By Jeff Pipeling
Technology is rapidly advancing. Or is it? With my almost 11-year old son playing sports and involved in numerous activities, my family is constantly on-the-go. After having the inevitable conversation with my wife about whether to get him a cell phone or not, like most parents these days, we decided instead of buying something new that we would look in our box of old phones to see if any of them would work. The first phone is a “flip” style from the early 2000’s that is older than he is. We charged it, opened it up, and amazingly, it still worked. It placed and received calls, sent and received text messages, and once connected to the network, it even accessed the Internet with an icon that didn’t seem to be there over a decade ago. Then, we tried the old Apple 4S. This phone had seen better days. I had dropped it off of a roof years ago and it was out of warranty, but, still worked so I had kept it as a backup. Once it was charged, we turned it on and though the screen now seemed beyond small, all the functionality of the iPhone was still active. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the next best thing, the iPhone 7 (which has a few more features than the 6), but it still did text, make calls, access FaceTime, take pictures, and house all sorts of Apps.
Ultimately, this whole process started me thinking about the solar question we get most often when talking with homeowners: “Should I wait for the next best thing to come to market? I don’t want old technology on my roof.”
Solar experienced an explosion in technology gains over a decade ago. Panel production increased from 12% efficiency, to 14% and then to 16% efficiency in a matter of months as sizes grew. I often visit sites for system add-ons that have a 185-watt module.
Currently, the base module for most companies are 250 to 260-watts. This year, the most efficient manufacturer for residential came to market with a 360-watt module. That same manufacturer had a 345 for over 2 years. So, in 2 years, the biggest gain in efficiency was 15-watts for the same size panel. That 360-watt panel is the newest, best technology that, rightfully so, costs the most (just like the iPhone 7). That said, what does that gain mean for you, the solar customer? It produces kWh just like the 260-watt panels, (just like the 4s and the flip phone make the same calls and texts as the iPhone 7).
The question then is, what are you paying for with higher efficiency, higher cost, and the “next best thing” solar technology? In solar, it’s not more kWh that you gain with more efficiency, it’s power density. This means you are getting more watts per square foot on the roof. In other words, if you have a small roof and a big bill, this may help you offset more electricity. But, if you are like most homeowners, it will just decrease the amount of roof space you would need to produce the same kWh. The old saying we have in solar is, “A watt is a watt”. Does this mean you should wait for the more efficient, higher cost panel to come to market just because it’s the next best thing that can produce the same amount of power in a smaller space? Realistically, this would result in waiting another 2 years, if not more. There is only so much efficiency that can be achieved out of conventional solar cell technology. The common number is about 25%. And waiting to get to that elusive 25% could take another 5 years. Although it may save you 100 square feet of roof space, it’s important to ask yourself if it’s worth potentially losing out on ever-decreasing incentives and years of savings you could be receiving now.
The longer you wait, the less savings you will receive given that incentives are reduced and the more efficient panel simply costs more. “A watt is a watt“, just like a text message is a text message or a call is a call. Sometimes, the next best thing doesn’t do anything more than provide 1 or 2 additional features that may not really be needed, yet it always costs more. In solar, the longer you wait the more savings and incentives you forgo. Don’t wait for the “next best thing” and miss out on today and tomorrow’s savings.
Jeff Pipeling is the General Sales Manager at C-TEC Solar. Working one-on-one with thousands of homeowners in the solar industry, for more than 6 years, has given Jeff broad knowledge and technical understanding of the industry.