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Questions about wind and solar power

Post in 'The Green Room' started by iman, Mar 30, 2007.

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  1. iman

    iman New Member

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    I have thought that wind and solar power are great. The cost seems a little high for the equipment. My question is how long does it take before you break even with solar and with wind. Is it months, or years. Is solar more reliable than wind? Do all wind turbines have to be 100 feet in the air? You also hear about people selling the power back to the power company how many panels do they have? Is that really even hapening?
    just a few questions that I hope you could anser

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  2. Andre B.

    Andre B. New Member

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    I believe that most people doing solar and wind on a small scale and without government subsidies never do break even. They may on paper but the real world always seems to be more expensive in maintenance costs.

    They are just doing it because they want to (how long does it take for the average snowmobile to break even) or because they are located well beyond the end of the grid and the grid extension costs were more then the PV/wind system.

    In my system the PV provides more on average but the wind generator often picks up the slack when its been cloudy for a few days.

    How high you put them depends on where you put them, you want them 20 or 30 feet above anything within a few thousand feet. But like anything what you want may not be what you can get I have a 1000 watt gen about 15 feet (and that is shrinking every year) above trees that are only 100 feet away on three sides. She gets hit by turbulence fairly often and spins around out of the main wind.

    Yes some are selling power back, size seems to depend on how big the tax break they could get.
    I personally would never consider it. Just gives more people more power to tell me what to do and how to do it.
  3. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    I think it depends on what you want to run with your system... and where you live.

    http://www.otherpower.com/wardsolar.html

    This guy isn't putting much $$ into it, but he doesn't use much power.


    Matt
  4. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Excuse the ignorance here but is anybody generating electric power from boilers like the fancy one Eric is going to be installing? Seems to the novice that one of those few hundred thousand BTU boilers could make it some steam.
  5. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    I'll testify to the fact PV can work...allthough I'm slightly biased because I'm also an electrician. The area of Massachusetts I'm in has been actively testing both these for over twenty years. The project is going strong...wish it would expand. Here in Gardner a resident I talked to that has PV panels on her roof (utility supplied)said she get's a check from the utility company... How can you beat that!

    http://www.waquoitbayreserve.org/pdf/renew.pdf

    http://www.energybulletin.net/648.html
  6. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    http://www.nesea.org/education/ycleanenergy/worcester.shtml

    BB This is why I would like to have a get together "In my neck of the woods"

    http://www.mwcc.mass.edu/renewable/documents/NESEA.pdf

    Like that link above...I'm going to be making some phone calls on Monday for a tour!

    Right in my backyard...I gonna take lotsa pictures...
  7. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    I believe there are a few select areas where people are saving money - but like you say, only with generous state incentives, and very high power costs from "conventional" sources. I looked into it a bit and it seems like the returns are in the mid single-digits. But that is only possible because in NY, you can get a ~$32,000 system for about $10,000 after state rebates to the PV supplier (passed to customer), state income tax credits, and the federal income tax credit. This is the sweet spot that maximizes your tax benefit since some are capped at flat values. Start taking any of those away, and it becomes a tough proposition. Then again, if your current power cost was $0.18/kWh versus our $0.10-$0.12/kWh, it could be quite attractive.

    -Colin
  8. wg_bent

    wg_bent Minister of Fire

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    Hey Colin... I'll split one with you. :)
  9. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    I'd like to do it but I'd have to cut down so many trees to maximize the PV output that I'd likely add half of what I produced right back in the form of air conditioning expense. That is why I think PVs make the most sense in typical new subdivision construction - typically a bunch of houses dropped in a farm field without a tree in sight, and then they can offset their impact in adding to the grid.

    If we ever clear out some area and put in a barn, then I would likely put it in on the barn roof. But right now, I like the good shade around the house.

    -Colin
  10. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Technological advances are going a long way toward helping payback - better wind and solar equipment - lower prices and (shudder) tax credits.

    There are a mention of this unit in the NY Time yesterday - looks really nice and priced well - about 12K

    http://www.skystreamenergy.com/skystream/

    As I have said before, I think the best use of these technologies is on a large utility scale. While I applaud independence, the fact is that we are an Urban and Suburban country and it would be stupid and difficult to have wind machines poking up all over the place. Putting them in the right places - such as offshore and certain mountain passes, gives vastly higher dividends as the output of a wind machine follows the square of the wind speed (???)

    So, my guess is that means.....
    10x10=100 units of energy off a 10 MPH wind
    20x20=400 units of energy off a 20 MPH wind

    So 4 times as much just by putting it in the right place. Also, I fear that lots of small generators will mean lots of "dead" generators (like first generation pellet stoves) as companies go out of business or homeowners fail to repair them. Large scale units can always be repaired, replaced and maintained.

    Enclosed is a wind chart for New England which shows - in the pinks and reds - that virtually ALL wind generating capacity is offshore.

    Attached Files:

    • wind.jpg
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  11. JayY

    JayY New Member

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    Colin,

    I am a fellow NYer with a nice clear southern view. If you still have your sources handy I would like to see them. What are the details of the $32,000 system you looked at? What incentives did you find? I know of the 30% federal credit and the $4 off/Kw through NYSERDA. I think I could stomach $10,000 as long as the ROI was positive. I believe I pay about $0.135 a KW and use about 550kw.

    Thanks
  12. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    Sure, it was somewhat confusing, but let me see if I can recreate it - hopefully this is all right, but interested in corrections if not:

    You can first get an idea of actual system costs installed in New York from the following site:

    http://www.clean-power.com/PowerNaturally/Default.aspx

    Looks like typical prices run around $8300 per KW - so for a 4 kW system, you'd be at $33,200.

    You then get the residential incentive of $4/watt (up to 5 kW max) - this puts you at:

    ($33,200) - (4000 watts)*($4/watt) = $17,200

    http://www.powernaturally.org/Programs/Solar/incentives.asp

    You then get the NY State Income Tax Credit which is the lesser of 25% or $3750:

    http://www.tax.state.ny.us/pdf/2004/fillin/inc/it255_2004_fill_in.pdf

    $17,200*0.25 = $4300 - instead, you take the $3750 max credit

    This drops you down to $13450

    Finally, assuming you can avoid AMT, you get the federal solar tax credt which is the lesser of 30% of $2000:

    $13450*0.30 = $4035 - instead, you take the $2000 max credit:

    This drops you down to $11450, which is a total 66% savings on the cost of the system.

    You could fine-tune this a bit and help minimize the cost per KW by possibly going with something slightly smaller like a 3.5 kW system. In that case, using all the same calculation assumptions, you'd have the following:

    Full price: $29,050
    Your price after creidts: $9300
    % savings: 68%

    That being said, as you go smaller, the cost per kW goes up - there is a sweet spot between scale of the system and maximizing tax incentives.

    -Colin
  13. Rhone

    Rhone Minister of Fire

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    The problem with solar PV panels, sunlight does not convert to electricity well. It's something like 15%, the other 85% gets converted into heat. Worse, the hotter they get the less efficient so when the sunlight is at its strongest the panels are at their hottest and least efficient. If just a single cell gets blocked on the panel, their efficiency drops 50% because that one cell acts like a resistor the others have to overcome. I went to a solar fest a few years back and got a quote for $26,000 to put PV panels on my roof that would drop my electricity by $19/month. There's some serious incentives needed to break even, and there aren't enough were I live.

    What sunlight converts well to is heat. Using sunlight to heat water instead they're 70%+ efficient. I saw a thing where, they used mirrors to aim sunlight at a ball full of water to create steam that later turned turbines. Since sunlight converts so well to heat if I recall that technique of turningn sunlight into electricity was 55% efficient which blows PV panels away and accomplishes the same thing. As Andre B. says, many people Andre included get wind generators and PV. When it's a clear sunny day it's not usually windy, when it's cloudy and stormy it's not usually sunny (but windy). So, the wind mill fills in for the bad days (and windy nights) and the PV panels for the good calm days. Some places require any wind mills to be the same distance away from any dwelling as the height of the tower to prevent the chance it falling on said dwelling. Get a 200 foot tower, you usually need to have it at least 200 feet away a 100 foot tower needs to be at least 100 feet away so a windmill isn't something that can usually be done in suburbia, other reasons as well. I don't know as much about wind power as I do solar.
  14. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I think you're off by about a factor of ten on that one, BB. Something like 2mm btus would be more like it. Of course, then you'd need a license to operate it.

    I can just see it now: "Damn it you guys, turn that thermostat down below 60 if you know what's good for you! How'm I gonna save up for your college tuition if we don't keep pumping electricity back into the grid? If you want to warm up, get out there and split some more wood!"

  15. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    Part of the reason why solar thermal makes a lot more sense to do first - also helps explain why states like New York can consider solar - the cooler temperatures help efficiency.

    -Colin
  16. jjbaer

    jjbaer New Member

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    even with solar, the payback is about 25 yrs. That $10,000 solar system might save you from a yearly $900 or so electric bill but you're giving up about 5% interest you could get if you DIDN'T lay-out the $10,000 for the solar powered system. So, you save $900/year by not getting power but forgoe $500/yr in interest for a net savings of about $400/yr....payback is then about 25 years, maybe less with interest AND at 25 yrs, you're approaching the life expectancy of your system.....so...even with Gov help, the payback is a long time. Note: calculation changes if you net meter back to the electric company.
  17. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    In all honesty, I'm not even sure you'd save $900/year in most cases - at least not at today's energy prices in New York.

    A couple things to keep in mind though -

    When you buy electricity for $900/year, unless you are a business, you buy it with after-tax income. If you nominally earn 5% in a no-risk CD, you pay tax on that interest. After tax, you might get only $320 instead of $500.

    Additionally, the calculation you have assumes constant electricity prices saving $900/year forever. If electricity rises with inflation, your savings go up over time, and that can tilt things quite a bit.

    The best way to analyze these is a ROI cashflow calculation of your up-front outgoing expense vs. avoided expenses year by year, which might include an inflation component. And whatever ROI you calculate should be viewed as an after-tax ROI. You'd need to find a comparable after-tax investment to compare against to decide if it's worth it. (a municipal bond, for example)

    All this does make the point that the payback requires some careful calculation when getting into solar PV systems. For what it's worth, solar thermal generally has much more promising payback with nearly any set of assumptions under the tax credits currently available in many states.

    -Colin
  18. jjbaer

    jjbaer New Member

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    You're correct, you really need to do a spreadsheet, by year, and look at present values and ROI however, the truth is that with long-term investing in the stockmarket, you could come close to a 5% after-tax gain and not 5% pre tax as in the CD example.

    My point is however, that even with MASSIVE Gov give-aways (they give you $25,000 or so towards a $35,000 PV system so you only shell-out $10,000) that the payback is many, many, many years away, especially for after-market installations. And that calculation doesn't (in the case of someone going off the grid and having massive battery banks, etc) include the maintenance costs of say new batteries every 3-7 years, a panel or two "dying", an inverter dying, the added cost of re-roofing with panels in-place (if the panels are roof-top mounted), etc., all of which drives the cost up even more and lengthens the payback period. One inverter alone dying adds a few thousand to the calculation.....

    Right now, for the average consumer, solar isn't anywhere near being a viable alternative regardless of what people tell you....... The basic problem is two-fold: 1) panels are woefully inefficient and 2) they're expensive. Time and research will drive the first one up and the latter one downward and at that time, solar MAY be viable.....but not now for the average consumer especially in after-market installations.

    Note: In CA they're integrating them into new homes and given the greater solar radiation they receive coupled with lower costs associated with mass-producing these systems in new homes, they tend to become more affordable.
  19. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    Agreed - in fact, one of the other major issues is that if you are on the grid, you have to sell back as "net-metering" - if you are only able to sell back at wholesale rates, you'll never pay it off. The battery backups should really be compared to something like an automated backup generator system - not as a cost savings measure.

    As for CA, their plan is a good one - most of these things are easy to build into houses - harder to add later. We were very lucky to have a small chase that we could run our solar HW piping through. Without that, we would have been trying to go through closets or some other much more difficult solution to get things installed.
  20. jjbaer

    jjbaer New Member

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    Yes,

    you're correct.....many areas only let you sell back at the utilities cost to generate power and not the distribution cost. Ex: it costs the utility near me 5 cents to generate a KW-hr and 5 cents to distribute (10 cents/Kw-hr total) it but you only get the 5 cents generation cost back when you sell residual power to the utility....you're still making money but not as much as otherwise. And many set-ups, to avoid using batteries, will only supply power to the house and net meter the rest but have no battery banks (i.e., there's no storage capability) which is fine but it means that during a power outage, you have no power.....LOL
  21. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    iman,

    I have been contemplating solar power also but the payback (on paper) is upwards of 15 years. This is for a significant PV system generating 5KW and 'selling' it back to the utility. Without a greater tax/rebate advantage it just doesn't seem to pay.

    Erik
  22. TruePatriot

    TruePatriot New Member

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    iman:

    I just spent a week picking the brain of a sales mgr. for one of the largest solar integrators in the country. I did this to prepare to interview him for a special Earth Day radio show I hosted, on solar power.

    Okay, here's your question:

    And here's Colin's answer, which I thought was RIGHT ON with everything I just learned.


    I'm going to assume that everything I learned from this sales mgr. is correct, despite his position in sales (Yes, I realize that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. OTOH, in a litigious society such as hours, if you go around bilking consumers, and USING STATE AND FEDERAL TAX CREDITS AND INCENTIVES to do it, you will not be in business very long, right? This company has 130 employees and was launched in 1999, focusing on grid-tied solar by about 2001.) So, if everyone's okay with that, I'm going to toss out some of what I believe are FACTS, about solar, much of which directly contradict some of what I read elsewhere in this thread, despite the fact that it was said with absolute conviction.

    Everything I'm about to say applies to NYS, but your state may differ.

    Alright--I am speaking ONLY about a batteryless, grid-tied system, in NYS.
    Why? Because batteries add A LOT of expense, don't last forever, require a charge controller (in addition to the inverter you'll need) and really KILL the economic viability of solar. That is why there may be as much negativity in this thread as there was--people should not attempt to discuss solar as one animal--it's TWO DIFFERENT BEASTS, economically: battery-backup and grid-tied systems. Grid-tied is by far the winner, economically.

    Keep in mind that, if you can't site it on the roof, you WILL pay more, as each one of those frames, set on a 4" steel pipe (in poured concrete), and holding 4 solar panels, is about $780.--without the panels. So, keep it on the south-facing roof.

    Myth One: Payback time is 25 Years:
    Residential--10-12 years
    Commercial-5-6 years. (Much better tax credits for businesses, plus I believe you can go higher before they quit paying you retail rates for excess power.)

    In one of the systems I learned about, it produced 3kw, which is apparently a low-to-average usage per year. It cost $29,000., but after state and fed. tax credits and incentives, your cost is approx. $10,500.

    And you don't lay out the $29,000. You pay the $10,500., and your rebates, etc...go directly to the solar co., who also handles all permitting, etc....

    Myth 2: The Utility Will Only Pay You Wholesale Rate.
    Not true, with some exceptions. Some states, it's true, will only pay wholesale rates. However, NYS, NJ and CT are a few that DO pay retail rates to you. And there are more states than that.

    IN THESE "RETAIL STATES," IF you do not produce more than you USE, in a year, everything you produce will be "bought back" from you, AT RETAIL RATE (up to an upper limit of 10kw, I believe, but am not certain). Above those limits, all you get is the wholesale rate.

    Now...this is not instantly apparent, but what this means is *drum roll*: YOU CAN MAKE YOUR ELECTRICITY BILL DISAPPEAR.

    Actually, that is the goal. Why? Because part of that wonderful, 8% ROI and 10-12yr. payback depends upon maximizing your buyback at retail pricing. If you produce more than you use, IT MEANS YOU BOUGHT TOO MUCH CAPACITY. And, since you will only be "rewarded" for that excess capacity at a wholesale rate (typically 1/4 what you paid) this is not good.

    Myth 3: Solar Panels Don't Last Long
    Hmmm...let's start with this: a 25 yr guarantee that, after that amount of time, the panels will still be producing 80% of their rated output.

    Then there's the fact that the projected lifespan of a solar panel is 40-to-50 years.

    I just read in Home Power mag. (http://www.homepower.com/) that some of the modules installed in the 1970's and '80's were recently found to be putting out 90% of their rated power--10% better than industry estimates.

    And then there's the 10 yr guarantee on the inverter, which my expert said might have a 20 year life. Okay, so it looks like you will be buying an inverter at some point.

    Myth 4: The Systems Aren't Economically Viable

    The ROI (return on investment) of a residential system: 8%

    The $32,000. system that Colin was talking about sounds remarkably like the 3kw, $29,000. system my guy was talking about, in that, the 3kw system does a little better than the bigger 5kw system, due to how the gov't. incentives are structured. The 5kw system earns only 7% ROI.

    My guy did point out that you don't want to go over a 5kw system, because the way the incentives are structured, they just won't offset the greater costs of a bigger system.

    40-50 yr life - 12 yr. payback = 28-38 yrs free power.

    Oh! Before I forget, yesterday (Tues.) NOVA/PBS, (channel 13 here, near NYC) did a 1 hr special on solar power--I taped it. Perhaps you could get your library to buy it for circulation.

    I could go on, but I'd suggest you read the above mag., and see a pro for a free consultation.

    Peter
  23. eba1225

    eba1225 Feeling the Heat

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    TruePatriot,

    That sounds pretty good for NYS but not all states are the same. Take for example PA, we do not have a state rebate and we we have to rely on the Feds for money.

    I have found a 5KW sysyem for ~$29K, minus the feds $2K rebate = $27K (W/o installation)

    The projected ROI for this system is over 20 years. Here are the numbers: (Figure I can cut my elec usage by $100 per month. ($100/mo X 12 mo/yr = $1200/yr, $27000 / $1200 = 22.5 years

    What I have heard thought is two rebates coming down the pike, one from the feds (and expansion of the current rebate to yield a $2 to $3 per watt rebate - which is expected to go into effect probably 2008), and one from the state of Pa (which would be another $2 to $3 per watt rebate - which is expected to go into effect probably in 2009)
  24. Jabberwocky

    Jabberwocky New Member

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    That's pretty exciting about Central Mass and this really piques my interest in all this.

    I think the bottom line is that the Northeast will never be a good spot of PV. From my astronomy hobby research I know that NE is one of the cloudiest regions of the US. Something like 40% of our nights (and days) are clouded over. The low angle of the sun adds more problems (this affects us when we try to aim our satellite dishes, too). Now, Dallas or Los Angeles, that's PV heaven down there. Conversely, the winters in Dallas are a joke, it'd be dumb to waste $$ on heating issues and natural gas is cheaper down there.

    Wind energy seems much more viable but low and behold it was Teddy Kennedy and the liberals leading the charge against the Cape Wind project. The envirnomental wackos hate wind and have been trying to kill this and other projects, bitching about bird kills and nautical safety. On the Cape Wind project, what thay are really worried about is the view from the their precious mansions on Cape Cod and Martha's Vinyard.

    This is still intriguing ... I've seen solar hot water generators on many a modest home, and not exactly on the homes of environmentalists. I had a neighbor who had one and he was a sharpshooter at the local prison (not exactly a Volvo driving, pot smoking hippy). This is where the rubber meets the road: getting Mr. Joe Average to buy in. The capitalists and engineers need to get to work, you can see their magnificent work in the area of wood stoves and pellet stoves.

    The bottom line is $$$$$. New Englanders are better off focusing on what this forum focuses on: burning wood for home heating and dealing with insulation issues. We all face $1000-$3000 heating bills. This is where the money is going. When I solve this and many other problems, then I'll worry about the $80/month electricity bill.
  25. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    This is absolutely true - exactly how I attacked our energy use.

    And along the same lines, I would argue that a solar hot water system makes much more sense than PV as your next step - much faster payback, low investment, and forgiving of marginal sites, but will not match payback of a wood stove if you chop your own wood.

    Then, if you still feel the need to do more, and you have a good set of state incentives, and a perfect site, go for solar PV. You might earn CD-rates of return over the long haul, and you'll be doing something more to help.

    By the way, I was infuriated by the latest This Old House magazine's coverage of solar thermal. Showed two of the most complex/expensive/maintenance prone options (vac tubes and closed loop charged w/glycol) and left off the simplest low-maintenance drainback design. Then in the letters section, they tried to rationalize why the Austin project house did PV but skipped solar thermal. I have yet to hear any solar expert argue that PV should be done first. I think in any of these cases, it is based on the idea that making electricity is "sexier" than hot water - not a sensible analysis. But then again the same issue was showcasing $500 designer outdoor lights... so the cost of maintaining glycol, much less more expensive install design is probably of no concern. I don't know why I subscribe to this magazine... it's gotten completely ridiculous.

    -Colin
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