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Power Science Hardware

Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth 402

Posted by Zonk
from the a-photovoltaic-industry-growing-oh-the-hilarity dept.
mdsolar writes "USA Today is running a pretty good article on solar power that gives an overview of the current state of the industry. Highlight include production costs of $1.19/Watt for First Solar, 40% annual cost reductions over the last five years, revenues expected to triple in three years, and a prediction for 2014 as the year when solar photovoltaic power plants become cheaper than other forms of generation. From the piece: 'Like wind power, solar energy is spotty, working at full capacity an average 20% to 30% of the time. Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks. And it can be located at homes and businesses, reducing the need to build pollution-belching power plants and unsightly transmission lines. In states such as California, with high electricity prices and government incentives, solar is already a bargain for some customers. Wal-Mart recently said it's putting solar panels on more than 20 of its stores in California and Hawaii. Google is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes.'"
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Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth

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  • by It doesn't come easy (695416) * on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:36PM (#20376655) Journal
    Plus, there's the guys doing electricity by converting solar heat using sterling engines http://www.stirlingenergy.com/default.asp [stirlingenergy.com] and the work converting heat into electricity using an intermediate sound conversion step http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/07060 3225026.htm. [sciencedaily.com]
  • Understatement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:38PM (#20376675) Homepage Journal

    Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks.

    Solar's big advantages are that it is essentially pollution free, doesn't up CO2, reduces petroleum requirements which means more lubricants, plastics and so on at reasonable prices, reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries, increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, and over the long term, it costs less.

    Combined with ultracaps, hopefully to be seen as practical power storage come this fall (via EEStor [google.com]), the power supply landscape may change significantly in the next decade or so.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Seumas (6865)
      Of course, solar power only has advantages in certain environments. Almost no power source is universally producible. For instance, only some parts of America can provide significant natural gas resources. Only certain portions are capable of coal or oil. Likewise, there is a limitation on places that can provide significant resources for wind-power or solar-power.

      This isn't to suggest that it isn't worth the effort, but I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate ar
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by polar red (215081)
        As production increases and technology improves, the northern limit of the area where it's economically viable to use solar cells, will expand more and more northward.
      • Re:Understatement (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Mr. Sketch (111112) <(mister.sketch) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:53PM (#20376851)

        I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate areas enough that they could power the entire country well into the future.
        Yes, but we don't need a whole lot of solar plants placed everywhere. This map has just a handful of locations marked that if they had solar panels it would provide enough energy for the whole world:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Solar_land_area .png [wikipedia.org]

        Granted, those locations are huge, but consider all the empty spaces in the deserts of the world that get tons of sunlight but are otherwise useless. I have seen updated maps with smaller locations that assume a higher efficiency solar cell, since this map only assumes 8% efficiency, and normal panels have about 15% with research being done in the 30-40% efficient range.
        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by Gogo0 (877020)
          How about all the wildlife in those large "useless" plots of land?

          is there going to be a huge PETA backlash against solar energy because the desert scorpions are being threatened?
          • If we promise to relocate the scorpions to Michael Vick's jail cell, I think we can cut a deal with PETA.
          • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Insightful)

            by fishbowl (7759) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:03PM (#20377679)
            I think there's a misconception about deserts. (They generally are not simply dunes of sand. There's a *lot* of plant and animal life in the Sonoran ecosystem, for example). Anyway, where I live, according to my local power company we have up to 17% solar power in the summer. I have two solar cookers which work really well for making soups and sauces. Exactly like these: http://solarcooking.org/images/hflame1.jpg [solarcooking.org]
              I also have a roof-mounted solar water heater, part of a hybrid system (I have a gas water heater but it does considerably less work when the solar heater is working, which is almost all the time.) Yes we have hot water at night. The rooftop heater looks like a skylight. Okay, so I live in a desert city with 300 days of sunshine a year. Love it.
        • My question is-- what is going to be the effect of putting those huge areas into shade?

          Would they turn back from desert to green in time?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mikael (484)
            They are desert regions - presumably they will have lots of boulders, stones and pebbles, so depending upon the position of the sun during the day, at least half the surface area will be in the shade at any time. Having an array of solar panels shouldn't make that much difference.

            Desert areas tend to cool down rapidly at night as well, due to the lack of humidity, cloud cover and foliage.

            For a desert area to turn green, it would also need a steady supply of water and minerals.
            • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Interesting)

              by Rei (128717) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:24PM (#20377913) Homepage
              It's not simply rainfall that determines how lush an area is. Example: northern Australia gets tons of rain, but has very little plantlife. The soil is just too depleted. Rainy areas require a carefully balanced ecosystem (like you get in, say, the Amazon) to rapidly return nutrients from dead plants into the system, or the rainfall will wash them away.

              Rainfall is certainly a major factor, but not the only one.

              In the desert case, a lack of rainfall is one problem, but a parching sun is another. By putting up shade, you're eliminating the major factor that's drying out the soil from what rain does fall. You're reducing available light for photosynthesis, too, but the lack of moisure is a much greater limiting factor in a desert.

              Overall, it'd be a pretty dramatic change. Of course, there's absolutely no reason to "panel the desert", so to speak. With a proper regulatory environment, you can "panel the cities". Perhaps the new slogan could be, "A plug-in hybrid in every garage and a photovoltaic system on every roof."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mgv (198488) *

        Of course, solar power only has advantages in certain environments. Almost no power source is universally producible. For instance, only some parts of America can provide significant natural gas resources. Only certain portions are capable of coal or oil. Likewise, there is a limitation on places that can provide significant resources for wind-power or solar-power.

        This isn't to suggest that it isn't worth the effort, but I am unclear whether we have the potential to expand facilities in those appropriate ar

    • by eln (21727) *
      the power supply landscape may change significantly in the next decade or so.

      I hope you're right. I want to be able to supply all the power I need (maybe even enough to charge up my efficient electric car and run my entire household) with solar power I collect using my own solar arrays. I'd also like to be able to do this on a standard family home without covering my entire lawn with panels. However, I've been waiting for that for at least 20 years, and it's always been about 10 years away, so I'm not ho
    • Re:Understatement (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Once&FutureRocketman (148585) <<moc.liamekaens> <ta> <207o4kvto>> on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:49PM (#20376783) Homepage
      Yeah, well said. But let me point out that increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, while a very real benefit (to society) of solar power is NOT seen as an advantage by the powers-that-be. The energy industry is still fixed on the big-central-plant-generation/regulated-utility-dis tribution model, and there is a lot of money and many careers that depend on the continuation of that model. Solar and other forms of small scale, distributed generation, not all of which is even renewable (e.g. cogeneration, aka. combined heat and power), are a very real threat to those vested interests. Which is one reason (of many) that adoption of these technologies has been so slow.
      • Crap on... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Goonie (8651) *
        The reason why the big-central-plant generation model is still favoured by most over distributed generation is that distributed generation is way more expensive, particularly if the grid is already built.

        Have you gone off-grid yourself? How much did it cost, and have you micromanaged your energy consumption to make it work? If you haven't, might I suggest you investigate the costs and then get back to us?
    • Ever see what goes into producing silicon solar cells?

    • by Colin Smith (2679)

      reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries
      Nope. Not unless everyone switches to solar or the US dollar loses it's reserve status and isn't required for oil purchases.
       
      • For quite some time countries have been moving to the Euro as a reserve (from the US dollar). I would wager that you'd see the dollar lose it's reserve status in the next 3-5 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by flyingfsck (986395)
      Solar energy isn't polution free - it just doesn't add to the horrible high energy radiation coming from that great big fusion plant in the sky. Go and sit outside for a couple hours over midday and see what the sun does to you. If someone was to invent the sun today, he would be sued up the wazoo for causing cancer and other problems...
    • I came across an interesting article explaning how California utility PG&E is entering into a contract to obtian used batteries from electric cars: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business 2 _archive/2007/08/01/100138830/index.htm [cnn.com]. They'll use these for stationary storage. If the current fleet is converted to electric, I calculate that these used batteries can store about half a day of our energy use: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/08/roof-pitch.htm l [blogspot.com]. That does not cover seasonal variation
    • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dr Caleb (121505) <thedarkknightNO@SPAMhushmail.com> on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:42PM (#20377429) Homepage Journal
      "Solar's big advantages are that it is essentially pollution free, doesn't up CO2, reduces petroleum requirements which means more lubricants, plastics and so on at reasonable prices, reduction of political leverage of oil rich countries, increase in ability to operate independently at every level from national to individual, and over the long term, it costs less."

      Excellent points, but it's advantage is also it's disadvantage. Imagine trying to run a steel foundry on solar power. Now, imagine running a third world steel foundry on solar power. That's the gripe many developing nations have with Kyoto - how are they supposed to enter the 20th century if they can use coal fired power?
      • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Informative)

        by mcrbids (148650) on Monday August 27, 2007 @09:36PM (#20379599) Journal
        Imagine trying to run a steel foundry on solar power.

        You mean, like these guys? [qesc.com] Electricity is nothing more than an energy source...

        Now, imagine running a third world steel foundry on solar power.

        Ok. Where are you going with this?

        That's the gripe many developing nations have with Kyoto - how are they supposed to enter the 20th century if they can use coal fired power?

        What is the gripe? Unless you're implying (unsaid) that coal is inherently better. Well, for right now, it's still cheaper. But the price of solar cells continues to drop nicely, which is the point of TFA. And, using solar energy means you don't have to invest in Megabux power grids or railroads for the tons of coal to be used.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timmarhy (659436)
      Pollution free? have you ever seen the process of producing a solar cell? they are hellish toxic to produce. This is what gets me about greenies, they seem incapable of logical thought and of being critical of any process branded environmentally friendly.
      • Re:Understatement (Score:5, Informative)

        by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:49PM (#20378201) Homepage
        http://www.greenpeace.org/international/solargen/a bout-solar-energy/solar-electricity/production-and -recycling [greenpeace.org]

        "The environmental impact and the safety risk of solar cells are infinitesimally small compared to conventional sources of energy like coal, oil, gas or atomic energy. With the latter, the danger is global (emission of carbon-dioxide) and longterm (for example the problems of disposal of nuclear energy). This is regarding regular operation already. If we think about solar panels running for 30 years that don't produce any pollutants, the environmental damage is obviously kept very limited.

        The process of production for solar cells is well developed and tested. From the chemical and toxin point of view, even a mass-production of solar cells will not implicate any significant environmental or health problems."

        Where is your counter evidence?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by timmarhy (659436)
          For a start, why don't you come up with a less biased source then GREENPEACE.ORG... i mean come on give me some bloody credit.

          If we were to try to convert to solar now, would end up with exactly the same problems you have with oil production - toxic chemicals released into the environment. solar requires silicon, and that silicon has to be produced in refineries (just google to see the implications of large scale silicon production). once you have the silicon you have to make the cells, which requries cert

          • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Informative)

            by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday August 27, 2007 @10:58PM (#20380161) Homepage
            No one (even Greenpeace) is saying potentially toxic materials are not involved or other risks (including people falling off of roofs). It's just that they are orders of magnitude less than for running, say, a coal plant for thirty years to make the same amount of power.
            Here is a US government source which says essentially the same thing:
                http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/man_pro_implicat ions.html [energy.gov]
            "Because manufacturers use a wide variety of processes to make PV cells, a wide range of chemicals--some of them toxic or hazardous--are employed in PV cell production. In terms of worker safety and health, simple protective and administrative measures can be used effectively to protect those who produce PV systems. In terms of the environment, the PV production process produces small amounts of waste materials, but this is minimal relative to the emissions from conventional energy sources. ... Most of today's PV cells consist of crystalline or multicrystalline silicon. Silica particles can be released in the mining and refining stage, but these present a hazard only to workers--one that can easily be avoided. Silicon PV module production can include fluorine, chlorine, nitrates, isopropanol, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, silica particles, and solvents. According to a report from Utrecht University, "Estimated air emission is maximally 0.16 [kilograms of fluorine] and 430 [kilograms of chlorine] per [1000 megawatt-hours] of electricity supplied by PV modules, which is orders of magnitude smaller than the corresponding emissions of a coal plant." ... Although crystalline silicon is the primary material used today to produce PV cells, a growing number of PV products are being produced from other materials. ... "

            And all this is without even a lot of effort invested (compared to the hundreds of billions spent annually on conventional solutions). Overall, limiting pollution will only get better per unit as production increases and new manufacturing ideas come along (like using vegetable dyes or plastics for PV panels and so on).

            Who benefits from FUD being spread about solar power?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tshak (173364)
            For a start, why don't you come up with a less biased source then GREENPEACE.ORG.
            Ad hominem at it's finest [fallacyfiles.org]. "This fallacy is often introduced by phrases such as: "Of course, that's what you'd expect him to say."

            It's okay for percieved bias to cause suspicion, but then you have to follow up with that by investigating the source's information. Bias does not make their information wrong. You have to show how their information is wrong or how they're misrepresenting the facts. The rest of your post goes on abou
  • Political Power (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:41PM (#20376703) Homepage Journal

    Solar's big advantage is that it supplies the most electricity midday, when demand peaks.

    I like the advantage (over petrofuels) that its fuel is free, without forcing the US to kowtow to foreign tyrants who sometimes try to kill us, and sometimes need to get rescued from people trying to kill them, and nearly always are at the center of global warfare.
    • Note that the comparison was with wind power, which also has all those advantages except the supply doesn't usually peak with demand.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ikkonoishi (674762)
      Fuel for solar power isn't free. It is very expensive to expensive to extract it from the center of the sun.

      And don't even get me started on the inefficiency of it. More than 99.9% of the Sun's energy misses the Earth entirely! I don't think solar power will ever really take off until we develop giant space based mirrors to cut down on the needless waste of the Sun's irreplaceable hydrogen reserve.
  • by Ron Bennett (14590) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:47PM (#20376763) Homepage
    Many people tout solar as the solution to the world's energy problems - yet most neglect the issue of its low energy density ... it takes a lot of solar panels to match the power generation of even a small coal power plant let alone a nuclear power plant, etc.

    Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

    And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.

    With all that said, for personal / household use solar has much promise, assuming the price can be reduced further, such as panels on roofs, etc to help people augment their energy needs.

    Ron
    • by polar red (215081)

      Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...
      yeah, that's why they voluntarily choose to live close to city centers and highways.

    • by NerveGas (168686)
      The great thing is that we have a loooooot of land available for solar cells. Folks who live on the Eastern seaboard, or the Southern end of the West coast don't realize it, but the rest of the country has lots and lots of space.

      Not only would most people not mind seeing solar cells on rooftops, they certainly wouldn't mind seeing them in the relatively empty areas. Look at maps of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and parts of Texas and Utah. There's a whoooooole lot of land just waiting to be filled, in are
      • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:02PM (#20376945)
        In fact, if you go to western Texas, wind turbines are going up almost as fast as weeds. :-)

        But with developments in nanotechnology, we could see a drastic drop in the price of solar panels within the next ten years. A solar panel setup that costs US$30,000 now could cost as little as US$3,000, which would suddenly make home power generation very viable indeed. And with MIT and several private groups working on supercapacitor battery packs built from carbon nanotubes, that also makes it viable to store all that power generated in the daytime for use at night.
      • by eric76 (679787)

        The great thing is that we have a loooooot of land available for solar cells. Folks who live on the Eastern seaboard, or the Southern end of the West coast don't realize it, but the rest of the country has lots and lots of space.

        In the community where I live, the population density is approximately 1.4 people per square mile. The community covers about 50 square miles and has a population of aobut 70.

        The population density trails off a bit no matter which direction you go. For example, driving west from

    • The energy density can be 200+W per square meter. I consider this is very high. http://www.ez2c.de/ml/solar_land_area/ [ez2c.de] has more information.

      I don't know how much people can be consider "most". But I know all the people don't want to pay utility bills.

      Solar and windmills make subtle effect to environment while coal power plant makes significant if not dramatic effect on the environment.

      Solar and fusion may ultimately solve our energy quest together.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maynard (3337)
      While true, I think this argument misses the point. No doubt that a meter squared of sunlight does not match the energy density of a centimeter cubed in volume of enriched uranium or plutonium. No doubt, per unit space nuclear wins. But your argument takes that fact and then extrapolates a straw man:

      > "Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see..."

      Which is not how photovolatic deployments are envisioned. The roof on my house - in Boston,
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:12PM (#20377051) Homepage
      Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

      As opposed to... suburban rooftops and utility poles as far as the eye can see? Are black shingles really that much more attractive than black solar panels? Are windmills so much more unsightly than utility poles and power lines running everywhere?

      All the large-scale wind farms I've seen are in places where there's barely anyone living anyway. I really have to wonder who is complaining about it.

      And on a related note, neither windmills nor solar panels are benign - they both have a subtle effect on the environment ... there's always a tradeoff with energy generation.

      The only one that springs to mind is the industrial processes to manufacture solar cells, and that's bad but seriously, industrial pollution is rampant and people who act like the production of solar cells/hybrid car batteries are a deal-breaker never seem to account for the processes involved in mining coal, building a car, or whatever the status quo is in addition to the pollution created by using said coal plant or ICE car.

      Or did you mean something like the solar energy being turned into electricity instead of warming the environment? Because it's all going to be released as heat in the end anyway.

      Wind power I'll admit has a subtle effect, as you're taking energy from the wind... Frankly I find it hard to imagine we could put up enough windmills to counter the effect of all the trees we've chopped down, but of course that's just speculation and we aren't putting windmills only where trees used to be.

      With all that said, for personal / household use solar has much promise, assuming the price can be reduced further, such as panels on roofs, etc to help people augment their energy needs.

      Depending on where you live, solar panels are already a good option if you can afford the up-front investment; they will more than pay for themselves by the time they need to be replaced. Lowering the price will certainly make them even more appealing, and also I think we need to come up with better small (as in household) scale energy storage so that you aren't as dependent on the weather that day. There are a lot of folks working on both problems; neither seems out of reach at this point. I'm very hopeful about the future of solar power.
    • by drix (4602)
      But most people don't want to live in the middle of the desert, which just happens to be is where areas of maximum insolation [etaengineering.com] are. A 100x100 mile patch of solar panels plopped in the middle of the Mojave desert could power the entire United States [stirlingenergy.com]. I agree that there is always a tradeoff, but the tradeoffs associated with this approach would appear to be much lower than meeting demand over the coming century with coal or nuclear.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Target Drone (546651)

      ... it takes a lot of solar panels to match the power generation of even a small coal power plant let alone a nuclear power plant, etc. Most people don't want to live in a place that's covered in solar panels and windmills far as the eye can see...

      True, but you can stick them on roof tops. The average suburban roof top can easily hold a few kilowatts of solar panels. You need about 7 square meters per kilowatt (75 square feet) based on current 15% efficient solar panels. So a million homes (not includin

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:49PM (#20376787)
    Great. So we're just going to use up the sun's energy faster.

    I hope you bastards freeze in the dark.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:50PM (#20376797) Homepage Journal
    since the first serious calculations were done to determine the feasibility of orbital solar power plants. The results *then* indicated that it was the only economically feasible way to supply the world's future energy needs. Since then, both space and solar cell technology has improved dramatically. Meanwhile, billions of dollars is being sunk into fusion research and there's no expectation that a clean fusion reactor will be developed in the next 50 years.
    • by NerveGas (168686)
      The really nifty thing is that if we didn't want to, we wouldn't have to go to space or fusion. Between solar and wind, we can already produce very nearly all of the power we need, just not as cheaply as we can with coal. Improvements need to be made to the grid to more robustly pass power around the country (from windy or sunny spots to the others), but it can be done. And, prices do continue to drop as time goes on.

      Even ignoring environmental considerations, I'll bet that a lot of people would rather m
  • Seriously (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:51PM (#20376817) Homepage Journal
    >> USA Today is running a pretty good article

    Also, pigs soar above the frozen wasteland that was hell.
  • Oh, that's right. one of the worst factories ever with regard to the environment; an Integrated Circuit Fab. I like it when hippies talk about how perfect solar is. Let's not forget that we need nasty chemicals like Arsenic to make solar cells.
  • Not on my roof (Score:2, Insightful)

    by StikyPad (445176)
    Investing in panel makers? Maybe. Investing in a home installation? Call me when the break even point drops below 10 years. How many people even live in their houses for that long anymore? Sure, it may add some equity to your home, but not much, especially if the prices DO fall and/or the efficiency of the panels increases significantly during that 10 years. Imagine trying to include your 5 year old computer as part of your home's equity. You're risking a very similar situation with solar.

    You're also
    • Re:Not on my roof (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NerveGas (168686) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:02PM (#20376947)
      In areas with the highest electricity costs and the highest rebates/incentives, ROI can happen in 5 years.

      In tiered markets, where the higher usage of electricity costs you much more than the base usage, a properly-sized solar outfit can do it in 3 years.

      As for taking a loan on your solar outfit, look at it this way: Pay money to some electric corp every month, or spend the same amount of money on your solar cells. In the first case, you'll pay forever. In the second, you'll pay for a while, then get to enjoy the benefits. It's like leasing vs. buying a car.
      • I look forward to cheaper up-front costs as a tipping point where solar really takes off.

        Not that I disagree with your numbers, but reading this:

        In areas with the highest electricity costs and the highest rebates/incentives, ROI can happen in 5 years.

        Just makes me think conventional power producers will just bribe^H^H^H dontate money to a politician who'll remove the rebates/incentives ( or tighten the qualifications to get said rebate, increase the paperwork required to an onerous degree, etc. ).

        Once solar

    • Here's your call. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      10 years? I'm looking at a 5-7 year ROI in Southern California.
      (Less if you figure the asset value in the house.)

      As for betting on future (grid) energy prices, I'm going to bet that it's not going to get cheaper over the next 10 years. You are free to bet on the utilities lowering prices, alternate fuels being cheaper, overproduction of solar energy, and Unicorns.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by FudRucker (866063)
      i bought this house in 1980, why move when it is paid for, plus i like it here...
    • Re:Not on my roof (Score:5, Informative)

      by bcrowell (177657) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:04PM (#20377693) Homepage

      How many people even live in their houses for that long anymore?
      Sure, if you're planning on moving in five years, then you're an idiot to do almost any work on your house. If in doubt, ask a realtor; I believe the investments that tend to help a lot with resale value are things like paint and landscaping, because they improve "curb appeal" a lot, and aren't expensive to do. Solar panels are no different from a kitchen remodeling job in this respect.

      Sure, it may add some equity to your home, but not much, especially if the prices DO fall and/or the efficiency of the panels increases significantly during that 10 years. Imagine trying to include your 5 year old computer as part of your home's equity. You're risking a very similar situation with solar.
      Apples and oranges. The USA Today article is overstating the rate at which the technology is improving. There's no Moore's Law at work here. It's not like the situation with a computer, where you're guaranteed that it will be obsolete in 5 years.

      You're also betting that grid power won't get any cheaper, which may or may not be a good bet, depending on the fuel source of your local power plant.
      Where I live (California), the historical trend has been steadily up, in real dollars.

      If solar/microgeneration takes off, there could be an abundance of grid power, causing prices to plummet, especially if people start generating more power than they use -- unlikely, but certainly possible if panel efficiencies increase.
      No way, not any time in the near future. The number of people who have residential photovoltaic systems installed is extremely small, way too small to lower the market price of power through supply and demand.

      especially if people start generating more power than they use -- unlikely, but certainly possible if panel efficiencies increase.
      Where I live, the way the deal works is that if you generate more power than you use over the course of 12 months, then you simply don't pay any money to the electric company, but they will never send you a check for the surplus. When you buy a residential PV system, they very carefully size it so that it will cover about 80% of your yearly use. If they sized it too big, it would risk wasting your money by overproducing, which you don't get paid for doing.

  • I wonder how much sunlight would have to be absorbed by power cells instead of all being converted to heat by the usual materials that currently absorb it, before it makes any dent in the increase in global warming.
    • No matter which way the sun light goes, it ends up as heat and radiate back to the universe in the infrared spectrum. And there are some molecules like CO2, CH4 and water can absorb those infrared, so this is the green house effect. If there are too much CO2 in the air, we get too much heat preserved on our planet. But using photovoltaic, we can cut down the amount of CO2 we dumped into the atmosphere, so solar energy can reduce the green house effect. And relieve the so called global warming.
    • That has a nice irony about it.

      It all ends up as heat anyway, and yes, you're absorbing more energy from the sun than you would be otherwise. The question is, is it more or less than the equivalent CO2 produced by conventional generation.

       
    • Hmm, solar panels are basically light frequency converters. They take light at a blue colour and convert it to electricity, which is then mostly converted to infrared and radiated to space in a different location. So, what will happen is that photo-voltaic cells in a desert will make the desert slightly colder and the urban area where it is used a little bit warmer.
    • by jmorris42 (1458) *
      > I wonder how much sunlight would have to be absorbed by power cells instead of all being converted to
      > heat by the usual materials that currently absorb it, before it makes any dent in the increase in global warming.

      Can't possibly help against GW.

      1. Any heat converted to electricity will almost be converted to heat when the electricity is used. If the device doesn't directly convert it to heat it will convert it to comething (such as EM radiation) that will end up heating something else. Ya no ca
  • Sure, PV modules don't convert all they see to useful electricity. Where they really shine (sorry) is that they generate that power AT THE POINT OF USE.

    Look at the chart on p 8 (of 41) of this pdf from Lawrence Livermore National Labs [llnl.gov].

    Note that of the 38.2 quads (quadrillion BTUs) of electrical energy produced in the USA in 2002, fully 26.3 quads never get used! That's where the real power (sorry again) of solar is found.

  • Google is blanketing its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters with 9,212 solar panels, enough to light 1,000 homes
    So how many "Google DataCenters" do 1000 homes equate to?

  • I did a napkin calculation a year or so ago and at that time, you could give 100k houses free 1.5mw solar power (with inverters, trackers, and batteries) each year for the cost of the Iraq war.

    Sounds like a lot- but it's really not.

    However... the price is dropping. At some point very soon- you could give 1 million houses free solar power each year. And then they question is why are we wasting blood and treasure in a foreign land.

    OTH- I think that solar will not get much cheaper than oil for a long time.

    If
    • by NerveGas (168686)
      Even ignoring the war, we pay a TON of money on an ongoing basis in military budgets to protect the oil assets in the Middle East. By spending on solar, wind, or other renewable generation inside the country instead, we could break even *at worst*.
  • Have a look at the graph on this page [solarbuzz.com]. The retail price for solar panels has been essentially static for the past few years.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:53PM (#20377559) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, while we waste ten times in dollars as the Iraqi oil we're trying to steal on a civil war that we have no reason to be involved in, the EU is on track to achieve 25 percent of their total energy supply from alternative energy.

    If we were serious you'd be seeing increases of 1000 to 5000 percent every year.
  • by SiliconEntity (448450) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:04PM (#20378353)
    Everyone likes to think that solar is getting cheaper every year just like computers and disk drives, but it's not true. Look at this chart:

    http://www.solarbuzz.com/ [solarbuzz.com]

    You will see that solar panel prices bottomed out back in 2003 and have been rising ever since. Demand is exceeding supply thanks to ever more generous subsidies, especially in Germany, which have driven up worldwide price. The truth is that solar costs more today than it has for several years, and costs are still rising slowly. It is a myth that solar prices are constantly coming down.

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