Saturday, April 11, 2009

Solar Power

A few weeks ago, I went to a solar power workshop sponsored by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Tohono Chul Park. I have often wondered why Tucson isn't the solar capital of the world. I learned that for solar power to be practical on a large scale, we would need not only a lot of sunshine, but also a lot of water. A solar power plant uses the sun to heat salt water solution. The steam turns turbines, which produce electricity. So solar energy production is not feasible for public utilities in deserts with the current technology.

Getting off the grid is very expensive, and is only practical in remote areas where connecting to the power grid costs more than $100,000, which is the cost of an off-grid system.

The good news is that homeowners can generate their own electricity and send the power to the public utility company for storage. Then the homeowner will have power at night and on cloudy days. However, if TEP's power is down, the homeowner will be without power unless they have a battery back up. Power outages are not currently a problem in Tucson, so this back up is not essential at this time.

Installing 3,000 kilowatt hour (kWh) solar hot water requires a $4,500 investment. TEP will give the homeowner at $1,500 rebate. State and federal tax rebates are also available, making the out of pocket cost about $1,000. The pay back time is about three to five years.

The typical home uses 11,000 kWh per year. Installing a system that could produce that much power would cost about $44,000. The TEP rebate would be $20,000 and the state and federal tax credits would be $1,000 and $7,000, leaving a net cost of $16,000.

For every kWh produced by a solar electric system, the owner can save 10 cents on his TEP bill. A typical 3 kW system will reduce the monthly bill by about $40.

For more information, go to www.Giffords.House.Gov .

Of course, before considering any solar energy projects, it's important to improve the energy efficiency of your home and adjust energy use patterns to minimize wasted energy.

Tax credits are available for installing energy efficient products like water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, building insulation, window, roofs and doors. I received a tax credit for installing Solatubes because they don't transfer heat to the extent that skylights do, and they enable me to leave the lights off in rooms that used to be dark during the day. For more information go to

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