Fostering a renewable source of energy

There are very many hurdles in front of us before we can get to an era beyond oil ~ the era of renewable energy.  Some of these hurdles are technological, some are economic, some are political.

But the biggest hurdle is in our mindset... beginning right here, amongst those that come to progressive blogs such as this one.  We do not care enough about renewable energy to foster it's development.  Let me give you some examples.

One historical challenge for the renewable solar photovoltaic industry has been lack of demand (happily, that is not an issue right now).  Not enough people have cared to put their money where their bumper stickers have been ~ not enough solar panels on not enough homes.

Is this because not enough people can afford it ?  Allow me to crunch some numbers for you.

A 3 kW solar photovoltaic system that is "grid tied" (i.e., you feed electricity directly into the grid) will cost about $14,000.  You can install it yourself if you are mechanically inclined, or you can hire an electrician to install it for you for an extra $1000.  Permitting that system is an extra $200.  Thus, the total system cost is about $15,200.

If you live in California, you will get a rebate from your local utility for about $7000.  In addition, if you are below the AMT threshold, you will get another tax rebate of $2000.  Thus, the total rebates and tax breaks are about $9000.

The net cost to you is $15,200 - $9,000 = $6,200.  With this "investment", you will generate about 365 x 12 ~ 4,000 kWhr/year.  At a nominal rate of $0.08/kWHr, this works out to a return of about $320/year on an investment of $ 6,200 ~ about 5%.  Not bad, eh ?

It gets better.  In the summer months, you will use electricity a lot if you have an airconditioner.  And electricity rates are tied to useage, so your normal summer rates are either $ 0.15/kWHr, or $0.21/kWhr... if you do not have that photovoltaic system.  If you factor that into your consideration, your yearly savings increases to about $600/yr ~ about 10%.  I do not know of very many investments that can guarantee that kind of return.

So what holds us back ?

Is it the capital requirement ?  Not everyone can afford to plonk down $6000, even if the return on that investment is good.  But there are plenty of financing available for such investments.  Till not too long back, people were refinancing their homes to buy cars with expensive DVD Navigation systems ~ so financing was definitely available.

And that brings me to the final point.

We are much more willing to plonk down $25,000 for a new car, and then throw in an extra $2000 for a DVD Navigation system than we are to fund the photovoltaic industry.  A cable TV substriction can cost $500/yr.  An IPhone with a $50/month pricetag ~ no problem.  A bluetooth headset that costs $30...must have that, cannot have cords dangling from my ear to my pocket.  

But a $6000 investment that can help save the world ? That bores people.  How about simpler measures like insulating behind the floorboards in your house ~ this takes an afternoon, and costs $20, but can save much more than that in 1 year alone.  

That is the hurdle we face !!

Update [2008-6-20 14:19:11 by SevenStrings]: MyDD must be having a VERY slow day. I just noticed this on the reclist, and so I checked. It is on the reclist with only 4 recs. Wow !! In any case, thank you guys (all 4 of you =)... I believe this is the first time I have made it to the rec list.

Tags: Energy, renewable (all tags)



Great diary

The thing with energy that's so tough is making the lifestyle changes.  Remember when people wouldn't turn down the chance to buy a spendy, enormous SUV simply because of the long-term consequences?  The culture's gotta change somehow and I'm not sure how to go about helping.  Conserving energy's not the only solution but we gotta learn how to change our lifestyles.

Problem is, that's a hard one to sell to the American people.  You can see it in the cynical energy ads all over the TV talking about "maintaining our way of life."  Which means driving whatever we want, wherever we want, and not having to pay for it.  I'm worried because I think the GOP hard sell on drilling (which is not the end of the world, imo) will convince people that more oil is the solution, not changing our consumption habits.

Great to see a thoughtful issues diary.  Rec'd.

by Koan 2008-06-20 09:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Great diary

Thank you !

What energy ads are you talking about ?  I am not being sarcastic..I just want to know (I do not watch TV)

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 09:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Great diary

Oh, a bunch of the six supermajors have these ads up about renewable energy and clean coal and all that shit.  They're masterpieces of greenwash propaganda.  They all say vague things about "finding the solutions we need to preserve our way of life" while showing montages of like farmers and baseball games and grandparents holding babies and bullshitting how committed they are to clean energy.

But the "our way of life" meme is aimed, I think, at convincing consumers that the way of life they're talking about is apple pie and the Boy Scouts, not NASCAR, Hummers, car culture, and gas that's cheap enough to let us spend money on widescreen TVs instead.

Ha!  A clean coal commercial was just on CNN while I was typing!  Breathtaking cynicism.

by Koan 2008-06-20 09:40AM | 0 recs
At least the hummer is dead!

Especially because those people got tax breaks because they had gas-guzzling vehicles.  Did you ever see the type of people that drive those things.  Total asshats.

by Tenafly Viper 2008-06-20 09:50AM | 0 recs
I saw a funny bumber sticker yesterday...

Draft the SUV drivers first !!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 10:00AM | 0 recs
err... in many places

a pickup truck is REQUIRED, the roads are so bad.

And trust me, you're glad you learned to drive there, if you ever start hydroplaning in a city! (steering with the wheels if you're no longer got traction takes a bit of skill, but you learn stuff like that while driving in Arkansas)

by RisingTide 2008-06-20 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: err... in many places

Oh no I agree with that completely.  If you live in an area where you're driving shitty roads, having a large vehicle with big tires is perfectly legit.  

Whenever I go camping in Death Valley I rent a large vehicle so I can get around on the back roads.  The one time that I rented something smaller it took me 2 hrs to get 20 miles. It was really uncomfortable.

I just think hummers are always unnecessary and ridiculously large, and much more so in a city.

by Tenafly Viper 2008-06-20 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Another thing to note is that with increased interest comes increased reasearch funding.  

Current photovoltaics are not nearly efficient enough and there is a great deal of room for improvment.  If they become popular, more money wil be dumped into making them cheaper and better.

by CAchemist 2008-06-20 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Spoken like a true chemist =)

The problem with current photovoltaics is not that they are not efficient enough, but that they cost too much.  At around 13% efficiency for Si, the efficiency is just fine ~ nuclear power plants operate with about 30% efficiency.

The cost is due, in large part, because it takes a lot of energy (high temperatures etc.) to make silicon from sand.

Thus, the solution is the use of earth abundant materials (like sand), or materials that do not require high temperature (like plastics, or organics).

But the efficiencies of those systems are very low (around 1%), and could use improving.

That is the segment of the industry that needs a lot of help !!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 09:49AM | 0 recs
Great diary

My concern isn't so much about homes because I think people are starting to make the transition, albeit slowly.  I have a friend who works in the solar energy industry and he is always telling me a lot of good news about businesses that are planning on making the transition (I know Ikea has already) for all their stores.  They're also are receiving more interest from the general public.

Living in San Francisco and riding a bike and a scooter everywhere, I think a lot about what I can do to help carbon emissions and control my energy use.  But I also live in an old rental building that just leaks heat and has bad wiring.  So I'm curious if you know anything about incentives for lessors to go solar?  I know this has been a challenge for communities that have been trying to influence the market.

by Tenafly Viper 2008-06-20 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Great diary

If you live in an old house or a building, and if you owned it (this does not apply in your case today, obviously...but it will someday), then the first thing to do is not solar.  

My suggestions:

(a) improved insulation
(b) attic fans
(c) whole house fans
(d) shade trees

and solar after that.

Most people underestimate the importance of insulation in their quality of life.  Insulation (including double paned windows, insulated ceilings, insulated floors, walls, AND insulating the cracks between the walls and the floor...behind the floorboards) makes a HUGE difference in comfort level, and saves a LOT of money (and energy).

And no, I know of no programs that incentivizes you to go solar.  In theory, you could get the rebate from your utility (if you have the meter in your name), and you can always get the tax rebate.  But you will have a problem at the permitting stage ~ the city will not give you a permit if you do not own the house !!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 09:54AM | 0 recs
You'd have to contact your landlord

the problem with any sort of changes a tenant might want to make is the issue of trust and competency. If you're the sole tenant, you can maybe make the plea that "I will use the contractors you select, and pay for this myself, if you will decrease my rent a little".

In PA, the person paying the electric bill gets the money back.

by RisingTide 2008-06-20 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

I've heard so many numbers thrown about on the cost of solar arrays it makes my head spin.  I've heard them as high as $80,000 for a set up similar to what you describe.  Can you cite where you got your numbers from?  Is this mounted on the ground or on a roof?  Any information you can provide would be appreciated.


by jimotto 2008-06-20 10:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

The cost of the solar system varies a lot...depending on how much marketing and markup you pay for.  The "cost" of the system I cited is only $12,000.

So, in my case, the markup and marketing is $2,000.

And you can get such a system from online vendors.  One example is www.MrSolar.Com

Start with this example which they list at $16000

And then call them and negotiate them down by $2000

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 10:13AM | 0 recs

I live in an apartment, but you can be damn sure that when I own my own home, it's going to have a complete energy-efficiency makeover and a solar system installed.

by BishopRook 2008-06-20 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Rec.

Good for you !!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 10:14AM | 0 recs
suggest living in a mud house

... it's built out of two food deep walls, and will save a lot on the AC!

by RisingTide 2008-06-20 11:16AM | 0 recs
Re: suggest living in a mud house

I think I'll probably just stick to a lot of insulation plus passive geothermal heating/cooling, if I'm in an area where it's possible.

by BishopRook 2008-06-20 11:30AM | 0 recs
your money, not mine

but they do stick together well, and they're cheap!

by RisingTide 2008-06-20 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: your money, not mine

I have lived in a mud house... I know they sound quaint and romantic, but they are not very comfortable !!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:18PM | 0 recs
they sound cool and cheap

... a dehumidifier might help with the comfortability. but hey, for a house that is half the price of someone else's, you got a lot of money to make it comfortable!

by RisingTide 2008-06-20 12:37PM | 0 recs
Re: they sound cool and cheap

Generally speaking, if you live in a mudhouse, it is because you cannot afford much else... including dehumidifiers.  Mud houses also tend to have thatched, or baked-clay roofs...with very poor insulation.  Dehumidiers would not work there anyways.

And also, generally speaking, if you live in a mudhouse, you also do not have electricity...

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Your diary got me thinking about this concept house that was just built a few blocks from where I live that has a few wind turbines on it's roof.  The house itself is rather hideously modern but it's still really interesting.

Apparently wind turbines have become a lot cheaper in CA recently:

"Now, California homeowners who install a Skystream, rated at 1.8 kW, are eligible for a rebate from the state of California for approximately $4,100. This makes the Skystream, which costs between $12,000 and $15,000 to purchase and install, even more affordable."

You can find a picture of the house on this website, if anyone is interested (It's called the sunset idea house and it's near the bottom of the page): he-modern-list/

by Tenafly Viper 2008-06-20 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy


I also know some people who have built a very comfortable house out of old (and unwanted) shipping containers.

Their house is featured on several TV shows/movies.  I will see if I can find a link...

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 10:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

And then there were 5 recs :) thanks for tackling one of those subjects that seem so hard--and actually aren't :)

by linfar 2008-06-20 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

5 recs...YAY.  I think I will go buy come champaign and celebrate =)

Seriously, thank you !

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 10:55AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

SevenStrings: Where did you get the stats about the solar photovoltaic systems? I want the numbers to convince my father to buy one. He's had solar water heating for over 30 years (thank you Jimmy Carter and your solar rebates!). I think it's time for him to go solar for the electricity too.

These small solar systems are definitely the way to go. They create cheap, clean, renewable, energy, but best of all, they free us from being dependent on the monopoly of energy suppliers and their nasty market manipulation. I also have to imagine that lots of little generators would be much better in case of a natural disaster or other disruption to the energy supply. Maybe we really don't need to build huge power plants anymore (especially in California where we have lots of sun, and we're incredibly energy efficient already).

by LakersFan 2008-06-20 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Look into online vendors, because online vendors tend to have lower markups and marketing costs... most of the price you pay at a retail store is markup and marketing.

One example is  They will ship from a distributor in Oxnard (you must be in LA =), and they are reliable (I used them).

If you can pool with other people, you will get a better deal =)

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 11:57AM | 0 recs
Taking your lead... you're a concern troll. :)

See, 'cause you're concerned about something, and writing a diary about it.

Seriously though, I'd tip and rec if I could, but I can't, so I won't.

Nice diary.

by PJ Jefferson 2008-06-20 11:21AM | 0 recs

Concern troll yourself =)

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 11:58AM | 0 recs
Can you expand on this:

A 3 kW solar photovoltaic system that is "grid tied" (i.e., you feed electricity directly into the grid)

How does this work, and what are the advantages?

by PJ Jefferson 2008-06-20 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Can you expand on this:

During the day, you produce more than you you feed the excess back into the grid.

The advantages are

(a) you dont need a battery to store the excess... and batteries and messy, and expensive

(b) the grid is very happy to have your surplus.  Electricity useage peaks durign the day, and if they can get some juice from you, then they have to keep fewer plants idling for peak useage

(c) the grid compensates you for the juice you put into it.

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:00PM | 0 recs
Very, very interesting. Thanks.

by PJ Jefferson 2008-06-20 12:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

We're thinking about solar when we have to re-roof in 3 or 4 years.  Right now the technology is 'good' but not 'great'. Always hoping that like VCRs, DVD players and computers that improvements are fast and furious and costs decrease so we can get a 'great' system on our home.  IN FL we should do well with it.

Also, wondering about wind power, I live on a river and there is always a breeze of some sort, just concerned about what you do with a windmill when a hurricane pops up.

by emsprater 2008-06-20 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Technology will improve, but not by that much.  The improvements will be in the organic panels.

I urge you to consider it for other reasons ~ you will feel mighty good about yourself, for one... and that is priceless =)

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Oh there's no doubt that solar will be a part of the package when we re-roof in 3 or 4 years, along with replaced more energy efficient windows and also replaced higher energy efficient air handlers / conditioning /heating (which we don't use that much, even here in FL, I just finally turned on my central ac on June 15th, two years ago we went all summer without, but we didn't have the dogs then).  We just have to wait until we have all the resources in a row to accomplish all this.

by emsprater 2008-06-20 01:09PM | 0 recs
OMG, an diary about ISSUES!!

And it's on the rec list! Kudos and thank you, excellent diary.

by sricki 2008-06-20 11:45AM | 0 recs
* A diary, not AN diary. Oops.

by sricki 2008-06-20 11:46AM | 0 recs

I saw your diary too... and normally I would be there, but I am avoiding all politics for now!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:13PM | 0 recs
Very understandable.

Sadly, I seem to be addicted. ;)

by sricki 2008-06-20 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Very understandable.

Well, you have been one of the most outstanding MyDDer ever, so you are allowed an addiction or two =)

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Excellent point. We have the way... but do we have the will (and the Benjamins)?

I rent a room in a house that has an ancient oil furnace. The cost to heat this place is redonkulous, (and it's maybe 5000 sq ft).

However, what I spend in rent and on heating bills I save in gas because I'm one of the lucky few who can walk to work (in the suburbs).

My landlord has a few options, none of them ideal.

a) Buy a newer furnace (but we'll still be at the mercy of the oil market)

b) Hook the house up to a natural gas line (expensive initial outlay and anyway natural gas prices are rising too, just not as fast as heating oil).

c) Corn furnace, cheap if you can buy corn in bulk. Though I'm loathe to burn food.

Meh, I'm loathe to burn anything, zero emissions dammit.

Which brings us to...

d) Solar heating. We get enough sun in the winter that I'd assume it is viable. Bonus points because in the summer it can heat our hot water tank. Unfortunately, it would still have to work in tandem with another heating system (probably still the furnace).

e) Geothermal heating. I have to do more research on this but it sounds really neat. Costs, however, appear to be all over the place, and I'd not like to find out what happens if refrigerant leaks into the soil... Oh and as I learned when I put in a fence in the back yard, we sit on a layer rocks. Pick a spot in the garden and you can't dig more than two feet before... clang. F*&% rocks!

Damn retreating glaciers... yeah you better run... er... crawl...

Anyway, last winter I just lowered the thermostat, bundled up with a couple of extra quilts and a space heater.

by CanuckinMA 2008-06-20 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

You might want to look into a heat pump.  A heat pump is a refigerator that works in reverse.

1 W of power into the system is used to move 2 W from point A to point B.  In a refrigerator, point A is inside the refrigerator (the point you want cooled) and point B is outside ...(where it gets a little warmer, but you dont care).

In the heat pump mode, point A is outside your house, and point B is inside your house.  Thus, 1W gives you 2 W of heating power.

Plus, some of the initial 1W that you put in also gets dissipated into your room.

Heat pumps have limits, however.  The biggest one is that they canonly sustain a small delta-T (temp difference between outside and inside)..may not work for you.

Geothermal is a VERY good option.  If you dig 5 ft below your house, the ground temp is very moderate all year long.  If you place pipes there, and vent air in and out of those pipes, you can use the ground temp to cool your house.  Unfortunately, this option requires some flexibility during new construction

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

well the costs vary, especially considering the types of panels.

A neat-o idea: have you seen those solar panels that are replicas of roof shingles?? Yeah you shingle your roof with baby solar panels; they aren't so bad looking, granted they do have a sheen to them, but its a really inventive idea. Consider if everyone in america had solar panel shingles?

[being that I live in the desert, and its sunny like %90 of the year with highs in the 100s, solar panels would work magic for me. they would run great.]

by alyssa chaos 2008-06-20 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

You really live in a desert?  That's so cool.  

I have a minor obsession with the desert at the moment, and have considered moving there.  But it would be doubly good to live there and have mini solar panels.  It would be deliciously warm all the time.

by Tenafly Viper 2008-06-20 12:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

deliciously warm minus the humidity, as opposed to other places in the South.

by alyssa chaos 2008-06-20 12:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

The cost of the panels do not vary that much.

The "production/distribution" costs is about $5/watt for the silicon panels themselves... this includes all the costs until you get to the distributor.

After that, you have costs at the retail level ~ and that is where they vary.

You can easily pay $100k for the system I cited.  But the inherent "cost" is only $12k.

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Good post, but it is easy to forget that to many people there is just no way to get their hands on $1000, let along $10,000. A lot of folks live paycheck to paycheck, never able to save to get ahead despite working multiple jobs. It is easy to see the benefits of investing in these items, but impossible to do so without capital.

by AuthorEditor 2008-06-20 12:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

I agree !

I was not pointing fingers at those who cannot afford it.  I was pointing fingers at those who can, but have other priorities...

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

5% return on an investment is actually pretty weak - it's not like a bank account or stocks where you can get the principal out if you want to.  The first thing to do is basically everything to reduce consumption - better insulation, twisty bulbs, programmable thermostat etc. - as their return on investment is better.  It looks like solar technology is still improving, so it will gradually make more economic sense.

by CA Pol Junkie 2008-06-20 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Great Stuff !!

Look up a company called "Nano Solar".  They have developed a method of producing solar panels that are much more efficient for a much lower price.

Their current target is $1 a watt by late this year or next year.

Read this article on how they just created the industry's largest solar production tool: a thin-film coater that has the capacity to produce up to 1 gigawatt of solar cells annually. anosolar-creates-largest-thin-film-tool- 1023.html

by wblynch 2008-06-20 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

I am aware of nanosolar.  

Their solution is CIGS... Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide.  These are not exactly earth abundant materials....

I really doubt if CIGS can solve our problems!!

by SevenStrings 2008-06-20 02:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Fostering a renewable source of energy

Whenever I go camping in Death Valley I rent a large vehicle so I can get around on the back roads,  The one time that I rented something smaller it took me 2 hrs to get 20 miles. It was really uncomfortable.

by yu26313171 2008-06-20 09:27PM | 0 recs


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