First, a few facts:
- You can get 148,000 BTUs for about $1.40 of fuel oil or 1057 BTUs/penny
- You can get 100,000 BTUs for about $1.10 of natural gas or 909 BTUs/penny
- You can get 3413 BTUs for about $0.14 (in NH) of electricity or 243 BTUs/penny
- You can get 3413 BTUs for about $0.07 (in CA) of electricity or 487 BTUs/penny
That's right, in NH electricity is 4.3 times as expensive as oil. This is precisely why it makes no sense at all to use electric heat, especially in the Northeast. (btw, a BTU is just a measurement of energy--I chose that one because I was able to find conversion factors for all the relevant fuels)
The (relatively) high cost of electricity made me wonder if I could lower my energy payments (I haven't yet moved into the house so I don't know what they'll be, but "a penny saved..."). My first thought was to convert the big-load appliances (washer/dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher) to natural gas. The problem is, this is a lot of work
(running pipes through the house) AND locks you in to natural gas.
My next thought was solar electricity.
Initially I was enthusiastic. I figured solar was like Linux--hard to get into, but cheaper and all-round better once you understand what you are doing. Then I found a few articles that mentioned that solar wasn't economical for people currently on the power grid. And these were the PRO-solar ones! One article even said that solar power was
about $.65/KwH. Ouch!
That article was about 5-8 years old, though. Big strides have been made since then, so I setup a somewhat simplistic spreadsheet to figure out the current reality. The lifetime of a solar system is roughly 20-25 years (I base this on the fact that most dealers offer warranties of that length). Let's use 20 years as a constant. There are two other variables:
C = Cost/watt of the original system (for instance, a $1000 system that generates 100 watts would have a C of $10)
H = Average hours of usable sunlight per day in your area (for New Hampshire this number is around 4)
To figure out your cost/kwh over the lifetime use the following calculation:
C / (((H * 365)/1000) * 20)
In English: The number of KwH generated per year (normalizing to a 1 watt system) times 20 years of lifetime, divided into the cost/watt of the system.
Online shopping seems to indicate that the lower bound of C is about $5 right now (utilizing economies of scale). With 4 hours of sun day in NH, that makes my calculation:
5 / (((4 * 365)/1000) * 20) = $0.17/KwH
$.17/KwH compared to the $.14/KwH I'm paying now. For CA, where H = 5 or 6, the cost is $.13/KwH-$.11/KwH. Now add in a few other factors:
Better yet, solar technology is only getting more efficient and cheaper and systems built today will likely last longer than the 20 years of the first generation's technology. Also, it's extremely easy to modularize--buy 100 watts this year, 100 more next year, etc.
- Some states have incentives for using renewable energy: My town doesn't include a solar system in a property appraisal. That's a big plus in a huge property tax state like NH.
- With batteries attached, there's no need to worry about "rolling blackouts"
- I'm helping the environment (a solar panel only costs about 1-2 KwH to make and produces much much more than that)
- Oil depletion and market deregulation will probably force energy prices higher--or at least introduce uncomfortable fluctuations
- As more people buy solar, the price goes down
Conclusion: As soon as I have money, I'm investing in solar.
(PS, I was going to include some information on reducing usage, but this is long enough already)