Thanks to the ever-increasing cost of fuel bills, solar energy is becoming more and more popular as a viable source of power for financially savvy consumers. However, solar energy isn’t exactly a new business; solar cells were invented in the early 19th century when scientist, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, observed that the presence of sunlight was capable of generating usable electrical energy. Solar cells went on to have many different uses – even being used to power space craft in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1977, the then President, Jimmy Carter, installed solar panels to the White House and started to initiate and promote incentives for other people to create and use solar systems as a source of generating energy. People have long-since recognised that solar energy is looking like the best alternative energy source for our future as its primary source – the sun – is able to generate more than ten thousand times the amount of energy than our planet is capable of providing itself.
These days, as people become more aware of the benefits – both cost and environmental – the installation of solar panels to the home is becoming increasingly common. Indeed, the growth in their popularity has been aided in some way by the current electric vehicle trend. The same theory has applied in the vehicle world; fuel prices have soared over the past few years and people are looking for ways to permanently reduce this cost. However, although electric vehicles are a lot cheaper to power than their diesel and petrol counterparts, they will still add a significant amount to any household electricity bill.
The one thing that holds people back in installing solar panels is the initial cost; although there are plenty of Government incentives to help people afford the installation costs, solar panels are a long term investment. Also, comparison sites now incorporate practically anything in life – from solar panels, to clothing which can help find the cheapest deal. However, although solar panels will save a large amount on peoples’ annual fuel bills, it will take approximately five years to make back the total cost of installation for solar thermal panels and around 15 years for photovoltaic panels. Many people are still reluctant to take the plunge if they cannot be guaranteed an immediate benefit.
Electric vehicles and solar panels working together
This leads us to the real benefit of using solar panels, and the dual benefits of converting to using both electric vehicles and solar energy. Across the pond in Britain, energy powerhouse, British Gas, recently conducted a study using actor, Robert Llewellyn, as a guinea pig – one of the first ever motorists to completely power his electric vehicle through the solar panels installed on his house. The results could be potentially revolutionary for the solar energy world – and could make the prospect of converting both car and house a much more appealing prospect to the average householder.
Robert Llewellyn’s house was installed with solar panels costing $18,200 three months prior to the release of the report. During those three months, Llewellyn drove 2,680 miles and his solar panels generated enough energy to cover around 85% – or 2,290 miles – of that distance. British Gas then revealed that it cost Llewellyn just $8.50 to drive that distance in his solar panel-powered car – a huge saving considering that the same distance would cost $237 in a petrol car, and $58 in an electric car powered by traditional means.
Using Britain as an example since that’s where this experiment is based, their average motorist covers 12,000 miles per year. If Llewellyn travelled the average distance, a year’s motoring would cost him just $92 – saving a fortune of just under $3169 on gas, and a significant amount of electricity costs. However, the real benefit is that, over the course of that year, he would have brought in $1671 in feed-in tariff payments – a significant additional contribution to offsetting the initial installation costs.
British Gas says the average time it takes for the $18,200 system to pay for itself is around 10 years for the average household. However, through adding an electric vehicle to this equation this time could be drastically reduced to around four and a half years. That figure of 12,000 miles per year is also pretty conservative – it’s not uncommon to clock up a mileage of over 20,000 per year and indeed here in America where our cities are much farther apart than in Britain many cover even more ground during a year. In this case, the study indicates that the time could be reduced even further. Suppose you added a second household vehicle to that equation as well; you could find that your solar panels have paid for themselves a lot sooner than you think. Then you can get onto enjoying the real benefits – hugely reduced annual energy costs.
Anne-Marie Francis is a freelance writer from England who specialises in writing about organic products such as Tempur-Pedic comparison and energy saving issues such as wind and solar power.