Solar Technology?

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DJ Droood
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Solar Technology?

Postby DJ Droood » 14 Jun 2010, 19:08

So what opinons are out there on the current state of solar technology? If one was sold on the idea of alternative energy, and wanted to invest a not trivial sum of money on home solar, is now the time? In my mind, I see the computer technology surge of the 90's and think that spending thousands on solar panels to cover the roof of my house would be sort orf like spending thousands on 386 computers with a meg of ram in 1995, and the "investment" would be obsolete in a few years, replaced by something cheaper and much better. Is that a risk with solar? Is the technology about to get cheaper and much more efficient (and smaller) or is the technology in place now more or less what we will be using for the next 15 years or so?

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Nightfalls » 15 Jun 2010, 05:03

i hear wind energy is where its at. Someone is trying to get permits for offshore wind generators but i forgot where i read it.

Also i think Solar tech has advanced a lot the last few years and may be winding down soon. What will you do on cloudy or rainy days?
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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby DJ Droood » 15 Jun 2010, 11:46

i hear wind energy is where its at. Someone is trying to get permits for offshore wind generators but i forgot where i read it.

Also i think Solar tech has advanced a lot the last few years and may be winding down soon. What will you do on cloudy or rainy days?
Wind isn't really practical on my small suburban lot. And on cloudy/rainy days, hopefully you have a reserve in your battery array.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby joey_bernard » 15 Jun 2010, 13:39

There are several new solar developments in the pipe-line that look like they should actually reach commercial sales in the next 5-10 years. My wife and I are going to be building a new house in the next few years. What I'm planning on doing is running the required wiring and the needed structural support into the roof, but I'll probably hold off actually putting in solar panels until the new tech comes out commercially. This way we can put in the higher efficiency panels later when they come out, without having to pay for renovations later since we did the structural work up front.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby DJ Droood » 15 Jun 2010, 14:08

There are several new solar developments in the pipe-line that look like they should actually reach commercial sales in the next 5-10 years. My wife and I are going to be building a new house in the next few years. What I'm planning on doing is running the required wiring and the needed structural support into the roof, but I'll probably hold off actually putting in solar panels until the new tech comes out commercially. This way we can put in the higher efficiency panels later when they come out, without having to pay for renovations later since we did the structural work up front.
That is good thinking..I imagine the power storage and electrical system will remain as it is now...it was mostly the panel technology I am worried about....stuff like this, I find really interesting:

Solar roofing tiles

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby joey_bernard » 15 Jun 2010, 14:27

That is cool. But up here in New Brunswick, I'd have to also think about how to keep the panels clear of snow. I'll probably have to wire in heating elements that would need to fire up during/after any storms. And, solar will only be one part of the energy capability of our new house. I plan on being able to add in a small wind turbine, and some kind of in ground heat storage, and probably a green house that can act as a heat sink. I plan on minimizing my load on the electrical grid so that our local power utility doesn't need to develop these massive power production projects. I think we need to decentralize our power generation more than it is now, with the grid supplying back up for cloudy days, or no-wind days, or any other days when I can't produce enough myself. The design of the house will be such that it will already be ready for alternative energy sources and I'll just be able to plug them in when they come to market.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Corwen » 15 Jun 2010, 17:04

I suspect solar panels will always take a long time to earn back the energy and resources that went into making them. They seem a good solution for off grid and remote locations, but otherwise I don't think they are particularly green things to install where you have a mains connection (you'd be better off buying your power from a green energy supplier where this is possible, like in the UK).

The future of solar lies, IMO, in big solar power projects such as we are seeing in Spain, using solar power in the form of focussed heat to drive sterling engines and turbines rather than generate electricity through voltaic cells.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_tower
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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby DJ Droood » 15 Jun 2010, 17:13

I suspect solar panels will always take a long time to earn back the energy and resources that went into making them. They seem a good solution for off grid and remote locations, but otherwise I don't think they are particularly green things to install where you have a mains connection (you'd be better off buying your power from a green energy supplier where this is possible, like in the UK).

The future of solar lies, IMO, in big solar power projects such as we are seeing in Spain, using solar power in the form of focussed heat to drive sterling engines and turbines rather than generate electricity through voltaic cells.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_tower
I suspect you are right...although we would be able to stay on the grid and sell solar we produce back to the utility...but as an investment, it might not be the wisest choice. Perhaps geothermal heating might be a better bang for the buck.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby skh » 15 Jun 2010, 17:25

Perhaps geothermal heating might be a better bang for the buck.
Or solar water heating, which I believe is also a lot simpler to build than photovoltaic cells.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Dendrias » 17 Jun 2010, 18:52

I haven't done any reasearch, yet, but never became a friend with what I heard about the geothermal thing. One thing is that I always disliked the idea of penetrating Earth too deep to get something out. It might be limited. If there's something hot down there, let it be there. This may sound odd, as I'm using oil-products, but

the other thing is, that there have been some problem with the drilling here in Germany. So, my thought was, drilling might cause problems if you can't cope with underground-water coming up, going down, changing the ground or anything.

By the way: My wife and I are planning to build a flat into my father-in-law's barn, just on top of the barn's ground floor. The architect brought into the discussion a passive-house construction - she still has to do some research, but I at once was very excited (as was my wife). The other side of the coin is ... we might have to put a huge acorn down, in whose shadow I like to sit, in whose branches I used to climb, whose children I've got on my balcony. What a shock that was to me! Kill an acorn for bloody convenience? "No way" I said. Still I'm unsure what to think. Killing one acorn in favour of a huge amount of energy-saving? Well, "no way" I'm still saying.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Merlyn » 17 Jun 2010, 21:47

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/latin_ ... 333304.stm
Manipulating solar to reform a glacier? Time will tell.

Geo thermal isn't what some think. My home uses a closed loop, 8feet down, 200 feet long.

No ground water is used in this system. It cools the home using thermal exchange with the ground @ the constant of 50 degrees.
There are open loop systems, made some time ago, but generally being phased out.

Solar is my next step, on grid. Having reduced the energy footprint of the home, I can now work to eliminate it.
All day the solar will feed the grid and my home. End result if all calculations are done right will = 0
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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Jingle » 17 Jun 2010, 21:57

I am hoping my roof lasts long enough to get those roofing tiles shown above when we replace it. But someone pointed out to me that the problem with roof tiles is that if the house catches fire, how will the fireman put it out with all that electricity up there? :shrug:

There are advances being made now in solar farming - like tracking the panels to turn to always face the sun while it's out for maximum exposure. This is only for large scale farms right now, of course, but I honestly believe that home solar power technology is moving forward and will continue to move forward until everyone can afford panels (or sheets) on their property!

Alternatively, personal wind turbines are also all the rage. I've even seen some around us in the more rural areas. This technology will also come down in price as people find ways to optimize construction.
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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby DJ Droood » 17 Jun 2010, 22:31

Ihis technology will also come down in price as people find ways to optimize construction.
This is my worry...buying in too early.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Corwen » 18 Jun 2010, 00:01

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/latin_ ... 333304.stm
Manipulating solar to reform a glacier? Time will tell.

Geo thermal isn't what some think. My home uses a closed loop, 8feet down, 200 feet long.

No ground water is used in this system. It cools the home using thermal exchange with the ground @ the constant of 50 degrees.
There are open loop systems, made some time ago, but generally being phased out.

Solar is my next step, on grid. Having reduced the energy footprint of the home, I can now work to eliminate it.
All day the solar will feed the grid and my home. End result if all calculations are done right will = 0
Its complex, but I've heard it takes between 8 and 11 years for the average solar panel to generate the power that was consumed during its own manufacture. There are also heavy metal emissions during their manufacture. Only after that time will it start to generate power with anything like a carbon neutral impact. If you are storing the power in batteries they also have a big impact during their manufacture. So its only worth installing them if you live somewhere with decent sunlight and you plan to keep them maintained and running for their full lifespan. There is an interesting analysis here:
http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/03/ ... .html#more

I like geothermal in theory, though what the environmental impact is of the sometimes thousands of metres of plastic pipe used in big installations I wouldn't like to think about. Makes trying to reduce your plastic bag use seem redundant if you bury a couple of tons of plastic to power your heating system, and then run more of it through your CO2 emitting concrete floors for underfloor heating, like a so-called 'eco-house' down the road from us!

Passive solar seems great, though again I doubt the sustainability of exotic hi-tech windows featured on the Grand Designs type TV shows. We have a lot of cob houses round here and they work well, there is one down the road with a greenhouse on its south side which heats up the earth walls in the winter so the house hardly needs any heating, earth is a wonderful material for thermal mass. Passive heating and cooling does seem the way forward, especially if it can be done in low tech and sustainable ways with cob etc and clever wind catchers for cooling.

Wind turbines do seem good for off grid electricity generation on a small scale in the right location. However I think in a lot of these things they only make real sense when done on a large scale, with big turbines on a village or town level where economies of scale start to apply. Although the idea of self reliance is very attractive it doesn't always make ecological sense.

Personally I don't think you can beat living in a small, well insulated space, not heating unnecessary space used primarily for storage, and doing that little heating you do need with wood and passive solar, and buying your power from a green electricity supplier who can then put your money to good use investing in large scale solar, wind, hydro, biomass or tidal power.
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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Merlyn » 18 Jun 2010, 18:07

Hi Corwen,
Going geothermal is a lot more than installing an HVAC system.
This house itself has to have the ability to store heat or cooling. This is not possible for all homes, but can be for some.
My home was fit with the needed insulation value, windows and is half underground. These features make geothermal possible.
At this point, the polymite tubing used is a by-product of already available oil, so it's is either used for good or wasted, so I am not all too worried about it.
Given it is made as it is, it will never have to be replaced, as a one-time expense.

Geo-thermal can mean a few different things, but for home use, it is a tremendous savings to energy and the expence of it.
Considering that; the energy savings alone in just a few months will pay for the underground pipes, it isn't a hard deal.

Solar is really another issue entirely, and to use a battery house would be an outdated idea.
Rather now, we have UPS systems which will keep running any communication equipment. Past that, our back up is a generator which is only needed for very short times, an hour or three, if the power grid goes down.

Solar panels can equal usage, but only if the home usage is cut down by something like geothermal HVAC. The heat and cooling is the major expense.
Other appliances do add up, but pale in comparison.

Also granted, the smaller the home the better.

I am in study of solar, because this is a quickly advancing technology. The older kinds of panels are very quickly becoming obsolete, for the reasons you mention and that thay have short life expectancy. I agree that a panel which takes a lot of resource to make and has a life less than five years is a waste of time.

However, newer ideas are quickly becoming real.
It would not surprise me if a good ceramic alternative is in the works, one which is more permanent.
Using crystals and such is being advanced also. However a $25,000 expense to fit a home is still too far a leap.

My real vision would be;
All homes having solar roofs, in essence feeding more into the grid than ever needed.
But that would require technology to bring price way down.

Really, the home must use less than $250.00 of electricity total each month to even be worth it, to making solar work.
Believe it or not, there are homes in my area paying from $700.00 up to $12,00.00 PER MONTH! There is no gas, so they are all electric, well, heat, everything.

I had no such problem, but did need to do some work to get under the $250.00 mark for my home and studio, farm, all on one.
We are there now, and the studio was built with south facing roof, 6-12 pitch exactly right for solar, big enough surface to take enough panels.

The house was not set correctly for this, built long before I moved in, however it did at one time have solar, and a large switch that took the entire home off the grid and onto the panels, an 800 amp switch.

This was removed for some reason, long before I moved in, but the switch and all was still there.

More work and research to do, but getting there.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby arjelou06 » 02 Jul 2010, 05:04

Well, that information was great for you, and I am also happy to know that. Geothermal power is considered to be sustainable because any projected heat extraction is small in comparison to the Earth's heat content. And it really had benefits to us, there are many inventions that are using geothermal.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Kernos » 16 Jul 2010, 15:10

Ihis technology will also come down in price as people find ways to optimize construction.
This is my worry...buying in too early.
As electricity costs increase, and they will, the cost of solar will make more sense. There have been a lot of advances in materials which will be interesting for the future, from flexible and transparent panels (for windows, eg) and even solar paint. There are amazing advances coming for storage of electrons as well.

Unfortunately, it is too late, without a massive disruption in human cultures. The oceans as we know them are dying; weather patterns are changing; tipping points are being approached.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby DJ Droood » 16 Jul 2010, 16:48

Unfortunately, it is too late, without a massive disruption in human cultures. The oceans as we know them are dying; weather patterns are changing; tipping points are being approached.

:terra:
possibly...I see preparations, like investing in solar, as building a "life raft"....the more you can be self-sufficient, the better you will be able to survive dramatic changes...we are (sub) urban dwellers, so can't grow our own food, but being able to generate power might make a difference.

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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby Merlyn » 13 Sep 2010, 16:20

I'll bump this up with a very amazing idea;
Solar roads.

Take a peek at this video and see what might be a solution to many problems
http://www.wimp.com/solarhighways/

Asphalt is becoming rare, as oil.
Glass however is made from sand and the base of the solar road from all the trash on earth.
The result; a road that creates enough energy to power your car and home, right to your garage or front door.

It is a smart road, able to do many things.

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http://www.standardsolar.com/Solar-Powe ... 5QodVkKYLA
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Re: Solar Technology?

Postby katie bridgewater » 13 Sep 2010, 18:57

One thing is that I always disliked the idea of penetrating Earth too deep to get something out. It might be limited. If there's something hot down there, let it be there.
Solar electricity does dig into the earth, probably more than geothermal. The silica needed for the manufacture of solar panels is mined.
In the Cordillera del Cóndor in Ecuador, the unique vegetation of the sandstone plateau and its endemic species will be seriously threatened by the proposed increase in silica extraction caused by growing global demands for it. Then there's seabed sand mining which damages and destroys the delicate ecosystems of our reefs and coastline.
Those who work in quarries and in the cutting of stone are at risk of silicosis, a lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to silica dust. The metals used in the electrical components are also mined, and often processed by people working for appalling wages in unacceptable conditions.

IMO It is always good to remember where everything comes from, how it has been made and by whom, and then, if we give a monkeys, use as little as possible and make it last. In some circumstances, solar power generation may be the best way to create electricity for those who cannot live without it, but the more solar panels we make, the more damage we do to the land we extract silica from, and the more CO2 we release in the mass production of these panels. eg, I have a friend who specialises in setting up solar powered barges. The amount of non-renewable resources required for the solar system in such a boat (not to mention the toxic heavy metals, and the energy required to make all the gubbins to convert your barge in the first place) seem to me more awful than keeping the old diesel engine which can run on either diesel of recycled vegetable oil.

I would like to see more environmental responsibility displayed by the companies who sell us these products claiming they are the solution to 'saving the planet', and a deeper, joined-up thinking applied by individuals and organisations alike to the global problems we have collectively caused. I don't believe technology alone will save us, I think we need to use our savvy to reduce consumption right down to a minimum and then insist that any solar panels we buy have traceable provenance if we decide we need them. And then we need to keep them working for decades until they pay for themselves.


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