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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake 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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7537
JPY
USD
103.79
GBP
USD
0.6032
CAD
USD
1.0957
INR
USD
60.522

Rates may not be current.