What lessons can the increasingly affordable solar panels teach to other tech trends?

solar panels

“Solar power is far too costly and is not worth it!”

Fritz Schuppisser has been listening to statements such as these for decades. Schuppisser is one of the pioneers in the use of solar heat for heating and hot water in Switzerland. “In my opinion today, it is simply important to use renewable energy wherever possible – and that includes the sun,” says the entrepreneur, who runs a solar collector company in Elgg, Zurich. “In addition, the thing pays off over the entire life of a solar system quite well: unlike other systems, only the basic investment in solar collectors are higher.”

The numbers give Fritz Schuppisser right. Even with the currently low energy prices, a solar system is at least as good as a classic electric boiler. “The price for the same amount of hot water is currently the same as for an electric boiler,” says Winterthur building services engineer Thomas Scheiwiller.

Solar systems are also interesting because of the subsidies, which can sometimes be quite high. An overview of the subsidies can be found on the website www.energiefranken.ch. The canton of Valais, for example, pays 1,500 francs for retrofitting with a solar panel in a single-family home, as does the canton of Aargau. In the city of Bern, combined with the contribution of the canton of Bern, there are more than 3,500 francs. And in the canton of Basel-Stadt, there is even a subsidy of around 8,000 francs – which means that one solar system is half paid.

In contrast to the generation of hot water with electricity, gas or oil have systems with solar panels also a great advantage: Apart from the maintenance costs and the electricity costs for the circulation pump, no further financial expense, because the heat from the sun is free. “As a homeowner, you are not exposed to fluctuations in energy prices,” says Scheiwiller.

No wonder, the number of systems for solar hot water heating in Switzerland is constantly increasing. While around 50,000 systems were still counted in 2008, there are currently over 80,000. One reason for the increase is the high reliability of the systems that are being mass produced today. Fritz Schuppisser says, “The days of self-assembly are long gone, and most of the properties in Switzerland are now suitable for retrofitting.”

Whether your own roof has the right orientation – optimal yield on roofs that are directed to the southeast to southwest – can be easily determined. The WWF solar calculator (see the following links) shows the suitability of the roof and the expected yield of solar heat after just a few mouse clicks, with a smart battery able to add whole new solar potential.

If the orientation of the roof is not optimal, you can put the collectors on the garage roof. The required space is not huge: If only warm water is to be generated, it is to be expected that there will be 1 to 1.5 square meters per person in the household; If the heating is also to be supported, ten square meters are needed for a detached house. The latter is only useful if the house is reasonably well insulated and the flow temperature of the heating is not too high.

The best time for retrofitting is an upcoming replacement of the heating system or the hot water treatment. If the money is not enough, you should at least have the new heating system prepared for retrofitting with a solar system. You can finance a solar system either from your own reserves or by increasing the mortgage. If the existing mortgage is not exhausted, many banks are willing to top up the mortgage for environmental upgrades. Some banks, such as the Zürcher Kantonalbank, are offering discounted mortgages for solar systems. Ask your bank.