Tuesday, June 20, 2017

green is not my color

I have been considering installing solar power ever since I bought the house with no name nearly three years ago.

But, like getting married, it is probably not going to happen. At least, not for me.

Like most aspects of our lives, it helps to know why we want something. In this case, what hole in my life was solar power supposed to fill? I am beginning to think I was simply seduced by the mau-mauing effect of popular culture.

Whatever the reason, I am now faced with a decision.

I had responded to several email inquiries about installing solar panels on my house. "Just send us a copy of your electric bill, and we will show you how you can be swimming in money." Or something like that.

My response was always the same. "I am not as interested in saving money on electricity as I am in preserving the architectural lines of my house. Will your system do that?"

No one responded. No "yes." No "no." Nada. Zilch. Just a buzz on the other end of the line.

Two weeks ago, I finally convinced a solar salesman to stop by and look at the house. And he had good news. Because of the flat roof on the pavilions on the upper terrace, the array could be installed at an angle to avoid any sight of it.

With that assurance, he took photographs of my two electric meters, examined the switch boxes, and explained to me how he would tie the two systems together. With that, he photographed my last two electric bills.

Friends have a similar system. I had hoped that a solar system would provide power during our infrequent outages. But I knew it wouldn't.

The system is designed to generate power only when the power is flowing. The idea is that excess power is sold back to the electric company, and then drawn against during periods when the demand is less than the supply.

He did suggest, though, that if I was interested in a backup that I should purchase a propane-powered generator. I had not thought about that option. I will now.

I have now received the three-page proposal for the solar power installation. And I am a bit disappointed.

Let me get a rant out of the way. The entire proposal is denominated in US dollars. And that makes some calculations bothersome.

For instance, the proposal estimates that I spent $414 (US) this past year for electricity. Of course, I spent zero US dollars for electricity. I am billed in Mexican pesos, and I pay in Mexican pesos.

And that makes the currency conversion a bit tricky. Depending on which calculation I use, I paid $6,854 (Mx) ($378 (US)) in 2016, and $9337 (Mx) ($515 (US)) for the last twelve months. (That last figure is a bit deceptive because I still have a large deposit with the company on which I am drawing.)

So, let's give the proposal the benefit of the doubt and increase the annual usage to $500 (US). The question then becomes: if I install an array under this proposal, how long will it take me to recover my capital outlay?

This is where things get a bit confusing. The cost of the full installation would be $9,842 (US) -- even though I will be paying in Mexican pesos. It is the currency where I live.

Using simple mathematics, it would take just under twenty years to recover my capital.

Actually, it would be longer than that because the electric company requires a minimum monthly payment to be part of its system as a service fee. But twenty years is still a long time. The system itself may not last that long. I know I won't.

Here is the dilemma. According to the proposal, I will recover my capital outlay in less than ten years. Obviously, there is some 'splainin' to be done here. I suspect the proposal fails to take into account the current cash value of the investment in its recovery. But, we shall see.

So, I came, I saw, but I was not conquered. I am sending a request to the salesman now to see if I can resolve my obvious confusion.

The cost of solar arrays has decreased since my friends installed theirs. It appears this is almost one-third less than theirs.

Maybe time (and cost reductions) will eventually make solar a worthwhile investment for me.

As of now, it just does not pencil out.

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