Skip to comments.How well do Solar Panels work?
Posted on 02/08/2011 7:55:56 AM PST by MsLady
My hubby and me are thinking about going solar. Basically because we feel society is breaking down and things are getting very unstable. Obama seems to be h*ll bent on making our lives more costly to the point of ruining everything. And because we like the idea of being as independent as possible.
At any rate, we live way up north. Snow levels usually run 200" or more. Long winters from oct. through march/april. We probably have seen the sun 2 or 3 times since the beginning of the year. Lots of cloudy days from about dec. till feb/march. I wanted to know if anyone had experience with them, especially if you live in the north.
We will be building our own.
You’ll be in good company.
Obozo and Gore like solar power.
You’ve basically told us that solar panels will not work well for you.
If you are serious about personal electrical generation, can you tell me about the wind patterns, it sounds like that would be more practical for your area. That, industrial batteries, inverters and a back up generator can keep your lights on if the SHTF.
You answered your own question. You’ve seen the sun 2 or 3 times since the first of the year. Some sort of passive solar heat might add some but forget trying to generate electricity. The panels are very expensive, have low output and then you would need a huge bank of batteries. And you’d have to convert things over to DC.
There are very good reasons why homeowners do not put in solar panels to provide them with power. Our neighbor put in panels to heat his hot water. It has saved him about 0.000001 percent on his electric bill. He even laughs about it now, except when he comments on the two thousand dollars he spent for the system.
He even put in a solar powered gate. He has to replace the battery every other year at a cost of $150.
My advice is simple. Wait another 50 years until they have improved the technology.
They just had a special issue on energy-saving construction, including solar, super-insulation, groundwater heating, etc.
I have experience with solar construction, as our first house was passive solar.
Here's the deal, just my opinion:
Solar electric cells don't work very well. You can use them for backup but as a primary source they are dicey. Effective storage is the weak link.
Solar hot water heating is fairly effective, but an even better method is via ground water loop (geothermal). You'd have to dig deep, below the frost line, and you need electricity to pump and circulate the water, but you don't need to heat it.
The number one thing you need to do is super-insulate your house. That means digging into the south side of a hill (make sure your contractor understands groundwater and proper drainage around subsurface walls), no windows on the north, closets, garage, carport etc. on the north, few windows on east and west, and glass wall on the south - with movable insulated shutters to avoid heat loss at night. Then get the R-factor up as high as you possibly can - super thick walls with optimal insulation material, thermal and moisture barriers, triple-pane windows with nitrogen, double-doored entryway to keep warm air from escaping.
If the house is super-sealed you will need to provide for air exchange.
You need to read up on ALL of this before you build, and actually before you interview an architect so you can ask intelligent questions. Fine Homebuilding is the best place to start - Taunton Press, which publishes FH, also has books and links to well known architects & builders.
I'm no engineer but I wouldn't waste the money on them, I'd much rather spend a lot less on an emergency generator that will run my house during the power outages we'll be experiencing because we refuse to build power plants.
200 inches of snow per year means you’ll have to clean the panels each time it snows....(I have a friend going through this as we post)
Solar panels work fine for low current low voltage applications. The technology has been improving, but it is still a very expensive power source and you need batteries to store the power.
Bright sunshine is necessary to work well.
After the power is stored in batteries, unless you re-appliance (convert the home to 12-V DC) you have huge power losses for even the simplest applications. 50% power loss in the typical inverter power supply, and those do not produce 60 cycle AC so some appliances don’t work on inverters.
I had friends who lived off the grid when I lived in NM. They did this in the early to mid 1980’s. BUT they used wood heat, had spartan appliances, lived in a passive solar adobe home and had a gasoline generator that they only used when they washed clothes.
For the average person, it is not a sensible solution. I could easily live off the grid, but my wife would never be happy with that spartan a lifestyle.
We get tons of wind, of course it does vary from year to year. We already have a windmill. We are at the top of a hill with nothing blocking the wind. The windmill averages about 1/4 of our electricity but, on windy days it makes it all plus some. We are probably going to do a battery back up. My brother in law owns a recycling business(code for junk yard but he doesn’t like that name.) He just acquired 25 batteries from the state for recycling, they are near new along with a converter. The converter is older about 10 years old. We can get the batteries dirt cheap but we need a good converter.
It maybe possible with little things like these to trim back your cost 20%.
Google lawn mowers that run on propane. A lot of tinkering going on to get some yard tools to run on something other than gasoline. Given the potential inroads with Shale Gas, maybe this is a place to look for opportunities...
The bigger question is water. I see you can get "Gray Water" systems ( i.e. taking shower water or washing machine water and using it for toliet flushing) from Canada for about $3,000, but I am not sure they are "certified" here in the States.
do you have room for a lake at the top of the hill?
you could use the windy days /excess electricity to pump
the water to the higher level, then on calm days use the stored hydro power.
PV (solar electric) panels actually work better in Northern climates (when the sun shines) than southern locations due to thermal loss, etc. With todays technology they are only about 18% efficient.
You might consider thermal solar (hot water) were you can heat hot water and depending on how large of a system - your entire house. They are about 70% efficient.
In Michigan you might also consider geo - thermal ground loops which draw heat from the earth - I would think they are the most efficient in your location.
Solar is only marginally effective here in Arizona where we get sunshine 360 days a year. Here a typical solar electrical setup would run in excess of $60,000 and take more than 10 years to start breaking even. In your neck of the woods doubtful.
Look for a source of coal that you can easily extract near buy. There are many small coal deposits that are too small to be commercially viable.
But these small deposits on the surface that can be mined easily will keep you warm and cozy for years.
Get a generator and some batteries you can charge. If you want a renewable, get a small battery charging windmill that you can buy for 400-800 dollars with self-installation.
As you know, sunlight is required to generate electricity in the form of low DC voltage from each cell. Cells are wired together in panels to provide higher voltage and current.
Now the DC Voltage must be converted to AC thru an inverter. And all this must power the house including lights, water wells, freezer, refrigerator, and what else.
You’re looking at kilowatts!
Now Harbor Freight is selling Solar Panel kits at $199 each. And this kit generates only 45 watts each! Just enough to power 1 lousy flourescent lamp.
Now you have to have enough sunlight each day ideally to provide charging power to the bank of batteries to power the house during dark periods. Being far North with about 200” of snow each year -— I have some doubts here.
You would have to be millionaires to consider Solar power at your location!
Now the previous poster here suggested looking at wind power. That might be an alternative to look at.
“can heat your water” - no need to heat “hot water”.
Photovoltaics will be almost useless for half the year. A passive solar house, if well designed and built will reduce your heating fuel bill by a lot. How much depends on the details of the house and the site.
How is your site for wind power? Windchargers are a maintenance problem but at a well suited site a manageable small unit can provide lights and electronics (leds and laptops, not incandescents and 48” TVs)
The most important factor in going off the grid is to manage your required loads. Unless you are planning for a huge installation, no washers, driers, air conditioning, dish washers, etc are going to work. Change all your lights to leds (expensive but long lived) and limit your other loads. Investigate 12v or 36v dc appliances to save the inefficiencies of dc to ac inverters.
Thank you so much for the feedback. This is very helpful. My hubby wants me to do the building. I don’t want to waste my time doing it if it isn’t going to be very efficient.
Right now we have a windmill that produces on average 1/4 to 1/3 of our electricity. And 2 wood stoves with propane back up. We have looked into heating our water with the wood stoves but, haven’t really study it out yet.
That being said, you can radically reduce your self reliance on other energy sources although this will require some lifestyle adaptations and not just loads of $$$.
To get a feel for the effect of location on solar energy in general and specifically on passive solar energy, I recommend a really outstanding book The Passive Solar Energy Book, Edward Mazria, Rodale Press, 1979. Yes, it's been in print a long time but it's the best I've found for the basics and walks you through the key design factors very well. I've adapted its information to industrial design, not just residential where I have also applied it.
In addition, take a look at expedition vehicle strategies for self sufficiency including solar. www.expeditionportal.com has very good information on this and a homeowner can pick up some useful tricks.
I do appreciate this info. This is the kind of stuff I’m looking for. My hubbies being pretty insistent about this. But, tells me he wants me to do the research. So I’m doing :)
If one windmill produces 1/4th of your power needs, then 4 should about cover it if you have adequate storage. I don’t know the size of battery you are speaking of but 25 auto batteries will not do it.
You are talking huge cash outlay but if you can afford it, look into fork lift batteries, cheaper per kwh than auto batteries and I think they are all deep cycle.
I have the wind to power my house but I’m 100% utility power because I can’t justify the investment. And honestly, if you have power when the infrastructure goes down, I’d be more worried about guns than lights.
We have two shallow wells and one deep well. The deep well pump is killing us in the amount of electricity it uses. So we have a hand pump we are going to run a line into the house to the basement, for basic stuff and in case we lose power. When we have no power, we have no water. We’ve also been thinking that we should run the washing machine from the shallow well also.
I’ll check out the tromb wall building. Thanks for the info :)
Here in the north solar is generally fine for charging gadgets but not so great for any real power production. The problem is that current solar panels reflect far more energy than they collect and energy storage is still a problem.
Passive solar can be pretty effective for helping to heat. I built a porch and put in 5 sets of sliding glass and keep my houseplants out there all year. I also have a couple of southfacing 4x8 foot picture windows that collect heat during the day and keep the furnce at bay.
My neighbor uses geothermal to help heat his house. Even here in Michigan the earth is considerably warmer just a few feet down.
The second-best solar-based energy system I have owned was lots of well-insulated windows. Not quite as good as the skylight on a cost basis, but it helped on illumination and added a pleasant, light feeling to the house. I had roll-up blinds for privacy at night and they worked great.
So, keep it simple and cheap. Avoid that pricey, high-tech gimmickry of PV and even solar heating systems.
We own about 20 acres up here. Probably enough to build a pond. We have a stream that turns into a fast running brook that goes down to the lower part of our property I don’t know if it would be deep enough though. When there is a lot of water it’s probably only a few inches deep but, it sure moves fast. It dries up at the end of summer/fall.
It is even possible to use the waste heat drom the generator to heat water.
As others have said,the first step is to reduce your power needs to the very minimum.This means spending more money on lots of insulation and careful siting of the home.It is actually cheaper,probably a necessity,to buy the super-efficient EXPENSIVE refrigerators and other applianes,rather than try to buy enough solar panels to power the convential ones.
There just isn't a way for individuals to produce/harvest electricity at the price the utilities sell it to you.
The only real exception is those very few lucky enough to have a year-round stream of adequate flow and drop in which case home hydroelectic plant is great.
The guy that put our windmill in a couple of years ago is also doing the thermal ground loops. I haven’t read very much on those yet.
Another thing to consider is, it sounds like you live in or near Alaska. The serious lack of Sun will be your biggest problem, but also, the steep angle of the Sun during Winter Months will severely lower the heat they will collect.
In addition to that, the hours the Sun shows during Winter won't help you much with both types of collector; P/T.
You might consider some other type of energy source. Like Wood boiler and turbine generator system. A good Turbine Electrical system will handle most of your residential energy needs during all types of weather. You can also build one at a fraction of the cost of a Solar system. (You can build the boiler yourself.)
I don’t know if there is any coal around where I live. This is or was once a huge copper mining area. We don’t have mineral rights on our property below a certain level. Not sure how many feet down.
Thank you so much for the info. I’ll check out the website and the book.
Check this site out.
Copper is going to be better than gold and silver.
You might be surprised that there is coal nearby. The North American Continent has it all over the place. Many locations don’t have enough to mine so it was never extracted. This fools people into thinking there isn’t any.
Just because you never had commercial extraction, the coal is likely there.
Back in the old days, they used to put “Black” on the name of a city or town that had deposits that the locals would use for their local use.
Also, look for streets/roads with Black in the name. This is what this means.
Some liberals think this meant to designate areas for blacks, but they wouldn’t believe the truth.
That said, a few solar panels, windmill, batteries, and inverter would provide you with enough dependable electrical power for low wattage lighting, radio, laptop, wireless Internet, small TV and etc.l
I have a 3KW solar panel grid-tie system. On a sunny day, it generates well over 15KW. Our 2,700SF deep South home is all electric and for the last two months, we've had to buy roughly 2,000 KW a month from the electric company. Last year, without the solar system, we had two buy twice that amount of power.
The system actually saves about 1/4 but has caused us to become more energy aware and that adds about another 1/4 for 1/2 cost of last year.
Without the government rebates (state 50% and fed 35%) it wouldn't have been worth it. Very glad we've had it installed though since costs of electricity have increased over 10% this year alone.
You're doing the right thing by becoming self-sufficent!
In your climate, I'd recommend three to four feet of blown cellulose in the ceiling at minimum.
The batteries were used for back electricity at the state police post.
Hey great!!! For only a forty thousand dollar investment, you’ll be able to warm up a cup of tea—sometimes even twice a day!!!! PT Barnum and WC Fields had a name for people like this.
It really depends on how much juice you need to power only what you should run, if the SHTF. One should expect to run only minimal devices, such as radio, heat, reefer (off and on), etc., to get through the outages. If your wind power generation is 25% now, that is excellent for when the SHTF. Any flowing water nearby?
I would not recommend digging coal on your own land. The permit process will require months of work by a geologist and a PE to meet Department of Interior requirements.
I almost forgot. If you get over 200 inches of snow a year, do not even consider a Solar system of either type. You will highly regret the choice if you decide to spend the large quantity of money they require.
I highly recommend the Wood or coal fired boiler at your latitude.
We have had solar for around 25 years and are in a similar climate. It hasn’t been much use in the winter, so we rely on our wood stove. We also have a generator that we have used to keep our well pump and refrigerator going.
We live close to where Obama is going to visit thursday, in the UP of Michigan.
How to make a million dollars with home solar panels; start with two million dollars.
Thank you!!!! We got a big rebate for putting in the windmill too. We are going for the battier back up next. My brother in law who owns a recycling center just got 25 batteries in from the state that they used for back up when the power went out. We can get them dirt cheap all we need is a good converter. He has one that came with the batteries but, it’s over 10 years old.
well, if you want a 40 year payback on an item that lasts 30 years, go ahead.
Uh first off, I’m not stupid, secondly it never hurts to look into how things work and get info. And I wouldn’t be paying someone to build them, I’d do it myself. I’m looking at all my options for being as independent as possible. Someone who is stupid wouldn’t do that. They’d just sit on their butts and criticizes those that do.
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