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When Karen and I were living with kerosene lamps, we went to our local public library looking for a better way to light up our nights. We found nothing about small-scale renewable energy. As a result, one of the first things we did when we started publishing Home Power sixteen years ago was to give a subscription to our local public library.

If you'd like to do the same for your public library, we'll split the cost of the subscription with you. Inside the U.S., you pay $11.25 and we'll pay the rest. Outside the U.S., the same offer stands, so call us for rates.

— Richard Perez, Publisher

Check with your local library before signing them up. Eligible libraries must be open to the general public. PO Box 520, Ashland OR 97520 • 800-707-6585 • 541-512-0201 [email protected]

ozonal notes

What's It Worth?

Richard Perez

©2005 Richard Perez

After more than twenty years of living on solar electricity, I'm still thrilled to look outside the window at all the PV modules in our front yard. This amazing collection of silicon has allowed us to live six miles beyond the utility lines, with all the creature comforts of a home in town. I often muse about what our life would have been like without all the energy these PVs have produced over the years. I wonder what they are worth to us. Was the value they gave us worth their cost?

Value & Time

What is a thing worth? I'm talking about its cost and its value, and how the cost and value of things change over time. I went to the Web and began "Googling" (searching), and was immediately immersed in the esoteric world of economics—a world where everything has a constantly changing price. I was buried in facts and figures. I was lost in a swamp of supply and demand, differing economic theories, and leading economic indicators. After five days of amassing more factoids than could be printed in an entire issue of Home Power, I decided to take another approach. I started to look closer to home, to analyze the cost of things we use here and how this has changed over time.

same gallon of gas costs more than US$2. On a global level, the price of a barrel of oil is now more than US$50, and some energy economists predict it may reach over US$80 per barrel within three years. The cost of gas is rising as the oil shortage becomes more acute.

A Pound of Hamburger

Twenty years ago a pound of hamburger was less than US$1 at supermarkets around here. Today the same pound of hamburger is well over US$2. Hamburger shows the same price doubling over two decades as gas does. Inflation is a reality that seems to affect the price of most products we use.

A PV Module

Twenty years ago, PV modules were sold for about US$10 per rated watt. Today, a PV module sells for about US$5 per rated watt. These solar energy marvels have come down in price by half over the last two decades. In addition, the quality of the modules has improved. They are now more efficient, more powerful, easier to install, and carry manufacturers' warranties of 25 years, which is more than twice the warranty that modules had two decades ago.

Homestead Economic Indicators

I was looking for products that many of us use—real things that most everyone can identify with. I settled on two ubiquitous products—a gallon of gasoline and a pound of hamburger. I want to compare these products to PV modules—to compare their value, their cost, and how their cost has changed over the last twenty years.

A Gallon of Gas

Just about everyone uses gasoline. We use it to power our vehicles. In the early days, before PV module prices came down to earth, we also used gasoline to run a generator, which at the time was our sole source of electricity. Twenty years ago, a gallon of gas was less than US$1 in our neighborhood. Today that

Compared to twenty years ago, you get more bang for your buck buying PV than buying beef or gas.

Compared to twenty years ago, you get more bang for your buck buying PV than buying beef or gas.

ozonal notes


The value of a gallon of gas is questionable. Sure, the fuel still powers the majority of our transportation, but it has environmental side effects. Global warming is a reality. Our increased use of gasoline and other carbon-based fuels is warming up this planet and polluting our air. I'd have to say that the value of gasoline is decreasing as time goes on, even though its cost is rising.

Even though the beef industry has a few environmental issues of its own, a pound of hamburger still delivers its value. A good burger is as delicious and nutritious as it ever was.

The value of a PV module has increased. I personally have modules that I bought more than two decades ago. These old modules carried a ten-year warranty when I purchased them. They are still generating at close to their rated output even though their warranty expired more than a decade ago. I fully expect a modern module to produce useful electricity for more than 50 years, and quite possibly as long as 100 years. PVs are an energy source that doesn't wear out or require maintenance. The fuel, sunlight, is delivered free daily.

Some of the value of photovoltaics is less tangible than cost and service. PVs have enabled many of us to live in remote places where utility electricity is not available. They give us the freedom to live where we want to. PVs also give us economic security by freeing us from the monthly electric bill.

PVs also offer a more general value. The electricity that they make does not pollute the planet. A 1-kilowatt PV array will save putting one ton of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year—and it will keep on doing this for many decades. PVs use a freely and democratically offered energy source—sunlight. The use of this free fuel gives us one less reason to go to war over energy sources.

I'd have to say that when it comes to value, PVs win, hands down. No other product I can think of offers this much value to its purchaser.

to keep up with demand. A combination of the hyper-pure silicon shortage and increased module demand has raised the price of a PV module for the short term. So you can expect to pay a little more for the modules you buy.

World business will undoubtedly respond to the PV module shortage. New hyper-pure silicon refineries will be constructed. New PV module manufacturing plants will be built. Eventually, the PV module will once again continue to decline in price as its supply increases. But whatever its price, the PV module offers supreme value.

In the future, other technologies may be developed that will turn sunlight into electricity—technologies that may not use silicon, technologies that are simpler and cheaper to employ than current silicon-based PV technologies. Whatever the technology, the fuel source remains the same—sunlight. The value remains the same—a nonpolluting energy source, and the fuel is free.


Richard Perez, Home Power, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520 • 541-941-9716 • [email protected]

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