All solar discussions need to start with an objective. In the next few paragraphs, we will look into the investment side of solar systems. Then we will look at another side which is -where are you planning on living? If where you want to live has no power available, then solar can be a great option. If your objective is to lead the way in being green, solar may just be the ticket. Green is near and dear to us here at Transcend, but, we live in a world where we must sometimes choose the best ways in which we can contribute to the green movement. In other words, we must always ask ourselves: What can I do that will have the most impact on my carbon footprint? An informed decision is always the best one.
Everyone wants to have free electricity for their Tiny Home. At first, it seems like a glorious solution to install solar panels on the roof. The truth in the math will reveal some interesting food for thought. So, before you go headlong into a solar system, do yourself a favor, get the full story.
When we set out to build the most energy efficient Tiny House ever, it can make the solar concepts hard to wrap your head around. Our new composite wall system, with all of the thermal bridging virtually eliminated, along with being super air tight makes for a living unit that just sips power. ‘Great for solar, that means you need even less solar panels right?’ That seems to be true at first glance. But here is the rub… the unit uses such a small amount of power, that it only uses around 300 kWh per month. Very green indeed, just as it is.
Here is the overview: This is a very small enclosed space compared to a normal house. Take a normal house and cut it by 10 times. If your normal electric bill is $400 per month, you’re looking at $40 per month. But, it gets lower. This Tiny House is all composite. Our generous calculations indicate that the electricity bill will VERY LIKELY be less than that. More like $30 per month here in TN. Of course, our rate is around 10 cents per kilowatt. Some places in America are twice that. If you are in southern California where electric is over 20 cents per kilowatt, then all of the times get so much better.
If I go with $30 per month, or, using 300 kilowatts, how does that now compare with a solar system for a Tiny House? The roof on a Tiny House is small, so we are limited in the number of panels we can install. If we cover the entire roof to get the most out of it, we can generate about 300 kWh per month. In theory, that should fill our needs, right? Not exactly.
It’s also about timing. The solar panels only make power during the day, so you will be using grid power at night. That is how a grid tied system works. The 300 kWh system that I am describing will cost around $7,000 for top quality equipment that will last 20 years. Why do we have to buy top notch equipment?
This next part will show you why. If I were to just pay for electric from the grid, I would spend $30-$60 per month.
$7000 divided by $30 per month = 233 months, or 19 years. If it were $60 per month, that would take 10 years. That is assuming that nothing goes wrong, and the equipment needs no replacement parts. Also not counting electric that I have to buy when it is cloudy for a week, or the electric that I use at night. Solar is always a long term investment.
If you can take a 30% tax credit, this all gets much better. Be sure to check that to see if it is available to you.
Of course, if you want to be way out in the woods where there is no power, then this scenario can be a fantastic option. You can get power for about the same price as everybody else has to pay. Plus, you have the enviable position of be ‘off the grid’.
It all comes down to your preferences and how much power you consume. If you live in a hot climate, and your AC will be running a lot of the time, you will have a hard time making enough power. If you live very light and you work with a system, only using power for essentials, then you may decide that solar is for you.
I love solar power, I wish the answer were more favorable and clearly cut for solar, but when we are living by science, it's never that simple. As the cost of grid power goes up and the price of solar equipment comes down, we are all hoping that the advantages of solar power will be indisputable. It still comes down to living minimally, and not wasting anything.
Randy Marmet, CEO