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Speaking Of No Blood For Oil

| 27 Comments

We signed a contract with Solar City this week, for a 3.1KwH solar roof array.

Solar City has apparently put together a lease program that strips the tax advantages, but offers the system for $75/month (escalating 3.5%/year) for 15 years. Since it's guaranteed to save us at least $60/month in electricity (possibly as much as $80 - we live in a funny climate zone near the beach), and since I think utility prices are going to spike hard when all the energy costs, bad employee contracts, and deferred maintenance and needed upgrades in infrastructure come home to roost - it seemed like a smart thing to do.

And even if not smart, it seems like the right thing to do.

I'll keep everyone posted. My biggest issue now is that the inverter is set to shut the system down during brownouts or blackouts to protect the grid. Because we get brown or blackouts on sunny summer afternoons, I'd love to figure how to use the panels off the grid.

I'll be doing some research.

27 Comments

Great! you are going to be joined by a tidal wave of other users over the next 5 to 10 years, especially in the manufacturing industry where energy costs not only go to directly to the bottom line but hit directly at the cost of goods sold and competitiveness.

I've been looking for some form of information about green design and solar homes that focuses on both the design and the techy stuff.

So far, I've only found sources that focus on the design and ignore the science (Dwell magazine) or sources that focus on the tech and ignore design (Home Power). If you find magazines or blogs that talk about the whole process of building or maintaining a solar or off the grid house, please let me know!

Mary - Might I suggest THE Passive Solar Energy Book

This particular work talks about all sorts of techie subjects. Mazria was/is a Prof. of Architecture at UNM and working member of AIA.

Edward Mazria is an internationally recognized architect with a long and distinguished career. His architecture and planning projects span over a thirty year period and each employs a cutting-edge environmental approach to its design.

BTW, AL, solar photovoltaics work best at high, dry altitudes. The fewer the atmospheric aberrations there are the better the fields work. Alamosa Colorado

Small installations like yours are okay, I guess. But I think that the jury is still out on whether they will be viable. You know, things like costs and yield may be kinda important.

You said:

My biggest issue now is that the inverter is set to shut the system down during brownouts or blackouts to protect the grid. Because we get brown or blackouts on sunny summer afternoons, I'd love to figure how to use the panels off the grid.

Funny that. The power company protects the grid from you? I know folks who have tried to get off grid with wind and solar which require batteries. Guess what happens? Yup, they end up back on after a few years. Lots of reasons.

Well, good luck and keep us posted.

Robo - we live in a utility district with a strongly tiered pricing structure. The 3KwH ought to get us down to the bottom tier, avoiding some pretty meaningful surcharges for use, which is what makes it reasonably feasible.

No question that we are not in the optimal location to maximize the output of the array - but it doesn't have to be perfect, just good enough, and it seems likely that it will be.

I have little interest in getting off the grid. But if the grid is unstable - as it has been here in CA in the past - it'd be nice to have a little cushion of my own to keep the fridge running and the stereo playing...

A.L.

A.L.,

Do you also have water-heating solar collectors isntalled?

They're coming - we have a major plumbing project in the chute and they will be part of it.

I know they are for more cost-effective than photovoltaics - but I'm betting there's a regulatory arbitrage opportunity right now...

A.L.

AL-

Way back in the solar day when the gov't still offered incentives I was a part of that early revolution. I still worked in construction. One of the jobs I had was that I worked for a glass company. I ended installing lots of low-E glass in adobe homes. It turns out that good old tempered patio door lights are some of the best glass to use. Insulated units in many sizes in custom wood frames.

I put a solar water heater on my own house. Colt panel collectors, non-PCB transformer oil for transfer medium, heat exchanger, 80 gal. holding tank for water behind the house 40 gal unit and magnetic impeller drive pumps. On good days that water could sear the flesh off of your body. But I live @ >5000' ASL.

M & N built the solar adobe @ San Pedro peak. Greenhouse attached off of the main bedroom with 55 gal. steam cleaned, water filled oil drums for thermal mass. 18" adobe walls. North wall was 2 × 12 super-insulated standard construction @ R-39+. Ceiling & roof were boxed foam beams with tongue and groove lower sheathing @ R-60+. Tar paper + mopped tar + gravel roof. Windows were said low-E tempered glass units in wood frames. Inner treatment was thermal shades. Main house floor was red brick laid in sand base over concrete. Foundation was well insulated with foam sheets and concrete slab on grade for the most part with some areas of pier and beam wood floor (bedrooms) well insulated. Main heat was a medium sized wood stove. Water heaters were on-demand propane fired units at each sink. Refrigerator was propane fired. Electrical was 24 Vdc from batteries (recycled submarine) charged by wind generator circa 1930's and re-built and some of the first solar arrays. 120Vac inverter was used for those things that had to have that flavor of power. They went on that way for many years but are back on the grid now. The house is still very efficient.

I helped many friends build their houses. All of adobe and with varying degrees of passive solar. There is a lot we can do to make home building more efficient BUT this is an expensive way to build at the outset. There is good ROI but initial cost is high. Not all can afford to do this.

Robo - there are still huge regulatory and tax breaks for solar - they are ramping down faster than the costs are coming down, which is the 'arbitrage' that made me decide to pull the pin.

A.L.

So at the moment the only advantage is keeping a lid on the cost of power?

That's a pretty significant advantage, no?

A.L.

Funny that. The power company protects the grid from you?

The power company protects its workers, that might need to get in contact with the cables in order to carry out repairs.

For that reason, in my country, decoupable PV is not allowed. The question remains interesting, however. Probably another inverter and a separate circuit for the fridge and stereo and some switches.

"So at the moment the only advantage is keeping a lid on the cost of power?"

A.L. I agree with you that this is an advantage, and I was not trying to lessen the advantage of the savings and there are significant advantages to not having to pay or repairs and to being able to upgrade the system.

I comend you for taking steps to lessen your energy costs.

After reading Solar City's FAQs I found the following:

"Should I get battery backup? What happens if the grid goes down?

We do not recommend investing in battery backup at this time. Currently, batteries designed for backup power are expensive and inefficient, and require ongoing maintenance. Electricity “brown-outs” are rare enough that investing in battery backup is usually not necessary. However, if backup is important to you, we can help you design and install an appropriate system."

Based upon California's desire to be the world's best example of least carbon based output, I can only see brownouts becoming a more regular occurrence in the future.

PS:

What your system will do is a good example of the pitfalls of most alternate power sources in general.

Wind, solar, and wave power can only be an adjunct to a more regular power source such as nuclear, or oil or coal based systems.

Might I suggest THE Passive Solar Energy Book
This particular work talks about all sorts of techie subjects. Mazria was/is a Prof. of Architecture at UNM and working member of AIA.

Thanks for the recommendation. I was just visiting Taos and Santa Fe - they're doing a lot of interesting stuff with passive solar/photovoltaics and off the grid adobe homes there. The Earthships were a bit over the top, though.

You probably need the same kind of cutout that we hurricane addicts need here in South Florida to automatically start and connect a generator automatically while at the same time isolating the generator from the grid. A little reprogramming, or perhaps rewiring to get it to detect the grid power loss and cut you from the grid doesn't seem like too big a stretch.

A 3kW/h system should generate more than 15 kilowatts on a sunny day. The average house uses about 500 kilowatt/hours per month, meaning that this system would be able to replace most, if not all, of the energy used by the house it is installed on.

Interestingly, power is consumed at the highest rate during the day, especially on hot, sunny days. That's because, while household usage is down, business usage is at its highest. So... if every house in CA had just enough PV generation capacity to provide 10% of its daily use, or 1.5kW/h worth of generation, there would be no electricity crisis in California.

How much would this cost? Well, figure 8,000,000 homes, x 1500 watts x $4, or about $48 billion, for 12 gW of generating capacity. There's 30 million people in CA, so about $1500 per person, or $500 per family. Now, this would be a one-time investment that could be amortized over the life of the PV generation systems, or about 20 years... so figure $25/year per person.

I know, $48 billion is a lot of money... but how much will it cost to bring an extra 10% of power generation capacity online thru a generating plant (coil, gas, nuclear), and pay for 20 years of fuel, pay for the infrastructure (high power lines, towers, etc.) to support the new plant, and pay for the staff to run and maintain it?

For the sake of comparison, a 1.34 gW coal-powered generating plant, with a coal mine on-site(!) that provides 70% of the coal needed for the plant, was purchased in WA state for $554 million. So... you're looking at a little over $2 per watt for coal-fired generation, or about half that of PV. However, the $200 million required for new smoke scrubbers needs to be factored in, plus the cost of the 30% of coal needed daily to generate the power, plus the cost of the staff to operate the mine and power plant, plus the cost of the new transmission line infrastructure needed to support the plant and hook it to the grid, plus the cost of maintenance, etc., and what happens to the operating costs when the mine runs out of coal?

The state of California takes in over $1 trillion of tax revenue each year. Surely it could offer a 3-year tax break (give people a tax credit for 1/3 of the cost each year for 3 years), and ensure this gets up by requiring every house to add this within a 5-year window.

I know, it's a great idea. Figure the odds of it ever happening.

I live in in the desert, lots of sun here, but since it's not a huge house (1800Sq Ft) and new, I don't know that it is worth what you are paying with the sliding scale rise.
My bill is what you are paying now, and my other concern is the mounting system. I have a tile roof and if they damage it, I'll be pizzed.
Nonetheless, I signed up for the evaluation, I'll let you know what they tell me.

Why are you only paying $75/month for the Solar Lease? Everyone else is paying $85/month. link

Are you getting a promotional deal?

[Please do not post bare URLs. Recommended format for live links is presented in the instructions above the comment entry fields. Fixed for you, this time. --NM]

What did solar city say about the ability to handle the santa ana's?

Walt - the leases are project-specific. The example you link to a is a generic one.

A.L.

Marc--

The spike is going to happen faster than you think, as California continues to add restrictions on coal plants. Without coal, the average 11 cent/KWh price will be a thing of the past like $1.50 gas.

Good for you.

As far as sinking the current when the grid is "off", surely it can be converted to heat or motion somehow, even if it's post-inverter 110V. Now about a bank of floodlights in your now-dark neighborhood?

Funny, I just got a flyer from them in the mail Saturday.

I installed a 5.2Kw system in Northern CA two years ago. The first year our annual electric bill went from about $3000 to $72. This year we will owe about $300. I projected a 10.5 yr payoff including projected PGE tariff hikes. Think of it as a hedge against future electricity costs.

Well, it is nice to know that finally the energy crises are over.

John (#16)

A 3kW/h system should generate more than 15 kilowatts on a sunny day. The average house uses about 500 kilowatt/hours per month, meaning that this system would be able to replace most, if not all, of the energy used by the house it is installed on.

No, hidden costs: the house "consumes" more energy that what the meter shows and "produces" less, because the point of consumption and generation are different for day and night and there are transport and ditribution losses between them.

There is an intrinsical manipulation in such grid issues: a kilowatt here and now that it is sunny is not the same product than a kilowatt there in 7200 seconds from... now! You cannot add them, because they are different things.

The secret behind the popularity of these "green" technologies, is that, in order to keep the grid stable and avoid shortages, they have to be constantly backed with gas turbine power stations, whose cost is never taken into account.

In fact, the last AWEA, the wind energy lobby, conference was held, significantly, in Houston.

The only advantage of photovoltaic, and this is the reason governor Schwarzenegger is supporting it, is that it introduces in the grid energy when the consumption peakes, contributing to easy the strains on it, which particulary in California have reached a severe level.

This advantage cannot be translated, however, to places where the grid usage peaks in winter.

You should look up: Zomeworks solar tracker - it is really neat. No moving parts.

Fusion Report 13 June 008

BTW McCain has been into this (Bussard fusion) for almost a year. Obama need to get on the stick.

This advantage cannot be translated, however, to places where the grid usage peaks in winter.

Wind peaks in winter.

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