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Sometimes that post-holidy meal nap just can't be helped. Too much food? Stress kept you up all night? Just don’t want to talk to your political nemesis cousin? But maybe it's something in the air.

What do climate science, building science, NASA, and recent university studies all have in common? Their research indicates that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not just a greenhouse gas to be managed, but elevated levels of it are detrimental to human health and cognition. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take that much of an increase in CO2 levels to feel the effects. If you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13, you know that scrubbing CO2 out of the air in a small, closed environment is mission critical if you want your astronauts to stay alive. So what does this have to do with you, your home, and the holidays?


Fresh Food is Good for You — So is Fresh Air!

When your guests arrive for the holidays, more people are sharing the same amount of air in the closed environment of your home. People inhale oxygen, and exhale CO2. The amount of CO2 in the air doesn’t need to increase by much for us to feel the effects.

Reducing the air leakage of your home is one of the best things you can do to improve its energy efficiency. If you’ve done any weatherization to your home, the air leakage rate is probably fairly low. But even in an old drafty farmhouse, the air leakage rate is likely to be minimal unless the wind is blowing.

CO2 meter

7 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

When you light up the gas oven and all the range burners to cook your meal, remember that gas ovens are like people – they need oxygen to burn their fuel. And, like us, a large component of what an oven “exhales” is CO2. Suddenly, you’re sacked out on the couch and all you can do is watch the game on TV and doze off. Welcome to Apollo 13. You're oxygen starved! You need to get some fresh air to your brain soon! Improve your mental stamina this holiday season and breathe healthy!

1. Open at least two windows for cross-ventilation. If you open one window on a lower floor, and one upstairs, you’ll create a natural draft between the lower and upper windows, helping to promote effective air movement.

2. Turn on the exhaust fans. Pulling air out of the house will force fresh air in through the path of least resistance. This could be through an open window or through all the leaks in your home envelope like around windows, doors, the attic hatch, and recessed lights.

3. If you have a recirculating range hood fan (one that pulls air up from the range then filters it and exhausts it back into the kitchen), upgrade to a system that ducts the air to the outdoors.

4. If you have a gas oven, try to cook as much as you can before the guests arrive.

5. Upgrade your home with a heat-recovery ventilation system so that stale air is pulled out of the house at the same rate that fresh air is pulled in, and ducted to where its most needed.

6. Purchase a CO2 meter and keep track of your home’s indoor air quality.

7. Find some lithium hydroxide and duct tape, and cross your fingers (hey, it worked for the astronauts)

I wrote about this topic last year in more depth, so if you’d like additional information, you can read that post here. Science continues to build a strong case around air quality and human health on the planet, and in your home.

Paul Scheckel is an energy efficiency and renewable energy consultant and author of The Homeowner's Energy Handbook and The Home Energy Diet. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Read Part 1, Resources, of this series here. Read Part 2, Electricity, here. Read Part 3, Water, here.

Food self-sufficiency is a core aspect of homesteading, producing your own food from crops and livestock and bartering excess for what you can’t produce. Before supermarkets nearly every home had crops and livestock and processed their own food and traded with the neighbors. Homegrown food is fresher and tastier than store-bought—enjoy!

Did you know that it takes about one ton of food per year to feed one person?

human food requirements

My Food Sources

The climate at my off grid mountain homestead necessitates a greenhouse in which to grow vegetables. My location, though, in the middle of the National Forest provides the opportunity for me to forage wild edibles, hunt, and fish.

Since this is my first year on my site and until I get more established, I don’t expect to be able to produce and forage all of my food requirements. So I came here prepared with six months of preserved food and keep that in my root cellar. I have crates of canned and dried foods in these groups: meats, vegetables, fruits, tomatoes/sauces, pasta/rice/oatmeal, coffee/powdered milk/potatoes flakes, beans, and soups. The key to making preserved food more edible is lots of spice and taking vitamins to replace the vitamins lost in the preserving processes. Still, I need to make the drive to the supermarket in the town (50 miles one way) about twice a month for fresh foods. That will change as I develop food sources from the greenhouse, wild game, foraging, and livestock.

In my greenhouse I will grow vegetables in containers. My plan for the first growing season includes: tomato, carrot, radish, onion, lettuce, spinach, dandelion, mint, and strawberry. There are five raised benches, each 2 feet by 5 feet, on which to place the containers. Since I had the soil analyzed, I know I can use it with minimal soil amendments, instead of buying soil. Cold nighttime temperature is the main reason I need a greenhouse, but during the day it can easily get too hot so I will use a vent fan with a thermostat. Water conservation is critical at my site, so I will use drip watering with timers synced to the plant cycles.

A hunting license in Oregon permits one deer per year, which is not much meat and I’m still waiting my turn for a deer tag in my area. I can collect antler and sell it, but haven’t found any yet. Wild hares have no limit and a well-located trap works. My fishing license permits five fish per day, which has added up to a decent supply, because the lakes near my homestead are stocked with trout and salmon making it ridiculously easy to catch the limit within an hour. All of these meats get preserved by smoking or freezing.

The wild edibles I’ve harvested include morel and king boulete mushrooms, onions, and strawberries. Other parts of the Cascade Mountains have many more types of mushrooms and berries. Mushrooms can be sold to buyers for $3 to $12 per pound and at the peak of the season that can add up to hundreds of dollars per day. I can also cut and sell firewood with a permit from the forest service—a lot more work than mushrooms. Another opportunity I’m exploring is propagating local alpine flora from seeds, a.k.a. ‘rock garden’ plants, to sell to collectors. Finally, within the city are homes with heritage fruit and nut trees; with permission, I harvest the fruits and nuts.

Next year I’ll begin raising chickens for eggs and domestic rabbits for meat. I’m also considering goats for milk and cheese. Once I get livestock I’ll also get a dog for protecting the livestock from predators. I think it would be fun to have a donkey too. Chickens and rabbits won’t break my budget for feed, but goats and a donkey would require planning for their needs above what they can forage from the forest grasses. Local ranchers successfully range their cattle, unattended, in the forest during the summer—unlike farm livestock that must be attended to every day. Note that the advantage of large families and/or farm hands is to permit people to get off the farm for a change of pace now and then.

Planning for Crops

First, find out how long your growing season is (number of day from frost-free to first-frost dates), what is your site’s “Plant Hardiness Zone” (average annual minimum temperature range), and “Plant Heat Zone” (average number of days above 86 degrees F). The frost free period and the heat zone will limit the varieties of annual vegetable crops; the hardiness zone and heat zone will limit the varieties of perennial berries, fruits, and nuts, and vegetables.

Second, look up plants in “Master Plant Charts” to match them with the climate on your site. It will also list plant yields so you can determine how much seed and growing space you’ll need to meet your food budget.

Third, have your soil tested to find out what amendments are needed, if any, to improve growth.

After you have the basic plan of crops you will plant, mark your calendar for these events/tasks: soil preparation, planting, sprouting, rotations, successions, and harvest activities.

Planning for Livestock

Learn which animals are practical for you and determine how much forage is available on your pasture. As in permaculture, a pasture can support more than one type of livestock simultaneously, for example cows can share the pasture with chickens.

Healthy pastures grasses are six inches high. Grasses will be shorter in a depleted, over-grazed pasture--if 60% of the grasses are removed all at once, by over-grazing, the effect will stop 50% of the remaining grasses from developing and weeds and other unwanted plants will take over. Hay grows and is harvested from a pasture and it’s called ‘feed’ when you provide it to an animal when forage is not available.

pasture forage and feed

In the final article of this series, I’ll go over how I applied old and new technologies for heat to make my off-grid homestead work. Many more details on off grid living are fully explained in my book, Hut-Topia.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


windmill energy

So you finally took the leap and installed a home wind turbine. Congratulations! You’ve just taken a big step toward living a more sustainable life. What comes next?

Like any piece of machinery, turbines require regular maintenance. Here are some essential steps to follow if you want your wind power system to stay in tip-top condition.

1. Schedule Your Maintenance

You don’t want to wait until something goes horribly wrong to service your turbine. It may seem like a hassle, but regularly scheduled maintenance can save you time, money and headaches in the long run. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.

There are two types of maintenance: scheduled and unscheduled. Unscheduled maintenance happens when something breaks or malfunctions unexpectedly. Scheduled maintenance can help prevent such mechanical emergencies.

You should schedule maintenance at least once a year for your wind power system, but twice a year is ideal.

2. Start From the Ground Up

Your annual turbine inspection should begin with the electrical components on the ground. You’ll want to check for loose wires and other damage.

You should also check the electrical output of your turbine. Changing wind speeds can make this difficult. In general, variations of more than 10 percent between phases are a sign that your three-phase output isn’t balanced.

The next step involves climbing, so be sure to also check the structural integrity of your tower while you’re still on the ground.

3. Get Ready to Climb

The best way to inspect your wind power system is to climb all the way to the top. Binoculars just won’t do the trick. This climb can be a dangerous task for beginners, though, so be sure to enlist the help of an experienced teacher as you learn.

Once you scale the tower, there are several routine things for you to take care of:

• Tighten or replace any loose or missing hardware – carry spare nuts, bolts and nut locks along to save you an extra climb
• Find and secure loose wires
• Check guy-wires for proper tension
• Remove rust and look for corrosion
Lubricate bearings and change gearbox oil
• Replace worn leading edge tape on turbine blades
• Check blades and bearings for structural damage

Blades and bearings may need to be replaced after about 10 years of wear and tear, so keep an eye on them. Rust streaks and black powder are signs of bearing problems, and cracks and erosion can threaten the structural integrity of blades.

4. Know When to Call in an Expert

If you’re feeling overwhelmed after reading this, don’t fret. Self-sufficiency is great, but no one is an expert in everything. If turbine maintenance isn’t your forte, there’s no shame in calling in a professional. If you’re not sure where to start, try contacting your installer to ask if they offer a service and maintenance program.

Whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a professional, proper maintenance is the key to giving your wind turbine a long and productive life. Give your wind power system the care it needs, and it will repay you with decades of green energy. Welcome to the future!

James White is green builder and home improvement blogger who focuses on sustainable living via his family blog, Homey Improvements. He also enjoys sharing his recent discoveries with DIY projects, home tips and organic gardening. James is "Alaska Grown" but now resides in Pennsylvania. Connect with him  on Twitter at @DIYfolks. Read all of James' MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Read Part 1, "Resources," of this series here. Read Part 2, "Electricity,"  here.

Choosing an off grid site for its water qualities makes good sense. In fact, with the right water supply you could have a constant supply of hydroelectric power as well as irrigate your crops and water your livestock.

My homestead water supply is not yet ideal. I get water from a local spring and haul 55 gallons at a time and store it in three 55 gallon barrels in my root cellar and then pump it up in batches into another 55 gallon barrel on the second floor of my house, which then provides gravity-fed water pressure for my sink, shower, and greenhouse.

cold creek spring

Cold Creek Spring--Where I Get Water

On the other hand, I recently discovered greener vegetation just over the summit of the mountain where I live and suspect that the water table is contained in sub-surface strata. My house is on top of the strata, while the lush vegetation is receiving water because the strata are exposed. I might be able to drill a shallow well next summer.

text box

So what are sources of water you can use? Basically, springs and wells are excellent; rainwater and snowmelt are marginal; streams, lakes, and ponds are polluted with bacteria and not potable without purification, but can be used directly for irrigation of crops, watering animals, and aquaculture.

You cannot assume that because the water flows across your property, that you can use it, because it may belong to someone else depending on local water rights. Check out who is upstream and have the water tested for man-made pollutants and naturally occurring toxic minerals.

A spring is a good source if it has a minimum flow of 4 to 6 gallons per minute, year round. If the spring is at a higher elevation than your home then you can have a gravity-fed water supply by diverting spring water into a holding tank and then plumbing that directly into your house.

Costs for drilling depend on the depth. You’ll never know how deep until you drill…it could be 40 feet or 500 feet. If your neighbor has a well they can give you some idea of the costs. After drilling there is the energy cost of running an electric pump to get the water into your storage tanks. Shallow wells can use a hand pump instead of an electric pump.

Rainwater and snow melt must be filtered before considered potable. The amount of rainwater you can collect is calculated by taking the horizontal footprint area (not the surface area) of the rooftops that have collection gutters multiplied by the average annual rainfall in your area, then converting the cubic volume into gallons (1 cubic foot of water equals approximately 7-1/2 gallons). Snowmelt is calculated by dividing the inches of non-compacted snow by 17; for example a 10-gallon pot of snow will melt down to about 2-1/2 quarts.

It may be possible to get double-duty out of your water source by capturing hydroelectric power and/or the cold temperature. If the flow is at least 15 gallons per second or the head is more than five feet then micro-hydroelectric power is feasible. If the water temperature is 40 degrees F or cooler then it could be utilized as a cold source for a refrigerator.

water requirement tables

Crops generally need one inch of water over the soil surface per week; in arid climates, it is double that amount. In hot weather, vegetables need even more water, up to about 1/2-inch per week extra for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit that the average temperature is above 60 degrees. There are ways to conserve water including timing irrigation in sync with the plant’s daily cycles, limiting evaporation, and hydroponics.

That’s a lot of math to get water! Well (pun intended), this article is just a sip of water techniques. To get a full drink of information like types of storage tanks, water purification methods, and what to do after you’ve used it and it becomes grey water and black water, you can tap into my book, Hut-Topia.

In the remaining articles of this series, I’ll go over how I applied old and new technologies in two more areas: food and heat.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Title: Solar Value in 15 Cities

Going solar is a long-term investment. Discussions about solar value are often limited to avoiding electricity costs, and oftentimes neglect the additional market value that these “mini power plants” can add to your home.

The good news is that installing solar panels on your roof not only defrays your electricity costs, but also can increase your property value. In fact, in some markets, the income value of a solar PV system is actually higher than the cost of the system new. EnergySage and Sandia National Laboratories conducted an analysis that uses the income value approach to estimate solar market values in 15 cities across the United States. We used the PV Value® tool, an online calculator developed by Energy Sense Finance that allows real estate appraisers and other industry professionals to determine the market value of solar energy systems. The results are remarkable. 


Table: Solar Value in 15 Cities

For details on the approach used for this analysis, please review our Key Assumptions and Data Analysis document.

In five of the cities that we analyzed, solar has a retained income value that is actually higher than the cost new. This means that, according to the income approach to developing market value, the value of solar PV systems in those cities is higher than what they cost. In San Francisco, the retained income value of a solar energy system is 46 percent greater than the cost of the system new. Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York City, and Newark round out the top five, with retained income values ranging from 108 to 136 percent of cost new.

If the retained income value of a system is higher than the system cost when new, real estate appraisers will likely develop a market value for the system that more closely reflects the cost new. Prospective homebuyers don’t want to pay more for a solar PV system than they would pay to install it themselves. Regardless, in many cities, solar is still one of the smartest investments you can make in your property.

For the top 10 cities in our analysis, solar PV systems have estimated retained income values equal to 80 percent or more of their cost new. By comparison, if you attempt to boost the market value of your home with a major kitchen remodel, you’ll only be able to recoup 67.8 percent of your investment.

We also estimated the market value of solar at five, 10, and 15 years from purchase. While we can’t know what installed costs will be at that time, our analysis suggests that PV will still have value far into the future that could be capitalized into the market value of your home.

Remember, market value is only one factor that plays into the financial benefits of solar. Until you sell your home, your solar panel system is also saving you significant cash, and can even earn you money after you’ve reached payback. In addition to the financial bump that solar value provides if you sell your home, your solar energy system provides you with electricity, allowing you to reduce or even eliminate your utility electricity bills. In some areas, your solar panels can also generate income from the sale of solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs).

The bottom line: assuming that you own, rather than lease, your solar panel system, going solar is a smart financial investment even for property owners who decide to sell their property after they install their system.

In order to find the best deal for your home, be sure to solicit quotes from multiple solar installers and compare your costs and financing options. Get an instant estimate of how much you can save by going solar, or register your property to receive multiple quotes from pre-screened installers in your area.

PV Value® is a registered trademark, owned by Energy Sense Finance. 

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Read Part 1 of this series here.

Electricity — as a modern off-grid homesteader, I want it! Electric power for lighting, computers, radios, phones, pumps, refrigeration, fans, are appropriate and can be integrated into a homestead at relatively low cost from on-site renewable solar, wind, and/or hydro energy sources.

Why is it low cost? Four reasons: 1) the market price for renewable energy components, such as photovoltaic (PV) panels and turbines for wind and water continues to drop; 2) appliances that use electricity are available at second-hand stores; 3) house wiring supplies are obtainable at contractor prices; 4) renewable energy is free to use.

Although non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources can also be used to generate electric power, in the long run, it’s more expensive because the fuel is not free. During the construction phase of my small house, before my solar electric system was setup, I used a gas powered electric generator to run power tools and charge a battery bank to run lights and electronics; then after construction it became a backup to the solar.

Setting up the right size system required me to measure how much power I needed and then make choices about conserving energy and using alternatives to electric power because the initial cost of a renewable energy system increases with how much power you want it to produce, so finding ways to conserve energy is essential. To do this I took power measurements of my appliances by using a hand-held watt-hour meter, e.g. Kill-A-Watt, which gave me a starting point for understanding my power requirements.

My finances afforded the cost of 1,000 watts of PV panels and my homestead site offered 12 hours of sunshine per day in summer and 6 hours per day in winter; with 330 sunny days per year at my site, it works out to a potential of about 3 million watt-hours per year — a little more than half of the 5 million watt-hours that my utility bill reported that I actually used at my townhome before I went off the grid.

Consider the following ‘thumbs-up’ and ‘thumbs-down’ choices and alternatives when sizing your renewable energy system:

efficient elec appliances

elec appliances that require more energy

The next question—did I want electric power when the sun wasn’t shining? Yes, and therefore a battery bank was needed to store power and then deliver it when the renewable energy source is not producing. Unfortunately, today’s chemical battery technology looses about 25 percent of the power you put into it, so I had to re-size my system accordingly.

Solar and wind electric systems operate intermittently (unlike hydro electric, which can produce electricity continuously) and typically has three other main components: charger controllers, batteries, and inverters. There are four possible off-grid electrical system configurations with these components:

1. No chemical battery. This is ideal if your electrical loads can simply be run with intermittent on-site power like solar or wind and you do not need power when the on-site system is not producing. Note that pumping water into a tank is a type of kinetic battery system and running a refrigerator is a type of thermal battery system.

2. ‘Uninterruptable Power Supply’ (UPS) using intermittent on-site power to charge the chemical battery, with an inverter to draw the power out of the battery and thereby runs the electrical loads continuously.

3. UPS with fossil-fuel engine-generator as the sole power source. Run a battery charger from the generator long enough to charge the battery. Then use an inverter to draw the power out of the battery when the generator is off. Electrical loads can run from the generator or inverter.

4. UPS with on-site solar, wind, or hydro power and a fossil-fuel engine-generator for backup. The generator provides backup power when on-site energy sources are not available. Another example of a fossil fuel backup is a lamp, when electricity is not available, for lighting at night.

Below is the diagram of my off grid electrical system. Everything cost about US$4,000. I installed it myself because I’m an engineer by trade and know about electrical safety and I strongly recommend getting the help of a professional with your system due to the hazards of working with high current and to minimize the chance of damaging the equipment by an incorrect hookup.

Component Diagram of Off Grid Electrical System with On-Site Solar PV and Generator Backup

component diagram

There are more technical details for off grid, on-site, electrical systems that we don’t have room to cover in this article, but you can find solar, wind, and hydro renewable energy systems, and more, fully explained in my book, Hut-Topia.

In the remaining articles of this series, I’ll go over how I applied old and new technologies for water, food, and heat to make my off-grid homestead work.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Home Energy Solar Savings

Solar energy is growing in popularity as more and more homeowners decide to do away with high utility bills and help the environment at the same time by producing their own clean energy. Perhaps you have also been considering solar panels for your roof and are wondering if they make financial sense for you?

Ultimately, to answer that question you need to know if the cost of solar electricity is the same or cheaper than electricity from the utility. If the answer is yes, then solar energy makes financial sense. Finding the cost of electricity from your utility is not too difficult – you can check your most recent bill or you can use the state average in a savings calculator. But how do you determine the cost of solar electricity?

To do that, we calculate the levelized cost of solar energy (LCOE), which is essentially the cost of electricity at the point of connection to the grid, including both the initial installation costs, as well as the ongoing expenses such as fuel and maintenance over the expected lifetime of the investment.

Location, Location, Location

Where you are located greatly impacts the cost of solar electricity, or LCOE. Not only is the amount of sunlight that falls on your panels’ location dependent, but so are the available financial incentives, such as rebates and tax credits.

Because there are so many different incentive programs at the municipal and state level, for simplicity, we will only consider the federal investment tax credit (ITC) of 30%, because that is available nationwide. Sunmetrix Discover takes these factors into account and calculates the levelized cost of solar energy for you.

Let’s look at an example:

Solar system installation cost: An average-sized residential solar panel installation with 5-kW capacity would cost about $14,000 ($20,000 minus the 30% federal investment tax credit) based on the estimates of the Solar Energy Industries Association. Other available rebates would decrease this cost further.

Operating and maintenance cost: A relatively conservative estimate for the operation and maintenance costs over the expected 20-year lifetime of your panels would be about 20 percent of the initial installation cost before rebates — in this case, about $4,000 for a 5-kW system.

Fuel cost: In the case of solar, the fuel comes from the sun, and so there is no additional cost.

So our total lifecycle cost is composed of the installation and operation and maintenance costs: $14,000 + $4,000 = $18,000.

We’re almost done! But we still need to determine how much electricity you can produce with your system to determine the levelized cost.

Using Discover, we can see that a 5-kW system installed in San Diego (with a Solar Score of 79) would generate about 8,300 kWh of electricity per year. By comparison, the same system installed in Portland (where the Solar Score is 40) would yield about 5,500 kWh per year.

Because, as we mentioned, most solar energy installations have an expected lifetime of 20 years, we multiply the annual average generation by 20 to get 166,000 kWh over 20 years for San Diego or 110,000 kWh over 20 years for Portland.

The final step is to divide the life-cycle cost ($18,000) with the amount of electricity the system will generate over its lifetime. In the case of San Diego: $18,000 divided by 166,000 kWh equals about 11 cents/kWh, whereas in Portland, we are looking at about 16 cents/kWh.

We were considering the same system, with the same life-cycle cost, but because of vastly different numbers for the expected electricity generation, we find that the levelized cost is significantly different for the two example locations.

Solar Calculator

Solar Grid Parity Sums it Up

Once you have the levelized cost of solar electricity where you live, all that is left to do is compare that number to what you are currently paying for electricity from your local utility. If the LCOE for solar where you live is the same or lower than the utility rate, then you’ve reached grid parity and switching to solar will save you money over the lifetime of the panels.

While the LCOE will remain the same over the lifetime of your panels,
the cost of electricity from your utility is almost certain to rise.

To see how your state compares when it comes to residential solar, you can check out our interactive grid parity map. You can even adjust the cost of solar panels to reflect falling prices. If your state hasn’t reached grid parity yet, you can see at what cost per watt it does.

But it’s important to note that the federal investment tax credit of 30% makes a big difference (you can also use our grid parity map to see what happens when there is no ITC). It’s helped residential solar take off in many locations.

However, the ITC is set to expire at the end of 2016, and it’s unclear whether it will be extended. If you’re considering solar energy for your home, you may want to get going with the installation before the ITC is no more.

Solar Grid Parity Map


It’s not too difficult to figure out whether solar energy will save you money in the long run, and Discover can help you with the calculations. If solar electricity is already the same or cheaper than electricity from your utility, now is the time to investigate further, by talking with qualified installers where you live.

With solar energy, you will save money AND help our planet using a clean, green source of electricity.

Simone Garneau is the co-founder of Sunmetrix, an online consumer education and customer acquisition platform for residential solar energy. The goal of Sunmetrix is to help homeowners go solar. In addition to the 200+ articles about solar energy, Sunmetrix offers homeowners two main tools: Discover and GO.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Best Blogging Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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