Sunny Days For Solar Panels

Meet Barry and Anita Mathis. They have two kids and a big new house — and a tiny electric bill.

"It was kind of mind blowing when I first moved into this house because I'd open my power bills and I'd start laughing," Anita Mathis says. "It just didn't make any sense that you could save this much money on electricity."

It's not that the Mathis family is energy sensitive. They have big appliances, and of course, air conditioning. But CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras reports the secret is on the roof — small shiny panels are solar energy pads.

"You almost have to show people where the tiles are that are solar," Barry Mathis says. "If it had had big 'Space Invaders' stuff on top of the house — definitely would have been a problem for me."

This is a solar revolution in the making. Solar panels are now relatively small, fit seamlessly into a roof and shrink energy costs.

Kurt Johnson is director of operations for Powerlight Corporation, a company that designs and installs solar panels.

"They are going to offset 70 percent of the consumption of this house," Johnson says.

Developer John Ralston has built 150 homes like this in California, all with the same unique feature: they can make so much energy they feed power to the electric company, literally making the electric meter spin backwards, reducing the bill.

"If you are creating more electricity than you are using, it spins backwards and it will actually reduce your total kilowatts," Ralston says. "You could have less than zero."

There's a saying that a home's biggest selling point is "location, location, location." That's a major problem with this concept. Unless one lives in a place like California with lots of sunshine, it's just not practical.

But builders claim that is going to change soon. They say these panels are so efficient they will be usable even in state with short days and less light.

The state of California subsidizes about half the cost and local power companies are required to give homeowners credit for the power their house makes.

"When were away, we're making money," Barry Mathis says.

But don't think the Mathis family spends any time watching their meter.

"And that's really one of the pretty parts of this whole idea, is that this happens without us knowing anything about it," Barry Mathis says. "It's just there."

They just enjoy the house, bask in the easy money, and let the sun do the work.
  • Gina Pace

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