Skip to comments.Once 'Overhyped and Sexy,' Solar Tumbles
Posted on 03/31/2013 4:58:00 AM PDT by Red in Blue PA
The excitement over solar power, which once attracted billions in private investment and public subsidies, has waned recently, underscoring the limitations of renewable energies and the unchallenged dominance of fossil fuels. Some of the $75 billion sector's high profile names have fallen on hard times recently - most notably Suntech Power (STP). The China-based solar panel company rattled the industry when it filed for bankruptcy last week. In its heyday, the stock traded just shy of $90 and had a market capitalization of $16 billion: on Thursday, the last day U.S. markets were open, the shares traded around for 42 cents each.
"The overall story is about growth and declining costs," said Arno Harris, chairman of the SEIA Board, in an interview. Much like the way low-cost natural gas is transforming the U.S. energy market, "[solar] costs have come down so dramatically, it's created a Darwinian environment," Harris added. He pointed to the collapse in silicon - a linchpin of solar panel manufacturing - which has led to a steep drop in prices per watt of solar panels. That amount is now less than a dollar, down sharply from $4 per watt a few years ago, making it difficult for companies to make money. Yet in many ways, Suntech's spectacular fall is a microcosm of a sector in transition, and holds lessons for U.S. solar firms. As domestic drilling and abundant natural gas has stoked expectations for U.S. energy independence, it has also sapped attention from renewable energy.
(Excerpt) Read more at finance.yahoo.com ...
“About three years back, my wife had someone come over to do an estimate for a solar system on our house to supplement our regular power. As part of the estimate, they did an analysis of how long it would take us to break even on the investment. It was 20 yearsI kid you not. And Im sure they were being as optimistic as possible.
Panels have come down a lot in the past few years, so maybe run the numbers again. I’m not saying you’re wrong, as I don’t know your design or climate details, but I am saying what was 20 years payback three years ago is likely 13 years now. Also consider a few things:
1) There’s a good chance that the rates for power will go up...especially if they go to tiered pricing, as they already have in California, where they give you the lowest rate for what they call Baseline Usage (very low), which is about 450 kWh per month - but then they ream you if you go over, on the order of 20 to 30 cents per kWh. So if you generate your own power, it’s worth around 25 cents per kWh to your electric bill, which is at least 2 times what is typically paid on a flat rate plan.
2) There’s a good chance they will go to dynamic pricing, which is the whole point of the “smart meters”. Similar to tiered pricing, they make you pay higher rates if you don’t “behave” per their requirements. In dynamic pricing, they jack up the rates late in the day and more in the summer, as people get home from work and run their AC units.
3) We still don’t know where things are going in this country overall with regard to power. We’re DEFINITELY not building power plants fast enough, and we may well be forced into one of the above two options, just to keep power flowing.
4) If you get a system that can work with both grid-tie (as you considered) and off-grid, then you simply add batteries and you won’t even need the utility (but the batteries aren’t cheap, so I wouldn’t recommend them until they’re needed), but if the system is not designed for batteries as an option, it would require major modification to use batteries.
5) If your payback is 13 years, you’re looking at close to a 5.5% ROI, which isn’t bad for a fixed income investment. If the payback gets cut in half (say, due to higher grid rates, for example), then your ROI goes up to 11%.
Needless to say, I would do it, as above, by my friggen neighbor has a HUGE TREE blocking my only good roof exposure. So I sit here and calculate, and dream about my next house.
“...At best, solar panels can be purchased at $4-5 per watt, IIRC.”
Not anymore. With the federal rebate, you can get grid-tie systems installed for around $2.00 per watt. Obviously systems that can take batteries cost more...and then the batteries themselves even more.
And I'm pretty sure that didn't include maintenance. Those payback calculations rarely do.
the breakthrough will occur when the sun produces more energy density.
until then solar will only help marginally
“Solar doesnt work too well in New England”
Actually it works just fine in NE, have wired several systems myself.
Here’s the thing, a lot of scam companies are gone (or going soon), those that remain are providing better products, service. One of the big improvements is roof mounted microinverters - they convert DC to AC one panel at a time, they are wired in parallel so that if one panel is shaded the whole string no longer goes down like older systems.
Eventually only the strong will remain.
The so called “Green” movement exists solely as a means to funnel taxpayer monies to political friends individually and collectively. There is, of course, a rakeoff to the “Divine One.”
If the principles of capitalism are followed, then good stuff that works will prevail, and the dross will fall away.
Unfortunately, it has been the policy of the present administration to employ CRONY “capitalism”, and use taxpayers’ money to support scams and boondoggles, and thus discouraging private enterprise.
Whatever happened to the photovoltaic fabric that was being developed a few years ago. It came in a roll and was around a buck back then.
Yes it is.
Some of the most cost effective solar's are:
* The electric attic fans, dramtically reduce you A/C load.
* Solar H20, if you make them from scratch and or kit and you are plumber and electrican enough to pull it off.
* Proper house orientation, if building from new, 20% of your heating for free if you do it right.
* The old Trombe Wall Passive Heating. Can be done as a retrofit, but maybe better new, and I don't know if anyone has revisited it today with maybe some techno-upgrades. in the lates 70's claims of 50% of you heating could be had from this wall.
Many if not all of these can be done without the Fedzilla benny bucks which is fine with me.
I had an Idea this a.m. a variant of the Trombe Wall that I need to run by my hvac / anything home guru that just might work.....
The question I have always had is, what happens to those things when the sun doesn’t shine, and doesn’t shine for a long enough period of time that the storage batteries run down? I guess then we do without those things. That’s okay for a highway sign, but I sure wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of a mid-continent winter without reliable heating, or a humid Florida or baking hot Arizona summer without A/C.
My parents were looking to retire to New Mexico (my mom’s home state) and were looking at lots of home designs. This was in the late 90s early 00s. Quite a few include some form of Trombe wall. They were seriously considering straw bale with a Trombe wall, but my dad started getting health problems, so they just stayed put.
>>baking hot Arizona summer without A/C.
Has there ever been a baking hot summer in AZ without lots of sunshine? Heck there is lots of sunshine there in January, which is why they don’t bother with ‘daylight savings’. Such places make more sense for solar than any other in the country.
I agree about mid-continent winters, and Florida/SE Atlantic/gulf coast states, more because of the inherent fragility of solar panels when hurricanes arrive.
Thanks for the update. It has been a while since I stuck my head into PV installations.
PV makes a lot of sense in certain situations but it is indeed a economic decision. I still think the govmint needs to get its nose out of the business and let the market decide.
what are the maitenance costs and how often do you need to climb onto the roof to clean then?
Panels degrade over time. By the time you get payback from having solar, it's time to replace the panels.
Unmentioned is the cost and effort of keeping the panels clean. Panels encrusted with dirt and bird poop will not generate much electricity. Cleaning the panels regularly will involve getting up on the roof with buckets of water and detergent. They also don't mention the environmental impact of manufacturing thousands of square miles of solar panels.
“what are the maitenance costs and how often do you need to climb onto the roof to clean then?”
Fair point. Not having had one (yet) I can’t say. Looking at the web, I’d estimate every 2 months or so. There are also other factors working against my (optimistic) ROI, such as cells degrading (they lose something like 1% per year...which adds up), and possible hardware failures and/or breakage.
Just from looking around a bit, it looks like the losses from dirty panels are 10% to 25%, with the higher numbers being in dusty areas. So, for myself, I’d like just bump up the size of the system by 10%, and eat the losses for a while, and clean every two years or so. There is a limit to how long you can get away with that because if the dirt gets concentrated in one area, that can cause permanent damage to the panel.
At best, solar panels can be purchased at $4-5 per watt, IIRC
Nope. Current price to contractors is about $0.80 per watt and expected to reach $0.50 in the near future. That $0.80 will get you about 5 watt- hrs per day in Southern Califonia. That’s about 1.8 kilowatt-hrs per year. Currently a KWH costs about $0.20 so your $0.80 investment saved you $0.36 in only one year.
On the other hand, professional installation isn’t cheap and there are ancillary hardware and permit costs.
The point is that the solar panel business is a terrible low margin business but, given the cheap panels, solar system are becoming more and more viable.
And the rebates are drying up as they should.
Coastal areas are kind of bad for things like windmills and solar panels. I can't resist telling this story (anecdotal, but true) about one of my Mom's neighbors on the East Coast who thought he'd "beat" the local utility by putting up both a windmill and ground-level solar panels. Wasn't a bad bet, plenty of wind at the shore and the total sunny days wasn't bad. So he put them up. Worked okay until his neighbors (not my Mom) got a court order to shut down his windmill. Too much noise, blocking sunlight, "flicker", etc. So that one fizzled out. Then a few years later a hurricane came up the coast and washed his solar panels away. The guy wasn't too sorry to see that happen because by then he was getting a little arthritic and tired of cleaning the sand and seagull poop off of the panels. So he took his insurance settlement and lived a happy life back on the grid, which in that area was supplied by a nuclear plant a few miles up the road that has something like a 90+% capacity factor (i.e., is very, very reliable and safe).
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