With a higher than average sunshine index, Colorado is one of the best locations in the country for the use of Photovoltaic (PV) panels. With all the hoopla in the news about Energy Secretary Dr Steven Chu supporting PV panels, we are aware that use of PVs is still lagging in this country behind China and especially behind Germany.

Is PV worth the cost? The average consumer perceives that if you have PVs, when the power goes off at least you will still have electricity. Most PV systems are grid-tied; they gather electricity and push it back to the electrical grid. When necessary, the consumer buys back electricity at the provider’s going rate.

To start the determining how cost-effective your system could be, start by considering your usage. This worksheet will give you an idea of about how much energy you use on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You can use a simple meter such as Kill A Watt EZ to find out exactly what your energy usage is for most common items around your home. You may be surprised to see how fast all adds up.

Once you have established your loads and what you will be turning off as well as improving upon, calculate what seems to be a reasonable amount of money to be spent. What is your goal? Will you be buying newer Energy Star appliances, LED lighting and CFL lighting to use less energy? Is the system 5 or 35 Kilowatts? Don’t forget to subtract the rebates that you will apply for. Both national and many times local energy companies offer tax incentives to install PV systems.

When calculating your usage, the savings from rebates and your system’s efficiency will help establish the approximate total savings each month from PV. That number can be divided into the cost of the panels. This will establish your payback. PV systems and panels have an average of a 20-year lifespan. Therefore, if the payback is estimated to happen over a 5-7 year period, photovoltaic panels may be for you.