Dear Earthtalk: I've heard that the price of getting solar panels installed on a home is lower than ever, but has it gotten to the point anywhere in the U.S. where it's actually cheaper than traditional grid power yet?--Lester Milstein, Boston, MA
Rooftop solar panels on have always been the province of well-to-do, eco-friendly folks willing to shell out extra bucks to be green, but that is all starting to change. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the cost of putting solar panels on a typical American house has fallen by some 70 percent over the last decade and a half. And a recent report from Deutsche Bank shows that solar has already achieved so-called "price parity" with fossil fuel-based grid power in 10 U.S. states. Deutsche Bank goes on to say that solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in all but three states by 2016--assuming, that is, that the federal government maintains the 30 percent solar investment tax credit it currently offers homeowners on installation and equipment costs.
But therein could lie the rub. The federal tax credit for residential solar installations expires in 2016, and it's anybody's guess whether and to what extent the Republican-dominated Congress will renew it. Legislative analysts report that while Congress is unlikely to abandon the program entirely, big cutbacks could be on the way. But Deutsche Bank maintains that even if the credit is reduced to 10 percent, solar power would still achieve price parity with conventional electricity in some 36 states by 2016.
Meanwhile, homeowners in states where additional local incentives are available and there's lots of sunshine--such as across the Southwest--may in fact already be able to power their homes cheaper with the sun than from the grid. Homeowners looking to go solar should check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewable and Efficiency (DSIRE), a free online database of all the different...