Letters to the Editor

Study the solar power market before investing | Letter to the Editor

I recently read about the new solar project being purchased by a group of investors  (“Vashon solar lines up investors for array at school,” March 21). It grabbed my attention as I realized my company is installing a similar size array at Summit Station in Greenland at the peak of the Greenland icecap, over 10,000 feet above sea level. We have to do the installation in subzero temperatures in a low-oxygen environment. Ironically, the price for this system is half of that quoted in the Beachcomber article. I’ve worked in the renewable energy business since 1993 and have spent many years pricing solar equipment. Here’s my advice to investors or people installing solar arrays on their homes.

Solar panels are measured and sold by the watts of power delivered when in full sunlight at a standard intensity. A standard method of price comparison when shopping for panels is to look at dollars per watt and the estimated years of service. Using these yardsticks allows a quick measure of the costs when comparing systems.

The average price for a grid-tie solar rooftop electric system in 2011 was $5 per watt for residential and $3 per watt for utility scale power. Why is it $10 and $11 here on Vashon?

Just for fun I sized a 10.6KW grid-tie solar electric system kit with a 25 year-panel warranty from a retail outlet, Affordable-solar.com. I would expect this system to deliver twice the amount of electricity that we consume on our farm. It cost $26,331 or $2.49 per watt. When I was installing residential systems, we charged 20 percent for installation fees, plus additional materials fees. This was standard.

Solar electric panels are at the best prices ever, and I encourage people to consider investing. There is a 30 percent federal tax credit and a generous state electric production incentive. If done carefully, an investment in solar can outperform most mutual funds with a 10 to 15 percent annual return. But as with all investments, it’s important to study the market!

— Joe Yarkin


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