News / Economy

    Washington Co-op Capitalizes on Low Solar Costs

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Greg Watson has promoted solar power around the world for years.

    “I work in green [technology] for an international development bank, [and] I’m always saying, ‘Look, the costs are down, there are all these incentives, really it makes economic sense for you,'" he says, describing how he convinces others to go solar.

    But this year the Washington, D.C., resident decided to take his own advice.

    "It’s nice to be able to see that actually happening for me, too, in the United States,” he says.

    For years the high cost of photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, meant that only wealthy Americans could afford them. But that cost has been falling steadily, and panel installations in the U.S. jumped 31 percent in 2011, many of them on middle-income households.

    A Group Enterprise

    In D.C., 17 neighborhood networks -- so-called solar cooperatives -- have sprung up over the past six years. Mike Barrette, who started one of these co-ops just down the street from the U.S. Capitol, says recent changes in the market have only worked to his advantage.

    "We interviewed vendors [and] brought experts in," he says. "We started talking the language, learning the acronyms and all that. I put on a 4.4-kilowatt system in 2010, and since that original decision, the prices of solar have dropped significantly, about 30 or 40 percent."

    That drop, combined with federal tax credits, rebates and and utility-cost savings, means that a typical residential solar-power system can pay for itself fairly quickly.

    For D.C.resident Sean Carroll, it was these additional factors that finally persuaded him to take the solar plunge.

    "For a while people expected it would take five, six, seven years to get a return on investment, [but] now, with these rebates and tax credits, it’s down to about a year or a year and a half," he says. "Once you see that you break even pretty quickly, it makes you say, 'Wow, of course I’m gonna do this'.”

    Carroll and other co-op members have also saved money on their PV panels and installation costs by negotiating group discounts.

    According to Watson, also a member of a D.C. solar co-op, his group's leader bargained for a deal with local solar companies, an increasingly common practice in some states. In Massachusetts, for example, Boston is just one of 17 municipalities whose leaders are negotiating discounts for all residents.

    "She basically had talked to some of the providers in DC and said, 'If I can get five or ten houses together to purchase at the same time, could they get a better price?' he says.

    Beyond negotiating group rates, solar-panel leasing arrangements are also bringing new consumers into the fray.

    Sixteen companies currently lease panels to home owners, which means that even those who can’t afford a large down-payment are still able to go solar and see huge cuts in their monthly electrical bills.

    "I think I have about 18 panels on my roof," says Monyna Dorsey, who began leasing the equipment in April. "Last year, my [monthly electrical] bill was running $375. In my very first month with [my provider], my bill was $29, [so] it has already paid for itself."

    But whether the cost of going solar will continue to fall is uncertain. Prices are still being driven down by a global surplus of PV panels, and the silicon wafers at their core -- the very devices that make efficient energy production possible -- are cheaper than ever to make.

    But surpluses can dry up, and so can government incentives and tax rebate programs.

    While some critics believe the public shouldn’t be obligated to subsidize private solar-power installations, others say that every source of energy gets subsidized one way or another.

    As for Dorsey, her main concern is spreading the word.   

    "My neighbor next door, I told her about it, she’s ecstatic," she says. "She wanted to take me to dinner!"

    You May Like

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    First Human Head Transplant Planned for 2017

    Italian neurosurgeon, assisted by team of 100 medical staff, to perform 36-hour surgery on Russian man with debilitating muscle-wasting disease

    Biden Urges Global Focus on Cancer as a 'Constant Emergency'

    At Vatican conference on regenerative medicine, Vice president notes that cancer kills more than 3,000 people each day in US alone

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    August 07, 2012 11:39 AM
    So, it's taking on at last
    In Response

    by: Scott from: Columbia, SC
    August 07, 2012 8:26 PM
    I would like to know how they found some one to do the panels, for free, or low costs, I've been on the net, at sites that supposedly do that, I have appox 6,000 sq. ft. of roof and not a PEEP out of any of the sites. Must be a scam????

    by: Optimist from: Everywhere
    August 07, 2012 11:15 AM
    This is a good news for those that do not want to pay a lot power. More of the southern states need to adapt this, so the average people can benefit and the states can reduce power bills and the environment can heal.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.8804
    JPY
    USD
    108.15
    GBP
    USD
    0.6853
    CAD
    USD
    1.2556
    INR
    USD
    66.500

    Rates may not be current.