IE Questions: Is Now The Time to Go Solar?



When Inside Energy really started, gosh, about two months ago now, we attended a couple of energy discussion forums in Greeley, Colo.

We handed out a survey at those events, asking people to tell us (among other things):

-What are you hearing too much about in energy news?
-What stories are you not hearing enough about?
-What confuses you most about energy?

We received quite a few interesting answers — and even some questions for us — from the public. The feedback is perfect fodder for our new IE Questions series. (I hope this space will eventually become your favorite Inside Energy feature, focused on answering questions from you, our audience!)

So here’s this Thursday’s question:

Is solar power becoming cost effective?

Well, that’s probably still subjective, but it certainly is becoming more cost effective, and rapidly.

The cost of solar installations has dropped about 60 percent in just the last few years.

I reported on this issue for Montana Public Radio, shortly before I joined the Inside Energy team. The owner of a small, independent company called Solar Montana said panels with a 20 year lifespan are now paying for themselves in under a decade. That figure will vary a bit around the country, depending on an individual state’s policies.

And, as the most basic of basic economics would suggest, sales are climbing rapidly in response.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports solar sales in 2013 jumped 41 percent from 2012. Solar accounted for 29 percent of new electric generation last year, up from 10 percent in 2012.  Here’s a graph SEIA put together to show the rate of solar growth.

SEIA graph
SEIA says solar electric installations were valued at $13.7 billion last year.

So, there you have it.

Keep the questions coming, gang! Send us your questions about energy stuff. You can send an email to, or reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter.