OT, solar panels

Are there any folks here with first hand knowledge of installing reasonably priced solar panels to supplement home electricity? I am very interested in doing this and would like to discuss it off board.



all I know about solar power
is that “reasonably priced” and “solar panels” hardly ever go in the same sentence. Other than that I don’t know much about them - but, this may be able to help.

Check this out from “Mother Earth News” http://www.motherearthnews.com/Renewable-Energy.aspx

Their magazine is awesome.

check to see if
your state offers rebates for installation. Some years back, before real estate tanked, i was going to sell one of my Florida lots and use the money to install a 5kw system here in Ct. The system was close to 45k but the state was going to rebate me 25k.

Ct. now has a lease program.

hot water
Last week I installed a three panel system for heating water.

The federal tax rebate is at 30% and you will have to check and see what your state tax rebate is. Ours in South Carolina is 30%.

This should save you about 80% on your hot water which is usually 20% of your energy use.

Even though this is the most cost effective approach, the challenge is to break even in 15 years.

That’s the rub
My house has a near-perfect exposure for solar, but even with rebates, the price of solar panels is hideously high. My electric bill only averages ~$80/month, so it would take ~26 years to pay for a solar installation. That’s simply not worth it. Until the price comes down dramatically, solar isn’t going to be a real option for most homeowners.

Hold out for a little longer ?
The price is dropping.

Meanwhile look into converting all your lights and replacing your fridge if you have an old one …

Go tankless or solar for hot water.

Yes, hold out a bit…
get your education and pricing now, but see if congress passes the Home Star bill. Just google it, or “cash for caulkers”. The feds may be willing to pick up a large chunk of it in 2011 if it passes.

Also, I’ve been checking into modern insulation methods. They spray a two part urethane foam into the walls, and on the underside of your roof. Supposed to make an amazing difference. I’ve been in homes that have had it done, and it is remarkable.


power grid

– Last Updated: Feb-07-10 8:57 AM EST –

Worrying about the price of solar panels in order lto save $80 per month makes no sense. It is the most basic need that has to be met but it falls short of what it should be in order to prove to the public that we are serious about alternative energy.

The problem is the non existent system infrastructure to sell your power back into the power grid. There has to be a mandate to guarantee that what power you make can be reliably measured and reliably sold into the power grid.

My friends overseas have a guarantee on a 15 year loan. It will pay for their power needs and they will break even after 10 years with the remaining five years as surplus money. Panels have a 15 year replacement warranty. After 15 years if they still work ... It's a bonus.

Side note … Do a comparison
between doing it yourself and having a “pro” do it just so you qualify for the refund …

The mandate exists…
…though it may be on a state-by-state basis. Regardless, it’s the cost of solar panels that’s the major obstacle. I may end up building a passive solar water heater, since it’s relatively inexpensive to do so and I can do it all myself. Since my water is heated by electricity, that’s one way to reduce my electric bill that will probably pay for itself is very short order.

You can get tax credits for DIY work
I did when I added insulation to my attic. If you can do something yourself, it’s going to save you money compared to paying someone to do it, as you’re only being partially reimbursed for the cost of the labor.

can you sell your power back ?
Last time I checked into it it was impossible to do for actuall $$$. There was ony a chance to offset your power bill but not to actually to get compensated if you made more.

I would say that if the economics made sense (price per panel vs financial gain from making power) then it would not matter that much how much it costs because it would make sense to finance it.

Early 80’s
were spent installing active hydronic solar water heaters professionally. Five years of that, everyday. The business I worked for did the first photovoltaic installation in our area and we also had dealerships for four brands of wind machines which we also installed. (Personally though, my job was as the solar water heater installation guy.)

The payback period (amount of time it would take for the installation to pay for itself - always, however, a function of utility rates and hot water usage)our customers could expect on the water heaters was in the area of four years. The systems we installed had two moving parts - a relay and a 75W pump - and, barring tornado damage, could be expected to provide hot water without major repairs for about 75 years. A good deal.

Hydronic space heating was a longer payback because it required a much larger system that only really worked at its maximum capacity during the winter - when solar input was at its lowest.

Photovoltaic and wind were both had much longer pay-back periods than either of the hydronic systems, mostly because of the low price of electricity and maintenance requirements.

Photovoltaics and DC wind machines need batteries for storage of energy. Those batteries are expensive, have a limited life, and are not without their own environmental concerns. Inverters to convert the DC current produced by the collectors or DC wind machine to AC current for most US appliances are expensive. Replacing all your AC appliances (as is sometimes done in the Australian outback, for instance, where there is no “grid” to get off off)is expensive as is rewiring to allow for the higher ampacities of DC power. Improvements in storage technologies would improve their usefulness and that is the technological development we were hoping for. Before Reagan was elected.

Wind machines are pretty complex devices - not unlike automobile engines in many ways - and require maintenance, usually atop a very tall pole. Wind farms have an advantage in doing this sort of work since everything is centralized. The parts that are likely to need replacement can be kept on hand, preventative maintenance schedules set up, and they can use the most ideal locations (free of bearing-eating turbulence). A private homeowner is at a disadvantage here… though that is most of what we installed since there were no wind farms back then. Our Entertek customers (our brand of AC wind machine) bought electricity at retail and, when their electric meters ran backwards, sold at wholesale. It was a legal beef.

Long and short of it is (or was) energy conservation (insulation, weatherization, compact fluorescent bulbs, etc.), pays off fastest. When that’s done, solar hydronic, and passive solar greenhouse additions (site permitting) are the next best investments. Then photovoltaic and wind.

That all seems like another lifetime to me. Perhaps something has changed since then, but I doubt much has. The virtues and pitfalls of each type of system are inherent. Only prices and rebate programs have changed. Neither for the better.

Best wishes. You’re fighting on the side of the angels. A black eye gained fighting for a worthy cause is better than winning a fight for an unworthy one.

getting the cost down of solar panels
I don’t think the cost will go down unless the demand goes up enough to create more competition that will create more investment in research.

One thing you could to do help the process is to buy a small solar panel to charge some device that you normally charge at home like your digital picture frame.

Years ago no one had a digital picture frame. While thay don’t use a lot of power, we will need three power plants just for them when most homes have them.

So maybe a phone or laptop charger is where you start, but don’t forget to do your best to conserve as well.

I had a solar site survey done a few years ago, my roof has ok exposure and if I cleared a 1/2 acre I could probably get better than ok with panels on the ground. The initial cost is frightening, even with the rebates. Conservation is the first step, someone I work with has everything on power strips and shuts them off when things aren;t being used. He would have a 30+ year payback because his electric bill is so small.

I’ll be upgrading my heating system, replacing windows, and insulating before I put up solar panels.

The cost will go down once more panels are sold. I’ve been told that producing panels is somewhat similar to making plastic kayaks, the cost of what goes into the panel is small, but the start up costs (like the mold, ovens, etc…) are extremely high.

Someone already recommended Mother Earth News, I also recommend a magazine called Home Power.

If you’re in New England check out http://www.nesea.org/ every fall they do a “green house” open house tour. You can talk to people who’ve done installs and wander through their houses.

AFAIK, yes…
…but I’ll have to do more research to find out what, if any, limits there are. The last I knew, the local electric company is required to accept whatever power you generate.

I’d be interested to hear what you find
last year I did minor research and found it to be nonoperational due to an outdated grid technology. A friend looked into it last year when he was building his house and ended up just doing solar to heat his hot water and also heat hot water in coils under the floor to provide warmth. But when summer hits he is making energy that si pretty much going to waste…uncompensated.