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The Solar Power Thread


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I'm starting this thread as a place for a general discussion of existing solar power technologies and current or potential terrestrial applications. By this I mean to exclude space-based solar power systems for terrestrial consumption, as there is no serious planning for a system that, while technically possible, reeks of sci-fi (besides, it has its own thread). I kind of expect this thread to fork between residential/commercial discussions and an idea I just came up with using giga-scale deployment. So while this thread is meant to be focused on solar power, I realize that the tendrils may wander astray and that is fine.

I am curious to hear the experiences of anyone here who has or had a residential solar power system. I live in a townhouse complex,  so going solar here is not really an option. but it intrigues me. My only experience with solar aside from fence-post lights is the recently installed 100W panel on our RV, which hasn't really been put to the test aside from keeping the batteries topped up. I know it's not really enough, but it's a start (the charge controller was the main thing to get), and hopefully we'll try going off-grid this year.

I have to shake my head at the lack of thought that went into this complex: our unit has three large windows facing SW onto our small "yard", which is mostly concrete tiles. So it absolutely bakes in the summer afternoon sun, meaning we need AC. And where is the condenser? Out in that same yard, baking in the Sun. That can't be good for efficiency.  During the recent heat waves, the AC unsurprisingly could not keep up. We finally just picked up a ten-by-twelve awning to shield some windows; it's not installed yet but hopefully it will help. Sure, a tree could help; but the one we planted two years ago and was promising shade this year failed to survive our unusually cold snap last winter. And then there's the dead leaf clean-up. But what we really need is a louvered patio cover to keep more sun out of our yard ($$$!). Then I start thinking of having photovoltaics on the louvers ($$$$$$!). I have no expectation of powering our whole unit, but if it could shave off our Step 2 usage... (BC Hydro does not use Time-of-Day billing because they promised not to when the smart meters were rammed down our throats. Instead we pay 9.41c/kWh for the first 666kWh, then 14.1c/kWh after that). And that "Step 2" usage sure spiked last month with the AC running nonstop. Unfortunately, the cost of wiring is pretty constant regardless of installation size, so it is not very economical for such a small install. Perhaps getting all five units on our strip done would provide some economy of scale, but getting the other units to buy in could be a non-starter. Still, just a louvered cover would be a big help, I think, to make the yard livable and AC more efficient. Even good exterior window coverings would help keep the heat out, at least. Storm shutters are out of fashion since glass got stronger (I assume that's a reason), but maybe a version needs to come back, to keep the heat outside the building. Sure, we have blinds and curtains, but the heat is already inside at that point. Perhaps exterior blinds with a material like this...

  When I cogitate on it, I realize that efficiency and renewable planning is next to non-existent here, even as Vancouver likes to tout some of its LEED-certified high-efficiency buildings. Chilliwack has been booming lately, with multiple new large residential developments going up simultaneously (I dread traffic in a few years; it's already bad and planned road upgrades will probably not be enough). But no thought towards potential future solar upgrades, efficiency, etc. I dislike the recent architectural styles with peaks going every which way; it smells of inflated roofing cost in an overheated housing market to me. And it's certainly not conducive to solar, which I admit only recently became barely competitive. Which is another thing in BC; there are no grants for solar, probably because we will have globs of power from the in-troubled-progress Site C dam project. The BC Hydro site pays lip service to solar; saying panels last 25 years and would take 20 years to pay for itself (in other words, not encouraging while not actively discouraging). At the risk of cookie-cutter neighborhoods, IMO developments should run east-west, with plain south-sloped roofs suitable for solar collectors (thermal? PV? whatever!) and rainwater collection (rainwater cisterns for irrigation use should be a standard thing!). Then HVAC can be situated on the shady, cooler northern side.

I suppose our latitude makes PV less useful, but I think if there's enough sun to farm there should be enough for PV. Which brings me to a concept which recently occurred to me: fighting polar warming* with PV. I'm talking massive deployment of PV units. The first step, of course, would be a massive expansion of PV panel manufacturing, preferably on highly-automated production lines. These would be deployed across ice fields and especially polar seas everywhere (yes, PV buoys), with the objective of shading as much polar surface as possible; to prevent warming of permafrost and sun-absorbing polar waters and encouraging reflective polar ice. The low elevation of the Sun at these latitudes means a panel can shade a few times its own surface area. These units would need to be able to track through the endless polar days, and be cabled together and to nearby settlements as much as practical. Using batteries to store such a glut of power would be uneconomical; it should be much easier to store and transport large amounts of energy in the form of hydrogen. Centralized electrolyzers  would fill tanks for collection and transport to wherever needed (a new polar profession: hydrogen harvester, probably automated before it even becomes a thing); when more storage is needed, just add more tanks. Fuel cells and hydrogen-powered ICE generators would provide heat and power through the long polar winter nights. Panels would enter a winter mode as polar night sets in, using reserved power coming back through the cables from the electrolyzer plants to re-activate (melting itself free of ice and reorienting) when the sun finally rises again.

* - While most concern is focused on the Arctic, there's no reason this wouldn't work in the Antarctic as well. For those not aware; the Arctic region is of great concern because melting permafrost releases lots of methane, a much more potent GHG than CO2. Also, as the reflective sea ice recedes, it opens more sun-absorbing water which speeds the warming and melting of yet more ice. And freshwater melt from the Greenland ice sheets can float where the Gulf Current should sink, stalling the current that keeps northern Europe temperate. So yeah, I think shading the Arctic could be a big step in fighting global climate change. And generating power at the same time is a bonus, especially for a region that finds itself mostly limited to diesel generators or extremely long, vulnerable transmission lines.

So, discuss! I'd really like to hear about other's solar experiences, and any feedback on my polar shading concept is welcome, of course.


Edited by StrandedonEarth
not enough proofreading
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As a Chilliwack person (I don’t know would I go as a Chilliwackian?) I have felt all the consequences of traffic because of new houses. The road up to promontory mountain is crazy. Sure it got 2 new lanes but with all the condos going up it won’t help too much. Chilliwack is in a bit of a pickle right now :/.

I also agree with the fact all the new roofs should be used for solar power. Sure in the fall and winter (not much snow it’s mostly rain :D) it’s cloudy and there’s not much sun. However in the past month it’s rained, eh, maybe once? Solar power could benefit Chilliwack and other communities so much! With all the roofs going up why not? Chilliwack is one of the last affordable places to live near Vancouver so hopefully before we become as big as Abbotsford there is some  improvements before it’s too late. I think we just hit 100 000 and in 2000 it was more like 30 000-50 000 so we are not far…

Edited by Stormpilot
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  • 4 weeks later...
11 hours ago, GoSlash27 said:

An interesting lecture on the costs and benefits of solar...

This is definitely outdated. Prices have actually dropped significantly, and longevity of panels improved. Insolation, of course, is still a huge factor, but there is no part of US where solar isn't drastically cheaper than grid prices.

That is, until you start looking at energy storage. If your power company gives you a good rate on pushing power to the grid, you should get solar. Sell electricity to the power company during the day, buy at night. If you live in a place with very expensive electricity (E.g., parts of California,) definitely get solar - cost of lithium battery installation AND the solar panels with labor is going to be lower than what you are paying for electricity. But in most of US, if you install panels and batteries, you'll be paying more than your electric bill. Now, that might still make sense. You aren't at risk of power outages, you are protected against electricity price hikes if new regulations come in, you might still be getting good use out of the system after you're done paying it off, and you get to feel good about helping the environment. But not everyone's going to be able to afford to think this way. In fact, most people won't. And this gets even worse for renters. I can easily throw a couple of Tessla batteries in my garage, put up solar panels on the roof, and pay the same money I pay to electric company to the bank instead. A few days of construction noise, and I've done my part for the planet. But if you want to provide solar for an apartment complex, well, that's an adventure. Roof to living area ratio is nowhere near that generous, and the power banks not only take up a lot of space but start to present real hazard that you probably aren't allowed to keep on the same property as the apartment complex.

But the trend's in the right direction. In 2015, when that video was made, there were very few places where solar made financial sense for anybody. It was a self-imposed green tax. Now we're at a place where it's just a cheaper way to power your home for a lot of people. And a lot of progress has been made on making it work on industrial scale. The main problem being, again, storage, with a number of ambitious projects running all over the place using batteries, flywheels, hydroelectric storage, and even silly things, like compressed air underground. Some of it is promising and even operates as various pilot projects as part of the power grid.

So this stuff's happening. Just isn't clear if it's fast enough.

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2 hours ago, K^2 said:

This is definitely outdated. *snip* In 2015, when that video was made...

 It was recorded in 2019; 2 years ago. Things haven't changed that much.

 A quick google search shows that today's (2021) installed cost per peak watt is in the range of $2.53 to $3.15. Definitely an improvement, but still not competitive with most energy prices.





Edited by GoSlash27
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14 hours ago, GoSlash27 said:

It was recorded in 2019; 2 years ago. Things haven't changed that much.

It was uploaded in 2019. He explicitly says that it's being recorded in 2015 in that video.

14 hours ago, GoSlash27 said:

A quick google search shows that today's (2021) installed cost per peak watt is in the range of $2.53 to $3.15. Definitely an improvement, but still not competitive with most energy prices.

Insolation in much of Western and Central US is 4kWh/day/m2. Direct peak solar power is 1kW, so you need 6kW peak per 1kW average. Modern panels have warranty of about 10 years (they can serve 20+, but lets take risks out of it) and degrade at about 1%/year in capacity. So 1kWh average gives you 10 * 0.95 * 365.24 * 1kWh = 3,470kWh over a decade. Lets take your upper end of $3.15 per kW peak. That gives you $18.90 per average kW. Dividing this cost by the 3,470kWh we get from it comes out to 0.5 cents per kWh. If you live in northern parts of New England, that will go up to about 0.75 cents per kWh. There is NOWHERE in US that has electricity costs under 1 cent per kWh. Here in California, I'm paying 25-30 cents per kWh.

In fact, I'm pricing out an installation for my home right now. Getting the contractors to come in and install the panels AND a pair of Tesla power wall batteries to average out the day-cycle use and provide backup power just in case, plus the wiring work to install necessary breakers and overall get everything up to code, and doing financing through the bank for the next 10 years, I pay absolutely nothing up front, and what I pay to the bank every month will be less than what I'm paying to the electric company right now. That's how cheap the solar has gotten.

Now, I realize not everyone can do full replacement. Battery is the part that costs a lot of money and takes up a lot of extra room, making it completely impractical if you don't have the space for it. In California, electricity prices are high enough that if you own a house, this makes sense. Somewhere out in Mid-West? Not so much. But you can still get solar panels and supplement your day power use and still be saving money. Honestly, if you own a house in US, you should have solar.

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