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Question DetailsAsked on 8/12/2014

We are thinking about getting solar panelling put on our roof. Is it worth the investment?

We live in SF, CA. Our roof is flat and we get a lot of sun exposure.

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2 Answers


We actually just did a very in-depth podcast on this very subject with a roofing contractor in California - give it a listen!

Answered 5 years ago by KielH


In the short run - generally no. Partly because most homes just cannot effectively use the power without a pretty expensive electrical conversion and interface system which degrades the economics, but mostly because partially solar powered homes are not a big selling point to most buyers, and with the average homeowner moving every 5 years or so, you generally will never recoup anywhere the investment in your resale. And of those who do recoup the cost, when figuring in cost of money and fuly amortizing the "investment", it very commonly comes up with a negative rate of return. Of course, if you play wth estimated future electricity and gas costs and inflation rates you can make it look worse or fantastic, based on your assumptions.

Basically, if a buyer sees your house sitting in the same block with an essentially identical one but you are asking $10-50,000 more because you sank tens of thousands into a solar system, guess which house most people will make an offer on. Indeed, in talking to Realtors, I have only found one (who specialized in high-end and very modern hard-to-sell properties) who said having a solar system was a benefit rather than a detriment to selling a house, because so many people do not want the hassle or trust it to really save them money - and many indeed to not.

Ove the long term, in sunny areas and with properly installed panels (which generally means high-profile - either tilted up to optimal sun angle on the roof or in northern climes wall-mounted) may, depending on what the long-term reliability of the panels themselves turns out to be which is becoming an issue already with some brands, and depending on penetration and organic debris accumulation-caused leak issues where the panels are mounted (which is already becoming a significant issue), they might pay off over a long time (typically 20-30 years plus), but it means putting a lot of money down upfront for a maybe payoff, and maybe difficulty selling the home if you move in the interim - so after having worked on both large and small solar projects, my recommendation is to avoid solar or geothermal at the homeowner or small commercial level unless the trade-off is home-generated power like at cabins and remote sites where the cost of using gas or diesel is prohibitive, like the $1-3/KWHr (versus normal 8-18¢/KWHr) I have seen on some jobs.

I am assuming you are in PG&E country - they and the state energy conseervation program and a lot of other sites like UCBerkeley have a lot of info on solar power and heating - just take it with a grain of salt, because a lot of the costs and assumptions use optomistic forecasts that make it look good, and generally ignore issues like age-degradation of solar panels (which happens pretty fast), cleaning needs to remove urban (or desert) dust, leaks from the roofing that is covered or penetrated, the high cost of repairmen for this type of system as most electricians are not trained in them, the incredible electricity costs if your system is set up to "sell" power to the utility when its output exceeds your demand but then the system develops a short or reverse polarizesso starts sucking power down without you knowing it (with associated bills which can reach hundreds of $ per day), etc. - so buyer beware. Ditto to companies "leasing" systems or "paying you" to put them on your house - a lot of those have major pitfalls under certain generally unforeseen circumstances, inlcuding nasty things like uncancellable contracts or incredible removal charges, guarantees to the power company of minimum power supply if selling power to them and associated very high replacement power charges for not keeping up with that supply, etc.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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