Here’s how I would go about calculating this:

– Find the cost of a solar panel system. You might have to ask a librarian to help you with this, or keep searching on the Internet. “Here’s one Canadian company’s price list in a PDF: http://www.solarpanel.ca/PDF/home%20Packages%20for%20solar%20panel%20(new).pdf Keep in mind that you need to buy not only solar panels, but converters, batteries, cables, construction material to set the panels up, etc. That company sells kits which presumably include most of the supplies. Their cheapest model is “Extra Small” which captures 600 watts of solar energy for about $14,000CDN. That’s for a home setup. They also offer camper setups: http://www.solarpanel.ca/PDF/Cabin%20Packages%20for%20solar%20panel%20(new).pdf and the cheapest there is about $8800CDN for 160 watts. Note, I’m not sure if they mean it can capture 150 watts a day, or a month, or a week, or what the time unit is. But I’m sure you could contact them and find out.

- Another information bit you need is the cost of regular electricity in your area. Ask your parents to look at the electricity bill to find this information (or look at your own bill if you pay one yourself). On my bill, this is how they price it: there’s a cost for the electricity itself (around 5–6 cents per kilowatt hour), then there’s another charge to deliver that electricity to your house (usually equal to the cost of the electricity itself, but can be higher or lower). Then there’s tax. Take all of that cost into account, since you won’t be paying tax when you use your solar energy.

- Find out if the solar setup will satisfy your electricity usage. You might need to purchase another solar system, or purchase a bigger one to go 100% solar. You also may need to reduce the electricity you use (install efficient light bulbs, turn off computers more, etc). I am continuing on the assumption of going 100% solar here, cause it makes the calculations a bit simpler, though you can just as easily make solar a contributing amount if you want.

- So you have the total amount of money required to setup the solar panel system (we’ll call this S) and the amount charged to you by the electricity company (let’s call this E). Divide S by E to find the number of electricity billing periods it would take to equal the cost of the system (divide this by the number of electricity bills a year, mine is billed for around 45 days each billing cycle, so about 8 a year) to find out how many years this would take. Now this might seem like a high number of years. But consider that once this time is reached, all further energy will be essentially free! There will be some costs in maintaining or repairing the system, but that is essentially the only cost for the energy once the system is paid off. You can get a more detailed final answer by finding out the lifespan of the system and factoring that into your equation to find out the total costs and total energy collected, and thus be able to put a price tag on each kWh given by solar.

This is a bit of a simplistic look, and only gives an estimate. There are a lot of factors that could change the answer, such as the fluctuating price of company energy. But it’s a pretty good starting point for evaluating the cost to benefit ratio of a solar setup. If you wanted to go a more realistic route and say a person would buy only one solar setup and continue to buy the remaining electricity from the electric company, then you can use the same basic method to find out how much electric company energy you could get for the price of the solar system, compare that to the total energy collected by the system in its lifetime, and make a nice analysis.