Monday, August 10, 2009

Photovoltaic 1

First of probably a long series on this topic…

We have been attracted by solar energy for some years, but each time we have investigated in any depth it has turned out not to make any economic sense.
Ecologically satisfying to do, but financially daft.
Last time, in 2006, the best estimates were that we might just recover our investment in about 17 years, if all went well, and that afterwards we might start to generate a little benefit.
But never as much as leaving the money in the bank.
Reluctantly, we decided, again, that saving the planet was beyond our means.

Disappointing, when we see so many solar panels as soon as we cross into Germany.

Now, however, things seem to have changed in France.
The government will give you a tax allowance of 8000€ (+200€ per dependent child) for an installation up to 3kWpeak.
That helps to offset the initial cost of about 20 000€.
Then EDF is contractually obliged to buy your production at a very advantageous (to you) rate, for the first 20 years.
They have to pay you 0.60€ per kWh (indexed) whereas they sell their kWh to you for about 0.10€ at the moment.
And there is no income tax on that gain.
The obvious & intended result is that nobody, except in isolated areas, will try to store & reuse their solar energy via expensive batteries, but a lot of people will sell all their solar power to EDF & continue to buy what they use.
And a lot of people will find it reasonable to install panels.
And a lot of people will find it profitable to set up making (well, maybe…) importing, distributing & installing solar stuff.
Of which an unpredictable proportion will be unprincipled sharks of course.

Optimistic estimates suggest getting your money back in maybe 7/8 years and that, over 20 years the overall performance could beat investing at 5% compound interest.
Assuming nothing goes wrong…goes wrong…goes wrong…
And we know how likely that is.
Credible sources say all current panels will almost certainly still have years of useful life left after 20 years.
That the inverter/controller will probably need replacing after 10-15 years, but that prices should have fallen a lot by then.
That it is possible to protect against lightning & power surges.
That there is nothing much else to give trouble.
Except the new idea of stealing solar panels.

But who can bet on an investment that depends on everything staying pretty for 20 years?
Are we still going to be around?
And the house?
And EDF?
The Planet?

Who knows?
But it really does begin to look as though we could get the satisfaction of doing our bit for global warming without obviously shooting ourselves in the financial foot.
Too much…

To be continued.

Parting thot: "Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund." - F. J. Raymond

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