The cost of solar systems is continuing to fall -- with Texas leading
the way -- making rooftop sun power competitive in some cases with electricity
from the grid.
A report from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory showed that the cost of buying and installing solar panels for a typical residential system fell 14 percent between 2011 and 2012.
The national median price for a residential solar system was about $5.30 per watt of power generating capacity installed in 2012, a figure that has fallen with higher production and sales of panels worldwide, the July report said. The median installed price for a solar system was more than $8 per watt in 2008 and as high as $12 per watt in 1998, the report said.
Texas has the lowest median price at about $3.90 per watt of power generating capacity installed, without taking into account any incentives or rebates, the report said.
The lowest prices are in Austin, where the municipal utility offers a $2 per watt rebate for residents who install solar panels -- adding power to the electric grid during periods of peak demand, said Garrett Gordy, owner of Texas Solar Outfitters.
There are no rebates or incentives specific to Houston, though residents can benefit from a federal tax incentive of 30 percent of the purchase and installation costs for a system, Gordy said.
Gordy's company sells and installs solar panels for less than $4 per watt, with systems often costing around $3.60 per watt, he said.
Residential systems average 6 kilowatts (6,000 watts), Gordy said.
For a 10-kilowatt system, which would be more than enough power for most well-insulated houses, the upfront cost would be $36,000 at $3.60 per watt. After taking into account the federal tax incentive of $10,800 and electric plans that allow customers to sell unused power back to electricity providers, the panels pay for themselves within 12 years, Gordy said.
The average Texas household pays $147.32 for electricity each month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Another way to think about solar power costs is to compare the price to retail electricity rates by calculating the cost based on power usage.
With a solar installation, Gordy said, a customer would be securing a rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next 25 years. Twenty-five years is the warranty-backed period for solar-panels, though they probably will generate power for many years longer, he said.
Some Houston providers now offer electricity rates lower than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The lowest available in Houston now is 7.8 cents, according to the state's powertochoose.org website.
Many experts expect rates to rise as power demand grows and generation capacity becomes strained.
For now, though -- lower prices notwithstanding -- solar power systems make up less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity generation.
(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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