Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on January 8, 2012 By Draginol In Science & Tech

This past year my wife and I finally got the solar array we had planned in. The questions I usually get asked are how much it cost, how much does it produce and what level of subsidy is there for it.

First, here's what it looks like:

The idea was to have something that produced enough power to offset our family's daily energy use. So I'll walk through how this worked out:

  • The house consumes the Solar Array first. Anything left over goes back to DTE in which they pay $0.12 per KW/h.
  • The array is rated at 20.1KW which means it produces between 80 and 100 KWhs per day if it's sunny-ish.
  • The federal government currently has a tax rebate of 30% of the cost. They won't give you a check, they just reduce your income taxes but it's a very generous deal and the only way this is remotely feasible (I'll explain in a sec).
  • DTE also pays about $2,000 per KW as part of their subsidy for it. So they actually do write a check to help offset the cost.
  • The total cost was $180,000 for the panels / installation and $20,000 for prepping the land.
  • The total cost would be about $100k to me and $100k in various rebates/subsidies for a total cost to me of about $5 per KW.
  • We used the Sun Power SPR-240-WHT system which has around a 19.3% efficiency.
  • You can monitor the system in real time (here's a picture of my panel read out via Enphase: http://screencast.com/t/lxzafiudG).
  • It'll take about 25 years to pay back. So I don't recommend this kind of thing if you're trying to look at it from an investment perspective. I had my own, kooky reasons (lowering our energy foot print, dislike of high monthly bills, etc.)

You can see the progression of solar activity through the day here: http://screencast.com/t/t7aIGhvnDXyK

In terms of which parts of the country get the most sun here’s a map:

Take this map and then look at the average temperature (lower temps = higher efficiency) to get an idea of whether your area is suitable.

 

If anyone has any questions on the implementation of solar power, feel free to comment. It was a very educational experience.


Comments (Page 1)
on Jan 09, 2012

It'll take about 25 years to pay back.

Brad, yes....there-in lies the rub.  Even doing one's darnedest to be PC with energy fails to deliver in the way it really 'should do'.

One of the early uses for 'active' solar [In Australia] was with Hot Water sevices....only issue was that at BEST they took 10 years to cover costs....and being boilers they were REQUIRED to be replaced every....wait for it..... 10 years.

Kinda self-defeating.

Australia has the dubious 'honour' of having the largest median house size on the planet - and the logical solution to limiting/reducing energy use is to 'try to' convince users that houses can be quite survivable when smaller.  An average house can easily be reduced by 30% in size and still accommodate people 'adequately'....and the reduction in 'envelope' benefits all at all levels of energy use from manufacture to construction to on-going sustainability.

Legislation brings in all sorts of requirements these days for 'Energy Ratings' on dwellings..... and it's probably of note that the first, true 'environmentally competent' Public Building was/is the Melbourne City Council offices here in Oz.

Where practical it's often just simplest to 'think small'....

 

on Jan 09, 2012

I'm not trying to troll or to criticize the gesture, but I am wondering: what is the ecological footprint of the chemical processes involved in the creation of these panels? Do the ecological benefits of this array clearly outweigh the -ecological- cost?

 

on Jan 09, 2012

Werewindlefr
Do the ecological benefits of this array clearly outweigh the -ecological- cost?

Eventually.

And decidedly sooner than a Prius....which fails miserably as its life is finite....

on Jan 09, 2012

Some neat advances in Israel on tracking vs. static arrays... a projected 40% greater yield http://www.israel21c.org/environment/kite-surfing-spurs-solar-energy-breakthrough

and, when it comes to office buildings might not contribute a whole lot in a home): http://www.pythagoras-solar.com/technology-and-products/

for homes an economically poor region is being lit through solar power: http://www.israel21c.org/social-action/a-solar-powered-comet-lights-up-palestinian-homes

Those doubting the pay off for this tech (and it's a big investment for an individual, but less so for states) the largest solar energy deal is the one California just signed: http://www.israel21c.org/environment/israel-and-california-cut-worlds-largest-solar-energy-deal  which will power 1 million California homes.

You're doing the right thing Brad, for all the right reasons.

on Jan 09, 2012

The most important thing you achieve when investing in solar panels is increasing the demand for solar power, motivating further research. It's a good deed you did.

on Jan 09, 2012

When you install these kinds of things, do you also install some sort of battery? Or does all the unused juice end up in the network?

on Jan 09, 2012

Those doubting the pay off for this tech (and it's a big investment for an individual, but less so for states) the largest solar energy deal is the one California just signed: http://www.israel21c.org/environment/israel-and-california-cut-worlds-largest-solar-energy-deal  which will power 1 million California homes.

This doesn't prove anything by itself. I'm not saying that solar energy is necessarily a bad decision (although I'm quite a bit more on the side of nuclear power), but the fact that a large scale deal has been signed could just as well mean that someone made a bad investment on a large scale .

My concerns, though, aren't on the energy cost of making solar panel arrays (although I do think it is an issue), but the harmful chemicals involved in the making of solar panels. Hence my question: is there any indication of the ecological cost of the making of these panels, beyond the energy it takes to make them?

 

Anyway, I still believe the way to go is home thermal insulation + a good pair of snickers when going to a place less than a mile away .

on Jan 09, 2012

Werewindlefr
My concerns, though, aren't on the energy cost of making solar panel arrays (although I do think it is an issue), but the harmful chemicals involved in the making of solar panels. Hence my question: is there any indication of the ecological cost of the making of these panels, beyond the energy it takes to make them?

You might wish to balance that with your preference [?] for Nuclear.....along with recent 'events' in Northern Japan....

....or Chernobyl.....

...or 3 Mile Island.....

on Jan 09, 2012

Thanks for posting the details and some pics!

on Jan 09, 2012

This seems ridiculous.  Don't you live in some frozen tundra of Near-Canadia? 

on Jan 09, 2012

Heavenfall
Speaking of solar power, saw this http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/over-half-germany-renewable-energy-owned-citizens-not-utility-companies.html

Their energy program is so far ahead of us it's pathetic. They started instituting their plan in the '70's, and have progressed amazingly.

 

on Jan 09, 2012

Thanks a ton Sir for actually taking the plunge and investing in Solar Power.
I'm quite amazed (and not in a positive way) about the price you had to pay for it (unless it was a hugely custom system, and even then...).

If the 20,1 KW you mention is actually KW/p which I think you are hinting at, you payed 9950 US $ per KW/p and about 5000 US $ per KW/p from your end which whould translate to about 7800 / 3900 € per KW/p by todays US$/€-exchange rate.

Is that a common example of how expensive PV-Panels / installations of Size ~ 20 KW/p are in the US by 2011?

Coming from the country mentioned in the link of the above post from DrJBHL and being quite interested in the field myself.
To give you an example where my amazement is coming from: Average small to medium size for Installations Rooftop (10-30 KW/p) here are by end of last year, offers priced around 1800 € (translates to around 2300 US $) meridian according to "Photon" solar trade journal (admittedly they were at around 5000€ per KW/p just about 5 years ago with the bulk of the reduction happening in the last 3 years with about a 40% cut or more each year) . Ground Level-Installations on a large scale considerably less thanks to lower feed-in-tarif (which is most of the existing support, only minor other subsidies.). and economy of scale

The efficiency of Sunpower Cells sure is very nice though (current record holder of module efficiency on industrial-scale modules if I'm not mistaken with around ~20%)

No wonder it takes such a long time to pay back from a purely financial standpoint. Hope that will change soon for you in the US (which is rather likely given the large flow of modules flooding the markets from China and the pressure from there.)



@ DrJBHL: If you are interested in it, the main surge of renewable installations
(coming from below 3% of our electric Power mix to currently around 20% and mounting fast)
was after the Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz EEG got passed into law
(roughly translates into Renewable-Energy-Law, it was passed in 2000 following up on the Stromeinspeisegesetz from 1991 which rougly translates to electric Power feed-in law and the 100000-rooftop programme Everything before it is "merly" mostly scientific support not industrial scale application.).
on a parliament initiative bypassing our Government at the time and subsequently surviving all attempts to shot it down
(which continue to this day and have at least made the former simple Law so complicated that only a few niche lawyers understand it, even if the core aims and methods remain functional to this day to great effect)
not least thanks to its success and (wide and still mounting) support from the party who is footing the bill (up until the start of this year most users of energy paid per used KW/h of electrical energy used, excluding extreme users in the industry sector, recently additionally excluding lots of medium to large energy consumers in the industry sector as well.) and effects of large regional benefits to employment and public finance (community level mostly).
Players in the renewable energy industry/community are well on our way talking about an alternative energy system now (consisting mainly of fluctuating sources, propped up by fast reacting generators like gas-fired turbines and storage which unlike generation has quite a way to go) compared to the existing power system based mainly on large must-run units (which except for Gas-fired Power-Stations are not well compatible to fluctuating sources of renewable energies on a nationwide scale. Since they have to run all the time to be financially or in the case of nuclear technically possible)
inevitably leading to a conflict of non-compatible systems now that the threshold which the old system can bear without breaking technically, financially and by infrastructure is about to be passed (30% is what some sources say the current infrastructure can bear at most without adapting to the new sources in a major way. Many gauge it to be less than that.). Since the 4 big oligoplist energy suppliers here fight the change tooth and claw. Because it probably means they will cease to exist.
In the late 60s and early 70s nuclear was the new and prefered method to generate electric power pushed by the government (being disliked by the population here more or less from the start with ever growing passion.)
So no plan from start to finish here. Ongoing bitter struggle and development beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic actors in the PV industry/renewables industry itself describes it better (Germany's big Module- and Cell manufacturers currently go down the drain though. Unable to compete with prices of Chinese-Made modules and sadly recently even in quality by some accounts... Most profit, jobs and benefits are with the local craftspeople and PV-Owners though. Hence the above being tragic but not likely to stop the expanded use of renewables here.).

Current estimates for 2011 in newly installed PV-Power (for the year) is about 7,5 GW/p (according to the federal energy grid agency) which is bound to lead to some considerable political turmoil given our current government (or at least the federal industry ministry in struggle with the environment ministry) has tried to curb the ammount installed and is fearing the ammount it will cost the people who have to foot the bill (which oddly seem more afraid of other things like large nuclear and coal fired power blocks... Which they in large numbers on the streets demand closed or prevent being built, project by project, protest by protest).

Sorry for any grammar/spelling issues in advance. Not a native speaker.

on Jan 09, 2012

Blackmantle_
Sorry for any grammar/spelling issues in advance. Not a native speaker.

Pretty good all the same....

on Jan 09, 2012

Great work Brad.  Me and my significant other were just talking about solar-powering the next farm earlier today, and also the possible harnessing of potential wind energy as well.

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