Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with grid electricity?

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Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with grid electricity?

Still looking for the best way to get Solar for my home. From Wired magazine. Jon

Modern solar cells are based on a design and prototype that was reported by Bell Labs scientists in 1954. It made the front page of The New York Times, which predicted solar cells would eventually lead “to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams—the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.” How are we doing on that dream? Compared to the past, solar panel prices have plunged, but they contribute to less than 0.1% of the world’s electricity production because solar electricity still isn’t cheap enough to compete with grid electricity. There is certainly plenty of sunlight available to bring us close to this utopia. But are there any solar cell technologies that can meet this promise?

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/10/ibm-thoughts-on-smarter-planet-3

 

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

Solarzentrum in germany has constructed a module that combines solar thermal technology with photovoltaic cells in the same module with efficiencies approaching 40 percent.  I feel this is a true breakthrough on cost effective solar energy.

Even without this breakthrough, i feel current solar panels rank right up there with silver/gold as an investment store for your fiat dollars, because conventional kilowatts are riseing 10 percent a year resulting in huge conventional energy price inflation over the next decade.  Copper is rising to the point where it may be impossible to protect rural transmission lines from vandalism from copper scavengers.  So you have to measure the value of solar power as much more than mere price per watt of electricity generated.

I just hope we can muddle through the next few years while this technology comes online.

my 2 nonfiat copperSmile

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

I'm not sure about when/how/if there will be "cheap" solar panels, but I completely agree with the idea that even at today's costs, a good quality silicon based installation is one of the better investments possible. If one takes advantage of as many of the incentives as possible the end result can be financially rewarding. In my case, I've found that by taking a few classes, I've managed to educate myself enough to be able to do the installation myself, thereby saving 30 to 50% off the typical contractor cost. Our local utility has (had) some excellent incentive programs all the way from paying $2.50 or so per installed watt and in the alternate, around 20 cents per kWH for power generated and sold to them. The Feds pay an incentive of 30% of your net cost (in cash) and you get accelerated depreciation that allows nearly a 100% write-off in the year of construction of the system. Bottom line if one takes all the advantages possible and is prepared to invest some sweat equity,  one can show an excellent return on investment as well as expectation of a long term improving cash flow with very little net investment. If things get bad enough, maybe become a "utility" that provides some power for your neighbors when/if the main system goes down. You may not get much cash in those conditions, but should be good barter for a lot of essential "stuff". I currently have 40 kW online and an finishing off another 84 kW.

My experience is in Arizona, but much of the information is transferrable. Northern areas of the country have less sun and therefore may not produce as much, but can still be viable. Much of what may work is dependent on your local utility incentives. I've also found that banks and lenders in general are not the slightest bit interested in loaning money to put a system in even with long term contracts from a utility, so getting started can be challenging. Given the insanity of the banking/monetary system, it is not surprising that they would rather site back and reap the benefits of handouts and derivative/stock speculation rather than participate in any real productive effort.

As an aside, the Feds need a loan guarantee program in addition existing incentive programs to spark a serious push for solar investment across the country. Make it possible for the average person to participate, and there will be a major National effort to establish renewable energy everywhere. As it is, many the incentives are hit and miss and subject to local utility whims and complete lack of bank support which makes it difficult if not impossible to to establish a viable business based on building renewable energy systems. 

I'm not a fan of big government or big corporations, however if we are to cushion the effects of the upcoming energy collapse, we need some strong clearheaded leadership at a National level -- and I don't see this happening

Anybody who wants some help to get started, just let me know and I'll be pleased to share what I've found out.

Jim

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

I meant to be more specific in my last post on this thread to say that there is no need to wait for some future technology. Sort out the details and you can probably set up you own solar now - for your own use and/or profit. There is good solid technology out there that is well proven with long life expectancy. Personally I go with silicon based panels from a good manufacturer like Sharp and I think the new style micro inverters are probably the best way to go. OK, maybe prices will come down in the future, but then so will the incentives and product may not be available.

The time to prepare is now. (IMHO)

Jim

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
jpitre wrote:

 

As an aside, the Feds need a loan guarantee program in addition existing incentive programs to spark a serious push for solar investment across the country. 

Why don't we instead let the solar industry prove their worth by effectively competing with existing technology?  If anything has to be subsidized its pretty much BS, IMO. I have decades of hands on experience with solar.  The panels are just the opening volley - once you start adding in an adequate storage bank, inverters, expensive cabling and the inevitable "back-up" required (in case the sun don't shine) it is impossible to operate long term at below existing rates.  The solar cells themselves begin to degrade and lose efficiency over time and the batteries will require replacement.  You'll likely have inverter problems in under a decade.

Solar works well where people are willing to accept a less power intensive lifestyle and even then it only makes sense if conventional power is not readily available. Of course the best and least expensive way to expand the capacity of our existing system is to use less - not something the utility companies really want you to do,

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

yobob1 wrote:  

If anything has to be subsidized its pretty much BS

Many things are subsidized in our economic system - for example, our military operates at a cost of a trillion dollars per year or so, and much of that goes to protect our oil supply. The expense of counteracting the effects of pollution from automobiles is not added on to the cost of vehicle ownership and use. The cost of building and maintaining our highway system comes mainly from general tax revenues. A moon landing with no direct economic benefit was subsidized --  The list goes on -- and yet to talk about doing something to help save us from immanent disaster resulting from lack of energy to sustain our life is BS?

Flawed logic at best.

Jim

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

TA-DA!!  http://www.gs-solar.com/commercialrooftopapplication.html

We just landed a shipment of these from China, at $1.50/Watt.....  our cost, obviously they have to be installed, and we have to make a profit too.

http://www.engineeringtv.com/video/GS-Solar-Amorphous-Silicon-Sola

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
jpitre wrote:

yobob1 wrote:  

If anything has to be subsidized its pretty much BS

Many things are subsidized in our economic system - for example, our military operates at a cost of a trillion dollars per year or so, and much of that goes to protect our oil supply. The expense of counteracting the effects of pollution from automobiles is not added on to the cost of vehicle ownership and use. The cost of building and maintaining our highway system comes mainly from general tax revenues. A moon landing with no direct economic benefit was subsidized --  The list goes on -- and yet to talk about doing something to help save us from immanent disaster resulting from lack of energy to sustain our life is BS?

Flawed logic at best.

Jim

It would be difficult to quantify how much of our military budget goes to protect "our oil supply" and how much goes to having a standing defense.  In any case all of us derive a fairly obvious benefit at a shared expense.  As to the the automobiles, how are we counteracting the pollution from automobiles in any way other than through the pollution controls installed on the vehicles which you as an individual pay for up front when you purchase the car?  What in the heck does a moon landing have to do with any of this discussion?  We as a country do lots of things with public money that has no direct economic benefit.  We build monuments, we subsidize the "arts" (to which I'm adamantly opposed), we send food to hungry people, we subsidize agriculture (opposed to this also)  - the list is endless. Our highway system is something we all derive a benefit from and mostly paid for by fuel taxes ( 17 cents per gallon federal plus whatever your state tax - 25 cents additional in my case) and vehicle registrations at the state and local level.

Your "immanent" disaster is way over hyped. Electrical generation is a tricky business when you begin to talk about the grid - the generation has to match the load very closely - too much is just as bad as not enough.  You do need the capacity to handle peak loads, but most of the time the system is operating well under peak capacity.  If there was any time we had a disaster, it was when deregulation was allowed.  The net result was companies like Enron - essentially another layer of expense was introduced into the system.  Here we didn't deregulate and have the lowest power cost in the nation. 

You as an individual may "benefit" from your solar installation, but what does it do for me? In reality not a damn thing.  Now if you can install a solar system and reduce your expense over the long term, bully for you.  Just don't ask me to pay for it, or for your "clunker cash", $8000 home purchase tax credit, your new "energy star" appliances, new windows or insulation.  If it makes economic sense for you to do something, then do it.  If it only makes economic sense if you have to ask me to pay for part of it, then forget about it.

Have you ever considered how much pollution is generated and energy is consumed to manufacture something like a solar panel?  Producing the aluminum for the frames involves massive mining operations and huge amounts of energy.  The same applies to all of the components.  Now if all of this were done in your backyard, you wouldn't be to pleased, but conveniently it happens thousands of miles from you and its not your problem. If truth be told it may well be less polluting to use the system already in place than to produce something new.  The same applies to cars - Prius owners are all smug and happy (many of whom received help form the taxpayers to buy their new car and Volt owners will be getting a massive tax credit on a car that is way too expensive to begin with) because they're:saving the planet" when the reality is they would have done more to save the planet by restoring an old Volvo and not consuming massive material and energy inputs that it took to build their precious Prius.

The planet will save itself if need be.  If the annoying fleas we call humanity become too much of a burden, the planet will kill us assuming we haven't done ourselves in already.  On a geologic time line , mans presence wouldn't amount to much more than a nanosecond.  Already the population has grown well beyond the natural carrying levels of the planet primarily because of our use of the stored energy and mostly finite hydrocarbons.  If we really want to "save the planet" we should embark on a path of population reduction.  However since that is not "growth", the odds of it happening in a mutually agreed and peaceful manner are something below zero.

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
yobob1 wrote:

Have you ever considered how much pollution is generated and energy is consumed to manufacture something like a solar panel?  Producing the aluminum for the frames involves massive mining operations and huge amounts of energy.  The same applies to all of the components.

Wow, this is seriously lame.  What you are referring to is "energy debt", or the time it takes to save as much energy as what has been put into it.  Your argument is so thin I thank you for the opportunity to highlight it's ridiculous nature. 

It takes between 1.5 to 3 years to pay off this debt for a typical solar panel, and it is dropping fast (tech development, the fact that they have thus far mostly been shipped from overseas, etc).  

http://www.urbanecology.org.au/topics/solarpanels.html

It would almost be a valid point if it were a disposable product, but it is NOT.  Solar panels have an extremely long service life (they lose about 1% efficiency per year), and are fully recyclable.  And more to the point, once they are installed, they make electricity from a clean, infinite and free source.   Compare that with the embodied energy of electricity produced by coal, which IS a disposable, one time product.  Once that chunk of coal/electron has been put to use powering your light bulb, you have to go get another and another, and so on not only for the rest of your life but the lifetimes of all the people who live in that house.

Also, re- your original argument about subsidies- another laughable criticism.  Coal gets 72X the subsidies of solar.

http://cleantechnica.com/2010/10/21/what-if-solar-got-the-same-subsidies...

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

yohob1 wrote:

We as a country do lots of things with public money that has no direct economic benefit.

Exactly my point - so we agree that we spend money on things that we decide to do because ( at least in some people's minds) it is in the best interest of our society. It is my opinion that Peak Oil is upon us and every possible viable option is needed to be employed if we are to "keep the lights on".

As to what it does for you, my solar system pumps about 180,000 kWH back into the grid system for your use every year, so I am putting my actions where my mouth is.

Jim

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
yoshhash wrote:
yobob1 wrote:

Have you ever considered how much pollution is generated and energy is consumed to manufacture something like a solar panel?  Producing the aluminum for the frames involves massive mining operations and huge amounts of energy.  The same applies to all of the components.

Wow, this is seriously lame.  What you are referring to is "energy debt", or the time it takes to save as much energy as what has been put into it.  Your argument is so thin I thank you for the opportunity to highlight it's ridiculous nature. 

It takes between 1.5 to 3 years to pay off this debt for a typical solar panel, and it is dropping fast (tech development, the fact that they have thus far mostly been shipped from overseas, etc).  

How is that lame?  yobob1 is saying you must take a look at the full life cycle to calculate the proper costs.  Do you believe that the total costs (including environmental damage caused by mining) of creating solar panels should be ignored.  It is this mentality that causes us to use ethanol because it is a so-called renewable fuel.

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
jpitre wrote:

yohob1 wrote:

We as a country do lots of things with public money that has no direct economic benefit.

Exactly my point - so we agree that we spend money on things that we decide to do because ( at least in some people's minds) it is in the best interest of our society. It is my opinion that Peak Oil is upon us and every possible viable option is needed to be employed if we are to "keep the lights on".

As to what it does for you, my solar system pumps about 180,000 kWH back into the grid system for your use every year, so I am putting my actions where my mouth is.

Jim

My real point was "we" shouldn't be spending other people's money to benefit a few. My guess is we'll still be talking about "peak oil" 20 years from now and yet driving our gasoline cars down to the pumps and filling up.  What the price may be is anyone's guess - but already the prices are high enough to be a very heavy drag on economic activity. 

You might be shocked to know the US is importing less oil, producing more oil and also exporting more oil.  You do need to pay attention to the units on each graph since they are not consistent.

Exports first in thousands of barrels PER DAY (multiply by 365 for annual = currently Aprox 803,000  thousand barrels annually)

Imports in thousands of barrels PER YEAR currently abaout 4,200,000 thousand barrels per year

US field production in thousands of barrels PER MONTH (X 12 for annual = currently about1,920,000 thousand annual) Note the slight uptick in 2010

If you are truly producing an "extra" 180,000kWh annually you could provide my power needs and 14 other similar users annually. A rough back of the envelope calculation tells me that would require approximately 22,000 square feet of solar - roughly 1/2 an acre of "extra" panels.  You would also be receiving a check from the power company for about $15,000+ a year.   Just the panels alone would cost between $500K and a cool million depending on the type and how good a deal you struck.

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

Guys, great topic.  I've thought about putting in solar for a while.  I have the money to do it, but something makes me hesitate.  Somehow I fear that having solar on my house would just make me and my family a target.  Sure, gold you can be hid ... food can be stored in the basement.. you can have several cords of wood in the back yard, but thats nothing special.  Solar, however, when TSHTF, is like putting a big sign on your house (because those panels are highly visible) that says "look at you poor suckers living in the dark and look at me in my warm, cozy, and powered house"

I know Im changing the subject a bit, but has anyone thought about this?  Am I being overly negative?

Brian

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

yobob1

Some numbers about solar

I have installed 540 Sharp NU-U235F1 235 watt (Pmax) solar panels (17.3 squ ft each) - the first install was 36 panels  was easier to install than I expected and we went for the next install which was 144 panels and am now just completing a 360 panel installation here in Arizona. This makes up a theoretical 84.6 kW DC-STC plus 31.1 plus 8.4 for a total 124 kW DC-STC system. Here in Arizona we typically use 1,600 kwh per installed kW DC as a good rule of thumb for annual output - which in this case comes out to about 198,000 kWH. As it turns out the 144 kW system is actually is producing about 8% more. So the complete system  is producing about 215,000 kWH annually using about 9,300 squ feet of solar panels. Deduct our own use and something around 180,000 kWH (or more) goes back into the system.  Put in some sweat equity, buy right and take advantage of the incentives and it is a viable deal

And, by the way, I don't agree with your view that Peak Oil is 20 years off. Probably passed already and energy is the biggest economic problem that we have to confront. Solar will not solve the problem, but every little bit helps, and I am trying to do my part

Jim 

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
jpitre wrote:

yobob1

Some numbers about solar

I have installed 540 Sharp NU-U235F1 235 watt (Pmax) solar panels (17.3 squ ft each) - the first install was 36 panels  was easier to install than I expected and we went for the next install which was 144 panels and am now just completing a 360 panel installation here in Arizona. This makes up a theoretical 84.6 kW DC-STC plus 31.1 plus 8.4 for a total 124 kW DC-STC system. Here in Arizona we typically use 1,600 kwh per installed kW DC as a good rule of thumb for annual output - which in this case comes out to about 198,000 kWH. As it turns out the 144 kW system is actually is producing about 8% more. So the complete system  is producing about 215,000 kWH annually using about 9,300 squ feet of solar panels. Deduct our own use and something around 180,000 kWH (or more) goes back into the system.  Put in some sweat equity, buy right and take advantage of the incentives and it is a viable deal

And, by the way, I don't agree with your view that Peak Oil is 20 years off. Probably passed already and energy is the biggest economic problem that we have to confront. Solar will not solve the problem, but every little bit helps, and I am trying to do my part

Jim 

Jim,

I was basing my calculations on my practical experience.  My experience is "slanted" by the fact that I live on the 45th parallel and while considerably sunnier than most coastal locations, not as many cloud free days as Arizona - especially in the Winter when the sun angle is the least solar friendly.  Your installation is massive and well beyond what 95% of households could afford to do - subsidies or not.  Please send a picture of the portion of your installation that my tax dollars bought you as well as a check for my portion of the income.. Smile

Currently in Idaho our PUC is in discussion with Idaho Power over what they pay small alternative producers.  The PUC feels that Idaho Power is overpaying these producers (typically above their "retail" rates that consumers pay).  The contention is that the high price paid to alternative producers is being subsidized by higher prices paid by consumers - being passed on by effectively increasing Idaho Power's cost of production.  If the PUC has its way then the small producers would likely see about a 20-25% reduction in their income.

Locally there has been a push to do a bio-mass generation plant. Calling a spade a spade,it boils down to burning wood to make electricity.  How stupid is that?  They think its a way to take advantage of our location in relation to fuel supply and create jobs.  I'm of the opinion that the amount of fuel burned as diesel used to harvest and haul the wood (from ever increasing distances) to the plant may well be a nearly equivalent number on a BTU basis.  - In other words it would make about as much sense to install an oil burning power plant.  Two big obstacles to this, besides not passing the smell test, is the the Forest Service won't guarantee long term access to the wood and Idaho Power won't give anything beyond a one year guarantee for what they will pay.

I'm not anti-solar.  I just have a different opinion of where and how it makes sense. If and when solar can stand on its own two legs from a long term economic view, then by all means go for it.  At current demand and real generation capacity production we have close to a 20% margin in capacity slack. so a big push (forced or subsidized) to add more capacity via alternatives could actually reduce the cost of conventional fuel electric production - especially in NG which is about 40% of current production (coal 30%, nuke 10%, hydro 7%, oil 6%, wind 2%, solar under 1% - others 4%)

I doubt we will face any real NG problems in the foreseeable future.  Thanks to the price spike NG drilling went wild and we are "awash" in NG.  Capping those wells is not really an option in most cases.  You can choke them down, but for many capping causes you to "lose the well" so once drilled they must flow to one degree or another depending on the rock formation.  Fairly recent drilling technique innovations have opened up enormous drilling opportunities in places once thought economically impractical.

And yes I do have a more benign view of peak oil.  Already the price is high enough to be a serious drag on the global economy and in modern economies, energy consumption has a direct correlation to GDP.  If the price becomes too high or the supply becomes unreliable, economies will collapse and demand will crater.  Most have felt that oil demand was essentially inelastic.  I think what we really see is not so much a smooth curve but more of a "tipping point" effect, above which demand becomes very sensitive to price. Who benefits from peak oil fear?  The producers - always follow the money.

 

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...
goes211 wrote:

 Do you believe that the total costs (including environmental damage caused by mining) of creating solar panels should be ignored.  It is this mentality that causes us to use ethanol because it is a so-called renewable fuel.

I did not say that total costs should be ignored- please read my post again.  Perhaps I did not mention the environmental damage in actual text, but it is presumed.  Solar is not perfect- yes it has a footprint, but you have to consider is not for style or status or consumption, it is for reducing our needs, much like insulation or a bicycle.  By all means the full life cycle should be considered, that is my whole point!  30 to 40 years of free/clean/sustainable service minus about 2 years energy debt = massive energy savings- I can't make that any clearer.

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

yoshhash,

I realize that you were not advocating ignoring environmental impact.  I just did not think you were being very fair when you called yobob1's arguments about looking at the environmental costs of alternative energy, "seriously lame".

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

Here are some solar pics from Arizona - will upload some of the one under construction soon

Jim

 

Solar installation

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Re: Will there be a cheap solar cell that can compete with ...

goes211, yobob,

Fair enough, I admit I may have come off as a little harsh, so apologies for that.  The "footprint of a solar panel" argument sounds awfully similar to the "let's attack Al Gore for travelling around in a jet to give his talks" criticism, which I have little tolerance for.  (Griping about solar subsidies while ignoring much much larger coal subsidies also gets under my skin.) 

I think we are all in agreement that we need to look at the overall costs/footprint/effect of producing something, and that what is appropriate in one setting may not be so elsewhere.  Promising alternatives only need a fair chance- all technologies are expensive at first.  If we are going to criticize solar, we need to do so on a level playing field.

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