Solar: Approaches for Modest Living

Granola Shotgun has an excellent post on his approach to solar. Because his building is in a somewhat less favorable zone for generation and in a much less intensive use zone (AC is rarely needed, so electric bills are modest) he discovers a large standard photovoltaic system will not be worth the cost or (just as importantly) the complications.

I asked my tenants to look at their electric bills. $47 per month was the average with the highest month being $65. Service fees, taxes, and other administrative costs made up a significant chunk of those bills so $25 was owned even before any power was used….

If I assume an electricity bill of $60 a month a standard grid-tied solar package will cost $9,000 up front after government subsidies. There’s a thirteen year pay back period. And after twenty years there will be $6,000 in savings. Financially, it makes no sense to spent $9,000 to save $6,000. There are lease and loan programs for solar equipment that don’t require any money up front, but I don’t like debt or complex transactions with binding long term contracts and legal fine print…. The problem with my property is that it simply doesn’t use enough power for solar to work given the established industry parameters.

He checks into a system that would use battery backup and allow independent use (many people don’t realize standard solar tie-ins are useless in the event of power failure; a lot of effort in splitting circuits and expensive batteries is required.) It would be great if you could throw a big switch and go gridless, but for most people that day is far away. Mr. Shotgun discovers completely independent small systems which use a few panels to charge batteries and run small electronics are cheap and readily available, and don’t require the expensive overhead of government inspections and teams of workers as in standard solar installs. By keeping his needs and expectations minimal, he can get to some disaster-proof independence.

Read the whole thing. This blog focuses mostly on how to make the larger home more efficient, but minimalism and living small are valid solutions as well.