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Old 09-15-2008, 10:40 PM
 
79 posts, read 423,908 times
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Okay, so I know it's very cloudy in Kalispell all winter. I know clouds are bad for solar. But....

Is it something that is just totally impractical for a full-timer, or would it eventually pay for itself?

Any one in the West with solar out there? How is it for you?
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Old 09-16-2008, 07:33 AM
 
Location: LEAVING CD
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I've wondered this as well. I'm pretty sure that we don't have enough sun most of the year for it to pay for itself unless they make a low light unit.
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Old 09-16-2008, 09:56 AM
 
Location: Montana
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I installed some solar equipment years ago on Black Tail Mountain, and between that and a small wind generator I think it still does pretty well. It was not enough to get our equipment off the grid, but I think it dropped our energy costs by about 30%.
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Old 09-16-2008, 01:30 PM
 
Location: The Hi-line
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Sunelco has been selling panels in the Bitterroot for about 15 years and seems to be thriving on the industry. I can't say for sure if it has been cost-effective for the consumers though. I always figured that wind-power would be more reliable in the valleys of western Montana.
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Old 09-16-2008, 02:00 PM
 
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Sunelco is a great reference.

To answer the question, though, I've run the calculations and don't think solar power is cost competitive anywhere in the country without subsidies. I checked into it in Phoenix, AZ, and figured it would have a 7 year backtime time with the government subsidies. Without subsidies it was more like a 15 year payback period or so, and that starts to get close to the life of the solar panels.

So in Western Montana, the answer is "no" from an economic feasibility standpoint. They just don't get enough sunlight to warrant it and I don't believe there are very good subsidy programs in Montana to support solar cells.

Two big things to think about are the short winter days in Montana (in December is gets light around 8-9 and dark around 4-5) and snow removal from snow panels. They just don't seem to work very well when covered in snow.

Sunelco primarily sells to people who have cabins off the grid. When you consider the huge costs of extending the primary line, solar becomes cost effective real quick. Since the OP is on the grid, this isn't an advantage for him.
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Old 09-16-2008, 06:31 PM
 
Location: SW Montana
355 posts, read 1,097,638 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AsForMeAndMyHouse View Post
Okay, so I know it's very cloudy in Kalispell all winter. I know clouds are bad for solar. But....

Is it something that is just totally impractical for a full-timer, or would it eventually pay for itself?

Any one in the West with solar out there? How is it for you?
You didn't really distinguish if you were looking for solar power to heat with or provide electricity. If the former, do some research on passive solar design. I have been using it for some time and it works pretty good even if you don't have bright sun to deal with. Build your house right and you can store a lot of warmth for several days just in a masonary or concrete mass. I have friends who have a fairly well designed place and they can weather -30F ( or colder) weather for days on end with only an occasional small firing of their woodstove - house stays about 70 or so just fine. Fresh veggies in the greenhouse, too!

As for electricity, solar panels aren't really that cost effective yet, depending on your situation. As has been posted, running a line to your house can be real expensive, and a lot of places don't have reliable enough wind for a turbine. Plus, from what I gather reading, some lifestyles take a little adjusting to make the power situation work when the clouds are thick or the wind is calm.

My dream is to find a piece of land with a spring or small creek and pipe it, or part of it, through a small water turbine. I have seen a couple examples of this and it works like a charm. And since you don't "use" the water, i.e. not return it to the flow, the permitting process is simple. You just need something you can divert and set up to run in the winter - that's why springs work well, the water temp being ground temp and staying open in the cold.
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Old 09-16-2008, 08:04 PM
 
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Thanks for your replies. I actually have power 400 ft. from the house, so it's not a huge deal to get it. But power seems to go out a lot from what I hear in Lincoln County. I'd like to have a little backup source for lights, running furnace fan to circulate the air, etc...
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Old 09-16-2008, 08:19 PM
 
Location: Kingman - Anaconda
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Quote:
My dream is to find a piece of land with a spring or small creek and pipe it, or part of it, through a small water turbine. I have seen a couple examples of this and it works like a charm. And since you don't "use" the water, i.e. not return it to the flow, the permitting process is simple. You just need something you can divert and set up to run in the winter - that's why springs work well, the water temp being ground temp and staying open in the cold.
Well I had the same Idea, Till I discovered we were in the Upper Clark Fork watershed.
Perfect 20.5 acres 1/2 mile year around running creek a couple of beaver ponds. Sitting at 7000 ft elevation.
Keep in mind this is a unnamed small creek running through our property off the cliff and on down into Mill Creek. Great spot for hydro power. But nope not allowed nada zippo etc.
Now who would drive 8 miles off the paved road and figure out how to get to our place to check and see if there was one or not?
So currently our options are solar or wind.
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Old 09-16-2008, 10:58 PM
 
1,305 posts, read 2,540,291 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AsForMeAndMyHouse View Post
Thanks for your replies. I actually have power 400 ft. from the house, so it's not a huge deal to get it. But power seems to go out a lot from what I hear in Lincoln County. I'd like to have a little backup source for lights, running furnace fan to circulate the air, etc...
Generator.

The worst times for power to go out are in the winter (doesn't erally matter in the summer if it's out, it's light all the time anyway). Problem is you don't have sunlight to charge your batteries. Also, your batteries need constant maintenance.

Generators are far better for when the power goes out.
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Old 09-17-2008, 07:22 PM
 
305 posts, read 835,841 times
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I agree, if you're looking for backup when your power goes out, a generator is your best bet. (If you don't want to just tough it out with a wood stove, etc until the utility crews get you back online)
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