Recently I wrote about what to expect and what to look for in a solar warranty. One reader, Mary Ellen, raised a very good question in response. She wondered about the fast pace of solar innovations, including thin-film and other technologies, that might render today’s solar system obsolete by tomorrow. Indeed the solar industry is growing by leaps and bounds, and so is research and development of every facet of it, from new cells to smaller panels to higher efficiencies. So concern about buying now what you could pay half as much for in the near future is certainly a legitimate one.
There are but a few things I can say in response. First is that it is more or less a matter of personal judgment. Yes, the solar industry is changing fast and a variety of factors, including a ramped-up silicon supply and ever-increasing demand, will likely facilitate a fall in prices. As for efficiency, experts all over the world are working on newer and better ways to deliver solar power, but most of these innovations are still in the research phase and are probably 10 to 15 or even more years away from wide scale distribution. So, I suppose, it depends on how long you’re willing to wait. Many existing state solar rebates and incentives decrease over time, foreseeing the inevitable drop in cost. So while prices are higher now, rebates are also the most generous.
Secondly, the beauty of solar panels is that they do not exactly go obsolete. Unlike older cell phones with mediocre batteries that die and are thrown out, solar panels have no such parts. They degrade very little over time and should work for at least 20 years and even longer. Again, it is a matter of personal preference as to what you do right now. Nonetheless, today’s panels will work far into the future and, should technologies increase and panels become more compact, efficient, and cheaper, it will be easy to upgrade and fulfill the remainder of your electricity needs.
As for keeping up with the pace of solar innovations and technology, there are many online resources dedicated to keeping solar information up to date. CalFinder’s own Solar News category strives daily to keep you apace of the evolving solar industry. In addition, here are some of our favorite sites:
These are but a few. For a broad range of renewable energy information you can also check out the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site. Of course, local solar installers are a great resource as well and they are often free to talk to and, being experts in the field and privy to your location, will help you assess your “solar situation,” so to speak.
For Mary Ellen, I hope this helps and thanks again for a very poignant question. For the rest of us, going solar is a big, and quite solid, investment. Just one final note: I must say that, especially at the federal level, funds and incentives have strongly supported large-scale solar projects over smaller, rooftop arrays that so many homeowners look forward to. Now may very well be the time of the homeowner in the solar industry. Just don’t worry, I’ll make a safe bet the sun comes up again tomorrow!