Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Biggest U.S. Solar Panel Farm Opens

clipped from
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The biggest photovoltaic solar
panel array in the United States opened this week at a U.S. Air
force base in Nevada and the biggest array that sells power to
an electric utility began operation in Colorado, companies
involved said.
A 14-megawatt solar farm covering 140 acres opened at
Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada on Monday. It will
generate 30,000 megawatt hours a year and will supply about a
quarter of the electricity used at the air base. About 12,000
people live and work on

There are bigger solar farms in the United States, but they
are concentrated solar thermal projects that use mirrors to
heat water rather than to use panels to convert sunlight to

The Alamoso solar project in the southern part of central
Colorado, near the border with New Mexico, will generate about
17,000 megawatt hours each year, enough no-emissions power to
serve about 1,500 homes.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Start-Up Sells Solar Panels at Lower-Than-Usual Cost

clipped from
Nanosolar, a heavily financed Silicon Valley start-up whose backers include Google’s co-founders, plans to announce Tuesday that it has begun selling its innovative solar panels, which are made using a technique that is being held out as the future of solar power manufacturing.
The company, which has raised $150 million and built a 200,000-square-foot factory here, is developing a new manufacturing process that “prints” photovoltaic material on aluminum backing, a process the company says will reduce the manufacturing cost of the basic photovoltaic module by more than 80 percent.
Nanosolar, which recently hired a top manufacturing executive from I.B.M., said that it had orders for its first 18 months of manufacturing capacity. The photovoltaic panels will be made in Silicon Valley and in a second plant in Germany.
Nanosolar has focused on lowering the manufacturing cost
claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to
sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Would You Marry for Money? (And If So, How Much?)

Tell the truth, would you marry for money?
clipped from
Robert Frank’s wealth column
ooks at the growing number of men and women who want to tie the knot for assets, rather than love.
According to a survey by Prince & Associates, a Connecticut-based wealth-research firm, the average “price” that men and women demand to marry for money these days is $1.5 million. The survey asked people nationwide: “How willing are you to marry an average-looking person that you liked, if they had money?”
The column sites an infamous personal ad posted on Craigslist this summer, in which a twentysomething New Yorker who described herself as “spectacularly beautiful” wrote that she was looking for a man who made at least $500,000 a year. She’d tried dating men earning $250,000, but that wasn’t “getting me to Central Park West,” she said. (One investment banker replied that since his money would grow over time but her beauty would fade, the offer didn’t make good business sense.)
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Arctic Is Screaming; Global Warming May Have Passed Tipping Point

clipped from
An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.
Greenland's ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer's end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data

2007 shattered records for Arctic melt in the following ways:

552 billion tons of ice melted this summer from the Greenland ice sheet
A record amount of surface ice was lost over Greenland this year
Alaska's frozen permafrost is warming
White sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun's heat off Earth
Earth has hit one of his so-called tipping points
"At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."
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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

5th Anniversary of Barack Obama's Anti-War Speech


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Scott Strikes Again, the Solar Water Still

The post on the next page was extracted from another one of Scott's emails about solar energy. His latest brainstorm the solar water still. Please feel free to comment. Don't be afraid to be kind, funny, or mean.

Man, I never thought I would run out of space on my roof, but last night I was thinking about all the polluted water out there, and how I could use some Solar power to get some safe, clean water to drink.

When I was in Boy Scouts, we built this little gizmo out of a piece of plastic and the sun actually produced drinkable water "right out of the air". Pretty amazing stuff when you are stranded out in the woods and need something safe to drink.

So I was dreaming last night about Dave down there in Alabama drinking moonshine, and thought "Why not a Solar still?" Eureka!! My daughter screamed "Not from our lake! Dad, the ducks and geese constantly poop in that water, and the home-owners association is dumping herbicides in there every week to kill the weeds." Actually, I did notice some of those white PVC pipes running down from nearby houses right into the lake.

I want to take some water from the lake in my back yard and just eliminate all harmful microbes, chemical contaminates, salt, minerals, and any other impurities from any type of water using only the free evaporative power of the sun!!

I just happened to have added a new patio storm door to my house, and by some dumb mistake I actually ordered the wrong size door. I am pretty sure it was the HD clerk who miswrote the order, but since one can't return "special order" doors at HD, I was stuck with this nice piece of glass in a steel frame.

My still utilizes standard patio replacement glass (34"X 76") and has no moving parts, uses only solar energy to operate, and is self cleaning.

It is so efficient that solar distillation is still possible on partly cloudy and light overcast days. About 1/4 of the pure water produced each 24 hour day is at night after the sun sets. Stored heat inside the still helps to continue distillation process but at a slower rate. Boiling water to obtain the purest evaporated water is less effective than solar distillation because some chemical pollutants, and compounds will vaporize at higher temperatures above 200 degrees F but not at the lower solar still temps.

Pretty much, just a square black box, covered with glass, with some silicone caulking, and an input line from a plastic jug, with another output line down to our kitchen sink, with a small storage container sitting there. I used an old Clorox bottle. If you know anything about Clorox, it is really great to mix with water when you don't trust others to tell you the truth about your water quality.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My buddy Scott is saving $3000 a year on his energy bill

If you want to get bullish on America all you need to do is think about all the little guys coming up with ways to save on their energy bills. Well we have a genius buddy (a bit on the nutty side) that has been stringing together his wild ideas and is now saving more than $3000 annually on his home energy bills. Here is how he is air conditioning his house using solar energy and lake water.

My buddy Scott runs hot water under his floors for heat, turns lake water into air conditioning, and he is curently building an electric car. If we can get some people to send this blog post around the Internet and get some comments about this post, I think we can convince him to start writing this stuff up and sharing it with the world. Oh yeah, he also built a rear projection TV for a fraction of the cost.

The main body of this post (below) about how Scott air conditioned his house using lake water is actually an email. As such, Scott just typed this off the top of his head in answer to a question, How did you do it? It is a bit choppy.

Here ya go, how Scott air conditioned his house using lake water. Please feel free to comment and share this with others.

Basically, I went over to the MSU (Michigan State University) salvage yard where the university sells any junk they want to get rid of. I happen to see two humungus heat exchangers sitting their in a wooden crate. I asked the guy and he said they were brand new "never used". Just ordered and then sent for salvage. Knowing that they were filled with copper, I offered the guy a few bucks to get them out of his pile of junk. What I paid for them, versus what they are worth if I just hauled them down to the copper recycler was about 8 times my money. However, I am not in it for the cash, so I stuck them in the ductwork of my furnace. I found a Solar powered pump ($84), and hooked it up to a Solar panel (Bobby D is working on a Chinese supplier for the best prices), and dug a hole in the ground, deep enough to get 55 degree water.

(If you live on a lake, you want to get the water from below 10 feet). Heck, even Kevin knows from drinking polluted lake water in New York, the water gets colder deeper down. [Hopefully, Kevin will do some research and learn about all the US Naval experiments which were done in the Finger Lakes in the 40s and 50s. Some very nasty chemicals in those waters.]

So the sun shines, and the pump moves the 55 degree water through a pipe (aka hose), through the heat exchangers, and then you dump it wherever you want to (like in the sewer, or in your yard, etc). Heck, it is only 1 gallon per minute. Or you could do something really "cool" with it (get the pun?) Warning: big name Blog material coming up next.

HydroKool Systems

You take the "waste" water and run it up and spray it on the roof. I learned this from my friends on the island of Grand Cayman. If you bounce around the islands, like Jamaica, St. Thomas, etc. you will learn these cooling tricks. But you need to rub elbows with the big "movers and shakers" of NYC who have the huge yachts down there, like those people Bobby D knows.

So the cold, 55 degree water, meets the warm air in your house. The result is that the hot air becomes cold and the cold water becomes hot. I think I learned that part from watching that TV show "Are you smarter than a 5th grader". A solar fan spins and sends the cold air up to replace the hot air which came down the duct. Now as long as the sun shines, everything moves along nicely. If you are really serious, you just hook up a $78 battery instead, and have the battery power everything, and just use the solar panels to charge the batteries. Then you can run it during the night. However, if you learn about the moon, it doesn't really heat your house at night, so if you really keep you house cool during the day, it is OK to sleep all night while the system is NOT running.

Of course, the engineers at Siemens already know all of this stuff. I guess they are a lot like the car companies. They go around and buy up any systems which will reduce the gas consumption of your vehicle and "deep-six" it. You have all heard those true stories about the little guy who made an amazing carburetor in his garage, just to have Ford step in and buy it up...never to be seen again.

Any way ... I got to go. Some team from Carrier is at my door offering me $238 to stop writing about total nonsense.

Got to go!!

Comments are welcome, feel free to Digg It or send it to a friend.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Photovoltaic Systems Guide

The textbook covers the principles of photovoltaics and how to effectively incorporate it into stand-alone or utility-connected electrical systems. Detailed illustrations clarify the concepts behind photovoltaic-system operation, while photographs of actual installations show how components are integrated to form complete photovoltaic systems.

The Maryland-based National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee for the Electrical Industry has published an installation guide for solar energy systems.

The guide, called "Photovoltaic Systems," was authored by Jim Dunlop, leading renewable energy expert and curriculum specialist for NJATC, with Todd Stafford, senior director of instrumentation, alternative energy and International Training Center operations for NJATC as technical editor.

The textbook covers the principles of photovoltaics and how to effectively incorporate it into stand-alone or utility-connected electrical systems. Detailed illustrations clarify the concepts behind photovoltaic-system operation, while photographs of actual installations show how components are integrated to form complete photovoltaic systems.

The guide also includes an accompanying CD-ROM that provides interactive worksheets, quizzes, calculators, video clips and animated graphics depicting photovoltaic principles and operation and links to additional resources. The work is published and available through American Technical Publications.

"Renewable resources such as solar power have become increasingly important, but no authoritative reference to the design, installation and evaluation of photovoltaic systems existed within the industry," Stafford said in a statement. "This work is not just the first but the only textbook currently available in the field."

The NJATC is a joint program of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. The program has trained journeymen in the design and installation of solar energy systems for more than a decade.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Incredible Hybrid Solar Home--Enertia House


This house heats and cools itself bringing benefits to the homeowner and the environment. The Enertia House can make more energy than it uses! The house won the grand prize from the History Channel and the National Inventors Hall of Fame (first out of 25,000 entries).

From the Enertia website:

Q. WHAT IS Enertia?

A. Enertia is energy made useful by a shift-in-Time. In the 1980's Architectural Inventor Michael Sykes coined the term "Enertia®" for the useful energy that can be captured from thermal, rotational, or electrical inertia. Using inertia, 80% of world energy needs can be met with a simple shift-in-Time. Summer thermal buildup can be shifted to fill Winter thermal needs. Daytime solar gain to fill night-time needs. Downhill inertial gain to uphill power draw. No fuel or pollution is involved. Devices from flywheels to funicular railroads use "Enertia®". Inertia can multiply the usefulness of solar, geothermal, or even fossil-fuel energy. Enertia® is the energy, and inertia is the catalyst for it. Because inertia can move energy from a time when it is "useless" to a time when it is "useful," the resulting Enertia® is, literally, energy from the fourth dimension - Time.

Read about hybrid solar houses and designs.

Read about the
Science behing the house.

Read about

Home Page of
Enertia the Grand Prize winner.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Are alternative-energy stocks the new tech?

Are alternative-energy stocks the new tech stocks, or are they simply socially responsible stocks and funds in disguise?

Full text at the Robert T DeMarco Weblog

Monday, May 14, 2007

Global Warming Sparks Polysilicon Crunch and Opportunity for Investors

My energy guru Scott tells me it is very difficult to buy solar panels. To me this says "chicken on the hill for investors (money)". The article on the next page highlights the problem and the opportunity. If you have additional ideas or would care to promote a stock hit the comments button and "sound off".

By Matt Andrejczak

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Global warming is juicing the price of a key ingredient used to make solar panels, raising questions about what the longer-term impact of the current shortage will be.

Polysilicon is an essential raw material in the production of solar cells for panels that convert sunlight to electricity for homes, businesses and farms.

Since 2004, average contract prices for securing long-term supplies of polysilicon have skyrocketed, more than doubling to $70 per kilogram.

Not lucky enough to have a long-term contract? Spot-market prices for polysilicon are daunting: Expect to pay $200 per kilogram on the spot market, compared with the $150 paid in 2006, according to industry watchers.

The supply crunch has thrust the polysilicon business -- once the all but exclusive territory of semiconductor makers -- into high gear. Novel financing deals and new partnerships are afoot, with solar-module makers scrambling to secure long-term deals and chemical manufacturers scrambling to boost factory output by 2008 and beyond.

JA Solar Holdings (JASO) Last: 27.13

SunTech Power Holdings (STP) Last: 38.82

Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ) Last: 11.50

The situation is more acute for some solar companies than others.

Faced with escalating prices and tight supplies, two companies have swapped equity for polysilicon in pacts to help future sales. Those deals have raised eyebrows.
South Korea-based DC Chemical Co. acquired a 15% stake in Massachusetts-based Evergreen Solar Inc. (ESLR) Last: 9.55

In another deal, China-based SunTech Power inked a 10-year supply pact with MEMC Electronics Materials Inc. (MEMC) Last: 60.88

The Evergreen-DC Chemical deal, in particular, carried a "steep price to pay for polysilicon supply," said Jeff Osborne, an analyst at CIBC World Markets, which has helped take a number of solar companies public.

In mid-April, Evergreen agreed to issue 4.5 million shares of restricted common stock and 625 shares of restricted preferred stock to DC Chemical, which bought 3 million shares of Evergreen at $12.07 each. Under the supply deal, Evergreen is to receive enough polysilicon to make roughly one gigawatt of photovoltaic solar panels through 2014.

Supply crunch

The supply crunch is exerting collatetal pressure on the semiconductor industry, which has long been the primary buyer of polysilicon, the chief material used to make the wafers onto which microchips are stamped.

"Global warming is not good for the semiconductor industry. The solar industry is growing very rapidly. ... It's really created demand in past several years that wasn't there before," said Tom Linton, who negotiates polysilicon deals for Freescale Semiconductor, one of the world's larger chip manufacturers.

Before the solar companies came onto the scene in a big way, chip firms usually inked three- to six-month supply contracts with polysilicon producers. Now "you've started to see that elongate towards one- or multi-year contracts," said CIBC's Osborne.

The solar market's big polysilicon push came in 2006. For the first time ever, solar-panel makers consumed as much polysilicon as did the chip manufacturers, purchasing more than 50% of the silicon wafers produced in 2006 -- up from 10% in 2000, according to industry sources.

Polysilicon prices weigh more heavily on solar-panel makers, with the raw material making up 40% to 45% of the cost of goods per solar cell, compared with just 3% to 7% for a microchip. For that reason, solar-panel makers typically seek six- to 10-year supply contracts, Osborne reported.

On the solar horizon

The polysilicon shortage has stunted the growth of the solar industry, keeping it from expanding faster than the 20% pace it set in 2006, based on the number of installations worldwide. Yet a long-running supply-demand imbalance cannot be assumed, with forecasting polysilicon-market dynamics tricky and growing trickier.

For solar-panel manufacturers, future needs hinge on a number of questions:
How fast will solar take off in the U.S., Spain and other countries beyond Germany and Japan, the world's two biggest solar-installation markets?

How fast will solar-panel prices drop versus the price of electricity?

Will other solar technologies challenge the primacy of polysilicon?

"You have some questions there," said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, which has helped raise money for solar-panel makers. "No one is really sure how it will play out."

Such factors and others make it "difficult to accurately estimate polysilicon demand for photovoltaic production," agreed Gartner Inc. analyst Takashi Ogawa, who forecasts worldwide polysilicon demand.

Alternatives in alternative energy

MEMC, Hemlock Semiconductor, Renewable Energy Corp. and DC Chemical are all building or expanding manufacturing sites in a bid to relieve supply pressure. Meanwhile, new entrants are also moving into the market, as 88% of the polysilicon supply is currently controlled by five players.

It takes at least two years to construct a polysilicon factory, which cost between $500 million and $1 billion. "The reality is [that] some of these plants may be significantly delayed, and some of the polysilicon makers maybe overstating their plans," Pichel said.

By 2010, global polysilicon available for sale is expected to reach 99,500 metric tons, up from 35,400 metric tons in 2006, according to CIBC's latest forecast, issued in late April, which estimates 25% more polysilicon will be available in 2010 than its prior projection.

CIBC estimated an "acute shortage" through 2008. Relief could come in 2009 at the earliest, in CIBC's view.

But the supply shortage has inspired exploration of alternative solar technologies that don't rely on polysilicon, such as thin-film panels. Whether such alternatives demonstrate efficacy and whether the most ambitious polysilicon-capacity buildouts come to fruition will ultimately have a great deal to do with whether the polysilicon crunch tightens or turns into a glut.

Matt Andrejczak is a reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Alternative Energy Technologies in Action

They say seeing is believing. You can look at the live site feed for homes, schools and businesses on this very interesting website. This is truly fascinating to watch from a remote location as solar energy is being produced.

To take a look go to
Fat Spaniel Technologies Live Sites

You can click on the Miller Residence in La Mesa, CA under Alternative Energy Technologies and watch as they export rather then import energy during the day.

Source Fat Spaniel Technologies Live Sites

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Growth of Photovoltaic Solar Energy for Home Use


According to unpublished data from the US Department of Energy, 12,093 homes had PV solar cells in use in 2006, twice as many as were in use in 2004. The number is expected to just about double yet again in 2007.

By 2011, the number of homes using PV cells is expected to quintuple the 2006 levels, to 67,492.

Source XooxleAnswers

In the next five years, residential use of photovoltaic cells to produce electricty from the sun will see explosive growth, increasing more than five-fold.

According to unpublished data from the US Department of Energy, 12,093 homes had PV solar cells in use in 2006, twice as many as were in use in 2004. The number is expected to just about double yet again in 2007.

By 2011, the number of homes using PV cells is expected to quintuple the 2006 levels, to 67,492.

The average capacity of PV cells for the home is also expected to grow, from a 2006 average of 2 kW per residence, to 2.5 kW in 2011.

Spending for home photovoltaics is growing rapidly as well, with $61.5 million spent in 2006 and $185.2 million projected spend in 2007. Spending is projected to peak in the short term in 2010, at $409.9 million, according to the USDOE data.

The full USDOE dataset is available from XooxleAnswers, and includes residential and commercial profiles of installations, spend, and power capacity for PV solar, fuel cells and other energy sources.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Photovoltaics (defined)


Photovoltaics, or PV for short, is a technology in which light is converted into electrical power. It is best known as a method for generating solar power by using solar cells or solar photovoltaic arrays to convert energy from the sun into electricity.

Photovoltaic technology converts sunlight directly into electricity. It works any time the sun is shining, but more electricity will be produced when the light is more intense (a sunny day) and is striking the PV modules directly (when the rays of sunlight are perpendicular to the PV modules). Unlike solar systems for heating water, which you might be more familiar with, Photovoltaic technology does not use the sun's heat to make electricity. Instead, PV produces electricity directly from the electrons freed by the interaction of sunlight with semiconductor materials in the PV cells.

Friday, April 27, 2007

How To Build A Solar Energy Generator For Less Then 500 dollars

When you first heard about solar energy, you were probably interested in it because it was clean and low in cost. But you were probably discouraged when you were told that placing solar panels on your home would cost well over $20,000. However, what these companies aren't telling you is that you can build your own solar energy generator for less then $500.

Source Silent

It is an unfortunate fact that many large companies make money off the ignorance of their customers. This is especially true when it comes to solar energy. When you first heard about solar energy, you were probably interested in it because it was clean and low in cost. But you were probably discouraged when you were told that placing solar panels on your home would cost well over $20,000. However, what these companies aren't telling you is that you can build your own solar energy generator for less then $500. As you can see, knowledge is both power and value.

The parts for your solar energy generator can be purchased from regional stores. It is excellent for use in a power outage, and you can plug your computer, television, and other products into it. In addition to your home, it can be used while you travel. The first thing you will want to do is buy a solar panel. You should be able to get a solar panel which produces 12 to 16 volts of electricity for only $100. Solar panels can be found at RV stores. The next thing you will need to buy is a battery. It should be a 12 volt deep cycle battery, and it will need to be made from either gel, acid, or lead. A deep cyle battery can be used many times over. You should be able to get this for no more than $60.

The next thing you will need is a battery box. This will cover up the terminals, and is good if you are going to place it in your home or transportation. A battery box should cost no more than ten dollars. The third product you will want to buy is a DC meter which is 12 volts. It can be purchased from electronics stores for about $25. After this you will want to purchase what is called a DC input. They can be found at automobile parts stores, and should cost no more than $10. You will need it to power your DC products. For your AC products, you will need to buy an inverter.

The inverter can transform DC current from the battery into AC current. You will want to get an inverter which is 115 volts and 140 watts. It can be purchased at an automobile supply store for about $50. If you are looking for inverters which are even more powerful, they may need to be purchased online. Before you begin purchasing these products, you will need to know the number of watts your products use. For example, if your computer uses 20 watts and your microwave uses 40 watts, your solar power generator will need to be able to produce at least 60 watts. You will want it to give you as many watts as possible.

You will need to drill the meter and DC input to the top of the battery box. You will next want to attach the meter to the wingnut terminals of the batter with a insulated wire. The negative poles should be connected first. Connect only one wire at a time. You will then want to attach the DC inlet to the battery in the same manner. After this has been done, attach the solar panel to the batter using the same method. Now you will want to close the lid. Take the solar panel and put it in a place where the sunlight will strike it directly. It will take a maximum of 8 hours to charge a battery that is dead.

It can run fans and lights all night. You can also use larger panels, inverters and batteries to make it even more powerful. If you use larger panels, batteries, and inverters, you should be able to run televisions, computers, and video game consoles.

The Solar House, Part Two and Three

In fact, because we now generate more solar energy than we can use, we welcome friends who own electric vehicles over to charge their car batteries for free.

Solar, Part 2 (Aug 2004)

This month we reinstalled the 4-kW solar array over our main roof and put in place the 2-kW, triangle-shaped array of 14 panels over our garage. Our now 6-kW solar system includes a 4-kW inverter to convert the DC electricity coming from the solar panels into AC to power our appliances. Most homes wouldn't require a 6-kW system; we added the extra 2-kW solely to power up the 24 nickel metal hydride batteries in our Toyota RAV4 all-electric vehicle (seen in main image). In fact, because we now generate more solar energy than we can use, we welcome friends who own electric vehicles over to charge their car batteries for free. Cost: included in costs noted in "Solar, Part 1"

Battery Backup (Sep 2004)

To be prepared in case of blackouts, we installed an 8-kW battery reserve system. This includes an inverter and charge controller that regulate energy flow to and from the batteries. If the utility grid goes down and we have a string of very overcast days, our batteries will give us about three days worth of conservative electric use. If the sun is shining, we have unlimited energy, of course. Cost: included in costs noted in "Solar, Part 1"

Solar, Part 3 (Oct 2004)

This month we replaced our natural gas-fired water heater with an active, closed-loop solar hot water system (see the two gray solar panels visible on the left side of the roof) and a new 220-volt electric hot-water heater. Cost: $2,500

New Heating/Cooling (Jan 2005)

The final step in making our house comfortable involved replacing the old, five-ton heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system with a split-ductless heat pump/HVAC system. This is a three-zone system, with small units in the den, dining room, and upstairs master bedroom. The system has an outside central operating unit and a compressor-heat exchanger that is about half the size of a typical air conditioner. Cost: $4,200

Costs & Benefits

After $18,500 in rebates and tax incentives, the total cost for all our energy-efficient improvements and our solar system, including labor, came to $43,000. We calculated that, if we had not made the retrofit, our energy bills for 2004, including fuel and oil for a gas-powered car, would have come to $6,000. With the upgrades, we have no energy costs (except for $5 a month for the one therm of natural gas we use, mostly for cooking). Thus, our entire energy makeover will pay for itself in just over seven years ($43,000/$6,000 = 7.2). And because our loan for these improvements is based on home equity, the interest payments are tax-deductible.

Since we remain connected to the utility grid, Southern California Edison's time-of-use billing program measures our overall electricity consumption and production. Rates vary depending on season and peak versus off-peak hours. With normal sunshine, we can actually see our meter "feeding the grid." Our electricity production earns us "use-it-or-lose-it" credit from the utility. In summer peak hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), we can earn over 40 cents per kilowatt-hour; even during off-peak summer hours and in winter, we can earn credit. Each year, our credit amounts to between $200 and $300.

It's true that we live in warm, sunny California, which has some of the best rebates and tax incentives for going solar in the nation. But wherever you live, you can benefit from energy-efficiency and renewable-energy upgrades to your existing home and become part of the solution to global warming. See Resources for more general information. For more specifics on the Williamsons' retrofit, see this article published in Solar Today Magazine, from which our feature was drawn.

*Note: "Zero-energy" here refers to energy purchased, not energy used.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This Solar House, Part One

In this two part feature, Norma and Alan Williamson explain in detail how they went about a zero-energy retrofit of their home, which saves money, energy, and the global climate.

Solar House, Part 1 (Dec )
We moved into our 2,300-square-foot house around Thanksgiving 2003. Within a month, in order to make use of state rebates that would decrease after the first of the year, we purchased a 6-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system. Installation occurred in two phases. First, in December, we installed the 4-kW array of 35 sapphire-blue PV panels that you can see on the south-facing side of our main roof; eight months later we added the 2-kW set over the garage (see "Solar, Part 2" below). This 6-kW PV system supplies all our energy needs, from our home's heating and air conditioning to the "fuel" for our electric car. (To learn how PV panels work, see Inside a Solar Cell.) Cost: $36,000 (6-kW system; after rebates and tax incentives totaling $17,500, our out-of-pocket expenditures came to $18,500)

Insulation (Jan–Feb)
As part of our goal to make our home net-zero-energy—that is, generating more energy than is consumed—we set about improving our home's insulation. In January, we contracted a company to inject cellulose (recycled paper) insulation into the walls, bringing them up to an R15 level. (The R-value indicates the resistance of a material to the passage of heat and cold.) The following month, we replaced our leaky, single-glaze aluminum windows with dual-pane thermal windows. These are so-called "low-emissivity" windows, which keep winter heat in and summer heat out. We left our front picture window (behind car in main image and at left) intentionally non-low-emissivity, so the winter sun could warm our living room—a passive solar technique. Cost: $1,300 (insulation), $10,000 (dual-pane windows)

Roof (Mar–Jul)
To further increase thermal resistance, we decided to replace the roof and upgrade our attic insulation. In March, we removed the 4-kW solar array as well as the existing, substandard roof tiles. The following month, we brought the attic insulation up to an R30 level. Then, in June, we installed aluminized solar sheathing on the roof. This is a thermal reflective plywood that keeps external heat out and reflects interior heat back in. We also installed roof jacks (to hold up the solar array) and then a new composite shingle roof. Finally, in July, we put in a whole-house cooling fan and whole-house heat-recirculating system (as well as two skylights, one seen in the center of the roof). The fan cools the attic and ceilings when outside temperatures are high, while the heat fan shuttles warm air from the attic to the ground floor when outside temperatures are low. Cost: $300 (attic insulation), $23 per 4' x 8' board (solar sheathing), $4,000 (new roof), $600 (whole-house fan), $570 (whole-house heater), $1,450 (two skylights)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Building-integrated photovoltaic solar power


"Utility rates are only heading one way -- up," says Brad Dougherty, a mechanical engineer working with BIPV solar cells at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Solar power systems cost about 90 percent less than they did in the 1970s, and prices have been dropping about 5 to 7 percent each year, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association. Solar power is a hedge against rising energy prices.

Story by Denise Trowbridge
April 16, 2007

If you want free electricity from the sun but don't want rows of pool-table-sized solar panels destroying the lines of your roof, there's now an easier, more attractive solar option.

Building-integrated photovoltaic solar power, or BIPV, has taken the ugly and awkward out of residential solar power systems.

Simply put, BIPV is the mixing of solar power cells into materials you'd normally see on a building, such as roof shingles or the UV coating on a window or skylight.

It's most popular application is the solar shingle, where solar cells are glued or mounted to the surface of a common roofing material, such as slate, cement or asphalt. The shingles are then installed just like a traditional roof. The solar panels are no longer on the roof, they are the roof.

The technology has been around for about five years, but it's become more popular recently, thanks to declining prices, federal tax credits and state incentives for homeowners installing alternative energy systems.

Homeowners qualify for a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost of a solar power system, up to $2,000. The credit, which reduces the tax owed dollar-for-dollar, was set to expire in 2007 but has been extended through 2008. Most states offer additional incentives, including grants, low-interest loans and state tax deductions.

When combined, incentives can lower the upfront costs of installing a solar power system by 60 to 70 percent, says Noah Kaye, director of public affairs with the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The typical American household uses about 10,656 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, or about 888 kwh per month, which means a 6 kw solar power system would be needed to cover all of that home's electricity needs.

A one-kilowatt BIPV solar roof system costs about $14,000 before incentives, says Art Rivera, marketing representative for Sunslates, a solar roof tile manufacturer in Sacramento, Calif. At that cost, the typical American family would have to spend $84,000 to generate all the electricity it uses.

That price tag is out of reach for many Americans, which is why most homeowners opt for a partial solar electricity system. Most install 2 to 3 kw systems, Rivera says, which can reduce electricity bills by 25 percent or more. Homeowners on a budget also have the option to increase the capacity of their system over time, as they can afford it. Most solar electricity systems are modular, so more solar panels or shingles can be added to the current system after it's installed.

Each 1 kw shingle system requires about 100 square feet of roof space and produces between 1,600 and 2,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, depending on where you live. If electricity costs 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, each 1 kw of solar power would reduce your electricity bill by $160 to $225 each year for the life of the system. Solar shingles typically last 20 to 25 years, and are designed to withstand hail and tropical-storm force winds.

Lower utility bills for the future are a big part of the appeal.

"Utility rates are only heading one way -- up," says Brad Dougherty, a mechanical engineer working with BIPV solar cells at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Solar power is a hedge against rising energy prices.

"It's like buying a car that has 25 years of gas in the tank," Kaye says. "The fuel is free, so the upfront cost is the only cost."

Add in the environmental benefits, which include reduction of greenhouse gases linked to global warming, and it's a win for consumers.

It doesn't hurt that solar power systems can also boost the resale value of real estate.

"Homes with solar (power) sell for more," says Brad Collins, executive director of the American Solar Energy Society. "The resale value solar adds to a house is often more than the cost of the system."

That's music to homeowners' ears in a rocky housing market. It's also become a selling point for homebuilders.

Developments where BIPV solar roofs are standard issue are popping up all over California. About 30 neighborhoods there are using SunTiles, a BIPV roofing material, on all or most of the new homes built in those developments, including a 650-plot Lennar Homes project in Roseville, Calif., that claims to be the world's largest all solar-powered community.

But solar power isn't just for the Sunbelt. It can make just as much sense in Boston as in Albuquerque, N.M. "Photovoltaics produce 25 percent more power in Albuquerque, N.M., but Boston's electricity rates are much higher, so the savings are about the same," Kaye says.

Figuring out if it makes sense for your home can be complicated. The time it takes to recoup your investment in solar power varies by region, but some basic rules apply everywhere.

For instance, solar power does best on a south-facing roof. Electricity production falls about 15 percent if the roof is facing east or west. And the more you pay for electricity, the less time it will take to recoup your investment. There are online calculators to help you crunch the numbers for your neighborhood.

It may seem like common sense, but working solar into your home-improvement schedule can save money, too. If you need a new roof anyway, or if you're building an addition onto your home, installing BIPV instead of traditional roofing can be a good option, Dougherty says. The price tag is comparable.

"But if your existing roof is in good shape, it doesn't make sense to replace it," he says. If your roof has a few more years of life left, traditional rack-mounted solar panels might be a better choice.

Net-metering standards also come into play. Most solar roofs are net metered, meaning they are tied to the traditional electricity grid. Net metering allows homeowners to buy traditional electricity from the power company when their solar system isn't producing enough. When it's generating more than the homeowners need, they sell electricity back to the power company. Not all states allow net metering.

Installation costs vary as well, due to local labor costs. BIPV isn't quite a do-it-yourself project yet, but installation is simple. The pieces can be installed by just about any qualified roofer, and are then tied into the utility grid by an electrician.

If you're on the fence about solar power, it could pay to wait a year or two. In the near future, solar options might make more economic sense to more people. Solar power systems cost about 90 percent less than they did in the 1970s, and prices have been dropping about 5 to 7 percent each year, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.