Will solar save money?

A few days ago, we received a phone call from a couple desperate to cut their electrical bills of $300 to $400 a month. They had come across the IREA Web page and wanted more information about the Energy Fair. They were looking for “wind, solar, anything.”

Our first advice for them would be efficiency. With bills that high, there should be some hefty changes that could be made in their electrical use. The first steps would be installing compact fluorescent light bulbs and adequate insulation, followed by replacing old appliances with Energy Star appliances as they wear out.

Following that, a photovoltaic (PV) system could shave off the heights of their bills. Information on solar electricity, hot water and space heating will be available at the Fair. Local installers SunAire and Henson Electric provide installation and management advice. Spire Solar Chicago, the state’s leading photovoltaic installer, will present a workshop and be available for casual discussions at their booth. Bill Fabian and Jim Lamb will share their personal experiences with installing PV systems for their homes.

As production increases, prices continue to fall. The cost per installed watt could drop from the current $7 to $2 to $2.50 soon.

New technologies provide more efficient materials. A record 15.2 percent efficiency has been reached for PV panels. A fabric that will produce electricity is being developed.

A recent study by the Energy Foundation found that rooftop installations in the U.S. could power 500,000 homes by 2010. If all available roof space were used, PV could eventually produce two-thirds of our current generating capacity.

Policies are being developed that encourage photovoltaics. California leads the way with Gov. Schwarzenegger’s “Million Solar Roofs” initiative. Hans Detweiler of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will discuss our state’s still active rebate program. Washington state is considering credits and tax breaks for PV-generated power.

PV is becoming more efficient, affordable and prominent as an energy source. Attend the fair and learn more. The Fair is sponsored by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Commonwealth Edison and The Rock River Times.

From the June 22-28, 2005, issue

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