If Only Arizona Was Power Hungry

Wed May 30, 2007 10:18:45 pm by Dustin
Filed under Finance, General, Household, Tools and Tricks

Since my sister moved to Arizona for graduate school and having visited a few times, I have noticed a few things about the state. First of all, it is darn hot down there. Secondly, nobody uses solar power on their homes. Here is why the state should use more solar panels to generate electricity.

I currently live in Vancouver, WA. Although it was 90 degrees today, this is not always the case for us year round. I am guessing we have rain or cloudy days 200 days a year, but don’t quote me on that. A few reasons why I could see a home owner in these parts not even considering solar panels as an upgrade to their home could include:

  • Attractiveness – with the decent amounts of rain, any additions to the roof line of a house would standout with angular roofs
  • Current Technology – although the effectiveness of panels is improving, the ROI does not seem as though it would be very beneficial in an area with so many cloudy days. I do understand that solar panels do work while under clouds; they are just less efficient.

The same could be argued for most of the Northern states. But what about the South and Southwest? I will focus on the Southwest.

California has the California Solar Initiative, a $2.8 billion program to build more power for the state using solar. New Mexico also has solar plans since it is basically the proving ground for much of the research happening in the country (possibly the world). Which leaves Arizona.

Arizona has about 700 sunny days a year with negative 2 clouds in the sky. Most of the houses also have flat roofs. They are so flat (and strong) most of the houses store the air conditioners on the roof and many have patios and the like on the roof which means they are strong enough to hold the weight. This also means one could blanket most or all of ones roof with panels and nobody would even be able to see them. Attractiveness issue handled.

Now mister and misses home owner could by asking: why should I invest in installing this system when I can only get about 60% efficiency? (Note: I am not sure how accurate 60% efficiency actually is, but I am fairly curtain the number is close enough for arguments sake.)

  • First off, I read in Business 2.0 – although I cannot find the article at this time – adding solar panels to ones house has an equal amount of return (amount invested to amount returned) as a kitchen upgrade, the most profitable room in the house.
  • Secondly, as demand for panels increases so goes research and in turn the fun of more efficiency. Yep that’s right, economics will make it better for everybody with this fun move.
  • Third, their electric bill will go down, probably significantly.
  • Fourth, you can sell what you don’t use back to the utility company. More on this later.

Those utility companies are required to produce enough power for its residence by law. If it is not able to it could either purchase the leftover from the neighboring superpowers of California and New Mexico, build new power plants, or purchase the extra from its own residence. It should be easily argued the second of these options is going to be the most expensive for the utility company and thus should not be considered. I have heard that in the past utility companies used to purchase power back from it residence for pennies. Let’s say 10 to 1. Now this government entity is only getting away with this because it is just that a government entity.

Now Arizona should play fair. By slightly undercutting their price and the price of the neighboring states, they could give its residence incentive to make this investment as well as profit off doing basically nothing. Now if they just bought from the neighbors they would just have the latter of those options.

If Arizona was aggressive enough with such a program it could start selling its excess power to its neighbors and neighbor’s neighbors which means higher profits and inevitably lower prices for all states involved. Savings from home owners would give them greater buying power. It could even be argued that a program similar to California’s would spur economic growth and investment – similar to a tax cut, John Maynard Keynes’ theories, or Reganomics. This could also cause enough solar panel research that maybe even us in Southwest Washington could benefit from the new technology.

It would seem like everybody would win in time. What do you all think?

  1. Jeff

    Now, if you wanted to be a *real* journalist you would track down a NW resident who has installed a solar panel to find out how much it actually saves them on their bill. Or you could call a solar panel vendor and get their version of the savings.

    I wouldn’t mind having a solar panel on my own house, but something tells me the price point is probably high and the return isn’t.

  2. James

    I’ve looked this issue over before. Arizona happens to be one of the few places where solar panels could potentially pay off over the life of the system, helped both by copious sunlight and higher energy prices. Actually, So Cal is far better because electricity costs about twice as much there.

    Solar panels currently cost roughly $5-6 per watt of capacity. So a typical 2 kW (peak), grid-tied system is about $10,000, not counting installation and inverters. If you want to go completely off the grid, figure close to twice that much to add in a battery system. It’s not a trivial investment. Most people, however, stay on the grid and net-meter with the power company…ie, you buy power from them when you need more than your panels are producing and sell it back to them when producing more than you need (minus administrative costs). I crunched some mildly generous sample numbers and came up with 24 year payback…about the rated life of a solar panel.

    For perspective, a 2 kW system measures about 10 feet by 20 feet. The large burner on a normal kitchen stove is about 1 kW. A desktop computer and monitor typically draws about 0.3 kW. The 2 kW rating is peak. Typical daytime output is about half that.

    By the way, typical efficiency is about 8%. Higher efficiency cells cost dis-proportionately more.

  3. Dustin

    Thank you James, that was quite informative.

  4. Brandon

    Solar cells aren’t actually very efficient. Only recently… ie today… was an article published where they passed 40%… http://digg.com/environment/Solar_cells_that_surpass_the_40_efficiency_milestone

    So your 60% figure is off by a bit, and I agree with James.

  5. Dustin

    It was a guess and not the important number of the article. Also there was an article on Engadget a few months ago saying 50% was achieved.