Photovoltaic hype

Somehow, I missed "world turn-off-your-power-for-an-hour" day last week, because apparently, I live under a giant Republican rock. (I find it interesting that the environmental group doing the encouraging was titled the WWF - which I always associated with the World Wrestling Federation. I imagine having Hulk Hogan showing up telling you to turn the power off would be motivating. Too bad it wasn't sponsored by G.L.O.W.. Which would have worked on multiple levels.)

Anyway, I ran across this comment on the hype of renewable energy which I reproduce because, well, it's worth reading.

Solar energy at the DNA Lounge

Every few years, I read another article about solar power, and how there's been some new technological breathrough in efficiency, or some new incentive program, and soon all the buildings will have solar panels on their roofs and everything will be sweetness and light. Well, a few times now, we've actually investigated installing solar at DNA, and each time it has gone exactly like it went this last time. It's pretty comical, so I'll share it with you now. We've had this same exact conversation three times over the last eight years:

We contact someone who has a business installing solar panels. We tell them, "It would be nice if we could do this for emotional or environmental reasons, but environmental reasons don't pay the bills, so we're not doing it for that reason. We're only going to do this if it saves us money."

They say, "Oh, it will totally save you money! Since you use power at night, you'll be feeding power into the grid during the day, and buying it back more cheaply off-peak! It makes so much sense for you. It's like you're the optimal case. Now, if you'll just write me a check for $20,000..."

"Whoa, hold up there, Sparky. How does me writing you a check for $20k save me money?", I ask.

"Well, it will pay for itself in only 20 to 25 years! Then you'll be totally in the black."

"Wow, you must be an investment banker, with a pitch like that."

"Oh, and also there are all these rebates and incentive programs. The Government will pay you to install the system! Also, you can do an operating lease with no money up front, or a Power Purchase Agreement, or this, or that, and it doesn't cost a thing!"

"Zero? Zero sounds great! Get back to us with some options."

"Ok, so the installation will cost $100,000 before incentives, and after the tax credit and five years of depreciation, the hardware only ends up costing you $13,000!"

"Is yours a hearing problem, or an understanding problem?"

"But it will pay for itself in only 25 years! Maybe 30."

"You are such a tool. Goodbye."

Honestly, I can't tell if the problem with the people pushing solar is that they are earnest-but-incompetent hippies, or are just straight-up scam-artists. Either way, it seems like it'd be more efficient to actually set paper money on fire and use that heat to drive a turbine.