People say solar is expensive – but so are other things people buy, including, over the long term, electricity from their utility.
Our new 5.59 kW solar system cost $8,500. That’s not cheap. But again, in the long term neither is electricity from your utility.
Given that so many people are so unwilling to plop down money for a solar system, it’s fair to ask what they are willing to spend their money on. In other words, what’s not expensive (but costs just as much as a solar system)?
So, I figured I’d make short list of things that cost around $8,500, and which, apparently, many people don’t view as “expensive” – or at least not so “expensive” that they refuse to buy the thing on the account of, well, you know, it’s “too expensive.”
Here goes, a list of “inexpensive” things that cost around $8,500:
- A new car – oops, I mean a used car. For $8,500 you aren’t going to be getting a new car, at least not here in the U.S., more like half a new car, or about a third of a new car, as the average price Americans pay for a new car is about $25,000. Since we’re a Honda/Acura family, let’s take a quick gander at what $8,500 will get you. How about a 2002 Honda Odyssey EX with 133,000 miles on it? Or maybe you’re not the soccer mom type, and you’d prefer a 2003 Honda Civic LX with 79,000 miles for $8,600?
Let’s take the Civic LX and plunk down the $8,600, or, if we don’t have the cash (and many of us don’t), let’s borrow a good chunk of it so we can drive off in that 2003 Honda today. After all, everyone needs a car – which therefore apparently doesn’t qualify as “expensive”, or at least not as “too expensive” to fork over $8,500 for. Of course, everyone also needs home electricity.
And you will be handing over $8,500 to your utility sooner or later, only you won’t notice that it’s “expensive” because you’ll be paying your money out in monthly lumps of $100, $150, $200, or more, if you really like to crank the central AC. Basically, that $8,500 you’re unwilling to pay for that “expensive” solar system which will provide electricity for your home for 25 or more years and which will do so without the five to seven percent annual rate increase your utility will ask you to pay – it’ll be coming out of your pocketbook anyway, and then some (a lot, actually). But solar’s out of the question, because it’s “too expensive”. Hmm…..
- A home theater system + a large-screen LCD HDTV + a computer + two year’s worth of digital cable and Internet. We’re not going to cheap out here. First, because we have to hit that magic total — $8,500. Second, because a good home entertainment system is worth the money – lots of us, hundreds of millions, spend countless hours watching movies, TV, listening to music, etc. We could blow close to all of our money on a giant LCD HDTV TV, say a 55 inch 1080p LCD HDTV from SunBrite for $6,999. But let’s not go over the top with the TV. After all, we need a great sound system as well. So, let’s get a Samsung 65 inch 1080p LCD HDTV for $3,300.
Since there’s no point in having an outstanding picture without outstanding sound, let’s add a Bose Lifestyle Home Theater System for $1,999. Then, since TV and computers are merging, let’s get a good computer to plug into our giant screen so we can watch Internet TV and streaming video, look at pictures of the kids, edit video, etc. Let’s do a HP Pavilion Elite Desktop with Blu-Ray, an Intel Core i7 Processor, 8 GB of memory and a 1 TB hard drive for $1,300. At $6,600, we’re still a bit shy of our $8,500 goal, so let’s throw in two years of the Comcast “Double” play – high speed Internet + Digital cable. That pushes us to $8,500.
Two years of digital cable and high speed internet for $1,900 + maybe eight years with the giant LCD HDTV and Bose home theater system, that’s not expensive, is it? Thirty years of electricity for $8,500 — damn, now that is expensive, isn’t it? Of course, don’t forget that you’ll be shelling out that $8,500 – and then some – to your utility so that you can turn on your entertainment center and enjoy its wonders over the years it’ll last (but don’t expect it to last 30). That’s right, you’ll be paying that $8,500 for electricity no matter what — with or without a home solar system, and with or without a killer home entertainment system.
- Bathroom remodel. Most of us do spend a fair amount of time in the bathroom. So why not make sure you have a nice one and put that $8,500 toward a bathroom remodel? Only trouble is, unless you’re willing — and able — to do some, maybe all, of the work, chances are you aren’t going to get much with your $8,500, maybe a half remodel, or a two-thirds remodel. According to repair-home.com, bathroom remodel costs typically range from $5,000 to $30,000, with the $5,000 a complete do-it-yourself job, and about $10,000 potentially getting you a decent, though not fancy, remodel where you don’t have to get your hands dirty.
Let’s assume you get a great deal, though, and you get a nice remodel for exactly $8,500. You’ve got a nice bathroom now – but you still need electricity to turn on the lights, the fan, the heat lamp, to plug in your blow dryer, electric razor and, finally, the all-important curling iron. Of course, you’ll be paying your utility for that electricity, having opted for the “less expensive” $8,500 bathroom remodel over the “too expensive” $8,500 home solar system. And, again, you’ll be parting ways with 8,500 George Washingtons to cover your home electric costs no matter what. However, if you’d just opted for the “expensive” solar system over the “deal” of a bathroom remodel, you’d end up with 15 to 20, or more years, of “free” electricity after you hit solar payback.
Still, in the end, solar is just “too expensive”, so do the bathroom remodel and pay out the $8,500 you could have used to create a long-term electricity supplier, with no rate increases, ever, to your local utility. God knows, those poor utilities could use the money – and someone from the utility just might think your bathroom remodel is cool, so, go ahead, send your utility a picture of your new bathroom with your next bill.
The bigger picture
In the end, the funny thing (really, it’s not funny at all) about spending $8,500 for a used car, for a killer home entertainment system, or for a bathroom remodel is that dishing out that $8,500 won’t save you from having to pay $8,500 to your electric utility for electricity. In other words, there is no trade-off as in ‘If I spend $8,500 on a solar system I won’t be able to buy that used car’. That’s because – yes, this is getting a bit repetitive, but in all fairness to yours truly, it’s also true – you’ll will end up spending that $8,500 on electricity no matter what.
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True, there is a cost to saving money to purchase a big ticket item like a solar system. If you’re saving for one big item, it can make it difficult to buy that other big item. And if you’re paying monthly installments for electricity instead, you may be able to save the cash for that other big ticket purchase you really covet.
But let’s face it, many of us don’t do this. We borrow money to buy a car, we borrow money to buy expensive electronic devices (often via our credit card), and we borrow money so that we can remodel the bathroom. Yet we cringe when we think about borrowing money to buy electricity. Even though: a) doing so will save us money in the long run; b) we will have to pay for our electricity no matter what.
So, is solar really “too expensive”? Absolutely not when you take a bigger picture view. It’s cheaper.
Trouble is, too few of us are willing to take the bigger picture view. That’s too bad, because the bigger picture view would save you money, enough money over the long-term, to buy that 2003 Honda Civic, to get that kick-butt entertainment complex, and to re-do that dingy bathroom.
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