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Old 12-30-2008, 10:30 PM
1,305 posts, read 2,545,365 times
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It's been posted on here a few times before but recently I've been reading a lot about solar cells. So I'm wondering - has the solar cell bug catching on at all in Montana?

As I've posted before, it's a hard business case to close and financially difficult to justify. I think it's nearly impossible to justify in Western Montana due to the cloud cover. I haven't looked at the solar charts but they are probably more effective east of the divide because of the greater amounts of sunlight.

But I also know that some people see more value to solar cells than financial - sometimes they are interested in the knowledge of being semi-independent from the rest of society or in the benefit of not using power derived from fossil fuels.

I'd like to keep this thread positive - I'm a professional engineer so I'm well aware of the cost and the problems of dealing with snow in Montana. Mainly I'm curious to see if the solar cell interest seen in other parts of the country is starting to trickle up to Montana.
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Old 01-01-2009, 08:42 AM
Location: In The Outland
6,023 posts, read 13,375,400 times
Reputation: 3535
The development of wind farms and solar energy production on a large scale seems to be lagging in Montana but I think when oil goes back up and / or dries up completely we'll see a rush to these power sources When I lived on my old 30 foot sailboat at anchor not in a slip, I did fine with just a 2' x 3' solar panel and two deep-cycle batteries. Had a propane heater and the solar panel charged batteries provided all the 12 volt power I needed for a small TV, my radios, navigation electronics and lighting. There are many folks making their own power now everywhere. My boat didn't even need a wind generator, the one panel was sufficient.
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Old 01-01-2009, 11:04 AM
Location: SoCalif
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I used early solar cells (1980 vintage) to heat water in the home water heater only since my house is all electric and was extremely expensive in those days. I can't tell exactly from electric bills except whereas my neighbors electric ran in excess of $400 month mine was approx. $100. When I re-roofed my house the solar panels were not reusable so my initial solar investment was lost and my electric bills went up substantially (still not to neighbors level since the kids were grown and the wife ran off with a travelling salesman lol)

I am in general anti-wind, anti-solar when driven by government mandate (it simply makes no sense economically and never figures in hidden costs, I worked in nuclear power in the go-go days and the cost per kilowatt never included security, the additional real estate around premises required, fencing, the increased spec on pumps, motors, valves were all absorbed in inventory cost, legal wrangles, and plant retirement costs). However, if one has a dedicated off the grid application e.g., recharging boat batteries, or heating ones water it quickly can make sense since it avoids transmission loss and batteries that while improved are still not where they need to be to make economic sense.

PS there is an intersting article I've lost track of from the Pastiempo (near Santa Clara) pass wind towers that describes the death of 160 golden eagles a year, flocks of migratory birds killed etc., etc. When that news starts to become commonplace the left will make an attck on wind also leaving even fewer options to live a 20th century lefiestyle. Most of this carbon footprint driven politics is just lefty Luddites trying to march mankind back to pre-industrial times.
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Old 01-01-2009, 01:07 PM
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there are two types of ways to use solar in to meet your energy needs. one heats hot water, the other use photovoltaic cells to produce electricity. as is the case with alternative energy, there needs to be a "team effort" of technologies to fulfill the needs of any home. it is true they will decrease in strength when the clouds are out, but they still work. a small home wind system can offset this. the most efficient solar setups i have seen produce only enough electricity for appliances, lighting, and entertainment. the rest of the energy needs are meet through various ways.

the sun has a tremendous amount of energy beaming down to earth. there is some new breakthroughs i have been reading about which will pass the 50% efficiency mark. a team of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have made solar cells which produce 40.8% efficiency. this is currently the most efficient cell. while there is another class of solar cells called high-efficiency solar cells, they are nowhere near commercially viable because of the cost/watt required to produce energy. when you consider that the sun produces 1.4kw/m2, which changes slightly due to the 6% change in distance from the earth to the sun, this is quite amazing. 100% efficiency would require an area the size of a small desert country to power the world. we are nowhere near this just now, but like i said, in 10 years we will be pushing the 75% mark or more. if we were to hit the 100% mark in the future, a car would require a solar cell about 1 sq ft in order to power it, and your house would need 3-4 conventional panels to run your entire house, not just the appliances.

there are many alternatives to the ugly mounting kits on most houses. there are now many different kinds of solar shingles which can be blended seamlessly into your current roofing shingles.

so to sum it up, it would be much more ideal for a home to be constructed using various methods of alternative energy. i have also seen some confusion as to geothermal exchange on this forum. geothermal exchange only uses the earth's thermal mass, or the energy stored in the crust of the earth to heat a home. it does not deal with the energy produced from the core of the earth (magma heat). underneath the shallow layer of the crust (10 feet down) there is a constant temperature of 50-61 F. most energy efficient homes nowadays utilitize this heat sink, which is endless, and only requires a heat pump to integrate into the home heating systems.

so the best home would operate like this (we have one in the shields river valley just north of livingston):
-solar array for electricity
-wind as back up and to sell back to the utilities
-geothermal for the heating system, which will work in conjunction with a hydro-air system linked to:
-solar hot water heater for what else but the hot water
-a south facing window wall, with an earth sheltered back wall for thermal mass
-a nice thick slab throughout to ensure thermal mass

regardless of which of these aspects you use, thermal mass and the sun are your best friends when living off the grid. the sun supplies the heat, and the thermal mass stores it. there are a MULTIDUDE of things you can do to make your home more efficient as well, but these tips will take it completely off the grid.

there are also programs out there which can help you implement these programs through state and local grants, but the goal is to make, every home like this in the near future. we can easily decrease our energy uses to near zero, while supporting our shipping industries through our OWN natural gas. i would not be suprised to see some of these aspects adopted as code within 10 years.
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