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Power Science Hardware

Solar Power Headed For 45% Annual Growth 402

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 @05:36PM (#20376655) Journal
    Plus, there's the guys doing electricity by converting solar heat using sterling engines [] and the work converting heat into electricity using an intermediate sound conversion step 3225026.htm. []
  • by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:43PM (#20376713) Journal
    Try this link for the heat to sound to electricity stuff: []
  • Re:Understatement (Score:2, Informative)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:45PM (#20376743)
    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 areas enough that they could power the entire country well into the future. (For example, solar power in Portland, Oregon is relatively pointless for mass-consumption since you need actual sunlight to generate the electricity).
  • Re:Understatement (Score:3, Informative)

    by polar red ( 215081 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:49PM (#20376779)
    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.
  • by abfan1127 ( 784663 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:54PM (#20376867) Homepage
    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.
  • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:02PM (#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 AJWM ( 19027 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:08PM (#20377013) Homepage
    There's plenty of arsenic in coal ash. Probably orders of magnitude more than goes into making solar cells, but I'll admit to not having done the math.
  • 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.

    *ahem ahem*

    Berkeley Scientists Synthesize Cheap, Easy-to-Make Ultra-thin Photovoltaic Films []
    40% efficient solar cells to be used for solar electricity []
    Titania nanotubes could boost solar cell efficiency []
    Pink solar cells provide green power on the cheap []
    Carbon nanotubes could help make nanoparticle-based solar cells more efficient and practical. []
    Quantum Dots Enables New Advances in Solar Cell Industry []

    Green and cheap enough for ya?
  • by plawsy ( 174981 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:17PM (#20377101) Homepage
    Here's an easier URL for the chart: []
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:18PM (#20377123) Homepage Journal
    There were 1.7 GW installed in 2006: [] bringing the world up to about 6 GW. At a typical 5 hours per day equivilent peak generation that comes to 11 billion kWh per year. World net generation was 16,590.6 billion kWh per year in 2004: [], so your fraction should be 0.07%, off by about 4 orders of magnitude. At 45% growth, how long would it take to replace world net generation? Somewhat less that 22 years since 1.45^22=3550 which would imply that more than half of the worlds net generation would be fabricated in the year 2028, with the rest fabricated prior to that year. Since panels last 25 years or longer there would have been little need to replace existing solar PV capacity by that time.
    Rent residential solar power: -selling-solar.html []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @06:19PM (#20377137)
    Nope - unsightly is a small scale NIMBY problem - the real grief they cause is the losses incurred due to transmission and the investment in step up/line/step down infrastructure (which costs a large amount of money to install and maintain).
  • If you're buying from your electric company, you don't buy power at all. You buy energy (which would be Joules, Watt-Hours, or, typically, Kilowatt-Hours). If you're buying your own power generation source, then you're very likely buying based off of how much power can be delivered — which is measured in Watts.
  • Re:Not on my roof (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:04PM (#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.

  • Re:$/Watt (Score:5, Informative)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:32PM (#20378007) Homepage
    Ah - but it DOES have a meaning.

    Or it WILL have a meaning.

    Currently - the economic terms are based on how much oil we can pump out of the ground in a given time-frame.

    When oil (fossil fuels) ceases to be the primary driver of economies - it looks like solar is poised to take over as the #1 technology (with wind/nuclear/geothermal coming in somewhere next); and solar will likely be a function of square-footage-of-sunlight-per-year. The more land a person owns, in a sunny energy-producing region, the more wealth, over time, that person can create. Simply by covering it with solar panels, the more efficient, the better, and praying for sun. Electricity will be a market, there will always be buyers. Locale will probably produce different market rates, because of transmission losses. People will eventually start floating solar farms at sea, and putting them into space (though those, apparently don't scale DOWN well, you need a certain MINIMUM to beam the power via microwaves, efficiently).

    But you're right. The $/kw-h calculation looks quite silly when you have solar power. There was a lot of FUD about solar about 5-10 years ago, that solar cells had a reputation for "wearing out" after 10-15 years, or losing power over time. This caused some solar-opponents to create a $/kw-h calculation; how much power you could expect to get out of a solar cell over the lifetime of the cell. Some even claimed that they cost more energy to manufacture than they'd ever produce. This was dead wrong then, and it's dead wrong now: there were some specific kinds of solar cells made in the 1970's that had defects, with dyes that turned brown, etc. Other solar cells went "bad" when their glass enclosures cracked, or their solder joints failed, etc - all things that could be repaired, or engineered for better longevity. These are no longer issues in any modern solar technology. We don't know about these new nanotechnology or thin-film based solar panels. Only time will tell. But it's not likely that they're going to "wear out" like this. For all effective purposes - you manufacture a solar cell, and it produces electricity "forever".
  • bucks (Score:2, Informative)

    by zogger ( 617870 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:33PM (#20378015) Homepage Journal
    if you don't mind having to move a big weight, look into getting electric forklift battery packs instead. A much better deal dollar wise there than trojans or rolls-surrettes, etc. The smaller batteries can be hand moved (although they are still quite heavy), but the cost is significantly higher. The forklift battery packs are already wired with welded busbars as well, so it saves a little more there, too, parts plus labor. You mentioned an electric fence so I will assume you are a rural guy like me and can handle moving stout stuff with your equipment.

    Anyway, solar works, and well, within its limitations. Once you have it up and installed the only remaining question you will have is why did you wait. The first time your grid juice goes down and you still have full power, you'll *really* smile about it. Maintenance is pretty easy, occasionally clean the panels off and top off the batts with distilled water. I used good disconnects and actually covered the panels before, or did the maintenance at night on new moon nights when the least amount of power is being generated. Also wait for the batts to cool down a little before opening them up, and pour in the fresh water slowly, and you can read up how to build a proper battery bank housing unit with ventilation, which is required, you use a small DC fan as an air PUSHER into the unit with an exhaust someplace safe, you don't PULL the gassy air out. big PVC pipe is fine, the bottom of your storage bank container gets lined with sintra and put some baking soda down there on the bottom, just in case. I found a bright headlamp worked good for battery maintenance, keeping my hands free,(and goggles of course and rubber gloves, cheap insurance) and a big turkey baster for the last little bits into the cells to get it "just right". Just remember, you got a LOT of amps sitting there, you don't want to weld yourself!

    Oh ya, on the batts. Double size your battery bank (or a lot more than what you think, whatever). Figure out what you need, get double, then they are always shallow cycling and they will last a long time, plus install a "desulphator", you can google that up and see which one you might like, they work pretty well from my experience, the batts I have one on are from 98 and still working fine.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:5, Informative)

    by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @07:49PM (#20378201) Homepage bout-solar-energy/solar-electricity/production-and -recycling []

    "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?
  • by MarioMax ( 907837 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @08:11PM (#20378417)
    I work in a wafer fab, specifically in Etch. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT clean industry, but rather extremely dirty and toxic. Some of the chemicals used in my specific fab for etching alone (both wet and dry etch) include:

    Liquid HF - one of the most dangerous liquids in existence, I might add.

    Liquid HCl

    Liquid H2SO4

    Gaseous Cl2

    Gaseous HBr

    Gaseous BCl3

    Gaseous SF6

    Gaseous N2O

    Gaseous CHF3

    Gaseous CF4

    Gaseous BF3

    Liquid EKC - I believe EKC220 or EKC245, one of the nastiest liquids you can handle. That's just to start. There's even more exotic chemicals out there that are by no means clean. And let's not forget that photoresist is a known carcinogen, and smells really nasty to boot.

  • Lead by example (Score:2, Informative)

    by MrSteve007 ( 1000823 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @09:16PM (#20379007)
    Good timing on this story. I'm in the final phases of installing a 10kw solar array at my workplace in Seattle, Washington. It's one of the largest privately financed projects in the state. I just created a gallery for the pictures of the install. The payback time for the array is about 7 years. It was pretty easy to do, and just looks cool. l []
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @09:20PM (#20379039) Homepage Journal
    You slipped the units. That should be 4.32 kWh/day. But, you also for got to tilt the panels: 4.jpg []. You want 5 kWh per meter^2 per day and at 17% system efficiency that is about 0.85 kWh/m^2/day. You need 39 m^2 of panels to get 33 kWh/day or about 6 meters on a side.
    Rent solar power and save: -selling-solar.html []
  • Re:Crap on... (Score:2, Informative)

    by dwywit ( 1109409 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @10:04PM (#20379399)
    I live in Qld, Australia, approx 26 deg lat south. Off-grid, solar + petrol genset backup. Backup is only needed when 2+days of heavy overcast or rainfall. 12 x 55w panels, 12 x 80w panels, 12 x 2VDC 1100amphour lead-acid cells for a 24VDC system. Lights and refrigeration run off 24VDC. Lights are mostly halogen projector bulbs with a few old-fashioned incandescent bulbs (I can't stand compact fluorescents - I can see them flickering out the corner of my eye, and yes, I've tested quite a few). Inverter for 240VAC - it can run a TV, washing machine and 2 computers at once, so there's not much we don't have in the way of appliances. Solid fuel stove for cooking, heating and hot water. It's nice to come home and chop wood after staring at a computer screen all day long. System was upgraded in 2001 (new batteries, the 80w panels were added, and a smart regulator installed). The bill was about AUD$14,000 - with govt subsidies we paid AUD$4,000. Estimated total cost to install such a system today is AUD$25,000 to $30,000, although that could go higher if I wanted a larger battery bank, some smart power switching technology to run computers directly off regulated DC, etc, etc. Subsidy schemes are currently waiting on AUD$134 million to be released for use. I'll install some more panels when that becomes available. Compared to an estimated AUD$30,000 to get the grid connected. According to the regulator's history function (30 days' storage of input and output) we use anywhere from 160 amp hours per day to 240 amp hours per day.
  • Re:Crap on... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Goonie ( 8651 ) * <> on Monday August 27, 2007 @10:05PM (#20379409) Homepage
    As it happens, I happen to know a fair bit about this, pal. I've done the numbers for myself, repeatedly, and no matter which way you slice and dice solar power is an economic loser at the moment, both for individuals and others seeking to reduce their carbon emissions, and the sooner more people grasp this the more progress we can actually make at tackling the issues.

    As a quick illustration of the point, one of these systems [] costs $22,610 before freight and installation, and (depending on where you live) puts out about 20% of its peak wattage over 24 hours. That's roughly 15 kwh per day, or 5475 kwh annually - or, in round figures, about $600 worth of electricity at retail price - and, at the typical surcharges for green power, around $800. The cost of borrowing the money, just for the kit, is around about $1600 a year.

  • Re:Understatement (Score:3, Informative)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @10:33PM (#20379585)
    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 certain significantly toxic chemicals including arsenic. obviously i don't have any large scale disasters to point to, because the solar industry is still too small to be more then a blip on the radar. but if we ramped up production to the same scale as oil? you bet we would have a whole bag of new problems to deal with.

  • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Informative)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @10:36PM (#20379599) Journal
    Imagine trying to run a steel foundry on solar power.

    You mean, like these guys? [] 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.
  • by dwywit ( 1109409 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @10:52PM (#20379707)
    True, it's not for everyone, and doesn't make economic sense if the grid's already available (i.e. runs past your front door). But it's nice to be (mostly) independent, e.g. "Blackout? What blackout?" The grid is only about 600 metres away from our front driveway, but apart from the initial cost of installation, it would mean a minimum quarterly bill whether we use it or not, blackouts, brownouts, spikes, AC voltage out of spec, cutting down a lot of trees to replace them with power poles (or ripping out large areas of tree root systems to put in underground conduits). Nah. The panels are great talking points, too - "And how do you wash your clothes? Really? You can use a washing machine?" Lots of wide-eyed wonder when I can show a TV AND a computer on at the same time.
  • Re:Understatement (Score:4, Informative)

    by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Monday August 27, 2007 @11:58PM (#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: ions.html []
    "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:Crap on... (Score:3, Informative)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) * <> on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @02:23AM (#20380965) Homepage Journal
    I don't usually get on the ghg emissions bandwagon, but isn't a wood stove pretty polluting in that regard?

    It's carbon-neutral, unlike the coal or natural gas which probably powers your stove.

  • Re:Understatement (Score:2, Informative)

    by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @07:34AM (#20382129) Homepage Journal
    HVDC lines are built to last so corrosion is one of the things considered. If solar power is truely cheap, more line loss will be acceptable. It seems to me that truly high capacity lines will have less line loss for a couple of reasons: .html []. So, a worldwide web of transmission could make a lot of sense.
    Rent solar power: -selling-solar.html []
  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2007 @07:52AM (#20382223) Homepage Journal
    The energy to weight ratio is about 200 times better for silicon than it is for coal in terms of required transportation infrastructure. So, solar allows development without requiring as much hardware. You probably would not transport a lot of coal by mule train, but for solar that is an option.
    Rent solar power for your home: -selling-solar.html []

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