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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Columbia couple harnesses the power of the sun

August 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
John and Joni O'Connor hold their $735 rebate check from Columbia Water and Light. The rebate is based on a rate of 50 cents per installed watt. The O'Connors also receive a federal tax credit.

Even prior to profiting from the sun, John and Joni O’Connor have been enjoying life in Columbia’s sunshine since 1975. They thank their fellow Columbians for encouraging the development of alternative energy sources.

Long ago, it occurred to us that the world’s energy future is uncertain. Energy is becoming increasingly costly, and ultimately, our current dependencies will be unsustainable. Globally, we know that fossil fuels are being consumed at a furious rate. It is no secret there will be less fossil fuel in the world tomorrow than there is today and still less every day thereafter.

Most people have come to recognize that the promise of replacing fossil fuel though the use of nuclear energy presents seemingly intractable hazards to health and property. Nuclear fission can generate radioactive residues that have the potential to contaminate ever increasing areas of the earth for, what is to humans, unimaginable periods of time. Except among the most optimistic, complacent or uncaring, only the length of time before serious energy shortages threaten everyone’s lifestyle, whether comfortable or already tenuous, is really a matter of serious debate.

Still, even today, many of us have ready access to one safe and truly reliable source of energy — the sun. Some of the world’s greatest monuments have been built to track its travels. Its annual recession, followed by its return to bring warmth and give rebirth to life in each hemisphere, has been celebrated throughout the ages of mankind.

Over the years, humans have learned how to benefit from the gifts (light, heat, food) conferred by the sun. Today’s technology has made it simple, cheap and easy for modern homeowners to gather the sun’s heat to warm water for bathing and to heat their homes. Even more remarkably, those property owners who have sunlit roofs and open areas can now utilize solar insolation to generate electricity whenever there is light. There is no charge for these solar-generated electrons. If you don’t use the ration you have access to, they are simply lost to you.

We had solar panels designed and installed by our son while we were on vacation this summer. Our modest 1.5 kilowatt system sits quietly atop our garage where someday it may help power an electric car as well as offset a portion of the electricity we purchase from Columbia Water and Light. They have graciously facilitated our project by providing our household with a solar electric meter that records energy "purchased from" and "returned to" their grid.

We are very proud of our solar array. It does not make any sound to annoy the neighbors. It doesn’t smell or create gaseous emissions. It isn’t wired to any adjacent poles, but its inexorable input of electrons goes directly into our home. For the most part, it doesn’t require any attention, adjustments or cleaning. It is durable and has no moving parts. In fact, the panels come with a 25-year warranty. When was the last time you purchased anything and received a 25-year warranty along with it, at no extra cost?

Finally, we believe our panels will withstand a pretty severe hailstorm, as our son and daughter-in-law’s array readily withstood the September 2012 storm that caused damage to so many roofs and cars.

Best of all, our solar panels are possibly the only investment that we have ever made that has essentially no chance of losing money, so long as the sun continues to shine. An engineering cost analysis, done by me and my son, indicates that the total investment will return 5.5 percent every year over its 25-plus year lifespan and that is even assuming that electric rates remain as low as they are today.

All this has left us gazing at our roof to see where we might install a few more panels.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.