Environment Forum

Solar power that pays back fast

OK, solar panels are getting cheaper, but can it be possible to get back the $1,000 you invested in home solar in 45 days?

It couldn’t happen where I live, and maybe not where you do, but the owners of a solar electric company say the arithmetic worked for one of their customers. He is a chief executive with a six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bath Spanish-style hillside home in Fremont, California. Fremont is a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley, and home to many high tech firms.

This executive was paying a monthly electric bill of $3,492 on average, according to solar electric firm SunRun. The company was started by two finance experts who came up with their business model while still students at the Stanford Business School.

SunRun charges a relatively small price to install panels, then owns and services them for the life of the contract — 18 years.  SunRun said the Fremont executive paid $1,000 to have the $375,000, 55-kilowatt system installed. So far, it has cut his monthly electric bill to an average of $2,808.  SunRun collects $2,163 of that for electricity generated by the sun, while utility Pacific Gas & Electric collects $645 for electricity from its grid, on average.  At moments when there is surplus solar electricity, SunRun’s equipment automatically sends it to Pacific Gas & Electric for credit.

“You turn your home into a hybrid,” said Lynn Jurich, president of SunRun, and co-founder with chief executive  Edward Fenster. The occasion for her interview was to announce  $18 million of additional funds from two big Silicon Valley venture capital firms,  Accel Partners and Foundation Capital. They say because SunRun uses independent contractors it can quickly expand its business in California, Arizona and Massachuestts.

Going closer to the sun for solar power

Somebody alert Capt. Kirk.

California utility PG&E and solar power company Solaren say they have inked a first-of-its-kind deal to produce renewable solar power from space satellites beginning in the year 2016.

PG&E, one of the largest electric utilities in the United Sates, says on its in-house blog, Next100, that it is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren, which it says can provide 200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power some 140,000 California homes — over a 15 year period.

Solaren says it will generate the power using solar panels on Earth-orbiting satellites, transmit it back to Earth through a radio frequency to a recieving station in Fresno County, then convert it into electricity which would be fed into PG&E’s grid.