Religion, Politics and World Events They make great dinner conversation, don't you think? plus Political Film

USA Today article on the realities of solar and wind power.

Old 04-17-06, 07:15 PM
  #1  
Political Exile
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 15,988
USA Today article on the realities of solar and wind power.

Fascinating article on the realities of solar and wind power. I've bolded all the important parts for your convenience.


http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/te...tm?POE=TECISVA

Off the grid or on, solar and wind power gain

Updated 4/12/2006 10:53 PM ET

By Paul Davidson, USA TODAY

WILMINGTON, Vt. The wind whips up in Dale Doucette's expansive backyard, furiously spinning the blades on his 80-foot-tall silver wind turbine and leaving a broad smile on his square-jawed face.

The gusts nudge the voltage on his battery bank and help power Doucette's wood-carving saw, as well as the PC, printer and recessed lights in his wife Michele's home-based chiropractic office.

But overcast skies mean the Doucettes' 10 solar panels won't be as productive as usual. So his two teenage sons can use the computer but not the TV or GameCube.

"I'm the power Nazi," Doucette, 47, says as the turbine blades emit a shrill hum on a late March afternoon.

The Doucettes live off the power grid, but they're far from granola-crunching hippies eking out a bare-bones existence in the hinterlands. They live in a sleek $500,000 plaster-and-tile house a quarter mile from electric lines and could have hooked in for $10,000. Instead, they opted to pay about $41,000 for their own solar and wind energy systems.

"We want to be as self-sustaining as possible and get out from under Big Brother," Doucette says. "I enjoy not getting an electric bill."

Amid soaring electricity prices, the renewable energy industry is increasingly being driven by families such as the Doucettes who choose to be off the grid for environmental or political reasons and by a much faster-rising number of Americans adding solar and wind systems to grid-connected houses. Such equipment used to be bought almost exclusively by off-the-gridders in remote rural reaches who couldn't afford fees of $30,000 or more to tie in to electric lines.

Now, in 29 states, homeowners on the grid can get state rebates or tax breaks that subsidize up to 50% or more of the cost of clean energy systems. They then sell the electricity they generate, but don't use themselves, to utilities, offsetting the cost of the power they draw from the grid as they spin their meters backward and drive their electric bills toward zero.

Seventeen states, and some power companies themselves, now offer utility customers rebates on the purchase and installation of solar or wind systems, up from three in 2000. Florida and Pennsylvania are among those considering rebates. Meanwhile, the number of states with "net metering" laws which permit customers to sell the power they produce to the electric company at retail rates has doubled to 40 in the past six years.

Despite a hodgepodge of state laws, the trend points up a budding grass-roots movement to displace at least some of the nation's power generation from pollution-belching plants to small, clean neighborhood nodes. That eases strains on transmission lines. Some 180,000 families live off-grid, a figure that has jumped 33% a year for a decade, says Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power magazine.

Yet, thanks to the incentives, another 27,000 grid-connected houses supplement the utility's power with their own energy systems, most of which are solar, says the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the American Wind Energy Association. Perez expects the number of utility customers using clean energy to overtake off-the-grid households in a decade.

"It's accelerating very quickly," says Michael Eckhart, of the American Council on Renewable Energy.

The movement got an added jolt in January when utility customers could start taking advantage of a new $2,000 federal tax credit for solar power system purchases as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

After soaring 30% a year the past five years, sales of solar, or photovoltaic, systems could ratchet even higher this year. Bob-O Schultze, owner of Electron Connection in Northern California, says solar sales have risen 50% annually since 2002. About 75% of his business is from on-grid customers, vs. just 1% four years ago.

Off the grid

For decades, dealers in small solar and wind systems depended on the small band of mavericks who moved off the grid to live in the countryside, where land is plentiful and inexpensive. California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and Maine have long been havens, though people live off the grid in almost every state.

"These are people who want a big garden, have no close neighbors and the only land they can afford is beyond the reaches of the grid," Perez, an off-gridder himself, says. Property without utility hook-ups, he adds, can cost about a third less than a standard lot. These days, a growing number of off-gridders could link up fairly cheaply but prefer to be untethered for myriad reasons, including rising electricity rates, a desire to cut power plant pollution and concerns about blackouts or terrorism.

The Wilmington area, in rural southern Vermont, nestled at the foothills of the Green Mountains is speckled with off-grid homes on back roads where the area's criss-crossing power lines don't reach.

Doucette, a wood carver, and some friends built his 3,200-square-foot house four years ago on a 22-acre, tree-rimmed property, moving from a smaller grid-tied house a few miles away. Considering his old electric bill ran to $1,700 a year and was certain to go higher, Doucette figures his green energy system will pay for itself in 20 years. But money was not at the heart of their decision.

"We made a conscious choice not to get on the grid," Doucette says, noting he has long been rankled by the electricity price increases of the local resort town during ski season and by periodic winter blackouts.

Like other off-gridders, Doucette uses his gleaming blue solar panels on the roof of a small shed about 150 feet from his house, as his main energy source. The turbine, another 300 feet away, provides added juice on cloudy days when the wind is swirling.

The power generated by both solar and wind systems is stored in 24 batteries in a bin in the shed. An inverter converts the DC current produced by the systems to the AC current used in homes. The batteries could last several days in the unlikely event there is neither sun nor wind. A backup propane generator kicks in if the batteries get low.

Like other clean-energy homes, Doucette's two-story, earth-toned house is built for conservation, with energy-efficient refrigerator and dishwasher, low-voltage light bulbs and straw-bale insulation.

In nearby Marlboro, Sunny and Nat Tappan live in an older-style off-grid home, about 2 1/2 miles up a hill off a dirt road on an isolated 90-acre tract. The rustic, timber-frame house, which sits next to a pasture with sheep and chickens, has a composting toilet and no running water (they have a well). Sunny and her former husband bought the property 18 years ago and spent a few thousand dollars on a solar power system. Connecting to the power grid would have cost $80,000, but Sunny, 53, had no interest anyway.

"I love living off the grid and being independent," she says. "I wanted to live on a large piece of property out in the country."

Four small solar panels angled on brackets in a garden few feet from the back door supply 680 watts of power. But noting she has no TV, dishwasher or washing machine, Sunny says that's more than enough, "We use very little electricity." And if it's persistently cloudy? "So I don't vacuum one week," she says.

For others, living off the grid is a matter of principle. Maynard Kaufman, 77, who lives in a saltbox house on a farm near Bangor, Mich., could have connected to the grid for $10,000. Instead, he spent $30,000 on a solar power system and $12,700 on two wind turbines. Noting he had demonstrated in front of the local nuclear plant, he said, "It was totally a matter of conscience."

On the grid

For many utility customers, installing an alternative energy system largely boils down to the dollars and cents that state incentives help them save.

California was the first state to offer a generous package of renewable-energy incentives for homes and businesses in the late 1990s as power companies were deregulated. It's blessed with abundant sunshine and plagued by high electric rates and an overtaxed grid that led to rolling blackouts.

By 2002, California was offering households 60% rebates on solar power systems, as well as tax credits, letting homeowners pay less than 30% of retail cost. Residents send much of their solar energy into the grid during the day when they're not home, easing peak demands, and draw from it at night when the sun isn't shining.

Demand for solar power has surged, with about 15,000 utility customers installing systems, and last year the state cut the rebate to 35%. The goal is to use rebates to drive so much demand that solar prices plunge, and the rebates can be phased out. But a worldwide shortage of solar panels, spurred by even-more-generous incentives in Japan and Germany, is keeping prices high until more factories are built in 18 months.

New Jersey is the only other state with a solar incentive program to match California's. Rebates cover more than 50% of a solar power system's cost. Plus, households can sell credits for the energy they produce to utilities to meet state clean energy quotas. The program "helps reduce peak demands, and that helps dramatically," says Jeanne Fox, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. "Our goal is to drive energy generation and a lot of that is to be distributed" in neighborhoods to improve power-plant reliability and security.

Other states with rebate programs include New York, Massachusetts, Illinois and Rhode Island, where electricity prices are high.

Clark Beebe, 57, of Springfield, N.J., bought a $50,000 solar power system two years ago for $15,000 after rebates, installing it on the roof of his four-bedroom house. Because he offsets what he uses with what he pumps into the grid, his annual power bill has dropped from $1,270 to $170, though he also installed energy-saving appliances. His $1,100 yearly savings is supplemented by $500 in clean energy credits, cutting the payback period for his system to nine years. After that, he'll effectively net at least a $200-a-year profit. "I am now an electricity company," says Beebe 57. "Plus, I'm generating electricity without any pollutants."

Carrie Buczeke, 42, of Livermore, Calif., rolled the cost of her $54,000 solar panels $25,000 after rebates and tax credits into a home-equity loan. She has wiped out her $400 monthly electric bill and pays $300 a month for the loan. After seven years, the loan will be paid off. "It was such a no-brainer," she says.
grundle is offline  
Old 04-17-06, 07:37 PM
  #2  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Bartertown due to it having a better economy than where I really live, Buffalo NY
Posts: 29,694
the self sufficient part is cool, but I'd stay on the grid and sell my surplus to the power company, and ahve them to fall back on on cloudy windless days
mikehunt is offline  
Old 04-17-06, 09:27 PM
  #3  
Admin-Thanos
 
VinVega's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Caught between the moon and NYC
Posts: 31,011
Originally Posted by mikehunt
the self sufficient part is cool, but I'd stay on the grid and sell my surplus to the power company, and ahve them to fall back on on cloudy windless days


That is where the future of Solar and wind power is. Every household can be helping the greater community by gathering energy for the grid for everyone's use. They can sell it back to the electric companies and everyone benefits. Every household can be a power generator in a small way.
VinVega is offline  
Old 04-17-06, 09:35 PM
  #4  
X
Administrator
 
X's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 1987
Location: AA-
Posts: 10,676
I need a new roof so I'm evaluating a solar system. I figure it will help reduce the cost of tile since I won't need as much, power my house during the day, and also get me energy credits toward purchasing nighttime/cloudy weather power. The tax credits should help it pay for itself within a few years.

The totally self-contained solar system is a loser and it seems people are finally realizing that. Not only are batteries expensive, because they have to be replaced periodically they contribute to the waste disposal problem.
X is offline  
Old 04-17-06, 11:44 PM
  #5  
Banned
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Democratik People's Republik of Kalifornia
Posts: 22,995
It's great if you got the money to do it. But for society as a whole, it will not work with wind or solar. Nuclear energy is what powers the future.
Myster X is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 12:12 AM
  #6  
DVD Talk God
 
kvrdave's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Pacific NW
Posts: 86,200
My sister and her husband farm in a very rural place. They just signed a deal for 50 1.5 megawatt turbines to be placed on their land. Farming might finally turn a profit for them.

The tight ass in me would like to do something like this but I am very sheltered from the wind. My field has lots of it, but it is too far from the house to be of much use.

We had a guy come into the office looking for land. An older agent of mine asked him what type he wanted. He said definately remote and off the grid. His plan was to go completely self contained, but said he planned to sell electricity back to the utility company. The agent looked at him and said, "What are you going to do, bring it to them in a can?"

I laughed to dang hard.
kvrdave is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 07:32 AM
  #7  
Admin-Thanos
 
VinVega's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Caught between the moon and NYC
Posts: 31,011
Originally Posted by Myster X
It's great if you got the money to do it. But for society as a whole, it will not work with wind or solar. Nuclear energy is what powers the future.
Don't you think it could be part of the equation? I don't think we can subsist off of only solar and wind, but in the scenarios like what X mentioned, over time a partial solar/wind electricity system in the home can pay off.
VinVega is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 07:46 AM
  #8  
DVD Talk God
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 68,522
Windmills, and we have bunches of them in OK, are not the most efficient ways to produce power.
classicman2 is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 08:45 AM
  #9  
Admin-Thanos
 
VinVega's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Caught between the moon and NYC
Posts: 31,011
Originally Posted by classicman2
Windmills, and we have bunches of them in OK, are not the most efficient ways to produce power.
So get rid of them all right? Why even try?
VinVega is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 09:24 AM
  #10  
DVD Talk Hero
 
JasonF's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 39,070
Originally Posted by classicman2
Windmills, and we have bunches of them in OK, are not the most efficient ways to produce power.
By definition, there is only one most efficient way to produce power. That doesn't mean we should ignore all of the less efficient ways. Windmills clearly aren't the silver bullet solution, but I believe they are part of a comprehensive energy plan.
JasonF is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 09:36 AM
  #11  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Th0r S1mpson's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Seattle, WA
Posts: 36,443
Originally Posted by JasonF
By definition, there is only one most efficient way to produce power.
You can't fool me. There is no spoon!
Th0r S1mpson is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 09:50 AM
  #12  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: East County
Posts: 33,102
There is a wind-farm off of I-39 in northern Illinois that has always intrigued me. And I occasionally drink beer that is brewed using power generated by wind-mills.

If I had the money and lived in a rural area - I would definitely do it. There is enough wind in the fall/winter/spring and enough sun in the summer around here to survive.



C-man - you should start adding "And that's the bottom line." to all of your posts.
B.A. is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 10:04 AM
  #13  
DVD Talk Legend
 
chess's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: San Antonio
Posts: 20,804
Excellent article.

My dad is designing/building his own place off the grid in Nevada...just outside of Reno. I don't think he has plans for wind, but they get tons of sun. He's also building in an underground water-based cooling system.

I wouldn't call him a huge consumer of power other than the tools in his shop.

I haven't asked him what the tax incentives are...and I don't even think it's the price of brining the grid to the house. He's mostly just afraid of the government (not in a creepy armed militant kind of way).
chess is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 10:36 AM
  #14  
DVD Talk God
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 68,522
Do you know how windmills cost?

Do you how much it costs to maintain them?

You do know they are prone to break down quite frequently, don't you?
classicman2 is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 10:38 AM
  #15  
DVD Talk God
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 68,522
Add to that - live in an area with little wind or live in an area where there is too much wind.

I hope you'll are not hanging your hat on the windmill solution.
classicman2 is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 10:41 AM
  #16  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: East County
Posts: 33,102
C-man is bigotted against The Wind.
B.A. is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 10:42 AM
  #17  
DVD Talk God
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 68,522
No, I know what strong straight-line winds can do to them.

Just think what tornadoes would do to them?

They've been lucky so far.
classicman2 is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 10:44 AM
  #18  
Admin-Thanos
 
VinVega's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Caught between the moon and NYC
Posts: 31,011
A tornado could generate megawatts of electricity!


Last edited by VinVega; 04-18-06 at 03:15 PM.
VinVega is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 11:15 AM
  #19  
DVD Talk God
 
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 68,522
Damn things are always breaking down.

And, on top of that, they clutter the landscape. Environmentalists, such as myself, dont' like to see that.
classicman2 is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 12:14 PM
  #20  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Posts: 268
I want to reply to this thread but I don't have anything to say that doesn't sound stupid.
Holy Jackson is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 12:30 PM
  #21  
X
Administrator
 
X's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 1987
Location: AA-
Posts: 10,676
That never stops anyone else, why should it stop you?
X is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 01:09 PM
  #22  
Banned
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Democratik People's Republik of Kalifornia
Posts: 22,995
Originally Posted by classicman2
Damn things are always breaking down.

And, on top of that, they clutter the landscape. Environmentalists, such as myself, dont' like to see that.
You support Ted Kennedy.
Myster X is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 01:13 PM
  #23  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Posts: 268
I'm insecure.

Anyway, to the OP, your bolding puts a very obvious slant on this article. Lets review a small snippit:

The Doucettes live off the power grid, but they're far from granola-crunching hippies eking out a bare-bones existence in the hinterlands. They live in a sleek $500,000 plaster-and-tile house a quarter mile from electric lines and could have hooked in for $10,000. Instead, they opted to pay about $41,000 for their own solar and wind energy systems.

"We want to be as self-sustaining as possible and get out from under Big Brother," Doucette says. "I enjoy not getting an electric bill."
The bolding here, and throughout the article, makes solar power sound like a foolish decision. Obviously this guy chose to blow 31,000 extra on solar panels that don't give him reliable energy, threrefor he must be foolish right? Well, he's off the grid so he doesn't have to make electric payments. Lets say for shits and giggles that a person in a nice $500,000 house in an area of low land value would have about a 150/month electric bill. that means that the solar panel system would pay for itself in about 18 years. (I'm assuming a simple model where the electric bill, household income, and inflation are all approxomately the same.) Most folks that buy a country house will probably be living there for a while, probably with a 30 year mortgage and an intent to stay. So this guy will have 12 years of being able to pocket 150/month, giving him about $22,000 (neglecting interests and inflations) at the end of the 30 years.

One thing about solar panels is that they can be very low maintanence, depending on the type of panel used. This article does not specify. Lets assume that he invested in decent solar panels. I've seen quoted lifetimes of up to 200 years with good care on some commercially available models. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that maintenance costs if divided up per month would be nearly negligable. He could in fact use some of the money he would save and invest in a battery backup system and more panels to alleviate his supply instability and not go over the cost of a regular electric bill.

In summary, where the selective bolding in this article paints a picture of foolish investors and idiot government subsidy policies, it can be shown that in fact, these cases can be prudent economic decisions for these people.

I remember writing a paper for a college class years ago that pursued my above logic to come to a general simple forecast that solar technology generally pays for itself in about 40 years and can generate the majority of private household energy in sunbelt cities when paired with efficient electrical products. (like low watt halogen lights instead of incandescent bulbs.) Large scale power plants would still be needed for commercial and industry uses as well as covering outage periods, but their total supply could be dropped about 30% reasonably.

So, no solar panel power isn't a global fix, but in many cases it is a sensible alternative for end users. The either/or mentality in this thread is incorrect.
Holy Jackson is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 02:11 PM
  #24  
X
Administrator
 
X's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 1987
Location: AA-
Posts: 10,676
Originally Posted by Myster X
You support Ted Kennedy.
This contributes nothing to the discussion other than introducing hostility.
X is offline  
Old 04-18-06, 02:46 PM
  #25  
X
Administrator
 
X's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 1987
Location: AA-
Posts: 10,676
Originally Posted by Holy Jackson
Well, he's off the grid so he doesn't have to make electric payments. Lets say for shits and giggles that a person in a nice $500,000 house in an area of low land value would have about a 150/month electric bill. that means that the solar panel system would pay for itself in about 18 years. (I'm assuming a simple model where the electric bill, household income, and inflation are all approxomately the same.)
Don't forget the tax credits. California pays a cash rebate of $2.50 per generated watt off the system cost if you hook it up to your utility. The federal government will give a tax credit of 30% of the system cost (max $2000).

You can get a 2.38kW system for around $13,000. The state and federal government will pay about $8,000 of the cost.
X is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Archive Advertising Cookie Policy Privacy Statement Terms of Service

Copyright 2018 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.