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Style Magazine

Let it Shine

Mar 30, 2010 10:40AM ● By Wendy Sipple

Photos courtesy of Granite Bay Energy.

The Sacramento area has a long history with innovative means to producing energy.

Most famously, in 1895, on the heels of the first hydroelectric plant on the American River harnessed by Folsom State prison, the Folsom Powerhouse created the country’s longest overhead transmission at the time (22 miles in distance) and provided Sacramento with its first electricity. While our energy needs have outpaced some of these earliest technologies, advancements in alternative energy seek to change the ways we power up in the future.

One of the most popular, and abundant, sources out there is solar. “Solar is an investment, and a good one at that,” says Justin Mizany of Solar Depot in Sacramento. “The average annual return on investment for a residential solar system in California is anywhere from 12-15 percent over the life of the system. Try to get that kind of return on Wall Street or in the banks these days.” With an unlimited supply of California sunshine to be had, local residents are finding the long-term benefits of solar panel installation a plus for both the environment and their pocketbooks.

It’s commonly believed that the cost of installing a solar panel system can be so pricey it cancels out the saving benefits on an electricity bill. Not necessarily so, says Nicole Wonderlin of The Solar Company in El Dorado Hills. “Solar loan payment is almost always lower than the current monthly electric bill. And once it’s paid off (average system payback time is 5-7 years), you enjoy the benefits of your system for 20-plus years,” she says. “And remember, installing solar is an investment, not an expense, and it increases value of your home or property.” In addition, there are tax credits and rebates available to solar power users (for details, visit

So exactly how much solar does the average home need to meet normal demands? That really depends on how much energy you use, running the air conditioner or heating the pool. According to The Solar Company’s stats, an average 2,500-square-foot, single-family home uses about 5,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. A three-kilowatt (AC) solar system, typically installed on the roof or ground, will generate nearly all the electricity required for such a home on an annual basis. At The Solar Company, solar electric systems require approximately 65 square-feet of panel area to generate one kilowatt of electricity. These panels also have a 40-year design life and come with a 25-year warranty.

If you’ve made up your mind and you’re ready for solar, what’s the next step? Do your research. Wonderlin notes, “You need to understand the types of solar power systems that are available and which companies offer which manufacturers; and pay attention to the warranty offered on equipment.” According to Mizany at Solar Depot, sharing the experience with others is a great way to spread the word about solar. “The first thing you want to do is invite your neighbors over to ‘show off’ your newfound commitment to green power and show them your electric meter spinning backwards,” he says.

Solar may not be for everyone, but it certainly offers an enticing alternative to the right customer. As one sales consultant at The Solar Company puts it: “There is not one single act a person can do that amounts to the quantitative benefits of solar. And the neighbors think you’re cool.”


The Solar Company

Solar Depot

Granite Bay Energy

Premier Power

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)