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Old 04-23-2011, 10:20 PM   #21
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Nords:
Thanks for the useful suggestions (esp about how to look for vampire loads).

Hope the surf was awesome.

My boss (aka "She Who Must Be Obeyed" ) reminded my that we replaced the old fridge at the end of Jan because it had been runing almost constantly and wasn't cooling anything, which could have contributed some of the load. Plus we had 4 college age kids staying with over Christmas and New year and using hot water, but I still think that the main load is from heating.
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Old 04-23-2011, 10:48 PM   #22
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Plus we had 4 college age kids staying with over Christmas and New year and using hot water, but I still think that the main load is from heating.
And opening doors and windows and refrigerators and cooking and eating and operating electronics and doing laundry and drying hair and... yeah, that could account for it.

The biggest drop in our electrical consumption, bar none, was sending our daughter to college. Our December electrical bill shows a huge Christmas break spike, and we weren't using heat or A/C. Even her showers were solar-heated water, so it was all electrical appliances.
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Old 04-24-2011, 05:36 AM   #23
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Self sufficiency (personal energy independence) and for some to "go green" is alluring.

But most of what I have read is the payback period is so far out... that one might not break even. Any decision that takes 20 years to break even presents a lot of risk (in terms of saving money).

Some people use solar panels to heat water. Even those solutions are expensive and... from what I have read... can be prone to additional repair costs.


IMO - for most people, figuring out how to reduce their energy use (of conventional sources of energy) through conservation and efficiency is the most viable means to reduce cost (for now). But it could change if energy costs continue to rise or the alternate technologies get cheaper.

A tell tale sign is that people are not flocking to certain alternate energy sources in hordes!
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Old 04-24-2011, 11:22 AM   #24
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I have to agrre - the main motivation in instaling the PV system is part of what we laughingly refer to as "The Zombie Plan: - getting as energy independant as possible. Working in the oil industry, I have no confidence that we will be able to continue our low energy costs (although I realize that at $4/gallon gasoline, some would agrue that we are not in a low cost environment - topic for another discussion). If I could hedge against my expected higher future energy costs today at with a reasonable investment, that seemed to be the way to go.

All things being constant ( ie. current electric usage - which I am looking into reducing - and constant energy costs), with the current sudbidies, the system would take 10 years to pay back. With out the subsidies, the system would take 60.8 years to breakeven.

Obviously, first step its to better understand and reduce my current comsumption before I jump into the PV realm.
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Old 04-24-2011, 12:50 PM   #25
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Two observations:
- There's definitely a point of diminishing returns with PV for most usage patterns. Trying to meet a high % of peak energy needs leads to fairly low marginal returns for the last panels purchased, especially if they have to be put in places with less optimum sun exposure. But buying panels to meet your year-round baseline load will have a faster payback. And, getting a "basic" system in place fits with the "Zombie Plan"--you could probably whack 20-30% off your energy use if circumstances required it, right?

- If my reading of the current and coming local and federal fiscal environment is correct, these big subsidies for green energy might only be around for a little longer. I could be wrong, but when we're talking about cutting SS, cutting cops, cutting schools, etc, I just don't think these programs will survive. So, if you're gonna do it, it makes sense to jump soon.

With this in mind, Nords's suggested incremental approach would work well. Get a few panels up, take the tax/energy benefits, and have the foundation in place for a larger system later in case the tax credits continue. Even 2-4 kW would make a difference in your bill, and make you feel brilliant when you're enjoying (small room) AC and a cold 'fridge in the heat of the day after the next hurricane and power outage--if the panels stay on your roof.
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Old 04-24-2011, 12:51 PM   #26
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bold mine...
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Originally Posted by EllisWyatt View Post
All things being constant ( ie. current electric usage - which I am looking into reducing - and constant energy costs), with the current sudbidies, the system would take 10 years to pay back. With out the subsidies, the system would take 60.8 years to breakeven.
This is incorrect. The break even point for the system is 60.8 years with or without the subsidies.

The only thing the subsidies change is who is paying for it. And I can't see any reason that taxpayers should chip in to buy a system with a 60 year payback for an individual. If it doesn't make sense for an individual, it doesn't make sense as a group buy either.

I'm not picking on you, but picking on Congress (and any voters who support this craziness). Especially when you consider that only relatively well to do people can afford the cost even after subsidies, this is just a subsidy for the (relatively) 'rich'. Something that I would think most "greenies" would be against.

-ERD50
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Old 04-24-2011, 01:18 PM   #27
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Even 2-4 kW would make a difference in your bill, and make you feel brilliant when you're enjoying (small room) AC and a cold 'fridge in the heat of the day after the next hurricane and power outage--if the panels stay on your roof.
Things may have changed, and there may be options for this, but AFAIK most panel installations won't provide backup power when the grid is down. Those inverters count on the grid as a sync for 60 cycles and simply won't power a load w/o a live grid connection.

Pretty sure you need at least some battery power special inverters to carry on through a grid outage.

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Old 04-24-2011, 02:36 PM   #28
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... and make you feel brilliant when you're enjoying (small room) AC and a cold 'fridge in the heat of the day after the next hurricane and power outage--if the panels stay on your roof.
Pricing varies by region, but I think EW's getting a quote for a grid-tied system. When the grid goes down, so does the grid-tied inverter...

I've never looked at hailstorm resistance, either.
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Old 04-24-2011, 02:52 PM   #29
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Pricing varies by region, but I think EW's getting a quote for a grid-tied system. When the grid goes down, so does the grid-tied inverter...
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Things may have changed, and there may be options for this, but AFAIK most panel installations won't provide backup power when the grid is down. Those inverters count on the grid as a sync for 60 cycles and simply won't power a load w/o a live grid connection.

Pretty sure you need at least some battery power special inverters to carry on through a grid outage.

-ERD50
I'm sure you guys know more than I do. I envisioned a large DPDT switch that took everything off the grid and isolated the (inverted, 120 VAC) output to the house. It wouldn't make economic sense to buy/maintain batteries, just use the power (fridge, small AC, charge small batteries for lights, tools, cell phones, etc) when the sun shines. Okay--'never mind!"
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Old 04-24-2011, 03:09 PM   #30
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I'm sure you guys know more than I do. I envisioned a large DPDT switch that took everything off the grid and isolated the (inverted, 120 VAC) output to the house. It wouldn't make economic sense to buy/maintain batteries, just use the power (fridge, small AC, charge small batteries for lights, tools, cell phones, etc) when the sun shines. Okay--'never mind!"
Or use the same DPDT switch to connect to a $120 .7KW generator, The output of which is 60HZ, thus having a sync source.
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Old 04-24-2011, 05:03 PM   #31
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We're looking at a grid-tie system, not a stand alone with battery backups, so when the grid goes down, so would the system.

We already have a propane generator for when the grid goes down, which happens quite a bit, as we are at the end of the existing grid, and even minor rainstorms knock our power out.

ERD50 : I agree - the actual cost payout will be 60.8 years. Period. Appling Kant's categorical imperative, I agree with your premise entirely. It makes NO economic sense to me for the governement to subsidize this.

However.......they do. And it is one of the very few subsidies that I'm not being means tested out of. First preference would be no subsidies, but that doesn't seem to be happening.
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Old 04-24-2011, 09:26 PM   #32
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re: Solar running during a power outage...
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I envisioned a large DPDT switch that took everything off the grid and isolated the (inverted, 120 VAC) output to the house. It wouldn't make economic sense to buy/maintain batteries, just use the power (fridge, small AC, charge small batteries for lights, tools, cell phones, etc) when the sun shines. Okay--'never mind!"
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Or use the same DPDT switch to connect to a $120 .7KW generator, The output of which is 60HZ, thus having a sync source.
No doubt it is possible to do it, but the standard packages that I see for sale (from memory and te first few google hits) do not include this capability. I would think that ls99's approach would be simple to implement (using a small sine-wave output inverter running of a small battery as the sync source), but I don't know the intricacies of these grid-tie inverter designs. Maybe there is something about them that expect to sync to a source that is much 'stiffer' than what the solar panel inverter supplies? I really don't know, but it seems like that could be a factor.

Assuming the grid-tie inverter can't do the job, then an inverter that could run from solar panels direct, w/o a big battery bank would need to handle a wide range of voltage inputs with as the solar power varies through the day. I suspect that type of inverter gets expensive, and a little googling seems to indicate that the batteries are used for this exact purpose. My cheap back-up power inverter has a very narrow input range of just a few volts. So by the time you add another inverter, some batteries and such, it probably just isn't worth it unless someone lives in an area with frequent power outages - and then they might want something that would run if there is no sunshine during that time, so you are back to batteries and all those cost/maintainance issues.

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Old 04-25-2011, 12:42 AM   #33
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It makes NO economic sense to me for the governement to subsidize this.
However.......they do. And it is one of the very few subsidies that I'm not being means tested out of. First preference would be no subsidies, but that doesn't seem to be happening.
Individual subsidies make a lot of sense when the government has to mandate the regulation and pricing of the electric-generating utilities. The grid infrastructure has to be paid for somehow, and govt subsidies keep it operating far longer than our electric-bill payments would. The Rural Electrification Administration was just the start of many govt subsidies to bring power to the people (so to speak). I'd like to think that the power-sharing agreements between the U.S. and Canada are merely a byproduct of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" and mutual economic interest, but I doubt it.

Hawaii is about as far off the grid as you can get, so small grid-management decisions around here have a big impact. For example, the state will pay you $750 up front to install a solar water heater. A $6K system, after that subsidy and state/federal tax credits, ends up costing about $1500 and pays itself back in 3-8 years. (Or, if you have a teen using shower water, about 90 days.) The subsidy was even briefly raised to $1500. Now solar water heating systems are mandated on all new construction, so the subsidy is directed toward existing homes.

The biggest beneficiaries are HECO and the state. When one-third of the state's homes are heating water with the sun, that's a huge chunk of generating capacity that doesn't have to be expanded by building another electric plant. The state doesn't have to spend time and energy regulating the process of building that other plant, along with all the legal and environmental challenges. It also reaps the economic benefits of getting off the oil-fired economy.
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Old 04-25-2011, 07:57 AM   #34
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Thanks to all of you for this thread - my intention when I get back to the states is to try and plaster the house with solar 'stuff.' However, your discussion of payback, and other sundry technical gotchas helps in my decision making. Ideally I would be in AZ where the sun is great for heating the water and other stuff (have done some solar cooking, etc). I like Nords idea of the sort of 'layaway' plan for solar - build the supports and then add capacity as the subsidies allow over the years.

Lastly, the quick discussion on how the decentralization of the water heating allows for the centralized delivery mechanism to shrink along with the requisite planning and capacity adding is a good point - so instead of my tax dollars subsidizing that, they subsidize my independence....personally, I like that idea better. Now, if you are a nomad, then it doesn't make sense, but if you are willing to stay put for awhile, the long side of this can be a nice payback....now we just need the technology to improve the energy to cost ratio.
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Old 04-25-2011, 08:16 AM   #35
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re: Solar running during a power outage...



No doubt it is possible to do it, but the standard packages that I see for sale (from memory and te first few google hits) do not include this capability. I would think that ls99's approach would be simple to implement (using a small sine-wave output inverter running of a small battery as the sync source), but I don't know the intricacies of these grid-tie inverter designs. Maybe there is something about them that expect to sync to a source that is much 'stiffer' than what the solar panel inverter supplies? I really don't know, but it seems like that could be a factor.

Assuming the grid-tie inverter can't do the job, then an inverter that could run from solar panels direct, w/o a big battery bank would need to handle a wide range of voltage inputs with as the solar power varies through the day. I suspect that type of inverter gets expensive, and a little googling seems to indicate that the batteries are used for this exact purpose. My cheap back-up power inverter has a very narrow input range of just a few volts. So by the time you add another inverter, some batteries and such, it probably just isn't worth it unless someone lives in an area with frequent power outages - and then they might want something that would run if there is no sunshine during that time, so you are back to batteries and all those cost/maintainance issues.

-ERD50
I assume that solar panels are designed for a specific voltage output, and only the current would vary with solar input, though this might be horribly inaccurate...
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Old 04-25-2011, 09:33 AM   #36
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Individual subsidies make a lot of sense when...

Hawaii is about as far off the grid as you can get, so small grid-management decisions around here have a big impact. For example, the state will pay you $750 up front to install a solar water heater. A $6K system, after that subsidy and state/federal tax credits, ends up costing about $1500 and pays itself back in 3-8 years. ...

The biggest beneficiaries are HECO and the state. When one-third of the state's homes are heating water with the sun, that's a huge chunk of generating capacity that doesn't have to be expanded by building another electric plant. ...
In specific cases, targeted subsidies might make sense. But the overall nation-wide level ones such as they are offering to the OP make no sense that I can see.

And your example, appears to me to be a bit of a tail wagging the dog scenario. Seems like the utility/regulators want to keep electricity artificially low (keeping demand artificially high), and then they turn around and spend subsidy money to decrease demand.

I'd rather see them use a progressive scale for electricity costs (many places already do this, it doesn't take a fancy meter or anything, just a calculation on your bill). If KWhs past a point cost more, and past another point cost even more, then people will conserve and people will switch to solar water heating if it makes sense. Just keep raising those prices until you get dampen demand to the point you want.

I can see setting building codes, an apartment builder doesn't care so much about the energy costs as they will be passed on to the renter, who had little say in what kind of heating system is installed. Maybe subsidies for existing rentals would make sense, since we don't have the same market forces at work there as with a homeowner.


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I assume that solar panels are designed for a specific voltage output, and only the current would vary with solar input, though this might be horribly inaccurate...
Like any diode, the voltage would be relatively flat over a wide range of currents. But from what I've read, that voltage swing is still too much for the inverters, and they use batteries to flatten it out.

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Old 04-25-2011, 12:44 PM   #37
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Heh-- this thread reminds me of buying our first 1100 watts.

In late 2004 spouse saw what we geezers refer to as a "classified ad" in the "newspaper". The seller was a retired engineer in his 80s who told me he'd broken a hip and could no longer keep up with the maintenance. "Maintenance"?!?

It turned out that he'd had his system designed from scratch and custom-built in the mid-1990s for top dollar. The panel racks are high-quality brick-outhouse galvanized steel angle iron and he'd built a shed for his inverters, charge controller, and battery. One of his five-panel racks probably weighs more than today's 40-panel aluminum rack systems. We got his panels & racks for $2500-- mainly because we were willing to go up on his roof and remove them.

He was using 12v batteries with 20 Siemens 55W 17-volt panels. I couldn't tell that they were deep-cycle lead-acid marine batteries-- I'm not familiar with boat equipment-- but he was beating the crap out of them. In the morning when the array voltage was high enough, he'd go outside to his circuit breaker box and throw SamClem's DPDT switch from "HECO" to "solar". He'd have the panels charging the batteries all day (while he also ran his 1950s small house's electrical load off the inverter output). Then he'd run off battery power as late into the night as he could, until the voltage alarm started going off and his fridge sounded weird. He'd throw the DPDT switch back to "HECO" and go to bed.

The shed was an acid-splashed high-humidity hellhole that would eat your nasal linings and erode your dental fillings if you stayed too long. EPA and OSHA would be fighting each other for jurisdiction. It was well-designed and solidly built but I swear I could feel my arm hairs standing up when I got too close to the batteries. He said he had to refill their cells every day because they were regularly steaming down far enough to expose the plates. He was tired of hobbling around doing his Gunga Din act for $25-$35/month and was wiling to give up his project.

We took the panels/racks, politely declined the electronics & batteries, and ran away fast.

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I assume that solar panels are designed for a specific voltage output, and only the current would vary with solar input, though this might be horribly inaccurate...
Panel output voltage vs insolation tends to be a fairly prompt jump from "0v" to "max rated". However most panels' voltages start to roll off as their temperature gets above 125 degrees F.

It's apparently not too difficult or expensive to design a grid-tie inverter to work off a reference voltage, like the local utility's rock-solid 240v 60Hz AC. A grid-tie inverter might work off a gas-powered generator, too, although its output voltage droops a few volts as it gets up to full load. When you start up the refrigerator or a vacuum cleaner on the electric utility then its bus voltage doesn't budge. On a gas-powered generator... you'll hear it. On a smaller PV/battery system, the electric motor's starting surge would bounce around the grid-tied inverter's output voltage like a rubber ball and probably cause it to trip off.

An off-the-grid inverter needs a beefier design to set its own output and handle the wider variation in output voltages caused by demand. A separate charge controller handles the batteries (and the current flow, depending on whether the system demand is charging or discharging). Those designs seem pretty established for central inverters, but even they have their limits. I've read of off-grid systems where the house's air-conditioning thermostat triggers a gas-fired generator to come up to voltage before it starts the air-conditioning motor to run the compressor. Once the A/C is running steady then the gas generator shuts off and the PV system handles the load. It just can't easily handle the starting surge.

I don't know if there are off-the-grid microinverter designs yet (I haven't researched it). Even 2010 grid-tie microinverter technology was limited to about 225 watts, while PV panel capacity has risen to over 300 watts. So the micro tech is very encouraging but still catching up.

In the next 3-5 years we're planning to buy a (cheap used) plug-in hybrid. We'd need another 3000 watts recharging capacity above our current 3300 watts. We'd originally planned to build a pergola along the house's south wall (for more passive shading) and roof it with PV panels. However our current cheap array has paid for itself already and panel power density has more than doubled since our 1990s hardware. It might be cheaper to not build a pergola, scrap the old array, strip the south roof and properly insulate it before reshingling, and put up 6000 watts on the same square footage. The house will be cooler in summer and we'll save $1200-$1500/year on gas in addition to having a minimal $16/mo electric bill. Hopefully 350-watt microinverters are a reality by the time we're ready to make the leap.

As for electricity after a hurricane: we'd just fire up the BBQ grill & camp stove, cook all the fridge/freezer meat as it defrosts, break out our Spam recipes, and live in the 19th century for a month week or two. We wouldn't even have hot showers because our solar water heater pump is AC, not DC. (Maybe DC water pumps have a better brushless design now.) If we want to feel spoiled, though, our local solar supply company sells a 1700-watt inverter designed to work off a DC battery. It comes with a set of jumper cables to attach it to a Prius. I keep going back & forth between "Cool!" and "Don't have enough shotgun ammunition to be the only house on the block with lights after dark".
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Old 04-25-2011, 01:01 PM   #38
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Not voltage, but maybe some cheap warm?

Free energy by soda cans | Science Dump
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Old 04-25-2011, 01:28 PM   #39
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Not voltage, but maybe some cheap warm?

Free energy by soda cans | Science Dump
Great video - great site - the water cone was interesting as well.
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Old 04-25-2011, 08:50 PM   #40
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Costco - Grape Solar 5060 Watt Grid-tied Solar Kit

Good ol' Costco! 5060 watt grid tied system, delivered, $18,000.

"The Grape Solar 5060Watt Grid-Tied PV Kit can generate between 462kWh and 924kWh of electricity per month. This works out to roughly 72% of the electrical power consumption of an average 1200SF home. The kit consists of Grape Solar CS-P-230-DJ Poly-Si modules, a PVP4800 inverter and a roof-top racking system for mounting the modules". Requires 400 square feet of roof area.
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