The cost of solar panels is continuing to fall, making them competitive with the costs of some electricity rates.
A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory showed that the cost of buying and installing solar panels fell 14 percent between 2011 and 2012 for the average residential system.
The national median price for a typical residential solar system was about $5.30 per watt of power generating capacity installed in 2012, a figure that has fallen with higher production and sales of panels worldwide, the July report said.
Texas has the lowest median price at about $3.90 per watt of power generating capacity installed, without taking into account any incentives or rebates, the report said.
The lowest costs are in Austin, where the municipal utility offers a $2 per watt rebate for residents who install solar panels, which help add power to the electric grid during periods of peak demand, said Garrett Gordy, owner of Texas Solar Outfitters.
Solar: After a slow rise, solar starts to shine
There are no rebates or incentives specific to Houston, though residents here do benefit from a federal tax incentive of 30 percent of the purchase and installation costs for a system, Gordy said.
Gordy’s company sells and installs solar panels for less than $4 per watt, with systems often costing around $3.60 per watt, he said.
Most residential buyers get systems averaging about 6 kilowatts, Gordy said.
For a 10-kilowatt system, which would be more than enough power for most well-insulated homes, the up-front cost would be about $36,000 in Houston. After taking into account the federal tax incentive of about $10,800 and electric plans that allow customers to sell unused power back to electricity providers, the panels pay for themselves within 12 years, Gordy said.
The average Texas household pays $147.32 for electricity each month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Moniz: ‘This is the crucial decade’ to develop renewable energy
Another way to think about the current panel costs, would be to compare them to current electricity rates by calculating the cost based on power usage.
With a solar installation, Gordy said, a customer would be securing a rate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next 25 years. Twenty-five years is the warranty-backed period for solar-panels, though they will likely generate power for many years longer, he said.
Some Houston providers now offer electricity rates lower than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, but many experts expect rates to rise as power demand grows and generation capacity becomes strained.
Also on FuelFix:
Tips to save power (and money) in the summer heat
apdk / Flickr
Angle blinds up: TXU Energy says that angling horizontal blinds so sunlight streams up can reduce the heat coming in and provide free natural light. When closed and lowered, highly reflective blinds can reduce heat gain by around 45 percent.
kellen_butler / Flickr
Insulate lights: Canned or recessed lights can be a big source of air leaks. Selecting “IC” (insulation contact) models or installing approved covers over non-IC models can stop that.
fonticiella / Flickr
Use a fan: You can raise your thermostat setting by up to 4 degrees and not feel a difference if you also run a ceiling fan. Fans only make you feel cooler, though, so turn them off when you’re not in the room.
rlhyde / Flickr
Lower humidity: It takes longer to cool a humid home. The ideal humidity level is less than 60 percent in the summer.
alex_why / Flickr
Moderate the thermostat: Lowering your thermostat setting does not cool your home more quickly. Many factors affect how quickly an indoor space cools. Thermostat set points are not among them.
mikenan1 / Flickr
Check your water heater: Water heaters are factory set at 140 degrees. Lowering that to 120 degrees provides comfortably hot water and less energy consumption.
Green Energy Futures / Flickr
Use a programmable thermostat: Most Americans with programmable thermostats don’t program them. New Energy Star® ratings for programmable thermostats may consider ease of use and online access.
tuxthepenguin84 / Flickr
Seal your windows: If you want to save money this summer, you should start by looking for the places where you are losing money. Gaps between windows and doors are some of the most likely spots for energy loss.
Michael Paulsen / Houston Chronicle
Get the right A/C unit: Air conditioners are designed for specific sizes, and you can waste energy by having one too big or too small. You should make sure your unit is right for your home.
CraftyGoat / Flickr
Switch your light bulbs: You can save money by switching out old incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs. The modern light bulbs, which do have a different glow, can save you money on your electric bill.
wblo / Flickr
Change your air filter: A dirty air filter can make your air conditioner be less efficient, and it can ultimately cost you money on your electric bill.
Fitz Villafuerte / Flickr
Turn off lights: Many people forget to turn off lights and fans after leaving a room. By turning them off, you can save yourself some money on that electric bill.
trekkyandy / Flickr
Buy energy-efficient appliances: They may cost more at the store, but energy-efficient appliances can save you money on your electric bill.
danmachold / Flickr
Unplug unused appliances: You can save money by unplugging phone chargers or other kitchen appliances when they aren't in use.