Rate Crimes: Impeding the Solar Tipping Point

The following guest essay was written by Paul Symanski. Paul is an electrical engineer with expertise in solar energy, and shares his views on why solar power often faces unnecessary headwinds.


To anyone who has ever spent a day in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, it is obvious. The sunniest state in the nation is blessed, cursed, with a fierce sun. Yet, as one explores the landscape, artifacts of the capture of solar energy are conspicuously absent. This dearth is true for solar electric, domestic hot water, passive solar design, and even for urban design. It is as if the metropolis stands in obstinate defiance against the surrounding desert and its greatest gift.

Yet, the incessant sun is a constant agitator. Even visitors happily distracted by the Valley’s many amenities will remark while lounging by the pool, drinking in the clubhouse, or enjoying a repast on a misted patio, “Why doesn’t Arizona use more solar energy?”

Solar Tipping Point

One answer to this persistent question can be found once one comprehends that Arizona is where it first occurred: where solar energy first became economical.

Around the turn of the millennium, four decades after its destiny was foretold, an investment in electricity generated by an on-site photovoltaic system became a better investment than traditional investment vehicles. Finally, solar energy had become economically transcendent. Because of its abundant solar resource, solar energy’s transcendence occurred in the center of the desert Southwest, in sunny Arizona. It may not be mere chance that this tipping point coincided with the world’s peak production of petroleum.

The concept of “grid parity” has been promulgated by an energy regime that sees the world through grid-centric eyes. A more accurate and revealing comparison is investment parity. This approach more completely – and perhaps more directly – accounts for the myriad hidden costs embedded in the economics of the world’s energy system. Both the recent economic troubles and the fact that the solar tipping point occurred during an historical low for electricity prices in Arizona reinforce the validity of economic ascendancy of solar energy.

Implicit in the concept of grid parity is an ultimate arrival where both sides rest in balance upon the fulcrum. This subtle point of terminology further invalidates the utility of the concept of “grid parity”. The balance will likely be a brief moment of hushed breath . . . before the tipping continues in favor of solar energy.

The concept of grid parity also establishes a false dichotomy that reveals the term to be an indirection. Solar energy should be one of a multitude of energy sources to be impartially and intelligently incorporated into a flexible network of energy sharing. The concept of grid parity is a creation of a hierarchical system of centralized generation and distribution. Like the system that created it, the term ‘grid parity’ should be recognized for what it is.

The concept of a tipping point is a more appropriate metaphor. It is this tipping point that those favored by the status quo vigorously resist.

Delay Tactics

It is crucial that energy costs be accurately accounted in order to establish valid policies. Yet, in any forum where energy is discussed (present company excepted), retail energy costs are typically presented as an average, or as a range of values. Even in conversations amongst economists, engineers, scientists, business leaders, policy makers, and others who help guide our energy future, superficial valuations proliferate. Blunt statements of cost nearly always exclude associated economic, competing, and externalized costs. More dangerously, such simplification disguises a complex and telling reality.

The key observation – and the linchpin of the Rate Crimes exposé – is that the avoided cost value of solar electricity and other energy management strategies has long been dramatically lower than the retail cost of electricity under particular rate plans.

The graph below plots the avoided cost value of on-site solar electricity against retail energy costs under the Arizona Public Service E-32 commercial rate schedule for the summer season. The ranges of kilowatt demand and kilowatt-hour consumption reflect those of small businesses.

The avoided cost value of solar electricity is half that of the retail cost of electricity for a great portion primarily because of the uncontrollable billing demand, and a precipitous declining block rate structure compounded by the uncontrollable billing demand being used as a multiplier for the extents of the expensive initial block.

Of the hundred largest electric utilities (by customers served), fourteen are located in the sunny Southwest (excluding the unregulated utilities in Texas).

Of these fourteen, three have commercial rate plans with structures that most defeat the value of solar energy and energy conservation measures. These utilities are: Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project, and Tucson Electric Power. All are Arizona utilities.


The Arizona rate schedules provide an enormous subsidy and encourage prodigal consumption by discounting energy to the largest energy consumers. This was historically a common situation in other places as well. However, Arizona is special due to its extraordinary solar resources.

The pricing system redirects costs from any apparent savings in the residential and industrial sectors into the small commercial sector. Small commercial ratepayers have less capital, have fewer person-hours to commit to unusual projects, have less-diverse expertise, and are often constrained from making modifications to their premises. The redirection of costs into this captive market creates a hidden tax through the higher costs of goods and services, and through the subsequently higher sales tax charges.

Furthermore, while more fortunate homeowners can avoid energy costs by investing in subsidized solar energy, renters remain a captive market.

As you may surmise, nearly the entire Arizona economic and political system is complicit. Beyond Arizona’s borders, the state’s electricity generation from coal and nuclear sources remains the West’s dirty little secret. Environmentally conscientious Californians can nod appreciatively at their Tehachapi and San Gorgonio Pass wind farms; while behind the turbines, on the eastern horizon, the cooling towers and smokestacks of Arizona keep bright their nights.

All Arizonans need to be able to gain full value for investments in energy conservation and in solar energy. Until Arizona’s repressive rate schedules are reformed, energy efficiency measures and solar energy in the nation’s sunniest state will have diminished value. This diminishment of the value of solar energy affects all of us by delaying a cleaner energy future.


Paul Symanski is an electrical engineer, designer, human factors specialist, marketer, machinist, graphic artist, musician, LEED AP, and economist born of necessity. He is experienced with renewable energy, including expertise in solar energy both in practical application and in the laboratory. He is also a competitive masters-level bicyclist. ratecrimes [at] gmail [dot] com


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Interesting stuff. A few questions if I may?

an investment in electricity generated by an on-site photovoltaic system became a better investment than traditional investment vehicles.

To what extent does this account for the variable cost of manufacturing the PV system? Is there not a risk that the raw material input costs are sufficiently sensitive that rising oil, gas and coal prices inadvertantly increase the cost of PV manufacture?

Whilst I support your central thesis of decentralised power generation, where do you stand on the prospect of building large solar power plants, such as those seen in Southern Spain and being tested in Northern Africa? These systems suggest substantial economies of scale, and (in the case of mirrored systems run by Abengoa) rely less on scarce commodities that go into PV cells. Surely these could be economical in Arizona too? They would, however, probably need the cooperation of the big power companies, which means more rate setting?


At least with silicon thinfilm PV manufacturing plants such as delivered by Oerlikon, the major costs (which influence the costs of the PV module) are definitely the capital costs of the factory and the raw material input costs are not only relatively low but are also relatively stable (e.g. window glass).

The silicon layer is made with silane (produced in abundance for the construction industry) and has a thickness of only 0.002mm.

If the requirements are a clean room facility and bunny suits as shown, we will never get there.

At some point the manufacturing has to transform into self-enclosed units. Are yields that critical in comparison to computing device manufactring?

Perhaps the image is just marketing.

This is of course not the same cleanroom level as required in the semiconductor business with 65nm (=0.0000065mm) highly complex circuits and where a tiny error produces a non-working chip.

Besides, the entire production is highly automated (no need for 'dirty' people to roam around the manufacturing equipment without a glass-wall separating them). (If you click on 'experience the future of solar power': http://oerlikon.com/solar/ you can see a video showing some of the production process.)

A 160 MW factory costs less than $0.3 billion:

The AIG bailout cost $180 billion: Enough to finance solar module factories capable to generate 960 GW in only 10 years.


You make excellent points. However,

Besides, the entire production is highly automated (no need for 'dirty' people to roam around the manufacturing equipment without a glass-wall separating them).

Production in many companies - especially in startups - is not as automated as one might imagine. I am thinking of the production facilities I have visited in China. Much of the work performed there is very 'hands on'.

Production in many companies - especially in startups - is not as automated as one might imagine.

That has nothing to do with what I posted.

Oerlikon sells turnkey highly automated thinfilm photovoltaic manufacturing lines.
Oerlikon doesn't sell 'hands on' photovoltaic manufacturing lines.
Oerlikon has been producing thinfilm equipment for decades and is not a start-up.

Besides Oerlikon already has already been selling its PV manufacturing lines to China:
Apparently some Chinese companies can deal with highly automated equipment.

My intention was to clarify your statement that could be read as applying generally.

Of course, many Chinese companies have excellent designs, very modern production lines, and talented people who produce exceptional products. I was referring to the inevitable situation that I witnessed during the previous cycle of rapid growth in the Chinese photovoltaic market.


please also keep in mind (if China was indeed a no go): Since this particular PV manufacturing line is highly automated, it can also be competitive in countries/regions where labor is more expensive than in China such as the EU or the US. (Besides Oerlikon is a Swiss company, I'm not even sure why China came up at all).


To what extent does this account for the variable cost of manufacturing the PV system? Is there not a risk that the raw material input costs are sufficiently sensitive that rising oil, gas and coal prices inadvertantly increase the cost of PV manufacture?

Absolutely. Good point. However, manufacturing costs have been in general decline despite periodic material shortages. In part, this is due to increased global competition. Though, the recent credit crisis has resulted in another fallout.

It's a very dynamic market. While cost per watt is important, it does not account for the quality of product, or the quality of the system design and installation. Not only is there a shortage of quality modules, but there is also a shortage of qualified, experienced people.


where do you stand on the prospect of building large solar power plants, such as those seen in Southern Spain and being tested in Northern Africa?

Nothing should be excluded. I applaud a system of any scale where it is appropriate. The large systems may well lower costs in every sector and catalyze the rapid adoption of more distributed solutions. I see this as a risk of sunk costs for larger systems that could lose their market share in some regions.

I see great advantages in distributed solutions. Not the least of which is the potential impact on social structure. More general and immediate awareness of the real costs of energy might result in a more equitable society.

Thanks Robert and Paul;

You know, I was cognizant of this angle a few years ago, and then I forgot it again, that of showing how the rate of return for Solar was better than many financial products. I think it's a story that should be trumpeted again and again.

I read one version of it in Homepower Magazine a couple years back.. a guy who worked from home as a consultant talks about his experience and the return from it..

"Phase II would add enough PV to close the production– consumption gap, and also produce enough surplus electricity to sell back to the grid at a premium. The time was right: My company had the capital to invest, and the tax credits were too good to pass up. For Phase II, the internal rate of return is 23.8 percent (as a business proposition) or 4.2 percent (as a personal investment).

"The return on the new system would be significantly better than the return on the first, because newer inverters are more efficient both from an engineering (higher conversion efficiency) and economic (lower cost per watt) standpoint. Plus, other system costs have generally declined, power
rates have increased, and—most importantly—the federal subsidies have improved. The net result? A rate of return any investor can love. ...


There's a funny mentality I get into around renewables, which for a cheerleader of Solar like me is beyond counter-intuitive.. I somehow learned to apply extreme doubt to the obvious fact that this stuff actually works, and it keeps me from pushing forward with the next steps or extensions of projects that have even already proven themselves to be great successes. Even when a new project is done and up there working, I check and recheck, somehow thoroughly amazed that it works.

I think part of it has been about the cultural norms around me.. it's like quitting drinking soda.. noone really goaded me to keep drinking it if I wanted to be cool or anything, but I was keenly aware that I was somehow stepping away from the pack.. Even as much of an outsider-oddball as I always have been, that was challenging for me. Of course, maybe that's addiction talking, too.

Phoenix really blows me away, though. All those rooftops, baking in the Sun.. I keep thinking that if PV becomes a Status symbol (or even if it doesn't).. a homeowner could just make a bank of 'FAKE PV's' to get that roof into the shade. It would HAVE to make a difference in the AC load, right? (And how cool is the ground 5 feet below each of those houses? Between the two, I have to figure you'd be almost set..)


(Perhaps this article doesn't really capture the intent of your post, since a good bit of his return is dependent upon the incentives and rebates.. but he also estimated the equipment lifespan quite conservatively to calculate his returns, so I suspect it washes out..)


I think part of it has been about the cultural norms around me.. it's like quitting drinking soda.. noone really goaded me to keep drinking it if I wanted to be cool or anything, but I was keenly aware that I was somehow stepping away from the pack..

Happy to have you in our satellite 'herd'.

All factors in my analysis were conservative, with the exception of price per watt in the Home Power story. A price of $6.50 (2004 dollars) per watt installed was chosen to emphasize a possible price tipping point. At the time, that price was at the low end in AZ for smaller systems. When artificial incentives are available the price of the commodity tends to rise. This happened with photovoltaics. The solar companies were very happy to get a little extra profit above their usual thin margins while still delivering value to their customers.

Shading from photovoltaics does indeed have a positive benefit. However, it is minimal for residences. Homes have a low ratio of roof area relative to heat absorbing vertical wall and environmental surround.

The mnemonic image for the Rate Crimes blog post Conway's Law of Big Energy says it all for Arizona's approach to energy.

Thanks for this. I have long wondered why there is not more solar in AZ, where I used to visit regularly because my parents-in-law lived. I'm so glad they got out of there.


I hope the timing of their departure worked out for them and that they're happy in their new community.

Their new community is my sister- and bro-in-law, with whom they now share houses.

I'm not sure happy is the best description for their current state, but that is a much longer story.

If small rate payers are subsidizing large ones, then the playing field is tilted so that small rate payers have more incentive to switch to alternatives. You are correct that there is more friction at the small level, but shouldn't small projects be popping up anyway? With A/C demand and solar influx occurring simultaneously in Arizona, the stars are aligned.

Real alternatives will gain market share in spite of adverse regulations. The financial incentives will override any other concern. If solar were real, it would be gaining market share. Maybe not in Arizona, but in the Arabian peninsula, or around the Sahara, or near the Atacama. You can't blame regulations in all these regions. Maybe not in large applications, but in individual houses. If the alternative requires subsidy, like solar in Germany, then it is not a real alternative, but a leach.

Don't blame the regulations, blame the inadequate financial rewards. Quit yapping for government relief and go to the laboratory and make solar less expensive. Or wake up and smell the coffee. There are no significantly viable alternatives and we are headed for a significant economic and energetic fall.

Blowing smoke and spinning mirrors distracts the masses from reality and is a bad thing.

Cold Camel

'shouldn't small projects be popping up anyway?''

But nobody has cash now..

"..then it is not a real alternative, but a leach."

You subsidize what will benefit the society longer-term, but is hard to finance in the immediate term. Solar Works long term and is stable and reliable, and actually returns its value in watts harvested. Our subsidies for the dead ends are the 'Leaches'. What are we getting from Iraq again?

What are we getting from Iraq again?

Point taken, but an even better example would have been "Cash for Clunkers" and other such GM bailouts.

Cash for Clunkers is now what, $3 Billion Dollars, and is at least an attempt to improve the fleet.

Respectfully, I still think the war is actually the perfect example.

Not sure I even want to know how many days it takes to spend $3Billion over there. Maybe it's more than the one week C4C bonanza, but at least with that, the leaner cars will be saving (some) fuel for years to come.. gotta keep these things in perspective.


Who are you to take money out of my pocket to spend on your pet project? What if someone else wanted to put up stone idols to appease the Gods, should we let them? If you've squandered all your money, too bad. Clearly you shouldn't have access to my pocket as well, you either have bad luck or poor judgment. You may think solar is ready for prime time, I disagree.

Iraq is irrelevant to the present discussion.

Cold Camel

If those Stone Idols could heat my house and keep me from sending a Check overseas every month, then sure. That's a benefit for the country as a whole, not just for individuals.

As far as judgement is concerned, the reason a great many people are now refreshing their resume's and cold-calling Pizza Joints for the late shift largely has little to do with their own personal life choices. As a society we're in the crapper here, and we'll have to join forces to get out of it.


So which Stone Idols do we build, yours or the other guy's? The benefits seem elusive. Bush said we needed to invade Iraq. Obama said we needed to stay. They were both wrong, but they were in power, so we did. Did that make us better off?

Your argument is theoretical. Power is evil. Your attitude leads to the next Iraq. I don't doubt your intentions, but the road to hell is paved.

Society IS in a crapper, some of us saw it coming and took evasive action. Are you going to be like a Katrina victim and demand a share of my stuff? Buck up, and get on with your own prep.

Hey, I've got nothing against the poor and starving of the world, but I can barely try to take care of my own problems. Toss me in the same boat with them and take all my stuff to share evenly (minus a big cut to the middle man) and I'll be starving too. Only the middle man profits. Leave me with my stuff and I'll do my best to look out for my neighbors. You should do the same. Don't lump me in with everyone. We're verging on die-off here. I don't want to be partly dead.

Cold Camel

Are you paying attention to the 'idols' (which I will stop calling them now)?

Solar Thermal has the fastest energetic and financial payback AFAIK. (Varies depending on a range of setups, from a TinFoil Solar Cooker in your backyard to a big Desert CSP setup.) These have been tested and proven. This isn't vaporware. We need to get them going, and the funds going to Iraq should have been going to these.. I'm not distinguishing between Administrations here.. that war that we're somewhat stuck in is a waste of precious resources, including blood and international goodwill.

Buck up yourself. I am getting on with my own prep, and mention my efforts here regularly.. and still, a part of that is advocating for policies that will help my community, state, nation and all of us. Selfish Preparations, having a stocked bunker or a loaded rooftop is only a tiny sliver of the work we need to do. We need clean power sources. Keep typing into your computer how evil that is, and how much you've already 'Taken Evasive Action'.. you're lumped in with us, no matter how you slice it.

"Your argument is theoretical. Power is evil. Your attitude leads to the next Iraq."

Finish at least one thought here. Explain 'How' for ANY of the above.. This is gobbledygook.


It is hard to understand the subsidy background when one does not interface with it. Within the subsidy environement, those who are not subsidized do not exist.

It's really hard (Impossible?) for individuals to 'input' into complex systmes when one of the intended outcomes of the system design is to remove/reject all inputs save the center.

Prejudicial electric rates are not limited to the Southwest; most utilities favor their suppliers and wholesale customers, even wholesalers outside the primary service area for providers.

During the California blackouts, Enron was selling California's electricity to somebody outside of California .

In order to deal with a rigged environment, some sort of regulatory structure is required, the only 'individual act' to 'bootstrap' the situation would be to move or go 'off the grid'.

Stifling competition through subsidy/price/monopoly is not new and the result is always the same.

The solution is also always the same; eliminate subsidies and break up the monopolies.

One of the problems that is hamstringing US policy action is the politisation and balkanization of approaches. There is the nuclear advocates, the wind advocates, the 'clean (barf) coal advocates, the 'Drill Baby Drill' advocates and cetera. All want enormous slices of a diminishing pie and are wading in with daggers drawn. A consequence is the advocates cancel each other out; business as usual and one more step closer to the brink. I personally fault the 'fantasy' leadership approach currently emitting from Washington. The 'laissez Faire' ideology dies hard. Without leadership and a strong mission- sense of priorities the solar project and a lot of other initiatives will fall by the wayside ...

... to be followed in turn by business as usual.

If individuals feel that they can somehow be able to outrun onrushing economic/energy collapse, they are fooling themselves. Only a concerted action by a critical mass can stymie the onrushing force. Sorry, there is no 'going it alone'.

You had me with you until your second to the last sentence. If that critical mass takes me, and I won't participate, then you will fail. I don't feel that I can outrun collapse, I just think I can outrun death.

Doesn't anybody have a self-preservation gene left in them? It's gonna get mighty lonely.

Cold Camel



Your pov is perfectly obvious to every body by now-really once or twice a week posting it would most likeky be often enough t be sure anyone new to the site,on vacation for a few days,etc,gets to read it.;-)

Some of us-most of us believe there is hope in concerted action.

And most of us who have a strong doomer streak post mostly about our preperations rather than our fears.

Sorry,but your record is scratched (you younger folks can look up records in "music")and we only hear one line of your song,over and over.

steve from Virginia,

I agree with your summation.

You said,

Prejudicial electric rates are not limited to the Southwest; most utilities favor their suppliers and wholesale customers, even wholesalers outside the primary service area for providers.

True, but the point I make in Sun Belt Rate Plan Survey is that only in the sunniest state have the rate plans so long been designed to defeat the value of solar energy and energy conservation measures.

I also make the point in Shell Game that this system creates hidden taxes. This favortism results in multiple subsidies; many of them hidden.

The free market is an illusion. Especially, when it comes to energy.

First, Solar Thermal (ST) is old technology. I've driven by the big 1980's plant near Mojave several times. Most times the mirrors were not tracking the sun. Implying that we should do a build out when the pilot plants didn't pencil is financial suicide. If the best alternative we have isn't good enough, we should continue to fund research but otherwise hunker down.

Second, if ST is real, it would have made much more sense to set it in place 20 years before the peak. A growing economy can afford to transition. But it didn't happen. Now decline has set in. If we transition, it will cause decline to hit the rest of the economy worse. Sure we should, but political reality says we won't. Wishing won't change anything. Some people think that if things get bad enough, then we'll have to do something. If that were the case, why don't the starving in anywhere solve their problem? Reality bites.

Third, if ST were real and the government think groups had created them, then that technology should be available, and T. Boone would be all over it. The government gave us Iraq, not Spindletop.

Fourth, if you have any understanding of political reality, you must understand that the power you propose using will be corrupted and wasted. Obamabush Nation gave us Iraq. Why in heaven’s name would you expect something good from them after that? Power is evil.

Bob, the fundamental problem is that the marginal consumer can't afford ST. Investors can't afford to build ST at a price the marginal consumer can afford. Volume doesn't fix the problem. Better technology does fix the problem, but until it exists, I suggest we hunker down and spend on tech. Capish?

Selfish prep is all we can do. I’ll feed my neighbors, you should too. Remember, this same government said that sometimes 'you have to destroy a village to save it' in Vietnam. Stay away from my village with your government fixes.

I am not lumped in with you. You want me to think that, but I don't. You are not my neighbor. If the world were to fall apart, I would share my last grain with my neighbors. But I won't share with you. Nothing personal.

Remember, every dime you spend is ripped away from some other project, equally beloved by other beneficiaries. What makes you smarter than Obamabush? Be humble.

This isn’t productive. You’re not gaining from me. Sorry to waste your time.

Cold Camel

No Sweat. You're not wasting my time.

We have some different conclusions, and sometimes I try to dig under the surface a bit to see where it comes from, but I appreciate that you aren't being mean about it, and I hope I'm not either.

These are 'worldview' topics, and are really tough to relate via text.. very easy to send or recv a mixed signal.

The Solar Thermal I've got up and running on my house so far is almost all from roadside junk and discarded glass and constr. dumpsters, etc. It works well, and I'm eager to keep sharing the plans for it so my neighbors can EITHER build these affordable alternates, buy one or two from me, OR are in the position to get a 'real' system with the State and Fed'l assistance. There are now more and more solar thermal and electric setups on the rooftops around here.. some are subsidized, some not.. but they add to the resilience of the whole neighborhood. Good investments.


This post makes perfect sense. I'm interested in investing my time, energy or money to learn what you know. This is the Jokuhl I appreciate and I agree completely.

I just worry that your 'program' will be hijacked and visionaries like you would find yourself marginalized when the government comes in. Better would be you going door to door, with a real product that really works in your climate. Grassroots is where it's at. Get that critical mass in your neighborhood and maybe it will snowball. 'Nuff said.

Now let's switch perspectives entirely. I'd like to discuss Solar Thermal as a colleague. I know less than you, but I've looked into it. I've considered starting a Solar Thermal installation business, but the online mix isn't what I think I could sell. It's turned me off.

I would want to sell my customers a system that would be useful in an energy descent. If they had hot water when others around them did not, I'd feel like I was helping. So the system needs to be simple and not require a grid hookup. Efficiency doesn't matter, but price does. I'd rather sell a large inefficient but robust system than something that depended upon fragile vacuum tubes. If it requires anodes or antifreeze, I'll give them a ten year supply when I install it.

In my mind, the reason Solar Thermal hasn't taken off is because the 'real' systems have tended to fail catastrophically. When an expensive component fails, the whole system becomes worthless. If the most expensive component costs $50 to replace, then the owner is much more likely to keep it.

I'm not dedicated enough to design the system from scratch, but if you are, I'm on your team.

Cold Camel

Thanks for the encouraging words. Without belaboring the 'subsidy programs' much more, my reps in the Maine Legislature have been working to extend a program of the governor's to insulate all Maine's housing stock by 2020, I believe. There ARE some good programs out there.. but also more than plenty for us to do directly as well. I think it was Aristotle that said.. 'To catch a fish, you might have to put hooks into many different ponds.'

What I've built so far (In solar AIR Heating, in this case) is based on these plans by a fellow Mainer, Bill Kreamer. It's simply a Glass-covered box with dark felt or similar fabric inside, instead of a flat plate of wood or metal. Air from the house blows Through (instead of across) this material, transferring a great portion of it's heat into that air, which then goes back into the house. On mine, the fan and the controller are powered by a very small PV panel, so it is totally independent, blowing 120 degree air into the house when it's 5 deg. outside. Kreamer's description is more thorough.. but ultimately, while it has some subtleties, it is a VERY simple device.

Personally, I think part of Solar Heat and Electric's failure to grab in the market is that it doesn't look exciting or interesting when it's doing its magic. It just sits there.. and sits there..

Anyway, look through that Build It Solar site, there are a TON of designs, and the folks who have submitted them generally would be overjoyed to see that people are putting more of them up there, making new businesses in Renewable Energy etc.. You'll see many water-heating ideas, from which to mix and match, or do some tests to find a pattern that you want to lock in and start building in numbers, to offer to the world..

Here's one from Mother Earth News that I've gone back to a few times, and hope to build a test of someday. A concentrator that doesn't need to track the sun.
..and some other DIY links at Mother Earth News,

I'm more than happy to brainstorm or give you a sense of whether a design you're looking at seems workable, etc.. I do a lot of Tinkering and have a good sense for many mechanical and basic electrical systems. My email is available through my tag there..

Bob Fiske
Portland, Maine

Again, not to belabor the subsidy issue, but I put in an efficient furnace, windows, thermostats, and woodstove over the past two years. My neighbor in a near identical house has been waiting so he will qualify for up to $10K in state funds. He spends $2-3K more a year on energy. The stimulus is designed as an economic boost, disguised as efficiency. If it were for efficiency, I would qualify, which would cause my neighbor to quit waiting and install his system, knowing he'd eventually qualify also, but I don't. The devil is in the details.

Heck, until I wrote this, I was a bit irritated at the subsidy program, but when I wrote those numbers I suddenly realized subsidy or no subsidy, I made the right decision. My neighbor is almost peak aware, but he's trying to milk the system. He had a audit completed that told him to replace his furnace, replace his windows, insulate his hot water pipes, and spray foam behind his outer wall outlets. He has insulated his pipes and sprayed his foam and is still waiting for his state payment for the audit.

This is Alaska, so we are a bit loopy. I hope everyone else has better luck.

Thanks for the links, I'm downloading. If you're up for it, you should put together an article. What you take as obvious is subtle to the rest of us.

Cold Camel

Written by Cold Camel:
If the world were to fall apart, I would share my last grain with my neighbors.

If you can not bear to watch your neighbors starve, then their irresponsible behavior will drag you down with them. Your survival may depend on choosing the neighbors who give you the best chance of survival and shunning the ones who create an unsustainable burden.

Exactly correct. I'm more worried about ME being irresponsible. I'm a tough-hearted nut but they are tougher than me. When things get tough, I've gotta bring something to the table.

The tremendous advantage of being peak aware is that I have a huge advantage over my neighbors as far as bringing something to the table. They've got the dirt under the nails, the savvy, and the sense of us versus them. I'll show up with a bag of rice and seed corn. Ain't nobody in the neighborhood going to have more rice, and I'll hold my own in seeds. That sort of thing.

They are putty in my hands if things get bad. But the opposite is also true. If they weren't the right people, all my prep would be for naught.

I've preached that now is the time to find your piece of earth. When things get bad, that door will shut and you'll be stuck where you are. The most vocal who think we need to stick together live with unsustainable neighbors, that's why they preach so hard. If you live in a good neighborhood, preps are a no-brainer.

Cold Camel

Cold Camel,

Bob, the fundamental problem is that the marginal consumer can't afford ST. Investors can't afford to build ST at a price the marginal consumer can afford.

We are learning that we certainly cannot afford the costs of coal when its hidden costs are accounted. Investors would not make the enormous investments in nuclear energy if the American taxpayer were not carrying the liabilities through the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act.

Even when the subsidies to traditional fuels are omitted, solar energy is a better investment in sunny places like Arizona. However, this investment analysis ignores the value of the existent grid. This existing grid is an artifact of the centralized generation system. So, admittedly, the solar investment is also subsidized indirectly through the traditional fuel subsidies. What a tangled web we weave.

Be that as it may, analysis does show that solar has achieved its tipping point. This situation puts at risk the investments we have made in centralized generation. For a while, it may have been reasonable to protect these investments, even by artificial means. My concern is that these artifical means, like increasingly complex systems of subsidies, will likely fail to bring us to a sustainable solution.

If those Stone Idols could heat my house

You could hollow them out, they probably have a good bit of thermal inertia. Plus you'd have one of the coolest (aesthetically) houses in Maine :-)

I understand that subsidy is a very dirty word but what is the use of too cheap water for cooling of a nuclear plant anything else then subsidy? Apparently the groundwater required for cooling is already over-drafted. If the price for water would be adjusted to a level to cease the overdraft what would be the cost of nuclear energy?

Is it wise in case of overdraft of the groundwater to ad more consumers?

About the costs for CSP


Janos73, you said,

Is it wise in case of overdraft of the groundwater to ad more consumers?

I would love to hear the argument in favor of overdraft. The illusion of cheap energy has lured many thirsty people to Arizona. A bill is coming due. The very temporary and unsustainable 'solution' being proposed by the utilities is more of the same.

Cold Camel,

What if someone else wanted to put up stone idols to appease the Gods, should we let them?

Are you referring to spent nuclear fuel rods?

You subsidize what will benefit the society longer-term, but is hard to finance in the immediate term.

And more importantly you subsidize an immature but promising technology in order to bring it along the learning curve so that it can survive on its own merits. Wind never would have been developed into the competitive source we have now if it had not been susidized for the first couple of decades. Of course the US in it's infinite wisdom subsidized the early stage, than gave up mid stream, allowing the more farsighted Europeans to gain the lions share of the market. I fully expect solar to follow a similar evolution -although it looks like China and maybe India will be the winners this time.

oh, and if those spinning mirrors are tracking the sun, that's not a mirage, it's really, actually collecting energy.

We ARE headed for a fall, correct. But if we spin a bunch of mirrors, we don't have to fall as far or hit bottom as hard..

Then do it! Go make a big pot of money.

My excuse is that I see resistance as futile. What's your excuse?

I say the mirrors will cause crash sooner and harder, because the technology isn't ready for prime time yet. Buying a Prius instead of a bicycle is bad. Getting the government to pay for part of the Prius is evil. Falling on mirrors will result in painful glass shards.

Cold Camel

What do you mean 'resistance is futile' ? .. resisting the crash?

One, There is a good reason for the society to put it's efforts/resources towards getting more of this stuff over the hump and having more energy resilience with technologies that don't depend on imported fuel. Solar Heat is probably the smartest form of alternate energy we have available to us.

Two, It's not YOUR money, it's OUR money. The Government uses that money in both acceptable and unacceptable ways. Libraries, Schools, Research, NEA Grants, Small Business Loans, Legal Aid, School Lunch Programs.. The 50% of OUR money that pays for our military misadventures is probably the most salient example of the MISUSE of our common assets, and while it portends to offer us safety and a secure energy supply, we can see that it really does the opposite. Sorry that point is lost on you. Give it a couple years, and maybe their slogan will be 'Resistance is Futile' as well.

Yes, resisting the crash is futile. What you do makes basically no difference to the world. But it can make a huge difference to you and yours.

One, society screws it up. Individuals have a chance of getting it right. Society starts wars. Society puts farmers out of business and replaces them with agricultural specialists. Do, or don't do, but don't tell me how to spend my money. If you do, you are part of the evil amongst us.

No Jokuhl, I don't consider you evil. Just misguided. Power corrupts. You don't have power, so you are not corrupt. Those in power are corrupt, though they don't know it. They are nice people. But the system is corrupt, and they don't change it.

Two, It's my money, it's your money, but it isn't our money. How you can pretend that the same system that gave us Iraq could somehow give us green power is a mystery to me. Don't you see how your ideal is going to be twisted?

Look at climate change. The scientists who understand it have been sidelined. It only gained momentum when TPTB discovered how much money they could make off of it. Cap and Trade is a boondoggle as long as China keeps building coal power. No one talks about the elephant in the room. The scientists are just happy to be standing around the podium, but pretty soon they will start scratching their heads wondering why policy doesn't achieve their goals.

Why would you want to continue to feed the beast? Run away with your money, your time, and your imagination. Solve your personal problems. It's all you can hope to do.

Cold Camel

No, it's not all I can hope to do.

There are huge malfunctions in the system, as we all know. But it's not a complete failure. I'm sure it seems like one to you, reading by your comments. I'm sorry to hear such hopelessness, but we're not 'all on our own' just yet.

shouldn't small projects be popping up anyway?

They are, and they will. Solar is often the superior investment.

The key point is . . . the tipping point. Many more projects of all sizes might have popped up long ago, if not for the long-standing repressive rate schedules that still exist for the Southwest's large utilities only in Arizona.

Thank you Paul.

I never knew that that nuke was running on ground water!

I believe that it is inevitable,barring a collapse of the industrial base of our society,that solar both small scale and large will eventually become more economical,dollar for dollar,than coal,natural gas,or nuclear electricity.

(I'm a firm believer in the idea that once the reality of peak oil sets in,energy prices are headed up,and not coming down again,unless and until renewables are able to shoulder the load.I don't personally expect to live quite that long.)

Disentangleing true economic and environmental prices from checkbook prices obviously isn't easy,given that the data is hard to collect and verify.

I would appreciate wag answers( the only possible kind,probably) to these questions:

1 How long until we can go down to Home Depot and buy a thousand watt system ,only minor assembly needed other than mounting,all complete in a package,excepting the mounting hardware?What I mean is how long until that system is pretty close to "plug and play."

2How long do you think it might be before such a system will pay it's own way,no direct purchase subsidies involved,in an area such as Arizona?Disregard avoided costs and net metering-lets just say you use it to run an ac whenever the sun is up.Let's suppose it has it's own dedicated circuit,so that it's not tied into the grid in any fashion.Assume there are no batteries,etc,and that there is no inverter if a dc powered airconditioner is a better deal.

Your answers will give me a good gut feel as to the year solar truly takes off on it's own.It won't be too long after that until solar is every where in the sun belt,and all the local hvac guys are in tall cotton again.Thanks!

you don't need any PV or any other electricity to get AC from bright sun. There are several ways to do it with just heat. And they aren't expensive. So in AZ, just aim your widget at the sun, and you get lots of cold off of it during the day, some of which you use to chill a water tank, so you get your chill 24/7.

Or, if you are really smart, just insulate your house, and ventilate it during the wee, cool hours. That's what I do, not in AZ but in deepest, depressed, dim, hot, muggy appalachia, and people think I have AC. Ha! ( I gotta come clean here and admit i also have a big cool cistern, with a simple water circulator to cool off the room where my wife sits to read herself to sleep).

I keep thinking of making that cistern a big ice chest, that keeps frigid all summer from stored ice plentifully supplied by winter.

Or, come to think of it, just live in the cistern. Dang! why didn't I think of that before?

Or, if you are really smart, just insulate your house, and ventilate it during the wee, cool hours.

I spent a month in West Phoenix during the summer. When the morning low temperature is 90 plus (which is nearly every day), passive cooling (which is what you describe) just never gets a chance to do anything. Passive cooling techniques are useful in a less extreme (and hopefully low humidity) environment, like I got in California -I can probably get about half of my cooling via passive methods, but when the real heat hits, you never get any cool air to ventilate with. BTW, that doesn't mean people shouldn't supplement their AC with passive methods, they should work great during the spring and fall seasons. But during June, July, and August, they have to throw in the towel and use AC. Of course more insulation (and white roofs) would cut the AC bills even during the too hot for passive season.

Well, frankly, if people choose to live in a goddam desert, they get what they got.

And nobody commented on my statement that if you have bright sun, you can get cool from it by methods that you know about and I am too lazy to belabor. Solar thermal cooling, NOT a passive method, I recommend for people who don't like passivity. And the brighter the sun, the cooler the cooler.

One method nobody knows about is duplex stirling cooler- looks like a piece of pipe. You heat one end (with solar of course) , you cool the middle with whatever hot air is around, and the other end gets an ice ball on it. Noise-free, pollution-free, attention-free.

And, BTW, does not violate the first law of thermo, or the second law. And, unfortunately, it doesn't violate the iron law of commerce either- no new idea has a ghost of a chance against conventional thinking.

wimbi : "duplex stirling cooler" - joke or fact ?

It's 2 stirling cycle engines mechanically coupled.

One is the engine side, which is driven by solar heat with the outside ambient air as a heat sink.

The driven stirling is to function as a heat pump moving heat from the cooled space to the outside ambient air.

It looks sound in principle to me, I don't know how effective it would be in practice.

Just punch those words into your favorite search site, and you will in no time get to know more than I do. Yep. Real.

One scene I have toyed with- a solar duplex stirling, real small, that freezes water out of desert air, so, when your camel has died, your magazine and canteen are empty, and the A-rabs are slinging slugs at you from behind their sand dune, you point this thing at the sun, it gets an ice ball on the end toward you, and you can enjoy a mint julep in your last moments.

There is no need for such a complex systemto get cooling from the sun Solarvacuum tubes or flat plate combined with absoption chiller (Camping RV fridge no moving parts) are both old technology. They are not very efficient when run on gas electricity but sunshine is free once the system is installed

See below Dometic use to be part off Electolux
Not sure if this company is still in buisness

Well, frankly, if people choose to live in a goddam desert, they get what they got.

They got Coal-fired Air Conditioning.

Night before last here in Phoenix we tied the all time record for the highest night time low of 96F. I decided not to "ventilate during the wee hours".

Ouch. Those kind of nighttime temperatures lead to a lot of grumpy people the following day.

Thank you, oldfarmermac.

May offer a point of clarification? As you probably understand, energy and water are intimately related. The utilities promote the fact that the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station uses treated sewage water from several local communities for their cooling needs. While reuse of resources is laudable, evaporation of a large quantity of water in an arid climate and the dissipation of the associated heat into the desert environment may not be an appropriate end use when the community is perpetrating an unsustainable overdraft of the shared aquifer.

The value of this liquid legacy is not being accounted for. It may be a loan from future generations, but because there is not yet a record of even partial repayment it might be more appropriate to call it a theft.

I suppose that the argument could be put forth that exciting electrons today is payment for the overdraft from the desert aquifer. It this argument has any validity, then those excited electrons are very, very valuable. Therefore, every effort should be put forth to ensure that they are not squandered through poor building design and construction, or on frivolities such as air-conditioned ballparks, and alluring casino lights.

How about making it real simple and have a national mandate requiring a certain amount of solar based on square footage of all permits for new construction and major remodel work on residential, commercial and industrial property?

Use some of the billions that will be raised under full auction cap-and-trade to heavily subsidise residential PV. Some will say that's a poor return on capital. Not by future standards though.

It's probably better to have the energy mandates at the State level. Our state has a new mandate to require all new residential homes to have solar water heaters. Also, there is a mandate for the utility company to produce 40% of their power from renewables. We're currently at 20% (which includes solar thermal).

Solar PV is a good investment now. You can pick up a 100 watt panel for $500. 20 of them plus 20 deep cycle batteries (Wal-Mart $80) and you're off the grid. Electric cars will be out next year = energy crisis solved. The whole world could be powered by PV, or CSP, or wind, or nuclear, or natural gas, or unconventional oil. There is NO energy crisis. The only crisis that exists is the malaise from Democrat Socialist policies. Same thing happened under Carter.

Please tell me where I can get a 100 watt panel for $500. I have been looking for same.

This is in New England (Worcester, Mass) But is a really decent price for PV, and is a Panel I have a couple of, and so does another Poster here.

http://www.altestore.com/store/Solar-Panels/100-to-149-Watts-Solar-Panel... $492.00

and one comment on the product.. "I have consistently generated 25% more power/panel,at solar noon on sunny days, than the manufacturer's specs would have suggested (7.39 amps/panel). It is unusual, in my experience, to get more than what you expect in a product!"

Here is an AZ supplier you probably already know of.. Arizona Wind and Sun.

http://store.solar-electric.com/kykc130wasop.html $481.00

Bob Fiske

Thanks Jokuhl.

Dave Howard

In June Northern Arizona Wind and Sun was selling the Kyocera KD-135 for $442. Last month the price was higher. This month the price is $415, or $3.07 / (rated watt). I purchased one in June which is still outputting more than 135 W at peak, but the power output of a crystalline PV usually declines within the first three months.

I did notice the 135s were actually cheaper, but I mentioned the one I actually own.

Mine are still awaiting a rack so they can go up. They were bought before I had the balance of system yet.. but that testimonial I quoted sounds like that customer was getting better results. Couldn't tell if he was in past that 3months or not.

Personally, I hope I can devise a water-cooling heatsink on the back of mine to get that water preheating and keep the panels from running as hot. That should reduce electrical resistance AND overall strain on the panels, I'd hope.


How about making it real simple and have a national mandate requiring a certain amount of solar based on square footage of all permits for new construction and major remodel work on residential, commercial and industrial property?

As much as I am a booster for Solar, I think that is a terrible way to do it. I'd rather see a system wide mandate/goal. Applying it to every building, means you can't selectively use it in those situations where it is most economical, i.e. It may be cheaper for my neighbor to put up 5KW PV, than for both of us to put up 2.5KW each. When economies of scale, or the fact that some sites have better solar exposure kick in, you get greater bang for the buck by letting the PV miograte to the most effective sites.

Not to mention the massive pushback you would get from the libertarians!

Good points, 'enemy of state'.

Will I do not necessarily support mandates, I believe that integrated solutions will work better than market solutions. Especially, if the markets remain as opaque and manipulated as they now are.

Building standards are regrettably poor in Arizona. The minimum ceiling insulation requirements for commercial buildings are laughable.

The USGBC has made significant advances but so much poor construction has already been built that the energy burden will likely overwhelm the state: This burden will only increase as these structures age.

Rather than mandate, I propose that first is made an honest accounting. Given the existing record, transparency may seem an impossible dream, but it is a necessary requirement for any imagined sustainable and happy future.

Besides, in order to succeed, mandates require effective leadership and enforcement. There is a thin record there as well.

You've got that right. R-19 roof for warehouses. Concrete tilt panel or masonry walls with 1 1/2" furring, R-7 at best in offices spaces, none in warehouse. Pathetic.

Seven years ago, I was about to close on one of a pair of commercial buildings in Scottsdale. My intention was to modify my building and monitor its performance and compare it with its twin. The first building was nearly complete. At the time, the shell was up on my building. I had been negotiating for some 'green' upgrades. On a final Saturday site visit, I discovered they were working on installing the insulation. I immediately called the developer when I discovered they were installing R-19 in the ceiling. The developer would not halt the work and I cancelled the deal.

For two years the real estate market climbed and it looked like I had abandoned a good deal. Today, I look like a real estate genius (not so).

I do not understand this post or its graph.

An explanation of the graph is given in the Solar Derated post on the Rate Crimes Energy blog. Of course, a detailed explanation of this post is provided on the Rate Crimes energy blog itself.

Thank you all for your comments. I will attempt to respond to more of you tomorrow.

That's nice of you to respond, but why? The arguments are basically one of two types: (a)details, details, details, and (b)we should welcome the end of a technology based society and get it over with, and if solar causes not to have to do that, it is a part of the problem, not a solution (i.e., an aesthetic philosophical attack on all technology and science)

To those arguing details, these of course will have to be worked out. That is a human strenth, because we love many puzzles. Every industry ever born was riddled with detail problems from the start and each one had to be resolved...we should be glad this is true because many of the career jobs in all industries has been lifetimes spent on working on details, details, details.

To those who detest solar because it will possibly allow the continuation of a technical/scientific culture...what argument can you make? We the supporters of solar love the technology because it is the only energy source that cuts right to the chase....is enormous in scale, and gets us off the depletion chase. Those who hate technology hate it for these very same reasons, that it provides a real scalable path forward, and ends the dream of the end of the modern age. There are times when you simply have to choose your side and build on your position.

I do think the posts by Cold Camel are correct up the page however, although I come from the other end of the solar support spectrum...but at the end of the day, his point is exactly right: Quit talking about it, stop trying to arrange just one subsidy and BUILD THE DAMN THINGS! Every industry these days invlolved in alternative energy or transport devices think the same way: they will not build the technology until they have milked every teat of the subsidy cow...why build it until you have forced the feds, the states, the localities, the non profits, the foundations and funds for the final penny...and so the alt energy industry waits, and works for one more free dime, and then one more, and then one more...as we slide closer and closer to catastrophe. Okay, tell thm, you've milked it for all it is worth, NOW BUILD.



Why did you sign your comment "RC"?

Many rich cultures existed before our frenetically technological culture. Many will exist afterwards, or so we hope.

However, technology may not necessarily be the hallmark of our culture. We may be remembered most for that peculiar ignorance born of extreme specialization.

Regarding your exhortation: My point is that the elimination of subsidies to all energy sources, or at least transparency and an honest accounting, will best lead to a sustainable solution.

Why did you sign your comment "RC"?

Those are the initials of his real name - Roger Conner.

Hello TODers,

My thxs to Paul for this keypost. Since I am not an engineer or scientist: can someone explain if this has real possibilities, or is it just more vaporware? IMO, the best way to get utilities scared into then making real changes is to have homeowners and businesses start abandoning the Grid:

Friday, August 07, 2009 at 1:30:04 PM - by Nate Lew
Ceramatec Develops 24-hour Solar Energy Storage Battery

Salt Lake City-based Cerametec, Inc. is in development of a battery that solar energy users outside the grid could use to store energy from their solar panels for most of a day, and its size and configuration – almost fitting in the palm of a hand, without lead and sulfur – promises safer, more manageable energy storage.

The battery runs on a sodium-sulfur mix, which is reportedly more energy intensive than typical lead-acid batteries, and has a 92-percent charge/discharge rating, allowing grid-tied solar energy users to store energy from their solar panels during off-peak hours (typically midnight to 7 a.m.) and use them when kilowatt-hour electricity costs soar during the day.

It would potentially allow non-solar users to do the same, providing the batteries don’t catch on to the extent that their use tips the on-peak/off-peak paradigm and draws the wrath of utility companies nationwide, most of whom have carefully calculated peak loads with plant operations.

Ceramatec has also reportedly found a way to make the battery run at less than 200 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to a ceramic membrane between the sodium and sulfur which inhibits positive sodium ions, leaving the electrons to create a high-energy current. Of course, the sodium compound is corrosive, so it’s probably not something you would give your kids.

The batteries, which can be ramped to store up to 20 kilowatt-hours of electricity and are attached to a disk, will be ready for market testing in 2011, and will sell for about $2,000...
If this really takes off: imagine the FF-companies making more money from their sales of recovered-S than from the sales of crude, coal, and natgas. "She comes down from Yellow Mountain.."

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

The price, size and storage capacity all sound good for coupling to thin film PV. Think of it as a beefed up uninterruptible power supply (UPS) like the one you may have on your computer. If there are few cycle life issues it could feed back to the grid like they think will happen with PHEVs. Except I think people will go for NGVs when oil gets really expensive.

If it has to be kept hot maybe it could tie in with a water heater, clothes dryer or air source heat pump. Provided there are no safety issues it could be a game changer. Unfortunately we've had high hopes before with EESTOR and the like.

of course, Sodium Sulfur batteries are NOT new, they have been around for some time:

Also being touted right now is a Lithium Air battery:


The problem is of course the economics and the long term life of the battery under charge/discharge. The only way to know is to test, and that takes time. There are an almost infinite number of combinations of materials and arrangements possible when it comes to batteries, and everyone looks "promising". The combination is almost surely out there, but it is like like looking for the needle in the haystack...it will be found, but it may take a long time. At some point we may have to just go with what we can build today, and let the researchers keep lookng...there is a point where if you intend to build any new technology, you must freeze the design and actually build it.


Bob, I'm having trouble parsing this: "allowing grid-tied solar energy users to store energy from their solar panels during off-peak hours (typically midnight to 7 a.m.) and use them when kilowatt-hour electricity costs soar during the day."

At my house I get very little solar energy between midnight and 7 a.m. (Just what's reflected from the moon.)

Dave Howard

Yeah, it is a poorly constructed sentence for sure!

They mean the energy is stored from daylight sunlight production, and is in storage in off peak hours (overnight, when the sun isn't shining) to be used as needed when the sun isn't shining...

As an aside, this brings up another interesting point...some opponents of solar point to the "overnight" problem as a reason that it will never be useful...of course the fist place we should be trying to use it then would be the buildings that use virtually no overnight power...schools, post offices, office parks, lawyers offices, medical parks, many retail stores, etc. The buildings with virtually no overnight power usage must number in the millions!


Thanks for trying, RC, but I think you need to go back over it. You write:

to be used as needed when the sun isn't shining...

but they write:

...and use them when kilowatt-hour electricity costs soar during the day.

The article then goes on to say that "It would potentially allow non-solar users to do the same..." and I submit that to store expensive daytime electricity from the grid to use at night when rates are lower makes no sense at all so this surely isn't their intent. Besides, what would be so novel about storing daytime solar energy for night time use? That's done all the time.

The writer of the article is definitely saying that the batteries can be used to harvest night time off-peak electricity (which is cheaper) for use during peak (daytime) hours to avoid paying the higher daytime rate. But harvesting night time solar?

This concept would work quite well with wind power, but I still can't make sense of it for solar. (except in the sense that wind power is 'residual solar'.)

Edit: In thinking about this I suppose you are right, RC, they simply meant that their batteries could be used to store solar electricity for night time use by off grid folks and used in the opposite way by non solar users. Perhaps taking English 101 ruined me for ever comprehending what I read on the intertubes.

If one assumes the sentence is improperly worded, they could be suggesting that the batteries be charged at night using low priced off-peak grid power and discharged back to the grid during the day when the rates are higher. The power company would not know whether the power is coming from the PV panels or the batteries.

Thanks for pointing that out, Bob. I was not aware of any NaS battery development in the US. The only one I knew about was NGK in Japan.

Actually, my vision of solar involves installing, say, multi-megawatt-hour NaS batteries to serve maybe two or three dozen houses in a Neighborhood Area Storage configuration. The acronyms match, too: NaS == NAS :-)


IMO, the best way to get utilities scared into then making real changes is to have homeowners and businesses start abandoning the Grid

I expect the utilities are aware of their risks; at least their near-term risks. Some utilities have admitted their failure to create a long-term vision or plan.

As a society we have made enormous investments in the utility grid. A rapid, unthinking abandonment of this investment would be unwise. However, there does need to be a vision that encompasses the risk that a rapid, widespread abandonment of the grid - at least in some regions - is possible. There also needs to be a vision for a different type of energy system. There are great advantages in a flexible, distributed energy network compared to the current system based on centralized generation.

Solar hot water capacity added worldwide 2007:

USA: 0.5%
China: 80.2 %


that would be partly because they now have the use of the money we gave them more and more of, till our credit dried up and we were exhausted by it...

So because 'they' (the Americans) got lots of credit from the Chinese that's why 'they' (the Americans) didn't invest in solar hot water systems as opposed to the Chinese who gave 'them' (the Americans) the money?

The transition to renewable energy is confused by people not distinguishing between contradictory assumptions. Some people focus on the "need" to sustain growth and profits, and others the "need" to become sustainable. I think the article could have made that basic point more clearly. I myself get confused with complex arguments, and am sure most others do too, so I keep trying to first approach things from the perspective of what you can be sure of when you don't know much.

Economic systems are complex, but one thing you can be sure of is that they need to get off their seed resource to survive, and nature if chock full of examples of uncontrolled local natural system economies that do that quite smoothly. Somehow the parts of nature's models for growth systems that survive that energy trap are responsive to a basic problem that people are quite unaware of and unresponsive to.

The basic problem for us, I think, in not being able to make choices relative to the opportunity cost for "jobs & profits in the future" versus "jobs & profits right now". The jobs and profits in the future depend on our learning to use energy better and better. Jobs & profits right now depend on learning to use energy more and more.

Is the equation I'm thinking of clear from saying that? With our present system wide ability to use energy to create economic value (our whole system energy productivity = world GDP/Joule = $166/Mbtu,2008$ at present), the greater the use of high EROI resources the more wealth and jobs you create, deferring investment in marginally lower EROI resources that are the heart of future wealth and job creation, once we learn how. I think this is part of the point of the article, but I get confused with complex models that I don't understand well.

I also know from complex natural systems study that most systems models are most valuable for helping you discover how they get the problem wrong, rather than for being relied on. That's also part of why I take the "what you can know without knowing much" approach to complex systems questions, as a way of discovering whether we're asking the right questions.

So, what is the practical way to force investment decisions to account for the opportunity cost of exhausting our high EROI seed resources before we've learned how to create equal value from lower EROI sustainable resources? I think that would be through the use of whole system sustainability metrics, which is a subject I work on, applied to qualifying the tax status of earnings on investments. That is, an "enduring value" performance scale for the capital gains tax structure.

The embarrassing thing, of course, is that the people who are good with those kinds of numbers, the economics, business and government research institutions, barely see the problem at all, seem not to know yet that complex systems are things of nature, and use all sorts of quite erroneous measures of sustainability and profit. So, what's to do???

Inspiring thoughts, pfhenshaw. May I respond with a few late-night thoughts?

So, what's to do???

In at least one important aspect, human systems differ from natural systems. Our constructions reflect of our psychology. Humans react primarily to near-term signals. The discipline to delay gratification is a learned behavior. Unfortunately, our culture often encourages our more immediate, primal urges.

Incementally, but with urgency, we can iteratively deny prurient marketing forces and modify or redesign systems (economic, political, technological, etc.) to enhance the more disciplined alternatives. But, first, we must become aware. I hope that Rate Crimes increases awareness in some small way.

I also think that a distrust of complexity in designed systems is healthy. The principles of permaculture also provide guidance.

Albuquerque is nearly as sunny as Phoenix and Tuscon, but it rarely breaks 100 F here. I don't see very many solar residential systems (hot water or PV) here either. The link to the Kyocera 130W/7.8 A panel for ~$500 is interesting, but I read somewhere else today that First Solar has claimed to produce PV for ~$1/Watt. Is that claim for real? Can we buy a 100W PV panel from them for $100? Will it have a 20-30 year warranty guaranteeing that it will produce at least 80W at the end of 20 (thirty would be better)years? However, if prices get cheap enough, a 15-year lifespan (when the panel produces 80% of the original rated output) could be acceptable I suppose. I'd be happy if PNM would install the rooftop PV systems, inverters, etc. with a grid-tie and a two-way meter, and charge a rental/maintenance fee for however long you want the service.

Could be a win-win: The utility doesn't have to build as many power plants, avoiding the huge block capital requirements and the environmental permits...installing rooftop PV is an incremental process which would provide distributed power, which should be far less vulnerable to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The costs of all the installation and maintenance personnel would be there, but so what? I would pay more for my juice to keep the Mercury and Cadmium and Thorium in the ground instead of being spewed from the coal-fired power plant stacks. And we would greatly reduce the coal mining rape of the land.

I would love to leave my office hell and spend the rest of my productive life installing and maintaining residential and business PV systems, even with a big pay cut.

Unless you're buying in serious bulk for a Utility-scale project, I don't think you'll see PV prices for less than $3/watt. And at some point in that pricing scheme, you have to consider 'You get what you pay for' .. I'm not sure that the thin-films will necessarily be as Durable as the Wafer and Multi-Crystaline Panels.. the trade-off might be a wash.

I know they're pricey, but it's been my contention that if the world 'wakes up' and sees that we're in a real Energy Crisis, you'll be longing for those days that you could get them for a 'mere' 3.22 a watt. Either demand will strip the shelves, the Price/Watt will Catapult, or the Economy will tumble further into the pit, and none of us will have ANY cash to put towards it.

PV isn't the only thing in the world, tho' my advocacy might make it seem like I thought so.. but there are SO many jobs we can use electricity for today that having a pretty much guaranteed 30 year battery is a tough offer to ignore. Lighting, Communications (FM, CB, Shortwave, Telephone, Intercom, WalkieTalkie, CellPhone charging..), Cooking, Regfrigeration, Motors, Pumps, Sensing, Timing and Control Equipment, Clocks(!!).. A few hundred million desk calculators might bear me out on this. Thin, UV Tolerant and Waterproof.. Put them in light, you get power. You can even make a roof out of them! No moving parts!

I suggest don't wait to get at least a few watts worth.. you can always add to it later given another opportunity.


Written by jokuhl:
... I don't think you'll see PV prices for less than $3/watt.

Northern Arizona Wind and Sun currently has a special price for the Kyocera KD210GX-LP 210 Watt Solar Panel of $620 which is $2.95 / (rated watt). With weak demand and an oversupply of photovoltaic grade silicon, the prices may continue to decline.

I stand corrected.. by five cents, but your point is taken.

The balancing issue of purchasing power is still and always there on the other side of the coin, and so I still say, Get at least SOME, Now, if you think you're going that route.

It could get better, but there are many good reasons to hedge our bets on that chance.



About how much,roughly,will it cost per thousand watts to buy a RESPECTED name brand system of the most durable type,including inverters ,etc?Cash?

I have found it to be a good policy not to purchase any expensive long life item from a newcomer.

And are there yet any dc mass marketed respected name brand appliances on the market that can be run directly off the panels,that don't cost a WHOLE LOT MORE than equivalent 120v ac applianses?

I have seen some water pump asking prices for dc pumps that were just about enough to bring on a heart attack.

I could get started with pv perhaps by running a small ac unit,if the total is within reason.

You can't offset much in income taxes on a semi retired small farmers income.

I can probably manage my own installation.



claims $2.69/Watt. Installation, inverters, etc. are up to you... (disclaimer: I don't know anything about these people, it was merely the product of a web search)

deleted double post

To get that price per watt one has to buy 28 of them for a total of $15,440.60 before perhaps sales tax. The prices I quoted are for individual panels, and here in Arizona there is no sales tax to the state (there may some owed to local government) when purchasing PV panels. Still it shows that prices are declining. The trick is to save your money while waiting for the bottom before purchasing.

Blue Twilight, you say,

The trick is to save your money while waiting for the bottom before purchasing.

Your suggested "trick" is short-sighted. The real trick is to understand the moment when your returns from an investment in solar will outperform competing investments and to move on it then. If you wait for modules to drop a few pennies you may well be losing many dollars in investment returns while you continue to pay your utility.

Hey Mac;
There are some solid brands out there, to be sure.

Fronius and Outback make Inverters and Charge Controllers that seem to have good reps..

Sunfrost and SunDanzer have the names for Super Efficient Fridges, available in 120ac or low volt DC,

*There's also a lot of DC Appliances available for the Marine and RV industries, and there are some great websites for converting big shoptools to running on DC motors.*

Many Solar Companies offer packages to make a small setup easier, too. Here's one, just to give you a view of what's included and how it adds up. http://www.altestore.com/store/Kits-and-Package-Deals/Off-Grid-Cabin-Sys... It's only for 520watts (and $4700), as large as their preassembled packages seem to go, but the list there shows you what they put into such a system.

I have a small collection of Panels at this point, some doing individual jobs, others waiting for me to figure out how I'll apply them. Instead of getting a true Grid Tied setup, I'm going to start my next bigger project with the PV/Batts/Inverter running into a Transfer Switch, and run my Office power on the Solar setup, with the ability to switch it back onto the grid power if I run the battery down far enough to trip the Inverter's LowVolt Warning Buzzer. This way, I can use the Solar power first, THEN the grid power for that portion of my household, and can add load to that setup until it's at a reasonable maximum. (I think running an A/C might max you out pretty quick.. unless you just meant 'AC' (Alternating Current) to take advantage of the regular appliances that use house power.)

Hope that's useful,


Thanks!The company seems to have premium quality stuff but obviously the price structure is not yet anything comparable to a mass market purchase at home depot.
example -what appears to be a very simple weather tight junction box is 170 bucks.A similar box with a top brand name at Lowes is a fourth of that.
This link does establish that you can buy a system that very likely will work well for a long long time for less than ten bucks a watt now.

That's still about double or triple the numbers usually slung around by solar advocates who like every body else have a convenienmt tendency to leave off as many unpleasant details as possible.

An extruded aluminum mounting rail is also priced several times higher than a similar mass produced item would be at a local big box store.

When Lowes/Home Depot sells a package like this it will probably cost only half as much.Maybe only a third.

I guess I will just have to wait a few more years.

The DC refrigerators and freezers offered by Sunfrost and SunDanzer cost a whole lot more. The cheapest idea for refrigeration is to buy a top loading freezer and using a timer modify it to be a refrigerator. To run this off-grid you would need PV panels, an inverter and batteries.

How much a PV system costs depends on what you want to power, how much you are willing to reduce your power consumption and how much inconvenience you are willing to bear.

Using the specifications of a DC marine air conditioner that consumes 48 A at 12 VDC to move 5,000 BTU / hr of heat, you would need between 7 and 10 KD-135's and some batteries to power it. 10 KD-135's would allow you to run the air conditioner from about 8 am to 4 pm without discharging the batteries much. I am assuming the PV panels are pointing in a fixed direction somewhere near optimal and the day is sunny. You would need to shut off the air conditioner on cloudy days. Unless a DC powered device is designed to shut off under a low voltage condition and regulate an overvoltage condition, you can not attach PV panels directly to the device.

BlueTwilight, you said,

The DC refrigerators and freezers offered by Sunfrost and SunDanzer cost a whole lot more. The cheapest idea for refrigeration is to buy a top loading freezer and using a timer modify it to be a refrigerator. To run this off-grid you would need PV panels, an inverter and batteries.

Can you provide an exact cost comparison? What is the cost differential between an off-grid DC refrigeration solution and an off-grid AC refrigeration solution that requires an inverter?

Moonwatcher, excellent point...

And at some point in that pricing scheme, you have to consider 'You get what you pay for' ..

Even though UL 1703 safety certification is required for modules in the U.S., also confirm that your modules have received IEC performance certification.

This qualification means that the module design has passed at least the standard rigorous advanced aging test regimen. However, even this test standard has been criticized as being too feeble. Some manufacturers subject their designs to twice the stress required in some of the standard tests.

I used First Solar modules for small, residential projects several years ago in one of the hottest cities in the States: Laughlin, Nevada. The modules were cost-effectective and perform very well in that extreme climate. Unfortunately, demand for their product was so high in Germany that I soon lost my supply.


I must say I found this post confusing...Maybe it is just a confusing subject, but you're supposed to be helping us out.

I really had to poke around randomly in the various links in the text before I found what I think is the biggest nugget: your blog post on Avoided Blocks. When I read that, I went from "what the hell is he talking about" to "okay, now I understand this a bit."

One thing this essay could REALLY have used is some simple information along the lines of "Arizona has x type of rate structure, as compared to pick-another-state which has y type of rate structure." The essay is supposed to explain why Arizona lags on solar, but it fails to talk about what distinguishes Arizona rate structures. That's a huge rhetorical handicap. For example, I know (now) that California's block structure differs from Arizona, because I already knew Cali's block structure is inclining (and probably assumed everyone's is). But I have no idea how billing demand works in Cali.

When writing for a website/publication such as this one that covers many subjects besides solar and electricity rates, you really need to state and explain the obvious. Otherwise only people who are already interested and informed are going to be able to follow. In my case, you're lucky I decided to take the time today.

I give this advice as someone who hopes to see you succeed at educating the public about rate policy.

(BTW, why the hell are any utilities allowed to get away with a declining block structure?!? First thing that needs to be outlawed.)

Thanks for your thoughtful response, jaggedben. Unfortunately, this article was long enough as it was. Therefore, the liberal inclusion of links to the detailed explanations on the Rate Crimes blog. I am glad you found those helpful. Even people who have spent years in the energy field too often fail to grasp the (intentional?) intricacies of the rate schedules.

The rate schedules have been allowed to remain as they are either because those who establish the rate schedules do not understand the schedules and their consequences, or because they have a vested interest in maintaining them. It is also true that the rate schedules are designed from within the existing paradigm. Professional deformation has prevented too many of the interested parties from comprehending alternative perspectives.