A few months ago, my wife and I moved into our newly built home on the North West side of Las Vegas, not too far from Lone Mountain (I need to write an article on why we moved out of Summerlin; Please leave a comment if you'd like to read why).
We finally sold our old house and just received the money from closing in our bank account. Our goal has been to take the equity/gain from the previous house and dump it into the new house, thereby reducing our mortgage payments on the new house.
So now that we actually have the cash, its actually time to make some decisions...
Because you can't go to a Las Vegas Home Depot or Lowes without passing by a solar sales table, one thing I've been looking into is whether or not it would be worth the investment take some of our equity money and invest in solar panels on our roof to try and reduce our electric bills, which I expect to be twice the size of our previous house, as our new house is twice as big. Plus, it would also be great to be more "green".
Our new house is a single story ranch style home, so there's lots of space to put solar panels up on the roof. And with the sun shining 85% of the time, Las Vegas is one of the premiere locations in the United States to harness the sun's solar energy to save on bills while increasing overall environmentally friendly home/residential power generation.
I haven't actually talked to anyone at those sales tables, because I know they are trained to sell and the information they will give me would be skewed towards making it seem as though putting solar panels on my home to reduce the power I buy from the electric company's grid would be a no-brainer; an absolute "yes"; They will show me how I will save money; LOTS of money. Afterall... that's what sales is all about.
I know enough about sales tactics to stay away from these sales stations, so I started searching the internet to try and get both pro and con perspectives.
I found this presentation by our Nevada power company, NV Energy:
Its a great starting point and I learned a lot from watching it. If you are thinking about putting solar on your roof, I suggest you watch it; especially if you've talked to a sales person fist, as hopefully this video will give you a few things to think about that the solar salesman probably didn't tell you about.
One big takeaway is that the presenter states that solar shouldn't be your first choice to reduce your bills as there are many other more cost effective solution. Fixing old windows, adding insulation, and doing other repairs to your home may offer more savings for the money spent (my Las Vegas house is newly built, so I really can't implement any of these options).
Also, just from watching the video, I can already see where a sales person can play with the numbers to make putting solar power on your roof seem even more cost attractive that it really would be to implement.
One blatant tactic that first comes to mind would have to do with the chart the presenter shows towards the end of the "Real Story on Rates" increase. His chart shows there's only been a 4% increase over the last 5 years. I can almost guarantee a sales person will ignore this reality and tie energy prices to some other inflation and use math to show that over the next 10 years, you'll be saving so much more money than in reality because of how expensive they are projecting power will be in the future. This extra savings will be used in the calculation to show how great an investment solar power would be for you.
Beyond seeing potential sales tactics, there's a couple things I didn't even see in this video that are my big barriers to entry.
The first has to do with the wear and tear on my (brand new) roof! Whether you lease or buy the solar panels, I don't see anybody putting a figure into the "true cost of ownership" about the potential damage and maintenance required by fastening all this equipment into your roof!
As I'm in a brand new development with houses still being built, I'm seeing how houses are built. Just looking out my window past my Loggia (yes, we have a Loggia; and no I had no idea what a loggia was before buying our new house) there are currently 2 roofs being put on neighboring houses. And as I watch them go up, it appears to me that my roof is just some plywood covered by black waterproofing material which is topped with ceramic tiles. I highly doubt any engineering by the builder has gone into the roof supporting the effects of a solar system mounted to it.
Its not necessarily the weight, but it gets EXTREMELY windy here in Vegas and these panels seem to be pretty similar to fastening a hard sail on the top of your house. The wind is going to push and pull that sail over 10 years and the posts that secure it to your roof are going to start to wiggle and come loose. This will eventually cause some significant damage too your roof boards. That's going to be an expensive repair, or there's going to be some significant maintenance expenses in making sure that doesn't happen.
Now I'm sure if you were to lease your solar panels, the company will tell you that they'll take care of all the maintenance, but I can confidently bet that maintenance doesn't cover any damage the panels and their mounting system could do to your roof. That's likely going to be your responsibility. Especially since most of us homeowners rarely go into our attics; we may not see a leak until its already done a fair amount of damage.
The second cost I don't see covered is the cost of maintenance on the solar panels.
What does it cost to put a new panel in if one breaks? I'm sure a couple are going to break over the 10-15 years payoff period.
What does it cost to keep the panels running at high efficiency? Its incredibly dusty out here in the desert, so how often do you need to have the panels cleaned to keep them at top efficiency? I guarantee, like my windows, they are going to be covered in dirt within months!
These are just two expenses I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.
I'm a pessimist when it comes to major investments, such as this - installing solar panels. I want room for error when things don't turn out as expected.
Just from my rudimentary initial searching and not finding the whole story it appears as though the savings on solar isn't big enough to cover the potential issues that could arise... the biggest one being damage to my roof.
The numbers I'm initially seeing seem to show that after all your expenses (which, in my opinion, as stated above are not complete in the analyses), you'll save around $500 to $800 per year.
I'd bet in reality the savings are more towards $200-$500 per year after all the true expenses that will arise over 10-15 years, not counting any major issues (ie a leak causing damage to your attic).
At this point, saving a couple thousand dollars over 10-15 years isn't enough of an incentive to push me into being an early adopter of this technology. Especially, with solar technology rapidly developing.
Solar has made great strides in the last 5-10 years. It has only recently changed from being a financially losing proposition where only the most environmentally conscious (with money to spare) homeowners could justify implementing it. Now its in the realm of breaking even to being a little profitable (though sales magic can make it seem more profitable).
I really want to be more "green" and go solar, but I also want a guaranteed upside to the investment, even after a minor or major tragedy within the investment strikes, which I don't see yet.
I want to give the space a few more years to mature before locking into the 10+ years it will take to recoup my expenses.
Right now, without using tricky sales math, I'm seeing estimates that if you buy your own system, you'll start showing profits after 10-13 years. Once that number gets down towards 5-7, I don't hear lots of horror stories of damaged roofs, and there's some good 3rd party research into whether or not people are truly saving money, I will take the plunge. But at this time, I'm not ready to jump into the solar pool.
Note to Solar Industry: I get a lot of comments from solar companies just trying to get their name, email, and/or link out on the internet. I welcome anyone from the solar industry to participate in the discussion I've started by directly addressing my article contents above. Copying and pasting your company info or generic solar information that does not directly address the information in this article is not helpful and I immediately delete comments of those types.
I know I am currently very resistant to solar based on my current knowledge and own personal skepticism. I am glad to continue the discussion to learn more and help inform others. If you want to participate and create a conversation that is helpful, that is the way to potentially keep your comment from being deleted.