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Solar Elec?
Old 05-20-2006, 07:46 PM   #1
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Solar Elec?

Daughter & SIL are closing on a fixer in Los Altos (don't ask how much it cost!!). The roof line of the planned fix faces south. DH and I think they should consider installing some solar as they will have air conditioning- and power costs are significant in the 'hood'.

I am looking for systems we should consider.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-20-2006, 08:04 PM   #2
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Re: Solar Elec?

Our neighbor recently did an installation using these panels:

http://www.alphasolar.com/alpha_solar_116.htm

I believe they were some of the highest efficiency / lowest weight panels available at the time.

Of course, Nords will tell you how to do the same thing with used panels from eBay.*

There should be plenty of good solar contractors in that area.* *Techies love their gadgets.* *Are they looking for a DIY solution?
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-20-2006, 09:22 PM   #3
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Re: Solar Elec?

DIY, not unless DH does it... Our daughter is the technically inclined (not SIL) but because she hasn't the time - too busy making $$$$$ and babies.

Wab, if you pm me I would like to huddle with you when we get back home.

The Sunset show is what got us really thinking about solar.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-20-2006, 11:23 PM   #4
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Re: Solar Elec?

NORDS! Where are you? This one is yours.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-20-2006, 11:57 PM   #5
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Re: Solar Elec?

OK, I'm back. I was watching the kid dominate the weekend league's court, although around here a 5'8" 13-year-old can pull down just about every rebound and get away with a lot of other physical stuff. (Some of those forwards aren't even five feet tall yet.) Her team made the community league playoffs and the coach is very happy with her play today. Considering that he's one of the high school's JV coaches, our almost-ninth-grader is equally happy! Now she wants to be a 6'5" dunker like Lisa Leslie...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brat
DH and I think they should consider installing some solar as they will have air conditioning- and power costs are significant in the 'hood'.
I am looking for systems we should consider.
Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Our neighbor recently did an installation using these panels:
http://www.alphasolar.com/alpha_solar_116.htm
I believe they were some of the highest efficiency / lowest weight panels available at the time.
Of course, Nords will tell you how to do the same thing with used panels from eBay.*
Phhbbbbbtttt... when 99% of the world's solar panels operate between 9-14% efficiency, buying the latest & lightest is like taking your credit card to a car dealer and asking "Do you have any new cars for sale today? What about speed & big engines? *What can I afford?" *Our factory-reject panels are hauling their weight just fine en route to our first 300 KWHr month from only 3000 watts of panels. We got those at half-price last year, and prices have risen yet another 50% since then.

Roofs are pretty durable, I don't think those "heavy" solar panels will collapse them. *And if you buy the really "inefficient" panels then you might "waste" a square meter or two of roof space. *But at $10K per kilowatt and rising fast, I'd be willing to trade cost for weight & inefficiency. *The 1990s panels cough up electrons just as fast as the 2006 models.

First, be aware that it's much easier to reduce your consumption than it is to raise your generation. *Bring the local utility out for a free energy survey of your house and they'll help sort out the most cost-efficient options. *A solar water-heating system will generally pay itself back much more quickly than photovoltaic, although tax subsidies may affect the payback numbers. *Buy an new Energy Star refrigerator and consider other high-efficiency appliances like a convection oven or a convection microwave instead of a traditional resistance oven/stove. *Replace CRTs with LCDs, desktops with laptops, and incandescents with CFs. *Insulate everywhere. *Consider a whole-house fan & roof-mounted solar exhaust fans with attic-ceiling radiant foil insulation for summer and high-efficiency wall/attic-floor insulation with subfloor heating for winter. *Buy an electronic setback thermostat and a good electric blanket with flannel sheets. *Try a split A/C system & ceiling fans or a heat pump instead of window A/Cs. Wear sweaters & wool socks. Snuggle. *Spending a few thousand on these improvements will pay off much more quickly than spending $30K for a photovoltaic system with a 15-year payback.

Speaking of cheap used panels, do me a favor-- this guy is a lot closer to you than to me and his ad has been running on Craigslist Honolulu for over two weeks now. *Go check him out-- it looks like a screamin' good deal--
http://honolulu.craigslist.org/for/157332836.html *
If it's sold then you can tell him to get his ragged teaser off our website.

If you decide to go PV then you'll need an electrical contractor to do the wiring connections (required for the construction permit), process the construction permit (necessary for the net-metering agreement), and coordinate the net-metering agreement with the utility (technically required before you throw the switch). *Since the contractor has all the special tools & trained techs, they'd probably prefer to install the whole thing. *If you do a "starter" system this year and an "upgrade" in 2007 then you'll get a $2000 federal credit in each tax year. *You'll also collect plenty of CA and utility tax credits & subsidies in each tax year. *You'll have to work it out with the contractor to decide if it's worth doing the install in two increments for the extra credits versus the extra labor. *Two increments of tax credits mean a lot more to us with a $14K system than they may to you with a $30K system.

Here's the CA state rules: *
http://www.dsireusa.org/library/incl...e=CA&RE=1&EE=1

Here's previous discussions:
http://early-retirement.org/forums/i...13342#msg13342
http://early-retirement.org/forums/i...70736#msg70736

Here's pictures:
http://s11.photobucket.com/albums/a1...y%20expansion/
http://s11.photobucket.com/albums/a1...ltaic%20array/

I'd get a quote from two or three contractors. *Don't let them sell you the latest & greatest-- ask them for closeout prices on their old crap and tell them that function is more important than form. *(We have three different sizes/ratings/ages of panels on our roof.) *The only place I'd spend "real" money would be the inverter, of which Xantrex's 3 KW grid-tie model is becoming a consumer standard. *We paid $2400 for ours in Feb 2005.

There's a poster on the Vanguard Diehards board named "Statsguy" (Roger) who I believe has a California system. He can tell you more local details of which I'm blissfully ignorant.

Post or PM if you have more questions!
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 12:59 AM   #6
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Re: Solar Elec?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
But at $10K per kilowatt and rising fast, I'd be willing to trade cost for weight & inefficiency. *The 1990s panels cough up electrons just as fast as the 2006 models.
Nords, is that installed cost/KW? Those nifty new panels I linked to cost less than $5/W, and I vaguely recall you paying something like $4/W for your panels. Am I missing some hidden costs or is my memory just blown?
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 03:17 AM   #7
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Re: Solar Elec?

Here's a bunch of long answers to short questions.* Hey, this is great practice for the focus group...

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Nords, is that installed cost/KW?* * Those nifty new panels I linked to cost less than $5/W, and I vaguely recall you paying something like $4/W for your panels.* *Am I missing some hidden costs or is my memory just blown?
It's all in the marketing.* The contractors quote a fixed price because they can work a heckuva lot faster with power tools & speed racks, but my time is worthless and I have plenty of it.

We bought our panels for $1.82/watt (1100 watts, early 1990s vintage, clueless local seller), $3.98/watt (1760 watts, 2005 factory rejects, Mainland shipping), and $4.17/watt (192 watts, late '90s, but a nice local guy).* Part of our racks were used and we made the rest from leftover (free) scrap aluminum.* We did all the mechanical labor.* The inverter was full retail and the 1100-watt panel connections were done by the electricians, but we strung all the wires and grounded the system.* When we bought the rest of the panels 10 months later we hooked them up on our own.

Add in the cost of the wiring, the PVC, the nuts & bolts, the U-Haul truck & gas for some panels plus eBay shipping for others, and the total materials cost was $13,106.

The electrician's labor was $862.50 plus another $561 to handle the permits, permit fees, & paperwork (which, considering our state bureaucracy, was money extremely well spent).* So the grand total was $14,529.50, or about $4.84/watt ($4843/KW) installed to turn the switch.* The biggest up-front costs are the inverter, the permits/fees, and the electrician.* The incremental cost of adding additional panels to max out the first inverter, especially DIY, is very low.* We've maxed out our inverter but if we decide to expand further I think I've learned enough to install our own second inverter and to do all the electrical work on our own.* HECO and the state will never know the difference.

Back in late 2004 a good wholesale Hawaii PV panel price was $4/watt (just the panel, no installation).* By late 2005 it was $6/watt, and earlier this year it was already up to $7/watt.* (Hint:* Buy stock in solar-panel companies.)* Some of that cost is shipping (although these are statewide contractors who buy their panels by the truck containerload) but I guess it could be less on the Mainland.* (There's a worldwide panel shortage now-- prices are being driven by U.S. tax subsidies as well as German & Japanese demand.)* The guy who did our work, Keith Cronin of Island Energy Solutions, has an estimation spreadsheet that currently quotes about $24K for a similar system installed ($8K/KW), although I don't know how up-to-date the pricing is.* A CA contractor may have a similar spreadsheet with Mainland prices.* (Wab or Brat, you guys might enjoy saving the Island Energy spreadsheet, unprotecting it, and tinkering with it for CA prices.)* I've seen $10K per KW (installed) quoted from our local Inter-Island Solar Supply, but a system bigger than 3 KW would probably get a discount.

In the two tax years since we've shelled out that $14,529.50, we've taken $1377 in state tax credits (tax years 2004 & 2005).* We have another $2507.50 of state credits carried forward as long as it takes us to use them (Hawaii is very easy on retiree taxes).* This year was our first federal credit of $1631 (tax year 2005) and next year we'll take another credit of $2000 for tax year 2006.* All of those credits will cut our net cost down to $7014, probably by 2009.

Let me point out that Hawaii's credits apply to the purchase-- we bought some PV equipment in Oct 2004 and more in Feb 2005 for two years of credits.* The federal credits apply to the date of first operation, so we took a smaller credit in 2005 and we'll take a bigger one in 2006.* Then we'll take more Hawaii credits on our 2006 purchase of solar water heating equipment.* (I'm practicing this explanation so that I'm good at delivering it when the auditors drop by.)* We didn't get any reimbursements from HECO but CA may offer state & local tax credits and the utility may offer reimbursements.* I've heard that PG&E makes it very complicated-- worse than a cell-phone bill-- but it's heavily subsidized.

So after all the credits, our 3000-watt system cost $7014 or $2.34/watt ($2338/KW) installed.

I built a nasty spreadsheet measuring the payback against the opportunity cost of investing that money in a fund paying a 6% return after expenses & taxes.* We started the calculations on 6 Oct 2004, the day we bought the first equipment, and every date that we spent money the cost was added to the spreadsheet to start compounding at 0.5% per month.* Over the last 18 months of spending $14,529.50 it would have compounded to a total of $15,325.*

Our spreadsheet savings are the tax credits and the power we've generated.* They also compound at 6% so I take the credits when we file our returns and I read the inverter's power reading each month.* I started the power savings at 15 cents/KWHr but I've boosted that to 21 cents/KWHr after HECO's latest prices.* (HECO makes most of its power from oil.* This variable pricing is making the spreadsheet a little more complicated than I'd like.)* So far our savings (both credits & power) have compounded to $3380.* Assuming that we take all the remaining credits by 2009, that we average 300 KWHr/month (not quite yet but summer's coming), and that generation costs stay at 21 cents/KWHr (ha!) we'll conservatively break even around late 2010.*

Of course I'm making a straight-line approximation of a compounding parabolic curve and power-generation costs are expected to rise over the next four years, so the payback might even happen in 2009.* I don't have a good feel for our average monthly power generation yet, and I just haven't run the spreadsheet out far enough to make the lines cross yet.*

Heck, I haven't even hooked up a data cable from the inverter to our PC and used Xantrex's performance-monitoring software yet.* When I get around to doing that you can watch our system generate power in real time on our website.

Just to complicate an already hypercomplex spreadsheet, we simultaneously built our solar water-heating system and started it up on 7 Feb 06 at a cost of $920 (again, mostly used equipment and all DIY labor).* I didn't measure the power savings of our old electric water heater (although I could calculate an approximation) so I don't know how fast the solar water system is saving us money.* I figure I'll combine its expenses with the photovoltaic spreadsheet for one massive cumulative compounding payback, so true solar freedom might not happen until 2010-2011.*

Spreadsheet & data available upon request.* Your mileage will vary.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 09:39 AM   #8
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Re: Solar Elec?

We have solar for our pool but a few years ago when I checked around for our house it cost around $10,000 to install a small system here in Vegas. Good luck in your search if I was building a new home it would be the first thing I put in my blue print plans.

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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 12:30 PM   #9
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Re: Solar Elec?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brat
Daughter & SIL are closing on a fixer in Los Altos (don't ask how much it cost!!). The roof line of the planned fix faces south. DH and I think they should consider installing some solar as they will have air conditioning- and power costs are significant in the 'hood'.
Hmmm...when I lived in the south bay, my heating costs were pretty low and I never turned on the air conditioning really.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 12:36 PM   #10
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Re: Solar Elec?

Quote:
Originally Posted by kathyet
Good luck in your search if I was building a new home it would be the first thing I put in my blue print plans.
Things I'd have in my house plans before solar: *One-story wheelchair-friendly construction. *Structural insulated panels. *Acoustic wall & floor insulation. *Sub-floor heating. *Reflective insulation in the roof sheathing. *Hurricane clips. *Passive solar in the home's design, layout, & landscaping. *Two receptacles on every wall, receptacle strips all over the kitchen, and video/data cabling from hell to every room. *Cisterns & rain barrels. *Gray-water irrigation. *Most of the features from Dilbert's Ultimate House. *A soundproofed outbuilding with a 3 KW emergency generator.

And my first appliance would be a silent one-cup coffeemaker...
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 12:38 PM   #11
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Re: Solar Elec?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
And my first appliance would be a silent one-cup coffeemaker...
isnt that also known as "a teaspoon of instant coffee and hot water from the faucet"?

(ducking)
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-21-2006, 05:14 PM   #12
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Re: Solar Elec?

Thanks guys, will explore the links.

DH is an architect who is very sensitive to all you mention. Our own home (10 years old) is wheel chair accessable.. kitchen, living, dining, study, master suite and guest powder room. I suspect that the only more accessable buildings in our community are nursing homes and City Hall. The remodel he is undertaking for the 'kids' will accomodate as much of this as possible, after all we want it to accomodte US as the grand-babies grow.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-23-2006, 08:35 PM   #13
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Re: Solar Elec?

Question for all the Canadians on the board...

Does Canada offer any incentives or rebate programs to offset the cost of homeowners' solar systems or components? I'm going to be building a house near the BC Rockies in 2007 and would ideally like to have some systems use solar, either as primary or supplemental.

Definitely going to use passive solar design, SIPs, etc. for maximum energy efficiency.

Tax credits probably won't do me much good because after retirement I'll have very little taxable income for a few years.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-23-2006, 08:40 PM   #14
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Re: Solar Elec?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Red-y
Does Canada offer any incentives or rebate programs to offset the cost of homeowners' solar systems or components?
You might have a larger audience for your question on this Canadian forum: http://boomer.invisionzone.com/

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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-23-2006, 10:35 PM   #15
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Re: Solar Elec?

Nords,

Thank you ... great info, on a subject I'm interested in for our own home.* Two questions:

1.* If you're looking at payback in roughly '09, then the old rule of 72 would tell us you're probably getting nearly a 15% return, agreed (cheating with Excel a bit, ignoring principal quirks)?
2.* Tougher ... I was very surprised to read that prices are rising, though your reasons make great sense.* But, ignoring the current tax credits, and now international market pressures ... do you believe the long-term trend should be down?* If so ... when?* [After that, please tell us when interest rates will peak.* ]
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-23-2006, 11:22 PM   #16
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Re: Solar Elec?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles
1.* If you're looking at payback in roughly '09, then the old rule of 72 would tell us you're probably getting nearly a 15% return, agreed (cheating with Excel a bit, ignoring principal quirks)?
Absolutely. I would've done it for 5%, too. I feel like I'm getting away with grand larceny. But I've been a solar geek for nearly 30 years and it's just now coming to fruition.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles
2. Tougher ... I was very surprised to read that prices are rising, though your reasons make great sense. But, ignoring the current tax credits, and now international market pressures ... do you believe the long-term trend should be down? If so ... when? [After that, please tell us when interest rates will peak. ]
I think the demand is largely fueled by govt subsidies, which are motivated to cut back oil consumption and to avoid the need to build new utilities. It's very "green" but this fad will pass.

I don't know if you've looked at the charts of stocks like Evergreen Solar (ESLR), Sunpower (SPWR), and Suntech Power Holdings (STP). By most valuations they're trading at P/Es of 30-40 (except for ESLR, which has yet to earn money but has tripled in the last year). These companies are the new Internet telcoms of 1999. They're all busily trying to figure out new streamlined production methods that are going to put 90% of them out of business. Ironically a huge commodity right now is granular silicon-- not the beach stuff but the 100% pure chip-worthy raw material that goes into PV panels. As soon as that becomes available in more quantities, the party will be over. Enough money is sloshing around that someone will figure it out soon.

The federal subsidy legislation is only good through tax year 2007. California, New Jersey, and other countries are also probably going to cut back on their hugely generous subsidies sooner rather than later. I give the PV "craze" another year or two of publicity before it dies down and panels become a commodity.

But you don't have to buy your PV panels at the new-car lot. We've done just fine with used and with factory cosmetic rejects. A lot of boat owners turn over their PV panels, too. If you're willing to shop a contractor's closeouts or to wait for an installer to have a slack time of year (Jan-Feb-Mar) then you can get quite a discount.

It's been almost five months but I still check daily KWHr production and water-heater temperature. I don't miss watchstanding one bit but I still enjoy watching a good system do its thing.
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-24-2006, 04:12 PM   #17
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Re: Solar Elec?

In keeping with the topic, I put in one of the el cheapo home depot solar gable fans this morning.

$162 plus tax for the panel and the DC powered gable fan.

10 watt panel is (I'm guessing) about a foot square and an inch thick, most of the thickness is an aluminum frame around the panel, and it has four quarter inch or so standoffs with screw holes. 25' of wire and a DC gable fan about 15" in diameter with four mounting feet each of which has two holes in it. Wires are clearly marked + and - and are male/female on both ends, so no chance of screwing up the wiring. The panel also has a pair of 3" pigtails underneath also labeled + and - for daisy chaining more panels.

I screwed the fan onto the framing over an existing gable vent, which is very non optimal as its better to mount it to a piece of plywood, seal the thing up all around with silicone and then nail that over a gable, the existing gable is an inch smaller than the fan, and its got a medium grade mesh over the gable to keep bugs out, and fixed vent louvres that point down at a 35-40 degree angle.

Best would be the silicone sealed plywood mounting "shroud" over a larger gable that had louvres that would pop straight open.

I figured for an alpha test, this is good enough.

Lifted one of the concrete tiles and slipped two of the mounting 'feet' under it, then slipped it up against the edge tiles until it was snug, ran the wire under the ridge tile and then over the edge of the roof to the gable, fed it through the side of the mesh, plugged it in and voila. The panel is also far from optimally mounted. My roof largely faces east and west, with the house somewhat tilted towards the south. Where I put the panel, it points at the roofs pitch, facing west, maybe a handful of degrees towards the south. If any of that makes sense. Where I pointed the panel didnt seem to make much difference in how fast the fan ran when I had full sun, as long as some sun was touching the panel I could tip it in a broad range of directions.

It runs. Nords will relate to the fact that a series of huge clouds, obscuring an otherwise blue sky, were specially windblown to maintain a stationary position between the sun and the panel, although even cloud obscured the panel turns the fan fast enough that I wouldnt stick my finger in it.

Under full sun (which took long enough to wait for that i almost forgot I was standing on a 24' ladder...), the fan took off to a very fast whir and I could feel air flowing from the gable at about the same speed as a sharply exhaled breath. Which is to say not nearly as much as the old plug-in AC powered gable fan I used to use in my mcmansion, but at a decent clip.

I'm going to wait for a warmer day and see how fast it runs earlier in the day when the sun is just hitting the panel obliquely, and how well it keeps the attic cool in the later parts of the day when its in the 90's outside and the attic is usually 30-40 degrees hotter than that.

If it seems to be making headway but not totally effective, I might get a second daisy-chain panel (about $80 to buy separately IIRC) and lay that on the other side of the ridge from the existing panel, facing primarily east. Then that one would provide some juice early in the morning until about 2-3pm when the sun would be at a sharp angle to it, and the existing panel would provide juice from about 11-12am until sundown. Good overlap during the hottest part of the day.

I might also take a piece of plywood, make a little platform for the two panels and orient it "properly". Thats going to be a pain in the butt though.

So the grade so far is "works, may or may not be good enough to be effective in clearing my attic. Does not move as well as a mid grade AC powered unit, but costs no electricity".

I'll update as to whether its blowing enough air to vent the attic, if a second panel is called for, and if the second panel does much good.

Also noted, in good keeping with the usual Home Depot super duper stocking, they had two of the DC powered gable fans on the shelf, both with the boxes open (I got the last sealed box) and about 20 companion panels stacked up on a shelf about 14' above where the fans were. I'll bet anyone who wants to lose five bucks that a bunch of people bought them, took them home and are just figuring out now that the solar panel isnt included. I'll put out ten bucks that a couple of people screwed the fan into their gable in the attic and are still waiting for the 'solar' part to kick in...
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-24-2006, 07:19 PM   #18
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Re: Solar Elec?

Home Depot is a sign that the technology is becoming a commodity.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
I'll bet anyone who wants to lose five bucks that a bunch of people bought them, took them home and are just figuring out now that the solar panel isnt included.* I'll put out ten bucks that a couple of people screwed the fan into their gable in the attic and are still waiting for the 'solar' part to kick in...
I won't take the bet, either. And I'm not looking for a job, but...
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-24-2006, 09:21 PM   #19
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Re: Solar Elec?

Smart man!

As of about 6pm when the sun was still hitting the panel, the fan was still turning fast enough that I'd rather not stick a finger in it. Plenty of warm air coming out. When I kicked on the whole house fan just a few minutes ago I got a minute or two of warm air and that was it. Normally after an 80-something day I'd get 10-15 minutes of hot air from the soffit vents. Temps inside didnt move more than a degree while normally they'd have bumped 2-3 or more.

Real test is the 100 degree days. I think a second panel is warranted.

The science experiment continues...
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Re: Solar Elec?
Old 05-25-2006, 01:39 AM   #20
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Re: Solar Elec?

Thanks, Nords ... nice thing about those returns is that we have high odds they'll keep increasing. Really got me thinking.

Also wondering if the real deal will be after the credits expire, the commodity pricing kicks in, etc. I remember the same tax credit phenomenon happening in the mid 80's, with solar hot water heaters. Stupid prices ... lots of fly-by-night companies going bankrupt after the credit expirations. Interesting we're back in the same place.
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