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Power United States Hardware Politics

Solar Panels For Every Home? 735

Hugh Pickens writes "David Crane and Robert F.Kennedy Jr. write in the NY Times that with residents of New Jersey and New York living through three major storms in the past 16 months and suffering sustained blackouts, we need to ask whether it is really sensible to power the 21st century by using an antiquated and vulnerable system of copper wires and wooden poles. Some have taken matters into their own hands, purchasing portable gas-powered generators to give themselves varying degrees of grid independence. But these dirty, noisy and expensive devices have no value outside of a power failure and there is a better way to secure grid independence for our homes and businesses: electricity-producing photovoltaic panels installed on houses, warehouses and over parking lots, wired so that they deliver power when the grid fails. 'Solar panels have dropped in price by 80 percent in the past five years and can provide electricity at a cost that is at or below the current retail cost of grid power in 20 states, including many of the Northeast states,' write Crane and Kennedy. 'So why isn't there more of a push for this clean, affordable, safe and inexhaustible source of electricity?' First, the investor-owned utilities that depend on the existing system for their profits have little economic interest in promoting a technology that empowers customers to generate their own power. Second, state regulatory agencies and local governments impose burdensome permitting and siting requirements that unnecessarily raise installation costs. While it can take as little as eight days to license and install a solar system on a house in Germany, in the United States, depending on your state, the average ranges from 120 to 180 days."
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Solar Panels For Every Home?

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  • Bureaucracy (Score:4, Funny)

    by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:14AM (#42286893) Journal

    The real secret government. It destroys all.

    • by radiumsoup ( 741987 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:19AM (#42286955)

      but without the bureaucracy, how would those government workers in the Solar Panel Installation Licensing Department feed their families? You don't expect them to find meaningful, productive work, do you? The SPILD provides jobs where none others would exist otherwise!

      • Yes, they should take all the bureaucrats, hairdressers and telephone cleaners and tell them there is a big rock coming, then put them all on a spaceship and send them off to crash into Slartibartfast's latest project. What could possibly go wrong.
      • Re:Bureaucracy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:56AM (#42287407) Homepage Journal

        It's fun to bash bureaucrats, but every now and then it's necessary to remember why they're there.

        A few years back a co-worker was griping about the septic inspector, and why there was this guy whose whole job was to occasionally drop by and watch the septic system getting put in. The unfortunate reason is that without that inspector occasionally dropping by unannounced, some unscrupulous contractor would cut corners and skip the installation entirely. They'd just dig a hole, throw in a small load of gravel, run the pipe into it, cover it, and leave - calling it a "septic system". The homeowner would get stuck with the mess - 5 or 10 years down the road. By that time the contractor would have dissolved the company, reorganized as a new company, and still be pulling the same trick.

        I don't know how this applies to solar panels, but I'm sure that there's plenty of room for abuse by unscrupulous contractors and suppliers. I'll agree that sometimes (frequently?) regulation goes wrong. But the goal shouldn't be to eliminate it - it should be to make sure it serves its purpose, while getting in the way as little as possible.

        The real problem with regulation is that generally those who are supposed to be regulated get their fingers into the pie, to try to make sure that regulation inconveniences them as little as possible. Then there are others involved trying to stop that process, and others who are just plain control freaks. The result is sausage, and not particularly good sausage.

        • Re:Bureaucracy (Score:5, Informative)

          by tizan ( 925212 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:48PM (#42288025)

          Indeed as usual ...we should fix what is not market without control and checks will just kill people they don't need.
          E.g the tunnel in Japan that just collapsed...private toll paid tunnel.

          • Babe, having a 'free' market with controls is kind of what has been killing us lately -> the people in charge of handling things are a wee bit compromised. Like spending their weekends at parties hosted by lobbyists, out of the country, on some tropical island, kind of compromised. They aren't coming back to the non-compromised side.

    • Re:Bureaucracy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:48AM (#42287317) Homepage

      It destroys all.

      Here's the thing: As bad as government with bureaucracy is, a government without bureaucracy is even worse.

      A real-life example:
      States in the US have laws to require that gasoline pumps actually dispense 1 gallon of fuel when they register 1 gallon of fuel on the meter. There are bureaucracies set up for inspectors to go around and check on each pump periodically to ensure that the owner isn't cheating their customers.

      Now, you may be wondering what the possible value of having and enforcing such a law is - after all, if a gas station cheats its customers no one will go there, right? But what actually happens is that each gas station is motivated to cheat its customers just a bit so that they won't notice right away, and meanwhile it's basically impossible for drivers (especially those from out of town) to price shop because they don't know how much gasoline they'll actually get for the listed price per gallon.

      So, for, say, a city or county of 40,000 people, it's advantageous for everyone but crooked gas station owners to pay $3 in taxes annually for a bureaucrat to spend time testing all the gas pumps in the area (in unannounced visits of course), because they'll save more than $3 in not getting cheated by the crooked gas stations. And this also helps the honest gas station owners, because they know that they aren't going to be out-competed by crooked competition. This math works even if the bureaucrat in question is the mayor's no-good brother-in-law who's getting the $105K + benefits to do this full time: The only people who are harmed by this policy are crooks.

      • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
        Even worse is that once the crooked system becomes widespread, it becomes the new normal.
        • Re:Bureaucracy (Score:5, Insightful)

          by weiserfireman ( 917228 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:51PM (#42288051) Homepage

          We had a problem with this in Idaho in the 2008 time fraim

          They discovered that the digital gas pumps were crooked. The inspectors used to check them at 5 gallons and 10 gallons and they were always right on.

          Someone noticed that the gallons didn't always appear to be measuring at a consistent speed. So they started doing additional testing. The pumps were rigged so that if you bought any amount that wasn't exactly 5 or 10 gallons, you were going to be overcharged. The change was variable, the closer you got to those exact numbers, the closer to exact you total was going to be, but if you dispensed somewhere in the middle, you would pay extra. If you dispensed 7.5 gallons, the pump would charge you for 8 gallons. And over 10 gallons was always going to read high.

          Most of the pumps in the State were accurate and honest, but there were several stations rigged like this. The Bureau of Weights and Measures had to switch to a system where the check the pumps over a range of values for accuracy not just specific targets.

  • Extremely expensive (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:15AM (#42286909)

    For my house in NJ, we got a quote for about $30,000 (of which we would pay $10,000 out of pocket) to put solar panels on our roof. We also were being asked to cut down 4 trees in order to get optimal sunlight. After hurricane Sandy, we instead bought a $450 3270 watt generator which is portable, won't be damaged outside, and can be shared with neighbors if need be.

    Note also that if you want to make your house off-the-grid (as option) with solar, that requires much more expense. Batteries, inverter switches, etc.

    • by Lonewolf666 ( 259450 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:23AM (#42286995)

      True, especially the part about batteries. But then again, the solar panels won't need gasoline.

      Overall, solar panes as emergency power supply are not cost efficient. But as a long term investment to reduce your utility bill, they may be worthwhile. In the case of my parents' house (southern Germany, pretty high electricity prices of ~0.25 Euros/kWh), I think a small photovoltaic installation might amortize itself within a few years.

      • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:52AM (#42287369) Journal

        "In the case of my parents' house (southern Germany, pretty high electricity prices of ~0.25 Euros/kWh), I think a small photovoltaic installation might amortize itself within a few years."

        So, the solar panels are cost effective because the cost of electricity is high. The next logical question is, why is German electricity so expensive?

        In large part, because of Solar power feed-in tariffs which German utilities are required to pay people who generate surplus solar power with their power panels (so, yeah, it's cheaper to buy your own solar power, than buy solar power from someone else's roof or solar farm, and pay a middle man to markup the power and transmit it).

        If they had planned to build a few more nuclear plants a decade or two ago, instead of planning to shut down their existing nuclear plants in a few years, they'd likely have cheaper power by now.

        But, yes, if cheap power isn't available from the grid, then you may as well generate your own expensive electricity instead of buying someone else's expensive electricity. Grids make sense only when the power the grid can provide you is cheaper than making your own, or you can get it in quantities larger than you can produce with reasonably priced equipment of your own.

        • Maybe they don't have expensive power. Maybe we (Canada & US) have power that's too inexpensive.
          • by fche ( 36607 )

            You are welcome to send a bonus payment to your local electricity provider, if that will ease your guilt.

        • Energy is expensive in Europe because wholesale gas prices are high and we force companies to pay for proper clean-up and for environmental damage. For example the UK is facing at least £73bn to decommission its current nuclear plants, and it is the energy bill payer who will have to foot that bill.

          Fracking has really helped keep prices down in the US, which is why we are trying to get it started here too. Ultimately though the only reasonably cheap and non-polluting energy source seems to be renewables, so we are just going to have to suck up the short term cost of getting them built up.

    • How long would it have taken to recoup the $10,000 in saved electricity costs?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by rally2xs ( 1093023 )


        My electric bill: $70 winter, $140 summer. So, at about $100 average, that's 100 months, or 8+ years to equal $10K. Then there is sweeping the snow off it after big storms, tending the batteries, replacing the batteries and the solar panels when they both wear out, etc. Not worth the hassle. Electric don't work now, just call the power company, and THEY go out in the storm and do something about it.

        Now, if a homeowner could somehow execute the solar thermal concept of melting a large amount of s

    • by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:35AM (#42287159) Homepage Journal

      Unfortunately, most generators in the sub-$2,000 range require an oil change every 12-20 hours of runtime, and burn through a tank of fuel every 5-8 hours. It's not terribly convenient. Flex fuel and LPG or LNG generators are better as you can hook them up to much larger fuel sources, negating the need for multiple refills per day, and they also typically extend runtime between oil changes to hundreds or even thousands of hours.

    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:46AM (#42287281)
      Equating the cost of solar panels to a portable generator makes absolutely no sense. The generator is worthless 99.9% of the time, whereas the solar panels would power your home every day for the next 30 years. That in itself doesn't mean solar panels are a good deal for you. But they're simply two different questions.
      • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *


        This is a terrible apples vs oranges argument. The cost of the generator (even a whole house $2000+ generator) plus cost of fuel to run it a few times a year might not add up to the cost of those solar panels in your lifetime. Also the storm that knocks out power is entirely likely to damage your panels anyway. Arguing solar panels as an alternative to emergency generators is absurd.

    • After hurricane Sandy, we instead bought a $450 3270 watt generator which is portable, won't be damaged outside, and can be shared with neighbors if need be.

      And will last for a few hours until your supply of fuel runs out. Remember please that the gas station pumps are electric powered so if the power goes out you cannot get more gas than you have on hand. Some stations have generators of their own but many/most do not.

      I'm curious how well solar panels would stand up to the winds in a hurricane. Most of the ones I've seen aren't mounted all that securely and could be ripped off their mounts with sufficient wind force. (not to mention damaged by flying debri

      • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:02PM (#42287471)

        But if we use the generator to power the pumps, we can have infinite fuel! And then if we plug the surge strips back into themselves, there will be infinite power too!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tgd ( 2822 )

        And will last for a few hours until your supply of fuel runs out. Remember please that the gas station pumps are electric powered so if the power goes out you cannot get more gas than you have on hand.

        Sheesh, kids these days. That's what your neighbor's gas tank and 5' of plastic hose are for ...

    • by DCFusor ( 1763438 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:14PM (#42287589) Homepage
      Let me know if that generator hasn't utterly failed before you can put even $450 worth of gas through it. I have a stack of 3 of those here.

      I've been off-grid since around 1980, and yes, it was expensive then. I assume your ridiculous quote included all labour - you're too lazy/incompetent to do it yourself? It's not rocket science. The price you quoted is about what I paid for a full system, with batteries, that has enough extra capacity to also charge my Volt - and I bought more than half this system *before* the prices came down lately. You're perhaps being informative - in the sense that it's easy to get ripped off in the alt energy game - but possible to do it right too.

    • by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:37PM (#42287889)

      Depends. My friend here just got together with another buddy of his, they formed an LLC, became a reseller, bought the panels wholesale for 4 people's houses, got them for about 1/3 retail price all told counting discounts on shipping, etc (including all the inverters, rails, etc). Then of course they all get their various tax breaks, which knocks off about another 1/3 of the remaining cost, then you just do the install yourself (which is actually relatively easy if you're at all handy). You can get the cost for a full set of 30 standard 29v modules down to around 8k plus labor, quite affordable considering you've just easily shaved 50% off your electricity cost (we're in the Northeast here, so you can do better down south/out west, though we are paying $0.15/kwh). Obviously not EVERYONE is going to be able to do this, but frankly its just not that technically difficult if you're at all handy and can follow directions, know the electric code, etc.

      He's also feeding power into a few marine batteries, which is nice. Purchase some led light tape, wire up a couple DC legs and mount it here and there, if you go off-grid you can easily have rather adequate emergency lighting 24/7 (and even run an appliance now and then off an inverter if you need to at night). No doubt you can get better battery tech if you plan to use battery power regularly, but for emergency use plain old lead/acid is fine and cheap.

      Truthfully I suspect with panels likely doubling in efficiency, and batteries looking like they're going towards about 5x better price/performance and longer durability in the next 5 years by say 2017 its going to start looking viable to just generate 100% of your own power, the grid can become a backup.

  • by Joehonkie ( 665142 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:16AM (#42286923) Homepage
    Housing and condo boards will also be total assholes about this. I've had them browbeat me about satellite dishes even after showing evidence that there's a federal law that says they can't tell me how many dishes I'm allowed to have (I had 2). All they care about is that every house looks the same and their devotion to local housing politics pays off in the form of pushing people around.
    • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:20AM (#42286959)

      Must be you

      The old power hungry geezers on my co-op board are the most understanding people I know

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        No dude, must be you.

        My neighbors got an "official" notice because they were out of town for the weekend and left their trash bin out. Someone else in our development was forced to repaint his house ($5k!!) because it was the wrong shade of gray. Don't know who it was but it was in the HOA minutes.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          No dude, must be you, cause all I hear is this giant whooshing sound.
    • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:23AM (#42286997)

      Those HOA fees are ridiculous. In a new development by me it's $200 a month and there's no pool, no park, no "recreation room" nor bbq area. I think it goes for paying for the tiny strip of grass in front of each house (between the sidewalk and street) to be mowed.

      Oh and we can't even put a xmas wreath on our door. I'm amazed they're allowed to put a pumpkin on their front step for Halloween...

      And to think those suckers paid $800k-$1m for their homes. The HOA board members are playing Mafia over there.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I think so many of those HOAs become an insider's racket. A group gets control of the board and makes kickback deals with the "providers" of services, if not owning the service business outright.

        With the right tweaks to the HOA rules, it's nearly impossible to kick them out and they count on most people being too absorbed in their own life to give a shit.

    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:24AM (#42287007) Homepage Journal

      That's what bothers me too. I know that if I wanted to install solar panels on the roof of my home I'd have to go through a ton of bureaucracy, which would be based largely on the personal opinions of a largely unaccountable group of people who were interested in their jobs to begin with on the basis of "making the neighborhood look nice" rather than "making things better for residents." Chances of me getting approval? Close to nil.

      The irony is that these agencies push down the values of the homes they govern, while they constantly claim the opposite. We're only in association-controlled land because we couldn't afford to live somewhere more free for the house space we needed. And governments are reluctant to regulate HOAs because they assume that everyone governed by an HOA is there because they wanted a bunch of arbitrary appearance-obsessed nuts to fine them over the most minor details.

      For this kind of thing, it'd be nice to see an agency, like the FCC did with antennas, step in and say "This is our jurisdiction, not yours." It'd also be nice to see the FCC (and whatever agency ends up regularing solar panels) make high profile "busts" of HOAs that go overboard, so HOA officials don't feign ignorance whenever they break the rules and make life hell for homeowners until long after the lawyers are called in.

    • Our condo board, which I'm on, would likely welcome solar panels on the roof. You should organize a few folks in your building, do the research, and volunteer to help prepare a complete proposal. What often happens, is some resident will have a why-aren't-we-doing-this brainstorm, and then leave it to the condo board to do the work. As far as satellite dishes go, I agree with you. Our board has legacy rules about them, but there's been no push by residents to change them. But if you try calling the condo
  • Everything I've read says solar can only provide a fraction of the needed power. Most of the businesses that install them like whole foods use them to power the store during peak times when electricity is the most expensive.

    Or to simply provide enough power to lessen their total electric bill

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I have a 1800 sq. ft. house, by no means huge, basically average sized. I put 39 230 watt panels on the roof and I easily generate far beyond my usage - under real world conditions, a bright sunny day in June (in Michigan) I generate about 7.5kW steady all day long. The house idles at about 500 watts (refridgerator, one computer as a server, some fluorescent lights here and there that are left on almost always, nat. gas furnace fan, etc. things like that)

      • The other thing with gas furnace and hot water you still have heat in the winter.

        So if you do lose power during the winter you are struggling but able to keep some what comfortable

        Also during a multi week outage you won't need as much gasoline which makes those shortages easier to deal with

      • by alen ( 225700 )

        My electric bill in NYC is $65 a month and $150 in the summer

        How much would I save by installing solar panels that cost tens if thousands if $$

      • Just curious as to why you put so many panels up, since you don't need that much power.

    • by ckhorne ( 940312 )

      It's not that solar provides a fraction of "needed" power. The issue is that Americans (myself included) use far more than they really "need". People considering solar should look at lowering their energy usage and increasing their home's efficiency as a first step, and then looking at solar after all other improvements have been made.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:19AM (#42286953)

    Sure solar panels have gone down in price. I put a 9kW solar array on my roof 2 years ago, using grid-tied microinverters. The catch is that if the grid power goes out, the microinverters shut down so they are not putting juice onto the grid and zapping linesmen. This means the solar panels are not able to do anything during a power outage. If you want the panels to run, then there will be a huge investment in a battery system with a charge controller, load shedding and rather expensive batteries, along with an auto transfer switch to cut you off from the grid... these things easily make the solar panels the cheap item in the system.

    • Make sure that you can turn off the main circuit breaker to your home off and still have your microinverters working to power your own home and you are set.

      It's crazy if they set in some circuit to prevent you powering your own home during a blackout when you are NOT connected to the grid.

    • by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:31AM (#42287109) Journal

      Some electrical engineering knowledge will take you a long ways.

      1. Calculate how much power you actually need during a power outage. A refrigerator is about 1,000 W. Throw in 100 W for light bulbs. TV/cable box/modem/router comes out to around 300 W (assuming flat-screen). So actually, your inverter only needs to be around 2,000 W (giving 10% cushion for device power-up). Those retail for $150-$200.

      2. Charge controller is mainly for high-end systems. Try a diode or a batter isolator made for a vehicle.

      3. Batteries are not that expensive. I just bought a 870 kW deep-cycle battery for my vehicle for $200. During the Derecho in July, I was able to power my TV, fridge, and laptop for over 3 hours (I turned my vehicle on every 3 hours for 10 minutes to recharge the battery). That worked for the 36 hours I was without power.

      4. Auto-transfer switch is nice, but unnecessary. If you are too lazy to flip 2 circuit breakers, one to isolate your house from the gird and another to connect your inverter to your house, then you are just screwed.

      • TV/cable box/modem/router comes out to around 300 W (assuming flat-screen).

        During a power outage, would there still be a signal for your cable box or modem to receive? I don't know where the last distribution step gets its power from, but if it's from the same grid as your house, it will be down too during an outage.

  • Inexhaustible? Has no one seen The Matrix? When the machines take over, we are going to have to block out the sun. What use are your silly solar panels then?

  • by DontPanicMMH ( 230993 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:22AM (#42286991)

    Living on the Gulf Coast, the threat of strong storms has always been one of my reasons for being reluctant to plunk down a large investment on Solar Panels.

    How well did existing Solar Panels fair in New York after Sandy?

  • by DeathToBill ( 601486 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:24AM (#42287001) Journal

    I like how the summary answers its own question - and gets the answer completely wrong. Sure, government red-tape doesn't help. And I'm sure the utilities aren't falling over themselves to promote this (why would they???)

    But the simple, plain fact of the matter is that, unless its being subsidised by the taxpayer, installing solar costs the same as your electricity bill for the next 15-30 years, depending on where you are and how capable your system is. That means your panels are paid off just as they reach the end of their useful life. And if you have batteries, you've likely had to replace them before you've paid them off.

    The average person looks at effectively paying their electricity bill for 30 years up-front and says, "No, thanks!"

    • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:52AM (#42287359)

      [Citation Needed]. From my personal experience, my solar panels make my energy bill a net zero from Spring to Fall. I don't have a previous comparison, as my house had solar panels when I moved in, but by my estimate, it's putting the break-even point at about 10 years tops.

      No, you shouldn't invest in solar panels if you're in Chicago or even Seattle. But in a nice and sunny place, like the entire southern half of the US, solar panels can pay off in less than ten years. What's also being missed is that they reduce overall consumption of gas, coal and oil, which lowers prices overall, makes them more available in other industries, and generally contribute to massive efficiencies in energy distribution.

      All in all, I don't know why anyone with the capital handy wouldn't do this. On the other hand, for those without the capital handy.... well, there's a reason why it is so hard to move out of the working poor class. It's hard to save money when you don't have the capital on hand to invest in durable goods that are cheaper over the long run.

  • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxruby@comc[ ].net ['ast' in gap]> on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:25AM (#42287019)

    I like solar and geothermal energy sources for home based power. I am also a pragmatist that realizes simply legislating that everyone install solar panels for a wide scale would be financially ruinous. I think you could go about this with a hybrid approach that could allow the market to do what it does best while steering people to a greener future.

    Start by saying that all new (and remodeled) buildings must includes support for 10% of their anticipated energy needs from a renewable source (let the source be up to the customer) and the switching equipment required for the grid. This will be a small enough amount that it can be met with a minimal number of solar panels or other sources. Importantly this will allow time for electricians, home builders, retailers and the like to start getting to understand renewable energy without being overwhelming. It will also allow for things like the switching equipment for the grid to start getting put in place.

    Every four years after this starts you increase the amount of energy required by 10%. The increase is slow enough to give the market time to react and bring products, expertise and the like to bear. This is also slow enough to allow competition to build and for prices to benefit from economies of scale.

    By the time the rate increases from 10% to 20% the market will have had time to develop skills, materials and everything else that is needed. This avoids a crisis that would come from simply mandating a significant amount come from renewable energy to begin with when the present market can't possibly meet that demand. This also allows for retrofitting with additional capacity by owners that want to ramp up from 10% to a higher percent.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You sir are reasonable and logical. That will not be tolerated in our society.

    • I'm all for building a massive dam on the Colorado river, but the cost would be ruinous. I think we should instead allow the market to provide a solution by putting buckets by the river and paying people per bucket to scoop out water and throw it into the desert.
  • Wouldn't solar panels on houses become potential, sharp edged frisbees? I'm making this question from looking at many local solar power installations where there is some distance between the structure and the solar panel where the wind could get a foothold or they're free standing and could be blown around by the wind.

    While some homes would continue to have power, I would think that a large fraction would find that their solar panels have either been damaged or torn away.

    I do agree that putting power out o

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:27AM (#42287045)

    "we need to ask whether it is really sensible to power the 21st century by using an antiquated and vulnerable system of copper wires and wooden poles."

    Every time there's a hurricane, people ask the power companies, "should we bury the power lines?" And the companies say, "sure, we'll have to charge you this much more in rates, and it'll take this many years" and the consumers say, "yeah, no, forget it."

    There's nothing antiquated about overhead power lines. It's an engineering decision with tradeoffs both ways. Neither technology is clearly superior.

    Overhead power lines are an obvious eyesore, and go down pretty regularly in extreme weather. (Although they're pretty resilient, too.) Burying power lines has significant costs even after you've got them buried. They're hard and more expensive to repair, they have a shorter lifespan (which most people don't know), and they're are competing for space with all the other crap we've got buried.

    • And burying the power lines where the water table comes up after every shower is not so smart. Here in Arizona, sure. On Long Island, not so much.

      Besides, despite the incompetence currently on display after Sandy, poles and wires are surprisingly easy to fix, compared to fishing new cables through waterlogged conduits. I survived the ice storm in Maine in 1998, no power for 11 days for me, but that was a very bad situation. Sandy also destroyed homes, roads, etc. Burying the lines in Maine is stupid,

  • Last time we lost power ("Derecho" storm in late June in Northern VA) we were out for about 80 hours. Our power requirements included air conditioning for that period (it was hot and muggy.)
    1. How much storage (batteries) would we need to have 4 days worth of power available to us for a grid failure?
    2. How many square feet/meters of solar panels would be required to charge those batteries before the storm?
    3. What would be the recovery time once the stored current was exhausted?

    And then there's the econo

    • Last time we lost power ("Derecho" storm in late June in Northern VA) we were out for about 80 hours. Our power requirements included air conditioning for that period (it was hot and muggy.)

      I really don't know what to say to that. We're presumably talking here about complete power outages caused by storms. Surely if there's a disaster you should hold off the air conditioning seeing as it's one of the most power hungry and least essential things.

      6. Compare that cost to the installation of a conventional gene

  • by Dishwasha ( 125561 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:28AM (#42287067)

    I did some research a couple of years ago and the cost recoup was still somewhere between 10-15 years for installing solar just for the cost of the hardware and not including labor. It's hard to put up that kind of capital outlay just to save around $100 on my monthly electricity bill. I decided I could save a lot more money by applying that same amount of money to my mortgage. I keep hearing about new solar technology that is tons more efficient, but where is all that new tech?

    • Did you read the summary? Panel prices have dropped 80% in 5 years. Math from a couple of years ago is obsolete.

  • Looked into solar panels for my little house. Was going to run about $28,000 up front. At that rate it would take about 17 years to pay for itself, and that's assuming that there is absolutely no maintenance, repair, battery replacement, etc. during those 17 years. And, even with that, I don't have $28,000--and a loan would mean interest, which would probably mean it would NEVER pay for itself.

  • by sir_eccles ( 1235902 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @11:32AM (#42287127)

    They are so predictable, the slightest hint of something being difficult they give up and say it can't be done. We'd still be living in caves rubbing two sticks together if it was up to you guys.

    So it might be cloudy sometimes. Well maybe there is a way to store electricity when there is a surplus and feed it out again when there is high demand. There are dozens of technologies available to do this from batteries to pumped storage and everything in between (oh yes I know someone will reply to me to say that won't work because conversion losses or whatever so we shouldn't bother).

    Also this grid thing might be a good idea, that way if it is sunny in one place but cloudy in another people can share (but oh no it won't completely replace all nuclear coal and gas fired power stations in the whole US so we shouldn't bother).

    Do you know how many new houses were built in the last decade housing boom? I don't know either but just consider if even a small PV panel of a couple of square meters was on each one, the cost would be much less through economies of scale and it would make a significant dent in energy demands (but oh no it won't completely replace all nuclear coal and gas fired power stations in the whole US so we shouldn't bother).

    And yes most states now have laws that prevent HOAs restricting the use of PV.

  • This is all fine and good until the power goes out at night. To take for that contingency, its going to get real expensive for home owners buying battery stacks.

  • There's natural gas generators which are extremely clean and efficient. Higher end generators are really quiet. I've never understood why every home isn't built with one these days (other than the power companies oppose them for profit reasons). Add in small windmills [] (there was link here on slashdot about a new design that is very small and very efficient), suit case size nuclear generators []

    seriously, what's so terrible about some common sense approaches energy management. Everyone has a "reason" why

  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Friday December 14, 2012 @12:06PM (#42287505)

    First of all, there are more problems than those listed above.

    Issue 1: "anti-islanding."
    So, a power line leading up to your home or business goes down. The lineman finds the break, and then goes to the nearest transformer to open the circuit, interrupting power to the side of the line break so that he may safely approach the break in the line and repair it. EXCEPT...unbeknownst to him, you have solar panels, and the other side of the line is live also. He is survived by a wife and 2.4 kids. This is the scenario that 'anti-islanding' prevents. Unfortunately, it falls within the realm of technology intended to prevent loss of life, and thus is very expensive because it must. always. work. The majority of cost for a solar panel installation is this technology; the cost of the panels themselves does not at all reflect the actual cost of HAVING solar panels installed. This is a large part of the 'hidden tax' that one of the linked articles refers to, and isn't exactly optional.

    Issue 2: Phase synchronization
    This is less of a problem to the overal grid unless solar and other alternative power sources become more widespread. But it'll nuke your own stuff at home. AC power in your outlets is 60 Hz. But think of it as a wave (which it is). The waves rise and fall not only at the same frequency everywhere on the grid, but in sync as well. Otherwise, you get the kind of situation that takes place when you have waves from one place in a pond, and waves in another place in the pond...and the waves don't overlap perfectly. Instead of an even wave pattern of consistent frequency and amplitude, you get something less orderly. Electronics (and at higher voltages, electrical equipment in substations) don't like that very much. So the systems that generate power from solar panels, etc. must detect the phase frequency (with many, many points of precision...a deviation of .01 Hz is a BAD thing on the power grid) and timing, and match. Otherwise, you'll have nasty strange things go on at home. Remember...when you generate your own power, you become a generation facility. Not as big as a coal-fired plant, but you are a generation entity all the same.

    Which leads to the Issue 3: the main reason why Germany (and most countries, really) get these things done so much quicker. Germany is tiny compared to the US, both in terms of grid geography and in terms of grid scale. Overall, their grid is also newer, more modern, and more standardized. All of Germany can be managed by one reliability entity, for example. The US has eight, most of which cover a section of grid that larger than all of what is in Germany. On top of this, add those in Canada, because for all intents and purposes, there is no border between our grid and theirs (as evidenced in 2003, when a fault in Ohio ended up pulling down a lot of Quebec and Ontario along with the US Northeast). Also, control at the local realm is much more decentralized; here, we have PUCs for each community. Those PUCs vary widely in their efficiency and (cough) philosophy about their purpose. Some are quite efficient, some are a total pain in the ass...that's how it goes. In some places, like Washington, DC, getting approval is fairly straightforward because the local PUC is very interested in seeing these technologies tried out and tested. In others, you get pinheads with a power trip (no pun intended) who love playing the goalkeeper. This isn't a problem that exists solely for alternative energies, though...the power companies themselves have the same issue with these kinds of people. A pain in the ass is usually a pain in the ass for everyone, and these solar guys shouldn't take it so personally. It's not about them.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll