When Michael Braden designed his Venice home with solar-powered electrical and water systems, he wanted to avoid electric bills.
Now, he still gets envelopes from the Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power — only they contain credits. “Our meter is running backwards,” says Braden, a partner in Venice-based Meconi+Braden Design Group.
“People love to go look at their inverter to see how much power they’re producing,” says Herb Mendelsohn, director of sales and marketing for Permacity Solar in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles may be on the verge of reversing an inconvenient truth: The city renowned for its sunshine has been slow to embrace solar power.
“Los Angeles is the black hole of photovoltaic electricity in Southern California,” says Graham Owen, owner of the San Fernando Valley’s GO Solar Co. “Electricity is cheap here.”
That could finally change. By the end of the summer, the LADWP is expected to revive the solar rebate program it phased out three years ago — just in time for Southern California Edison’s anticipated 8% rate hike.
Most solar-powered homes have a backup system of traditional electricity, which Mzzendelsohn likens to a hybrid car. Other solar homes employ battery backups.
Recent technology has made the systems easier to build and maintain, as well as easier on the eyes. The small panels are an iridescent blue that Mendelsohn describes as “quite beautiful,” especially when they’re incorporated into a home’s design.
However, “it’s still a fairly expensive proposition,” says California Solar Engineering president Peter Parrish, Ph.D. Installing a photovoltaic electrical system runs north of $20,000, although rebates and tax credits can cut costs by half.
Scarcity also has been a perennial problem. Solar power demands overseas and and the computer industry’s need for silicon have jacked up panel costs by as much as 30% in the last year. However, Parrish predicts prices will drop within the next couple of years.
That’s what Anne Atkins-Young hoped a decade ago, when she built her Mar Vista bungalow. It’s only in the last year, however, that technology and pricing allowed her to have solar panels installed on the roof.
Still, even after receiving a rebate, she says converting to solar power was tantamount to parking a luxury car on top of her home. She expects it will take 20 years to recoup the investment.
However, the project is paying off immediately in other ways.
“Now I feel less guilty doing my laundry or running my air conditioner,” she says. “I give energy back to the grid. I’m not just sucking the earth dry.”