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New solar-cell efficiency record set
Scientific American ^ | Aug 27, 2009 | David Biello

Posted on 09/16/2009 8:17:13 AM PDT by canuck_conservative

Here's a seemingly simple solar power fact*: the sun bathes Earth with enough energy in one hour (4.3 x 1020 joules) to more than fill all of humanity's present energy use in a year (4.1 x 1020 joules). So how to convert it? In the world of solar energy harvesting, there's a constant battle between cost and efficiency. On the one hand, complex and expensive triple-junction photovoltaic cells can turn more than 40 percent of the (specially concentrated) sunlight that falls on them into electricity. On the other, cheap, plastic solar cells under development convert less than 5 percent.

In between, ubiquitous photovoltaics—the multicrystalline silicon solar panels cropping up on rooftops across the country and, indeed, the world—struggle to balance the need for (relatively) easy manufacturing and low cost with technology to get the most electrons for your solar buck.

Yesterday, Spectrolab announced that its newest triple-junction solar cells had achieved the world record in efficiency, converting 41.6 percent of specially concentrated sunlight into electricity. All told, a tiny cell just 0.3174 square centimeters turned the sunlight equivalent of nearly 364 suns into 4.805 watts. That kind of efficiency is why 60 percent of satellites in orbit today bear earlier iterations of the technology; that's a total of roughly 640 kilowatts of Spectrolab cells circling Earth.

Those cells cost 40 cents per watt, according to the manufacturer—if you happen to have the sunlight equivalent of 500 suns streaming down while enjoying a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. In reality, only specialized applications like satellites (and government contractors or agencies like NASA) can afford the technology.

More Earth-bound photovoltaics, like Suntech's Pluto line of multicrystalline cells, which boasts 17.2 percent efficiency converting one sun's light into electricity, or Suniva's ARTisun single silicon crystal cells that can convert 18.5 percent of the sunshine into electricity, cost more than $2 per watt. Installation roughly doubles that price.

Bringing the cost of just the photovoltaic cells down to about $1 per watt is the magic number solar manufacturers are aiming for, figuring that will make them cost-competitive with electricity produced by burning natural gas. Some manufacturers of thin film cells (less efficient but cheaper), such as First Solar, claim to have reached that mark, with efficiencies around 10 percent. Finding a way to further boost the ability to convert sunlight into electricity while also lowering costs to this level would herald the true dawn for solar power—something anticipated since photovoltaics were discovered.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: efficiency; electricity; energy; solarpower; sun
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By way of comparison, I think a gasoline powered motor gets about 25-30% efficiency.
1 posted on 09/16/2009 8:17:14 AM PDT by canuck_conservative
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To: canuck_conservative

Jimmy Carter suspects racism is what is driving this.


2 posted on 09/16/2009 8:17:57 AM PDT by Lazamataz (Put butter on your tag line.)
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To: canuck_conservative

mark


3 posted on 09/16/2009 8:18:49 AM PDT by delacoert (Good health to your belly button.)
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To: canuck_conservative

4 posted on 09/16/2009 8:20:54 AM PDT by xcamel (The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it. - H. L. Mencken)
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To: canuck_conservative
I priced solar power to install last year. With no government subsidies, I could easily pay the cost of my traditionally powered electricity with the just the interest of what it would have cost me to install solar cells (with optimistic predictions).

It is a no brainer. It makes no economic sense at this point in time. There is no ROI - ever.

5 posted on 09/16/2009 8:21:49 AM PDT by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - they want to die for islam and we want to kill them)
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To: canuck_conservative

And by way of comparison internal combustion engines ( as well as diesel and turbines) are scalable. Solar energy is still a pipe dream. Tell me what you do at night? What do you do when it is cloudy? How are you going to store any of that energy for later distribution and consumption?

Solar is useful for space craft period. oh and heating your water for a shower


6 posted on 09/16/2009 8:21:50 AM PDT by the long march
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To: canuck_conservative

Bringing the cost of just the photovoltaic cells down to about $1 per watt is the magic number solar manufacturers are aiming for, figuring that will make them cost-competitive with electricity produced by burning natural gas.

I wonder if the cost they talk about takes into account the fact that you have to replace them all every 10 years or so.


7 posted on 09/16/2009 8:22:25 AM PDT by DManA
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To: canuck_conservative
Bringing the cost of just the photovoltaic cells down to about $1 per watt is the magic number solar manufacturers are aiming for

I don't have a recent bill in front of me, but IIRC, my home uses 1600 watts a month. If the solar manufacturers attain their goals, I can power my home for just $1600 a month!!

Such a deal.

8 posted on 09/16/2009 8:26:22 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy (Play the Race Card -- lose the game.)
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To: DManA
$1/watt. Compared to a cost of about $0.10 per kilowatt-hour on my last bill means I would need 10,000 of full sunlight (10000 watt-hours = 10 kilowatt-hours for that $1) to break even. Longer if I have to pay for maintenance and a storage system.
9 posted on 09/16/2009 8:27:48 AM PDT by KarlInOhio ("I can run wild for six months ...after that, I have no expectation of success" - Admiral Obama-moto)
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To: the long march

Well of course, its not usable at night or when it’s overcast. Just like wind power can’t be used when it’s calm.

But they ARE there at times, free and available to augment to on-demand electricity supply.

The technology may be pricey at the moment, but it’s changing quick.


10 posted on 09/16/2009 8:28:20 AM PDT by canuck_conservative (Obama - The "Big Owe")
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To: 2banana
For me, however, it was the only viable solution. I'm just too remote for the utilities. It does help that my electric needs are small.

/johnny

11 posted on 09/16/2009 8:31:08 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: KarlInOhio

Yea the maintenance aspect is always overlooked in these stories. If they came up with a technology that produced electricity at $0.001 per kilowatt-hour, but you had to replace them once a week, that still wouldn’t be a very good deal would it?


12 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:00 AM PDT by DManA
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To: ClearCase_guy
I don't have a recent bill in front of me, but IIRC, my home uses 1600 watts a month. If the solar manufacturers attain their goals, I can power my home for just $1600 a month!!

No, the solar panels are a one time capital cost, not a recurring cost.

Your electric bill probably has 1600 kilowatt-hours per month which is an average power of 2222 watts if spread evenly over the month. Figure at 1/4 usage (my wild ass guess) for nights and clouds you would need 8888 watts of panels, or a one time cost of $8,888. Plus you need installation and storage. But those are one time costs. Now compare that to your monthly bill and see how long your payoff time is.

13 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:02 AM PDT by KarlInOhio ("I can run wild for six months ...after that, I have no expectation of success" - Admiral Obama-moto)
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To: canuck_conservative

They are not FREE. If you actually think that then you need to go back to science school.

Pricing for these technologies will not come down anytime in the foreseeable future -— nor should they. This is the same type of madness that drives people to food into fuel. Augmentation is not a main source and hence will never be lower in cost. If you want really consistent power then look to things such as shale, tar sands, nuclear, and coal


14 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:10 AM PDT by the long march
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To: Lazamataz
Actually it's Bush's fault. If it weren't for him, we could achieve 60% efficiency.
15 posted on 09/16/2009 8:33:10 AM PDT by John.Galt2012 (I'll take Liberty and you can keep the "Change"!)
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To: JRandomFreeper

On my grandparents’ farm before electricity they generated gas from carbide and lit the house with that. I understand that was not uncommon. Wonder if that is still possible today for remote locations like yours?


16 posted on 09/16/2009 8:35:03 AM PDT by DManA
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To: 2banana

There is a way to convert solar energy into electric power at a reasonable cost. Make the Gulf of Mexico your solar energy collector, and tap that energy via the Gulf Stream as the moving ocean current passes through the Florida Straits.

Turbines located beneath the ocean surface would not conflict with visual appeal or vessel traffic.


17 posted on 09/16/2009 8:35:46 AM PDT by mission9 (It ain't bragging if you can do it.)
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To: canuck_conservative
The technology may be pricey at the moment, but it’s changing quick.

I've been hearing that since about 1973....

18 posted on 09/16/2009 8:36:12 AM PDT by Erik Latranyi (Too many conservatives urge retreat when the war of politics doesn't go their way.)
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To: KarlInOhio
Not true. As I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong) the useful life of the current generation is only about 10 years.

No, the solar panels are a one time capital cost, not a recurring cost.

19 posted on 09/16/2009 8:36:46 AM PDT by DManA
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To: DManA

Current generation - I think I accidentally make a joke.


20 posted on 09/16/2009 8:37:20 AM PDT by DManA
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To: the long march

Well I meant the “source” is free - you still have to pay for the equipment, whether its solar or fossil fuel, duh - but after that, solar is free.

Fossil fuel isn’t.


21 posted on 09/16/2009 8:38:42 AM PDT by canuck_conservative (Obama - The "Big Owe")
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To: canuck_conservative

Hey, neat, we could surround the earth at 50,000 feet with hundreds of giant magnifying glasses and power our cars. Of course, it might be a little risky.


22 posted on 09/16/2009 8:38:54 AM PDT by AmericanVictory (Should we be more like them or they more like we used to be?)
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To: DManA
My panels have a 25 year warranty.

/johnny

23 posted on 09/16/2009 8:40:42 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (God Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: DManA
Not true. As I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong) the useful life of the current generation is only about 10 years.

The solar panels will last a lot longer than that, if you use a battery bank to store excess energy for use at night then batteries will need replacing every 10-15 years depending on the quality and how they were cared for. But panels will outlast a roof.

24 posted on 09/16/2009 8:42:28 AM PDT by SirAllen (Atheist: someone who believes that nothing made everything)
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To: canuck_conservative

Of course fossil fuel is free -— after all it is just sitting in the ground. Rather like sunlight just sitting around in the air. The trick is to extricate it, use it, and do it all for a reasonable price. Currently that means oil, gas, and coal.

Keep trying


25 posted on 09/16/2009 8:45:57 AM PDT by the long march
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To: the long march
This is the same type of madness that drives people to food into fuel.

Totally wrong analogy. With ethanol, you were taking from the food supply, already being fully used.

With solar, wind, and tidal power, we're talking about a huge energy source that currently being 99.9999% UNused. And the quantities are literally huge - there's lots left for the taking!

Time to open your mind a bit - or do prefer to always stay reliant on the Middle East?


26 posted on 09/16/2009 8:48:19 AM PDT by canuck_conservative (Obama - The "Big Owe")
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To: DManA
OK, the replacement costs have to be amortized over the panel lifetime and efficiency reduction during that lifetime has to be accommodated. I was pointing out that $1/watt was not a monthly cost.

Get the solar panel installed cost with a storage system (or a cost neutral way of pumping my daily excess into the grid and back out at night) down to $0.10/kWh amortized over the life of the panels and I'll order some. If they are much more than that I'll just stay with the grid.

At $1/watt and my wild ass guess of 6 hours average per day it will be about $0.05/kilowatt-hour before installation, energy storage and maintenance if spread over ten years. That number is in the ballpark for replacing power from the electric company.

27 posted on 09/16/2009 8:49:40 AM PDT by KarlInOhio ("I can run wild for six months ...after that, I have no expectation of success" - Admiral Obama-moto)
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To: ClearCase_guy
1600 watts

That would have to be 1600 kilowatt-hours. Watts if power. Kilowatt-hours is energy. Energy is what you pay for.

28 posted on 09/16/2009 8:53:23 AM PDT by Right Wing Assault
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To: canuck_conservative

I happen to work in the field you loon.
What you so lightly describe as easy things to accomplish ( ie storage that is efficient and can handle high distribution loads) is not. My mind is completely open as yours apparently is not. I have already cited shale, tar sands, nuclear, and coal as currently available sources of stable energy.

We can and probably should continue to work on the others. Wind is most useful while actually at sea ( in the propulsion of large cargo ships), not so useful on land. Solar as an actual source of large ampunts of energy poses greater risks due to the concentrators than even some of the nuclear plants out there.

Again, keep trying.


29 posted on 09/16/2009 8:54:23 AM PDT by the long march
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To: canuck_conservative

Oh and please pay enough attention that what they got was 4 friggin Watts. When a small sized town uses megawatts that should be easily scalable.


30 posted on 09/16/2009 8:55:31 AM PDT by the long march
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To: SirAllen

Did some quick googling. Looks like there was a problem with the plastic coating discoloring and reducing the efficiency. They claim they’ve overcome this problem. Guess we’ll see if that’s true in a few years. I’m not a materials engineer but seems the cells themselves would last near forever.


31 posted on 09/16/2009 8:57:37 AM PDT by DManA
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To: the long march
Work in oil & gas? Gee never would have guessed that

Of course fossil fuel is free -— after all it is just sitting in the ground. Rather like sunlight just sitting around in the air. The trick is to extricate it, use it, and do it all for a reasonable price.

Yah its free as long as its sitting in the ground. Getting it from there to your electrical generator ALWAYS incurs costs.

By contrast, solar, wind, tidal power - when they're available - all come to the generator free of charge.

What part of that is so hard to understand??


32 posted on 09/16/2009 9:03:23 AM PDT by canuck_conservative (Obama - The "Big Owe")
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To: canuck_conservative

You really are nuts. You don’t even read what you write. Generators are NOT free. getting the sunlight properly collected and out of the generator is NOT free. the land that the concentrators sit on is NOT free. The same costs for getting the product exist. I will grant you that the cracking is additional cost for oil but compared to the pricey natural of large scale photovoltaics you are not going to win that cost battle. To say that eventually PV will come down in price is nice but it also avoids the realities of manufacturing large PV.

You really do not know the science so quit while you are behind


33 posted on 09/16/2009 9:07:40 AM PDT by the long march
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To: canuck_conservative
I'll know solar power has reached its go point when I see it being used to power thousands of ice fishing shanties out on the frozen lakesof the northern regions,

Ther's nothing more inovative than an ice fisherman trying to make his shanty more comfortable and home like.I know many that have tried. The costs and the tech. aren't there yet. I'm talking about one room maybe a TV and a DVD player and lights.The honda gas powered generator is still the holy grail out there. Battery tech. seems to be the biggest problem. along with cold temps andd snowy cloudy days. thes are men that are used to living amp by amp. and i just don'y see it yet.

34 posted on 09/16/2009 9:08:45 AM PDT by vikzilla
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To: canuck_conservative

bump


35 posted on 09/16/2009 9:11:19 AM PDT by VOA
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To: the long march

Don’t know if you’re against these new technologies because you consider them “Obama’s babies”, or you’re stuck in a rut, or what ....

And if you’ve forgotten the power of science to innovate - ironic, considering all the moon-landing specials this summer, but whatever - then remember this quote from a century ago, by one of the then-”experts” in science:

“No balloon and no aeroplane will ever be practically successful.”
-Lord Kelvin


36 posted on 09/16/2009 9:17:06 AM PDT by canuck_conservative (Obama - The "Big Owe")
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To: ClearCase_guy
"If the solar manufacturers attain their goals, I can power my home for just $1600 a month!!"

You're confusing cost to install (capital) with cost of operation. The $1/watt is the cost to install the cells.

37 posted on 09/16/2009 9:19:46 AM PDT by Wonder Warthog ( The Hog of Steel)
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To: DManA
"I wonder if the cost they talk about takes into account the fact that you have to replace them all every 10 years or so."

Since the vendors are guaranteeing their cells for 20 years, I think you point is "invalid".

38 posted on 09/16/2009 9:21:00 AM PDT by Wonder Warthog ( The Hog of Steel)
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To: ClearCase_guy

Racist capitalist.


39 posted on 09/16/2009 9:23:12 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Dems, believing they cannot be deceived, it is impossible to convince them when they are deceived.)
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To: Wonder Warthog

Complete replacement guarantee or pro-rated?


40 posted on 09/16/2009 9:23:24 AM PDT by DManA
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To: the long march
"Solar energy is still a pipe dream. Tell me what you do at night? What do you do when it is cloudy? How are you going to store any of that energy for later distribution and consumption?"

The above is true for photovolataics, but not solar thermal. For solar thermal is possible to store the energy AS HEAT to continue to generate power at night. With eight hours worth of heat storage capacity, a solar thermal plant can provide all energy needs and match the "day-night" demand cycle exactly, without ANY need for fossil fuel "backup".

41 posted on 09/16/2009 9:24:20 AM PDT by Wonder Warthog ( The Hog of Steel)
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To: canuck_conservative

Cells down to about $1 per watt. Ok now what is the battery cost to keep the lights on until midnight?


42 posted on 09/16/2009 9:26:34 AM PDT by Vaduz
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To: DManA
"Complete replacement guarantee or pro-rated?"

Prorated, but the pro-rating is acceptable:

"Kyocera Solar Panels come with a 20 year warranty on the power production of their panels. Because there are no moving parts, the only wear-and-tear these systems see is from daily sun exposure, year after year. This is factored into the 20-year warranty, which states that by the end of the twelfth year, the panels should still be producing at 90% of their initial capacity, and that by the end of the 20th year, they should still be producing at 80% of their rated power."

Nanosolar, which is already selling cells for $0.99/watt, offers a 25 year warranty.

43 posted on 09/16/2009 9:34:51 AM PDT by Wonder Warthog ( The Hog of Steel)
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To: SirAllen
But panels will outlast a roof.

How well do they hold up in hail?



44 posted on 09/16/2009 9:40:04 AM PDT by zeugma (Will it be nukes or aliens? Time will tell.)
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To: canuck_conservative

Importantly, if you want the most bang for your buck from solar energy, you have to use it for *marginal* applications, *passive* effects, and *multiplying* effects. Let me use three examples.

To start with, the bulk of your household energy is inexpensive grid power. It is great for this. However, when you get into periods of “peak demand” (in summer or winter, depending on where you live), you enter the “marginal” zone, where suddenly the price of grid power jumps, because its demand jumps. If you can use solar power just to stay *out* of the marginal zone, you save a bundle, and solar power becomes very efficient.

In the hot desert southwest in summer, a home air conditioner in the heat of the day sucks down energy like a sponge, but for the wrong reason. Say it is 115F out, and you want it to be 76F inside your home. What most people don’t realize is that their a/c doesn’t just cool down the inside of their home, but it has to contend with cooling the crawlspace above their home as well. And crawlspace temperatures can get over 140F, easily.

But a little, solar powered fan, that blows the hot air out of the crawlspace, lowers its temperature to “only” 120F. But this 20 degree difference radically lowers the load on the a/c. So a little solar powered fan can save you a $75-100 a month.

Pretty darn efficient. An excellent “marginal” use for solar power.

As a second example, that of “passive” solar energy, works in just the opposite direction. One of the biggest energy use appliances in a home is the hot water heater. Typically, it has to heat cool city water (say 75F) to perhaps 120F. But just diverting the city water to a “passive” roof solar water heater, just a stainless steel tank painted black, it raises the temperature of city water to maybe 100F or more.

And throughout the warm months this can save a huge amount of money. In winter, a simple bypass valve means that the empty tank doesn’t freeze.

“Multiplying solar power effects” still need a lot of development, but can be anything from a solar still to recover fresh water, to using solar powered water electrolysis to get hydrogen and oxygen, both of which are otherwise expensive, but very useful.


45 posted on 09/16/2009 9:43:44 AM PDT by yefragetuwrabrumuy
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To: 2banana

I looked into it a few years ago. Same result: makes no economic sense. Two years ago, a solar salesman admitted to me that it’s only for rich people - even with subsidies.

I’d love to have solar power. I hate being on the grid. But I ain’t rich. So until they solve the economics, I ain’t buying.


46 posted on 09/16/2009 10:04:23 AM PDT by karnage (worn arguments and old attitudes)
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To: canuck_conservative

Thanks Canuck for the link, I’m starting a class next Monday to become a Certified Photovoltaic Practitioner. At present I’m an unemployed licensed electrician, the only jobs out there right now are from out of state firms looking to parachute here to do business in photovoltaics. Basically they lack the licenses, I lack the experience, though I am ahead of the curb having wired two systems out of the 102 commercial systems installed last year in Massachusetts.

So I think come the Spring of 2010 I’ll be ready to install some systems on my own.

I don’t consider myself a “Green” but I hate seeing all of our nation’s profit going to the Middle East, quite sick of it in fact.

I like to see a huge push to nuclear power, then coal, then renewables, seems pretty sensible to me.

A couple of things folks are overlooking when they consider photovoltaics (vs thermal solar) is that it works quite well in the winter, and it introduces energy into the grid exactly when the demand is peak during the day.


47 posted on 09/16/2009 10:34:34 AM PDT by Sparky1776
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To: karnage

Karnage,

“So until they solve the economics, I ain’t buying.”

If you look at the post above, you’ll see that a very basic system can reap huge rewards. A attic fan can be installed to a module or two, independent of any other system - no batteries, no grid tie in. The sun shines - the fan keeps your attic cool(er), thus the house, cutting the demand for the AC running all day. Just a couple hundred bucks to install.


48 posted on 09/16/2009 10:39:13 AM PDT by Sparky1776
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To: canuck_conservative

Look up some of the stuff that I actually work with

flexotricity for example.

I am not AGAINST any of these. I am merely pointing out that what you claim is not currently factual. it is not based on any thermodynamics nor electrochemistry nor materials science. I am not saying it won’t ever happen. I merely pointed to things that already exist. Why won’t you address those????


49 posted on 09/16/2009 10:46:47 AM PDT by the long march
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To: Wonder Warthog

Actual the solar thermal plants that exist DO have fossil fuel backup .....your understanding of solar thermal comes from reading a few articles not actual experience


50 posted on 09/16/2009 10:50:15 AM PDT by the long march
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