I’m Not ‘Solarizing’ My House Anytime Soon…Here’s Why

I’ve received a half-dozen mailers – and at least as many emails – this summer, announcing opportunities to ‘solarize’ my house and neighborhood.

Touting solar energy’s lower costs and ‘Earth-friendly’ power opportunities, the messaging makes it seem like an easy solution: By spending $10,000 or so, I can put solar panels on my home, and cut my electric costs by 70% or more, in perpetuity.  And, thanks to federal government programs, up to 50% of the costs could be considered as a tax credit.

For my family, with a typical electric bill of $150 a month or so, with credits and offsets, the return-on-investment could be as little as 50 months.  Certainly not ‘quick’, but perhaps it would someday pay off, right?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  There are lots of things the ‘solarize’ crew fails to mention.  To begin with, Alaska’s global positioning means you’ll never achieve maximum efficiency for most of the year.  Certainly, during winter, due to our lack of daily sunlight, you’ll be relying on natural gas much more than you will ever benefit from solar.

Also, while the average lifespan of a solar panel is 30 years, they lose efficiency from the moment you install and activate them, and cold-weather research isn’t clear on how much faster the efficiency dwindles in our climate.  That 50-month minimum pay-back time just got a whole lot longer.

Then there is the socio-political factor.  90% or more of the panels used for household solar come from Communist China, with Chinese-owned mining ventures accounting for much of the raw material content.

Aside from the obvious issues with Chinese environmental and labor standards being much lower than what we have in America, there’s concern with the supply chain being controlled by a country that isn’t on America’s ‘best friends’ list.  Do we want our electric grid under China’s thumb, at Chinese whims?

I’m not against solar power.  It has its place in an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy approach.  But, given current conditions and limitations, you won’t see me signing up for a ‘solarize’ project anytime soon.


Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at rick@powerthefuture.com and follow him on Twitter @PTFAlaska.