Any advice?

efmillerFebruary 13, 2004

We are considering installing solar panels in the course of our remodel. We are in Southern California. Any advice?

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What kind of solar panels? Do you want to heat water or produce electricity?

Also I hope you realize how lucky you are California has one of the best rebate programs for green energy 50%. We have nothing up here so we have to foot the whole bill ourselves.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2004 at 11:56PM
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That was what our architect was telling us. That is definitely huge. I really know very little about them at all. We were looking at it to produce electricity.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2004 at 12:25AM
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Something you should know about photovoltaic panels, though, as this may make a difference to you if you're also environmentally concerned: photovoltaic panels are hazmat. Contains lead and arsenic.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2004 at 11:42AM
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Pooh Bear

Unless you are VERY frugal with electricity,
about the best you can hope for is to supplement your normal use.
And even this is very expensive.
Sytems are currently costing about 3 to 5 dollars PER WATT.
Unless you get a grant or supplement, I can't see these
systems ever paying for themselves.

I ordered a catalog from the site below.
And I really learned a lot just reading the catalog.

Pooh Bear

Here is a link that might be useful: Sunelco website

    Bookmark   February 14, 2004 at 6:16PM
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OK now lets not scare off efmiller s/he wants to find out information on producing renewable energy in her/his new home. That is a very good thing. Everyone should be making attempts at reducing fossil fuel and nuclear generated energy consumption.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element it is found in large amounts in the earth and the air and water. Generally Arsenic is innate to us. Now it can be highly toxic to humans especially when it is inorganic but you need to ingest or inhale it.

Lead is also a naturally occurring metal found on earth. Burning fossil fuels, mining and manufacturing are huge factors on lead being spread throughout our environment. Lead has to be introduced to humans in very small particles for it to enter our system or you need to be in contact of large quantities like stained glass workers.

Now as for hazardous materials in solar panels lead is was used for soldering the metal frame and the electric connections on some panels most manufactures use non-lead solder now. Arsenic is sometimes used in the manufacturing of the panels it is not released into the environment and is reused. PV panels are comprised of mostly silicone.

Now it is possible to use renewable energy to completely power a typical modern home. The initial cost is higher but it does pay for it self. Will you be hooked to the grid and using the PV to reduce your electricity bill? Does Ca. Have an electric buy back system?

The following links should give you some information. The last is a collection of links for people who use renewable energy to varying degrees in there home.

http:// offgrid . cjb .net/

    Bookmark   February 15, 2004 at 1:13AM
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you are going to have me online all day
reading those links!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2004 at 10:09AM
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Pooh Bear

I would definitely go with solar if we could afford it.
I would like to see info an what grants are available to install it.

I would install solar panels, and a Trace Inverter.
A Trace Sinewave Inverter sends excess power back thru your
electric meter and into the grid. This way you don't have
to maintain batteries for storing excess power. And if you
generate more power than you use, you get credit from the
electric company. Mostly it just supplents your regular
electric use. Would be good to use a backup generator with it.

I'm all for solar and wind power.
I would love to see it available to more people.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2004 at 5:43PM
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I was reading somewhere on the web a long time ago about
going total solar. For a 15,000 sq ft home it would cost
approx 13,000 but that's not real bad it you look at what
the cost of electricity is these days. I think it would
definitely pay for itself in the long run.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out.


    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 5:48AM
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Mother Earth News magazine ran a partial issue on going solar a few issues ago. You might want to search for that issue on their web site.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 9:20AM
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One of the most important early considerations is how much sun you get and what you want to do with it. A site survey will let you know when your roof/walls get the light.

Here is a low cost survey kit and solar strategies:

Uses for solar in terms of increasing cost:
Sun tempered space heating (seasonal passive solar)
Passive solar space heating (using thermal mass)
Solar pool and water heating
PV (solar electric conversion)

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 11:17AM
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Thanks so much for all the info - I will continue to research and let you know how it goes.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2004 at 12:33PM
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The CA rebate program is great but the amount goes down every six months so you need to get moving on this if you are serious.

We contracted for a PV system last Sept. or October and it will be installed this week. DO A LOT OF RESEARCH and get quotes from several vendors.

You will not want to try to produce all your power needs, go for "tier shaving" which is getting your bills out of the highest priced tier(s) for electricity.

Some vendors will install and wait to get the rebate, others (like ours) won't do anything until the rebate is approved.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 3:21PM
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Check out the link below, tons of great information. Also go to the online calculator found through the site.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 3:28PM
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Thanks for the info Steve. I had come across that link through one of the ones mgmsrk had mentioned above. The whole rebate thing is quite confusing with the way it is changing. Unfortunately we are still a few months out, but the decisions need to be made now. We currently are not huge electricity consumers - we are almost all gas except for lights/outlets and we have no air conditioning. However, in the remodel, we want to add a heat pump and an electric oven and we will be almost doubling our square footage... So we need to figure out if it is cost effective to switch over to electric and add the solar panels.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 4:58PM
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What do you mean by switching over to electric? Are you planing on changing your appliances?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2004 at 6:56PM
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Warning about solar water heating! If it isn't done right, it can end up costing you more electricity than it saves! That's what happened in my house (which I didn't design) and in a lot of others in the area.

>I would install solar panels, and a Trace Inverter.
A Trace Sinewave Inverter sends excess power back thru your
electric meter and into the grid.

This is the ONLY environmentally friendly way to do it, if your state lets you. Batteries have to be replaced every few years. Can you imagine throwing 50 car batteries into a landfill every two years (also haz mat) while still trumpeting you ecofriendliness? Plenty of off-grid folks do. I don't recommend it.

Also, while panel prices continue to fall and while panels are pretty much a one-time investment, battery prices have been steady and they are a frequently reoccurring investment--more than anything, what keeps the price of solar up so high.

After I finish my remodels, I'm planning on putting in supplemental solar. It will reduce my energy consumption while still being within a reasonable cost.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2004 at 2:47PM
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You seem to be confused on a few issues.

Solar PV panels produce electricity solar water heaters do not and can not produce electricity they heat water for home heating or hot water use. They are not interchangeable.

Car batteries?
Car batteries can not be used for storing home power with any success.
Every two years?
Wow, that would be bad! Most sealed batteries used for home electric storage have life spans of 10-15 years.
The average to large size home with "normal" electricity use would need about 4-10 batteries. Now the better the charging systems the fewer batteries you need.

Are battery storage systems perfect? Of course not! Is hooking to a electricity company that burns millions of tons of coal per year that is mined in third world countries by impoverished people with little or no safety equipment for a few dollars a week environmentally friendly? Have you spent any time near a coal burning plant? Or Nuclear power? Ever dreamed of owning a home next to a uranium mine or a nuclear waste dump? How about oil burning for electric use, I hate to even think of the toxic fumes and particles that are released in the environment from that.

There are many very good sources of information on renewable energy. I would encourage you to seek some out before you investment in a PV or solar heat system for your home.

Living in the age we do requires hard choices for all of us. There is just about never a "ONLY" way to do anything right. The best any of us can do is gather as much information as we can and make our decisions based on that.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2004 at 5:13PM
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My friend, who didn't connect to powerline because he had 50 acres of trees and wouldn't let the power company cut a 50' (or was it 50 metre?) swath through them through which to run their line, built an independent system.

Small 4,000 watt generator, replaced with a 5,000 watt one when the lightning hit the original one. Trace inverter to change the 100V. AC to (I think 24V. DC) to store in batteries, and to re-convert to 110V. AC to go into the trailer.

Used some large batteries (almost 3' high) discarded by the phone company when slightly through half of their useful life (due to their requirement for dependable, uninterrupted power) of quite a number of years.

Later bought a larger diesel generator, which not yet fully refurbished.

And a wind-powered generator, about 100 feet in the air, to be above the air turbulence caused by his trees - not only now, but allowing for several years of their growth.

Propane powered furnace, stove, dryer, extra living room light.

Said he'd move his 12' X 60' trailer up his winding lane without cutting trees. I said he'd need to put three pails of grease on the trees to accomplish it. He had neighbour's 4-wheel drive tractor below on the trailer carrying the house trailer, he up above pulling trailer this way and that with small crawler tractor. When finished, neighbour had tree bark caught between tire and rim of rear wheel.

He cut three trees.

Haven't heard much about solar panels - there'd be a problem with sunlight shaded.

He was happy with his system - died last summer, not yet 60. Wife still using system: son is electrician.

Good wishes for environmentally friendly living, all,

ole joyful

    Bookmark   February 19, 2004 at 7:50AM
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mgmsrk -you've got good info! Thanks. Yes we will be replacing the appliances - including heat in the course of this remodel - all of ours are original - 40+ years old!!

Our architect has arranged a meeting with a guy who will be looking at our job. Thanks to all of you, I will go in a lot more informed!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2004 at 11:55PM
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I am confused about nothing. Someone made a comment about passive solar water heating above. I responded to that. I didn't say the idea was bad--I just warned him about good intentions if the design sucks. Someone else made a comment about PV power. I made a comment about that, too.

You still must use batteries, and YES, most people off grid have an entire ROOM full of batteries--and very often they're batteries that are also used in automobiles. (Usually BIG automobiles, but automobiles nevertheless.) Usually the room is the size of a slightly generous closet, but it's still a room full of expensive and corrosive batteries that must be regularly thrown away. That's why PV power is so expensive--it's not the PANELS, which re pretty much a one-time investment! And YES, if you use the grid only as your "storage" (putting out more power that you're using when you have a surplus, using it when you have a deficit), so are creating MUCH less waste than if you have batteries. Like, say, none, if your net usage is zero. It's silly to pretend that a *possibility* of miniscule amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur could compare to the very definite risk of *large* amounts of lead and sulfuric acid in the size of batteries you need for an off-grid system. On-grid systems aren't merely better for the environment, they make PV power economical for most people.

As far as the lead and arsenic is concerned--there's more arsenic is most wood fencing and landscaping timber that's more than 10 years old, and in a form that's much, much more likely to hurt you. I'm not worried about arsenic in solar panels, and I'm more than a bit hyper about arsenic because my family was poisoned by a company that legally dumped arsenic-laden farming chemicals near my house growing up from the 50's through the 70's and didn't clean up when they were ordered to--and then illegally dumped it at least until 1998. And then, of course, sent all the records to France so the Texas Water Comission couldn't subpeona them, along with all sorts of other stories that would make your toes curl... So anyhow, after being poisoned for ten years, I have a very GOOD reason to be concerned about arsenic, and the amounts in PV cells isn't enough to hurt anyone unless you decided to eat the suckers. Then, I think, you'd have other problemss to worry about, anyhow. *g*

    Bookmark   February 20, 2004 at 6:20PM
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Pooh Bear

Hybrid solar panels will heat water and produce electricity.
And are more efficient, but also more expensive.

Batteries are recycled. I don't see the waste there.
And they are a huge expense.
Storing in the grid is a better option.

If you live on the grid, I see no way you can save
money by installing PV panels and system.
It just won't pay for itself in the long run.
At an average of $4/watt, a 5000watt (5kw) system is $20,000.
How long would it take to recoup the investment.
Last month, we were billed $82 for 1145 kwh.
That was a very cold month so the bill was high for us.
At an average of $70 per month, how long to recoup.

On the other hand, there is a family in our town
that has gone completely solar. Not tied to the grid.
I would like to see some real numbers on it.

Pooh Bear

    Bookmark   February 20, 2004 at 9:32PM
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Possibly confused was the wrong word grossly misinformed may be more accurate.

""You still must use batteries, and YES, most people off grid have an entire ROOM full of batteries--and very often they're batteries that are also used in automobiles. (Usually BIG automobiles, but automobiles nevertheless.""

Car (truck and big automobile) batteries are built to provide a large quantity of electrical current for a short period of time (just a few minutes worth) Than the cars alternator starts and recharges the battery and provides the car with the electricity it needs. The kind of batteries that are required for electrical storage is called a deep cycle battery. They are designed to provide a steady quantity of current over a long period of time. Deep cycle batteries are designed to undergo repeated "deep" discharges. If you attempted this with a car battery it would likely last only about a month. Both types of batteries tend to look alike on the outside but they are designed differently on the inside.
I have visited many people who live off grid not one of them has a "entire ROOM full of batteries" why would you when a small box is all you need. Now many have rooms for their batteries just like many people have utility rooms often they are combined or used for storage. The last house I was in had a 5x2x2 insulated box built for his batteries he had it on wheels and kept it under his workbench. When he needed to check on them the box just wheeled out.
Can Batteries that last 10-15 years really be labeled as something that "must be regularly thrown away"? Most of us have hot water tanks, refrigerators and cars that will only last that long or less and will have to be tossed. Batteries are almost fully recyclable. Almost nothing in a Refrigerator can be recycled and it contains things that are damaging to the environment the same for hot water heaters. A lot of a car can also be recycled or reused but a great deal of cars are waste and an environmental hazard.

""so are creating MUCH less waste than if you have batteries. Like, say, none, if your net usage is zero. It's silly to pretend that a *possibility* of miniscule amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and sulfur could compare to the very definite risk of *large* amounts of lead and sulfuric acid in the size of batteries you need for an off-grid system""

MINISCULE????????? In the US 100 MILLION TONS of POLLUTANTS are released in to the air each year by industries. I have a pretty good imagination but I cant imagination what 100 million tons of any thing looks like but it certainly is not minuscule! Now I do not want anyone thinking I am picking on the US, Canada and Mexico are not exactly stellar examples. So you see it is not a "possibility" that I am being "silly" about it is a firm reality. The lead that is released in to our air by these plants is not recyclable the lead in batteries is.

I am sorry to hear that has happened to your family. I am always amazed at how often things like that happen and how infrequently the people responsible are made to pay so to speak.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2004 at 3:06AM
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We are grid tied so I could not see the economics in battery storage. I have a backup generator for when the power goes out. My system should pay for itself in 8-10 years and after that we get $100-125 per month in free electricity.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2004 at 11:03AM
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Steve 889,

Tell me - where may one find "free electricity"?

You are fairly sure that your system will have paid for itself in 10 - 12 years.

Does this mean that, suppose your outlay in the beginning was $10,000., that the value of the production will have repaid that initial outlay of $10,000.?

Does it allow for a reasonable rate of interest that the initial $10,000. and the declining unrecovered amount could have earned over the period?

As we know, $10,000. in our pocket ten years ago would buy much more than $10,000. there now (assuming that, had the pants not been replaced, there had been no holes develop in that pocket, in the meantime). Have you included an amount to allow for the erosion of value of that original investment, allowing for its declining balance unrecovered, due to inflation, through the period?

Will your generating system not require some maintenance during those years? Which is costly in terms of time and dollars.

Which one must add to one's cost - whether one costs it out as current expense - or as an addition to the capital cost. But such differentiation seems to lose some of its validity in a situation of this kind.

As one learns in examining the expectations and actual experience through recent decades in the operation of our nuclear generating systems, there may be some unpleasant surprises through the years.

For example, my friend who built his own independent generating system had a lightning strike destroy his 4kw. gas-powered generator before the system was a year old. He replaced it with a 5kw. one, by the way - paid for out of his pocket, in faith that the system would pay its way, eventually. Does your scenario envisage allowance for such unexpected catastrophe(s)?

After all of those costs and allowances for unexpected emergencies in the system have been accounted for, we can claim that our electrical production comes to us at "no cost".

There are further concerns, though.

No doubt it will require further maintenance after those costs and allowances have been accounted for.

That ongoing maintenance may become more costly per unit of time as the years go by, because of deterioration of the components due to age.

We can make a good case for claiming that power generated after that is free.

What do you expect the useful life of the system to be? How firm are those projections? What possibility is there that it may not be producing enough power, and that dependably, to satisfy its owners before the end of its expected life?

But there are other concerns. How will we finance a new system when the current one comes to the end of its useful life?

Our current system can legitimately claim that, as its predecessor didn't help pay for its purchase, why should it be expected to help pay for its successor?

However, despite our current system's legitimate claim of our unfair request that it help finance its successor, we do need to be concerned about the payments required for equipment to replace our current system.

Good wishes as you plan ways to seek to achieve our desires for services, with as little damage to our threatened environment as possible.

joyful guy/Ed

    Bookmark   February 25, 2004 at 10:32AM
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I'm a big efficiency / get off the grid fan . . . .

Reducing / conserving is the first step no matter if you will remain on or off the grid.

Consider the life of PV panels . . . many warranty at least 80% of rated output for 20 + years. They produce far more energy in their lifetime than it takes to make them. Name ANY other source of energy that even comes close to even producing what it took to make it in it's lifetime. Solar is also more direct in the physics side of things . . . . no "conversion" through plants, decompostion etc. And in doing cost analysis; be sure to try to include that while you are using your panels 20 years from now; electricity is NOT going to be 8 cents or 10 cents or 12 cents per kWh . . . who KNOWS what it will be . . . . .

There are lots of approaches / ideas for solar, wind, hydro, generators, efficient tips and tricks / ideas etc out there. An excellent source for all is Homepower magazine . . . link should be attached . . . . lots of great ideas / info for all sorts of approaches to this whole field. They've been around a long time. Check them out and pass it along to others . . ..


    Bookmark   March 4, 2004 at 7:27PM
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Joyfulguy, Your wanting to add all the concerns to the calculation is admirable in terms of not painting an unreasonably rosy picture of how fast a solar system might pay for itself.

What I think your complex analysis demonstrates is that there are simply too many variables to exactly predict when the system has really paid for itself. Your points are thoughtful and well taken, however I think it's worth adding that other indirect savings are worth consideration. Such as the incalculable benefit of reducing the burdens on mother earth's resources.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2004 at 5:33PM
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You're right - the economics of the situation isn't the only dimension, of course.

It is hugely important that we tread lightly on the earth.

The cod have almost disappeared, as have various other types of fish - because we believed that the supply was inexhaustible.

With increasing world population - and diminishing food resources - what are our grandkids going to eat? While they live in our polluted atmosphere.

My comment related to that one rather bald statement - that I thought left a number of nuances uninvestigated.

ole joyful (corrected)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2004 at 7:25PM
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I refer to part of your message,

"Consider the life of PV panels . . . many warranty at least 80% of rated output for 20 + years. They produce far more energy in their lifetime than it takes to make them. Name ANY other source of energy that even comes close to even producing what it took to make it in it's lifetime."

How about a combination of falling water, or rather water with strong head-pressure and hydro-powered turbines?

While it takes a substantial amount of energy to produce those large turbines, they produce a great quantity of electricity during their many years of life - at minimal maintenance cost, which capability they have in common with solar panels, as well.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   March 28, 2004 at 1:41PM
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There is no reason to talk about "recouping your investment". How long does it take to "recoup your investment" on your automobile?!?!?! I feel that if you are going to go solar/wind/hydro you do it because it is the right thing to do. period.

I remember my father saying to me, "There are two ways to do something: the right way and the wrong way. And the right way is usually the more difficult way, because if it were the easier way, everyone would do the right thing."

Renewable energy is the right thing to do.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2004 at 11:36PM
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ole joyful

    Bookmark   September 11, 2004 at 2:36PM
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