This cartoon absolutely cracked me up:
I have a question for readers: Are solar panels worth it?
A number of fairly recent articles sparked this question.
One interesting observation came from an off-grid family in North Carolina. The memorable line was this: "The easiest way to go off-grid is to need as little electricity as possible."
A little over ten years ago, when our local power supplier announced they were increasing prices, we started a long-term project to whittle down our electricity usage, including using LED lights and line-drying clothes (that's why the above cartoon amused me). We've kept our power usage moderate, about 616 kWh per month. By the above criterion, "needing as little electricity as possible," we'd be decent candidates for going off-grid.
But as one person wrote about last year's rolling blackouts in California, "California blackouts expose the total scam of solar panels: They don’t work when the grid goes down."
The author observed, "That’s a far cry from what buyers of solar panels have been promised. ... Even when solar panels do work, they’re still largely a scam. Power companies like PG&E rip off solar owners by charging much higher rates for electricity delivery than what they credit you for 'uploading' watts from your solar panels. So while your panels are providing power to the electricity company at a discounted rate, that same company is still charging you retail rates for the power you use. Furthermore, solar panels lose as much as 30% of their effectiveness when they aren’t regularly cleaned, meaning the actual power delivered is far less than what the panels claim to deliver."
People pour thousands of dollars into grid-tie solar systems, but do they ever recoup their expenses? And what happens if the durn things don't work when the grid goes down?
And for those with battery banks, how often do they need replacement, what happens to the old batteries, and how much do replacement batteries cost? All I can see is dollar signs all over the place, not to mention a heavier environmental impact than people want to believe.
A small panel is probably worth it for modest tasks like charging flashlight batteries, etc. But on a large scale, with enough panels to provide power to run all the electrical appliances in a normal home, it seems the costs can never be recouped. And for times the panels don't provide enough juice (long stretches of cloudy weather or whatever), then a backup generator is necessary, adding to the expense.
Also, there's the old axiom of moving parts. The more moving parts something has, the more likely it is to break. Almost invariably, high-tech solutions are complicated, require continuous maintenance (often by professionals), necessitate specialized parts, and are prone – simply because of their complexity – to breakdowns or other mishaps. What if something goes wrong within this complex system? Can you diagnose the problem and fix it? Do you have spare parts? And in a grid-down event, can you obtain more spare parts, and/or hire an expert to rectify the situation?
Some people say you shouldn't own stuff you can't fix, but I don't think we should be too purist about this concept. I don’t have the faintest clue how to fix a computer. Ditto for the car, the well pump, and the chain saw. These items are useful and valuable and help make our lives easier and more productive. But arguably they’re not critical to our survival. If they were knocked out of commission, we have low-tech backups so we won’t be hungry, thirsty, sitting in the dark, and unable to stay warm.
In other words, high-tech solutions may not always be superior to low-tech options. It strikes me that living a low-tech lifestyle -- using as little power as necessary and being fully prepared to live without it -- is a better solution.
So are solar panels worth it or not? What is your opinion?