Solar Energy: When Will It Be Standard For Modern Homes?

In the light of recent oil spills, debates over pipelines, and the future of energy in the 21st century, the questions about alternative energy moving into the mainstream continues. To continue that discussion here on the BuildDirect Green Blog is guest writer Harrison Stowe, specifically on solar energy and how it’s becoming more and more common to modern homes. But, there’s still a way to go.


Considering that both public interest and government policy have moved towards supporting green energy infrastructure, many homeowners have begun to openly ask how to employ this technology on their own property. The interest is clearly twofold- private homeowners would like to know how green tech can both lessen their environmental impact and save them money.

There’s always a downside to any new energy development- nuclear power is dangerous, wind power unreliable, fracking is destructive. However, it still seems a fair question to ask how unfolding discoveries in green technology can be employed on a more microcosmic scale; the individual home.

Green technology: what’s market ready?

Science and theory are all good and well for laboratory research, but home design demands pragmatic solutions. Assuming you’re a new homeowner (or someone looking to overhaul your unit), what is available for deployment on your property?

Solar panels have been used persistently throughout the past decades, and considering government subsidy they’ve only become more affordable. The happy medium most homeowners would care to strike is to install energy efficient technology that also deducts a net total from their monthly (and, ultimately yearly) energy expenses. Among major entities that are attempting to nationally spearhead solar energy pushes, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners has become particularly instrumental in providing Americans with photovoltaic home energy structures.

Moving toward greater immediate affordability

Ultimately, while solar technology has been employable since well before this decade, the policy and research shift has moved towards affordability above all else. As a post from Popular Mechanics dating to the beginning of the Obama administration notes, purely DIY solar installation that manages to be effective and inexpensive is at least temporarily out of reach. However, broadly vested entities such as the aforementioned North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners have been working rigorously to provide contractors with the means to provide exceptionally affordable green energy tech.

Solar energy in homes per unit

In examining the Popular Mechanics report, the solar installation service they audited charged up to $787 in installation fees per unit as of 2009. Factoring in the 30% tax credit provided as federal subsidy, installation would cost on average $500 per unit.

Ultimately, the price per watt in terms of energy drawn from a photovoltaic installation rested at $4.50 as of the close of 2009. Factoring in the 30% tax credit subsidy, this would lessen the price tag further to $3.15. Considering that U.S. residential electricity prices at the time set at 11.23 cents per kilowatt/hour, the time lapse before a panel (that put out 250kwh/year would save approximately $28.08 annually) compensates for its own installation would near two decades dependent on quirks in weather and reliability.

So What Are the Alternatives?

In examining the figures derived from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the figures haven’t shifted too dramatically over the past three years. Subsidies and all, transitioning to environmentally conscious home infrastructure doesn’t quickly recuperate the cost of installation. All things considered, for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint you’d be well advised to appreciate the benefit for the planet as compensation in and of itself.

However, as is often the case with environmental concerns of any scope, prevention is often a much better remedy than correction. Reducing energy expenditure is far more efficient (and often cost-friendly) than converting energy infrastructure. Interested homeowners and prospective buyers may well want to consider more low-tech means of lessening dependence on utilities.

Nationwide homebuilders such as Ryan Homes and organizations like the US Green Building Council provide options from duct insulation to low-heat gain windows so homeowners rely less on energy-taxing temperature correctives such as air conditioning. Considering how intensive the price and installation demands for photovoltaic tech remain, less sophisticated measures might still be the best solution for rendering private property more earth-friendly.



Harrison Stowe is an independent writer who focuses on trends and technologies in real estate. Having partnered with homebuilders in the mid-Atlantic, he combines personal insight with years of investing experience.



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