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Illinois Country Living

Doug Rye, licensed architect and the popular host of the "Home Remedies" radio show

Energy Solutions:

Solar Energy: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

Mention solar energy and immediately everyone is interested. I have personally been responsible for the installation of several solar systems, all of them in the 1980s. They were installed in homes to heat water only.

These systems were somewhat expensive but had paybacks of about 15 years, which was okay but not great. For all practical purposes, the sales of these systems ceased when the $2,000 tax credit was eliminated. For a number of years, very little was mentioned about solar energy.

I remember well the day that I stopped recommending solar systems. It was after I learned about geothermal, which is about three-fourths or 75 percent solar. You see I knew that solar was expensive, and I also knew that the sun didn’t shine much at night. Smart, huh?

I also know that usable solar radiation occurs only from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., even on a perfect sunny day. So, basically you have no usable solar for about three-fourths of every day. Well, contrast that with geothermal, which provides solar BTUS 24 hours of every single day. And it provides energy for, not only hot water, but also heating and cooling. A no brainer, right? I thought so.

I am NOT against conventional solar energy, but neither am I what they call an impulsive shopper. Display items near the cash register do not tempt me (unless they have to do with fishing). I can walk by a solar photovoltaic system at a home show and simply think – “Nice display. I only wish it were feasible.”

The following are actual calculations for a 4,000-square-foot new house in Colorado. The family had been to a home show and met the solar salesman and were positive that they should spend an additional $20,000 to install a 600-square-foot solar panel on their roof to generate 2 kilowatts (2,000 watts) of electricity. That would be enough generation to provide the electricity for 20 100-watt light bulbs or two good hair dryers. I’ll bet that all of you now know where I’m going with this topic. Would you advise your children to buy something that cost $20,000 if it took 51.44 years to pay for itself? And the item was expected to last only 20 years? I think most of us would agree that is not a good investment.

The family was quite surprised with the calculations and was also surprised at how much space they needed for storage batteries, etc., with the solar system. Then the family was shown the calculations of a new geothermal system, which provides heating, cooling and hot water, every day and night. And keep in mind – geothermal systems do use solar systems. Geothermal systems operate by using the largest solar collector in the world, which is Mother Earth herself.

The average geothermal system costs about $15,000 and has a payback in energy savings of nine years or less. I would, and do, advise my children to do exactly that, just like I have done. Geothermal requires no outdoor equipment, no batteries, has less maintenance and works 24/seven. It’s the most energy-efficient heating and cooling system available. Plus, a properly installed system creates a very comfortable environment in your home. Like I said before, I am not against solar. I just want our readers to know the truth. It just isn’t ready for prime time yet.

Doug Rye, a licensed architect living in Saline County and the popular host of the “Home Remedies” radio show, works as a consultant for electric cooperatives promoting energy efficiency to cooperative members nationwide. To order Doug’s video, call Doug at 1-888-Doug-Rye. More energy-efficiency tips can also be found at

More Information:

Doug Rye, a licensed architect and the popular host of the "Home Remedies" radio show, works as a consultant for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas to promote energy efficiency to cooperative members statewide. To order Doug's video, call Doug at 1-888-Doug-Rye. More energy-efficiency tips can also be found at


© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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