Why Solar Power Rocks

English: Solar power station in White Cliffs, ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Solar energy has become one of the most popular alternative methods for providing power to a home. There is no denying its green credentials but is it a way of also saving money?

If you’re like me, you probably think that getting into solar energy is really expensive. In fact, I put off even investigating it for my home because I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Over the years, government subsidies and rebates have come and gone, been increased and decreased, making it a bit hard to keep up with how you can benefit. Many schemes are confusing and complicated, causing people to give up any ideas for going green with solar power.

The best news regarding solar power is that the initial set-up costs have dropped by more than 80% in the last twenty years, making it a more affordable option these days.

The time it would take to get back your initial investment depends largely on where you live and what incentives and rebates are available at the time you install your solar system. The other factor that affects the pay-back period is how effective the solar panels are at harvesting the sun’s energy to convert to electricity; areas that have strong, consistent sunlight for long periods each day will allow solar to be most effective. Some US states, such as New Jersey and California, offer huge rebates; this means that you can recover your initial investment in around 7 to 10 years. Other states have lower rebates so this time-frame will be considerably longer.

You will need to investigate the cost of solar energy for your home yourself but as a rule of thumb, these figures may help you. The average sized home will typically install a 4,000 watt system at around $20,000 after federal rebates and tax credits. This will supply about 75% of the power requirements of most homes and families. A solar system of this size will reduce the output of carbon dioxide by about 7 tons a year, a 75% reduction. It is definitely a green option.

The other main consideration when looking at solar power for you home is what type of solar system to use. You could have an off-grid system, that is totally independent of the local electricity supply, or a grid-tie system where you remain connected to the electricity grid even though you have solar cells on your roof.

One of the ways you can save money is by feeding power back into the grid, which can happen when you are on a grid-tie system. When the electricity your solar panels are producing is not being used in the house, it returns to the grid. Your power meter spins backwards as the energy goes into the grid and you get credited for this on your power bills. The set-up costs are less for a grid-tie system as well, because you don’t need to have expensive deep-cycle batteries to store the power your solar cells are generating, as with the off-grid system.

Another way to save money with solar power is to install a solar hot water heater. This is a different system again to solar electricity generation and is generally a cheaper option to install. Heating water in the home accounts for about 20% of the total energy costs, so if you can harness the sun’s energy for this purpose, you will save money.

Solar hot water systems vary according to the climate where you live. Water is heated in pipes running through the solar panels on your roof and either used directly or pumped into a storage tank. They are especially effective in warmer areas; in California, for example, solar hot water could potentially save $1,000 off the power bills of an average sized family. The pay-back period is less with solar hot water as well, the average being under 5 years.

Finance is usually available to fund your solar power installation and many homeowners find that they can get a finance package that costs them less than the power saving. For example, the repayments on the finance might be $120 a month but the saving could be $135 a month, meaning you are ahead from the beginning. 

Because there are so many variables with solar power, especially as far as the savings you could make, you should consult an expert for advice. Find out how effective solar power is in your local area, what the initial costs are and how long the pay-back period is likely to be. As with anything, it’s always a good idea to get several quotes after talking to several solar power experts. Find out what rebates you would be entitled to and factor these into your total costs.

Only use a certified solar installer from a reputable company to make sure that your solar system is installed correctly and to local specifications. Start to enjoy the savings as soon as your solar power system is up and running. While your initial costs may be high, you will save money off your power bills in the long run.

So, have you tried solar?


What are Penny Auctions? Should You Participate in Them?

Chances are that you have seen ads around the Internet: “Big Screen HD TV for $15!”

These ads usually point to penny auctions. These are auctions where items start out at a penny, and run for a set period of time, usually not more than a few hours. Penny auctions look like a good deal because there is a great deal of hype around the fact that you can get something like a $25 Restaurant.com certificate for a penny, or an iPad for less than $20.

However, it’s not quite the amazing deal that it seems — and winning a penny auction isn’t as easy as you might think.

How a Penny Auction Works

As the name indicates, the penny auction starts off at one cent. Each time a bid is placed, the price of the item goes up one cent. So the price goes up rather slowly. The question that many people have is this: How can a penny auction site make money if the items for bid are so cheap? Much like a cash loan company, the answer is in the way penny auctions operate.

When you sign up at a penny auction site, you usually register for free. Then you buy a certain number of bids. Each bid sends a price up by one cent. You buy your bids ahead of time, and then you can use them to bid on items. Once you are out of bids, you have to buy more. Some auction sites allow you buy packs at a discounted rate.

So, basically, each time you bid on an item, you are paying for it. You are paying for the bid. These bids are non-refundable, and there is no guarantee that you’ll win. So for every winner of the auction, there are potentially hundreds of people who paid for several bids — and didn’t win.

Some penny auctions also add time to the auction clock as more people bid in the final seconds. This keeps people bidding (and paying for the bids) in their attempts to win, and it means that the penny auction site can make a little more money.

As a consolation, there are some auctions where you can buy the item at retail price if you don’t win it. The money that you put in toward the bid counts toward the amount that you owe on the item.

Downside to Penny Auctions

The main downside to the penny auction is that you have to pay for your bids, so you could spend a great deal of money trying to win various items and never getting anything. It’s a little bit gambling in some ways. On top of that, you don’t even know for sure when the auction will win. Since new bids can add time to the clock, an auction can keep going as long as people are willing to battle it out. I watched one auction extend from having 30 seconds last to going for more than 10 additional minutes as bidders kept it going.

Before you decide to try a penny auction, make sure you understand the risks, and make sure that you know what you are willing to pay. Create a strategy, and limit how much you are willing to spend when you bid. And be willing to stop if it looks as though you are having a hard time winning consistently.