Join Early Retirement Today
Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 04-08-2012, 09:25 PM   #21
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
NW-Bound's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 19,420
I recently surfed eBay, and saw that a couple of vendors were selling solar panels for as low as $1/watt. You would have to buy a minimum of around $1000 worth, and the price did not include shipping. Still, that low price was shocking to me. When I started to get curious about this solar business, back in 2000, the price of solar cells was $5/watt.

I wonder if we would see more and more large-scale solar plants as the result of this low price. Remember that the above price was retail, and I wonder how much lower the wholesale price would be.

Now that I know more about solar panels, as I walk around the neighborhood I can see quite a few of the residential installations were very poorly situated. For aesthetic reasons, people lined up the panels on the roof, and their power output would be very sub par due to the roof orientation.

Not having a perfect roof orientation was the reason I did not pursue solar installation for my home. You would want to maximize the output to get good return on the money. Solar for RV is an entirely different situation. In dry camping, solar only has to compete with a noisy gas generator, and it is no longer just about economics.
__________________

__________________
"Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man" -- Leon Trotsky
NW-Bound is offline   Reply With Quote
Join the #1 Early Retirement and Financial Independence Forum Today - It's Totally Free!

Are you planning to be financially independent as early as possible so you can live life on your own terms? Discuss successful investing strategies, asset allocation models, tax strategies and other related topics in our online forum community. Our members range from young folks just starting their journey to financial independence, military retirees and even multimillionaires. No matter where you fit in you'll find that Early-Retirement.org is a great community to join. Best of all it's totally FREE!

You are currently viewing our boards as a guest so you have limited access to our community. Please take the time to register and you will gain a lot of great new features including; the ability to participate in discussions, network with our members, see fewer ads, upload photographs, create a retirement blog, send private messages and so much, much more!

Old 04-09-2012, 07:13 AM   #22
Recycles dryer sheets
ratto's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 225
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
Not having a perfect roof orientation was the reason I did not pursue solar installation for my home. You would want to maximize the output to get good return on the money.
+1. If open space is not a problem, then ground installation will be a better choice for higher efficiency (with rotation capability) and easier maintenance. I don't know how those home owners will deal with roof repairs/replacement down the road with solar panels up there. Maybe some solar panel companies are also in the roofing and siding business?
__________________

__________________
ratto is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2012, 08:01 AM   #23
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Northern IL
Posts: 18,281
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
I recently surfed eBay, and saw that a couple of vendors were selling solar panels for as low as $1/watt. ...

I wonder if we would see more and more large-scale solar plants as the result of this low price. Remember that the above price was retail, and I wonder how much lower the wholesale price would be.

Now that I know more about solar panels, as I walk around the neighborhood I can see quite a few of the residential installations were very poorly situated. ...
I recall doing some back-of-the-envelope calcs, and even at $1/watt installed, the payback seemed questionable for me at ~ $0.11/KWh and solar levels in N IL.

As it becomes cost effective at large scale, I would sure think some industrial level installations would make a heck of a lot more sense than individual homes. A warehouse, or large grocery store, could cover their roof, easily avoid shade trees, get the proper orientation, and get some real economy of scale on the installation and maintenance.

Your comment on the residential installations is interesting. I've recently started listening to Freakonomic podcasts (highly recommended), and in one of their segments on being 'green', an installer mentioned that it wasn't uncommon for a homeowner to want the solar panels installed where people could see them from the street, even when that was a poor placement for catching the rays. They wanted to appear 'green', and that was more important to them than actual efficiency (insert my standard subsidy rant here ).

-ERD50
__________________
ERD50 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2012, 11:53 AM   #24
Moderator Emeritus
Nords's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Oahu
Posts: 26,617
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
I recently surfed eBay, and saw that a couple of vendors were selling solar panels for as low as $1/watt. You would have to buy a minimum of around $1000 worth, and the price did not include shipping. Still, that low price was shocking to me. When I started to get curious about this solar business, back in 2000, the price of solar cells was $5/watt.
Now that I know more about solar panels, as I walk around the neighborhood I can see quite a few of the residential installations were very poorly situated. For aesthetic reasons, people lined up the panels on the roof, and their power output would be very sub par due to the roof orientation.
Not having a perfect roof orientation was the reason I did not pursue solar installation for my home. You would want to maximize the output to get good return on the money. Solar for RV is an entirely different situation. In dry camping, solar only has to compete with a noisy gas generator, and it is no longer just about economics.
At $1/watt, gotta stop thinking like an optimizing engineer or a CPA.

Germany cut their PV subsidies just as the entire world was trying to catch up to China's production. This supply glut has done wonderful things for consumers while it's killing the manufacturers. Installers have been viciously training and tweaking their techniques to drive down labor costs, and loans are cheap. Along with that trend, competition (and mass production) over the last 10 years has doubled panel power density/efficiency. It's like a PV version of Moore's Law.

Many of the streets in our local neighborhood have already reached the 10% KW limit at which HECO wants to do a grid stability analysis, and there's pressure to "just raise it" to 15%.

So with panels that cheap, and output that high, lots of manufacturers are putting them on the east or southwest roofs. (Some homes in our neighborhood have them on the south, east, AND west roofs.) As power prices hit 35 cents/KWHr and oil prices keep rising, a little inefficiency is a much smaller effect than inflation.
__________________
*
*

The book written on E-R.org, "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement", on sale now! For more info see "About Me" in my profile.
I don't spend much time here anymore, so please send me a PM. Thanks.
Nords is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2012, 02:50 PM   #25
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Northern IL
Posts: 18,281
Quote:
Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
I recall doing some back-of-the-envelope calcs, and even at $1/watt installed, the payback seemed questionable for me at ~ $0.11/KWh and solar levels in N IL.
So my back of the envelope calculation (with the help of a web site that provides expected annual KWh for any given panel watt rating) does show a considerable payback time at $0.11/KWh.


A 3,650 watt installation would provide 4,554 KWh annually in N IL, which would be ~ $500 worth of electricity annually. At $1/watt for the panels, that's a $3,650 investment (not counting hardware, inverters, labor, wiring, etc). Pulling $3,650 out of my portfolio means I'm losing my 3~4% inflation adjusted withdraw, so that's a $128 debit. So $3,650/$372 net savings is 9.8 year payback. That assumes KWh rates stay about even with inflation.

There's at least some risk with that 10 years, the inverter may go out, panels may get damaged, it might increase the cost of re-roofing when needed. And if you move, it might not help the resale price of your home, might even hurt it. I'd still be wary at $1/watt installed. Another way to look at it is versus mortgage money - would it make sense for someone to add $X to their mortgage for some 'free' electricity? I think this still has a ways to go for areas with average KWh rates.

-ERD50
__________________
ERD50 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2012, 07:44 PM   #26
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
NW-Bound's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 19,420
For a place where electric cost is as high as $0.35/kWhr, it is true that the $1/watt panel cost is a godsend. I can see one would want to cover his roof with cheap panels, and screw the low efficiency of the panels on the east-facing roof.

But, but, but Hawaii is at a lower latitude. In the mainland, I have seen terrible installations that would really hurt the payback.

It is also true that when panels are this cheap, it is absolutely not cost-effective to have a mechanical system that automatically tilts to track the sun through the day. It may not even be worthwhile to lower or raise the panels for the seasonal sun angle.

I just looked up my electric costs. Over the last 12-month period, I use a total of 23,162 kWhr, and paid a total of $2370. So, it works out to $0.10/kWhr, including all taxes and service charges.

As a rough back-of-envelope calculation, I use an insolation calculator that shows that, when averaged out over a year, my location provides the equivalent of 6 hrs/day of maximum solar energy. The above is for a panel that is fix-mounted, and tilted to the same angle as the latitude. By the way, the calculator uses actual measured data to reflect average cloudiness of a location. My location in the SW has the best insolation for the continental US, period.

So, a $1 worth of panel would give me an average of 1W * 6 hrs * 365 days = 2.190 kWhr/year. That's $0.22 worth of electricity/yr, or 22% return. However, it does not include the installation cost, nor the cost of the grid-tie inverter.

The true payback would be a bit more difficult to compute, because I pay by a demand-rate schedule, which is up to more than $0.20/kWhr in the late afternoon in the summer. This is the time where A/Cs are cranking all over town, but also when one would orient his solar panel for maximum output. So, the payback would be even faster.

Being a geek that I am, I would even spend $10K-$20K even without the subsidy to build something to play with, even if I just break even. If I had a large lot so that the array could be built on the ground for maximum orientation, ease of maintenance, and no risk to the roof structure, I would do it. But with my suburban home with a bad orientation of the roof surfaces, I just cannot see it as something worthwhile.

I do have more land, actually a nice south-facing hillside up in my boonies home, but I hardly use any electricity up there to make it worthwhile. Thieves might also cart off all this stuff while I am not up there.

In short, though I just want some excuses to play with this stuff, I do not see myself going further than solar for the MH.
__________________
"Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man" -- Leon Trotsky
NW-Bound is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-09-2012, 08:05 PM   #27
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Northern IL
Posts: 18,281
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
But, but, but Hawaii is at a lower latitude. In the mainland, I have seen terrible installations that would really hurt the payback. ...
I was curious, so I went back to the calculator I used and plugged in the Honolulu zip code. Adjusting to get the same 3656 watt panels, a Hawaii location only pumps out about 19% more annual KWh compared to those panels in N IL. I thought it would be a bigger delta.

The 2.5x $/KWh rate is a much bigger factor.

-ERD50
__________________
ERD50 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-10-2012, 06:49 AM   #28
Recycles dryer sheets
ratto's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 225
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
However, it does not include the installation cost, nor the cost of the grid-tie inverter.
NW-Bound is spot on. A grid-tie or off-grid inverter will be expensive, especially the pure sine wave models. For an off-grid setup, this does not count the super heavy deep-cycle battery bank which you might need help from forklift to move them around. Even for the grid-tie setup, different utility companies will have different rate policies at different time. So the excess electricity generated by solar panel might not even get a fair buy-back price. Without heavy subsidy by tax dollars, it will be difficult for the small scale homestead setup to ever break even. Even if and when it does, the panels and/or battery bank will need replacement as well by then.

The installation cost for any grid-tie device, like inverter or transfer switch will not be cheap either. This is kind of like buying a backup generator for home will not cost you a fortune, but hiring an electrician to install and hook it up with a multi-circuits transfer switch might cost you an arm.
__________________
ratto is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-10-2012, 05:48 PM   #29
Moderator Emeritus
Nords's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Oahu
Posts: 26,617
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
In short, though I just want some excuses to play with this stuff, I do not see myself going further than solar for the MH.
Quote:
Originally Posted by ratto View Post
NW-Bound is spot on. A grid-tie or off-grid inverter will be expensive, especially the pure sine wave models.
The installation cost for any grid-tie device, like inverter or transfer switch will not be cheap either.
Some comments:
1. Tilting the solar panel to match the latitude? Isn't that a sine function, and even if you're 20 degrees off aren't you still pretty close to 100%? Again, I'm not sure that the efficiency rolls off that quickly for most factors.
2. I don't know how long the payback periods are, but it'd be worth including a reasonable 3% inflation and then an unreasonable 6% in those calculations. It'd give you an upper/lower bound and help consider the impact of $200 oil.
3. Photovoltaics are really really cheap today. They have a payback that could be deemed not unreasonable. Do you see them getting cheaper in the future? In other words, what price per watt do you need?
4. In late 2004 we paid $2500 (full retail) for a 3000-watt grid-tied MPPT inverter. I've virtually ignored it for over seven years. I haven't checked prices, but it seems difficult to believe that today's inverters would cost more money or be less reliable.
5. When we built our array in late 2004, we did all the mechanical work. The electricians installed the inverter, hooked up the wires, and did all the paperwork. The total cost of their labor was $750, and over half of that was to pay the runner to stand in line at the city permit desk.
6. Most grid-tied inverters for photovoltaic systems depend on the utility's input voltage to function. If the utility goes down then the inverter goes down too. You buy a grid-tie system for cheap power, not 100% up time.
7. Are you including tax credits in your calculations? Our numbers worked for us at panel prices around $4/watt, and our system paid itself off in about six years after the state/federal tax credits.
__________________
*
*

The book written on E-R.org, "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement", on sale now! For more info see "About Me" in my profile.
I don't spend much time here anymore, so please send me a PM. Thanks.
Nords is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-10-2012, 07:43 PM   #30
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
NW-Bound's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 19,420
Regarding the effects of the panel orientation, the maximum power is of course obtained when the sun ray hits the panel at 90 degrees, and it falls off as the sine of that angle (or the cosine of the off-axis angle). And it adds up to a lot more than people imagine.

The earth spin-axis is tilted at 23.5 deg from its orbital plane. This coupled with the higher latitude of Northern America means that the sun is very low in the winter. For example, Northen Illinois where our friend ERD50 lives is at 42 deg latitude, where at the winter soltice, the sun is only 24.5 deg above the horizon (90 - 23.5 - 42 = 24.5).

In fact, the Web site that I use confirms that in January, for all of the upper 49 States of the US, a vertical south facing panel would collect more power than a horizontal plate.

If one does not care to adjust the panel angle to track the seasonal sun, tilting it up at an angle equal to latitude would give the best overall annual power output.

To optimize the power for the winter, it is recommended that the tilt angle is set to "latitude plus 15 degrees". To optimize power for the summer, it is recommended that the tilt angle is set to "latitude minus 15 degrees".

Source: U.S. Solar Radiation Resource Maps

The current low price of the panels does make it very tempting, as I explained. I have just priced the cost of grid-tie inverters, and found that it is as low as $0.64/watt for a conventional design, and $1/watt for the new microinverter type. The latter is a new distributed design that uses one small inverter per panel, and allows one to add incremental capacities as needed.

Yes, as I said, the price is at the point where it is economically feasible even without tax incentives, particularly if the home owner installs it himself. It is not that hard to mount and wire up these panels. The problem is that I have a tile roof. It also does not have the right orientation for a roof-flat-mounted panel to work optimally. I also have problems with shading.

Regarding shading, as I said, I have seen terrible shading problems with installations around my neighborhood. If 5% of a panel is shaded, one would lose 5% of power, right? Wrong!

A panel is made of cells connected in series. Each cell contributes a small voltage of 0.4V when illuminated. But a cell getting less light than the rest in the string acts like a Zener diode with a breakdown voltage from more than 12V down to 5V (the lower the better). Dark cells not only do not contribute, but block and absorb 10x to 30x the power of a producing cell (the ratio of the 12V or 5V to the 0.4V). The cells that are dark may even fail due to heat stress!

Any partial shading is a big no-no!

Note that it is not feasible to add bypass diodes at each cell, which would theoretically solve the partial shading problem. No panel maker does that. I guess the multitude of diodes would even add to the failure modes of the panel.
__________________
"Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man" -- Leon Trotsky
NW-Bound is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-10-2012, 08:32 PM   #31
Moderator Emeritus
Nords's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Oahu
Posts: 26,617
I can tell you that our PV production varies about 25% between January and July. We have some shading problems in January for the last 90 minutes of the day. But I don't bother to change the panel angle or do anything else to improve their production. It's good enough, and the benefits of having them on the roof have been greater than the drawbacks of sub-optimal performance.

I guess the question is whether you think photovoltaics has any payback on your rooftop.

But judging from your laser-keen focus on optimum power-producing characteristics, I think the losses would annoy you more than the gains would benefit you.

For any other PV wannabes cursing their stylish tile roof, try this mount:
Quick Mount PV - waterproof Universal Tile Mount for curved and flat tile roofs, steep slope
I have the "classic comp" version, and they're easy to install.
__________________
*
*

The book written on E-R.org, "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement", on sale now! For more info see "About Me" in my profile.
I don't spend much time here anymore, so please send me a PM. Thanks.
Nords is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-11-2012, 06:58 AM   #32
Recycles dryer sheets
ratto's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 225
Nords, it's great that you could do most of the work by yourself to save a bundle. Before I put a transfer switch (TS) panel in side by side with my main load center about 2 years ago, I got 4 quotes ranging $1.2-1.7k (just labor & minimum parts only, no TS). I could tell their strong displeasure immediately after I told them that I already bought a TS. In the end, I did it by myself and passed code inspections. The total cost for me was only about $120 in about half day effort. The permit and inspector cost was about $170.

I did a quick Google search on a 3000-watt grid-tied MPPT inverter. You're right that its price hasn't been changed much since you bought yours.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords View Post
6. Most grid-tied inverters for photovoltaic systems depend on the utility's input voltage to function. If the utility goes down then the inverter goes down too.
This makes a perfect sense to me now. Previously I was wondering PV cell voltage fluctuates based on input light intensity and how a grid-tie type inverter handles that. Even if the whole PV system voltage could be kept relatively stable via a heavy duty regulator, the AC output from a grid-tie inverter should be kept in sync with the utility grid AC phase to avoid causing interference or cancelling each other out. Also, it's dangerous for the linemen if a grid-tie inverter keeps working during a power outage. Now I see these practicality and safety issues have been addressed.
__________________
ratto is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-11-2012, 08:43 PM   #33
Give me a museum and I'll fill it. (Picasso)
Give me a forum ...
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Northern IL
Posts: 18,281
Quote:
Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
... The current low price of the panels does make it very tempting, as I explained. I have just priced the cost of grid-tie inverters, and found that it is as low as $0.64/watt for a conventional design, ...
I hadn't thought about $0.64/watt inverter cost for $1/watt panels. That's a considerable adder. And that is pretty mature technology, I don't expect it will drop too fast.

It got me thinking if a big industrial install couldn't just use the DC directly. Imagine a bunch of loads that could be instantly/automatically switched from AC to DC (LED lighting? Universal motors?). So let's say the morning sun hits the panel, the voltage pops up to say 120V, so the first small load kicks over from AC to solar DC, dropping the voltage to maybe 110V. That enables the second (slightly larger) load for switching, and as the sun comes on stronger and the voltage pops back up to 120V again, load # 2 kicks in, and on, and on. Simple on/off switches, lower loss than inverters; the loading provides the regulation.

Quote:
Regarding shading, as I said, I have seen terrible shading problems with installations around my neighborhood. If 5% of a panel is shaded, one would lose 5% of power, right? Wrong!

A panel is made of cells connected in series. Each cell contributes a small voltage of 0.4V when illuminated. But a cell getting less light than the rest in the string acts like a Zener diode with a breakdown voltage from more than 12V down to 5V (the lower the better). Dark cells not only do not contribute, but block and absorb 10x to 30x the power of a producing cell (the ratio of the 12V or 5V to the 0.4V). The cells that are dark may even fail due to heat stress!
I was aware that any shading dropped the power on the whole series string, but hadn't thought about how that could back-bias and possibly damage the shaded cells. Same thing with a weak battery cell in series gets back-biased. Interesting.


-ERD50
__________________

__________________
ERD50 is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply


Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
choosing a small business retirement plan simple girl FIRE and Money 26 04-22-2012 06:04 PM
small business owner who thinks this forum is pretty cool.. Big Game James Hi, I am... 9 03-24-2012 11:04 AM
Choosing an adviser seraphim FIRE and Money 48 03-22-2012 02:19 PM
Small Account - What to do? Xraptox Other topics 7 02-07-2012 10:06 AM

 

 
All times are GMT -6. The time now is 02:48 AM.
 
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.