Solar Batteries, possible? Solar Power question

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by DeathStar1, Jun 4, 2006.

  1. DeathStar1

    DeathStar1 Producer

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    I was thinking about Solar energy a week or two ago. If the process only gives power when it is a clear and sunny day, and dosn't work with clouds, or at night...

    Would it be possible to build solar batteries? Have these things connected to the solar panels on the roof, and when there is low electrical usage in the house, it goes directly into the giant battery in the basement for backup power..

    I have a bunch o' questions a bout solar power, as it would be really usefull during summer power outages...so where should I go? If I even had one small panel outside my window that could power the computer during a storm outage, how cool would that be?
     
  2. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Yes and it is already being done—though maybe not in the sense you mean.

    For example, it is fairly common for garden and outdoor lighting (where batteries store energy from small solar panels during the day and power the lighting at night), especially where there is a reasonable amount of sun and electricity is expensive.

    Another application is found in outback Australia, where solar panels charge batteries to power things like telephone booths.
     
  3. ChristopherDAC

    ChristopherDAC Producer

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    Heck, we do that here in Texas for emergency phones on the side of the highway, and lighted signs, and such.

    The trouble of solar energy is low intensity. At the distance of the Earth from the Sun, you get 1 kW per square metre, which is pretty good. Unfortunately, on the Earth itself, the atmosphere takes a chunk of that, so perhaps you have 700 or 800 ; but that's at noon, on a bright cloudless day. Obviously, at night you get nothing. Since the angle of the sun changes with the time of day and the time of year, your panels need to tilt to follow the sun for you to something like 8 hours of "full sun" a day, and another 2-4 of partial sun, until you factor in all the days when it's cloudy or overcast or raining. Then, the conversion efficiency of most solar panels is about 8-12%, and batteries are generally pretty low-efficiency too. Also, if you want to power your appliances, you need alternating current, which means an inverter, which is also pretty low efficiency.

    The result is that you can probably draw enough continuous power to light a couple of lightbulbs if you cover your house in solar panels, but you're not going to run an air conditioner. Fortunately, you need the A/C most on bright cloudless days in summer when the sun is high and the days are long!
     
  4. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    Not sure what you mean by "solar batteries", but you can use solar cells to charge basic NiMH or Li-Ion rechargeable batteries. Brunton, for one, makes various contraptions to charge batteries or small electronics directly from some solar cells.

    And yes, you can install solar photovoltaic panels on your house and you can have a controller that will power you house and charge standard rechargeable batteries for you to use when it's clouding. And whatever excess voltage you are generating can be sold back to the power grid. That is called net metering. The "controller" is basically a somewhat complex switch that will control your house power during a blackout or power outage. It will automatically switch your house power to the batteries, of course, going through an inverter rated for XXX watts.

    All of this is fairly doable these days with the right sun exposure and the initial outlay of cash (solar panels aren't cheap (yet) ).

    Jay
     
  5. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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  6. KevinGress

    KevinGress Supporting Actor

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  7. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Producer

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    Your best bet is solar augmented with wind turbines. Solar collectors are very inefficient and you'd need hundreds (if not thousands) of square feet of the stuff to power the average household. Lightbulbs are easy enough but kitchen gear can consume thousands of watts apiece.

    Also "solar batteries" are a set (usually 6 - 20) very large boat/automobile batteries that you'd keep in the corner of a garage or seperate shed. You just need to buy a special power converter to change the battery's power to household current. And anuwhere that deals in solar or turbine parts can sell you that also.
     
  8. Buzz Foster

    Buzz Foster Second Unit

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    I've heard about new flexible polymer photovoltaic material. A friend and I sat down and came up with an idea for a car that uses electric motors on the wheels, dynamic braking and electrical recapture (like the hybrids), plug in batteries good for 100 or so miles, an ethanol fuel cell for on-board electrical generation when reserve electrical power is depleted, and skinned the whole thing in flexible polymer photovoltaic material to capture solar power during the day to assist in battery recharge.

    Cocktail napkin stuff, to be sure, but the idea of a lightweight, flexible photovoltaic polymer as a car skin, rather than paint, makes sense when you consider that most of us work during the day with a minimum eight hour shift. One culd even concieve, depending on the cost, of parking areas that have solar panels and plug-ins for such cars, adding to the amount of solar power that could be captured and stored in the car's battery during the day.
     
  9. BrianW

    BrianW Cinematographer

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    I know the typical thinking is that "solar power is useless without batteries", but that's not necessarily the case. If your goal is to be off the powe grid, then yes, you need batteries. If you want to keep equipment (like computers, TiVos, and satellite receivers) running during a grid power outage, then yes, you need batteries. But keeping a limited amount of equipment runing during power outages, there are simpler and cheaper ways to do that than outfitting your home with solar power and massive battery storage.

    But if your goal is simply to save money on utility bills and to help the environment, why not instead just consider getting solar panels and an inverter (to interface it with the grid), and completely forget the bateries? This, in effect, allows the grid to be your battery, which is much more efficient -- and much less costly -- than storing power yourself. Any solar power you generate will offset your grid usage, thereby reducing your electric bill. And on sunny days when your solar panels generate more electrons than your house is using, the electric company will pay you for it. Your net usage will be the same whether you or the grid stores your surplus. So what if you have A/C compressors running all night exclusively off grid power? Sure, you'll be using a lot more grid power at night without the bateries. But you'll also be supplying more power back to the grid during the day without the bateries. Unless you foresee being off the grid some time during the night, you don't need batteries, and getting batteries will actually reduce the efficency of your system, which will reduce your savings.

    As for the few things that need to be up 24/7, strategically-placed UPSs for the light stuff, and even propane-powered generators (that kick on automatically on a power outage) for the really big stuff (includng your whole house, if you want), should supply all your needs.

    So save your money and let the grid be your battery. Even if you want to be completely off grid someday, building a system without a battery now will result in immediate savings on your utility bill, and you will then be able to better assess your needs and generation capability while saving money for a battery down the road.
     
  10. MarkHastings

    MarkHastings Executive Producer

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    Have we not learned anything from the lightning thread? [​IMG]
     
  11. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    Selling electricity back to the grid is called "net metering". Different states have different rules and pricing involved, you should check your states Board of Public Utilities for info cause it's usually a mixture of all the power utilities in your area. For NJ, it would be PSE&G, JCP&L, and Rockland Electric among the majors. For you to qualify for net metering in NJ, you have to get power from one of those.

    My case, I happen to get my electricity from a small utilty company next town over, however, because I get my gas from PSE&G I would actually qualify for net metering through PSE&G which sells electricity and gas in my region. For net metering, you need to generally apply to your states BPU and you will have an licensed engineer come out to inspect your installation (if by yourself or a contractor) and then you will get a license/account for the electricity you sell, your electric meter will actually turn backwards. There are some computer controllers that you can actually check your status online. However, during a power outage, those computers are designed to turn off any voltage going outside your house as the electric company doesn't want to sudden find live wires when working on the lines when the power is out because your solar system is live. [​IMG]

    You do not have to get a solar system with batteries, some people do not like the added maintenance the batteries need as all rechargeable batteries have a finite lifespan.
     
  12. BrianW

    BrianW Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the informed post, Jay. Although I'm familiar with the technical hurdles, I have no idea what bureaucratic requirements need to be met for "net metering". (In fact, I didn't even know what it was called!) I appreciate your contribution.

    ----------------------------

    I once knew a guy (okay, a friend of a friend that I barely met) who bought a mountain (okay, a VERY small mountain) that had a huge crater at the top. During the night, while the electricity rates were low, he would run pumps to fill the crater with water from a reservoir at the mountain's base. Then during the day, when the electricity rates were higher, he would let the water out through a generator and sell the electricity back to the utility company. So he purchased electricity when the rates were low, and sold it back when the rates were high, and he made a bundle of money doing it.

    Although I think his scheme was ingeniously clever, I struggle with the ethical nature it. Since no conversion is 100% efficient, he was a net electric consumer, not a generator. He was essentially producing nothing and getting paid for it, making a living completely subsidized by the electric company's other customers.

    Still, it's nice work if you can get it. [​IMG]
     
  13. Buzz Foster

    Buzz Foster Second Unit

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    In the purest sense Brian, I agree. However, I think a big part of lower nighttime rates has to do with scalability of power generation. If power generation could be scaled back more than it is at night, I'd bet that rates would not be cheaper.

    But then, I don't know much about how the grid itself works. It does seem to me that higher demand and rates in the daytime, in general, put a lot of weight into solar.
     
  14. alan halvorson

    alan halvorson Cinematographer

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    I live a few blocks from the Mississippi River. Just south of where I live the river widens quite a bit and this widening is called Lake Pepin. Not that many years ago a company proposed doing this very thing with Lake Pepin. During the night, they wanted to pump an enormous amount of water to the top of the bluffs that surround the Mississippi in my area, enough to signifigantly lower the river level, and then release it back during the day, generating electricity. The proposal met with extreme resistance and was dropped.

    A number of years ago some scientists suggested setting up huge solar collectors in space and beaming the energy back to earth via microwaves. This was supposed to result in extremely cheap electricity, but the idea came with problems that eventually caused it to be dropped. One problem, I think, was the large microwave beam itself. Anyway, it sounds like a neat idea and I wished it could be made practical.
     
  15. DeathStar1

    DeathStar1 Producer

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    A number of years ago some scientists suggested setting up huge solar collectors in space and beaming the energy back to earth via microwaves. This was supposed to result in extremely cheap electricity, but the idea came with problems that eventually caused it to be dropped. One problem, I think, was the large microwave beam itself. Anyway, it sounds like a neat idea and I wished it could be made practical.
    >>

    I was thinking about that, then I was watching Batman and Robin...Good thing this world dosn't have super super villians with a large heat beam to control [​IMG]..
     
  16. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    I'll fill all of you in on some things I know about solar...

    The reason solar panels (Sharp, BP, GE, etc.) are all fairly expensive is the fact that getting pure enough Silicone for the actual panels is expensive. I think the solar panel makers compete with the likes of Intel and AMD, etc for the best silicone on the market, and we all know the chip makers have a much larger market and buying power.

    However, I've read of some reason going on in various universities about trying to use ordinary plastics to convert the rays from the sun to electrons and if this comes to light (pun intended) it will drastically decrease the cost of a solar electric system. But that has to be researched and hopefully it will be around sooner than later.

    I seriously looked into all of this when I bought my house in January. So I'm somewhat familiar with the generalities and did my research online.

    Jay
     

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