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Re: Solar Power
Old 09-10-2005, 07:18 AM   #21
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Re: Solar Power

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Yikes, REW, talk about leading with your chin!

Now at least "Total Members: 1660" and who knows how many unregistered guests & lurkers will be checking your spelling & grammar for free..
Exactly! And if any of them dare post about my errors, then others will watch them, and when they post others will watch them... and before you know it, everyones grammer and speling will improve! 8)
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Re: Solar Power
Old 09-10-2005, 10:08 AM   #22
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Re: Solar Power

Its not the posters fault.

Its not the boards fault.

Its not the moderators fault.

Its the ass fault.
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Thinking about solar? Think faster!
Old 11-23-2005, 03:15 PM   #23
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Thinking about solar? Think faster!

If you've been thinking about buying a photovoltaic array then you might want to move now. Prices are starting to rise and they're going to accelerate in January as taxpayers leap on the new federal rebates.

We've been bottom-fishing Craigslist & eBay for the last couple months looking for cheap photovoltaic panels. Earlier in 2005 you could buy new for $6-7/watt and used for about $5/watt. We've found a couple "distressed sellers" and we've been picking up panels at $4/watt. I'm a patient bargain-hunter and it would have taken a couple years to build out the array with this method.

But I pulled the trigger yesterday with a company in Miami selling blemished Evergreen panels. We bought 16 110-watt panels for $7000 (including shipping) for a price of just under $4/watt. The panels are promised to be under full rating & warranty and this purchase fully loads our 3 KW inverter. We're done unless our local utility starts buying the power from us instead of just crediting our net use.

The reason I spooked is our electrical contractor. Since shipping was the same charge for a half-pallet or a full pallet, I asked him if he wanted to go in on the deal with us. His answer was "Things are getting very tight in the PV world for us as well. Prices have gone up 2x and 1 more time next month. Global demand and high commodity prices are some of the reasons. So, solar and cheap are not in the same boat anymore. The local wholesaler has no cheap panels either. Lucky to actually be on a waiting list to receive any, in the future. Things are tight there as well."

The demand is being driven by Euopean & Asian subsidies (Germany & Japan in particular) as well as the federal govt's residential solar tax credit. Quoting from the link, "The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (H.R. 6) establishes a 30% tax credit up to $2,000 for the purchase and installation of residential photovoltaic (solar electric) and solar water heating property. An individual can take both a 30% credit up to the $2,000 cap for a photovoltaics system and a 30% credit up to a separate $2,000 cap for a solar water heating system. A 30% tax credit up to $500 per 0.5 kW is also available for fuels cells. To be eligible for the credit, a system must be "placed in service" or activated between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2007. Expenditures with respect to the equipment are treated as made when the installation is completed. This provision is particularly important for expenditures made before 2006 for projects not "placed in service" until 2006."

So our $7000 purchase gets a $2000 credit from the feds, another 35% kickback from Hawaii on what's left, and a $105 credit card rebate. The net price for our 1760 watts of panels is $3145. Better still, I have a reasonable excuse not to start work until after Christmas.

With these subsidies, suppliers will be hiking next year's PV panel prices to at least $8-$10 watt. Evergreen Solar's stock price is already beginning to reflect that!
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-23-2005, 03:36 PM   #24
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Re: Solar Power

Nords, it's obvious you enjoy both the satisfaction of having your own power supply and saving money. You are really savoring the deal, aren't you? I understand. It's OK to gloat a little. With that price per watt plus the CC rebate, it's easy to see why you got a charge out of getting a charge and charging it.

(Sorry. I just couldn't resist.)

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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-23-2005, 03:44 PM   #25
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Re: Solar Power

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Originally Posted by REWahoo!
It's OK to gloat a little.
Spouse says I can't gloat until I've installed the racks, mounted the panels, wired them in, thrown the switch, and shown her that the meter is whirling backwards.

Then I'll be allowed to do Dilbert's "Engineer's Dance of Joy"...
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-23-2005, 05:50 PM   #26
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Re: Solar Power

Nords, Congratulations!

I'm glad you posted this. I better get on the ball. I attended a seminar about PV's last week, and have been meaning to ask your advice ever since.

My understanding of the Fed. credit is that you can take the 30%, up to $2,000 each year (06 and 07 only), so I was thinking about doing one array this year and another next year, but your warnings about prices have me worried.

Washington state has a couple other incentives and rebates that sweeten the federal credit. Plus you can sell the "green tags" on all power you produce for ten cents per kw. My current understanding is that our power company only zeros out the net use on a yearly base ( I think you posted elsewhere that you have to zero it every month?)

My big worry about buying off e-bay or Craigs list is that without a warantee you might not be able to get the rebate. Have you checked into this?

How much of your total power usage will you be supplying from the panels?
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-24-2005, 10:07 AM   #27
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Re: Solar Power

Sheryl, here's the search we used on eBay:
(solar, solor) panel -LED -LEDs -Golf -36LEDs -garden -CD -pond -hop -fountain -radio -plasma -clock -hat -welding -camera -game -dive -Mavica
and it still turned up over 400 hits every week. People put the word "solar" in the damndest things but we didn't want to miss the real deals from blissfully ignorant newbies who couldn't spell or who didn't know what category "solar panels" should go in.

We found four 50-watt panels with a "Wanted" ad on Craigslist and we came close on a couple eBay auctions. The best deals were from people who'd bought their systems and then moved or changed their plans and were just trying to recover some of their investment. Many of them have their own eBay businesses and they wouldn't be around very long if they cheated you on a panel sale. It's just not worth their risk of being banned. Craigslist is about as safe as a newspaper's classified ads, though, and I'm real quick with a voltmeter now. But you could usually tell within the first minute of seeing the customer whether this was going to be worth the effort.

The company that sold us the final 16 panels didn't actually have an auction, it was "Buy It Now." They're just flipping pallets of 28 blemished panels that came from Evergreen but I guess not too many people are willing to pay $11K for an eBay purchase like that. When I called to see if they'd break up the set they processed my credit card over the phone. Again they do a lot of business on eBay, they have a high rating, and they can make far more money from being honest than they can from ripping us off. They've said on their auction that the panels are still fully rated & under warranty and I can do a credit-card chargeback if there's a problem. Shipping includes insurance. These are just blemished goods, and it's not much different from buying flawed jeans at Ross Dress For Less. But we'll see what the panels test out to when they arrive.

The key to the credit is when you put the panels in service, and the cost is the bill of sale/charge receipt. You could theoretically buy your entire array, have the whole thing bolted together, wire half of it to the inverter in 2006, wire the other half in 2007, and take the deduction in both years. It's a bit expensive to buy a bunch of panels and then let them sit idle for a year just for the credit, but you'd have to do the math to see if waiting the extra year for $2000 is worth the hassle of leaving it idle. Your money spent in 2005 might not earn that credit until as late as Apr 2008. I have no idea what PV panel prices will be like in 2007 but it's entirely possible that the initial surge will have passed and prices will be back to "normal".

"Green tags" sound like a great idea. Hawaii uses net metering to encourage residential solar so that they don't have to build a new power plant. We're only compensated on our monthly bill so there's no incentive to produce more than you can use. If we wanted to sell it back to the utility we could, but by today's laws they'd sell us our residential service at the residential rate of 16 cents/KWHr and buy our excess back at the wholesale rate of about 4 cents/KWHr. Right now that only works for big businesses. But if the law changes...

Our system is a grid-tie with no batteries. We use HECO's rock-steady bus voltage to avoid having to worry about voltage droops from the fridge or the electric dryer starting up. You could avoid the net-metering hassle completely if you went off the grid, but you'll need a battery bank ($$), a low-surge refrigerator ($$), and probably a backup diesel generator ($$$). Higher initial expenses, perhaps, but the payback will be just as fast and you won't have any ties to the electric company. You might even be the only person on your street with electricity after the hurricane, as long as the flying debris didn't smash your expensive panels into glass shards.

Right now our 1100-watt system saves us about $22/month. Ramping up to 3000 watts will save us about $60/month. We typically use $60/month electricity in the winter, a bit more in the summer (ceiling fans). We're also putting together a cheap solar water heating system that should take care of the last $10-$15/month. Since we bought cheap used water collectors and heater, our outlay will be under $500 and payback on the water heating system will be about five years (if it doesn't break down!)

By now you know that I tend to do these things as much for my inner nuclear engineer the challenge of the project as for the financial return. If you don't get all tingly with excitement at the idea of drilling holes in your roof and hooking up 600 VDC wiring then you should hire a solar contractor. The guy that did our electrical hookup has a great website explaining the options without the usual marketing hype. I still haven't gotten around to plugging our inverter's RJ45 connection into our computer and monitoring the array in real time.

I'll put up more photos when we finish, but here's how the array looks now. I can also e-mail you a messy Excel spreadsheet that attempts to calculate the solar payback vs the opportunity cost of investing the money. It's not pretty but I believe the math is correct.
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-25-2005, 09:42 AM   #28
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Re: Solar Power

Nords,
Thanks for all the detailed info. I definitely am more interested in doing this from a geeky-amusement point of view than actually getting a quick payback. My annualized monthly bill is only $34 so unless power costs go up drastically there just isn't that much to save. But it's fun.

I've always been interested in the self-sufficiency stuff, but living in the midst of an urban neighborhood going off the grid makes no sense. Getting the green tag and buy-back benefits makes much more sense. Same logic as growing my own vegetables even though it costs 3x as much in time and money as buying them. I haven't looked at all at the hot water systems yet, but probably will, eventually. Right after I dig up the back yard to install my geothermal loop.

I've got a few people on the lookout for panels for me locally, but I'll start monitoring e-bay too - thanks for the carefully crafted search string!

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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-25-2005, 11:17 AM   #29
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Re: Solar Power

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheryl
Right after I dig up the back yard to install my geothermal loop.
My cousin's retired husband did this. He bought old digging equipment and dug it all up himself. They have the warmest basement I have experienced.
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-25-2005, 01:21 PM   #30
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Re: Solar Power

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Originally Posted by Martha
My cousin's retired husband did this.* He bought old digging equipment and dug it all up himself. They have the warmest basement I have experienced.* **

Hmmm - The backhoe could probably take a vacation from S.O.'s job site some weekend...
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-25-2005, 01:27 PM   #31
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Re: Solar Power

JP -

With alternative energy still being a speculative bet given the lack of earnings, wouldn't you rather buy the basket with PBW ETF?
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-26-2005, 03:51 PM   #32
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Re: Solar Power

Our city has great financial incentives and it gets only better with the federal credit. Do the solar panels require a lot of drilling in the roof? We just got a brand new metal roof (expensive!!!) and I would hate to drill holes in it.

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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-26-2005, 05:00 PM   #33
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Re: Solar Power

I wouldn't want to drill into a metal roof.

Talk to the installer or supplier, maybe they make some sort of clips or attachment system that would attach to the roofs of the ribs.
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-26-2005, 05:13 PM   #34
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Re: Solar Power

Quote:
Originally Posted by vic
Our city has great financial incentives and it gets only better with the federal credit.
Here too.* In addition to the Federal credit:

Puget Sound Energy offers a rebate of $575 per Kw installed.

The net metering is credited at the highest rate paid by the customer, about 7 cents per kWh.

Bonneville Environmental Foundation will buy Green Tags at 10 cents (rumored to be going down to 5 cents shortly) per kWh generated.

Washington State offers 15 cents per kWh, 18 if your inverter is made in WA.* (Would be 36 cents if the panels are mfgd here, but none are yet!)

Plus, there is no sales tax on purchases of renewalbe energy equipment.
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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-26-2005, 07:42 PM   #35
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Re: Solar Power

Those are some impressive incentives. Hawaii has a 35% tax credit but our state taxes are so low that we're already rolling 2005's credit into 2006 & 2007. At this rate it'll be 2010 before we get all our credits...

Quote:
Originally Posted by vic
Do the solar panels require a lot of drilling in the roof? We just got a brand new metal roof (expensive!!!) and I would hate to drill holes in it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheryl
I wouldn't want to drill into a metal roof.*

Talk to the installer or supplier, maybe they make some sort of clips or attachment system that would attach to the roofs of the ribs.
I don't know of any clips that are rated for hurricanes, but maybe your area of the country doesn't have to worry about high winds.

If the metal roof is bolted to the roof trusses then it already has holes in it. They're just sealed with rubber membranes and/or caulk, and you can seal your own holes in the same way.

I got pretty good at hitting a 4x4 on the first four panel racks but the next four racks are gonna involve the narrow side of some 2x4s. At least I can get into that void and drill from underneath if I have to...

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Re: Solar Power
Old 11-26-2005, 11:45 PM   #36
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Re: Solar Power

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheryl
I wouldn't want to drill into a metal roof.*

Talk to the installer or supplier, maybe they make some sort of clips or attachment system that would attach to the roofs of the ribs.
The folks who install solar panels on RV's have* special adhesives that are used to mount clips that hold the panels in place.* Drilling into fiber glass or metal is asking for surprises.
If your installer is not aware of these, check out some of the RV panel manufacturers.* There is a company in Oregon that makes some great systems that supposely provide exceptional kwh production.* This guy came a presentation at a RV School (Life on Wheels) and had some great stuff* [url]http://www.amsolar.com/[url]

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Re: Dude, we got the power.
Old 01-29-2006, 10:59 AM   #37
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Re: Dude, we got the power.

We finished wiring the new PV panels last Friday and threw the switch. Photos are here.

The solar cells in the 16 Evergreen 110-watt "cosmetically blemished" panels are seriously ugly but they appear to function just fine. I think the production process overbuilds the panels to exceed their design power rating, so if a cell or two doesn't work it won't bring the panel below spec. (I'll have to see what the company says about that, and we'll learn more about them as we track their performance.) I toyed around with the idea of buying a portable power meter or connecting individual panels to the inverter to monitor their output, but the sunlight is just too variable to make the research worth the effort.

The panel frames are well built, and even in just 10 years there've been major improvements in standardization & installation speed-- lighter construction, extra holes in the frame for different-size racks & grounding lugs, and more room to fit in the bolts. These panels are double the size of our first batch yet about the same weight. The connection blocks are a big speed improvement-- one big block instead of one for each +/- pole of the panel, with two prefab wires & MC connector plugs. The inside of each panel's connection block was filled with caulk to keep us consumers from messing with the spade connectors & screws & wiring (or to force us to buy more MC plugs to finish the installation). Connecting the panels was fast & nearly fool-proof.

The four Siemens panels look clunky by comparison. They're actually the oldest of the array (built in 1994) and have the lowest power (48 watts) but they seemed like a good deal at $4.17/watt before we stumbled across the Evergreens at $3.92/watt.

The racks were left over from another home-improvement project. The biggest challenge was cutting aluminum box girders into smaller rails & little brackets but the noise & mess was a much better deal than buying retail. Contractors are willing to spend extra for the fancy clips & special tools that help them go faster, but we had plenty of time & unlimited free labor.

The worst part of the experience was determining (after the fact) that one ceiling beam was warped by 2"-- enough that one mounting bolt almost gave us an extra skylight. We've learned to trust a rubber mallet & our ears instead of just snapping straight & parallel chalk lines up from the fascia boards. An electronic stud finder might have improved our precision & speed but we were close enough on the other 19 holes.

Depending on whose spec sheets you read we now have 3012-3052 watts feeding a 3KW inverter. There are some inefficiencies & conversion losses but even so the inverter is noticeably warmer. It's in a breezy & shady location but I'll have to keep an eye on it to see if it approaches its 20-amp limit. I doubt that it'll ever approach full rated power, even on the sunniest summer day, but we don't want to shorten the inverter's life or scorch the housepaint. Xantrex puts RS-232 ports in their hardware and gives away monitoring software but I think I'd rather be surfing the waves than watching inverter performance on a PC.

It's been raining all week but even on overcast days we made 5 KWHr, about a third of our average daily consumption. Yesterday was a little sunnier and production shot up to 9 KWHr. This is the worst time of the year (shorter days with lots of clouds) and our production is off 35% from August's peak, so with HECO's monthly net metering it looks like we'll have small electric bills in Jan-Feb and give it away for free in Jul-Aug. OTOH we may make up all that "lost power" if we have a sunny week or two in Feb.

The PV panels nearly completely shade our livingroom roof's southern exposure, and the water panels cover our master bedroom roof. Both rooms are noticeably cooler, which should save a few pennies on ceiling fan electricity.

Now "all" we have left is piping in the solar water panels and the solar water heater. I'm still trying to figure out how to determine our savings from that because the current electric heater uses a 240V element. (Too much voltage for a Kill-A-Watt meter.) I guess the best estimate would be to wait until the house is quiet, turn off the PV array, unplug the fridge for a few hours, and cycle the water heater on while logging the utility meter. But again I think my time is better spent soldering in the valves & flushing the piping than it would be on tinkering with the data. The solar water heater will probably kill whatever remains of our electric bill.

The panels are warranted for 25 years (the inverter for 10, but it's all solid-state) and no one really knows how long a PV panel lasts. We have $14K into the PV system and roughly $5200 in unreimbursed credits that we'll take between now & 2009. That could be messed up if the tax forms for the federal credits are implemented differently than I've read or if Hawaii reduces its state taxes and we have to keep rolling over the credits. Without the credits a straight-line payback would be about 15 years (assuming constant oil prices, hah!) and with the credits our payback is only about eight years. It's nice to have a paying hobby but I wish our stock portfolio paid that kind of dividend!

The next step is buffing up the panel glass (removing adhesive from the packing pads) and designing some sort of plywood covers to install as needed for protection from hurricane debris.

One way or another we've been working these two solar power projects pretty consistently since Sep 2004. Gosh, when they're completely finished I have no idea what I'll do all day. I haven't been surfing for nearly two months...
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Re: Solar Power
Old 01-29-2006, 11:08 AM   #38
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Re: Solar Power

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panels are seriously ugly
Nothing a nice coat of paint wont take care of!

Seriously...quite an undertaking and very interesting to see how your work progresses along with the results. Something I'm still considering here but seeing the huge run on panels last year and the prices go up made me rethink to wait a while longer.

Would be a great boon to us in the summer time when we're air conditioning agains 100-110 degree heat while the sun bakes my tile roof...

Now go surfing. My biggest project this week was putting up a new closet rod in the coat closet when the old one buckled under the stress of my wifes 300 coats.
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Re: Solar Power
Old 01-29-2006, 11:10 AM   #39
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Re: Solar Power

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Originally Posted by (Cute Fuzzy Bunny)
My biggest project this week was putting up a new closet rod in the coat closet when the old one buckled under the stress of my wifes 300 coats.
What is this concept of a "coat closet"?

Clearly you must be living in the wrong climate...
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Re: Solar Power
Old 01-29-2006, 11:41 AM   #40
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Re: Solar Power

I frankly dont understand it either. If its this so-called "winter" thing, I wear a sweatshirt. If its this "spring" thing I wear tee shirts. If its the "summer" thing I stay in the dang house or find some water.

I have some vague recollections regarding coats and winter time from my 32 years in boston...the healing powers of the brain and time have mostly removed them from memory.
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