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Old 06-28-2014, 06:43 AM   #21
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We recently installed an 8.2KW ground mounted system (32 panels) at a cost of about $2.90 per watt. We talked with several installers and pricing for our area in West Virginia were very close. A ground mounted system was slightly higher in cost but we have a lot of room with open space to orient the panels in the best direction. No one was killed during our installation that I'm aware about.

With the cost of electricity at about $.10 per KW where we are (WV coal!), payback will be well over 15 years but if costs rise, payback will be better. It's a very long payback period. Like retirement calculators, the input you put in for factors like future inflation have a big impact on whether this is a good decision.

We have microinverters on each panel and both the panels and the inverters are warranted for 25 years, theoretically, there is no maintenance for the system but only time will tell of course. There are thousands of panels in use and damage from storms/hail etc. seem to be well within the predictions and the panels are made to withstand high wind and hail- again, time will tell but the research I did didn't seem to indicate this was a major issue.

From what I can tell, the main solar production calculators that are used to set the production rates for a system in our area seem to understate the actual production by about 10% or so. This was based on discussion with others who have installed systems and based on our limited (less than 90 days) experience, this seems to be the case for us. If our production beats the predictions, good news. I think our being able to orient the panels in the perfect direction and without any obstructions really will work to our favor.

Our finance calculations also didn't include receiving any payments for selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) either as I'm a bit sceptical this will work out. These are 1,000 KW hours blocks of production that can be sold in a limited market to power companies that are required to produce some of their energy through solar. Skipping the politics, we've signed up with a trader to sell ours as they are produced. This month will be the first month we've had this set up and hoping to sell the units on the Pennsylvania market (the only one we're eligible for at this point since WV doesn't have an SREC market). It cost a one time fee of $50 to set up with a broker and last month, the credits were selling at over $40 each. Net is, if we can sell our predicted 8 SRECs each year, then that would decrease the payback time. Our system is connected to the internet so the broker tracks the production directly and hopefully, our only involvement is to get a check once in a while.

We really liked the idea of solar panels here for a variety of reasons. We have the panels connected to our guest cabin and and don't expect to have any bill for electricity there, the excess credits apply to our main house. I saw the post about the manufacturing impacts of solar panels and don't know the overall impact but I guess it's a bit like hybrid cars.

I like paying less to our power company and enjoyed working with the small, local company that we used to do our installation.

eyeonFI- don't know the details of the equipment/configuration for your offer but the numbers do seem very low for the up front cost. Obviously you'll want to make sure everything is included like connections to your existing power system, permits, disconnect switches, cabling, etc. It also looks like your payback is based on about 15 cents per KW hour for your existing suppplier, always worth checking to make sure that's accurate. I think it will also be nice to understand just how much this system will produce compared to your total use. Might be a great deal but is 3KW per year 10 percent of your energy needs or 50%? Our 8.2 KW system was selected based on providing about 40% of our energy needs, nothing magic about 40%, just wanted it to be a significant impact but weren't looking to live "off grid".

Best of luck with your decision.
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Old 06-28-2014, 06:52 AM   #22
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I have room and nearly perfect orientation at my boonies home, but I use so little electricity there (high country hence needs no A/C).
FYI, not sure if this applies to your situation but you might ask your power company about what is called a "parasitic agreement" here in WV, lol. Net is, excess power from solar equipment generated at a host site (for us, our guest cabin), is applied as credit against another "parasitic" account (for us, our main house). Our solar panel array is about 500 feet from the house and we originally were planning to trench a line from the solar panels to supply power but when we found out about the parasitic agreement, we were able to connect to the guest cabin with only about 50' of cabling.

Would have to be the same company for both accounts, etc. but just some FYI in case it might work for you. We're supposed to see our first credit to the home account next month as it takes the power company 90 days to get it set up.
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Old 06-28-2014, 08:14 AM   #23
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Net is, excess power from solar equipment generated at a host site (for us, our guest cabin), is applied as credit against another "parasitic" account (for us, our main house). Our solar panel array is about 500 feet from the house and we originally were planning to trench a line from the solar panels to supply power but when we found out about the parasitic agreement, we were able to connect to the guest cabin with only about 50' of cabling.
That sounds like a great deal. When weighing cost/benefit I was contemplating installing system on my shop (minimal consumption) using time of day rates, with the credit for buyback offsetting my residence on standard rate. But utility only allows buyback on main residence, so that scheme wasn't going to work for me.

I've had a site assessment done, and while I would like to install a system for several reasons I've not been able to reconcile the upfront cost with my modestly frugal self.
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Old 06-28-2014, 09:27 AM   #24
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...Happily, our roof repair and solar install was accomplished without any problems.
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.... No one was killed during our installation that I'm aware about. ...
Anecdotes are not data.

Deaths per TWH by energy source

Quote:
Rooftop solar is several times more dangerous than nuclear power and wind power. It is still much, much safer than coal and oil, because those have a lot of air pollution deaths.


RE - AllDone: a T-shirt that says "A big solar energy spill is just called a nice day."

Me: That's 'cute', but it ignores some realities. ....


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I don't believe that anyone has made those claims or disagree with you. Solar energy is "low carbon", not "no carbon". Of course roof work is dangerous. It always has been. ...
My point stands that a t-shirt with a cheer leading slogan that ignores realities is just 'cute'. It isn't helpful to ignore realities, what is the point of that? The oil and coal companies can come up with lists of positives, if we simply ignore any negatives.


This thread points out the silliness of the way these subsidies are dished out. Let's assume that the majority of people in an area have agreed that solar is a positive overall, and that it should be promoted. Given that, it makes no sense to subsidize individual homeowner roof-top installations. If everyone benefits, everyone should share in the cost, or overall savings if that comes to pass:

A) Why should one guy get this subsidy, and the potential for a lower bill and enhanced ROI (only because others paid part of the cost for his system), when his neighbor maybe can't install one due to roof orientation or shade tress. That sounds pretty random to me.

B) Why should people in apartments or who rent or plan on moving be effectively shut out from these subsidies? Rather selective, and one could say discriminatory.

C) If we want solar as a group, we should get the most kWh for our $, and therefore the most benefit. Individual rooftop installations are far more expensive and dangerous than a much larger industrial installation that everyone would share - a large flat roof on a warehouse or big-box store would provide a safer installation environment, and provide an economy of scale far above installing on hundreds of individual roofs, with many restrictions to get those panels oriented for maximum output. A big industrial rooftop could even have the panel angle adjusted a few times a year to maximize output. Two people could get that done over a short time. But not if they had to drive around and climb on hundreds of residential rooftops. The same for any monitoring and maintenance (washing) to maintain peak output. How many of these residential installations will end up with some shading over the next decade or two as trees grow, etc?

It seems to me that if you are a fan of solar, you should be opposed to residential rooftop solar, and supportive of community-shared, industrial-sized installations.

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Old 06-28-2014, 09:45 AM   #25
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FYI, not sure if this applies to your situation but you might ask your power company about what is called a "parasitic agreement" here in WV, lol. Net is, excess power from solar equipment generated at a host site (for us, our guest cabin), is applied as credit against another "parasitic" account (for us, our main house)...

Would have to be the same company for both accounts, etc. but just some FYI in case it might work for you. We're supposed to see our first credit to the home account next month as it takes the power company 90 days to get it set up.
Thanks for the tip. Unfortunately, my two homes are 140 miles apart and served by two different companies.

The far end of my lot is in a sunlit spot with no trees (I am a tree lover and hate to cut any down). And another power line runs right at the lot boundary. So, in theory it is possible to mount a transformer on the pole, another meter, and I can have a 100KW array in production.

The problem is I am not there often, particularly in the winter, and some thieves will likely just unbolt and truck my precious panels away.
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Old 06-28-2014, 11:02 AM   #26
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By the way, I like the new development of the microinverter, which is installed one-on-one with each 200W+ panel. It allows for economical incremental add-on installation.

I have been tempted to install a few panels to play with, without claiming any credit.
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Old 06-28-2014, 11:34 AM   #27
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...From what I can tell, the main solar production calculators that are used to set the production rates for a system in our area seem to understate the actual production by about 10% or so. This was based on discussion with others who have installed systems and based on our limited (less than 90 days) experience, this seems to be the case for us. If our production beats the predictions, good news. I think our being able to orient the panels in the perfect direction and without any obstructions really will work to our favor...
The solar output is often less than possible because of less than ideal orientation, shading by trees and nearby structures, equipment losses, etc...

When looking into this, I was reminded that not all places with the same latitude are equal in potential solar production. Yes, one has more insolation at a lower latitude, but the cloud cover and atmospheric conditions can knock down the sunlight intensity.

In the map below, states along the Gulf coast have the same latitude as the SW, but have cloud cover that reduces the solar output. This map is made with actual measured data collected over several years. The insolation is averaged over 12 months; the daily output at the peak of the summer is shocking!

My boonies home is in the perfect spot for a solar installation. It has sunshine mostly throughout the year, even in the winter, just like at the lower desert. Yet, being at a higher altitude, the air is clear with no pollution and is also thinner (people who ski at high altitudes know they can get a heck of a sunburn). The ambient temperature is a lot lower than at the low desert, which means the solar panels will have a higher efficiency. Too bad I cannot make use of these advantages.

PS. I also have high winds. Winds of 20-30 mph are common, with occasional 50mph blowing entire days!

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Old 06-28-2014, 03:20 PM   #28
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We did a solar install last December, got the permission to operate before the end of 2013 to claim the Fed Tax credit on our '13 return.

$19K for a 4.71 kW system in San Diego.

Not the highest bid, not the lowest, but from a company with lots of installs in our area.

Done quick, done right.

I'm pleased.

We own it outright as we plan on staying in our home for decades to come.

It is generating more than we use by a couple hundred kWh per month.

So, slowly hacking away at the balance due from last December using net metering and the 'settle up' come Dec '14.
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Old 06-28-2014, 04:20 PM   #29
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A bit late to the discussion, but still.

Few items to consider in the purchase process:
  • Even if a company is backed by the government, municipality etc .. don't trust their claims by default. Ask for proof.
  • Specifically, check whether the projected yield (generated energy) is garantueed or certified. Salesmen have an incentive to oversell. Your local government is as well now that they committed.
  • Garantuees on the system don't mean much if the company issuing the garantuee will not be around. Many companies have gone bankrupt in the fast moving industry. So check who is giving the warranty and how stable they are.
  • As a purchaser you have two main weapons: time and choice. They took away one from you already (competition between companies), don't let them take the other one! (time) Walk away when pressured to commit.
  • All of the above items are important to sort out, you might get some push-back. Don't give in.
Market wise consider the following:
  • Solar power has been dropping fast in price. Solar power - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • The above is EU data, but the trend is the same everywhere. Price drops will level off a bit (Chinese race to the bottom is almost over), but further price reductions are likely
  • Incentives to install solar will reduce with time
  • It might happen that in the near future solar panel owners will have to start paying a special tax for their systems. This is already happening in some countries! Reason is that revenue paying for the network infrastructure is falling fast (less power taken from the grid), while the costs are rising (solar generating power requires smarter grids).
  • Realize the secondary effects of everybody installing solar power: The demand for power drops thus energy prices will drop too, also for non-panel owners! This is happening in the NL for example.
  • Your fire insurance may go up. Some fire departments also refuse to come near the roof of your house due to electrocution danger. Had a case like that in Belgium.
  • Solar panels on your roof will impact the value of your house, positive OR negative. This should be included in the payback number.
If you take all of the above into account your payback number of 10 years (or 10% yield) might shift dramatically.
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Old 06-28-2014, 04:56 PM   #30
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...........Some fire departments also refuse to come near the roof of your house due to electrocution danger. ...........
Similar things were said when hybrid cars first came out. Largely a non issue.
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Old 06-28-2014, 07:58 PM   #31
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Similar things were said when hybrid cars first came out. Largely a non issue.
Perhaps, but it would be worth asking your local FD if they are prepared for this.

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Old 06-29-2014, 12:54 AM   #32
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4k for a 3kW system is a damn good deal. As incentives dry up, I expect this to go up actually. Generally speaking, $2 / watt is about grid parity in many locations with current financing approaches.

Figure about 1,000 kWh per year from each kW installed (varies a good bit, but ballpark). If your electricity is $.10 per kWh, then your 3kW system is worth 3 kW * 1000 kWh * $.10 = $300 / year. Systems have about a 25 year lifetime. Inverters maybe 10. So, this is maybe a 12 year payback and thus a decent investment. I'd go more off how the aesthetics of your house and thus house value will be affected if this is purely a financial deal. It's also inflation protection as the price of the electricity is basically fixed (or goes up with inflation if you like). It's like pre-purchasing all your coal at the utility or something.
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Old 06-29-2014, 06:35 AM   #33
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[QUOTE=Totoro;1465317]A bit late to the discussion, but still.

  • It might happen that in the near future solar panel owners will have to start paying a special tax for their systems. This is already happening in some countries! Reason is that revenue paying for the network infrastructure is falling fast (less power taken from the grid), while the costs are rising (solar generating power requires smarter grids).

I've also seen some discussion about changing the credit being given to the local owners of the system to give a reduced rate of payback, maybe a wholesale rate or something similar. Might not completely satisfy the concerns but might be a step.

Personally, I can see how receiving a lower rate of credit would make sense. Having said this, any excess power we generate while our system is producing goes back to the grid and is available for the power company to use. The utility still bears the cost of the grid for distribution so some offset seems reasonable to me but they do have the power for their use to meet other requirements?

Power companies will have to consider any benefits a reduced generating capacity might give if residential or local systems become more widespread. I think the fact that solar panel based systems provide power during daylight hours when usage peaks is another factor to consider for the utility when arguing for or against setting or changing the rates of payback to the local users.

Some interesting discussions in the thread- hope the original poster doesn't mind the diversion from getting specific feedback about our own installs!
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Old 06-29-2014, 07:04 AM   #34
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I've also seen discussion of giving solar producers an increased rate of credit.
And ERD, at least in my area, everyone does gain from my solar panels.
There is less drain, and upgrades on our utility's equipment as I am using less power, some of that during peak loads.
When my house is using 10kWh of power from my panels, that is 10kWh + grid inefficiencies less power my utility needs to transmit.
The utility won't need to build additional power generation as quickly as they would have, helping to keep rates from increasing as fast.

Sure, it isn't a lot, but there is some benefit. Does it balance out? I don't know, but lots of other subsidies for oil, coal, children, schools, etc don't either.
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Old 06-29-2014, 07:30 AM   #35
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Power companies will have to consider any benefits a reduced generating capacity might give if residential or local systems become more widespread. I think the fact that solar panel based systems provide power during daylight hours when usage peaks is another factor to consider for the utility when arguing for or against setting or changing the rates of payback to the local users.
There is also this: peak usage happens during the day, but not necessarily in the residential area where the generation happens. This means you need to transport the excess from residential to office & industrial. Managing many small fluctuating loads is also a bit tougher than one central load (like a coal plant) as well. Don't know the overall effect though. In areas with much air conditioning in homes it's probably less pronounced.

Another aspect is the difference between the distributing company and the generating one. I'm assuming it is split up (like here in Europe). The generating companies will suffer economically (less demand, and more volatile demand) but can't do much about it in the short term. Might lead to bail-outs a few years down the road. The distributing companies will complain to the government and demand more money in the short term for grid upgrades. And somebody will have to foot that bill ..

There are turbulent times ahead.

Within five to ten years I wouldn't be surprised if most developed countries will get all its power from solar on sunny summer days. And 0% on dark winter nights

After that, it is a matter whether battery tech can keep up. I think it won't at first.

Interesting times indeed!
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Old 06-29-2014, 09:02 AM   #36
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The utility won't need to build additional power generation as quickly as they would have, helping to keep rates from increasing as fast.
I hear this a lot, but I wonder. Don't the rates charged for electricity cover the construction of needed generating capacity? And if they are increasing the generating capacity, doesn't that mean they are selling more "units"? If so, why would building a new plant necessarily increase the >rate< charged for electricity?

When Kroger builds a new store across town, I don't worry that the prices in my neighborhood Kroger will be going up to pay for the construction. When Honda builds a new plant, I don't conclude that CR-Vs will need to go up in price to cover it.

Obviously, the regulated nature of the market, the restricted number of suppliers, etc, makes the situations a bit different, but I'm not sure the case is automatic that more power plants equals higher rates. If it does, then they could close some plants and reduce rates--which doesn't make much sense. If the problem with the new plants is much higher build costs than existing plants, then it's easier to make a case for centralized solar installations (on a $$ per watt basis) than these tiny rooftop installations (per ERD's earlier post).
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Old 06-29-2014, 09:58 AM   #37
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And ERD, at least in my area, everyone does gain from my solar panels.
There is less drain, and upgrades on our utility's equipment as I am using less power, some of that during peak loads.
When my house is using 10kWh of power from my panels, that is 10kWh + grid inefficiencies less power my utility needs to transmit.
The utility won't need to build additional power generation as quickly as they would have, helping to keep rates from increasing as fast.

Sure, it isn't a lot, but there is some benefit. Does it balance out? I don't know, but lots of other subsidies for oil, coal, children, schools, etc don't either.
There are other factors at play. For example, most HVAC codes require increased fresh, outside air intake versus what used to be required 20-30 years ago. As new buildings are built, and existing ones are remodeled, they have to upgrade HVAC units with more fresh outside air. Which means more outside air has to be conditioned in the summer. Which means more electricity usage during peak times.

The problem with peaks is that you have to design for full capacity for it, to avoid rolling blackouts. And even though your 10kW solar panel is producing netbacks to the grid, the big thing is the starting/stopping of your AC unit. When a large motor kicks on for an AC compressor and fan, there's a HUGE relative surge in electricity for a second or two, far beyond what your solar panel is producing. So even though they may have 10 homes on a grid producing excess electricity, there's still that huge initial jump when the AC units go on that the utility has to design and build for.

Same for the commercial markets.

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I hear this a lot, but I wonder. Don't the rates charged for electricity cover the construction of needed generating capacity? And if they are increasing the generating capacity, doesn't that mean they are selling more "units"? If so, why would building a new plant necessarily increase the >rate< charged for electricity?

When Kroger builds a new store across town, I don't worry that the prices in my neighborhood Kroger will be going up to pay for the construction. When Honda builds a new plant, I don't conclude that CR-Vs will need to go up in price to cover it.
There are 2 big factors at play:

1) NIMBY - they can't stick a power plant anywhere, so there is a fair amount of infrastructure that has to be built/upgraded, typically a good distance from the existing grid, in order to bring the new plant into the grid. It's far easier for Kroger to put a new store in a relatively efficient place (and have far fewer protests) than it is for a utility to plop a new power plant in a "grid efficient" location.

2) New regulations - looking at proposed coal regulation, the switch to far more expensive sources of power will be a significant increase in the cost to utilities. And remember that unless you want rolling blackouts like California, there always has to be excess power being produced by the utility to meet peak demand. You can't just flip a switch and shut down a coal burner at 7pm because a lot of demand has dropped off -it's far more efficient to keep a coal plant burning 24/7, than shutting it down at 10pm, letting it cool down, and fire it back up again at 4am (many commercial HVAC systems start their summer morning cool-down programs at 4am-5am)

And you could switch to natural gas burners that could shut down when there's some reduced demand - but that's not cheap to replace or build new, compared to an existing or new coal burner.

As there is a slowing growth in electricity demand, the utility companies must still design their grids to meet maximum peak demand, despite an average electricity load that may not be as high as before. So that means a lot more 'wasted' electricity is being produced in order to meet that high peak demand, to avoid the rolling blackouts due to peak demand not being satisfied.

If you have solar panels or windmills that are variable in their electricity output, it's even more of a challenge to the utilities. Imagine if 10% of your electricity output were based on the unpredictability of the wind or how much cloud cover you have? In order to avoid blackouts, that means you essentially have to have as much as 10% excess electricity output from your coal/natural gas plants to make up for the shortfall in the event the solar panels/wind turbines are only producing a few percent.
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Old 06-29-2014, 10:15 AM   #38
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...
And ERD, at least in my area, everyone does gain from my solar panels.
There is less drain, and upgrades on our utility's equipment as I am using less power, some of that during peak loads.
When my house is using 10kWh of power from my panels, that is 10kWh + grid inefficiencies less power my utility needs to transmit.
The utility won't need to build additional power generation as quickly as they would have, helping to keep rates from increasing as fast.

Sure, it isn't a lot, but there is some benefit. Does it balance out? I don't know, but lots of other subsidies for oil, coal, children, schools, etc don't either.
There are benefits for others, but I think they are tiny, tiny compared to the way the subsidies are charged to others to benefit the few. The utility still needs to have peak power capacity if a cloud passes, I really don't think there is any meaningful reduction there.

Drop the other subsidies, I won't go along with the 'two wrongs make a right' argument. And at least any 'subsidies' for coal & oil (and it's arguable what is a 'subsidy' versus what is a regular business expense deduction that every business gets) seem to be spread out over all the customers. My neighbor doesn't get a different NG rate than I do. Exploration lowers the cost of NG to everyone evenly.

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... Within five to ten years I wouldn't be surprised if most developed countries will get all its power from solar on sunny summer days.
...
And we will all have flying cars! Try doing the math to see how much solar would need to be installed each year to handle a summer day in ten years (roughly 10% of current peak capacity a year), I don't think you would find that to be a reasonable number at all.

Storage is expensive, and potentially very, very dangerous. Small scale solar is only 'cost-effective' (on a micro-economic scale with many paying for a few) due to subsidies. If you go large scale, those subsidies don't have the same leverage, you have many paying for many - it all levels out.

And w/o storage, utilizing a significant % of solar when it gets above 10% or so is far trickier than it might appear. I've read some interesting blogs on seeking-alpha on this subject. It's a real balancing act - utilities don't want to cut their cheap baseline coal (very slow to respond to changes) if clouds are passing through - they know that means they need to kick in the more expensive Natural Gas peaker plants. So more of the solar goes to waste than you might think. And more variability from solar means more peaker plants, which also add to the expense of solar.

-ERD50
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Old 06-29-2014, 10:34 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by MooreBonds View Post
There are other factors at play. For example, most HVAC codes require increased fresh, outside air intake versus what used to be required 20-30 years ago. As new buildings are built, and existing ones are remodeled, they have to upgrade HVAC units with more fresh outside air. Which means more outside air has to be conditioned in the summer. Which means more electricity usage during peak times. ...
Interesting, I wasn't aware of that.

But I wonder how big of an effect this is? I would assume that if you are required to draw more outside air than normal leakage, you are going to use one of those heat exchangers, which recovers some (most?) of the lost heat/cooling. And A/C is far more efficient now than 20-30 years ago.

I see now that my previous post cross-posted with similar comments from others.

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Old 06-29-2014, 10:52 AM   #40
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... Managing many small fluctuating loads is also a bit tougher than one central load (like a coal plant) as well...
This was foreseen and talked about in engineering publications in the early 1980s. And that was way before photovoltaic panels were economically viable even with subsidies. The people working in the field knew a lot more about this than laymen.

Here, this problem is starting to surface and electric utility companies are bringing this up to the state commission. I do not follow this closely, but catch a bit of it here and there from the media.

I was thinking in terms of an even more fundamental EE problem. A grid-tie inverter acts like a negative resistor, in that its current is proportional to the grid voltage, but its current flows into the grid, instead of out as drawn by a load. Therefore, these inverters rely on the frequency stability and the "rigidity" or low impedance of the local grid for this to work. The grid-tie inverters are just following the grid. If we ever get to a point where, say 80% of the homes in a neighborhood is on solar, we will get into trouble with instabilities.

The situation is similar to stock index investing that relies on the traders to set the market price. If everybody buys stocks by indexing, the price of stock A is fixed with respect to price of stock B, and they rise and fall together no matter how the companies are performing relative to one another. Mispricing would not surface until it's too late and the market will eventually collapse. Index investing works if it does not control the majority of the market.
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