Solar Home Lighting - Is it Cost Effective ?

Whether you agree with the gloom and doom prophecies of global warming or not, most people would agree that it is a good idea to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. One of the most commonly discussed ways to do this for the home is to set up a solar powered lighting system.

Solar home lighting using photovoltaic solar panels has been around for a long time but, except in limited circumstances, it has not been considered a cost effective venture for the average homeowner. Has the time come with improvements in technology and the ever-increasing cost of electricity for the average homeowner to switch to solar lighting? Today there is no simple answer to that question. Ten or twenty years from now the answer will probably be a straightforward yes go with solar lighting; but right now you need to ask yourself several questions before opting for a photovoltaic lighting system for your home.

The cost of electricity varies widely from place to place and obviously will impact your solar lighting decision. For example, in the USA, the cost of electricity from the power company is 3 times higher in Hawaii than it is in Idaho. In places like Southern California and Hawaii it is almost always cost effective to set up a solar lighting system because of the cost of electricity in those areas. Location also affects the amount of sunlight you get every day. A solar lighting system in Florida or California will generate more power on an average day than one in Alaska.

Another factor to consider for new construction is how close you are to the power company's electrical grid. For lake cottages, mountain cabins and desert ranches if you are more than about 3 miles from the power lines you are better off going solar for your lighting. The power company would charge you a small fortune to run power lines out to you. Investigate the cost for your location - but $25,000 or so is not uncommon.

How long are you going to live in the home you will be converting to solar lighting? One of the biggest problems with solar lighting is there is a huge upfront investment. A 2-kilowatt lighting system for a small to medium size home that includes photovoltaic panels, sine wave inverter, charge controller, storage batteries and installation probably would cost $15,000 to $20,000. But once the system is installed, there are almost no operating costs.


You probably have to replace the batteries every 5 or 6 years - and light bulbs - but that is about it. If you are confident you are going to live in the home for 30 or 40 years then you will almost always get payback on your investment in solar lighting. But if your job or other situation means you will probably move in the next 5 years then the solar lighting system will not have paid for itself. You can make the argument that the lighting system increases the value of the home but realtors and buyers may not see it that way.

Perhaps the biggest question you need to ask yourself is how seriously you want to contribute to energy conservation. If you are the type of person that uses compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of regular ones, and sorts and recycles plastic, paper and metal in your garbage then you are probably the type of person that would feel good about investing in a solar lighting system. Solar lighting ends up being a personal life style and philosophy decision, as much as a cost decision.