The city of Lancaster, California has become very friendly to solar power generation. This is not much of a surprise, given that Lancaster is located in the high desert and has 281 sunny days out of 365 days per year. Since solar power can be generated only when the sun is up, and at highest efficiency when skies are clear, Lancaster is as ideal a place as any in the United States for making use of sunlight to generate power.
There are several advantages to solar power generation. First, and foremost, of course is the simple fact that once the solar panels have been purchased and installed, the generation of the power is entirely free: there is no OPEC to jack up the price of sunshine.
Unfortunately, the upfront cost of solar panels and their installation is quite high. To purchase a set adequate to generate enough power for the average home, you’ll have to come up with something on the order of thirty thousand dollars. If you’re paying two hundred a month for your electricity, more than ten years will pass before you fully amortize your cost—and that’s not counting the expense of maintenance and repair.
And even with solar power, you still cannot dump your local power company entirely, since your panels will only work during daylight hours. Come sunset, you’ll need them to keep the lights on—unless you can afford the even greater expense of the enormous battery packs you’ll need to store some of the energy generated while the sun was up. Of course, remaining hooked to the grid isn’t necessarily a problem, since you will most likely generate more electricity from your solar panels than what you will use during the day. Thus, the electricity you generate will be sent into the power grid and your local power company will give you credit for that power: your meter will actually run backwards while the sun is up, so that instead of a bill from your electric company at the end of the month, you get a check.
Nevertheless, the upfront costs of your solar power system remain ridiculously high, and for most people that high initial expense is the barrier that keeps them from ever adopting solar power.
Thankfully, buying your solar panels outright is not the only way to go solar to lower your monthly electrical bills.
About two years ago solar panels were erected over all the parking lots in all the schools of the Lancaster School District, providing not only covered parking for the teachers, but also electricity for the classrooms. Thanks to solar power, the school district is now saving millions of dollars a year on their electric bills. And they did it without having to pay a cent upfront for it.
How did they manage that?
There are several solar power companies currently competing on the open market, the best known of which are Solar City, Verengo, and Vivint. They offer solar panels for free to homes and businesses in exchange for agreeing to purchase the power generated by those panels for a set period of time—usually twenty years. And they sell that power for thirty to fifty percent less than what the local power company charges.
In the case of the Lancaster School District, that adds up to significant savings. Unsurprisingly, the private schools in the area soon followed the Lancaster School District in signing up for solar power. Then the neighboring districts made the same choice, along with the local community college, and the local Kaiser medical center. The same thing is happening elsewhere in Southern California, too, though not quite to the extent we see in Lancaster.
The maintenance costs for maintaining these solar power systems rests with the solar power company: if their panels aren’t generating power, they don’t get paid, so they have a strong incentive to keep them up and working, at no additional cost to the customer.
Many local homeowners have joined the Lancaster School District in switching to solar power. And the Lancaster City government has given significant incentives to homebuilders in the area, so that most new homes are now built with solar power already installed.
So two weeks ago I signed up to have solar panels added to my house. They will be attached to my back roof (that’s the side receiving the most sunlight during the day). Hidden that way, no one will ever know we’ve gone solar. But my pocket book will know. My electric bill will drop by at least thirty percent—and sometimes by as much as fifty percent.
I’m not one to be motivated by the thought of “going green” or “saving the planet” or reducing my “carbon footprint.” But saving money? Reducing my expenses? That’s something I can get into.