Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Habitat For Humanity Solar pictures

Hey solarDwellers:

Hopefully, after two days of work plus just one more coming up, we'll have another few solar PV systems completed on the Habitat for Humanity East Bay project in Livermore, CA!! Yess!!!

Check out my pictures from the event at and feel free to send me any solar questions or even how much a solar PV system might cost these days at : Best email is  I enjoy getting your solar questions and letting you know how easy(or challenging) a solar solution can be.

Go solar and enjoy the pictures,
--the solarDweller
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Monday, May 29, 2006

Part II--The other shoe drops--the electricity corporation's hand in CA

Hey solarDwellers:

So, the other day I was complaining in a post because California Public Utilities Commission is going to get less generous with the amount of rebate money people who install solar pv will get next year. The example I used: a nice-sized, 2.5kW single-home system net price could go up from $15,800 this year to $17,000 next year because of a lower state rebate, unless of course your nice, neighborhood installer decides to keep the price toward the lower end to keep demand high, with the effect of lowering his/her own profit margin.

And if these possible state-level changes weren't dizzying enough for installers and consumers, PG&E (the other shoe, the California electricity corporation), decided to change its electricity rate structure beginning May 1 of this year(2006).

The biggest change was in their "Time of Use" rate, which is the type of rate which most solar owners have chosen historically and found most beneficial economically for the solar power they sell "back" to PG&E during "peak hours." Anyone can choose a "time of use" rate, which just means the utility will charge you more for power you use between 12-6pm(peak hours), and charge you less for all other hours and weekends(off-peak). Doesn't sound good if you use much power during those peak hours. But if you have some nice solar panels on your roof, and you don't use much power during those peak hours, you get to EXPORT that power to PG&E at the HIGHER peak-hour rates, while you pay PG&E LESS for off-peak power at night.

This was a great deal for solar, because on the old "time-of-use" schedule, called "E-7" in PG&E language, in the Summer PG&E would pay or credit the solar owner for their solar electricity at $.29/kWh between noon and 6pm, and only charge that owner around $.09/kWH to use the utility's electricity outside those peak hours. This large differential for the solar owner between the price to sell and buy, in effect, made it possible to buy a PV system that produced only 65% of their electricity usage but REDUCED the electric bill by 95%. In other words, a PV system producing 65% of your electricity needs could produce 95% of economic savings.

Now, the problem: solar owners can't get the old "E-7" rate with such a wide differential between peak and off-peak prices. Now you have to go with the "E-6" rate schedule. Instead of earning $.29/kWH peak and paying $.09/kWh off-peak in Summer, the new rates are $.21/kWh peak and $.095/kWh off-peak. They're paying you less for your solar during the day and charging you more at night for power!!! What a deal!!

So, what's it all mean!? Basically, the magic of a PV system producing only 65% of your electricity but reducing your bill by 95% is not so magic any more, because the utility is buying your solar for less between those prime noon-6pm hours when solar panels produce at their best. The reality now is that you need a bigger, more expensive PV system than you would have needed under the old rate to get that same 95% economic savings benefit.

All in all, future solarDwellers, it's been a pretty disappointing double whammy from the state(potential reduced rebates) and the corporation(reduced price for your solar exports) at the same time. Don't get me wrong! This is just a bump in the road in the rebirth of solar in California and nationwide.

Buying solar for your abode still is guaranteed to pay you back on your investment and guaranteed to reduce your carbon footprint A LOT!!!! You'll be glad to know if you put a 2.5kW system on your house, it's roughly the carbon equivalent of not driving your car 10 months out of each and every year that your solar panels are on your roof. So, stick with your current car and buy solar instead of a new car, or try not driving for the 10 months out of every year . . . .You gotta do what works for you.

--the solarDweller
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Friday, May 26, 2006

Volunteering to install solar this weekend

Hey solarDwellers:

Just got done with one full day on the roof in Livermore, CA on a Habitat for Humanity multiple "green building" duplex project. The solar part's being coordinated by a local non-profit that installs solar for only low-income households: Grid Alternatives. In this case all the equipment was donated, so these homeowners will have close to a $0 electric bill from day one with no loan payment they would normally have to pay off the solar panels. I'll update after day two tomorrow and hopefully get some pictures up soon! It is so cool to see solar pv panels going up on a group of houses together ringing the same curved street.

Later . . .
--the solarDweller
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Solar funding tremors in California--a rant Part I

Hey solarDwellers:

Man, my longest posting absence(two weeks)since solarDweller began last November. Thanks for checking back--yes, the solarDweller blog is alive. IT'S ALIIIIIVE. Partly a break form writing solar-all-the-time, and busy with other solar "activities" and work beyond the internet world.

But, it's amazing how just two weeks in solar time can be like lightyears with how fast solar regulatory/economic faultlines can shift. Enough to confuse and even worry your potential average solar pv consumer, and enough to test the nerves of your average local, hard-working installer. So, here's a version to give you the gist . . .

First, those average PV consumers and installers were all happy, even making a clean-energy toast, when the California PUC authorized the 10-year solar rebate funding plan back in January. Finally! A long term priority given to solar, along with a brand spankin' new $2,000 federal tax credit for solar as well. Woo-hoooooo!

Then, fast-forwarding a mere 4 months, with the clink of champagne glasses still ringing in our ears and the bubbly still tickling our noses, a double-whammy from two entities with a hand in solar pv: one a California state commission and the other a corporation. Today's post: the state's hand . . .
The same commission that just passed that wonderful long-term rebate funding this past January, the California Public Utilities Commission that is, came out with a draft proposal just last month saying,(liberal paraphrasing here):
"Well, maybe we're being too generous with that 10 years of $2.8 billion of rebate money we just approved(contributed at the rate of $.75/month from each electricity customer). We mean, like, you solar freaks just got that $2,000 credit from the feds, so let's drop your $2.80/watt California solar rebate to $2.25/watt beginning Jan 2007. Oh, so sorry that's only 8 months away and it was only scheduled to drop to $2.60/watt . . ."

So, for a typical single-family home 2.5kW solar PV system, this proposed rebate cut is like increasing that system cost by roughly $1200 in 8 months. I guess you can already see the PUC's thought process: "So, we increase the 2.5kW system cost by 1,200 next year. But with the new $2,000 fed tax credit, those solar pv consumers are still $800 better than they were in 2005 before that new fed credit."
Not so bad, right? The net effect(rough estimate on the high side):
2007 2.5kw system Price might be $17,000 (next year?)
2006 2.5kW system Price is $15,800 (now)
2005 2.5kW system Price was $17,800 (before)

You can see why these price girations are enough to make a future solarDweller or solarInstaller dizzy!!!

My take: if we're really serious about EXPANDING the use of solar power on a ten-year plan, taking into account the reduced greenhouse gases and environmental benefits, you AGGRESSIVELY incentivize solar at the beginning, and bring the rebate down gradually as solar production costs come down in tandem. This year's 2.5kW net price of $15,800 from the example above is NOT TOO GENEROUS in my eyes. That extra $2,000 fed tax credit was just that nice extra push to get more people in the solar market faster! I just think it's wrong-headed that the PUC now wants to SLOW that demand down because it feels we're being too generous with subsidy money.

Remember those HUGE tax breaks oil drillers got in the 2005 Energy Bill for domestic off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico? How much did Exxon make this year in record profits? Where are our priorities????

Pardon my negative enthusiasm. It's that JUST when things got REALLY good, they quickly got a little less really good. A downgrade to medium good. If your a glass-half-full type person, using the numbers above, at least we're doing better than treading water. 2007's guestimate of $17,000 for the avg system is still better than last year's $17,800 price-tag . . . .
End post with a smile :-) and, if you can, BUY SOLAR THIS YEAR while we're still at "REALLY good", especially if you're at all close to making that "solar-decision." You can even get a nice, smaller system for around $9,000 bucks. It's all good if a lot of us even go a little green!

Next post: Part II--The other shoe drops--the electricity corporation's hand.

--the solarDweller

P.S. Thanks to my solar insider "source" for bringing to my attention this recent PUC solar rebate reduction draft proposal.
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Thursday, April 27, 2006

First "Solar Spotlight" Interview by solarDweller

Metro Lighting and Crafts Store with solar, Berkeley, CA

Hey solarDwellers,

Welcome to my first installment of interviews I plan to do, talking to local people and businesses in the neighborhood that have taken that awesome, liberating and green step of going solar.

One thing I believe is that solar on roofs can be contagious as more people get curious when they see neighbors making that solar choice. The whole "tipping" point meme. I wanted a way to go further than seeing and posting photos of a new solar PV system, or a large roof with a bigger-than-average PV system in the S.F. Bay Area. So, I decided to talk to and get the first-hand experience of people living beneath those solar roofs, and let them talk about how they feel about solar, and if it has been positive both environmentally and economically for them.

So, for my first "solar-spotlight interview", I would like to highlight a
company called Metro Lighting, in Berkeley, CA that makes artisan lamp and lighting fixtures. When I first drove by their large grid of solar panels perched on their retail store roof, I thought, "Now there's a nice-sized PV system." It really made their "green building" stand out among the other industrial buildings on that block. And when I got closer and saw all those display fixtures inside, most of which the owners have diligently switched over to the energy-efficient, compact fluorescent kind, I immediately understood how that large electricity bill was probably crying out to the owners for some sleek solar panels up on the roof.

From their website, a little bit about the owners and their hand-crafted lamp designs: "Metro Lighting & Crafts was founded in 1993 by Lawrence Grown, and began as a restoration company for antique lighting fixtures. In time, Lawrence and his wife, Christa Rybczynski, who both hold degrees in Architecture, began using their
knowledge of lighting and architectural history to create new designs,
inspired and informed by Art Nouveau and Craftsman aesthetics."

Here's a side view of the roof with 100+ panels:

I spoke with Lawrence and Christa at their store and by e-mail about their year-old, commercial solar PV system as recorded in the following Q&A with them:

solarDweller: How long have you had your system?

Metro Lighting: It was one year last October/November 2005.

solarDweller: What size is your system and what percentage of your
electricity use was it designed to cover?

Metro Lighting: 19 kW. It was designed to cover 60% of our
store's electricity use.

solarDweller: How does its output compare to what your installer

Metro Lighting: We are covering at least 60%, maybe even up to 70% of our electricity use.

solarDweller: How does your bill compare to what it was before?

Metro Lighting: It had been $800 to $900/month before solar. For
last year it averaged only $300/month.

solarDweller: How long did your installer estimate it will take
for the system to pay for itself?

Metro Lighting: About 5-6 years

solarDweller: How did you get the idea to put solar on?

Metro Lighting: The monthly bill was a constant reminder of how
much energy we were using. We tell our kids to turn off the
lights when not in use at home, but we need to have our display
fixtures lit all day. I guess it was just a matter of time
until we felt we could afford the investment.

solarDweller: What was your principal motivation? Ratio of
economics/environmental benefit. (50/50? 30/70? 70/30?)

Metro Lighting: About half for economics and half for the environment.

solarDweller: What was the biggest barrier/worry to making the
decision to purchase your solar PV system?

Metro Lighting: The initial outlay of cash, and the fact that we
don't own the building.

solarDweller: If you don't own your building, what did you have to
do to convince the owners? (Gordon Commercial Real Estate)

Metro Lighting: It was much simpler than I had thought. The
owners were also interested right away, we just needed to work
out the details. We wrote an addendum to our lease saying that
we owned the system and could choose to take it with us if we
leave. The installer is liable for any roofing issues.

solarDweller: How do you feel now that you have it?

Metro Lighting: Pleased and proud.

solarDweller: Have you thought of marketing yourself as a green
business to differentiate yourself from competition?

Metro Lighting: We have applied to the Alameda County Green Business Certification program, but they have a big backlog. I'm not sure when we'll be able to officially call Metro Lighting an Alameda County Certified Green Business, but that will be an exciting day. We also have a new line of compact fluorescent lighting fixtures for further energy conservation. We've swapped out many of our display bulbs from 25 watt incandescent to 5 watt screw-in compact fluorescents as well. I'm hoping when it gets sunny that our meter will spend more time running backwards.

solarDweller: Do many people notice or ask you about your solar PV

Metro Lighting: Not that many people have mentioned the system, actually. At first there were a lot of comments, but not many anymore. That's fine, really. We want to do the right thing, but we are not in the solar business, and we don't mind sticking to the work at hand of designing, building and selling quality lighting.

That pretty much said it all, and I was glad to get such positive feedback and feelings about solar from a true solar PV owner. I liked the short payback period, and the fact they FEEL so good about having that solar there helping them make green energy for their business. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that what could be seen as the big hurdle of convincing Gordon Commercial to let them do solar, that it was just a matter of adding language to the lease and getting the guarantee from the solar installer.

It's great to see a small business doing "the right thing" in the neighborhood, carrying out their artistic endeavors while keeping our air that much greener and cleaner! And, don't worry: their neighbors will get that solar envy, and hopefully follow the great example being set by Metro Lighting of Berkeley. Check out their website the next time you need some nice lighting solutions. You'll feel good about your green purchase!

--the solarDweller

And now, for the really solar curious . . .
Some pictures of the inverter AC output and DC-AC calculations:

Their system runs off 5 Sharp 3500 watt Sunvista inverters, which means their theoretical maximum AC output is 17,500 watts or 17.5kW. Remember, these are fed by 19,000 watts or 19kW of DC power from the panels before the electricity gets converted to AC by those inverters. Electricity gets "lost" as it passes through the conversion process in the inverter. Lawrence and Christa can check out the system's AC production at any time by looking at the following displays, one for each inverter:

And a close-up of one of the displays:

The amount of DC going into that inverter from the DC panels started at 3.8 kW (19kW total panels/5 inverters), but the monitor in the photo, which we checked at high noon(solar time) on a sunny day, reads only 2.88 kW AC, not the "theoretical" max AC output from the Sunvista 3500 inverter of 3.5 kW. Why? Well, the old reality that you "lose" some of the electricity as it travels from the panels to the inverter, and then again when it passes through the inverter. The important number when you're buying a system is to try to figure the "real world" efficiency, or what percentage of the total DC rating of your panels gets converted into the AC output as it comes out of the inverter.
2.88 kW AC output / 3.8 kW of DC panels = 76%

You buy 3.8 kW worth of DC panels, and you get 2.88 kW of usable AC out of them. This is just the reality of efficiency loss when converting DC to AC. Many people OVERESTIMATE how much AC electricity their DC panels will produce. It's an easy mistake. If you buy 3.8 kW of panels and just multiply by an inverter which is 92% efficient, you'll overestimate your AC: 3.8 * .92 = 3.5 kW. To account for the total efficiency loss in the wiring, dust on the panels, etc, it's safer to count on an efficiency of 75-80% from the panels' total DC rating. I usually go with 77%, assuming direct sun, panels tilted at latitude and no significant shading. So, in the case above, just take your 3.8 kW of panels going into one inverter and multiply:
3.8 kW * .77 = 2.92 kW AC output, which is very close to the 2.88 kW "real-world" reading we saw in the photo of the single monitor above.

Use the lucky "77" efficiency number when you try to estimate the output of your solar panels and you'll come pretty darn close to reality. It's better to be pleasantly surprised that your system produces a little more than your conservative estimate than to be disappointed about what was an overly-optimistic efficiency estimate.

Hasta la próxima, solar people, and hope this post was useful!

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Click here for solar chocolate

Hey solarDwellers:

My posting frequency has dropped off recently with solar writing ideas accumulating, but lack of time recently to get them posted! It's amazing what happens to "blogging time" when stuff gets super busy. I've been exploring/working on different solar job/career opportunities, mixed in with some substitute teaching, mixed in with some work on marketing for a summer reading program for those little guys and girls fresh out of pre-school and kindergarten, getting ready for the big-time 1st grade reading experience.

So, back to solar. You'll have to scroll down a bit to see a post that was in draft form days ago, and which I just posted. It's all about makin' chocolate with solar power. Or instead of scrolling, just click HERE.

I'll be catching up with some more posting tomorrow(April 27), with my first "solar spotlight" local interview and news and info about a cool, waterproof solar product integrated into the roof membrane, among whatever else I can squeeze in to some sought-after "free" time tomorrow! Keep checkin' in with solarDweller for the solar scene and solar thoughts . . .

Until then,
--the solarDweller
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day Berkeley: Helping people with the Solar Decision

Hello solarDwellers:

Feeling motivated this morning as I head out to take my place behind a solar table at Berkeley, CA's Earth Day celebration with a solar acquaintance of mine, answering people's questions and hopefully making it easier for them to make what I'm calling "The Solar Decision."

It's one of the BEST decisions one can make as a way to reduce your contribution of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere at the local level. Putting a modest 2 kW solar PV system on your house and just letting it quietly do its work over its 20 year life is equivalent to NOT DRIVING for 10 YEARS, without making sacrifices in the comfort of your home. That's about 85,000 lbs of CO2. And as an info-mercial might exclaim: "All for the amazing price of around $12,000! (Based on the following statistics: electricity from natural gas emits 0.52 kg CO2/kWh and from coal emits 0.92 kg CO2/kWh; and according to Terra Pass, an average four-cylinder car emits roughly 7,000 lbs of CO2/year.

I didn't even mention that it's also like a CONSERVATIVE fixed investment, at least guaranteed to pay for itself over the life of the system. And if you spend $75-100 per month on electricity, it pays for itself in half that time AND you get a nice return on investment.

So, on this Earth DAY, I urge those who are able to make "THE SOLAR DECISION" to do so now when rebates/tax credits are favorable. You'll be making a good financial decision and taking action to reduce your annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Go solar!

--the solarDweller
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Monday, April 17, 2006

Solar in NY Times + Upcoming solarDweller features

Hey solarDwellers:

Man, haven't posted in a while. Ever since I got on the solar blogging train, it's hard to get off with so much exciting stuff going on in the world of solar. Having not posted for 5 days seems like an eternity in the fast-moving, complicated world of solar these days. The not cool: too much to write about, too little time. The very cool: it's not getting tiring and the ideas for writing seem never-ending. But, occasionally, the solar blogging needs a little pause action to reflect and let ideas incubate for a bit. What I'm loving . . . the trend is in tact: electricity prices increasing + more attention on global warming + good subsidy environment for solar + more competition in the solar market = long-term growth for solar and alternative energy. Yea!

Working on some ideas for posting here, such as
My new "Sun-Spotlight" feature, an original article/interview re a local business that has enjoyed the econ/enviro benefits of going solar recently

A post which will be an invitation for any of yous out there to e-mail me how much electricity you use or what your annual electricity cost is, and I'll send you a free rough estimate of what size pv system you would need and how much it might cost. (Solar) information is power, right? (the puns are flying off the shelf tonight-apologies). (Please comment, gentle reader, if you like/don't like this idea as a feature of this blog.)

Oh, maybe I should make reference to the title of this current post. NY Times Business section today featured the solar industry, and specifically SunPower, which is majority owned by Cypress Semi. Mostly a profile on the owner of CY, but worth the read which gives a picture of the momentum gathering in the solar area. This article, plus the jump over $70 barrel for oil explains the very positive day today in the market for renewable energy companies. A few of the 'graphs I found interesting from the article, re: solar growth and the HUGE amounts of silicon required . . . .

After years of promise, the market for solar power is finally taking off, with annual demand expected to increase to as much as 2,500 megawatts by the end of 2008, from about 1,000 megawatts now (which is the size of a large nuclear power plant).

For Mr. Rodgers, that is the beauty of the six-inch squares of silicon that are colored black to absorb the sun's radiation. SunPower is on track to gain the ability to make about 35 million wafers a year by the end of 2006, enough to produce 100 million watts of solar power annually.

Mr. Rodgers argues that his SunPower subsidiary has a crucial advantage over both larger and smaller competitors. While most of the industry has a conversion efficiency of around 14 percent, the SunPower photovoltaic cell will reach 21 percent, a 50 percent advantage that translates into both cost and performance leads for the company.

There are other hurdles to overcome as well. Producing 35 million silicon wafers requires more than 700 tons of silicon. "We have contracts signed for 2006, but yes, we're worried," he said. "We expect the general market will loosen up in 2008, so we've got a couple of years when we've got to wheel and deal to make sure we get it."

So glad it's sunny in California again.

--your future solarDweller

p.s Keep an eye on this company: Worldwater Corp--solar installer and mobile solar water pumping and purification
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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Growing driver of Renewable Energy Use: State policies

Hey solarDwellers:

RPS is an acronym I've been seeing a lot lately. "Renewable Portfolio Standard" is just state energy bureaucracy talk for, "Dude, what percentage of our electricity production should be from renewable sources, like, you know, green energy dude?"

State departments of energy are a HUGE driver of how much wind, solar, hydro and biomass-based electricity will ultimately get pushed out onto the grid. Progressive state green energy targets can help deal with our global warming problem, given that about 70% of our greenhouse emission prob comes simply from producing electricity, despite the fact that all the press writes out is SUV's and peak oil(see my post re: peak oil is NOT the problem).

So, now we have New Jersey's proposal from this article:
"THE ISSUE: On Wednesday, the Board of Public Utilities will vote on a proposal that would mandate that 20 percent of energy available in the state come from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar by 2020."

And then some examples from other states, which should each receive a prize from the treasure chest or a happy face sticker:
"OTHER STATES: California requires that 20 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2017 but may meet that goal by 2010. Nevada is aiming for 20 percent by 2015, and Hawaii wants to hit 20 percent by 2020."

We gotta get that green electricity flowin!!!

--the solarDweller
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

No solar brownies, but chocolate . . . yesssss

Hey solarDwellers:

In case you missed the comment by Kevin from Unplugged Living, just when I thought it couldn't get any better than solar-powered beer to go with solar-powered pizza, Kevin has served me up a nice choice for dessert: solar chocolate! Ok, my life is complete now. I retire.

And yes, read this reprinted article from Homepower Magazine about the people who built a small, solar-powered chocolate factory on the Caribbean island of Grenada, when the author's interests of chocolate and renewable energy mixed so nicely together. "Hey, you got your solar panel in my chocolate!" "No, you got your chocolate on my solar panels!" (Wasn't that how the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials went?)

Oh, I'm making a comeback, coming out of my retirement. Because when looking for chocolate images to post with this article, which I found at(you know it had to exist):, those chocolate marketers found a way to get beer into their promotion. Just totally validates and elevates to the level of "acceptable" the pizza, beer, chocolate for dessert combination.

To wit, the chocolate/beer recommendation from the connoisseurs craze marketers at

Ah, winter.

A perfect time to hibernate and enjoy some of life's finer things. What better to do on cold February nights than snuggle up to your sweetie? And what better way to seduce the object of your affection than with a dynamic duo... such as chocolate and beer.

Crazy as it sounds at first, beer may serve as a better culinary compliment to chocolate than you think. Ray Daniels, Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the Brewers Association, certainly thinks so.

"Simply stated, wine generally gets overwhelmed by chocolate. You can't taste the wine due to the richness of the chocolate," Daniels said. "Beer has the chops to stand up to the rich flavors involved. It is also about complementary flavors: earthy, roasted, even chocolaty and bitter flavors in beer that are echoed in the chocolate."

Beer and chocolate have huge fan bases in America. That's nothing new. But, if people like Daniels and "Cocoa Pete" Slosberg -- the creator of Pete's Wicked Ale -- have their way, the two can be merged to ignite a kind of synergy that is rarely equaled.

"It's not just one plus one equals two. It's one plus one equals three," said Slosberg, who has been sweet on European chocolate ever since traveling there to promote his beer.

After selling the brewery that made him famous, Slosberg is now pairing his two passions by creating his own specialty chocolates.

Daniels' recommended pairings identify three general categories of beers that play well with a range of chocolates:

Dark beers, such as porters and stouts, are made from malted barley that has been roasted to a dark, deep color. The darkened barley boosts the flavors that go well with most chocolates. Some beer aficionados even enjoy a dark, rich stout or porter as an after-dinner, desert-type treat.

Weizens (German-style wheat beers), and Belgian-style white ales (Höegaarden, Blue Moon). These are beers of lighter flavor and paler color than most all-barley ales, and often include fruity and spicy flavors such as clove, apple, nutmeg, cinnamon and apricot, among others. With these classic dessert flavors supplementing sumptuous chocolate, you and your sweetie will not be let down.

Malty golden beers and golden ales (such as Kölsch) are sweeter and lighter colored options that are clear and crisp with lower bitterness and aroma levels. These beers tend to go well with deserts in which chocolate is prevalent, but not quite as highly concentrated, such as cookies.

Have I just gotten way too eccentric and off on the solar food tangent or what? No, hey, this is for fun. Invite me to your next beer/chocolate pairing. Then I'll retire again.

--the solarDweller
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Monday, April 10, 2006

Bartender! A solar beer with that solar pizza

(From Anderson Valley Brewery website)

Hey future solarDwellers:

Thanks over there to for appreciating my post on the deliciousness of solar pizza in Mill Valley. So, right back at you with some love for finding that Anderson Valley solar beer to go with that pizza. Last time I said that I didn't know pizza could be any better, but this is just getting downright sinful now.

Does anyone know where I can find solar brownies for dessert? Hey, business-people out there: make it solar powered, and the customers shall partake. That's a fairly win-win-win-win etc scenario, no?!

--the solarDweller
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Cloudscape: natural solar power

Luckily, had the cam on me on this walk . . .

--the solarDweller

Solar Sightings No. 7--More solar in Berkeley

Hey solarDwellers:

It's the hide-and-seek solar house(yet another solar pv system in Berkeley, CA). Some solar owners, or possibly because of building codes, install their panels so they're invisible from the street. You probably know my take on that, future solarDwellers: don't hide them. Show them off! Besides, new panels are sleek and cool looking. They always impress neighbors. You can help people catch the green energy fever.
But, let's take a walk a little South on this street, and, yes, there are those panels, visible from the side of the house. I counted about 24 pv panels, so, at least 2400 watts(2.4 kW). So, they can show off after all. Although, I do admit this metallic mounting structure holding the panels is pretty funky looking. Not as sleek as panels that are installed flush to the angle of the roof. Interesting that this structure is almost horizontal(tilted very little) and facing in the West direction.

I found out why when a neighbor told me that his trees created quite a bit of shadow on the South side of this solar house. In fact, due to "solar access laws" the neighbor had to do a little tree trimming to give the solar panels their due exposure to the sun. What an environmental irony: chop down the trees to let the sun shine on the silicon. I'll just leave this conundrum with the word . . . controversial. There could be a case, for example, in a hot climate for having very tall shade trees to the west and south of the house. The shade helps decrease air conditioning use, which is better than trying to power your AC without any shade, even if powered by solar. Gotta look at each house and energy profile case by case and come up with the best overall energy solution.

--the solarDweller
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Friday, March 31, 2006

Green Marketing: Solar Pizza in Marin--extra cheese, extra photons please

Hey solarDwellers:

Now if I had my choice of pizza places, assuming they both have decent crust, tomato sauce and cheese, and one of the places powers their ovens with solar, and the other from natural gas/coal/nuclear via their friendly utility, which would the solarDweller choose???

Why,I would go to Stephano's Pizza in Mill Valley, CA, which has got a nice 26 kilowatt(kW) solar pv system on their roof (enough for about 10 homes), generating about 80% of their electricity. I didn't know it was possible to feel any better eating pizza, but now I've found a way. Pizza, powered by the sun.Mmmmmmmmm. Renewable pizza . . . now that's getting to be too good. Endless pizza.

I think there is such big potential out there for businesses that use/produce green energy to get the word out to consumers about it. Advertise it. Help differentiate themselves from those other businesses stuck in the age of fossil fuels. Help consumers feel better going to that "clean energy" business. And ultimately, be an example to the point where the competition starts doing the "solar thing" too!

Heck! Rename the business! "Stephano's Solar Pizza Shack," or a cafe, "The Solar Perk," or a copy place, "Makin' Solar Copies". Just that name change with "solar" in it, advertised well, will get more people through the doors. After all, solar is "cool" these days, and it's "high tech-y", two attention-grabbing characteristics.

Note to self: Convince Zachary's Pizza, the best pizza in the S.F Bay Area, to go solar and make all my dreams come true.

--the solarDweller
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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Listen online to Renewable Energy News

Hey solarDwellers:

From Renewable Energy Access, check out their new "podcasts." I listen online, but you mobile audiophiles might prefer to download this to your mP3 player and have renewable energy news on the go.

Listen to their "Inside Renewable Energy" edition for 3/30 using this link, which covers recent energy news, an interview with Sharp Solar representative about the silicon shortage, and a "tech spotlight" about solar air conditioning.

Good listening for when you've got tired computer screen eyes.

--the solarDweller
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Cities Doing Solar--Pacifica, California

Hey solarDwellers:

I'm lovin' seeing cities standing up on the solar wave. I already talked about Ashland, Oregon doing "community solar" where city residents buy shares of municipal solar systems. Now the beautiful beach city of Pacifica is using solar to help provide electricity for it's buildings . . .
A massive solar energy project, which will be placed on the rooftop of the Calera Creek Wastewater Recycling Plant, is perhaps the most exciting project in the works. "The current plans are to have the system online in early April," said Holmes of the 350 kw photovoltaic power system that will help generate power for the sewer plant. "We are planning additional systems for the proposed City Hall, the Community Center and the fire stations." State grants to encourage the use of solar power have been received to help offset the cost of the new systems.

Maybe a bit overstated for them to call it massive, but, hey, I'm feeling their excitement for solar, which is the most important factor for solar . . . that "good feeling" people get once they make the solar choice. 350 kW is about enough for 140 houses, or those big, city buildings.

--the solarDweller
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8 Megawatt Solar Plant for Colorado--that's 3200 houses!

Just saw this article about how Xcel energy of Colorado is opening up the bidding process for a project to install an 8 Megawatt solar plant.

Not as big as the Nevada SolarOne 64 MW plant, but enough to power about 3200 homes. Why is the utility company doing this? . . .
Xcel said it's building the facility in order to comply with Amendment 37 mandates that the company have 18 megawatts of solar power on its system. Voters approved Amendment 37 in 2004. "This [photovoltaic] plant combined with Xcel Energy's Solar Rebate program will help bring us closer to meeting the state's Renewable Energy Standard," said the CEO of the Public Service Company of Colorado.

The trend is definitely toward cleaner energy from public utilities in many states. Traditionally, utilities have looked to buy wind to satisfy this requirement, because wind power has been and still is much cheaper than solar. But recently these solar projects suggest that solar is making financial sense as well, with a guaranteed 100% return on the initial investment over the life of the solar installation.

--the solarDweller
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Solar Hot Water in affordable housing

Hey solarDwellers:

Good to see the economic and environmental advantages of renewable energy being brought into the reach of lower income levels. It doesn't only have to be for the well-off, especially solar hot water, which is less expensive.

Take a look at this article, which includes a local T.V. report(video) about how solar hot water is working in an affordable housing program in Colorado.

--the solarDweller
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Monday, March 27, 2006

California: Solar potential and current sources for our electricity generation

Hey solarDwellers:

A little while back I promised to post what percentage of California's electricity is generated by what source. So, from the California Energy Commission:
California Gross System Power(Electricity) for 2004
Natural Gas. . . . . . . . . . .40.8%
Coal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21.3%
Hydro. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14.9%
Nuclear. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12.8%
Renewables . . . . . . . . . . .10.2%
(Biom 2%,Geothermal 4.8%,Small hydro 1.6%,Solar .3%,Wind 1.5%)

Look at that! Under renewables, solar is sitting there at a miniscule .3% of the total! And you can see why our electricity bills will keep going up: 40% from Natural Gas, which has been notorious with supply problems and price spikes. It's almost embarrassing for the amount of solar resource California has(see below). Luckily, the goal is to grow that by increasing demand while lowering solar prices with the California Solar Initiative, the $3 billion, 10-year funding passed by the Energy Commission this past January! Also, California has passed a more aggressive "Renewable Portfolio Standard", which just means increasing the amount of electricity that is created by renewables:
Renewables currently generate 11% of the state’s electricity, and the Renewable Portfolio Standard established in 2002 requires power suppliers to procure at least 1% of their electricity from green power resources in a goal of achieving a 20% renewable mix by 2017. The state Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission and Power Authority recently approved the Energy Action Plan to accelerate that 20% target date to 2010. (Taken from this website)
To put it in context, the goal of the "CSI" is to help develop 3,000 MW of electricity, which would bring solar up to about 2%(max) of total electricity in California, which doesn't sound like much. But that's about 6 times today's .3%, and more solar is more solar!

California Solar Potential
My eyes almost popped out when I saw the following stats from a report entitled "California Solar Resources" from the California Energy Commission, via an article on Global Energy Network Institute website:

*California has 17 million megawatts of solar potential! To put this in context, remember the 10-year goal is 3,000 MW for California, and today California has about only 400 MW of solar installed.

Too-good-to-be-true caveat . . .The report says that huge "potential" is unrealistic: you would have to basically construct every building/house with solar, and put up solar structures/carports and large utility sized concentrating solar plants on ALL the rest of California's developable land. It also would require solar to come WAY down in price(which really might not happen until the next 15-20 years)to build on such a scale. The point is, the potential is HUGE at the right price, and the real near-term potential is much BIGGER than today's 400 MW of solar, just .3% of our electricity.

For the nearer term, the report concludes a possible total still much larger than the 3,000 MW contemplated under the California Solar Initiative, if not 17 million MW:
If PV is developed in the nearer term only as residential and commercial rooftop systems, the technical potential is still in excess of 75,000 MW of capacity. While not treated in this white paper, the actual amount of PV to be developed in California will be largely determined by economics and the special benefits that PV systems may provide to communities.

Well, at least we know we can think big and that lack of sun is not the problem for California! Let's see if we can get to the 3,000 MW in ten years, and shoot much higher when the price of solar should be much lower by that point.

--the solarDweller
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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hey solarDwellers:

Looks like the rebates for very large solar projects(above 30kW) are too popular. There was $300 million set aside for these rebates for 2006, but according to this press release from the CEC as reported by Solarbuzz, there is a "trigger point" of 50 MW, meaning that once the cumulative requests for solar rebates has surpassed 50MW, the rebate amount is automatically lowered from $2.80/watt to $2.50/watt. The reasoning is that since the rebate money is being requested at such a fast pace, the rebate level is higher than it needs to be to stimulate sufficient demand in the solar market.

Personally I agree, especially because along with the state rebate, we have for the first time the federal tax credit of 30% which is uncapped for commercial installations. You can lower the state rebate, which will let it last longer and be available for a larger number of installations. And still, when combined with the fed tax credit, it is economically very attractive for commercial-size installations.

--the solarDweller
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Solar marketing ideas

The biosphere pitch: "Act like a plant. Go solar. . . "

The competitive-nature pitch: "Be extraordinary--go solar."

The investment pitch: "Solar: Alternative Energy Treasury bonds sitting on your roof."

The global-warming worrier pitch: "Changing the climate: one solar roof at a time"

The Napoleon Dynamite pitch: "Vote solar and all your dreams will come true"

The Evangelical Pitch: "Go solar. Because the end-time is near."

The guilt-trip pitch: "Don't be a loser. Go solar."

The anti-carbon pitch: "Coal is for dolts. Go solar."

Don't know if your crying of pain or laughter, but I can't take myself so seriously all the time. Have a good day . . .

--the solarDweller
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Prairie "solar" Home Companion--adventures in solar marketing

Hey solarDwellers:

Happened to be listening to NPR this weekend, which I usually tune in to listen to "Car Talk" humor, not really caring about grinding or whizzing noises coming from under Peter in Pennsylvania's hood, but love the Car Talk show credits, like: "Assistant Director of Strategic Planning": Kent C. Detrees; "Audience Response Monitor": Luke Warm; "Adopted Son from Sweden" Bjorn A.Payne Diaz; "Child Development Expert": Dr. Benjamin Spark; and, finally, "Anger Management Consultant": Joanne Slowburn. Well, I missed the Car Talk brothers, and happened to tune in during the half-hour point/pause in Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, which I almost never listen to, and I don't know why because whenever I hear a few minutes, it's pretty funny also.

Well, I tell you all this because of something I heard during the "pause" when NPR mentions some sponsors. The first sponsor: Borrego Solar, a solar installation company based in San Diego and Berkeley, CA. That was kinda neat, like seeing "solar" on the front page in terms of advertising. Looks like solar is getting to that "tipping point" and becoming an energy/home solution that could be mentioned in the same breath as "double-pane windows" or "tankless water heaters."

So, after the break, Prairie Home Companion first mentions it's sponsor(not solar): The American Duct Tape Council, oh so middle America! Then, the scene is a wife asking her husband how two "energy" crystals she had given him as a gift to awaken the passion in their marriage had ended up in the trash. "Oh, those rocks must've fallen out of my pocket into the garbage can," mutters the husband sheepishly. "But those crystals are to give us "spiritual energy" and rekindle our marriage, honey! We have to have a REAL talk." "Yes???" asks the husband. "Honey, we're going to go on a marriage retreat." "Well, honey, I wouldn't like to think of our marriage in terms of "retreat", but, rather, boldly moving forward," refutes the husband. "No, honey. We're going on the NRA-sponsored marriage and counseling quail shooting retreat. We can work on conflict management skills and track and kill our prey at the same time!" continues the wife.

That's as far as I got as I was on to other things this Sunday, but, pretty funny. So, my suggestion is for Prairie Home Companion, where "the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average", to add "solar" to it's name, making their rooftops solar-powered, and quite a bit above average. Yes, the "Prairie Solar Home Companion." Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Right there in Middle America.

Coda: I just actually looked at their website, and what is the first banner ad I see? Toyota Prius. Prairie Home's going in the right direction, I guess. That ad assumes environmentalists are there listening, laughing at all those middle American-isms. Solar Home Companion wouldn't be such a stretch after all.

--your slightly above average solarDweller
P.S. The spell-checker suggested "thankless" instead of "tankless" water heater, and although we take them too much for granted, along with the natural gas or electricity it takes to heat the water, I'm sticking with, and suggest you install, the tankless version.
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Friday, March 24, 2006

Architects say tenants want more solar

Hey solarDwellers:

I just read this article about a meeting in Vegas next week for architects/construction people hosted by an org called the Construction Specifications Institute. Now that's the group you want to be talking about solar! Get that solar in at the planning stages, on big buildings with lots of tenants inside who need electricity. It's so much cheaper to include solar into the design of the building and to not have to put the wiring and support structures on top later. Or at least have the building "solar ready" with conduit/wiring and mounting foundations in place to make it easy to make the "solar decision" later on.

Unpredictability, like spikes in natural gas used in power plants, makes budgeting for electricity, well, unpleasant for organizations. Take a look at some quotes from the article, focusing on how tenants see solar as a way to "freeze" their electricity cost up front, making that energy cost more predictable.

"We are very clearly poised at a launching point," said Israni, pointing to rising cost for oil and natural gas, and the resulting rise in electricity bills.
Architects are getting hammered by their clients to address the energy issue," he said. "Either you are building in a system or you are designing the room so that you can add a PV system when that state comes online with a strong incentive plan."

Israni said that -- while the upfront cost of a photovoltaic system remains high -- owners benefit not necessarily from low costs but more from the predictability of the bills. Natural gas-fired power plants are plagued with volatile fuel costs. While the price per unit of electricity is high with a solar system based on construction costs, the fuel going forward is free.

Irsani pointed to a school district in California inquiring about such a system.

"We asked them at the very beginning, why do you want to consider this?" he recalled. "They said 'We need to have a reliable, and predictable cost of energy so we can plan for the future.' Customers are not necessarily concerned about cheaper."

--the solarDweller
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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Big Green Solar Schools in Marin County

(from Sun Power Geothermal website--school roof-top pv system)

Hey solarDwellers:

Touted as the "only California school district to go 100% solar", the Kentfield Unified School District (which is all of two schools and 1,000 total students, but, hey, 100% solar is 100% solar!) has the right idea: purchase their next 20-35 years' demand for electricity up-front with the clean, solar pv. You can read the press release here, and, even cooler, take a real-time look at their pv solar electricity production here!

Together, two solar pv systems on the two school campuses come to a quite sizable 400kW DC, or enough for about 160 households. The pv systems also eliminate the $38,000 district annual electricity bill, and were financed (smartly) with school construction bonds. It's good for the community in at least ways: less pollution with the green energy production; more "clean tech" hands-on education for the students, and less tax money going to the electricity cost of the school buildings over the next decades. It lowers their long term electricity cost because by meeting their own electricity needs from day one, they won't have to pay annually increasing utility bills.

The Green Line (Environmental benefit from Sun Power website)
The 183 kW DC solar PV system at Bacich School prevents 180 tons
of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere annually
by a natural gas power plant. It takes 15 acres of trees to filter this
much CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

Now, that's a good combination: taking care of tax-payer dollars by making their electricity cost a fixed cost instead of going up every year, and taking care of everybody's air.

--the solarDweller
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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oh, Canada! Homeowners can sign 20-yr solar contract

Hey solarDwellers:

Also on Renewable Energy Access: an article giving major props to Ontario for following the German model of solar energy. (Germany pays homeowners many times the retail price of electricity to sell their solar energy to the grid). Basically, instead of getting a rebate up-front for buying solar, your Ontario house becomes a "micro-utility" and you sign a 20-year power production contract, kind of like big wind farms that sell their power to utilities that are seeking to add more clean energy into their mix. The utility will pay solar homeowners in Ontario $.42/kWh for their solar production, 7 times the $.06/kWh retail rate of electricity in Ontario. (To compare, California buys you're solar power at the average retail rate of $.15/kWh, and up to about $.30/kWh during the Summer peak hours if you're on a "time-of-use" bill schedule).

So, which is better . . . this German model where you pay off your solar over the period of the 20-year power production contract, or the traditional rebate model(like most states) where you get between 30-40% rebate/tax credits up-front, and then pay off the rest of the system over the next 15-20 years during which the utility pays you for your "excess solar" energy produced at the going "retail" rate for electricity(currently $.15kWh in California)?

Well, there's no huge difference after all in the long run.

Ontario/Germany model: you would pay the whole $27,000 for a 3kW system up front and it would have a 20-year payback period, with you earning about $1400 back on your investment in the first year, about a 5% return on investment. Each following year you would get that same amount back, plus an extra amount to account for inflation.

California rebate model: you would get about $7,000 back in a rebate and $2,000 back from the federal tax credit in the first year, making your first year up-front cost about $18,000 instead of the $27,000 in Ontario. You would earn about $615 back with power sold back to the utility in the first year in California, about a 3.5% return on your $18,000 net investment. The $18,000 would then take you between 15-17 years to earn back when the utility pays for your excess solar energy at PG&E's retail rate of .15/kWh, which will also increase with inflation over time.

After looking at both models, the traditional California model still looks a little better when compared to the Ontario numbers. I say this because with the rebate, your up-front cost is less, and, in the end, your payback period is even a little shorter. The Ontario program sounds a lot better at first because you see that big $.42/kWh they pay you for solar, but in California the difference is made up by the big rebate you get at the beginning. (The same model in Germany would be much BETTER than California, because they would pay you around $1.00/kWh of solar sold to the utility instead of $.42 in Ontario).

All-in-all, the Ontario program is still ambitious and predictable for homeowners, because it does make that 20-year written contract commitment to buy back a homeowner's solar, whereas, the public utility commission in California could decide at any meeting to increase or decrease the rate at which they pay homeowners for their solar power. Interesting stuff.

--the solarDweller
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Solar technology summary; Gov't project in Massachusetts

Hey solarDwellers:

First, I Came across an article at Renewable Energy Access(a "go-to" website for renewable energy info), with the news that a good-size 310kW solar installation has been approved for local power in Brockton, Mass. It's big enough to provide the power for all of city hall and then some. It's going to be installed on an EPA-designated "brownfield" site, which, from the EPA website is: "an abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial property where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by actual or suspected environmental contamination." The idea is to "refurbish" such abandoned properties, many times in the inner city, to be more fully developed. My only question before redeveloping there is "how clean did they get it?" This is why putting a a big solar array there sounds even better to me. Poetic even. Replace environmental "mistakes"(abuses) with clean energy. Some of the environmental benefits from the article:
Using electricity generated by Brockton's Brightfield will avoid the emission of about 595,300 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. That is the equivalent of taking 45 cars off the road, or the amount of carbon dioxide that would be absorbed by planting 89 acres of trees. Brockton's project also avoids emissions of other greenhouse gases -- about 1,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 370 pounds of nitrogen oxide per year.

Coincidentally, after reading the article, I checked out the website of the solar company that will supervise the project: Global Solar. It was a nice coincidence, because if you check this web-page out, you get a nice summary of different solar technologies with pros and cons. Check it out! Global Solar works with "CIGS"(Copper Indium diSelenide or(CuInSe2), which is a "flexible" thin-film solar technology that uses other semi-conductor materials besides silicon. It's benefit is the flexibility and ability to absorb a larger part of the light spectrum.

--the solarDweller
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Monday, March 20, 2006

Time magazine: solar growth, solar market risks


Hey solarDwellers:

Time magazine has an article today about how hot some Taiwanese solar/silicon IPO's have been of late. First, a comment on the following assertion made in the article, which repeats the illogical link between "oil prices" and demand for solar panels:
"[These three Taiwanese solar companies]have delivered stellar gains thanks to the world's growing appetite for solar power as a hedge against the high price of crude."
Hybrid, and more fuel-efficient cars are more of a hedge against oil prices than solar panels. Oil really isn't related to solar panels, since oil is mainly for agriculture and transportation, not electricity production. It's more logical to say that solar is a hedge against rising natural gas/coal/nuclear prices, since THOSE are the fuels that are the main inputs for electricity production.

Slowing of solar company profits: Although we've been hearing about the solar panel/silicon shortage lasting until 2007 or 2008 when production can catch up to all this solar demand, it's interesting how the article points out that with so many new panel manufacturers entering the market, this new supply will quickly "outstrip" the demand being created by the new California Solar Initiative 10-year rebate program. More competition will add pressure to not raise solar panel prices too much, but the increased cost of silicon will squeeze profits via increased production costs. All in all, it makes it difficult to determine how much these price pressures will slow profit growth at the bigger solar panel manufacturers. We future "solardwellers" are not worrying so much about reduced profit margins, and just hoping that long-term programs like California's will help increase solar-grade silicon production so more buildings can go solar.

Next, it's impressive to see the goal of the California plan to install 3000MW of solar over the next 10 years in context: "which is more than the total cumulative energy capacity of all solar cells that were installed worldwide at the end of 2004." Now that's ambitious, probably more than realistic, but good to be aggressive with clean energy!

Finally, I think the article makes the other common mistake of saying solar is more expensive than it really is, making it hard for solar companies to overcome that common consumer perception. The article states:
For now, subsidies are a must. Even with higher oil and energy prices, the cost of generating electricity from the sun remains at least three times more expensive than prices that homeowners normally pay their local electric utility.

But when you take a look at the 2006 survey of solar prices over at, you see that the average installed solar price is at about .21/kWh. Northern California's baseline retail price for utility-based electricity is about .15/kWh, making solar about 45% more expensive than retail after rebates, not "three times more expensive." Yes, we still need rebates gradually decreasing each year, so that solar can be a self-sustaining market with almost no rebates, as has happened in Japan.

Please comment if you have any experience with the current "solar panel shortage." I'm curious to see how big a delay there is between a customer's order to install panels and the installer's ability to obtain those panels.

Thanks for any input,
--the solarDweller

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Venture Capital in the solar game

Hey solarDwellers:

Check out this solar article by Tyler Hamilton, who writes on clean energy for the Toronto Star and has his own blog called Clean Break. There's a "clean tech" conference coming up around March 23 in San Francisco, where all the clean-energy ideas will be waiting for money to fall in their pockets to launch the next, best clean energy solution.

I like this excerpt, which talks about the burned-out past and the bright, "it's-different-this-time" future for solar technology, complete with the Carter/Reagan anecdote, and which kind a sounds like the blurb in my blog heading, "it's not just for satellites . . ."
Sure, there was a mini-boom in solar during the 1970s following the Middle East oil crisis, but enthusiasm waned as oil prices began dropping again and the industry found itself stranded without government support. Just as quickly as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House, his successor, Ronald Reagan, ripped them down. Innovation was largely stalled during the 20 years that followed.

Experts say this time around things are different. Oil prices are rising and few expect them to fall. Electricity prices are also skyrocketing. Urban smog is getting thicker, and, well, global warming is causing people to worry. It's not as organized as getting a man on the moon, but there's a clear determination within government, industry and academia to explore the full potential of solar power as a truly competitive energy source for the 21st century.

I also really like the comparison of a "distributed-energy" solar model to when the huge computer was decentralized in the form of the personal PC. More small-scale solar on your house and fewer gargantuan, centralized fossil-fueled power plants in our backyards:
MacLellan, a former sales guy at computing giant Hewlett-Packard Corp., likes to compare the solar industry of today to the personal computer industry in 1982, just as it was teetering on the verge of greatness. Older mainframe computers are in many ways analogous to big central power plants, whether coal or nuclear. PCs, on the other hand, are similar to solar PV systems in that they brought their power to millions of individual homes and businesses. Tying those PV systems to the grid is not unlike connecting a PC to the Internet.

Finally, MacLellan, who's trying to get his higher efficiency solar panel idea funded at this conference, makes another excellent point:
"It's not about cheap solar cells, it's about cheap installation." People forget that half the cost of getting a solar pv system is the labor to install it along with the mounting equipment. That cost is even higher if the installation is a bit complicated. In other words, you save money when you install higher-powered but fewer panels. That's the model that Powerlight Corp. in Berkeley, CA follows. They don't even use metal mounting structures that tilt the panels at an angle toward the sun. Their panels are integrated into an insulating material that sits flat on the roof, avoiding all that labor to install the mounting structure. Their panels might generate less electricity not being ideally-tilted toward the sun, but the lower installation cost of their model makes the total payback time shorter.

Here we go solar, here we go . . .

--the solarDweller
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Anti-Solar rules in New Mexico being reversed

Hey solarDwellers:

Just another sign that today's solar is not the solar of 30 years ago, when it almost died out. Seems that the city council in Alburquerque wants to get rid of outdated rules that prohibit solar installations on new housing divisions. Check out the article here, and the excerpt below . . .
Gone are the days when solar energy equipment erupted from housetops looking like something intended to communicate with aliens on Mars.
Today, sun-tapping devices can rest unobtrusively on roofs, even matching the shingles.
. . .developers often use a "stock set of restrictive covenants" that include outdated language prohibiting solar collectors.
"That provision ends up in the subdivision (covenants) despite the fact that modern solar collection panels are aesthetically totally different," Cadigan said. "We want to encourage everyone we can to use solar energy."

These barriers to installing solar are beginning to be lowered as "the new" solar gets more popular and aesthetically pleasing. Another barrier includes high city building permit fees to install solar, which have been reduced in some cities recently. Gotta keep the solar momentum going!

--the solarDweller
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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Battle royale in the blog world: solving our electricity problem

"they fight, and fight, and fight, and fight, and fight"--Itchy and Scratchy theme song from The Simpsons

Hey solarDwellers:

Sometimes the debate in the green blogosphere can get hotter than our warming ocean waters(sorry, bad joke). I was crusin' over at the NY City Oil Drum Blog, where they were furiously debating about the future of electricity generation. How much can be solved by reduced consumption or efficiency? How much by solar, wind and other green sources? How much by nuclear? Which is worse: the "pick your poison" twins of coal and nuclear? Here, take a peek at the rhetorical theatrics over there on that blog.

A poster responds to a suggestion that a big part of the electricity solution is reducing use, more efficiency and more renewables. . .
First of all for thousandth time I see the proposed solutions to our energy woes summarized in the words "efficiency, conservation, renewables" without mentioning or analyzing the limits and problems associated with each one of them.
Like I said conservation and efficiency have their limits. More importantly they can not be relied upon. You can make an estimate how much you would achieve by implementing this and that but you can not enforce everybody on the other end of the generation-consuption line to implement the measures you want. IMO you will be surprised how many people just don't care - even don't care what their bills are.

And the original author comments later on, with at least some agreement:
For the wind & solar generation I also see about 20% as a practical limit. Again question is what happens next?

They agree the practical limit for renewables with current technology is 20% of total electricity production(sounds about right to me), but the original author emphasizes that renewables combined with efficiency could avoid the need to build new coal/nuclear power plants altogether, at least for a decade or so. To which his dueling mate responds:
Regarding the solutions I defend, if I were given a hypothetical budget I would spread it out the following way:
50% for nuclear
30% for renewables
20% for encouraging efficiency and conservation
Like I was defending until now, points 2) and 3) are partial solutions and presenting a partial solution as an end-point is very dangerous IMO. Therefore we need something else as an energy source for the future, and nuclear is the obvious choice for me.

And, the combatants start to wind down, the author with some final remarks:
I agree with you that conservation and renewables, will not cut it as far as future development goes. My point is that we will have to think seriously about the type and placement of future power plants. . . Short term or not, conservation and efficiency nonetheless roundly beats every other current alternative. I think that your response is fairly flip, and not constructive:
"'Of course if you ask the average person what he/she wants he/she will tell you that would very much want windmills located some 10 thousand miles away from his house."'

And finally, another poster enters the ring to assist our "efficiency" combatant:
"An April 2000 E.U. report found that, using existing technology, increased efficiency could decrease energy consumption by more than 18% by 2020. The U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that simple voluntary energy-efficiency improvements in buildings will reduce world energy use 10%-15% by 2020. They state that, with technology already in use, efficiency improvements in buildings, manufacturing, and transport can reduce world carbon emissions more than 50% by 2020." --from "A problem with wind power"

For a very near-future post, I'll give you my ideas of how much a role, what percentage of electricity, can be supplied by solar with current technology, while commenting on what sources supply our electricity in California, one of the "cleaner" producers in the country. Hint: for our present use of solar, (are you sitting down?), think of a number greater than 0% and less than 1% of total electricity. And we're so famous for sunshine here. I guess just for surfing so far. But, you know my take. Things are a solar-changing, fast!

--the solarDweller

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