Sat. Sep 19th, 2020

By Anthony Fogelman – March 25, 2018 –

As an advocate for solar power, I’m obliged to address the concerns brought up by Samuel Straits comments to Paul’s Article, Part 2, all of which have a logical conclusion:

Solar power makes great sense, not only for your pocketbook but for the environment.

1) System cost: It’s best to understand the payback period. Generally, a solar system will cost the equivalent of 7 years of your cost of electricity.  Therefore, the math looks like this: Pay up-front your cost of electricity for 7 years to get the next 40 years of energy for free.  What’s so complicated about that? Each system will vary in cost. If you look at the original story, you’ll see that there’s a lot to consider before buying a system.

2) Maintenance: Sure, all equipment will conceivably require maintenance. New surface treatments with nano-sized titanium dioxide is used to make self-cleaning glass. This is just one of the many ways that solar panels can be made to require less maintenance. You might be surprised how little a thick coat of dust or pollen would reduce the energy production.  Commonly, systems are over-built by inexperienced solar power companies, to make up for low light conditions or with an expectation of increased demand. This is certainly one way to suggest that a slightly larger system can reduce the requirement for cleaning.

As far as equipment stability and reliability, the majority of components have a 25 year warranty.  Consider that the top-tier providers align only with manufacturers who have proven track records, and stability, helping to ensure that warranties will be honored. The choice of equipment by the solar provider will often suggest how profit-oriented they are. There are quite a number of solar providers that are using low-cost equipment. I’m not saying this is a bad practice, but just that you should go into the contract with eyes open and no fear.  You might want equipment more likely to fail in 10 years in the event you prefer to spend less.  You might instead prefer to go with a company that has years of experience and is more likely to honor their contract.

3) “When you say that you only paid $20 for one month, does that include the $113 per month that you pay for the equipment?”

NO

4) On the subject of degradation, this will vary with the type of panel that you purchase and the conditions. Kyocera, one of the oldest solar panel manufacturers in the world, recently posted on the fact that a number of its early installations continue to generate electricity reliably nearly 30 years after installation. If you try to get numbers on this, you will find some agreement in the industry of a 1-2% degradation per year, but this is actually more of a curve, whereby the degradation reduces as the years draw on.

Again, this subject can be remedied by adding more panels to a system that was intended to be modified for increasing the output, not so difficult.  Indeed, Paul’s is one such system, whereby he could add more panels in the future, as he adds to his home, without requiring the replacement of the inverter, which is the most costly of all the components.

Indeed, it is important to realize that the panels themselves make up a small portion of the total cost of a system, justifying the practice of slightly over-building a system.  Regardless how large your system is, however; it will offset your energy usage by some amount.

Solar power in California has been growing rapidly because of high insolation, community support, declining solar costs, and a Renewable Portfolio Standard which requires that 33% of California’s electricity come from renewable resources by 2020, and 50% by 2030. Much of this is expected to come from solar power.

As manufacturing of conventional solar power continues to improve, it’s anyone’s guess as to exactly how long any system will continue to produce. The electro-chemical reaction that turns sunshine into electricity is known as the Photovoltaic Effect. Because the elements are inert, and do not change, it is technically eternal.  The slight degradation only occurs due to micro-scratches on the surface of the panels from the effect of dust, wind and time.

It is primarily with the electrical connections where faults can occur.  Solar power systems employ firmly-fitting connections that are weather-proof.  But they can remain this way only with technological improvements in materials.  That is precisely why we are having this conversation now.

Scientists have been improving all of the aspects of conventional solar power (silicon-based) since it was invented. Bell Labs in New Jersey announced that the world finally had an efficient way to turn sunlight into electricity. On April 25, 1954, Daryl Chapin, electrical engineer, Gerald Pearson, physicist, and chemist Calvin Fuller demonstrated their invention, the first practical solar cell.  The technology is essentially unchanged over the last 64 years.

Toward the end of your comment that lacks citations, the most difficult to overcome is the vagueness of your statement “As the materials used to produce solar panels become harder to acquire the cost will rise to the point that solar power in its current technological stage becomes cost prohibitive.”  You are again corrected. When you consider that conventional solar uses the most common mineral on planet earth.  The starting material, though very high purity, is silicon dioxide (SiO2), or sand.  Most rocks contain SiO2, such as granite.  Interestingly, the SiO2 for solar power comes nearly exclusively from the Spruce Pine mining district of North Carolina, FYI.  It is, however; only with global cooperation with countries like China, who are very forward-thinking, and have worked out the same equations that we are discussing in this memo to a much greater degree, that makes this wonder of technology possible.

Now it is possible for every homeowner, business-owner, and government entity to benefit from the advent of solar power — a MAJOR game-changer.  This is a result of technological advancements, global cooperation and economy of scale.

Then, there is a clear path to replacing the dirty energy that has historically fueled our industrial revolution at the expense of our environments.

Finally, you have an opportunity to add to the momentum of a revolution in energy. When you consider that the biggest users of solar power are the utilities, then it’s easy to understand that this is a “race” to go solar.

How are you doing in this race?

Are you advancing your knowledge sufficiently to prepare, or would you rather continue paying the utility their premiums at the expense of the environment?

Check out my website at: http://commercialsolarvision.com/

3 thoughts on “Part 2A – Paul Goes Solar”
  1. Hi Samuel,

    You sum up your statements following some vague estimates of global acceptance of solar power with a suggestion that it’s a complicated decision by a homeowner.

    On this point, you certainly do not have my agreement. I think it’s a simple and easy decision for a homeowner. I also have a business degree and greatly enjoyed finance and accounting.

    Consider the following:
    1) Purchasing a solar power system increases your property value.
    2) The cost of financing a system is on-par with the cost of electricity.
    3) The savings proposition is hard to fathom, when considering that free electricity will endure for many years to follow. Yes, it’s hard to say how long a system is going to last, since the technology is still new. Systems have been shown to last in excess of 40 years.

    The bottom line:
    If you have the following, you should look into upgrading your home to solar:
    1) An electric bill that averages in excess of $100/mo.
    2) An un-shaded rooftop (ideally angled to the southern sky)
    3) Decent credit

    If you don’t have these things, then you probably don’t qualify.

    So, now the moment of truth:
    I challenge you, good sir, to admit whether you qualify or not and I ask your permission to collect a utility bill and provide an assessment for you. It would be my pleasure to answer your questions properly and I’m quite certain that this is the only way you’re going to find out for sure how much the system will cost.

    Thanks,
    Anthony

    1. Anthony,
      1)My electric Bill averages $200 to $250 per month since I installed the new heating system last fall.

      2)My house roof is relatively shaded. Probably the most exposure to the sun is Northwest, and to a certain degree to the Southwest. No true Southern exposure that is not shaded a good portion of the day.

      3)My credit would be viewed as excellent, except by Home Depot. Not sure what
      was up with them.

      Give me a call. I did not expect you give up your endorsement of solar power as it has become a consistent trait of advocates in this day and age to ignore some of the troubling details about their advocacy. There is a fair amount of literature in the scientific journals about the limitations of solar power. This is where the very specific information about solar power comes from, not vague assertions. Much amusement over California’s future solar goals particularly for residential. It sometimes pays to jump out of the business end of things and venture into other disciplines in order to get a better perspective. While I spent most of my working career in maintenance, I have a degree in both Physics and Mathematics, as well as the History of Science. It is difficult to have a civilized conversation with people who have preconceived ideas about things they hold near and dear. I do appreciate the fact that you seem willing to go into great detail about your product, except when it comes to total cost of a system. Rest assured that I have considered going solar several times, but am hesitant as to the size of the investment and the durability of a system here on the North Coast. My particular situation is relatively sheltered from the effects of wind, but a redwood tree crashing through my roof and any solar installation could make things difficult. There is no question, I could save money in the long term, and am probably better situated than most to absorb the up front cost of a system. Having a system on my roof is another thing that would have to be considered and the issues relating to roof maintenance. As you can see from my perspective, while going solar would no doubt benefit my situation and my electric bill, it is not quite as simple as one would expect. There are quite a few circumstances that need to be considered which could dramatically effect this investment particularly as it is long term and could have some pretty expensive issues in that long term. As I have said any number of times in my response to your articles, you are talking big money for a system that could run as much as a new small car. Not many takers from most residential home owners when the mortgage payment is staring you in the face. I’d like to see a few systems that have been installed in Del Norte County at private residences to get a feel for what is involved. 954-9220. I own my home outright.

  2. Anthony, if my calculations are correct, Paul’s system will cost him $16,720, and mine, using your rather imprecise method would cost about $23,000 up front for a system to meet my usage. That will eliminate conservatively better than half the County as candidates for solar power. It is nice to see that you admit that there is some maintenance, even though no one can estimate how much that will be. Having been in the maintenance business here in the County for the better part of a quarter century, the maintenance costs might surprise you. I agree with you that technology will make solar power more affordable for a time, but soler power only generates about 1% to 2% of the world’s needs currently and conservative estimates state that the world would need 800,000 new panels per year just to keep up with increased electrical need. Solar power has some catching up to do. Even with new advances in solar technology it will take a significant break through for solar to become more than a minor player in energy production. If your system currently has a 40 plus 7 year life span, or is it 30?, means more cost for a system down the road. As far as California becoming 33% renewable energy by 2020 and 50% by 2030, I’d take that with a grain of salt. Sacramento currently doesn’t live in the real world. It is akin to 30% recyclables already, 50% coming up very soon. Of course we in this County only reach the 30% goal with some rather creative book keeping at Solid Waste, but hey, who’s to know when you don’t even bother to weigh the recyclables. We could be at 30% and don’t even know it, then again, not a chance. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that I’m okay with you hyping solar power, but it is much more complex for the average home owner than you make it seem, and as many of Del Norte’s residents are renters, the idea that solar power will be more than a fringe player in the energy market here locally is probably going to be the case. Sorry Sacramento, 33% is probably going to be another over reach, but what is new for the current occupants of the halls of governance in Sacramento. One final point, if as you suggest, a solar system is constructed entirely of sand, you may have something there, but of course it isn’t. There are other materials that go into the making of a solar system that are not nearly as common as sand. Check it out.

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