Welcome to our energy advice column. Here we summarize publicly available information on the many ways you can save money on your energy bills as well as general topics on renewable energy. We try to keep our advice short and to the point.
Those of you who are considering alternative energy products should know that, in terms of the biggest bang for your dollar, energy conservation, solar hot water, wind power, and photovoltaic produced electricity, in this exact order, will provide you with a good return on your investment. The definition of a good return on your investment is simply the time (usually in years) it takes for the system to pay for itself in lower monthly energy costs. For example, if you install a solar hot water heater for $1000.00 and your hot water bill is $50.00 per month, the system will pay for itself in less than two years, assuming that your hot water bill goes to zero dollars per month.
Some of this calculation is dependent on federal and state energy rebates. So before you go out and spend money, thinking that you'll be smiling just like those couples featured in some energy magazines, you should carefully consider why you would like to use alternative energy. If it's strictly to get an immediate return, you'd better reconsider. However, if you're doing it as part of a comprehensive, ongoing (life-long) plan to conserve and promote the use of renewable energy, then the money you invest starts to make sense.
Unlike what we experienced in the 70's, the alternative energy movement is here to stay.
Our work in the developing world would not have been possible even ten years ago, if it were not for the advances in solar technology. A few months ago, in a village still without electricity, where people have cell phones that need to be recharged, we installed a solar cell phone charging station. It took one day, and the payback on the investment will take less than one year, while the system will provide many, many years of trouble free performance. This is an indication of how far the technology has come in terms of reliability, affordability and availability. It's practically plug and play.
The demand for photovoltaic modules is so high that there's a shortage of silicon wafers, the stuff from which solar cells are made. This has kept prices high. The shortage is, however, temporary. Solar companies are investing in new factories, and a lot of investment dollars are being poured into new ventures. The word on the street is that the shortage will be over by the end of 2008, thanks to the billions of dollars going into new factories.
All of this is reason to feel confident about getting on the alternative energy wagon. You can start small, knowing that it will only get better and easier. If you plan to expand your system, most systems will allow you to do so without a penalty in performance or price. You simply need to know where you want to be two, three or five years from now and buy your components accordingly.