Whatever happened to affordable solar electrical power?

[population hijack continuing]

And rich, large, densely populated societies achieve efficiencies.

In case it wasn’t clear from my earlier post on the subject Phobos I agree with you about Kyoto.


See, the future of PV is not as a stand alone system. Who wants to manage banks of lead-acid storage batteries in the basement and replace them every few years. Imagine the lead which would have to be mined, processed, and recycled if everyone did that. The real potential is to incorporate PV materials into the structure of the building itself as shingles, windows, or walls. Great progress is being made in this area. They can be connected directly to the power grid thorough an inverter and feed power to the grid. When you are producing more power than you consume, your meter will run backwards and the power company will pay you for that electricity if the law mandates it in your area. It does in california.

Now this is slick as shit. No batteries to worry about and everyone is making money by generating power and the grid becomes a giant battery for the whole system.

Efficiecy is less of a problem with this system, and you don,t need enough to power your whole house. Anyway, the cost per generated watt has been going down over the years, and with more research, it could be even lower.

As for the program needing subsidies; sure,there is no real private long term research in this area or any other for that matter. Only for applications which can turn a profit in a reasonable time.

And yes, the Reagan Administration scuttled the solar program because the people who pulled the wires didn’t like the ideology of solar power. Don’t forget, for years, General Electric, one of the largest producers of equipment for the nuclear power industry (speaking of government subsidies!) paid Reagan’s bills. Reagan was nothing if not loyal. That’s why he made such a good puppet. Well, actually, not loyal to everyone. When he was running for election, the air traffic controllers told him about their onerous workload and the stress, etc. He promised to fix it and the controllers union actually was the only one to support him. After the election, he renegged on his promise and forced the controllers to strike. He fired them rather than take up their grievances. Nice guy.

With all due respect Galen, your analysis of the air traffic controllers strike is simplistic to say the least.
Regardless or your personal feelings, Air Traffic Controllers are government employees and were/are not allowed to strike for some very practical reasons and this was a well understood part of the well paid (for the time), high stress job package they agreed to when they became an ATC. The ATC job of coordinating air travel is so critical to the nation’s transportation, commerce and a host of related dependent needs, that in some ways it would be akin to the military going on strike.

The ATCs may have had quite serious and very real grievances but the right to strike was explicitly not part of the deal they struck with the federal government when they agreed to be hired as federal government employees.
The notion that bad 'ol Reagan “forced” them to strike is absurd. They decided to take a chance that they could pressure Reagan into seeing things their way vs working within the prescribed administrative channels and they lost.

Grad school in the early 90’s and we had a group marketing class project to develop a business plan around a new product or technology. While researching the concept of home based PV cells, we learned that improvements had been made in the efficiency of the cells through the 70’s and then RR virtually eliminated all government funding for research when he took office. “Big Energy” was cited in articles as being behind the cuts in alternative energy sources. I seem to remember reading in one of the Big Oil Company’s (Exxon??) annual reports that they bought out a company doing research on PV cells. Why, to kill it off or use it down the road, I don’t know?

For our project, we assumed (had the funding not been cut) that the PV cells would have been about as efficient as coal, nukes, etc. for residential electricity use and we went about developing a plan to build them and market them for homes. The prof was liberal enough and liked our concept so I think we got an ‘A’ on the project.

>>the Reagan Administration scuttled the solar program because the people who pulled the wires didn’t like the ideology of solar power

<<sigh>> (Again)

The “ideology of solar power”?? Please!

Look, there is ample need for electric PV generation in many situations. Anywhere where it is not viable to connect to the grid. Isolated cabins, highway signs,… all the navigation aid lights in the water… There is a market that needs to be supplied already and the market would grow exponentially if cheaper PV power could be obtained.

Private companies are already investing in R&D to develop a better and cheaper PV panel.

Whatever Reagan or the US government does matters little to nothing. There are companies, both American and foreign, doing research into this. Siemens is not American and is one of the main companies in this field. A lot of money is being invested in research and development and, by invested I mean with a reasonable expectation of obtaining something more than political gain.

As I pointed out before. My home has solar panels which were installed only because they were subsidized by your taxes and even then they have never made any sense and are much more trouble than they are worth. And these are water heating panels which are way more eficient than PV panels.

Blame Reagan all you want. If he stopped subsidizing that kind of stuff he saved you a few bucks. Private enterprise does a fairly good job of developing new products that may be viable while the government only does a fairly good job of squandering money on feel good programs.

If you read the posts of people who know what they are talking about you will see this is a technical issue.

In an attemp to foster alternative sources of electrical generation, some jurisdictions (I believe California is one) make the electric power companies buy energy from their customers at the same rate the customer pays. In other words, if they charge me 8 cents per Kwh, then they are obligated to buy from me any power I might produce at 8 cents per Kwh. This obviously is onerous for the power company whose production costs are much lower (without even counting administrative and other associated costs).

In spite of this law very few people generate power and most of them are visionaries who are willing to lose tons of time and money to make a point. I mean they are very technical people messing with their equipment.

I am not saying they are waisting their time. People like this do provide a valuable service in helping improve things. But to say PV energy is not cost-efficient today because of something Reagan did is plain ludicrous.

[wild tangent]

If you think Reagan did an injustice to alternative energy research, consider what Bush’s stance on the subject might be.

“Alternative energy? Hell, you’ll take my oil and you’ll like it you sissy liberals”


[/wild tangent]

Solar Energy may be closer than you think. There is an article in the August 2000 IEEE Spectrum called “High-efficiency photovoltaics brighten solar concentrator outlook” (page 21). (Sorry it is not online.)

The newest trend in solar power is to combine solar concentrators (up to 480 suns!) with high efficiency solar cells. This technology is “near-commercial.”

The new stacked cells have efficiencies up to 32%. And the collectors shrink the size of the cell needed. For example, one system, which is to be tested this fall, uses a “14 m^2 array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight by a factor of 200 - 400 (200 - 400 suns) on a 20 - 22.5 cm^2 square of the PV material.” This scheme should generate 2 - 2.5 kW.
I will quote about the efforts of Amonix in Torrance CA, since it was started up by an old boss of mine:

"One company that has had considerable successs designing and building concentrators is Anomix (sic) Inc., in Torrance Calif. It boasts a fully integrated, modular system in which the cooling structure, consisting of tubes and fins, holds the array of photovoltaic cells. Using SunPowers silicon and concentrating the sun by a factor of 300, it produces 20 kW.

Amonix is deploying 300 kW of its arrays at the Tempe test facility and at a nearby airport, and it hopes next year to install a solar farm with a capacity on the order of 1 MW. Like Solar Systems, it sees its technology as near-commercial.

Said John Lasich, technical director at Solar Systems: ‘Combining the simplicity of PV with the leverage of concentration delivers an idal mix of economy and reliability. This technology is simpler than solar-thermal and, at a system level, cheaper than solar panels. With cell efficiencies rivaling heat engines, the day is dawning for PV concentrators.’"

The funding for much of the PV research was established during the energy/fuel crunch of the 70’s. The crunch had largely subsided when Reagan cut the funding, and it wasn’t percieved as cost effective when compared to the alternatives. Because of PV use in satelites and the extensive use of them, private industry, particularly aerospace, is still doing research on PV, and have made big strides in increasing durability, reliability, and decreasing manufacturing costs. Texas Instruments, with co-funding for electric utilities, developed a foil-like PV that could be bent and didn’t fail entirely when a tiny piece of it was damaged.
The fact remains, though, that PV has limitations in it’s practical use as a source power for the average consumer. To make 120 volt A/C power you need a PV array, storage bateries (blocks of 10 car type batteries), and an inverter, which converts the DC PV and battery power to normal AC power). This stuff is expensive, fairly high maintenance, AND since batteries are at best about 60% efficient, it is really tough to find an application where it is cheaper than the alternatives. In California, it is cost effective in remote locations along the highways where the utility can avoid putting in poles, lines, transformers, etc, and the energy usage is fairly easy to predict, like billboard lighting and call boxes.
Why dwell on PV though? It comes down to philosophy, actually. Solar power supporters direct money into All Solar projects, and reject more practical solutions. The LUZ projects, 7 or 8 sites now, uses solar troughs to preheat water going into a natural gas fired boiler, which is then made into steam and run through a standard turbine. When it is cloudy or night, they use more gas, but overall they use less gas than a standard turbine generator. Similar projects in the desert areas use big water ponds to preheat the water, get a smaller amount of energy from the sun, but avoid the nightmarish trough cleaning that the LUZ projects sites have and it is cheap!
Do they get support? No! So the DOE funds “Solar Two”, the refit of the all solar mirror field with central tower that failed before due to clouds (lots more complex than this actually, and the molten salt heat storage thingy in Solar two is pretty cool.) but why does it have to be 100% solar? Why not a hybrid system? Some is better than none, right? But no, we must throw ridiculous sums of money at marginally effective “pure” solar projects rather than accept partial victory and actually accomplish something. Moronic bastards.
Anyway, what I wanted to point out is that Solar power is progressing, and is recognized as a desirable thing, but other energy sources are still more cost effective in most applications. As energy costs increase and PV manufacturing costs drop, we are likely to see more and more useful energy come directly from solar sources.

How 'bout if I provide a link to a local PV company and you guys can check the facts for yourself? There’s quite a bit of speculation and generally false information posted here. I have a friend that works in the research department of this company, he’s a member of the SDMB and I’ll try to get him to post some info on the current state of the art. From this site you may download .pdf’s of the current product line and its capabilities.

Since some of you are slamming on the politics behind the research and deployment of PV cells, it might be interesting for you to note that Al Gore’s plans to strictly curtail cadmium mining would effectively kill this industry. You may also find it interesting that Dan Quayle is on the board of directors for First Solar. So take that, all you Reagan bashers.

BTW, Solar Two is no longer active as of May, 1999.

One of the problems with Solar is that large power plants are sized to handle peak loads and not average loads, and solar power is inconsistent and tends to be not available at peak times.

>> solar power is inconsistent and tends to be not available at peak times

It’s all Reagan’s fault.

BTW, I keep hearing the accusation that Bush and his family have interest in the oil business (so what? I say) and they get contributions from the oil companies (so what else is new?). But I recently heard that Gore and his family own as much oil company stocks and the democrats receive as much from the oil companies as the republicans. Can anybody shed some light on this?

Can we please take the politics over to Great Debates? (Well, except for the strictly factual inquiries such as the one immediately above).

Response to Sam Stone - Different parts of the Country have different peaking times. While the Northern part of the East coast and Pacific North West areas tend to peak in the Winter at night when it’s coldest, the Southern (Florida) and South Western areas peak during Summer in the afternoon when it is the hottest. Therefore solar power is probably more likely to be cost effective in the Summer peaking areas first, or maybe only.

<Hijack Response> Gore owns lots of Occidental Petroleum, supposedly. Like most big companies, they give both parties big bucks to hedge their bets. If you buy all the polititians, then it reduces the risk of negative legislation, and it doesn’t really matter much who wins.

Well, I made a fool of myself by posting this mistakenly to another thread. Now it seems totally irrelevant and the best thing would be to never have posted, even here. But someone is bound to have seen it and ask, so here it is:

Owning a sailboat, efficient alternative sources of electric power would be a boon for me. Recharging (and replacing) batteries seems to be a permanent concern and expense.

Although… I just discovered the boat was hit by lightning and all electronics are shot… major damage, something like $10 - $15,000

I guess the good part is that my electrical needs have suddenly diminished to close to zero. The other good part is that I had renewed the insurance.