Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Solar Panels For Every Home?

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the particularly-the-ones-with-ugly-roofs dept.

Power 735

Hugh Pickens writes "David Crane and Robert F.Kennedy Jr. write in the NY Times that with residents of New Jersey and New York living through three major storms in the past 16 months and suffering sustained blackouts, we need to ask whether it is really sensible to power the 21st century by using an antiquated and vulnerable system of copper wires and wooden poles. Some have taken matters into their own hands, purchasing portable gas-powered generators to give themselves varying degrees of grid independence. But these dirty, noisy and expensive devices have no value outside of a power failure and there is a better way to secure grid independence for our homes and businesses: electricity-producing photovoltaic panels installed on houses, warehouses and over parking lots, wired so that they deliver power when the grid fails. 'Solar panels have dropped in price by 80 percent in the past five years and can provide electricity at a cost that is at or below the current retail cost of grid power in 20 states, including many of the Northeast states,' write Crane and Kennedy. 'So why isn't there more of a push for this clean, affordable, safe and inexhaustible source of electricity?' First, the investor-owned utilities that depend on the existing system for their profits have little economic interest in promoting a technology that empowers customers to generate their own power. Second, state regulatory agencies and local governments impose burdensome permitting and siting requirements that unnecessarily raise installation costs. While it can take as little as eight days to license and install a solar system on a house in Germany, in the United States, depending on your state, the average ranges from 120 to 180 days."

cancel ×

735 comments

Bureaucracy (4, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286893)

The real secret government. It destroys all.

Re:Bureaucracy (4, Funny)

radiumsoup (741987) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286955)

but without the bureaucracy, how would those government workers in the Solar Panel Installation Licensing Department feed their families? You don't expect them to find meaningful, productive work, do you? The SPILD provides jobs where none others would exist otherwise!

Re:Bureaucracy (0)

gagol (583737) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287151)

I love irony! On a more serious note, I think politicians should propose a budget for the 4 years they will hold in office during elections. Deviate from the plan and you lose the office AND pension.

Re:Bureaucracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287171)

Without bureaucracy how would you run an organization of more than 100 people?

Re:Bureaucracy (2)

Stuarticus (1205322) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287275)

Yes, they should take all the bureaucrats, hairdressers and telephone cleaners and tell them there is a big rock coming, then put them all on a spaceship and send them off to crash into Slartibartfast's latest project. What could possibly go wrong.

Re:Bureaucracy (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287317)

It destroys all.

Here's the thing: As bad as government with bureaucracy is, a government without bureaucracy is even worse.

A real-life example:
States in the US have laws to require that gasoline pumps actually dispense 1 gallon of fuel when they register 1 gallon of fuel on the meter. There are bureaucracies set up for inspectors to go around and check on each pump periodically to ensure that the owner isn't cheating their customers.

Now, you may be wondering what the possible value of having and enforcing such a law is - after all, if a gas station cheats its customers no one will go there, right? But what actually happens is that each gas station is motivated to cheat its customers just a bit so that they won't notice right away, and meanwhile it's basically impossible for drivers (especially those from out of town) to price shop because they don't know how much gasoline they'll actually get for the listed price per gallon.

So, for, say, a city or county of 40,000 people, it's advantageous for everyone but crooked gas station owners to pay $3 in taxes annually for a bureaucrat to spend time testing all the gas pumps in the area (in unannounced visits of course), because they'll save more than $3 in not getting cheated by the crooked gas stations. And this also helps the honest gas station owners, because they know that they aren't going to be out-competed by crooked competition. This math works even if the bureaucrat in question is the mayor's no-good brother-in-law who's getting the $105K + benefits to do this full time: The only people who are harmed by this policy are crooks.

Extremely expensive (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286909)

For my house in NJ, we got a quote for about $30,000 (of which we would pay $10,000 out of pocket) to put solar panels on our roof. We also were being asked to cut down 4 trees in order to get optimal sunlight. After hurricane Sandy, we instead bought a $450 3270 watt generator which is portable, won't be damaged outside, and can be shared with neighbors if need be.

Note also that if you want to make your house off-the-grid (as option) with solar, that requires much more expense. Batteries, inverter switches, etc.

Re:Extremely expensive (5, Informative)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286995)

True, especially the part about batteries. But then again, the solar panels won't need gasoline.

Overall, solar panes as emergency power supply are not cost efficient. But as a long term investment to reduce your utility bill, they may be worthwhile. In the case of my parents' house (southern Germany, pretty high electricity prices of ~0.25 Euros/kWh), I think a small photovoltaic installation might amortize itself within a few years.

Re:Extremely expensive (1, Funny)

Stuarticus (1205322) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287305)

3270 watts, that almost 2 kettles! Bill Gates has assured me that no village in Africa will ever need more electricity than that.

Re:Extremely expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287103)

Let me know how many of your neighbors are able to share your generator when the time comes...I live in FL where the hurricane seasons have taught some valuable lessons. Those portable generators are good for short time periods and very limited use in ONE location let alone more.

Nice thought though....

Re:Extremely expensive (1)

baffled (1034554) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287135)

How long would it have taken to recoup the $10,000 in saved electricity costs?

Re:Extremely expensive (2, Insightful)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287243)

Forever.

My electric bill: $70 winter, $140 summer. So, at about $100 average, that's 100 months, or 8+ years to equal $10K. Then there is sweeping the snow off it after big storms, tending the batteries, replacing the batteries and the solar panels when they both wear out, etc. Not worth the hassle. Electric don't work now, just call the power company, and THEY go out in the storm and do something about it.

Now, if a homeowner could somehow execute the solar thermal concept of melting a large amount of salt, and using it to make steam and turn turbines, THAT requires NO BATTERIES and NO parts that need periodic replacement. Theoretically the parts involved are fairly low-tech, and ought to pretty much last forever save maybe changing bearings every now and then. But that would require a lot of land that most people don't have.

Re:Extremely expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287331)

Forever.

My electric bill: $70 winter, $140 summer. So, at about $100 average, that's 100 months, or 8+ years to equal $10K. Then there is sweeping the snow off it after big storms, tending the batteries, replacing the batteries and the solar panels when they both wear out, etc. Not worth the hassle. Electric don't work now, just call the power company, and THEY go out in the storm and do something about it.

Now, if a homeowner could somehow execute the solar thermal concept of melting a large amount of salt, and using it to make steam and turn turbines, THAT requires NO BATTERIES and NO parts that need periodic replacement. Theoretically the parts involved are fairly low-tech, and ought to pretty much last forever save maybe changing bearings every now and then. But that would require a lot of land that most people don't have.

Solar panels are rated to last for at least 25 years in general. Plus, you sell excess power back to the power company. The math around here works out to about 7 years, and that gives you 18 years of cheaper power bills. (And that also assumes your power price won't increase (Which is *NOT* the case).

Re:Extremely expensive (1)

baffled (1034554) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287337)

Didn't you say that quote was without batteries? ..You could let the snow just melt off, couldn't you? And that is $10,000 saved every 8 years after. Doesn't sound too bad to me.

Re:Extremely expensive (5, Informative)

kimvette (919543) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287159)

Unfortunately, most generators in the sub-$2,000 range require an oil change every 12-20 hours of runtime, and burn through a tank of fuel every 5-8 hours. It's not terribly convenient. Flex fuel and LPG or LNG generators are better as you can hook them up to much larger fuel sources, negating the need for multiple refills per day, and they also typically extend runtime between oil changes to hundreds or even thousands of hours.

Re:Extremely expensive (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287281)

Equating the cost of solar panels to a portable generator makes absolutely no sense. The generator is worthless 99.9% of the time, whereas the solar panels would power your home every day for the next 30 years. That in itself doesn't mean solar panels are a good deal for you. But they're simply two different questions.

Gas stations are electric powered. (2)

sjbe (173966) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287345)

After hurricane Sandy, we instead bought a $450 3270 watt generator which is portable, won't be damaged outside, and can be shared with neighbors if need be.

And will last for a few hours until your supply of fuel runs out. Remember please that the gas station pumps are electric powered so if the power goes out you cannot get more gas than you have on hand. Some stations have generators of their own but many/most do not.

I'm curious how well solar panels would stand up to the winds in a hurricane. Most of the ones I've seen aren't mounted all that securely and could be ripped off their mounts with sufficient wind force. (not to mention damaged by flying debris)

Don't forget housing and condo boards (5, Insightful)

Joehonkie (665142) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286923)

Housing and condo boards will also be total assholes about this. I've had them browbeat me about satellite dishes even after showing evidence that there's a federal law that says they can't tell me how many dishes I'm allowed to have (I had 2). All they care about is that every house looks the same and their devotion to local housing politics pays off in the form of pushing people around.

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (4, Funny)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286959)

Must be you

The old power hungry geezers on my co-op board are the most understanding people I know

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287027)

No dude, must be you.

My neighbors got an "official" notice because they were out of town for the weekend and left their trash bin out. Someone else in our development was forced to repaint his house ($5k!!) because it was the wrong shade of gray. Don't know who it was but it was in the HOA minutes.

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287155)

No dude, must be you, cause all I hear is this giant whooshing sound.

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287075)

Must be you

The old power hungry geezers on my co-op board are the most understanding people I know

Or maybe, JUST MAYBE, your co-op board and his HOA aren't exactly identical?

BY GOD I THINK I'VE CRACKED IT!

(I've lived in places with an amazingly relaxed HOA and made the mistake once of moving to a place with a borderline fascist HOA. NEVER. AGAIN.)

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (4, Insightful)

HockeyPuck (141947) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286997)

Those HOA fees are ridiculous. In a new development by me it's $200 a month and there's no pool, no park, no "recreation room" nor bbq area. I think it goes for paying for the tiny strip of grass in front of each house (between the sidewalk and street) to be mowed.

Oh and we can't even put a xmas wreath on our door. I'm amazed they're allowed to put a pumpkin on their front step for Halloween...

And to think those suckers paid $800k-$1m for their homes. The HOA board members are playing Mafia over there.

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (4, Interesting)

squiggleslash (241428) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287007)

That's what bothers me too. I know that if I wanted to install solar panels on the roof of my home I'd have to go through a ton of bureaucracy, which would be based largely on the personal opinions of a largely unaccountable group of people who were interested in their jobs to begin with on the basis of "making the neighborhood look nice" rather than "making things better for residents." Chances of me getting approval? Close to nil.

The irony is that these agencies push down the values of the homes they govern, while they constantly claim the opposite. We're only in association-controlled land because we couldn't afford to live somewhere more free for the house space we needed. And governments are reluctant to regulate HOAs because they assume that everyone governed by an HOA is there because they wanted a bunch of arbitrary appearance-obsessed nuts to fine them over the most minor details.

For this kind of thing, it'd be nice to see an agency, like the FCC did with antennas, step in and say "This is our jurisdiction, not yours." It'd also be nice to see the FCC (and whatever agency ends up regularing solar panels) make high profile "busts" of HOAs that go overboard, so HOA officials don't feign ignorance whenever they break the rules and make life hell for homeowners until long after the lawyers are called in.

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287261)

So... you voluntarily signed away your freedoms, and now want the government to step in and "protect" you from your own idiocy... right.

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287077)

I guess you need to be a bit more careful about the contracts you sign when you buy into these kinds of places. Maybe you can form a resistance group and take over

Re:Don't forget housing and condo boards (1)

dcblogs (1096431) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287219)

Our condo board, which I'm on, would likely welcome solar panels on the roof. You should organize a few folks in your building, do the research, and volunteer to help prepare a complete proposal. What often happens, is some resident will have a why-aren't-we-doing-this brainstorm, and then leave it to the condo board to do the work. As far as satellite dishes go, I agree with you. Our board has legacy rules about them, but there's been no push by residents to change them. But if you try calling the condo board members names, I'm sure they'll change the rules.

clean, affordable, safe??? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286931)

Lead batteries clean?
Affordable??? (laughing)

Safe? Not sure how solar panels on my roof and a bank of car batteries in my basement is safer than getting my electricity from the grid?

Re:clean, affordable, safe??? (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287163)

Except when you can't get electricity from the grid.

Re:clean, affordable, safe??? (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287313)

Ain't. The solar panels will become the things that penetrate your spleen in a high wind, and the lead batteries are toxic all by themselves, let alone the hydrogen they generate threatening to blow you up. And, if you live along the coast and have a storm surge, they'll give you chlorine gas to kill you as well.

Flooded batteries (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286935)

Doesn't solar require a battery bank for night/cloudy days? How well would work after being submerged in salt water for a day?

Re:Flooded batteries (2)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287049)

Whether its required depends on exactly how grid-independent you want to be. If you're happy with emergency electricity during daylight hours only, then it might not be too bad. This probably isn't quite as bad as it sounds - daylight-hours-electricity would still be enough to keep your freezer frozen, your fridge coolish, your mobile telephone telephoning and your clothes washer washing pretty effectively.

My main concern with the idea is that any hurricane is not likely to leave any solar panels still fixed to your roof.

Re:Flooded batteries (5, Informative)

ebh (116526) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287263)

We have 35 panels on our roof. We lost nine trees during Sandy, but there was no damage to the solar panels. We also have solar canopies and things like that all over town, and I only saw minor damage in one installation. Our only real vulnerability is if a tree falls on the panels themselves.

HOA approvals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286941)

In most places HOA have severe restriction on solar panels. They are more worried about the neighborhood aesthetic than the environment. However if panel installation are not done right the reflection from the solar panel have cause melting of siding and property damage.

Re:HOA approvals (4, Informative)

HogGeek (456673) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287229)

It may be a state to state thing, but here in Colorado:

Colorado law (C.R.S. 38-30-168)

  Associations are not permitted to prohibit the installation of solar panels on a unit or property which is owned by a member of the association. Any such prohibition in the governing documents of an association is void and unenforceable.

Can they make enough juice? (1)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286951)

Everything I've read says solar can only provide a fraction of the needed power. Most of the businesses that install them like whole foods use them to power the store during peak times when electricity is the most expensive.

Or to simply provide enough power to lessen their total electric bill

Re:Can they make enough juice? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287015)

I have a 1800 sq. ft. house, by no means huge, basically average sized. I put 39 230 watt panels on the roof and I easily generate far beyond my usage - under real world conditions, a bright sunny day in June (in Michigan) I generate about 7.5kW steady all day long. The house idles at about 500 watts (refridgerator, one computer as a server, some fluorescent lights here and there that are left on almost always, nat. gas furnace fan, etc. things like that)

Re:Can they make enough juice? (1)

peragrin (659227) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287211)

The other thing with gas furnace and hot water you still have heat in the winter.

So if you do lose power during the winter you are struggling but able to keep some what comfortable

Also during a multi week outage you won't need as much gasoline which makes those shortages easier to deal with

Re:Can they make enough juice? (1)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287223)

My electric bill in NYC is $65 a month and $150 in the summer

How much would I save by installing solar panels that cost tens if thousands if $$

Re:Can they make enough juice? (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287255)

Just curious as to why you put so many panels up, since you don't need that much power.

Re:Can they make enough juice? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287335)

My electrical generation offsets both my electric AND natural gas use - so year round, my combined utility bill is $0. And the more I make, the more I sell back to the utility.

Also we allowed for some increase in usage - at the time we didn't have kids, but we now have a 1 year old. Planning for a second probably.

Re:Can they make enough juice? (1)

Hadlock (143607) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287105)

Yep. Obviously during the winter, cloudy days and at night you produce less to no energy, but you can certainly drive your air conditioning unit on hot days at a bare minimum, which is the primary cost of residential electricity here in Texas.

Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286953)

Sure solar panels have gone down in price. I put a 9kW solar array on my roof 2 years ago, using grid-tied microinverters. The catch is that if the grid power goes out, the microinverters shut down so they are not putting juice onto the grid and zapping linesmen. This means the solar panels are not able to do anything during a power outage. If you want the panels to run, then there will be a huge investment in a battery system with a charge controller, load shedding and rather expensive batteries, along with an auto transfer switch to cut you off from the grid... these things easily make the solar panels the cheap item in the system.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287083)

Make sure that you can turn off the main circuit breaker to your home off and still have your microinverters working to power your own home and you are set.

It's crazy if they set in some circuit to prevent you powering your own home during a blackout when you are NOT connected to the grid.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287215)

It's more complicated than that. The inverters test for grid presence. If it is gone, they don't sense it (not sure of how) and they shut down. Flipping the main breaker doesn't work, and you wouldn't want it to. Because if the panels were running, you have to have somewhere for all that amperage to go, either consuming it with appliances, etc. or going into a big battery bank or a load-shedding device which will convert it to heat.

I've heard anecdotally that you can trick the inverters with a true-sine wave generator and they will start up, but again if you don't use up all the juice they are making, they'll probably turn your nice generator in the wrong direction and it will fail spectacularly. So I am told. I've also been told it works fine, but I'm not about to risk burning my house down.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (4, Informative)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287109)

Some electrical engineering knowledge will take you a long ways.

1. Calculate how much power you actually need during a power outage. A refrigerator is about 1,000 W. Throw in 100 W for light bulbs. TV/cable box/modem/router comes out to around 300 W (assuming flat-screen). So actually, your inverter only needs to be around 2,000 W (giving 10% cushion for device power-up). Those retail for $150-$200.

2. Charge controller is mainly for high-end systems. Try a diode or a batter isolator made for a vehicle.

3. Batteries are not that expensive. I just bought a 870 kW deep-cycle battery for my vehicle for $200. During the Derecho in July, I was able to power my TV, fridge, and laptop for over 3 hours (I turned my vehicle on every 3 hours for 10 minutes to recharge the battery). That worked for the 36 hours I was without power.

4. Auto-transfer switch is nice, but unnecessary. If you are too lazy to flip 2 circuit breakers, one to isolate your house from the gird and another to connect your inverter to your house, then you are just screwed.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (1)

MtHuurne (602934) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287295)

TV/cable box/modem/router comes out to around 300 W (assuming flat-screen).

During a power outage, would there still be a signal for your cable box or modem to receive? I don't know where the last distribution step gets its power from, but if it's from the same grid as your house, it will be down too during an outage.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287129)

I forgot to mention that, at the time, the local utility was doing incentive money for people to put up solar panels (so they didn't have to buy land to do it) in order to meet green energy requirements. Basically it was a contract to pre-buy my expected RECs (renewable energy credits, a tradable commodity) for a set price for the next 20 years - a calculated about for $x based on the nameplate rating of the array ($2.40 per kW). So between the utility money, and the 30% federal tax credit (total cost, no cap) my out of pocket cost on a $55k system was about $12k. The array will pay for itself in about 5 years, and the panels have a 30 year warranty for 80% of their rating, so I'll have 25 years of absolutely free electricity as well as get paid for the excess.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (1)

ebh (116526) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287297)

What was your SREC lock-in price?

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287179)

I live in NJ and everyone with a grid-tie system had the same issue. The 'hybrid' systems with battery backup are expensive. I would think you would just need enough batterys to run the microinverters during the daytime. No need to power everything at night besides a circuit of lights during an emergency. Even if your heat/ac is off for the dark hours you won't see that large a change in temp by the time the sun comes back up if your house is properly insulated.

Re:Solar panels are cheaper but the rest isn't (1)

ebh (116526) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287315)

The problem with any battery backup system is maintenance. Even the best batteries have to be replaced every 4-5 years.

"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (-1, Troll)

slb (72208) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286961)

This is quite incredible that people continue to tout Solar PV as an economically viable energy when it is completely ineffective most of the time. And when the sun does not shines, one still need the energy from the Local Distribution Company. Saying that Solar PV is at the retail cost of grid power is either a lie or a complete delusion.

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (4, Informative)

djh101010 (656795) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287041)

I put 3KW of panels on my parents' barn roof this summer. Their monthly bill has gone down from an average of $163 a month, to an average of $32 a month. On a $7000 investment. That's a 54 month payback - call it 5 years to make the numbers easy. It's grid tied. Doesn't solve the outage problem, but it certainly is a good investment when there's a 5 year return on investment. Still tied to the grill, yep. That way we can sell the surplus on sunny days. So tell me, am I lying, or am I completely delusional? Or maybe, just maybe, you're working from inaccurate or obsolete information?

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287187)

Did your installation get subsidies or tax breaks?
Do your parents pay for being on the grid?
Does your installation pay for being able to put energy on the grid? (It uses the grid).

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287189)

maybe you are counting govt subsidies against the cost?

7K was the base cost? the out of pocket post-rebate cost?

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287089)

One word: batteries

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287167)

I can get a total system for about 12k. This is a top end system these days (much better than 5 years ago where it was 40k for the same thing). Here is the thing. It only provides about 40% of what I need. I even went thru my house and went to 'lower power' everything. CFLs, better fridge, better AC, better heating, blah blah blah. It would cut my 40-80 dollar power bill in half.

The ROI is not there yet for me. I figure when that system gets to about 3-4k you will see it on everyone's house. As at that point the ROI is in the order of a couple of years. Replacement? no. Good supplement? yeah.

Saying that Solar PV is at the retail cost of grid power is either a lie or a complete delusion
You get that 'sorta' but only when the sun is out. You need to gen 2-3x what you use on peak to make that up. As you need to generate enough to cover for when you are not generating. Look up net-metering. So yes your meter goes backwards during the day. But forwards at night.

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287173)

This is quite incredible that people continue to tout Solar PV as an economically viable energy when it is completely ineffective most of the time. And when the sun does not shines, one still need the energy from the Local Distribution Company.

Saying that Solar PV is at the retail cost of grid power is either a lie or a complete delusion.

The tech for solar cells that work at night has existed since 2010 (at least). It will take market participation for it to become ubiquitous. Attidues like the above are the exact opposite of what it will take for this tech to catch on.

Links:
http://inhabitat.com/solar-panels-work-at-night/
http://organicconnectmag.com/wp/solar-panels-that-can-work-at-night/
http://www.the9billion.com/2011/02/01/solar-technology-low-cost-solar-cells-that-work-at-night-developed/
http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2010/12/20/New-solar-cells-could-even-work-at-night/UPI-91881292889725/

You'd think that someone posting on a techie website would understand that just because something isn't available for purchase today, does not mean its not possible...

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287205)

Not to mention that not all power produced during the day need be used right then - a battery bank (or other, more advanced energy storage technologies) are used to allow night usage of power generated during the day.

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287181)

Partly correct.

In "grid parity", the yield of PV is an average value where rainy days are already factored in. So you might calculate with 1000 kWh of energy per year from a panel with 1kW peak output, not 12*365 = 4380 kWh as in a naive calculation where you have optimal yield throughout the year. But even with only the 1000 kWh, prices of PV are getting into the ballpark of grid parity.

What is not included is the cost of bridging nights and rainy days. For that you need plenty of batteries or conventional powerplants running part-time. Which destroys grid parity pretty thoroughly at current prices.

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287209)

"completely ineffective most of the time"? At worst they have less than optimal energy output, even when it's overcast the continue to produce some energy. You're right that they do not solve all the problems with energy production and distribution, but to say they are completely ineffective most of the time is equally inaccurate on the opposite side of the spectrum. The truth is in the middle somewhere, they would provide some benefit in an emergency situation and even more benefit under ideal circumstances.

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287311)

You misunderstand. It is at _retail_ grid parity in some locations. What this means is that if you produce 1 kWh of power at your home, the cost of that energy (i.e. dividing the capital and installation costs of the panels over their expected lifespan) is less than what the ratepayer pays the utility. So for a ratepayer, offsetting their power use can very literally save them money.

What the authors don't really say here is that if everyone puts solar on their rooftops, utility business models / regulatory models will probably have to change. Utilities won't like this, but nor will solar panel owners as it will likely mean that utilities will charge a lot more for power when the sun doesn't shine etc. As solar panel prices drop, this still could be a cheaper model although it probably won't be yet.

The fact that solar panels don't produce energy all the time is a red herring -- no power source always produces power. The grid is a network of varied generators that all back each other up. Some plants can't run when it doesn't rain enough, others can't run because their cost of fuel is too high. The good thing about solar is it typical IS working when we need the most power (i.e. during the day, particularly when it is hot). Coal and nuclear, have the opposite problem of solar -- they can't produce power for just a couple hours economically so they need to turn on for long periods of time. Although the grid and the utilities are used to this, it's almost as constraining as the fact that solar doesn't always produce it's max capacity.

Re:"Grid Parity" ... on sunny days only (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287325)

I live in an area of the northeast, where I know that my generating potential and load factor is substantially lower than the "nameplate" rating on any PV equipment I would install. That doesn't mean I couldn't do it, but I know that I would get a substantially greater ROI if I took the same array and installed it, say, on a similar home in New Mexico. There are similar situations (renters that can't or won't make capital investments in property they don't own, people in highrise condos that have power requirements far beyond what the footprint could provide using solar) where installing solar on one's own domicile juts doesn't make sense. I don't plan on moving to New Mexico, but I still want to see the widespread adoption of solar, and put my money where my mouth is.

It would be nice if there was some mechanism, other than semi-formal arrangements among friends (e.g., people I know in California and Nevada), for me to front the tab to get solar installed on their house in return for (contractual) repayment over the years. This is kinda what Elon Musk's SolarCity is doing on a grand scale. They just had an IPO yesterday [wired.com] , but chasing IPOs is a loser's bet in my opinion. The renewables sector more generally has been a terrible investment for years because companies have been losing money left and right - so many big players driving down costs. I'd rather not play the odds of a whole sector, but rather invest in a single project that I have some control over.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Forget the conspiracy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286969)

1. Sun does not shine during storm days or night.
2. Cost 60k for a full 10kw installation.
3. Add another 40 to 60k for battery storage for the night.

America is no longer the greatest country (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286971)

America is no longer the greatest country in the world any more America is no longer the greatest country in the world any more
The fact of the matter is that the lobbyists for large corporations run this country now and we are no longer a country of laws but a country of exceptions. If you are rich you are the exception and you are allowed to do anything you possibly can to protect your profit streams no matter how much it hurts the American people. I remember a time when it would have been a point of national pride if we were the largest producer of solar power but now we treat this amazing technology like some kind of redheaded step child leper
Its time to wake up America we need to open up our eyes and realize that fossil fuels are limited global warming is real and that if we don’t start to do something about it we are going to have a much changed world which will not be the fantastic place it is to live in

Inexhaustible? (2)

in10se (472253) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286973)

Inexhaustible? Has no one seen The Matrix? When the machines take over, we are going to have to block out the sun. What use are your silly solar panels then?

Re:Inexhaustible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287285)

That documentary was absolutely lame and terrible. Watch Gorod Zero instead.

Hurricanes+solar panels (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42286987)

Will these houses still have solar panels after the hurricane leaves? For that purpose, putting as many power lines as possible underground seems more effective.

Don't Strong Storms Eat Solar Panels? (4, Interesting)

DontPanicMMH (230993) | about a year and a half ago | (#42286991)

Living on the Gulf Coast, the threat of strong storms has always been one of my reasons for being reluctant to plunk down a large investment on Solar Panels.

How well did existing Solar Panels fair in New York after Sandy?

Re:Don't Strong Storms Eat Solar Panels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287199)

That's always been my primary objection - how robust are these things these days? Will they stand up to tornadoes, hailstorms, ice storms? How much damage can they take before they have to be replaced due to lost efficiency or (worse) environmental hazard (witness CF bulbs)?

I like how the summary answers its own question (3, Insightful)

DeathToBill (601486) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287001)

I like how the summary answers its own question - and gets the answer completely wrong. Sure, government red-tape doesn't help. And I'm sure the utilities aren't falling over themselves to promote this (why would they???)

But the simple, plain fact of the matter is that, unless its being subsidised by the taxpayer, installing solar costs the same as your electricity bill for the next 15-30 years, depending on where you are and how capable your system is. That means your panels are paid off just as they reach the end of their useful life. And if you have batteries, you've likely had to replace them before you've paid them off.

The average person looks at effectively paying their electricity bill for 30 years up-front and says, "No, thanks!"

Rich people telling poor people what to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287011)

Here we go again. I wonder how many solar panels the Kennedy clan have at their compound?

OK, maybe they use solar panels to keep their wine cellars cool.

A practical hyrbird approach (5, Interesting)

onyxruby (118189) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287019)

I like solar and geothermal energy sources for home based power. I am also a pragmatist that realizes simply legislating that everyone install solar panels for a wide scale would be financially ruinous. I think you could go about this with a hybrid approach that could allow the market to do what it does best while steering people to a greener future.

Start by saying that all new (and remodeled) buildings must includes support for 10% of their anticipated energy needs from a renewable source (let the source be up to the customer) and the switching equipment required for the grid. This will be a small enough amount that it can be met with a minimal number of solar panels or other sources. Importantly this will allow time for electricians, home builders, retailers and the like to start getting to understand renewable energy without being overwhelming. It will also allow for things like the switching equipment for the grid to start getting put in place.

Every four years after this starts you increase the amount of energy required by 10%. The increase is slow enough to give the market time to react and bring products, expertise and the like to bear. This is also slow enough to allow competition to build and for prices to benefit from economies of scale.

By the time the rate increases from 10% to 20% the market will have had time to develop skills, materials and everything else that is needed. This avoids a crisis that would come from simply mandating a significant amount come from renewable energy to begin with when the present market can't possibly meet that demand. This also allows for retrofitting with additional capacity by owners that want to ramp up from 10% to a higher percent.

Re:A practical hyrbird approach (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287131)

You sir are reasonable and logical. That will not be tolerated in our society.

Panels are cheap, batteries are not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287035)

If they just want to do a grid-tied system, then panels are relatively inexpensive. Since that would be useless if the grid went down, the real issue is that batteries can easily eat up half the cost of a solar installation. We have inexpensive solar panels. What we do not have is inexpensive batteries.

Just reading TFA... (1)

mykepredko (40154) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287037)

Wouldn't solar panels on houses become potential, sharp edged frisbees? I'm making this question from looking at many local solar power installations where there is some distance between the structure and the solar panel where the wind could get a foothold or they're free standing and could be blown around by the wind.

While some homes would continue to have power, I would think that a large fraction would find that their solar panels have either been damaged or torn away.

I do agree that putting power out on poles is not a great idea, but doesn't it make more sense to bury the lines underground?

myke

Solar PV is grid sync'd... (1)

Sleuth (19262) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287043)

I thought this was a really cool idea until I talked to someone locally why has a solar install on their house. They mentioned that most current installs use the local grid and syncronize the AC to it. If the local grid goes down, you are down as well. They don't have a battery bank either, rather rely on selling daytime power back to the power company, then doing the reverse at night, buying local power for the house. Unless you install a bunch of more expensive equipment, you are out of power when the local grid goes off as well.

This same question is asked every single time (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287045)

"we need to ask whether it is really sensible to power the 21st century by using an antiquated and vulnerable system of copper wires and wooden poles."

Every time there's a hurricane, people ask the power companies, "should we bury the power lines?" And the companies say, "sure, we'll have to charge you this much more in rates, and it'll take this many years" and the consumers say, "yeah, no, forget it."

There's nothing antiquated about overhead power lines. It's an engineering decision with tradeoffs both ways. Neither technology is clearly superior.

Overhead power lines are an obvious eyesore, and go down pretty regularly in extreme weather. (Although they're pretty resilient, too.) Burying power lines has significant costs even after you've got them buried. They're hard and more expensive to repair, they have a shorter lifespan (which most people don't know), and they're are competing for space with all the other crap we've got buried.

Re:This same question is asked every single time (2)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287247)

And burying the power lines where the water table comes up after every shower is not so smart. Here in Arizona, sure. On Long Island, not so much.

Besides, despite the incompetence currently on display after Sandy, poles and wires are surprisingly easy to fix, compared to fishing new cables through waterlogged conduits. I survived the ice storm in Maine in 1998, no power for 11 days for me, but that was a very bad situation. Sandy also destroyed homes, roads, etc. Burying the lines in Maine is stupid, but even the high tension lines came down through much of the state. No burying those.

Doesn't make tech or economic sense (1)

david.emery (127135) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287061)

Last time we lost power ("Derecho" storm in late June in Northern VA) we were out for about 80 hours. Our power requirements included air conditioning for that period (it was hot and muggy.)
1. How much storage (batteries) would we need to have 4 days worth of power available to us for a grid failure?
2. How many square feet/meters of solar panels would be required to charge those batteries before the storm?
3. What would be the recovery time once the stored current was exhausted?

And then there's the economic questions:
4. What would the batteries cost (taking into consideration substantial increased demand for rare earths, etc)?
5. What would the solar cells cost (also taking into consideration substantial increased demand for rare earths, etc?

Finally
6. Compare that cost to the installation of a conventional generator, either gas/diesel powered or natural gas/propane powered (and I'll grant you some appropriate 'market trade rate' penalty for the carbon produced by the generator.)

Re:Doesn't make tech or economic sense (1)

Sleuth (19262) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287113)

Err, don't you expect to have any sun for 4 days? Why would you need the batteries to last for all 4 days? (confused...)

Re:Doesn't make tech or economic sense (1)

david.emery (127135) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287231)

After the Derecho, we had some sun and some partly cloudy days. During "Sandy" we were in cloud for about 3 days (fortunately -we- didn't lose power then.) There are lots of places in the US and Canada that get less sun than we do.

Re:Doesn't make tech or economic sense (1)

david.emery (127135) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287287)

One more note: When we lose power, it's usually on the -leading edge- of the storm. (True for the Derecho, for snowstorms and for hurricanes.) Thus a credible analysis has to assume this as 'worst case'.

Re:Doesn't make tech or economic sense (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287265)

Lots of places get no appreciable sunlight for more than 4 days at a stretch.

Re:Doesn't make tech or economic sense (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287241)

Last time we lost power ("Derecho" storm in late June in Northern VA) we were out for about 80 hours. Our power requirements included air conditioning for that period (it was hot and muggy.)

I really don't know what to say to that. We're presumably talking here about complete power outages caused by storms. Surely if there's a disaster you should hold off the air conditioning seeing as it's one of the most power hungry and least essential things.

6. Compare that cost to the installation of a conventional generator, either gas/diesel powered or natural gas/propane powered (and I'll grant you some appropriate 'market trade rate' penalty for the carbon produced by the generator.)

That's good and all, but you have to go out and get the fuel for it. The advantage of solar cells is they'll give you something even when the fuel runs out. And they'll give you something for the rest of the year too when they're not really needed.

Best solar panels per dollar (4, Interesting)

Dishwasha (125561) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287067)

I did some research a couple of years ago and the cost recoup was still somewhere between 10-15 years for installing solar just for the cost of the hardware and not including labor. It's hard to put up that kind of capital outlay just to save around $100 on my monthly electricity bill. I decided I could save a lot more money by applying that same amount of money to my mortgage. I keep hearing about new solar technology that is tons more efficient, but where is all that new tech?

Re:Best solar panels per dollar (1)

baffled (1034554) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287249)

Did you read the summary? Panel prices have dropped 80% in 5 years. Math from a couple of years ago is obsolete.

There is a push already in New England (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287085)

There is a push, at least here in MA, for Solar by the electric utilities. I recently signed up for MassSave, a program funded by the state to help increase thermal and thus power efficiency in homes. Improving insulation is the obvious recommendation they make, but what they also push is solar power. The power company is basically offering to lease your roof for 20 years and put solar panels up there at no cost to you. I didn't go for the option due to the age of my house, so I didn't look at all the details. I think after twenty years, the panels become yours, but until that point, they are owned and maintained by the utility to provide electricity to their grid. Some of my neighbors recently got solar panels through this plan, so I think it is starting to make an impact.

Storm Damage to Installation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287095)

Ironic that article uses recent storms as an argument for solar, as I imagine a rooftop solar installation would have been quite vunerable to storm damage from wind and falling branches.

solar and hurricanes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287101)

one would need some system to be able to remove and safely store said systems so they get no or less damage BUT i think thats doable because otherwise they get damaged it is as another poster said very expensive...think like a retractable roof system
where it shutters down the side then something comes around like a metal barrier ....now thats only needed for severe weather....soo..

oh and this free idea is mine and im not patenting it enjoy cause i like to eat apples not buy them for trillions of dollars.

Problem isn't the red tape, it's the cost (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287123)

Looked into solar panels for my little house. Was going to run about $28,000 up front. At that rate it would take about 17 years to pay for itself, and that's assuming that there is absolutely no maintenance, repair, battery replacement, etc. during those 17 years. And, even with that, I don't have $28,000--and a loan would mean interest, which would probably mean it would NEVER pay for itself.

I love Slashdot commentators (4, Interesting)

sir_eccles (1235902) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287127)

They are so predictable, the slightest hint of something being difficult they give up and say it can't be done. We'd still be living in caves rubbing two sticks together if it was up to you guys.

So it might be cloudy sometimes. Well maybe there is a way to store electricity when there is a surplus and feed it out again when there is high demand. There are dozens of technologies available to do this from batteries to pumped storage and everything in between (oh yes I know someone will reply to me to say that won't work because conversion losses or whatever so we shouldn't bother).

Also this grid thing might be a good idea, that way if it is sunny in one place but cloudy in another people can share (but oh no it won't completely replace all nuclear coal and gas fired power stations in the whole US so we shouldn't bother).

Do you know how many new houses were built in the last decade housing boom? I don't know either but just consider if even a small PV panel of a couple of square meters was on each one, the cost would be much less through economies of scale and it would make a significant dent in energy demands (but oh no it won't completely replace all nuclear coal and gas fired power stations in the whole US so we shouldn't bother).

And yes most states now have laws that prevent HOAs restricting the use of PV.

Too Expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287157)

While the price has come down, it's still too expensive an option for most folks to consider.

If memory serves me correctly, I would have to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of
$30k to offset the majority of what I utilize from the power company. I have a small house
and use very little power in comparison to my neighbors at that. Probably have to reinforce
the roof to handle the additional weight ( more $$ ) prior to the install as well.

Plus, unless you add in a storage system ( may as well double the price + maint costs ) you
will only be pulling power during the day IFF the weather allows for it. Unless you have a
tracking system to reorient the panels during seasonal changes, your output will vary quite a
bit between summer and winter months.

In short, it's still too damned expensive an option for the majority of folks to seriously consider.

NIght time (1)

headhot (137860) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287169)

This is all fine and good until the power goes out at night. To take for that contingency, its going to get real expensive for home owners buying battery stacks.

"Dilbert did it!" (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287177)

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe...

"Oh my god! All the solar panels got blown away, leaving everyone witout power for weeks!"

"David Crane and Robert F.Kennedy Jr. write in the NY Times that maybe we should consider a centralized generation system with power distribution."

Not all generators are "dirty noisy" and sranting. (1)

tatman (1076111) | about a year and a half ago | (#42287251)

There's natural gas generators which are extremely clean and efficient. Higher end generators are really quiet. I've never understood why every home isn't built with one these days (other than the power companies oppose them for profit reasons). Add in small windmills [allsmallwindturbines.com] (there was link here on slashdot about a new design that is very small and very efficient), suit case size nuclear generators [mnn.com]

seriously, what's so terrible about some common sense approaches energy management. Everyone has a "reason" why we can't do this. No one really wants to solve the problems I think.

TCO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287253)

Total Cost of Ownership, equipment maintenance and technical expertise all make this an improbable solution for all but the technically inclined who have the capital, time and space to setup equipment properly. It's not just solar panels - it's batteries, inverters and charge management systems. Panels could be free and the solution would still be lacking. Municipal power is still the best bang for the buck. Which would you rather do? Pay a utility bill once a month or spend your own time on a weekly or monthly basis maintaining your equipment, buying replacement parts, troubleshooting problems with the charger, mitigating lag time between demand and generation when there are weeks of cloudy weather.... I've studied this for years with great interest because I want to be energy independent... but at the end of the day, that's not my greatest cost. Government is.

Dutch Solar permit rules (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287309)

In the Netherlands there are a few (relatively) simple rules that need to be adhered to. The upside is that there are mandated nationwide through all municipialities.

- on a angled roof the solar panels must fall in the same flat surface and angle of the roof without protruding.
- on a flat roof the solar panels must not be visible from the street, this implies about 2 feet of space around the edges.

Ofcourse there are few exceptions:
- trackers, those need permits, even in the backyard.
- if you want to install panels on the facia of the building you need permits

This gives a lot of freedom and covers the "simple man" home owner. And it also prevents some of the installations seen in Germany which are frankly hideous. They might be giving a bit too much freedom there.

One of the issues raised by the original poster is the (backup) power issue. Pretty much all solar installations are of the Grid-Tie type, this means that they will not operate when the utilities power is cut. There are a few solutions for sale now which couple grid-tie for feed-in with battery backup for backup for increased self consumption.

I will leave it up to decide for the people themselves if the cost associated with Batteries and pricier Inverter are worth the trade off for backup power. However, when faced with a week long power outage it is nice to atleast have a working fridge so that food doesn't spoil.

My own solar installation wakes up every day and generates power I don't have to pay for. It doesn't need any maintenance or cleaning. Sure it doesn't produce as much in the winter as it does in the summer, but it's still power I don't have to do anything for. It also made me accutely aware of my own power consumption, which can be argued is a good thing. The prices for the panels have come down a really long way since 2010. However, the inverters and batteries have not really gotten any cheaper over the course of a few years.

Solar Panels and high winds don't mix. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42287341)

The first thing to go in a storm like Sandy would be the solar panels off the roof. Hopefully they wouldn't take the roof with them.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...