Starting next year, the sun will supply about a third of the power used by my house. I have always liked the idea of installing solar panels on the roof and making my own power. I looked for a while at installing a solar water heater, but the water heater system was going to cost thousands of dollars for the panels, pump, heat exchanger, and a plus-size water tank, which would never allow me to recoup the investment since my hot water bill is only about $10 a month. There is a house in the neighborhood with solar panels for power. I looked into that too and I have a south-facing piece of roof that would be good for soaking up the rays. But again, it’s not just the expensive panels to buy and install, but then you have to have voltage regulators that will turn the power into AC and send excess power back to the grid while letting the grid supply power when the sun isn’t shining or demand exceeds the solar supply. Even if I divide the installation costs over a long period and I include federal grants that cover 30% of installation, I don’t think I could ever make a system economical.
If you do install solar power panels on your house you can join a program where you sell power back to Georgia Power for about 17¢ per kilowatt-hour (Georgia Power sells power for about 10 cents per kwh). But right now the program is full and there is a waiting list which will open up as more people sign up to buy more expensive solar power from Georgia power. For Georgia Power’s part, they do not plan on making money reselling solar power, and instead will just be a go-between, buying solar power from people and then selling it to other customers at the same 17¢.
Then today I got an e-mail from Georgia Power saying I could sign up to buy green power. They did this about 10 years ago, but they wanted about 3 times as much for the “green power” which turned out to be power that came from burning methane being emitted by a landfill. If the garbage is going to rot and produce methane anyway, I am glad that someone is burning it (methane is a horrible greenhouse gas, much more potent than carbon dioxide) and producing power, but I don’t want to pay a huge premium for it. I believe most landfills burn the methane regardless, though maybe they don’t use it to make electricity. Anyway, that program didn’t last very long.
The new program has you buy 100 kilowatt-hour blocks of green power. For $3.50 per block you can get power from biomass sources which could include burning landfill gas or wood to create power (Georgia Power buys power from several plants that burn waste wood products). For $5.00 you can get a mix that includes at least 50% solar energy, adding 5 cents to each kwh you buy. You have to commit to buying a block every month for a year. I looked up my power consumption and found that I use about 300 kwh per month, which increases substantially in summer when the air conditioning is going. Because I want to support Georgia Power developing more solar power and because the rate seems realistic, I signed up for 3 blocks of power a month. For 8 months out of the year I should be able to get by on 100% renewable power, and for the year 2/3 of my power will by renewable, at least half of that being solar. And the cost of $180 is a fraction of what it would cost me to put a panel on my house. But somewhere someone else’s panel will be soaking up the rays and converting it to power destined for my house.