Solar panels still out of reach for most 

Let the Sun Shine in

Although the ridiculously hot weather is one of the most notable things about Charleston — it seems like every summer day is sunny and humid — unfortunately, environmental consciousness is not. And that may be one reason why, when driving around town, you do not see many homes or businesses with solar panels on their roofs.

Erik Lensch, one of the owners of Argand Energy Solutions, is trying to change that, one project at a time. Recently, the company installed solar panels at Blackbaud Stadium.

Interestingly, the name Argand refers to an old-fashioned type of power. “The Argand lamp was a technological breakthrough in the 1800s,” says Lensch. “It was oil-powered and ended up revolutionizing the lighthouse.” Today, Argand Energy Solutions installs solar panels and solar hot water heaters. Lensch now wants to be a part of a movement that will “change the future of the planet.”

Lensch believes that changes in energy consumption must be made quickly to avoid global disaster. Although he admits that solar power is not a “magic bullet,” he maintains that it is an important step in providing and using clean energy. “We are burning through oil and coal like it’s going to be here forever, and it’s not,” he says.

Currently, there are financial incentives for installing solar panels and solar hot water heaters. They include federal and state tax rebates, which are quite substantial for businesses but less so for residential buildings. The motivation for homeowners, it seems, comes from knowing that you will recoup your costs in the long run. For solar panels, that becomes the long, long run. Longer than a marathon.

According to Lensch, the average residential solar panel installment will cost “about $25,000 and will take 20 years or more” before the household starts saving money. The good news is, solar hot water heaters are a lot less expensive, and therefore cost recovery is a lot faster. Lensch says that in five to seven years a typical residential solar hot water heater — at about $7,000 a pop — will pay itself off.

Changing the incentive program is one thing Lensch wants to see done to increase the presence of solar power. “I believe every new building should have a plan for solar energy, especially hot water heaters,” Lensch contends. “If there were different financing arrangements, or if it were mandated in the building code, demand would go up.”

As demand goes up, Lensch believes the equipment prices will go down as solar energy becomes more mainstream. Currently, Charleston is one of Argand’s best markets, although they service all of South and North Carolina.

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