Solar energy expert John Thornton used his own 1963 Littleton home as an example of what solar energy can do for the homeowner’s budget and discussed “What’s New in Solar Energy?” and how to get started with a Bemis Library audience on March 14.
“Plan ahead and you can do it,” he assured his audience.
He and his wife Susan were able to access substantial rebates from Xcel Energy, as well as federal tax credits when they started in 2006 to convert to a green building. An online site under Thornton’s name details the process.
Always ardent environmentalists, they generate figures such as almost 27,000 pounds of CO2 displaced; 17.2 years to break even; value of house up; saves equivalent of 8,000 miles of driving (nitrous oxide) and more.
While the Xcel rebates are now much less, capped and presently in negotiations with the Public Utilities Commission, it’s still a good idea, he said, because of a substantially lower utility bill and environmentally positive features.
“ Today, I would lease it,” he said — not an available option in 2006.
A number of reliable local companies will install a solar system and lease it for a flat monthly rate, probably about what you’re paying in current bills.
“It’s fast and relatively inexpensive,” he said.
Some up-front cash is needed, though.
In this case, the company gets rebates, tax credits, etc., and must maintain the system. The owner gets credit for any excess energy generated, which is sold back to Xcel.
“Buy a turnkey system from an experienced installer who knows local resources and financing,” he recommended.
This is not a good do-it-yourself project because you won’t get the best prices and code requirements are tough, he added. (Final wiring must be done by a master electrician, for example.)
The first step is an overall look at a home’s energy efficiency: insulation, appliances, seals — an energy audit.
Now-available thin sheets of photovoltaic cells make roof and wall installation easier and less obvious — and it is designed to be hail-resistant, he said in answer to questions.
Federal tax credits are in force until 2016.
Thornton, who has 43 years of experience in the field, recommended the website www.dsireusa.org as a resource to lean about tax credits. Xcel has online information about its Solar Rewards program, which is heading toward a long-term pay out for electricity rather than up front rebates — not finalized at press time.
The Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, www.coseia.org is a comprehensive resource of information as is www.cres-energy.org, the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, a non-profit that conducts educational workshops and home tours. “Home Power Magazine” is a good source of information for the layman and most professionals read it, he said.
How long does it last? About 20 years — 25 years if you take good care of it.
Thornton, who now is a self-employed consultant (“Mr. PV”), worked at NREL until 2006 and previously worked at Martin Marietta, TRW Systems Inc., North American Aviation (now Rockwell International) and the U. S. Army Signal Corps. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.