Posts Tagged ‘solar power’
» posted on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 at 12:01 pm by Woody Wilson viewed 160 times
By Vicki Terwilliger (staff writer email@example.com)
Published: October 31, 2010
vicki terwilliger/staff photo At the Wasilus home, a wind turbine, left, overlooks a ground-mounted solar thermal panel hot water system and rooftop photovoltaic PV solar panels.
Some Schuylkill County homeowners are giving their neighbors something to talk about.
As a partner and installer with Control Alt Energy, Auburn, Andy Wollyung said he’s seen inquiries about solar and alternative energy sources soar among local residents. Often, referral is by word-of-mouth.
“We’re still seeing a growing number of people interested. It’s the talk of the town. People say, ‘I’ve seen this installed,’ and it strikes a big interest in a lot of people’s eyes,” Wollyung said.
Two Barry Township families have had their alternative electricity systems in place and say they’re happy with the investments and savings. Ted and Marie Reinoehl and Mike and Karen Wasilus, all of the Ashland area, shared details about their experiences.
The state’s decision to remove the rate caps on what electric companies can charge is what prompted Mike Wasilus to start looking into alternative energy.
“I was looking to get ahead of the rate cap removal. I contacted Control Alt Energy and things took off from there. We started with the solar/thermal water heat, then the wind turbine and finally the solar panels.”
“Also, the federal and state tax credit and rebate programs played a major role in our decision-making. Without those programs, the projects would not have been good business decisions,” Wasilus said.
Their home is heated and cooled by a heat pump and is entirely electric.
The ground-mounted solar/thermal water heater, a Sunda brand system, was installed in September 2008. It immediately cut 15 to 20 percent from their electric usage, they said.
The Skystream Wind Turbine made by Southwest Windpower was installed in March 2009.
“It has had less of an impact on our electricity savings. I’d say about 10 percent savings,” Wasilus said.
Sharp brand solar photovoltaic PV panels were installed on the rooftop with a Fronius inverter in October 2009.
“They are awesome and have had the biggest impact on our electricity savings. They easily cut 30 to 40 percent from our electric usage. For comparison’s sake, the solar panels have been installed six months less than the wind turbine, yet the solar panels have already surpassed the amount of electricity generated by the wind turbine by 75 percent.”
“Knowing what I know now, I would double the capacity of the solar panel system and bypass putting up the wind turbine,” he said.
Wasilus said he doesn’t regret installing the wind turbine, it just may take a bit longer to recoup his initial investment.
The initial investment cost for all systems, he said, was offset by the federal tax credits offered, at about 30 percent. The solar-panel cost was also offset by the state’s Sunshine program that offered about a 30 percent rebate on the installed cost of the system.
“The payback period is a tough question to answer, because the tax credits and rebates are constantly changing. For me, both solar projects will have a much faster payback than the wind project. I’m looking at about eight years on the payback for the solar projects and probably at least 12 years on the wind project. As far as savings, I would say as a percentage, I’m saving about 60 percent off my electricity bill with these projects. Obviously, for someone who has other forms of heating or cooling, the saving percentage would be much greater,” Wasilus said.
The kilowatt hours generated by the PV panels in almost a year were 4,100 KWH, Wasilus said, and the wind turbine generated 2,100 KWH in a year and a half.
The Reinoehls, meanwhile, had their solar array panels installed in October 2009 by Maximus Solar, Sacramento. There are 33 panels on the south-facing roof of their 3,200-square-foot home.
“We were trying to look into the future,” Ted Reinoehl said. “We figured electric rates would go up and deregulation was happening, and we were getting closer to retirement and were looking for ways to save money down the road.”
Their home is also an electric-run house. They initially installed a geothermal system, with tubing running beneath their yard, when the home was built 19 years ago.
Over the past 11 months, Reinoehl said they’ve saved about $1,200 in electricity costs.
On average, if the sun is out, the solar panels generate about 40 KWH per day, according to Ted Reinoehl. In checking his records, their panels did generate less kilowatts during the winter and more in the spring and summer months. By comparison, there was 397 KWH generated in the month of November, 64 KWH in December, 400 KWH in January and 1,200 KWH in March.
“I’m so glad we did this, and there were incentives to do so.” Marie Reinoehl said. With five adults living in the home, the system provides the electricity needed to heat and cool the home and for daily usage.
“One of the biggest holdbacks is the initial costs, which can make it prohibitive,” said Ted Reinoehl. “I feel confident within a five-year period of time, it’s paid for.”
Once on the fringe, about 750,000 off the grid American households pioneer green living by tapping sustainable energy from the wind, sun, and earth.
By Kari Lydersen, / Contributor / August 7, 2010
Living “off the grid” can conjure fantasies of Swiss Family Robinson-style ingenuity in paradise. Or, for those with less love of roughing it, it can simply remind them of the hardscrabble self-reliance throughout much of the developing world, where millions cook over fires, bathe in streams, and consider the glow of a bare light bulb a luxury.
In the United States, off-the-grid living – without relying on government entities or utility companies to provide electricity, heat, gas, and water – often is associated with gritting it out on the survivalist fringe.
But an increasing range of Americans are leading a snug, even smug, lifestyle totally or mostly unhitched from public utilities. Using nature – the sun, wind, water, and the earth itself – they cheaply warm and cool their homes and power everything from a blender to a giant flat-screen TV to a raging hot tub. And with the constant concern about global warming and messy dependence on fossil fuels, it’s natural that growing numbers of Americans – “the foot soldiers” of energy independence, as one expert calls them – would begin taking steps to untether themselves from the grid.
For Wayah Hall, going off the grid in a cabin 26 miles from downtown Asheville, N.C., was a way to live in harmony with nature and avoid reliance on electricity that comes from the region’s coal-burning power plant that pumps smog into the famous Blue Ridge Mountains haze.
Mr. Hall, an outdoor-skills instructor, and his wife, Alicia Bliss Hall, a natural healer, live in a kind of off-the-grid neighborhood with another young couple: Jason Brake, a professional muralist, and his wife, Diana Styffeler, a mountain bike excursion leader. Their two cabins, nestled in temperate rain forest, are powered with electricity that comes exclusively from solar panels mounted on a wagon that they wheel around the property to catch the best rays. Their water comes from a swiftly flowing stream; wood-burning stoves heat the cabins and even an outdoor hot tub; and indoor, waterless composting toilets built decoratively out of tree stumps mean they don’t need a sewer system. They’re installing a hydropower system in the stream that will add to the solar power.
Their existence appears quite rustic – and the “sustainable” lifestyle depends a whole lot on them to sustain it with such work as wood chopping and wagon pulling. But they say they have all the creature comforts they need, and – if February’s record snowstorm is any gauge – some their neighbors need, too. When public power outages left on-the-grid neighbors in dark and chilly homes, a dozen of them congregated in the Halls’ self-sufficient glow: a lighted cabin, where they cozied up to the wood stove, recharged their cellphones, and even enjoyed a soak in the hot tub.
“We didn’t even realize the power had gone out until our friends started coming over looking for refuge,” says Ms. Hall.
• • •
Off-the-grid living for Paula and William Cirone has a more suburban look and feel, as well as a different motive. In 2001, the Texas natives moved to central Illinois, where Mr. Cirone was taking over a family company. Their hearts were set on buying and building on woodland near Farmington that he had hunted and fished two decades before. But an issue over easements meant the utility company could not extend lines to connect to their new home. Going off the grid was the only way to realize their dream.
Ms. Cirone was initially nervous, not wanting to give up her comfortable lifestyle – being able to throw in a load of laundry, or flip on the TV or microwave, whenever she felt like it. But the Cirones built a comfortable, spacious home powered entirely by wind and solar energy, with a geothermal system for heating and cooling
“It was a little scary at first, wondering if this was all going to work,” says Ms. Cirone. “But we didn’t have to make any sacrifices or concessions, and we are doing something that benefits the environment. It’s kind of exciting to realize that you are on the cutting edge. It’s really kind of neat.”
While investment in the technology added $100,000 to the cost of building their home, they admit a certain satisfaction in just the fact that they’re generating their own clean energy.
• • •
There are about 750,000 off-the-grid households nationwide, estimates Nick Rosen, author of “Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America.”
Improving technology means that – while still not cheap – living off the grid is more realistic and comfortable than ever before. In an age of extreme economic insecurity plus concern about the effects of using fossil fuels – witness the BP oil spill and a host of recent coal-mining disasters – living off the grid gives people a feeling of structural, financial, and emotional independence. It lets them plan and control their energy use, with no fear of sudden blackouts. It liberates them from the grip of government regulators and utility companies – not to mention reducing their utility costs, after the initial investment is paid off. And it hints at the potential of a different energy future, free of the environmental and social costs of using fossil fuels.
Mr. Rosen estimates that the number of people living off the grid in the US is growing by about 10 percent per year. His website www.off-grid.net features an interactive map that shows where people are living off the grid and helps them connect to share ideas.
“There’s much more competition for the amount of fossil fuel available: Prices will go up, availability will go down. So it’s right to prepare for that era,” Rosen explains. “Going off the grid is like insuring yourself against a time the lights may go out. In the 1970s you had a lot of old-style hermitlike survivalists. But these people are different. This isn’t the Stone Age anymore; you can live a quite comfortable life.”
For some, going off the grid means demonstrating that clean energy can fuel a lifestyle comparable to those lived on the grid. For others, going off the grid is an intentional part of “downscaling to a simpler existence,” as Rosen puts it.
Most clean-energy experts don’t see off-grid living as the solution to the nation’s energy crisis. They say large- and medium-scale renewable-energy systems are the way to go. Think: a geothermal setup heating and cooling 200 homes. Or a few wind turbines providing electricity for a suburb. Or off-the-grid ecovillages like those near Taos, N.M., and Big Bend, Texas, where houses are built with cutting-edge sustainable design and materials and share renewable-energy resources.
Most renewable-energy policy and technology experts advocate that people generating their own electricity also stay connected to the grid, when possible, so they can send clean energy back to the grid when they’re making more than they can use.
Even if generating your own electricity for a single home – as the Cirones do – isn’t the most efficient choice, these do-it-yourself energy pioneers may be the vanguard of the energy future, the dreamers and doers who show that it is possible to bypass mainstream commercial utilities and fossil fuels and still live comfortably and productively.
“If we are going to move toward an age of energy independence, these are the foot soldiers, the people who show us what we have to do,” says Rosen.
• • •
Living off the grid typically requires a significant investment. Hall figures that once the hydropower system is finished on his property, he will have invested about $15,000 on energy systems. Most North Carolinians spend several hundred dollars a month for electricity, water, and heat. So the Halls will have paid off their investment in a decade.
Cirone says he doesn’t expect to see a financial payoff anytime soon on his $100,000 investment in higher-end, higher-capacity systems, but the nonmonetary benefits are many. Their two sons, an electrical engineer and a doctoral student with an energy focus, are so enthused about the potential of off-the-grid living that they are launching a renewable-energy consulting company.
“There’s a lot more return on investment than just money,” Cirone says. “I believe inside our own basic spirit is the fact we want to do what’s correct for the environment and, ultimately, the universe. We hope this proves to anyone who even considers [going off the grid] that if you don’t want to give up anything in your lifestyle, you can use alternative energy and still have all the amenities you want.”
• • •
Solar energy is the most popular and fastest-growing way to generate your own power. Improving technology, a glut of solar panels on the world market caused, in part, by the end of European subsidies that had driven production, and American government incentives mean solar power is an increasingly affordable option. San Diego, like some other cities, has started a program to lend money to home-owners for the purchase of solar panels, with loan payments added to the property tax over 20 years.
Though the Southwest and South are solar hot spots, studies show it is a viable option in seemingly gloomy locales like the upper Midwest and the Northeast. (See story on page 30.)
Residential solar power increased by about a third in 2009, with roughly 40,000 new installations, says Seth Masia, of the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society. Such a system – usually four kilowatts – might cost about $10,000 to purchase and install. If the savings on electric utility bills is, say, $80 a month, the investment should pay off in about a decade.
Through the national program One Block Off the Grid, homeowners band together in groups of 100 to negotiate with solar panel suppliers for bargain deals.
Many households augment solar panels with wind power – a good combination since wind tends to pick up when the sun goes down or is obscured by storm clouds. Homes typically use “small wind” power – with turbines that generate less than 10 kilowatts. But “small wind” is not a new concept – wind power has been harnessed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, for such things as transportation, milling, and pumping water. But in recent years it has become increasingly popular. The “small wind” market grew 15 percent in 2009 despite the recession, says Ron Stimmel, small systems manager for the American Wind Energy Association.
The five-kilowatt turbines needed to power an average home range from 30 to 140 feet tall and cost about $30,000. Turbines that produce less than one kilowatt – to supplement solar panels or electricity from the grid – can cost less than $10,000.
Wind turbines aren’t as easily suited to a wide range of buildings and geographic locations as solar panels, because they usually require up to an acre of space, unobstructed by tall buildings, hillsides, or trees. Wind turbines can be mounted on roofs or parapets – as in the Bronx apartment complex featured on page 29 – but only if the structure is strong enough. Zoning restrictions can make it difficult to install wind turbines, so proponents are pushing for wind-friendly codes.
And generating one’s own electricity isn’t the only way to bypass or reduce dependence on commercial utilities. In many homes, a large amount of electricity is used to run air conditioners, and electricity, natural gas, or oil is used for heating. But harnessing natural sources eliminates or reduces this consumption. The simplest way is through architecture that naturally keeps the home at a stable temperature, as John Sagebiel’s home near Reno, Nev., featured on page 30, demonstrates.
“Passive solar” means a home is designed so that the sun’s heat is captured and stored naturally. Windows are placed to maximize sunshine exposure when desired, and thick concrete floors and walls hold heat. Recently developed “smart” windows and drywall even react to the temperature outside by keeping heat out or drawing heat in.
Geothermal energy is a high-tech, relatively expensive way to heat and cool a home. But from densely packed Manhattan to the plains of the Midwest, it is increasingly common for households to plumb deep in the earth to heat and cool.
Commercial geothermal plants take volcanic heat deep in the earth to create steam to turn a turbine and generate electricity. But for individual homes, geothermal cooling and heating systems pump water through underground pipes that heat or cool the water to the constant temperature of approximately 55 degrees F. near the Earth’s surface. “You are using water as the vehicle for moving the latent temperature of the Earth,” says Martin Orio, general manager of the company Northeast Geo, a New Hampshire company. There are different models, but all essentially rely on fluid circulated through tubing that can be installed up to about 200 feet deep vertically, or horizontally about 10 feet deep and roughly as wide as the property. In winter, the fluid is warmed below the earth, then heats air using a compressor and standard technology known as the refrigeration cycle. In summer, the cycle is reversed so heat is essentially extracted from the home and sunk back into the earth.
In relatively soft or sandy soil, pipes for a geothermal system can be run horizontally or in a variety of loops. On top of hard bedrock, one must drill down – a more expensive proposition – to create a “standing column” system where fluid is circulated through a vertical cylinder with a “riser pipe” in the middle. Water moves up the center, then flows back down the outer ring of the cylinder.
Geothermal systems are typically built with the home; retrofitting is expensive and difficult, though technological innovations may soon change that. As it has become more economically practical, geothermal systems also have gained “cachet” as a status symbol, says Andrew Collins of the New York City firm P.A. Collins P.E. Consulting Engineers. The firm has designed geothermal systems at the new Liberty Island Retail Pavilion and for upscale homes in Tribeca, the Upper East Side, and on Long Island.
Meanwhile, on or off the grid, experts say the cleanest, cheapest energy is the energy not generated at all. Weatherizing a home is the best thing for the environment and the wallet.
“It’s great to have geothermal or photovoltaic [solar], but we like to stress you don’t need those technologies to have a real energy-efficient home,” says Nate Kredich of the US Green Building Council. “You need a tight envelope – good insulation, tight windows, everything air-sealed. That goes an awful long way.”
And new types of solar, wind, and geothermal systems and energy-efficiency innovations are being developed all the time.
“People just start looking to see what resources are around them, attempting to tap anything and everything that makes sense,” says Steve Brauneis, senior consultant at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a national leader in renewable-energy research. “We’ll see all sorts of things sprout up. That’s the human spirit.”
» posted on Saturday, June 26th, 2010 at 12:35 pm by Woody Wilson viewed 270 times
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» posted on Saturday, June 19th, 2010 at 12:30 pm by Woody Wilson viewed 146 times
Friday, June 18, 2010 11:56 AM
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released its 2009 US Solar Industry Year in Review, finding 2009 to be another year of strong growth despite the economic recession. A combination of policies, new business models, and declining prices drove expansion in 2009; and growth is expected to continue during 2010.
Overall US solar electric capacity, including both photovoltaic and concentrating solar power installations, increased by 37% in 2009. According to the SEIA, this was driven primarily by strong demand in the residential and utility-scale markets, state and federal policy advances and declining technology prices. As a result, total solar industry revenue reached $4 billion, a 36% increase on that reported in 2008.
According to the SEIA’s findings, the solar industry contributed to the overall economy by adding 17,000 new jobs from coast to coast. The solar industry today employs 46,000 US workers and supports an additional 33,000 jobs in other sectors.
According to SEIA’s report, photovoltaic installations (grid-connected) grew by 38% and solar water heating rose by 10%, although solar pool heating growth was 10% less than in 2008, reflecting the decline in construction and housing markets.
The concentrating solar power (CSP) sector had three new plants come online in 2009, taking cumulative CSP capacity in the US to 432 MW, with a development pipeline totaling more than 10,000 MW.
Residential grid-tied PV solar installations showed particularly strong growth, doubling from 78 MW to 156 MW, while non-residential grid-tied PV solar installations grew 2% less than in 2008. The utility market saw notable growth, with utilities tripling their rate of grid-tied PV capacity additions from 22 MW to 66 MW. The total utility-scale pipeline (across all solar technologies) reached 17 GW, enough to power 3.4 million homes.
The U.S. solar industry is continuing to regain momentum in both the residential and commercial market, with a number of companies reporting gains overseas and in the domestic market. One recent example comes from a Reuters report on Norcross, GA-based Suniva, which has reportedly sold out its products through 2010 and is planning to triple its exports in the next five years. The wire service added that the company is also expected to build a 400-megawatt plant in Saginaw County, Michigan, with an eye on generating electricity there by 2011. Americans are going to see more and more solar energy generated in the next several years, with dozens of projects under construction or being planned throughout the Southwest. Other parts of the country that do not get as steady a supply of sunlight are also increasingly embarking on their own solar projects. Some states are even home to projects that will re-invent old landfills as solar energy plants. Elsewhere, a number of other companies have showed that they have serious potential for long-term growth with or without the various tax credits that have been provided under the government stimulus bill.
A 30%+ CAGR in solar installations is expected over the coming three years as module prices continue to fall and new markets open up; however, growth will remain choppy during periods when subsidy schemes are adjusted in key markets. Frequent supply/demand imbalances should continue in the industry; but decline in average selling prices will be moderate. Companies that are best positioned will be cost leaders and have strong balance sheet to weather continued boom and bust cycles.
Solar is relevant in subsidized markets with attractive feed-in tariffs and where regulations mandate renewable energy, especially when there is a specific solar carve out. Low-cost, established technologies that are bankable are favourable. Investors often under appreciate the importance of bankability, a critical success factor for each company. Vertical integration into downstream installation and energy markets is balance sheet-intensive, but provides a valuable level of visibility into future demand for large companies. Development pipelines can be expensive and include many early-stage projects with low likelihood of completion — diversification across a large portfolio is a major advantage.
The biggest incremental growth will be in the US utility-scale market, with an expected 2.7 GW of installations in 2012, up from 500 MW in 2009.
Solar has a strong future for three reasons:
The installed base is miniscule at 0.15% of global electricity generation. Getting to 5% of global electricity supply by 2020 would require between 500 and 750 GW of new installations (assuming capacity factors range from 15-20%).
Dedicated subsidies: In many countries, solar benefits from dedicated subsidies and renewable energy requirements.
Solar is coincident with peak demand, relatively predictable, and can be installed as distributed generation in any scale, from 1 KW residential systems to 250 MW utility-scale installations — enabling competition with traditional generation and with end-user electricity rates.
The true economics of solar are driven by government policies and subsidies and by companies’ ability to drive costs down. Long term, as the cost of solar becomes more competitive with traditional sources of electricity generation, solar will be positively correlated to natural gas prices, as solar’s direct competitor is a natural gas peaking plant.