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Power Science Technology

Solar Power Eliminates Utility Bills in U.S. Home 743

Posted by Zonk
from the i-have-a-raid-tonight-can-i-borrow-a-cup-of-sunlight dept.
skyhawker writes "Yahoo! News is running an article about a New Jersey home that uses solar power to provide 100% of its energy needs, including fuel for the owner's hydrogen fuel cell-powered automobile. From the article: 'Strizki runs the 3,000-square-foot house with electricity generated by a 1,000-square-foot roof full of photovoltaic cells on a nearby building, an electrolyzer that uses the solar power to generate hydrogen from water, and a number of hydrogen tanks that store the gas until it is needed by the fuel cell. In the summer, the solar panels generate 60 percent more electricity than the super-insulated house needs. The excess is stored in the form of hydrogen which is used in the winter -- when the solar panels can't meet all the domestic demand -- to make electricity in the fuel cell.'"
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Solar Power Eliminates Utility Bills in U.S. Home

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  • I wonder... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ziwcam (766621) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:32PM (#17682204)
    How MY neighbors would feel if I loaded up their roof with solar cells...
    • Re:I wonder... (Score:5, Informative)

      by RingDev (879105) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:18PM (#17683024) Homepage Journal
      They probably wouldn't be too upset. Integrated solar shingles have come a long way: http://www.solar-components.com/pvshingl.htm [solar-components.com]

      -Rick
    • by rolfwind (528248) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:27PM (#17683158)
      If you were my neighbor, I'd let you:) I might even let you have any excess electricity after my needs are met>:)
    • by Panaflex (13191) * <convivialdingo@@@yahoo...com> on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:28PM (#17683172)
      I don't think they be quite so worried about that as they would the large tanks of hydrogen sitting in the back yard.

      Somewhere in the world there's going to be a reddish explosion on the horizon...
      • I don't think they be quite so worried about that as they would the large tanks of hydrogen sitting in the back yard.


        Somewhere in the world there's going to be a reddish explosion on the horizon...

        Oh, the humanity!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RKBA (622932)
      My roof IS loaded up with solar cells and they generate about half the electricity my wife and I use. It's a "net metered" system, so I effectively use the power grid as a giant "storage battery", so to speak. I had the system installed about three years ago, and in another seven years the system will have paid for itself. Actually it will only have paid my own costs, which were less than 50% of the actual $40,000 cost of the system due to government rebates and tax credits. Even after I'm dead, that system
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:33PM (#17682210)
    Hmm?

    And this is the reason so few people (including me) are "green".

     
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
      Actually, the reason so few people are green is because greens act like you're a terrorist if you suggest that maybe, just maybe, you might be irritated by fluorescent lights, even if you're willing to cut back in a zillion other ways, and even if the FL's would destroy productivity that could be used to research or construct earth saving solutions.

      That said, keep in mind that $500,000 is the cost of one person doing it, the first time. Once returns to scale and all kick in, it would be less, and you have
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Itchyeyes (908311)

        Once returns to scale and all kick in, it would be less, and you have to figure in the relative dollar value you'd place on e.g. not depending on the grid or gas prices.

        This is the line that people have been saying for 20 years now. The fact of the matter is that solar power hasn't yet reached a point where cells are efficient enough to pay back the initial monetary cost in a reasonable time frame. Prices have fallen a lot, and will continue to fall. However, there is still a long ways to go. It will likely be yet another 15-20 years before solar power is a viable option for the average homeowner.

        • by AnotherHiggins (925608) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:57PM (#17682672)
          You pulled that number out of your butt very authoritatively.
          It will likely be yet another 15-20 years before solar power is a viable option for the average homeowner.
        • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:03PM (#17682772)
          I agree. At this time, if I put $100,000 (the quoted production cost for the system) into the bank, it would generate roughly 4,700 (risk free). It would still be generating it as the solar system broke down in 25 years.

          I was very excited to read that prices are dropping 7% per year however. That would imply the production cost would be roughly $50,000 in 6 years. $50,000 in six years is very unlikely to generate enough interest income to cover gasoline and electricity (my electric runs about $1800 a year and gas about $1200 a year).

          I've been tracking this for the last six years and every year, solar looks promising but doesnt' make sense yet without government grants. But it is getting there and it won't be long before it starts to put pressure on the price of oil.
          • by caseydk (203763) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:25PM (#17683128) Homepage Journal
            I was very excited to read that prices are dropping 7% per year however. That would imply the production cost would be roughly $50,000 in 6 years. $50,000 in six years is very unlikely to generate enough interest income to cover gasoline and electricity (my electric runs about $1800 a year and gas about $1200 a year).

            Even at 25 years - the expected lifetime of the system - this brings the cost down to $2k/year. The article also says that the "average" US household spends about $1500 on electric/year. So it's getting close, but it's not quite there. Personally, I'm looking forward to buildings who have huge roofs (think Walmart, etc) install solar cells.... they're likely to be the first to do it just to cut costs.

            Unfortunately, they're still going to get hammered by the Greens, because:
            1) having a huge areas of dark material are going to increase the air temperature in the immediate area; and
            2) once they're off the grid, the demand goes down, so the price goes down which slows people's motivation to convert or conserve.
          • by HeyMe (935075) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:32PM (#17683238)
            New solar cells developed with nano-technology at the University of Toronto (http://www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/050110-832.asp [utoronto.ca] ) convert light from the blue-yellow end of the spectrun down to the near-infrared (current cells work only in the bluie-yellow end of the visible spectrum). This could increase the conversion efficiency by a factor of 5. Additionally, this technology lends itself to be able to literally print the cells on a plastic substrate, significantly lowering manufacturing costs.

            Currently, a typical home solar setup produces about 4.5 KW (max) and costs about US $25,000 to install. Payback takes about 20 years. If this new technology could change both numbers by a conservative factor of say, 3, you'd be looking at 13.5 KW (max) systems going for about US $8,500, and payback times of 5 years or so. Then, you'd have something.
            • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:58PM (#17683696)
              There are also pretty nice benefits to having solar when a storm knocks out the grid.

              But, don't forget batteries (and charges to discard them are only going to increase).

              You have 3 sets of batteries over 20 years.

              You are almost certain to blow at one inverter too ($2kish today).

              And you can bet on this.

              If enough people do it, the government is going to start taxing it (to replace lost revenue from your current power bill).

              • by shaitand (626655) on Friday January 19, 2007 @02:14PM (#17683954) Journal
                Don't be silly, you'd just toss the batteries in the trash like you do now.
              • http://www.sciencentral.com/articles/view.php3?typ e=article&article_id=218392803 [sciencentral.com]

                If they have both nanotech ducks in a row there, you could do without the batteries even...
              • But, don't forget batteries (and charges to discard them are only going to increase).

                I'd plan rather to install a flywheel. It can be buried, eliminating issues with flywheels ripping loose from their mountings and rolling over the landscape, demolishing all in their path.

                Flywheels are a bad idea for vehicles due to mass and inertia issues; even hydrogen gas is better in terms of safety since it wants to go up so very badly and get out of the picture. But in a stationary application where you can bury them and let the earth handle safety, they are a very good plan. On top of that they can be made with a steel frame, assembled on-site, and then filled with concrete, then balanced by attaching weights or removing concrete so they are easy to ship (and the concrete could be padded out with local rock, decreasing shipping weight.)

                But most importantly, depending on what you make them out of (concrete not being the best example I admit) flywheels can be clean and green. They last pretty much forever, with the caveat that your bearings must occasionally be replaced, and they are relatively small devices so the environmental impact is minimized. Making and recycling batteries, these are both nasty processes involving lots of toxic chemicals.

                • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:08PM (#17686066) Journal
                  Buried fly wheels can be in vaccum canisters floating on magnetic bearings. Absolutely no servicing. Further the energy stored in a flywheel is proportional to the moment of inertia of the wheel and square of the angular velocity (or rpm). Thus to increase the capcity it is better to jack up the speed than size. With electronics integrated in the housing, you would actually have a few dozen small flywheels rather than one large one. Again remove and replace the small defective flywheel.
              • Really? (Score:4, Informative)

                by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @06:08PM (#17688288)
                You have 3 sets of batteries over 20 years.


                Funny, I've had two sets of batteries operating concurrently for 16 years and they are as good as the day I acquired them. That's 24 x 2 volt, 660 amp-hour flooded lead-acid cells.

                I maintain them carefully, which is probably why I've never had to replace them, whereas others who think that batteries will look after themselves, seem to be replacing theirs every few years, at great expense.

                I'm tired of hearing from all these people WITH NO EXPERIENCE WITH PV SYSTEMS telling the world how inadequate such systems are when I've been off-grid for years with no problems ever.

                Then there are the guys who buy a PV panel or two, rustle up a few old car batteries, and think they can live utility bill-free forever...then whine like little girls when they don't get the performance they expected and there system craps out in a short time.

                It's like any geek project: you have to plan and maintain.

                Calculate the size of your PV array, then add another 50% capacity to cover unforseen loads (which always appear). Those who tell you that the juice dries up at the first sight of a cloud are talking out their asses, as usual. You will still get plenty of amps from a decent array on even the cloudiest of days. The only time your PV panel power quits is at night. If in doubt, add a wind generator to your system.

                Obtain the heaviest cable you can. I've seen big systems wired together with ridiculously thin stuff, just to save a few bucks. Result? Burning smells, dim lights, and dashed hopes. And do a nice tidy job with all cable runs and connections. Duct tape and blutak just doesn't cut it. Work like a pro or don't waste your time.

                Get a decent regulator and inverter. Over-estimate you loads, so that the unit can cope with peaks you otherwise wouldn't have anticipated. And get the type you can download live data from, as the difference it makes in your ability to manage your system is immense. It's hard manage a thing when you have no clue what it's doing. Extra money, yes, but either spend the cash or stick to paying your utility, the Piss-Or-Get-Off-The-Pot plan.

                Acquire the correct battery type. Most people seem to want sealed lead-acid or gel types, which is fine, but they are blackboxware, and almost impossible to maintain, since you don't really know what's happening inside them. I've seen many of those type die brand-new. Why? There's no way of knowing. These types may be "cleaner" to have around the home (no electrolyte top-ups), but in the long term they actually cost a lot more, since you have to replace them fairly often, and a random selection of cells are guaranteed to fail prematurely at awkward moments.

                I prefer flooded lead-acid cells. No, you can't use cheap car or truck batteries and have a usable system. It'll be fucked within months, or even weeks. And "Marine deep-cycle" batteries are not much better. You have to use the right type, and as far as I'm concerned that's the (usually) 2 volt flooded lead-acid standby/telecommunication variety. Heavy as hell, very expensive to buy new, but will last most people's lifetime, literally, if properly maintained, which means you have to forget all that shit your friend's cousin's brother told you, and learn something. It's not difficult or time-consuming, but the results are very expensive and inconvenient for the retards to lazy or stupid to take the time to do so.

                A working off-grid system is perfectly feasible, a fact which many of us with working off-grid systems can and will attest to. Yes, it takes work, time, and money, and probably cost you less to stay on-grid, but if you don't care about that, or have no choice, then it's easily doable, so ignore the fuckwads claiming it isn't, because chances-are good THEY HAVE NO EXPERIENCE AT ALL WITH THE STUFF THEY'RE BLATHERING ON ABOUT.
          • It would still be generating it as the solar system broke down in 25 years.

            If the solar system breaks down in 25 years, I don't think I'll be worrying about money in the bank...

      • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:53PM (#17682590)
        >the reason so few people are green

        I think the reason is the one you suggest lower down in your post - The cost.

        I should really improve my insulation, but don't. Why? Because there's no payback in natural gas savings.

        I could install solar heat, but I don't. Why? No payback.

        I could buy a hybrid car. I don't. Why? No payback

        ...so I do the things I can afford: Recycle, fix dripping taps, take the bus when I can. I realize there are often higher-purpose reasons than cost savings, but many people simply can't *afford* to be green.

        • by ohearn (969704) on Friday January 19, 2007 @03:21PM (#17685070)
          >>the reason so few people are green

          >I should really improve my insulation, but don't. Why? Because there's no payback in natural gas savings.

          >...so I do the things I can afford: Recycle, fix dripping taps, take the bus when I can. I realize there are often higher-purpose reasons than cost savings, but many people simply can't *afford* to be green.

          I spent less than $700 and one full day of labor for me and my wife on a weekend on insulation on my house Fall of '05. The savings on the utility bill paid for the cost of the insulation (including the price of renting the blower to blow it in and buying a decent ladder) in less than a year.

          I also replaced all the windows in my home with triple pane Low-E argon filled windows earlier this year. Yeah that ran me just shy of $5000 installed. I financed it through the same company I bought the windows from 1 year same as cash. I expect the energy savings to pay for the windows in roughly 7 years. The new windows also look a lot better and came with a lifetime warranty against breakage that is transferable if I sell my house. The added value to my home will almost pay for the windows by itself if I sell the house.

          I agree that solar panels, hybrid cars, even projects like the windows I did can have a high up front cost. A lot of people cannot afford that cost up front, but simple projects like insulation, sealing around doors better, etc. are cheap and really will start having benefits that add up pretty quickly.
        • by Technician (215283) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:43PM (#17686746)
          I could buy a hybrid car. I don't. Why? No payback

          People play the no payback card all the time but few stop to do the math.

          I bought a used Prius (1 year old) for $18,000. My Wife bought a minivan at at the same time for the same price. The math for the no payback was for new vehicles for those who drove fewer than 20K miles/year and gas was $1.50/gallon.

          I had the forsite to know the resale value whould hold up on the Prius (have fun, look up the resale of a 02 Caravan and a 02 Prius). I am not singing the depreciation blues. I can get most of my money back out today if I wanted. With gas at near $3.00 a gallon and I'm reaching 100K miles, I am seeing my payback now. Some cars need a transmission replacement for nearly $4K after 100K miles. The $5K battery replacement everyone was afraid of is now a $3600 dollar item, It is cheaper than a transmission replacement. It is possible to replace a failed 7.2V cell instead of all 36 in the entire pack.

          As a bonus, my Prius doubles as a replacement source of electric power while traveling or during outages. I have installed a 1KW inverter. While not driving the power not used for the heater/AC, lights, defroster, power steering, air brake compressor, etc, is easly diverted without overloading the electrical system. It is the most fuel effecient electrical generator I have ever used. The car side of things is 20KW. When parked the engine shuts off instead of running constantly. It starts up and runs a few minutes then shuts back down to repeat in about 20 minutes. This is perfect for running the freezer in an outage. I don't have the engine running all the time when it isn't needed.

          Add a few CF lights, the laptop, and the TV to the mix and a tank of gas lasts for days unlike a portable generator. I have run 3 days this way and used less than a quarter tank of gas. (13 gal tank)
      • I'm a green (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mdsolar (1045926) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:58PM (#17682680) Homepage Journal
        Yes, I'm a green and I act like an entrepeneur, not a terroist. From the article:

        "You need to make the financing within reach of real people," Wentworth said.

        That part is done as you'll see at my home page: http://www.jointhesolution.com/mdsolar [jointhesolution.com]

        You can get solar for no more than you're paying now for electricity, no installation fee, no permit hassles, and no rate increases for up to 25 years.

        I love what Mr. Strizki has done but I wish he'd heard of this opportunity first.
        • Slave to the Grid (Score:3, Insightful)

          by camperdave (969942)
          That is an interesting project you've got going there, and if significant numbers of people start installing your system then the country will see a decrease in the amount of fuel used for power generation. However, it does not get you off the grid, and if more and more people start using your system it will drive the cost of power up.

          You claim that the transmission and distribution of that electricity must rely on accurate operation and proper maintenance of its lines. But what happens when demand excee
      • by goombah99 (560566) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:32PM (#17683244)
        It's crucial to realize that it's not important what the average homeowner pays per year for energy. What's important is how many homeowners pay more than $4000 per year for energy.

        many people would balk at the $100,000/25 year price tag of this solar home. that's 4000 per year for yout energy needs. Right now people pay about 1000 to 1500 per year on gasoline for their cars and another 1000+ to heat their homes. THe article says that people pay $1500 fo their energy needs but I suspect that might be per person not per home, since the figure is too low.

        Since it's certain that energy costs are going to rise faster than inflation it seems like locking in $4000 per year cost would be terrific. So the real issue is capitalizing this up front, and working to make it even more affordable.

        Moreover, if everyone did this then my tax bill could remove some of the kilobucks I spend on military, homeland security, oil industry subsidy, and heath and environment costs for pollution.

        this guy is using solar to generate hydrogen so he can store the energy for winter time and run his car. That storage and conversion to transportation fuels is perhaps more significant than the efficiency.

        It seems very likely to me that nanotechnology break thoughs are the kind of thing likely to at least double or quadruple the efficiency of going from solar to hydrogen, and probably have a similar effect on the conversion of hydrogen back to locomotion or electricity. So I could see the cost of this dropping in a couple decades. Does that mean we should wait for that? Id' say no. just like the pharma industry, the huge profits have also bought lots of medical research.

        If the world power consumption stays on its current growth rate, and if anything it's poised to accelerate, then by 2040 we will need to double the worlds energy production. To put this in perspective, if you were doing this via nuclear power alone it would mean building a gigawatt plant every day for the next 30 years. There is not enough water to do it with biofuels unless there is a breakthrough. One can do it with Shale oil, but the carbon load will create a crisis. So while shale oil may clamp the price of oil, carbon sequestration will up the cost. It's very easy to imagine that world wide competition for energy will either lead to enormous prices, environmental crisis or war, unless steps are taken to create a variable marketbasket of more environmental and cost effective renewable energy sources. Oil will always be part of the mix but it can't be the only source.
        • If the world power consumption stays on its current growth rate, and if anything it's poised to accelerate, then by 2040 we will need to double the worlds energy production.

          Um, nope... Our use of energy, and roads increase to fill existing capacity. You could double the amount of energy produced tomorrow, and the number of roads and what'd happen is that our use would simply double to fill it. If we cap our energy production or roads, our use will remain static at the current level. If you reduce the energy production or roads, we will simply use them more efficiently.

          The key concept is that it's a general principle. We tend towards the use of all available capacity of a reso

        • Did you not take the most basic financial math in school?

          Go to your bank for a mortgage. They won't make the same mistake. $100K over 25 years, at today's 7% rate is about $8600 per year. If you'll give me $100K now I'll give you $5,000 per year and be happy to do it.

          I hate how people who should know their math, people who own homes, people who sell solar panels, can make such a basic mistake.

          At today's prices, PV _never_ pays for itself compared to grid power. Not in 12 years, not in 50 years, not ev
    • by n2art2 (945661) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:41PM (#17682376) Homepage
      Read the whole article, please people. . . .

      FTA: "While the cost may deter all but wealthy environmentalists from converting their homes, Strizki and his associates stress the project is designed to be replicated and that the price tag on the prototype is a lot higher than imitators would pay. Now that first-time costs of research and design have been met, the price would be about $100,000, Strizki said."

      But then again it is more sensational for you to use the R&D cost of $500,000 right?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by inviolet (797804)

        Now that first-time costs of research and design have been met, the price would be about $100,000, Strizki said."

        The TVM ("time value of money") on a $100,000 investment is $5,000 to $10,000 per year, depending on your investment preferences. That means that it costs the owner of the house ~$7,500 per year just to own the house. That is to say, the house costs its owner an amount of money equal to the wealth that the $100,000 could've created elsewhere (such as in a small business that needs money to exp

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by CokeBear (16811)
          How can all you people be so short-sighted? Yes, the first one was $500,000, and the second one will cost about $100,000. The next batch will cost $50,000, and then you open it up to free market forces and the price plummets. Get with the program here, this will be the way we go in the future. This guy is way ahead of the game, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage it. Distributed power is the answer. No more centralized points of failure, targets for terrorism, or sources of pollution.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by inviolet (797804)

            Distributed power is the answer. No more centralized points of failure, targets for terrorism, or sources of pollution.

            Distributed power means massive redundancy, with the benefits you noted. But massive redundancy is very expensive. Even if you've got volume discounts for batteries and converters and the like, you're still going to have to purchase lots and lots of them, and allocate space for them, and in$tall them, and maintain them over time. Maintenance requires technicians driving around in vans,

        • by microTodd (240390) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:31PM (#17683228) Homepage Journal
          So you're saying the ONLY reason to switch is to save money? What about other reasons? Saving the environment? Being a good steward to the Earth? Being an ubergeek?

          There's more to life than money...
        • I pay an average of $150/month for electricity, $50/month for natural gas, and $200/month for gasoline.
          Today you pay that rate. Don't assume that energy costs won't continue to rise over the next 10-20 years.
    • by AJWM (19027) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:46PM (#17682492) Homepage
      Sure it's not cost effective. Prototypes and one-offs rarely are.

      As a proof-of-concept, though, it's highly successful. This guy is demonstrating, not just hand-waving, that one can be entirely energy self-sufficient through solar power, even with the crappy efficiency of current mass produced photovoltaic panels.

      Find a way to increase the efficiency and/or drop the price of the panels (and H2 storage system, fuel cells, etc) and it starts to look really attractive. More so if you want to build somewhere way off-grid. And without some of the attendant problems of a windmill.

      The next time somebody argues that you can't live off-grid just on solar power, you can point to this guy. Then the argument comes down to cost-effectiveness, which depends on a lot of other factors.
      • by Stewie241 (1035724) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:55PM (#17682638)
        But what really needs to be looked at is the OVERALL cost. What I mean by this, is: What are the environmental costs of producing the panels? What byproducts does this produce (i.e. another poster mentioned product of hydrogen vehicle... H20 - on a small scale this has negligible effect, on a large scale, what would this do?)? What happens to the panels when they eventually degrade? Is this safe waste? I don't know the answers... just raising the questions. Ian
    • by Deagol (323173) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:08PM (#17682860) Homepage
      And this is the reason so few people (including me) are "green".

      Then you, like this guy (and so many others), sadly miss the point of "being green".

      I used to subscribe to Home Power Magazine [homepower.com], and while they have some great technical and inspiring articles, I got fed up with what some call "greenie weenies". All too often each magazine showcases some 3000+ square foot home built buy some lawyer or retired electrical engineer in 20+ remote acres in northern California, the array itself often costing way more than a typical house for the average American. While technologically cool, these monster systems defeat the purpose of actually giving a shit about one's footprint upon this tiny planet of ours.

      These well-to-do yuppies invariably pat themselves on the back for installing huge solar/wind arrays, so they can heat/cool their huge houses, power a full suite of modern electrical conveniences, and live "normal" lives while thinking they've actually made a difference. I argue that houses that large, with all the materials included in their construction, negate *any* good the lifetime of alternative energy produced will provide to the global system.

      Sure, not all folks who install these systems do it for altruistic reasons -- why not take advantage of tax write-offs/credits and state/federal subsidies, or that $100k system may be cheaper than running the grid 5 miles to their big new homes. But it really chaps my hide when these types are actually lauded for a contribution to society that they, in fact, haven't made.

      Until technology advances to a near-limitless source of non-polluting power such as fusion, conservation means making a real sacrifice in your lives for the greater good. It *should* be a painful, daily reminder to the practitioners -- like how some religious fasting is supposed to remind its practitioners of humility, etc.. And even beyond the power aspect, resources of *all* types should be conserved. What the hell does a yuppie DINK (double-income-no-kids) couple *need* a house with a square footage over 1000? They don't. I covet libertarian ideals enough, and I loathe the idea of telling people how to enjoy their lives. However, the tragedy of the commons is alive and well on this planet, and it saddens me when even well-to-do folks, who often *can* make a real impact, choose not to out of some sort of entitlement.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cayenne8 (626475)
        "What the hell does a yuppie DINK (double-income-no-kids) couple *need* a house with a square footage over 1000? They don't."

        Geez..you must not have much stuff, eh?

        I'm a single guy, and my stuff easily takes up and fills 1400-1700 sqft. I usually go for 3 bedroom places...one for bedroom, one for office (and several servers that stay on 24/7), and one for my hobby storage area (and spare bedroom too if needed) for all my beer making stuff, burners, propane tanks, etc.

        That was when I was renting...I'm l

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Deagol (323173)
          Geez..you must not have much stuff, eh?

          Family of 4 in 800-ft^2 house. In least in real estate terms. There's maybe 400 more upstairs, but it doesn't count due to the ceiling being slanted. More like loft space.

          Life is too short to do without and be a drudgery...

          Living w/o doesn't always imply drudgery. Most human lives run the same length, but each of us choose our own path to wander with that time. I doubt my family's simple, (more) earth-friendly lifestyle will leave any more/less legacy than y

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by cayenne8 (626475)
            "I have to ask, though... do you have *no* awareness or empathy of how millions/billions of people living like yourself will eventually lead to permanent damage and loss to our resources and ecology?"

            Well, I'd like to think I do have a concience, and I try to do good for other people, etc, but, really when it comes to thinking of the environment, etc. In all honesty, I have to say no, I really don't give it a 2nd thought.

            I was in a discussion with others once..and I guess what was the truth blurted out..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014)
      Suppose you had this revolutionary idea called "drywall". You want to show the world the advantages of drywall by building your house with it.

      The problem is that it doesn't exist yet. So you pay a manufacturing company to create your drywall sheets for you. When you're done, you're looking at $500,000 in costs. You didn't even save much if anything on the installation over using plasterers, because you had to train the guys on how to do the installation, and they probably need a bunch of specialized
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
      There is a world of difference between putting a half million dollars into personal energy independence, and putting two thousand dollars into getting your home re-insulated, or buying some five dollar florescent light bulbs. That's what being "green" is about: Not using more energy than you have to. You can do that, and save yourself money at the same time.

      People like you who willfully miss the point of intelligent environmentalism make me crazy. It's not about a bunch of damn hippies and their incoherent
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:35PM (#17682244)
    I'll get right on that!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:35PM (#17682250)
    He eliminated his electric bill, but couldn't eliminate the fact that he is in New Jersey.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:36PM (#17682280) Journal
    I just read all 37 pages of the Home Owners Association guide. While it doesn't strictly forbid solar panels on the roof, They are going to have to be the right color and anything visible has to be approved before construction. They definitely don't want any windmills, decorative or otherwise, not even as part of the mailbox!

    So how, exactly, can I put some of this technology to work in stealth mode? Apparently this is not part of the neighborhood beautification plan?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eln (21727)
      Move to a neighborhood without a draconian HOA.

      Seriously, I hate those things. A bunch of busybody housewives with nothing better to do than to stick their noses in other people's business. I'd rather deal with having a neighbor with a rusted-out trans am in his yard than have to deal with some harpy telling me my grass is 1/4" too long. I own the damn property, I don't need some jackass telling me it has to look exactly like everyone else's.
      • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:55PM (#17682626) Journal
        Move to a neighborhood without a draconian HOA.

        And use a secure version of Windows, an honest attorney, or a Hooters franchise that doesn't debase women.
  • by rockabilly (468561) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:37PM (#17682294)
    From the article:

    "Caminiti argues that the cost of the hydrogen/solar setup works out at about $4,000 a year when its $100,000 cost is spread over the anticipated 25-year lifespan of the equipment. That's still a lot higher than the $1,500 a year the average U.S. homeowner spends on energy, according to the federal government."

    Still interesting tho.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumRiff (120817)
      He also runs his car off the hydrogen. That really changes the number, 1500 is something like $80/month for electric, the rest of the savings is from not buying gasoline!

  • Payoff down the road (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optonli ... inus threevowels> on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:37PM (#17682316) Journal

    From the article:

    Caminiti argues that the cost of the hydrogen/solar setup works out at about $4,000 a year when its $100,000 cost is spread over the anticipated 25-year lifespan of the equipment. That's still a lot higher than the $1,500 a year the average U.S. homeowner spends on energy, according to the federal government. Even if gasoline costs averaging about $1,000 per car annually are included in the energy mix, the renewables option is still more expensive than the grid/gasoline combination.

    Mind you, once you've bought the equipment, there are only the maintenance costs over that 25 years, where as the price of energy will undoubtedly continue to increase. And the price of solar cells is dropping, so the cost may go lower than $100,000. I for one would love to have solar -- not having to pay for electricity, being able to run my Christmas lights 365 days a year, and not losing my power in a blackout. Also, if you generate excess electricity, you can sell it to the utility companies, and actually make a buck when you have excess power.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Itchyeyes (908311)
      Not to mention that his calculation of $4,000/year completely ignores any time value of money. There isn't a business in the world that would calculate the returns on a half million dollar investment over the course of 25 years with a 0% decline rate. Using a standard 10% decline you're looking at $11,000/year rather than $4,000/year.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by donutello (88309)
        $100,000 borrowed on a 25-year loan at 6% is about $7800/year. You should also apply a 2-4% inflation rate to that cost, which actually reduces the value of the money you will pay as time progresses so that your payment in the 25th year will be about $3000 in todays dollars. Not caring to do the math, I'd put the cost at about $6800/year.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CodeBuster (516420)
      Mind you, once you've bought the equipment, there are only the maintenance costs over that 25 years, where as the price of energy will undoubtedly continue to increase.

      Perhaps, but betting on future energy prices has always been associated with substantial amounts of risk to principle, just ask any commodities trader about how risky future bets on energy prices can be.

      And the price of solar cells is dropping, so the cost may go lower than $100,000. I for one would love to have solar.

      You might not
  • by Tristandh (723519) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:39PM (#17682336)
    Solar power is nice since it does not pollute when in use and generating power. However, mass production of solar cells is very taxing for the environment. So I can't help but wondering which is worse: 1000 sq. ft. (which is, accounting for chip packaging and other overhead, still a HUGE silicon area) or heating the old fashioned way (e.g. with gas, which is less polluting than say coal, and using decent insulation) and using a car that is not a fuel-hungry SUV...
    • Generating electricity in cleaner ways is nice but not nearly as efficient or green as simply using less. Production is a very small part of the problem. Consumption is what we have to deal with.
    • by Your Pal Dave (33229) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:15PM (#17682972)
      If your going to include production for solar panels you need to remember that fossil fuels don't exactly jump out of the ground and into your furnace. Strip mines, refineries, natural gas production [newwest.net] all have a significant environmental cost.
    • by hey! (33014) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:22PM (#17683100) Homepage Journal
      Over what timespan?

      Assuming a lifespan of 40 years, I'd guess that it is less polluting to use solar cells than to use fossil fuels. Furthermore, if solar cells were leased instead of sold (providing a long term revenue stream for solar energy companies), old cells could be remanufactured by the suppliers at a fraction of the original environmental and energy costs.
    • Facts, not FUD (Score:5, Informative)

      by MyNymWasTaken (879908) on Friday January 19, 2007 @02:57PM (#17684636)
      More facts please; less FUD. All the PV detractor statements revolve around the concept that PV cells are dirty to produce and never produce more energy than is required to create them. No references are ever provided. It is all nothing more than "it's obvious" FUD.
      Based on models and real data, the idea that PV cannot pay back its energy investment is simply a myth.
      [...]
      During its projected 28 years of clean energy production, a rooftop system with a 2-year energy payback and meeting half of a household's electricity use would avoid conventional electrical-plant emissions of more than half a ton of sulfur dioxide, one-third a ton of nitrogen oxides, and 100 tons of carbon dioxide
      What is the Energy Payback for PV? [nrel.gov]

      Major limitations to the accuracy of this assessment are the difficulties in determining realistic energy conversion factors, and in determining realistic energy values for human labour. For this reason an allowance of up to 100% has been allowed, thus the range of payback is between 2-8 years. Thus small-scale roof mounted PV systems have a positive energy payback and are capable of contributing to a sustainable energy future.
      Energy Payback of Roof Mounted Photovoltaic Cells [energybulletin.net]
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:40PM (#17682350) Homepage Journal
    place by not paying the bill 6 months in a row. It's amazing, your monthly electric costs will drop to 0 very quickly!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      place by not paying the bill 6 months in a row. It's amazing, your monthly electric costs will drop to 0 very quickly!

      As will your energy usage!
  • by Lethyos (408045) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:40PM (#17682356) Journal

    People are whining about how it costs a half-million dollars. It is so expensive because of low volume. We need early adopters like this guy to start the ball rolling. Once more people buy into this form of energy production, the cheaper it will become.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Reziac (43301) *
      What it really needs is to be adopted by small local and rural co-ops, the same way phone and electric service was brought to farm country in the first place. Also, maybe having real local people responsible for it would encourage better service.

      It may not be practical to adapt an existing metro area, but would certainly be feasible as part of new housing developments.

      (Crap, I just said something to encourage housing developments. I think I'll go wash my brain out with soap.)

  • Renu by CitizenRe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock (685079) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:40PM (#17682358) Homepage Journal
    For those who don't want to bother with the expense of buying and installing your own PV system, there's Renu [citizenre.com]. With a $500 deposit, they'll design and install an grid-tied PV system for you and charge you only for what it produces at the current rate, which you can lock in for 5 or 25 years. And if you've got a 25 year contract they'll move the system when you move.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:40PM (#17682362) Journal
    It depends on New Jersey's rates for power sent back to the grid, but would it be better to put the excess energy onto the grid & to use the check they send towards buying hydrogen?

    This might only be a practical idea in regions where the power company pays you more than the going electric rate for any power you put back into the grid.
  • by tarlos25 (1036572) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:41PM (#17682366)
    Of course it will be expensive for the early adopters. But as solar panels mature, and more energy independence options become available, it will be much more economically feasible. The first people to do this don't do it for the monetary savings (or if they do, they're wrong), they do it to make a statement that it can be done.
  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:42PM (#17682388)
    It has been possible to do this since solar cells were invented. It was not possible to get a real break even versus standard energy sources "back then" in the 60's, nor is it possible to get to break even now today in the next 25 years, and I submit from the article my evidence:

    "Caminiti argues that the cost of the hydrogen/solar setup works out at about $4,000 a year when its $100,000 cost is spread over the anticipated 25-year lifespan of the equipment. That's still a lot higher than the $1,500 a year the average U.S. homeowner spends on energy, according to the federal government. Even if gasoline costs averaging about $1,000 per car annually are included in the energy mix, the renewables option is still more expensive than the grid/gasoline combination."

    So what is new here?
  • by Proteus (1926) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:43PM (#17682402) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, at $0.5M US, it's a steep price to pay just to be free of utility bills, or just to be "green". But please don't forget that it still has value.

    This early adopter is proving that you *can* be self-sufficient using solar energy. That's a big deal. And, if a people -- and more importantly, organizations -- start seeing solar energy as having potential, more people will fund research into improving the technology and making it cheaper. At least, that's the hope.

    Early adopters help drive the price of technology down, so don't be so quick to judge this guy's choice -- he's helping to make solar power more available to the masses, in his own small way.

    Besides, in being the first, he'll probably make back his $500K in promotional considerations and/or the lecture circuit. ;-)
  • For $500,000 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RichPowers (998637) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:44PM (#17682420)
    I can buy 10,000 acres of rainforest ($50/acre), according to www.rainforest.org. Even if that's not a realistic cost, I could still buy 5,000 acres if land was going for $100/acre.
  • by rjinbanff (69460) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:53PM (#17682602) Homepage
    Hi all,

    My wife and I have been building a green, eco-friendly home in the heart of oil-city Canada - Calgary, Alberta. We have been blogging about our experiences at ramsayhome.com [ramsayhome.com]. We have had quite the experience so far...we had to fire our first contractor, dismantle some of the work, continue with a new contractor, etc. Everything is back on-track though and we will be posting some new pictures this weekend.
  • by viking80 (697716) on Friday January 19, 2007 @12:54PM (#17682616) Journal
    From TFA: the cost of the installation was about $500,000, including about $50,000 of lead acid batteries.

    I would suggest that the environmental impact of building this house, and recycling the consumables far outweighs the lowered energy consumption.

    Just recycling an estimated 1 ton of toxic, heavy metal, lead a year (assuming 10 ton installation with life expectancy of 10 years), has a big environmental impact.

    Solar panel manufacturing also consumes a lot of resources, and end up not beeing so clean overall.

    A $500,000 investment would probably give a thousand times better ROI if it was spent on pollution reduction in india or china, or to save rainforest.
  • Fiscal advantages ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by alexhs (877055) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:07PM (#17682844) Homepage Journal
    When you're installing things like solar panels for your house in France, you get tax credits, so it practically costs only a fraction of the price.

    Are the same kind of dispositions existing in the U.S. ? other coutries ? TFA doesn't say (they're talking about sponsoring, though).
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Friday January 19, 2007 @01:09PM (#17682868) Homepage Journal
    A big tank of pure hydrogen gas in your basement, eh? That's great! I don't see what could possibly go wrong with that.

    In fact, you should celebrate a job well done. Have a cigar!

    /run
  • by m.dillon (147925) on Friday January 19, 2007 @04:11PM (#17686128) Homepage

    Solar water heating is very inexpensive and environmentally friendly (because no solar cells are actually needed, just something to soak up the sun's heat and a heat exchanger). You generally want to get a closed system heat exchanger, with a separate fluid loop, and not actually loop the water heater's water through the solar unit.

    Battery backup is *NOT* inexpensive, nor is it environmentally friendly. Only lead-acid batteries have the kind of capacity required and they need maintainance and space and have relatively short lifespans (5-10 years typically). They require a separate charging system and a transfer switch. In short... if you have a good connection to the utility, putting together a battery system is not worth the cost.

    The cheapest most environmentally sensitive solar electric system are standard solar panels and a direct grid-tie inverter. Not the shingles or any of the other experimental junk... they just don't have the life span or the efficiency. Zero maintainance, very long life. This is what I have on my roof.

    In terms of (almost) zeroing out your electricity bill with net-meetering... well, it is fairly inexpensive if you have a newer home with energey efficient appliances. My system is somewhat bigger then a standard home needs, 2.5KW, and I can't zero out my electricity bill because I have a machine room. Note however that no solar system can even come close to the electricity requirements of a home Air Conditioner. If you need air conditioning you will never be able to zero-out your electricity bill with a standard 'home' solar electric system.

    Solar Cell Manufacturing has gotten a lot better over the years. The environmental cost for manufacturing a panel is something like 6 months now vs the 30 year+ lifespan of the panel. Direct grid-tie inverters take up very little space and require no maintainance whatsoever. Generally you want to use a high voltage inverter, where the solar panels are linked in series instead of in parallel. Such inverters are a lot less bulky then LV systems (and the wiring is a lot less bulky too because it is high-voltage and low-current instead of low-voltage and high-current). My recommendation is a Sunny Boy direct-tie inverter. Never use an inverter which requires a fan.

    Some states, in particularly California, have extremely good rebate programs. The Federal tax credit is crap.

    Neighbors of mine have tried the shingles, and have tried flexible solar mats on their roofs, with terrible results.

    http://apollo.backplane.com/Solar/ [backplane.com]

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