The Time is Right for Solar

by Tiffany Elston

Everyone’s talking about climate change, carbon footprints, and that shade of “green” that seems to be increasingly infiltrating every major publication. Buildings are a huge proponent of climate change, consuming 36% of total energy use, 65% of electricity consumption, and contributing to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system in your building is not only good for reducing environmental impact, but can save you money in utilities, and increase the resale value of your home.

The best thing is that solar has finally become economical. With the combination of decreases in prices for the systems themselves, and state and federal incentives for installing and using them, solar systems will practically pay for themselves in 5-10 years. In San Francisco, an average home would require a 2-5 KW system (depending on size, electricity usage, and how much energy the homeowner desires to have their system offset.)

A 2KW system will cost you $15,000-$17,000 including equipment, materials, permits, installation, and is net of rebates. The California Solar Initiative is a $3.3 billion dollar program aimed at creating 3,000 megawatts of solar electricity by 2017, which translates to 1 million solar households. The rebate for a 2KW system is $6,000, up front. This does not take into account federal tax credits, which can further reduce your up-front economic impact.

But what about all the fog? Contrary to popular belief, the Bay Area has a well-suited solar climate with about 300 days of sunshine per year. The temperate climate is actually perfect for the solar panels: they operate more efficiently at cooler temperatures and will last longer if not subject to scorching heat and intense sun.

Currently, there are only 550 solar installations in San Francisco out of 190,000 total residences. Perhaps we can blame the already high median sale price for the unwillingness to drop the extra cash on a solar system. The initial investment; however, will actually save you money and allow you to slap that extra premium on the asking price when it comes time to sell.

For some great local solar resources check out:– a great locally generated site covering everything from basic solar economics to information and links to state and federal rebates. (A lot of the information found in this posting came from this site.)

SF Solar Map– recently launched by the Department of the Environment, you can input your address to get information on roof size, orientation and potential solar output. (

Reason we live here #7 [theFrontSteps]

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