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Living in the Green Future

Popped into Costco today to pick up a couple of items, and what did I see?

Cheap Home Solar

Just in case you can't read that too well, it's a 60W solar panel setup, with inverter (allowing it to power 110V devices), junction box to hook the four panels together, cabling, and frame... for under $300.

Stacked like tires at Costco.

This is a beautiful example of why I talk about the banality of the future. Cheap solar power systems readily available to the unwashed masses was once something out of science fiction; today, it barely elicits a glance from shoppers stocking up on cases of pickles and TVs by the six-pack.

The future isn't here. The future was here awhile ago, ate all your donuts, and took off to get some beer.


This put a smile on my face. :)
It could help a lot of families in places that don't have electricity yet, for example the deep Africa and somewhere in northeastern Brazil.
It's relatively cheap, and unimaginably useful.

You know, I chuckled.

I have actually asked non-futurists why they don't find things like this amazing and the answer I get most often is: "If it wasn't for special interest, we would have had this years ago."

This has nothing to do with special interest. Think about it for a minute. How long do you think you can run a TV for with a single car battery?

These kinds of packages do not provide for the kind of needs we have. That is why they're not popular.

What we need is kits like these that can easily be scaled to 2kw.

What I want to see:

A $1,000 unit that could keep your refrigerator, a radio, and a cell-phone charger going during a blackout.

Just came from two days of the Building Energy conference, the largest renewable trade show in NE. Velux, the skylight and window people, had one of the booths in which they displayed their modular solar hot water system. That's right, Velux, which has been doing solar hot water for a decade in Europe, is rolling their product out in the USA. Certified Velux installers will work with them. This is a huge breakthrough in the industry.

It is also at least a decade behind Europe.

I'll be reporting more on what I learned at Building Energy at dailykos over the next week or so.

Gary's point about these cheap packages not meeting our needs is right. Maybe we need to change our needs. If you have wifi and a netbook hooked up to one of these kits you are good to go. The least hungry laptops consume less than 10 watts. Typical laptops are still under 60 watts. Who needs a TV?

Good news! I wonder if Costco will start carrying mini wind turbines soon?

While it sounds like these units are well priced for their market – emergency power and/or small applications such as RVs and cabins – it still seems a bit of a stretch to call it cheap. For an average 2kW house, that adds up to $10,000K. But given that installation is typically about 50% of the cost for residential systems, that actually still compares fairly well to the standard $7/W - $8/W installed for PV (depending upon location). It makes you wonder, how would a homeowner go about applying for their Federal/State tax credits under this scenario?

The world already has a Solar powered sealed gas system refrigerator that needs nothing more than sun to power it, but Yankee Doodle insists on double door ice makers - that, it is not! As in many Solar, Wind, Wave, Tidal, hydro, and geothermal applications, we are not ready to adapt, give a little, to get a lot. We are hurting in giving up our V-8 living-rooms on wheels, going ungracefully down to gas/battery/plug-ins, then even diesel/battery/plug-ins, but technologies are coming up to our standards, as we go broke trying to maintain a lifestyle, unsustainable, and only meant for royalty in the near past. Now-a-days, a TV designed for economical low power consumption is not something we seek in the market-place, and we don't find it there either! After the "End of the cheap oil era" crunch, we may change and find even this new solar power source a useful addition to our home power system. The waste is going to stop, prices on energy are rising, we will pay much more, it is a statistical and marketplace fact! When it happens, small wind turbines, solar panels , ground heat storage, and a multitude of wiser, energy efficient ideas will be adapted. Time will tell, the great republican depression will enforce, and the "American Dream" will be shaped and re-shaped as we get into the 21st Century and the new computer backed technologies. Remember, China has more post graduates students with IQ's of 130+ than the U.S.A. has high school students, drop-outs included, and they may pave the way to a better, less wasteful, more enjoyable life for all humanity, through massive technical and scientific knowledge, unaccessible to us, due to lack of proper education. The world will not end, it will improve, but on their terms this time, not ours!

My guess is the amount of energy used to manufacture, store and transport the system is greater than the amount of energy it will ever produce.

I'll have stock up for zombies.

What some people are forgetting is that the point of this device is not for everyone to have it but to create a "market". Once there is a viable market for personal solar panels it will go the way of computer processing. The apple 2 was great but if everyone only had an apple 2 and we never innovated where would we be? The same can be applied to solar panels, yea these aren't going to provide near enough power for everyone, but the people who do early adopt will provide the necessary capital and pressure for further innovation. 5 years from now maybe you will be able to get a personal high efficient nanosolar paneling for your whole house that generates significantly more power.

What a ripoff.. sorry, but it is. I could build this for you within a day for less than $100!!

So green!

@Spaceface: How much would you charge for your time and travel? If you are willing to travel to someone's home and spend a day putting this together for less than $200, then you could justify saying you could "do this for cheaper". I don't think ripoff is accurate.
Assume 30 mile commute each way - roughly $50 there and back. At $0.85 per mile in travel reimbursement, that is right about $50. Cost is now $150. That means that in order to complete the task within the 8 hour day you suggest, you would need to charge less than $18.75 per hour for your time, gross. What about insurance? What about a warranty? What about contingency in case you take longer than expected to complete the job?

Why is it that most people obsessed with "going green" are completely ignorant of the obvious. I did some quick calculations using optimal conditions and with a couple rough estimations. First, the total daylight hours for the year is 4,518h, with an average of 14.21 cents per kWh (avg for CA for Aug-09 from Dept. of energy) also assuming peak output though all daylight hours, all year, and no output for nighttime hours (and I know from personal experience with dealing with solar panels if its cloudy or raining it doesn't get full output and there is virtually no output at night even with a full moon, not to mention a degradation with time). So based on that information it would take an estimated 7.788 years to pay back this investment. (Again this is being VERY generous)

A nice toy for camping. It may be useful as a starter to get people familiar with solar. You'd need dozens of these to run a household and could never run an AC. Solar is only useful for putting bits of power back into the national grid to reduce total usage, 50 100w panels, a huge battery bank and huge inverter is what it take to power a house.

I want to see a $1000.00 unit that can operate my fridge, my tv, my dvr and a couple of lights. Then yo'd have something that would fly off the shelves.

Toy? Ripoff? Ask someone who's experienced a long term outage what it would be worth to power a cell phone, laptop, radio, or a few CFLs. If a hurricane left you with zero electricity for weeks one of these would be golden.

Spaceface, That is truly awesome and I sincerely applaud your post. Now, how about posting the plans on your website so everyone can build their own solar panels and let's get this show on the road so cheap sources of power are available to everyone.

Meanwhile, Will T has it right, this is just the beginning, there will be more and more innovations from inventors and visionaries who see opportunities to create a renewable energy paradigm that levels the playing field. Keep the faith, good times are ahead.

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