A man's home, they say, is his castle. It also can give you insight into his mind. We drove out to Lee Bristol's home (almost not making it because of an unexpected road block) expecting a routine interview about solar power. He is, after all, a co-founder of Standard Solar, a seven-year-old company that engineers, designs, and builds solar electric solutions for homes and commercial concerns.
It turned out to be anything but. We pulled into Bristol's driveway on a sunny warm fall day and immediately noticed two men standing on the roof. One was waving at us the other was filming us. "Come on up in the back!" came the cry from on high.
We walked around the house, with high-pitched A-frame design, and we noticed a set of homemade stairs jutting up from the back deck all the way up the steeply slanting roof. The stairs ended in one of the most interesting rooftop deck designs I've ever seen: He actually has fashioned a deck, perhaps 10 by 20 feet just behind the peak of the roof, overlooking lush farmland and his solar panels.
We came to find out that that design was evidence of Bristol's unique career path and approach to technology -- fascinating and unconventional.
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Love the fact that Lee Bristol got into solar panels as a career change after a long-running stint as an IT consultant. Just goes to prove that with the right enthusiasm and dedication, there are countless possibilities to shift gears mid-career.
Coincidently, I just read something this morning about a solar panel entrepreneur that will likely give Bristol and others in the industry a run for the money--that is, when he finally grows up, graduates college, and makes his mark. This 13-year old came up with a method for arranging solar panels based on the arrangement of tree branches and using a mathematical method called the Fibonacci Sequence. The youth recently won the Young Naturalist award from the American Museum of History in New York. He claims his method is 20% to 50% more efficient than traditional solar arrays, and some scientists say he might be on to something.
It's interesting to see how the solar/photovoltaic industry is evolved both on the macro and micro scale. You have a lot of large companies involved, which makes sense because panel production is expensive and also you need economies of scale. Further, you have a lot of high-flying startups (qv. Solyndra) -- an arena where we're already seeing a shakeout, I might add. Here, with Lee, I think what we're seeing is another side of the industry, a small-to-mid scale niche where we will see a lot of players, perhaps because the end-user market is far from monolithic.
Thanks, Beth, that's a really neat story. Interesting that the Fibonacci Sequence, which appears so many places in nature like galaxy spirals and the nautilus shell, also governs how trees collect solar energy. I wonder how many other system designs could be improved by applying the math?
There's a whole movement around biomimicry, or taking cues from nature to incorporate into design and engineering. Some of the effort is aimed at achieving more sustainability in design while some of it can simply be chalked up to taking cues from the master: Mother Nature. I did a story a few years back on an innovative flooring company practicing the approach. Check it out.
Interesting article. Solar energy will definitley be in the mix of energy sources from now on but there are a few quick calculations that can give us some insight as to how important it might be and where it might actually be practical.
1st, in space with no atmosphere and pointed at the sun, there is only about 1,100 watts (about 1.5 HP) of solar energy per sq meter available. On the surface of the earth, pointed at the sun, the average energy available is only about 250 watts / sq meter. The efficieny of solar cells, while improving, is less than about 10% so that gives only about 25 watts / sq meter that is available (during the day when you are pointed at the sun). So, it takes a lot area to provide enough power an average house which needs maybe 1 to 2 KW and forget trying to power automobiles directly in anything close to the configurations we are used to.
Also, in addition to the cost of the cells themselves, you have the cost of converting the power to a useful format, especially if you want to try to sell back excess energy to the grid. We might also ask exactly how green are solar cells when you consider that a large factor in thier cost is the power needed to manufacture them. I don,t claim to be an expert on solar energy so my numbers may be off some but considering these factors, I'm not too surprised Solyndra went belly-up. I'm just surprised our government lent them the money to fail.
While I think there is a place for solar cells, I'm just not sure where that will be when the "new & innovative" factor wears off. It seems like converting solar energy using giant (acres) collectors in the desert that heat water to make steam might be a more practical approach in the long run.
AT your math is way off. On the ground with the sun directly overhead power is about 1.1kw.
Even up north like Ohio in winter 50% or so gets through. One reason is low humidity which blocks light.
PV eff generally is 14-22% in present panels. Only thin film is as low as you say but they are a small market. Then again they also cost 35% less/wt. So you trade area for cash.
It only costs $.60/wt for a gridtie inverter and retail panels are under $1.50/wt, sunelec.com among many other suppliers.
Solyndra went bankrupt because China dumped $b's of panels at below cost, dropping panel prices by 65%!! How would your business do if your income dropped by that much?
Well shopped and especially if you install your own panels with just wiring in help, can cost less than coal power even in many areas.
It boils down to most eff homes only need 1/4 of their roof with PV to supply it's energy needs, even get a check back from the grid.
I average 4kwhrs/day electric useage supplying heat, hot water, A/C, workshop, business, everything including my EV's so yes some only need 1kw of PV/4hrs/day to be zero energy. We get 5.5hrs/day on average. Such a grid tie set up costs me under $2k for 25-30 yrs of power. In fact I'm thinking about building them as 1kw plug and play fold out kits you just plug into any 120vac outlet. I bet others will do this soon if they are smart.
Actually, Jerry, I think it is your math that is a bit off. This is not to hack on Solar power. Of all the alternative power technologies, I think Solar has the most potential. Again, not a solar expert here, but the average over the world of solar energy reaching the Earth ia 164 Watts per Meter Squared. At the equater it is something like 600 Watts. So if you live at the equator and have a 12 hour day you get 7.2KWh of Energy. As far as efficiency goes, you are both right. There is some exotic stuff in the 30's. There is one I have read about that is 40%. I believe the typical silicone that is used in most panels is 8%. As I understand it, the efficiency of most panels is determined by the lease efficient cell in the panel. I know that manufacturing efficiencies has helped that quite a bit, but if you have a bad cell you might get a lower conversion. I think what you are talking about (mid teens for efficiency) is achieved by using solar concentrators which have boosted efficiency as high as 15%. I am not sure if that is commercially available now or not, but I have read about it. So if you say you had the 15% model, so your number would be 7.2KWh x 0.15 = 1.015KWh. The next problem is that you need to convert that DC power to AC power to use in most of your house or to sell it on the grid. That conversion is also typically not a very efficient process. There is the cost of the convertor to consider, but I am talking more about the actual energy loss. You loose about 10% in this conversion so you are down to 0.9KWh at the equator with a 12 hour day. This is all assuming you keep the solar panel square to the sun all day long. Most of us have a hard time turning our house to face the sun or tilting our roof to match the angle of incidence of the sun light through the seasons. For that matter, most of us do not live at the equator or enjoy 12 hours of sunlight per day, particularly in the winter months. If you use the global average, 164 Watts per meter, you get 0.265KWh/M^2. Assuming your 4KWh is average (I have no idea on that one), you would need a roof of 15 Square Meters to meet your needs. If that is 1/4 of your roof, great. That again is assuming you could pan and tilt your roof to match the sun. It also assumes you don't have a lot of cloudy days.
I again am not hacking on Solar. I am kind of an "all of the above" kind of guy. My uncle's cabin is 100% solar and uses 100% DC power and it is cool as hell. My inlaws use Solar to heat their pool in Las Vegas. I have looked at Solar for my own house primarily on the basis that I believe utility rates are going to rise. I just think it is important to recognize it is not yet a panacea. If you live in the Desert Southwest, have an applicaiton that needs to be off the Grid, or have some disposable income that you would like to be green with, give it a go. I'd prefer to not susidize other peoples solar panels with my tax dollars, having the government doll out my money to companies based on political cronyism (ie. Solyndra), and forcing utilities to purchase excess power from solar adopters driving up my energy bills (if they wanted to buy it that is great, but forcing anybody to buy anything by force of law us just wrong), but I am fine with Government sponsered R&D of solar. How about this for a compromise: We let Oil Companies Drill for Oil, we encourage Utilities to generate as much power as they need to via Nuclear and Clean Coal, and we use 100% of the extra generated Tax Revenue to Research alternative energy until they develop super cheap solar cells that everybody will want to buy because it just plain makes sense.
Littlejohn, sadly your numbers too are wrong. I do this kind of stuff, design and build RE equipment.
Converting PV to grid is about 98% eff. Almost nopne of the other numbers you have are correct. For instance for solar power one only gets about 4-6.5hrs/day of rated power because morning and evening output is lower.
So you are suggesting we keep subsidizing oil, coal which today runs 25% of the fed budget to pay for the 30k US deaths/yr just from coal and another 10k from oil and 200k hospital stays/yr. Then bridge, buildimng, crop, forest, stream, riverlake air ocean pollution ,etc damage. How about the mercury poisoning of fish so bad one should eat it more than 1/wk now.
Then there are the oil wars, supporting oil dictators and terrorists, costs only because of oil. Then the $500B for overseas oil sucks jobs that could be made here.
There is NO such thing as clean coal. It's filty, poisonous from mining to use. To say that you would have to be delusional or work for big energy. Which are you?
Nukes are way too expensive as I can do 5x's as much RE for the same cost. Once smaller, far safer like the Hyperion nukes can be ok. Ask Progress customers how they like nukes? They are paying $.05/kwhr on their bills for 10 yrs without getting a watt of power.
Put these costs in FF's and RE is far cheaper. Smart people will get ahead of the curve instead of parroting big energy propaganda to keep people in debt.
Obviously you know nothing about coal or world affairs so please stop parroting the nonsense media hype. Your numbers are also wrong as your other statements. If you wish to have a serious discussion of the topic, we must be realistic about this which means addressing the three biggest issues: 1- Start-up cost; 2- Storage; 3- Maintenance. Those three things alone make going total solar cost prohibitive for the majority because it's impossible to even obtain an ROI. One of my clients had three different companies submit bids to take his little 1400 sqft home off the grid, after subtracting all the rebates, incentives and tax breaks, all three bids still exceeded the combined value of both the home and property. Even if there were zero maintenance or repair costs, it would have taken him over 50 years to just to obtain a ROI. Fact of the matter is, unless technologies radically change, for the majority of homes, solar is not viable for anything more than a limited supplemental electrical source but is very viable for other applications.
If you want to complain about something, try complaining about the massive waste being caused by the insanity of ethanol mandates and subsidies. Complain about the massive energy sources and materials going into landfills that's costing us a fortune instead of being properly utilized.
Sorry your customer and apparently you don't know how to shop or if getting ripped off, can't just contract your own work. Sunelec.com and apparently a poster here has panels for under $1.50/wt, many much less. No?
And that is why I back plug and play PV units as it cuts the large install costs.
PV maintaince? Washing the panels every couple months is about it. No? Just what are you talking about? Or just putting up red herrings?
Storage costs little. A well shopped $1k lead battery pack of Golf cart batteries would do fine offgrid, last 8-10 yrs and cost about the same as a gridtie inverter at $.60/kw of rating. Rather than have a huge pack on should just have back up power. Things like making electricity first before using it's waste heat, etc.
Did your customer first reduce their useage/waste? The most cost effective power is that one doesn't use.
As for knowing about coal my numbers come from multiple studies by quality researchers, including the EPA. I believe nothing the MSM or anyone else says until verified.
Now talk about being conned by media, big oil hype, Ethanol isn't the bad thing you say that is propaganda by big oil.
For instance the other products from making ethanol have as much value as the ethanol , cutting it's cost by 50%, No? Facts are the corn oil, dried mash, both of which are far better foods than the corn it was made from. Plus value of the stalks, cobs. Now take that into account as one must to be honest, Ethanol has created quite a few jobs and cut oil imports by 20% creating more jobs. It's also kept oil prices lower along with making us more energy independent.
Now let's rate gasoline the same way you rate ethanol. You need 2.5gal of oil to make 1 of gas so your version of ROI would be 40%. But that's before processing energy is put in like the 3kw/gal of electricity required and much other costs of production, traportation and refining. All taken into account gasoline has an ROI of 25% about.
And no I don't work for ethanol people as I drive my EV's at a fraction of a similar ICE's running costs. And on the 3kw of electricity to refine a gal of gasoline my EV can go 30 and 60 miles ;^D.
Just because you can't handle things or know how to shop well don't tell us that do we can't. And don't assume as you know what that means. And apparently I know more than you based on your post.
Have to agree aboiut garbage as it has higher value than most mine ores plus energy.
Maybe next time instead of attacking, you could ask why your prices were so high. Can't really blame you about your ethanol statement as big oil has really did well at anti ethanol propaganda that most everyone believes it. But facts, numbers clearly say ethanol is better than oil in so many ways from cost, energy indepemdence, jobs, lower balance of payments, real ROI.
I don't know how you're calculating but it's not for a southern home. Minimum battery bank is 16 units, bare minimum Ah's that's $3800 just in batt's. For good high-load batteries you're looking at $7400. At the very best, they may last 3 years, and 3 years is pushing it unless you climate control the battery bank containment which increases the load demand and adds $4500+ to the costs.
Maintenance ... again, southern application, you're maintaining the battery electrolyte levels at least once a week and cleaning connections at least once a month, With all the organic growth in these parts, you're cleaning the panels & mounts and checking for bug/rodent damage every 2-4 weeks.
Tack on the inverters, additional wiring, protection devices, engineering plans, building permits, inspections, installation labor and so forth...
Ethanol in this country is a complete boondoggle designed for nothing more than political profit! It takes more energy to produce ethanol than it provides, increases food costs and destroys machinery. How much are we saving the environment when adding ethanol to gasoline has resulted in a 65% increase in the repair/replacement of engine-driven equipment? Here's the piston from my Stihl 044 chainsaw that was destroyed in less than a year because of ethanol in the gasoline - how much energy are we saving having to produce and ship a new piston and head assembly? How is this helping me when I now have a totally unnecessary $300 replacement parts cost?
Bought any food lately? Notice the massive price increases across the board thanks to the exceptionally inefficient ethanol production driving up grain costs for both human and animal feed?
Obviously you don't know much about refining oil either because there is zero waste, every single bit of oil is made into a usable product. If you want to argue about gasoline, why not argue the point of going to rotary or opposed piston engines that are >35% more efficient than the junk we've been running for the last century? Why not argue about the cost increases and efficiency reductions caused by the useless blend regulations ... the same type of useless regulations that now has nearly all the fresh water in the USA contaminated with MTBE.
Before you go off halfcocked, you should take the time to learn the facts and it wouldn't hurt for you to get a couple decades of experience in the coal and oil industries.
MTBE is an industry scare issue, if you are so knowledgeable then why do you buy into it? High performance aircraft engines use water, methanol, and ethanol injection for peak power, as do race cars. I have worked at an Industrial Testing Laboratory and been deposed in several engine damage lawsuits. As a knowledgeable person you would know that modern gasoline is no longer isooctane, is no longer made for carb'd engines. Gasoline is now a "blend" ranging from butane to diesel that is cheap to produce and works well enough for fuel injection. The only weakness of ethanol is water solubility, Germany in WW 2 fermented to Fusel oil. BP owned stations get water/rust crud at the bottom of their tanks (partially due to EPA fume recovery; actually BP's lack of maintenance policy), it will clog your fuel filter or destroy your engine if you don't have one (it's a chain saw). Ethanol does not interfere with mixing of higher grade two-cycle oil. Several lawsuits were two-cycle chainsaws using inappropriate oil (ruled user error). Since chainsaws aren't very green (copious polluters) it is probably fortunate your chainsaw died.
I don't know why I bother to waste my time but ... MTBE is a very real problem, if it were not, the EPA would not be going to such great lengths to keep it hidden and pretend it doesn't exist. Genetic mutations in plants, widespread neurological and mental disorders in humans born post MTBE and increased health problems across the spectrum in areas where MTBE contamination is highest.
After all these years there still isn't one single person who can present just one justifiable argument for using more energy and generating more emissions in the production of ethanol than are countered by said ethanol. 20% less energy per gallon than gasoline and 65% increase in the production of repair/replacement parts for existing equipment ... just like all the others, you choose to ignore the facts but ignorning the facts do not change the facts. If you weren't so quick to engage your sales-hype, you'll note the damage to my chainsaw engine is only on the face and exhaust side, anyone with even the slightest knowledge of 2S engines knows that a lubrication failure will not be limited to one portion of the cylinder surface and would have no effect on the combustion face. Now go on back to driving your coal/oil-fired hybrid.
Its a great idea of plugging in a PV module into your typical household socket...but...
Pretty dangerous without proper safeguards. Illegal in some places, and underwriting an insurance policy for this type of product would be problematic.
An AC module (typical DC module with a microinverter) would work best. But lets say a person without much electrcial knowledge tries to do-it-yourself the project and plugs in and backfeeds too much current into a socket, feeding a wire before it is protected by a breaker. Maybe you have some clever idea.
If Im not wrong many people have thought about this idea cause then you could Home Dept or Lowes this product for everyone.
The idea is great, just needs some clever engineers, lawyers, and a shit load of money to bring to the general public.
Geof, You already answered your own question, mircosine inverters, have been doing just what I said for over a decade, No?
What gridtie inverter can work if the grid goes down? Even if it didn't automatically shut down as designed, the load of the grid will either pop the breeaker or burn up. No?
An 120vac US outlet by easily.can handle 1500wt input or output. So a 1kw PV plug and play unit can safely plug into any outlet and can handle a standard portable heater. Or one can of have it wired directly.
And finally drop by your local Lowes and You'll find them asking at the order counter, just way over priced. So just what part of your post other than the first line is correct?
Your right, the grid-tied inverters have the anti-island feature to them so they won't product output current without seeing voltage from the grid. So that part is okay.
The idea has many upsides, that is not the problem. I just try to play out in my mind all possible senarios where it could go wrong. That way there is no problem for the end user when they get their hands on it. As you know Americans love to lawsuits...haha
On a serious note, what happens regarding the metering? Is there none? If thats the case then you would need to use the power as its generated or it could potentially be given back to the grid for free. Good for the planet, bad for the owner.
I have a question...since I don't live in the USA currently. Lowes sells this type of PV system that plugs into the electrical socket? My brother and I have been talking about this idea for years now, wondering when it would happen. Has it?
I currently work for a solar manufacturing company in China. I did the business development with Enphase energy here and getting the two technologies together is challenging but not impossible.
I installed the integrated junction box microinverter from Enphase at our testing lab and it works seemlessly. And It could plug directly in to a socket, easily, like you said. Just wonder the legality of it all. Really this part always seems to be the biggest trouble. Just a thought.
Let me know if your really going to do it. I have many contacts here that could help you. Just another thought.
Yes Lowes has them when I asked locally but was about $6/wt and really no reason they should be over $3/wt retail. .
Personally I'm too busy to do this as I'm getting 2 composite unibody/chassis EV's and a 2kw windgen ready for production. But someone could make a good business buying panels, inverters, etc and making a prewired kit you just fold out or bolt together with included mountings. The parts are under $2/wt in decent quatities so selling about $3/wt FOB could be nicely profitable for a few yrs until the big boys wake up.
If I was a PV maker I'd do this to move product or build PV plants and sell the power in this over supplied market.
Personally I don'y buy Chinese products for many reasons of dumping, quality, US jobs, much of the money support the Chinese gov, etc. US products are only slightly more expensive but better quality, jobs, standards easoly make up for the small difference.
Same reason I went EV as I was tired of supporting both sides of the oil companies, oil wars, oil dictators and terrorists.
Sorry, but your numbers are way off. Solar energy at the surface of the earth is about 1 KW per Sq. Meter. Of that, single crystal solar cells will get you anywhere from 12% (low) to 21% (high) so your calculations are simply wrong. Do some homework before you post. A well constructed solar panel can yield up to 200 watts per square meter. You get conversion loses of course so the total is less than 200 watts. But your figure of 25 watts per square meter is simply not correct.
It is a shame that his theroy is being debunked and in such a public forum. I agree with you, burn0050, that there are likely merits to his ideas and hopefully scientists, solar experts, and perhaps some entreprising students, including this one, won't be deterred and will continue to explore the idea and make progress.
How disappointing that the kid's "discovery" was based on slipshod methodology. However, it still seems likely that studying the way in which solar energy is harvested by the original collectors--trees--is a smart idea.
Home Cooling: I like the idea that in a residential installation, on a hot day the solar cells would be powering the air conditioning among other things. The power does not to travel very far to get to its destination. The panels also prevent much of the heat from entering the home... This seems like one of the best uses for solar technology.
We use oil and electricity to generate heat from making hot water to making cement to cooling (e.g. propane fueled refrigeration). Solar water heaters (low tech using black PVC tubing) works on cold overcast days and snow. Mirror farms to make concrete and melt metal are low tech and can be built in third world countries. A heat source can be used in place of mechanical compression for refrigeration. Electric car advocates foolishly disregard electrical losses in our country's aging electricity generation systems, making hybrids generate less carbon dioxide per mile than pure electric cars.