From: Live Science
Published October 6, 2008 09:31 AM

The True Costs of Renewable Energy

As utility costs mount ever higher, Americans now have real options to take home energy matters into their own hands with "green" systems that can pay for themselves in as little as a few years.

Among the choices: wind, solar, geothermal and a "microhydro" option that is potentially cheaper than a year's tuition at many state colleges.

Choosing the do-it-yourself route can offer the freedom of going partially or totally off the grid. And, if the energy generated exceeds your actual usage, you can even sell the excess juice to your utility company. But none of this is free. Here's how much change you should expect to kick in:

Solar power

The economics of a small photovoltaic system depend not only on the cost of designing and installing the system, which can vary considerably, but also the expense of maintaining and operating the system over the course of its serviceable lifetime, which usually spans between 25 to 30 years. The cost-effectiveness of such a system also depends on how much sun you get where you live, your electricity usage, and the size of your system.

If you're an average American household that uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, and you want to harness the power of the sun for 50 percent of your energy use, you can expect a 7.76 kilowatt (kW) peak power system to set you back about $35,000 to $52,000, according, an online calculator sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the American Solar Energy Society, and the Solar Electric Power Association.

You can probably shave off a few thousand dollars once state and federal rebates come into play.

Assuming a property value appreciation of $14,000 to $27,000, as well as average annual utility savings of $1,000 to $2,000, you can potentially recoup your investment in three to 14 years.

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