Considering cost & efficiency, which is better: solar or geothermal energy? I am building a 1200 sq ft home in OH on Lake Erie.

Asked by Jill Pafford
Elyria, OH

This will be a two story home, no basement. It will face west and will be located in the city of Avon Lake which is right on lake Erie. There are a handfull of large trees on the neighboring lots. Do you know of any tax credits for either option?


Michael Holcomb

Answered by Michael Holcomb

Byron Center, MI

Alliance for Environmental Sustainability (Headquarters)

October 25, 2012


If you have had an opportunity to review any of my previous responses to reader questions you may know that I am not a fan of tax credits since they do not reduce the cost of the equipment, they shift the cost to taxpayers.

Getting off my soapbox, I am providing a link (here) to a site that gives you the latest information on programs available in Ohio.

Solar can cut energy costs

Solar is a broad term in the residential sustainable community. You can use solar to:

  • heat a home (passive or active systems),
  • provide potable hot water or
  • generate electricity.

Solar is unreliable as a single source energy supplier but can cut operating costs as a supplemental system. The cost effectiveness of the investment would depend on the upfront cost for the equipment, the cost of grid system energy, the efficiency of the thermal envelop and the efficiency of the equipment.

Solar equipment has a long way to go before it becomes cost effective (you’ll know when that point has been reached because there will be no need to offer tax credits or subsidies).

Start with high performance insulation and windows

I recommend that you concentrate your investment dollars on building a home with a superior thermal envelope using high performance insulation products and low u-value windows.  

Install a closed loop (or lake loop if allowed) ground source heat pump with heat recovery technology (to reduce potable water heating costs).

I am not a fan of open loop systems. They are more expensive to operate and they have a reduced expected service life.

Plan for a future photovoltaic installation

I also suggest that you orient the home so you have as much south facing roof as possible for future solar installations (as prices drop and efficiency improves). Have your electrician run an empty conduit from the main electrical panel to the attic so you can wire in a photovoltaic system without much disruption to the finished interior.

If your budget allows you might also consider installing a solar water heating system to supplement potable hot water needs. 


For more information:

Read "Are geothermal heating/cooling systems better in reducing energy costs than solar power?" a Q&A answered by Mick Dalrymple.

Tagged In: geothermal, solar electric

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