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info on real Experience with Photovoltaic Panels for Home

by bus / June 30, 2008 2:03 AM PDT

Three years ago I did some research into photovoltaic panels for my house. Cost per voltage output was prohibitive and only by factoring tax rebates did there seem to be a financial gain. Bottom line I did not do it.

Today in the local newspaper I read about a state building that was fitted with custom photovoltaic panels. After working through some factoring based on figures from the article, the electric output from the panels will cost 1.7 times more money than just purchasing the power from the electric company.

At first I just thought this was a case of feel good politics, but then I thought if the electric rate triples in the next few years these photovoltaic panels would turn out to be a good deal. This is based on the idea of being able to sell the power back to the electric company. If you shoot for electrical independence, the cost of rechargeable batteries makes the project prohibitive again.

The unresolved problem areas seem to me to be. How long would the photovoltaic panels be good for, when would replacement/repair be needed? Does the panel produce at the same rate over its life, or drop off? As the homeowner, do I need/can I get insurance for the panels from storm damage?

I?m interested in real world experience, so if anyone out there has taken the plunge please respond. I have looked at the site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaics but can't make sense of it.

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Unfortunately we need to look at it a bit differently than

just saving money. It reduces the consumption of other energy while it operates. What we don't hear is how much energy went into its development and production. For it to be an overall savings, it must last long enough to produce more energy than it took to make and install it. I don't think there are or could be any accurate figures regarding this. Sometimes, however, the endeavor to save leads to new products and technology spin offs that do benefit or help us to improve what we'd originally intended.

I know I'm not answering your question. As for electrical output with age, I think we're just about to learn more about that over time. It may be that some cells will fail ahead of others...or be damaged. Perhaps if enough cells fail it will necessitate replacement of entire panels even if most are working.

As for the affect on your wallet, my personal guess is that it's unrealistic to think that reducing energy consumption will make it get heavier in the long run.

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(NT) Good point, Carbon footprint of the Panels
by bus / July 1, 2008 11:47 PM PDT
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The cheapest solar power
by James Denison / June 30, 2008 6:57 AM PDT

Is determined by whether you live in a hot sunny climate, or a cooler climate that goes below freezing in the winter.

If you're in a hot climate, then a white house with white roof (such as white spanish style shingles) will reflect a lot of light off a house, keeping it cooler in summer and lowering AC costs.

If in a cool climate and little AC is used in summer, then dark shingles on a home painted darker colors will aid in the winter. For summer, decidious trees will help shade a home, but drop leaves to allow light through in winter to help warm the home. It's cheaper and more economical to collect light behind glass which is directly converted to heat when absorbed on dark materials, than to convert first to electric, then use to electrically heat a home in winter. So, having a large south facing glassed area on a home will cost much less and do so much more in cooler climates than solar cells for electrical conversion.

Want lower electric costs? Quit running the clothes dryer (except maybe for undergarments) and hang clothes outside on a line to dry. Try to cook more in microwave oven instead of stove top or standard oven. There's an amazing amount of food that cooks just fine in a microwave, especially vegetable dishes. Put in CFL light bulbs. Years before it was more difficult due to the odd shaped tube bulbs and the expense, but the new twist tubes are reasonably cheap now and fit most older enclosures too.

Can you imagine the despair of putting in a whole lot of expensive solar panels only to have the worst hail storm of the decade with golf ball sized hail shatter them within a year or two? That sinking feeling would be like living in a greenhouse knowing hail was on the way. One year (1983) in San Angelo Texas, when I was living there, a hail storm came by and did unbelievable damage to cars all over the area, busting out mainly side windows, but chipping windshields too. That's not even counting the pimple dents in all the vehicles. Thankfully my truck at the time was parked next to a 4 story building and the wind was blowing across the top of building so it escaped any major damage other than a few small dings on the roof and hood. Cars further out in the lot didn't fare so well. I doubt solar panels would have survived that one either.

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(NT) Good point, Hail, Cost factor of strong enough panels.
by bus / July 1, 2008 11:55 PM PDT
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Alternative energy
by Willy / June 30, 2008 7:48 AM PDT

If you have satellite or cable, goto the "green channel". They cover the topic quite in one way or another. Search on this forum for the link, I provided some weeks ago on just that, solar panels installed on a house and what it took to get it done and in effect the results may interest you. NO, its not cheap but like everything else they measure on "return saving" by usage over time. You also have wind generators besides solar and possibly "alternative" used as the keywords for energy uses beside the normal electrical grid. Also, your state may provide a "energy credit" so look into that whatever you install if you go that route. -----Willy Happy

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(NT) Thx for the info leading to the link. Am reading through it.
by bus / July 1, 2008 11:57 PM PDT
In reply to: Alternative energy
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I can only answer for a personal experience...

........ with a solar roof panel system to supply our hot water needs.

It worked beautifully, and cut our electric bill (we ad no natural gas supply at the time) by more than half. In addition, we had plenty of hot water for a family of four.

This was during President Carter's administration when solar was i its infancy.

The downside was the faulty solar tank, which continued to spring a link. It was replaced under warranty 4 times. (Manufacturer: Ford.) They refused to replace it any more. The companies that serviced the inuits - and they did require regular maintenance, all went out of business.

If I were building a new home, or remodeling an existing one I would definitely look into photovoltaics. Though costly, it avoids one thing we can always count upon --- rising utility rates.

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Rising utility rates versus leaky tank
by bus / July 2, 2008 12:33 AM PDT

Thanks for the story. I was wondering why more people hadn't bought into the solar roof hot water heater systems. Given that yours required 4 tank replacements within the warranty period, I would suspect a design flaw/weakness. That is why I was looking at the photovoltaics with an eye for trouble. So far, I have found photovoltaics seem to come with their own leaky tank: in the form of, storm damage, usable life, and cost versus output.

Three years ago I didn't do it and now I seem to be coming to the same conclusion. I have always been looking for ways to reduce power consumption. Even back in my high school days, my science project was based on solar water heating. Still seems like these power saving system are more good ideas than functional.

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Passive solar
by Angeline Booher / July 2, 2008 2:14 AM PDT

I have it "accidentally".

I live in what you might call the basement level of my son's home, which was built on the river bluff in the 1930's with a partial vasement area to accommodate a central eating system.

In the 1970's more excavation was done for a "studio" apartment. Of course, the floor is of concrete, and the walls boat 2/3 glass, making for wonderful near 180 degree view of the river.

Believe me.... that concrete really olds the heat and releases it at night! There are 2 outlets from the house H/A system, and there s a combo heat/air thru-the-wall unit in a bedroom addition. I had to buy thermal blinds for sun control, and do not turn on the auxiliary unit in the winter until the outsidr temperature falls below 10 degrees. In the summer, like now, I keep the cooling running 24.7, and the blinds lowered ever lower.

Of course, I do have a house above me, and a lot of earth on the backside of the apartment. It's almost as if it had been planned.

I was not aware that a tank was necessary. I thought that the system just produced the electricity which was stored in batteries(?) which was then used as if bought from the city.

Speakeasy Moderator

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"Leaky tanks" are just my way of making observations which
by bus / July 2, 2008 1:02 PM PDT
In reply to: Passive solar

point out weak links in these home photovoltaic systems. As you said "I thought that the system just produced the electricity which was stored in batteries(?) which was then used as if bought from the city." In my way of thinking the batteries are like storage tanks and act like leaky tanks due to power loses and the batteries actually vent/leak gas. My research shows most practical photovoltaic systems for the home sell the power back to the electric company and avoid the battery leaky tank. These systems are known as on grid systems. There are some systems for remote locations that use batteries for night time and bad weather use. These are known as off grid systems.

Another leaky tank observation is that the photovoltaic systems produce direct current which has to be converted to alternating current for use in normal household appliances or to sell the power back to the grind. So the leaky tanks just keep popping up everywhere. Just to push this a little beyond the normal, a lot of household appliances convert some to all of the power they use to direct current. At the present time I believe we waste more power than we use.

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