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Environment Matters Podcast

Topic: Solar Panels for residential homes and small businesses
Size: 9,431k
Time: 04:01

Date: May 29, 2009

David Sternberg: In today's economy, everyone is looking for ways to save money on their energy bills.  Will solar panels be a solution?

(opening music)

David Sternberg: Hi, I'm David Sternberg of the Environmental Protection Agency's Mid-Atlantic region, and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.

Have you ever wondered if investing in solar panels is really worth it? Do they save money? Do they benefit the environment? Mike Dunn, from EPA's Office of Environmental Innovation, believes that solar panels may not only save you money, but actually earn you money, too!

Mike Dunn: The key with solar power systems is really to design a system that makes sense for your specific needs.  Solar panels generally cost between $20,000 to $40,000 to install, depending on the size of your house or business.

Most people who invest in solar panels do remain tied to the electric power grid.  This means that on days that aren't particularly sunny, your conventional power will kick in to ensure that you meet your needs.  On the other hand, on very sunny days you may overproduce electricity from the sun and be able to put [electricity] back into the grid, saving money, or even earning you money!

David Sternberg: That sounds really great, but what if I can't afford to install solar panels on my house?

Mike Dunn: In the mid-Atlantic region there are many rebates and tax incentives that are designed to help.  Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell recently announced that home and small business owners will get a 35- percent rebate on solar panels.  Solar panel investors will also receive up to a 30 percent tax break on the installation cost of the system.  In fact, most states in our region provide financial aid for purchasers of solar panels, including Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.  EPA's Energy Star Program, and your state, also may have incentives for efficiency to make your building use energy wisely which will really help you save money on your current bills and then maximize the usefulness of any system that you install.

David Sternberg: What if I can't put solar panels on the roof?  Where should I put them?

Mike Dunn: Roof installation is the most beneficial because the panels will get direct sunlight.  If you can't put panels on the roof, there are other options.  You can, for example, set them up in your front or back yard, just make sure that nothing is blocking them from the sun. 

David Sternberg: Mike, what are the benefits to the environment?

Mike Dunn: Using solar panels can help reduce local air pollution, offset greenhouse gases, and also conserve energy.

David Sternberg: Mike, that's great news!  If a homeowner or business is interested in purchasing solar panels, what's the first thing they need to do?

Mike Dunn: First, it is important to make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible.  EPA's Energy Star Program can help with that.  Afterwards, learn more about the various incentives available to you.  There are great websites available that put all of the information in one place.  Then, you need to learn about the various types of solar panel technologies.  Then, since we're designing a system specifically for your home or business, it is very important to choose a qualified contractor that will actually install the system.  They will walk you through the technology and the incentives, and help determine if it makes sense to you.

David Sternberg: So what is the overall verdict on solar panels?

Mike Dunn: Solar panels can be a good investment.  There are tax benefits and rebates to help cover the initial cost.  Many, investors should break even in 8 to 10 years.  The life of the solar panel can be up to 25 years.  If solar panels aren't right for you though, you may consider other forms of alternative energy, with the same environmental benefits, such as wind power- -which you can purchase through your electric company.  Also, consider using solar hot water as it provides similar financial and environmental benefits.

My final piece of advice is to make sure you check with any local laws or codes before you implement and install a solar energy system.

David Sternberg: Thanks for joining us on Environment Matters, EPA's series of environmental podcasts.

For more information on solar incentives, go to www.dsireusa.org

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