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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8143
JPY
USD
119.23
GBP
USD
0.6390
CAD
USD
1.1596
INR
USD
63.304

Rates may not be current.