View Full Version : Solar Power: Possible Alternative
02-16-03, 04:40 PM
Orginally posted by zechaeriah
We're interested in opinions on why you think solar power does or does not work. anyone who is interested in becky's solar power page, go to http://catacombs-channel.net/environment.php
If I had the money, and didn't live in Ohio ( ;) ) I sure would like solar power. ;)
02-16-03, 05:34 PM
I just wanted to add a note about the Maine Solar House (http://www.solarhouse.com) that I have used as an example in projects and prior posts.
The house is connected to the "grid" and during daylight hours, energy produced that is not being used by the household appliances, lighting, etc, is fed back to the power company, causing the meter to run backwards and then, when it's dark and power is not being produced by the solar roof panels, the house uses energy from the power company, usually on a 1:1 exchange, kind of like borrowing back what it sent to the grid earlier in the day. Any extra that they use, they get billed for, any surplus that is created, they get a credit for.
Battery back-up is another option, and the option that will allow you to keep your electricity in the case of an outage on the part of the power company... With a grid connected system, even if an outage occurs mid-day and your panels are creating power, your connection will be cut off so as not to "surprise" a lineman that is working on the power lines.
Battery systems can be expensive add-ons, depending on how much power you want to keep stored. They range in size, holding from a few hours worth of power to a few days worth. Most people with the option to connect to the grid will take that over the battery storage option, simply because of the cost of the batteries, and the fact that they have to be replaced every few years. People out of range of the power company don't have much choice, and learn to minimize power usage to conserve the energy that they collect and make it last. Sounds like we should all be doing this anyway...
Okay, well, that turned into more than a "note"... anybody out there currently using solar power? If so, any pros/cons to discuss?
Well, I’ve been looking at the solarhouse.com website and found some interesting things. Before “Himmler Tristan” closes down this thread, I will tell you what I think.
After searching and searching, there is no mention in the page to the cost of the panels (ASE-300-DG/50 Module) or the costs for a house of that size (about 2,900 sq ft, or roughly 878 m2). The site also stated that the cost of a 2,100 watt array is around $16,000, so I assume that at least, the 4,200 watt array they use is around $32.000. They say in California taxpayers are paying 50% of the solar panels costs –even if they never used one. California seems to be a kind of “1931-1945 Germany place”. If I were a Californian I would really complain. And, as far as I know, California is not an example of energy efficient state… and/or energy sound policy.
Another thing I found is their average consumption of electricity is <b>304 kw a month</b>, which I find extremely low for a house that size. I compared it with my own electricity bills. I have a house 250 m2 (about 1/3 of the solarhouse) and consume an average of 652 kw/month, even I have low energy bulbs everywhere, and keep most of them turned off. I have one regular sized refrigerator, one microwave oven (only for heating coffee or a plate of cooked rice), two 29 inch TVs, 1 computer monitor, that are used sparingly. In a yearly average, I consume 21 kw a day; the “solarhouse” consumes just 10.13 kw a day. Unbelievable.
We use no electricity for cooking (we use natural gas) and the same goes for water heating. As a result, our gas bills are higher than electricity, (electricity monthly average = $40.75 against gas bills = $62.50 US dollars) because we live in the open country (an “Estancia” or cattle ranch) and must bring the gas in containers at the rate of two 45 kg “bottles” every month, at a cost of $31.25 US dollars each “bottle”.
I find the electricity consumption of the solarhouse quite unbelievable. They are using half the amount I am using: 652 kw against 304 kw. They must be away from the house eight months in the year, using their house as an energy generating station.
Then there was the greeting message in the website: “<b><I>The Threat is now orange:</b> The Terror Alert has now risen. Time for us to wean ourselves from Arab oil. How? Go solar.”</I></b> I honestly would say: <b>Go Nuclear</b>. Really, I am not joking. You confess to be advocates of solar power. That’s good. You go solar. Let me go nuclear. I have worked in the construction of our Nuclear plant in Córdoba, Argentina (Embalse, a Candu natural uranium reactor), that has proven reliable and safe as few nuke centrals on Earth, so I know what I am talking about.
Even so, I really would like to know how much did the “solarhouse” cost. Anyone has the real figure? Please give me information. It might be useful.
While living in Bolivia (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, quite sunny area at 15°S) I’ve seen a solar array installed in a friend’s house, but only for water heating, and it worked fine –most of the time. As I lived at his house for three months prior to renting a house, I noticed that on some weeks during the winter, after a couple of cloudy days, we had to resource to the gas boiler to take a bath.
And in the Indian village of Urubichá, where I have a small lodge for eco-tourism and adventure travel (see the place at: http://mitosyfraudes.8k.com/photoEng.html ) some of the most affluent people there have solar panels (a simple 1 m2 array, low efficiency, giving a useful 150 watt*hour output) used mostly for lighting the living room (40 watts fluorescent lamp) and listening a transistor radio –after the panel stored energy the whole day. The nearest power grid was at Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 320 km away. I think that for such uses, solar panels are OK, and might be cheaper on the very long run.
Then there was this propaganda: <b><I>“Regardless of the cost of electricity, your costs will never increase. The cost of energy to power your home will be $00.00/year - FOREVER! “</I></b> and also this: <b><I>”Your neighbors will envy your independence</I></b>. I think they are not being honest. There are maintenance costs involved (hiring technicians for cleaning the panels at least two times a year –and that is a dangerous job, as anyone that has climbed a roof knows well, so the technician bill will not be small, unless you want to clean it yourself and risk a fall and a possible serious injury or even death.
Then comes the part when you have to replace panels (they say now they make panels lasting as long as 25 years, so it seems you’d have to invest another $32.000 every 20 years (on average), and that means $1,600 a year, meaning $133. 33 a month. As electricity in Maine costs 12 cents*kw, 304 kw means: <b>304 x 0.12 = $36.48 a month</b> in electricity bills. If my math is not mistaken, buying energy from the power grid will cost me $36.48 a month, while putting aside money for replacing the panels will cost me $133.33 a month. I really don’t see where is the advantage of going solar. I don’t see why my neighbors would envy me…especially if I have to restrict myself to use only 304 kw a month, when I normally use 650, (and even that keeping almost all my lights tuned off!)
If I am wrong, please show me where is my mistake. Honestly, I would like to save money, but I think this is not the way to do it.
BTW, Zach and Becky: do you have solar panels installed in your homes?
Edufer, this is one popular source for the RV crowd, but they handle the bigger home systems as well. The link is straight to their example setups and prices.
Biggest one listed is this one:
#6 HIGHER POWER SYSTEM
$24,884 to $26,584
PRODUCES ABOUT 10 USABLE KILOWATT-HOURS ON A SUNNY DAY
Thanks you so much for the link to the solar panel manufacturer. It gave me some figures and information to work with. For quite a long time, it has been my interest to solve the problem of energy provision to a small lodge I started to build in the Amazon jungle (north of Bolivia) dedicated to Adventure travel and eco-tourism. I had to stop the construction when it was 80% completed, but now I am about to resume the work and finish it. (You can see the plans and photos of the project and pictures of that beautiful region at: http://mitosyfraudes.8k.com/photoEng.html ).
The building has 5 rooms for groups of up to 15 persons, (up to 3 each room), and some other rooms for the manager, the kitchen, living room, dinning room, etc. for a total area of 1,200 square meters (about 11,000 sq ft). The architects and engineers had calculated the power needed for the lodge at 34 kwh: 8 air conditioners (split system), lights and appliances, motor for the water pump, machine and workshop tools, etc. They recommended a 36 kwh Diesel generator (MWM-Leroy, Brazilian made), so we bought a brand new one at $16,000 (US dollars). The fuel consumption was about 5 liters an hour, what in money was $ 2.50. The generator was to work about 10 hours a day, totaling $25.00 a day. The energy was needed to light the lodge and run the air conditioners from 8:00 PM until 8:00 AM. That meant $30.00 a day, or $ 900.00 a month. For a family house, that would be a prohibitive price, but for a commercial enterprise that charged $ 175.00 a day for a jungle safari ($ 2,625 for a group of 15, or $1,750 for a group of 10) is just a drop in the ocean. The added costs were fuel transportation from 20 miles away ($15 every week), lubricating oil and minor maintenance costs.
Given the prices found in the link provided by you, I would need three #6 Higher Power Systems as stated by the manufacturer : <font color=blue><b>#6 HIGHER POWER SYSTEM -
$24,884 to $26,584 </b> PRODUCES ABOUT 10 USABLE KILOWATT-HOURS ON A SUNNY DAY”</b></font>.
They also state: <font color=blue><b>“Backup generators cost from $400 to $9000. Many of our customers already own one. That cost is NOT added to the total in the examples, and you may need to allow for purchase of a backup generator.”</b></font> That means I’ll have to invest $79,152 US dollars plus another $9000 for the backup generator, taking the total amount of the investment to <b>$88,152 US dollars</b>. It let me thinking for a while, and came to the following conclusion:
1) If I have to replace the solar system after 20 years, the amortization costs would equal to $ 4,407.60 a year, or $ 367,30 a month, or $12,24 a day. This costs are doubled when we take into account the initial investment, so daily costs are $24.48.
2) If I run the Diesel generator for 24 hours a day, it would cost me $ 60.00 a day, or $ 1,800 a month, or $ 21.600 a year. I would have to buy a new generator after 20 years, taking the amount spent in 20 years to : $28,800 x 15 = $ 576.000 (fuel) + $16.000 (new generator) + $16,000 (initial diesel generator buy) = $608.000, for a 20 years 24 hour running. If, as originally planned, I run the diesel only 12 hours a day, the cost would drop to 288,000 (fuel) + 16,000 + $ 16,000 = $320,000, for a daily cost of $44.44.
3) It seems that the solar panel system is about half the price of the diesel generator, on a 20 year running basis. But as good as this sounds, I have to solve another problems: The building is a square with four roofs, each one facing different cardinal points. The east facing slope will have good irradiation from 8:00 AM to about 2:00 PM, when the sun has gone west and starts to shine fine on the westward slope. The east slope would get reduced irradiation – I don’t know how much the wattage output will be reduced. Has anyone an idea?
The same happens to the north and south slopes: as the lodge is at 12°South, from mid spring to mid fall will have a lot of irradiation on the <b>south slope</B> (as the sun is in the Southern Hemisphere and shines from the south), while the north slope will get reduced irradiation. The whole scheme reverses between mid fall and mid spring, and the south slope gets less irradiation. This lets me guess that a 4 slope array of solar panels will give me about a 60% efficiency in irradiation terms. So it would make sense to think that instead of getting 30 kwh output from the array, I will be getting about 18 kwh. So for getting the 36 kwh provided by the diesel generator, I would have to duplicate the initial investment in solar panels and buy, not 3, but 6 High Power solar systems, doubling all calculations I’ve made.
So the initial investment will be: $79,152 x 2 = $ 158,304 + $ 9,000 (1 backup generator) = $ 167,304 with a daily cost, for a 20 year cycle = $ 48,96, which is about $ 4.00 more expensive than the diesel generator, on the same 20 years cycle. This disappointed me.
Then comes the part where we must put our feet in the ground and say: <b>Do we have the $167,304 for the initial system?</B> If we had that kind of money, we would have finished the lodge yeas ago. We have the diesel generator, and the small amount of money needed for fueling the diesel in the first months, and running the lodge until passengers start coming.
I am sorry to have bored you with all my calculations, but perhaps I am wrong somewhere and, after all, it would be cheaper for us to install solar power in the lodge, instead of the diesel. Besides, the diesel is noisy, and we have installed it away from the lodge, enclosed in a sound proof room. Anyone has a nice idea to share?
How old is the generator? My opinion, given the numbers you worked up, would be to invest in a new generator. I've heard that the newest Hondas are extremely quiet, if that's a factor.
The real cost comparison seems to boil down to fuel vs. the cost for obtaining free sunlight. So the generator is dependant on fuel prices and availability, while solar requires a big investment and relies on good weather and good battery/collector maintenance.
Lots of variables...
The MWM-Diesel generator is brand new, and will last for more than 20 years (in underveloped countries there is no such thing as throwing away anything that can be fixed with wire and screws).
We kept analyzing the matter and found we didn't include in our calculations for the solar array, the costs of running the <b>backup generator</b>. It seems that the backup is needed because the solar panels don't give <b>ALL</B> the energy needed, and we'd have to charge the batteries with the generator, especially when we wanted to run the air conditioners that consume a lot of energy.
This means that solar power is still more expensive than a diesel generator for our use in the jungle -a place where solar power supposedly has an advantage over portable or big generators.
If we had an electric utility servicing a grid, and we were connected to that grid, our costs would be reduced to about 10% of the costs we calculated, making solar power an unrealistic investment. That's a pitty, as we hoped solar could have been a solution to our problem.
I think this puts and end to the thread on the advantages of solar over conventional energy. Too bad.
Too bad. I wonder what the break even point is, given average fair conditions of weather, between solar and generator?
In space you have more radiation, 24/7 sunlight, no weight for your structure, and no rotating base, plus the advantage of various ways of collecting and transforming the energy. But here on Earth...
02-27-03, 12:53 PM
I just wanted to let everyone who has posted here know that we are doing our interview with Bill Lord, owner of The Maine Solar House (http://www.solarhouse.com ) tonight at 7:30 pm on The Catacombs Show (http://catacombs-channel.net/radio.php) . We have made a list of pertinent questions and comments from all of the posts on this thread, and will give Mr. Lord an opportunity to answer those and any others that come in over instant messenger ( AOL - catacombs2012 ) during the show. Please tune in and use this opportunity to interact with the owner of this amazing house!