SolarFred's Solar Salon

Having your solar and affording it too. Really.


Los Angeles, California,
Dear Solar Fred
Tor Valenza, a.k.a. "Solar Fred," has been a solar advocate since the 1980's when Solar was cool but not affordable. Now that it is affordable, he currently writes about solar power as a way to save money, energy, and the planet. See his extended solar blog at


JUNE 11, 2009 3:21AM

Convince yourself: Solar is now Affordable.

Rate: 7 Flag

There is a very deep misconception in America that solar is a nice idea, but still too expensive.  I've written multiple posts on this site and other blogs that try to explain why I believe that's no longer true if you live in a solar friendly state with subsidies, but I keep coming across the same resistance. The main stream press hasn't made a big deal about it, and people are suspicious of advertisements. I'm an unaffiliated, unpaid solar advocate, but people still doubt.  So what's the solution?

You have to convince yourself. How? By getting a free quote from a qualified, local solar dealer. It's free! What can you lose, Joe?! Worst case, you've lost an hour or two, and now you know for sure that solar's not right for you. Best case, you go solar and save, electricity, money, the planet, promote green jobs, energy independence, yada, yada, yada.

If enough people read this post and act, then the "find out for yourself message" can get significant attention from regular, non-solar people. Perhaps then the solar dialog will finally change in America from "I love solar, but it's too expensive," to "Holy crap, Martha, solar is affordable now. Let's do it."

To help prepare you for solar quotes and discussions with significant others, let me direct you to these FAQ type posts from my regular Solar Fred blog. These answer most of the basics.

  • Is my home right for solar? See this post. Short answer: The installers don't want to waste their time either. They should ask you some questions over the phone. Again, if it's not right for you, bummer. Hang up and continue to pay your electric bill.
  • How do I find a good installer? See this post. Short answer: Make sure the company is experienced, licensed, insured by your city/state. NABCEP certification is a great sign the installer is experienced.
  • How much? There's no short answer. It's going to depend on your energy usage, your house, and so many things. There are a number of "solar calculators" out there, but they can be very inaccurate if you don't input the right parameters. It's truly best to get quotes from live people to find out exact needs for your home. In general, the installer should quote you between $5.50 and $6/watt. I know that doesn't make sense here, but it will when you get a quote. In general, your monthly solar cost should be very close to what your electric bill is now or less. The salesman will also show you how future utility rate increases will save you big time. If not, solar's not right for you. Move on.
  • How do I finance it? See my "cash poor" series of posts. They describe not only traditional home equity financing, but also solar leases, solar PPAs, municipal financing through your city, and unsecured financing. All of these have little or no money down. What's not to love?
  • Won't the price come down if I wait? Yes, and no. Competition and technology are bringing solar prices down, but the subsidies will also come down, making the consumer's price about the same. If your state is not solar friendly, then, yes, wait. Also, become a member of vote to help move your lawmakers along.
  • How do I know if I live in a solar friendly state? Check this nifty database of solar incentives.  Also, remember the Feds give you a 30% tax credit if you buy.
  • Don't I need batteries? Short answer: Nope. Staying tied to the grid, using "net metering" is the least expensive way to go solar. Also most reliable and maintenance free.
  • Shouldn't we do energy conservation first? Yes. That would be most cost effective and bring down your solar price further.
  • Could I cover half my energy costs with solar? Yes. Especially if you use a lot of energy and have tiered rates at your utility, buy solar to offset 60% of your electric bill, not 95%. You'll see big savings and fast payback.
  • How fast is payback? Depends on so many variables. Short answer: Anywhere from 5 to 13 years is reasonable. Typical is 9-13 years. Could be longer for certain utilities, states, tax bracket, financing method...Depends. I swear. Get 3 local quotes and find out. Also, remember that typical solar panels last 25 years or more, so free energy after payback.
  • Are solar panels ugly? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but check this out. Looks just like regular roofing shingles.

So, what if you get a quote and it's still too expensive? Then at least do 5 of these 53 ways to cut your home energy bill. If you've already done 5 on the list, do 5 more or 10. Save money and the planet without going solar. I'm okay with that too.

Why am I doing all this? Why should you care? In the long run, it doesn't come down to saving money, ROI, or payback. In the long run, you should be doing this for your kids and your grand kids, and their kids, or your neighbor's kids. They can't go solar, but live with what we leave them if we adults do nothing.  Solar helps. It's better than coal and safer than nuclear. I know all this and I could go on, but the truth is that you need to convince yourself that Solar is more than a nice idea.

Going to get a quote? Good. You can use my own free referral service or any service.  Stick your finger in the yellow pages. All I really care about is that you prove it to yourself whether solar is affordable for you...or not.  I hope you motivate your friends to do the same. After you've gotten your quotes, please come back here or to my regulr blog site and and share the results with others.

Thank you.

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Great info, Brother. Keep on keeping on!!

Thanks John and BBE. Here's the tiny url for this post: for tweeters.

Please pass it on to friends. The conversation needs to start with consumers to question old assumptions. Solar is not right for everybody, but it's right for a lot more people that don't realize it ...yet.
just bumping 'cause more folks need to read this
Apparently there is a web site that covers the Los Angeles area, allowing you to see if your house is suitable for solar. Not 100% reliable however, as a colleague's house is listed as having 0% of the roof area suitable for solar, when you can clearly see the solar panels already on his roof.
I know, Gee Bee. I have issues with LADWP.... They SAY they're for solar, but they're pretty discouraging when you have to go through all of the red tape. They also have flat rate of electricity instead of tiered rates, so it doesn't encourage anyone to conserve. In most of California, if you're an energy hog, you pay for it. That's why solar's doing really well right now...except in L.A. where we have so much sun. Ironic, but I guess the utility doesn't want to give up their coal fired gains to solar. :)
Excellent... I'll be back to print...
We've used a lot of low-cost solar items--mostly landscape lighting and solar oven. We even bring in solar lights inside at night to use (not for task lighting though). I have gotten an estimate and it's too expensive right now.

The problem here is that electricity is relatively cheap. The company also charges a lot of flat fees before you get the cheap rate so if you were to sell it back, you would get almost nothing.

So, I think it's important that the government require the use of renewable sources by utility companies to get the ball rolling.
Joan K, yes, Virginia is not a great subsidy state, from my understanding. But it's wonderful that you got a quote! Thank you. I'd rather people try to get a quote and really see what the economics are rather than just assume that it's not affordable for you. In many places, it is. Thank you again for taking the time to find out for yourself.
This is from an installer who emailed me:

Hey Tor,

Great blog! I wanted to comment, but it wants me to "belong", so I didn't. I will give you my comment here and you can post it if you want.

Regarding the comment about DWP and their flat rate, this will change on July 1st! DWP will initiate a 3 tiered rate for residential customers. The rates will be 12 cents, 14 cents and 17 cents and the number of kWh in each tier will be 500 or 750 depending on where you live. Essentially, those who live in the hotter valley area will get more kWh in each tier to allow for the need to use more AC.

My other comment concerns whether solar will work for you. If you are in California and you have a roof (or ground mount space) with good orientation (SE-SW), and little to no shade, you can't lose. If you don't have the roof for solar, you're outta luck. It's just that simple.


Good, concentrated bit of information to get people thinking about things... granted one thing you didn't address is that with banking / mortgage crisis and general economic meltdown, it'll be harder in general for people to finance any large investment (no matter how worthy or long term smart) be it a new Prius or solar panels. But I'll post this to my FB account to spread the word a little bit more.