Solar Panels and Payback

I am currently investigating the the use of solar panels on my house. In this investigation I had to check with my neighborhood covenants and if I was allowed to put panels on my house. I learned that I am allowed to put panels on my house and in learning this I was also treated to opinions about solar panels.

The gentle who told me it was ok to put panels on my house felt it was also important to share how his house previously had solar panels in the late 1980’s. He went on to explain the trouble experienced was more than they were worth. He then went on to tell me how a geo-thermal project his relative was involved with had over a 200 year payback. As he explained, he shared these stories with me to spare me from making a poor decision.

I however had a different response. Of course my first thought is his opinion assumes that things remain the same. That is that solar panels and geothermal efforts are the same today as they were 20 years ago. My other question was how was this supposed poor payback calculated. Although he did not know, he proposed it was simply how much could be saved on energy bills and how much the solar panel installment cost. This of course is blatantly wrong. First, true costs are unknown because of government subsidies without accounting for the value of taking beneficial actions.

As the late Ray Anderson, former CEO and Founder of Interface explained in his books, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist and Mid-Course Correction, the invisible hand of economics can’t work when it is blind to the true costs. Today we are only able to have prosperity by stealing from the future. We are stealing any chance of our  kids and especially grandkids of having the same stable environment we enjoy. How much is that worth? Was that calculated in the payback calculation? Interesting perspective on payback and the cost of focusing on financial gain is provided by Omar Haque in Betterness and in the unique movie, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward.

To me the value of doing what is right and good is priceless. My payback comes by practicing paneugenesis which is making an effort to create interactions so everyone and everything benefits. Although doing this is difficult, takes more effort, and I don’t know how do the calculation – it sure makes me feel good about myself and others seem to appreciate my efforts. As Theodore Roosevelt famously said,

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

and

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

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