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.
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