

Business customers can usually expect solar panels to pay for themselves in 10-15 years, Mr Littin says. And that if they are in a windy location, where they can install a turbine, that can come down to five years.

My personal feeling is that the average consumer will consider 20-30 years too long to wait.

And what is the total cost of installing solar panels - which constitute the most viable renewable energy system for an urban environment? According to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, it is in the range of $9 to $13 per Watt of power they produce.

That means a system producing 2kW of electricity - enough to power an electric heater - would cost $18,000 to $26,000. But a similar system would have cost about $40,000 four years ago, so prices are falling rapidly.


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