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Solar Panels for Home Use Heats Up

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Something New Under the Sun

The Link

Cheaper Solar Technology

Attracts More Homeowners;

Larry Hagman's Tribulations By JIM CARLTON

October 4, 2007; Page D1

When Bill and Margaret Oliver decided to take the plunge into solar energy earlier this year, the retired Long Beach, Calif., couple searched for months to find someone who could install 35 newfangled solar panels atop their three-bedroom home.

Despite the hassles -- and though the panels cost them $39,000, after government rebates -- the Olivers say they're ecstatic to be escaping power bills that had soared to almost $400 a month. The panels contain a relatively new technology for the home called "photovoltaic cells," which convert direct sunlight into electricity. With the installation complete, their latest monthly bill totaled just $1.34.

"We had a cake party when they finished the job," recalls the 85-year-old Mrs. Oliver.

For decades solar energy use was largely confined to a small fringe of diehard conservationists. And their sole option was typically a "solar thermal" system that stores heat from the sun to warm pools or appliances. But these days, solar power is going mainstream in many more homes, helped along by a proliferation of new solar technology like cheaper photovoltaic cells and new solar-powered gadgets.

Photovoltaic cells, most of which are made from silicon, have exploded in use around the country over the past five years as once-prohibitive costs for home use of the technology have declined. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of new photovoltaic systems installed in U.S. homes nearly tripled to 7,446 from 2,805, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council in Latham, N.Y. Industry officials say that such installations are expected to top 11,000 this year.

Posted ImageThe Sunray SX2, a solar-powered golf cart made by Cruise Car, retails for about $7,000. The number of solar gizmos for the home is skyrocketing as well. At last month's Solar Power Conference 2007 in Long Beach, a record 12,500 attendees -- including luminaries like media mogul Ted Turner -- crowded past aisles crammed with brochures and products, including everything from solar-powered water heaters to carports.

One of the products shown was the Sunray SX2 golf cart. Made by Cruise Car Inc. of Sarasota, Fla., the cart comes equipped with a 48-volt battery that is charged by electricity generated from a sheet of black solar cells on the roof. The cart can travel as long as three days without having to be charged again, the company says, and retails for about $7,000 -- or $6,000 after federal tax credits. That's in line with the average price of an electric golf cart.

Also on display were redesigned heating coils for swimming pools. Heliocol USA Inc., for instance, displayed plastic tubes that collect heat for pools and come battened down with high-strength alligator clamps to withstand winds from hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. For a typical backyard pool in, say, Arizona, the system runs around $6,000, or $5,000 after tax credits. Since it costs as much as $650 a month to heat pools when the weather cools in the Arizona desert, Heliocol vendors say the system can pay for itself in two years.

But as the Olivers discovered when they tried to get their panels installed, the solar industry -- and especially the part centered on the new generation of cheaper photovoltaic cells -- is going through growing pains that can make the experience of going solar a headache. Two installers made appointments to come to the couple's house but never showed up. A third asked the Olivers to fax in their power bills, then dragged its feet. Three months later, the couple finally got a company, Akeena Solar Inc., to install the panels on their roof.

One problem is that there are hundreds of photovoltaic installers to choose from in states such as California and New Jersey, which are among the most aggressive in offering consumer credits to use solar. That makes it difficult to tell who's reliable. Officials with the Solar Energy Industries Association trade group advise consumers to check out installers through their Web site, www.seia.org, as well as to make sure they are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Posted ImageSolar panels on the San Francisco home of Sun Run Generation CEO and founder Edward Fenster. Former "Dallas" television star Larry Hagman, for one, also had problems with his solar installation. In 2005, he contracted with an installer to put in a $750,000 array of photovoltaic panels at his 42-acre avocado farm in the mountains above Ojai, Calif. But Mr. Hagman says the installer faced the panels away from when afternoon sunlight was strongest. Another installer he hired took so long he had to fire him and hire another. In all, it took a year and a half before a job that was originally estimated to take six months could be finished, Mr. Hagman says.

"Oh my God, I had troubles," says the 76-year-old actor, whose installation of some 560 solar panels ranks as one of the largest on a residential property.

One of the biggest questions for homeowners is whether converting to solar power will really save money. Installers often say you can pay off a photovoltaic roofing system -- which typically costs $30,000 to $40,000, after rebates and other incentives -- in as little as 10 years by saving on the cost of traditional power, which can easily run $300 or more a month. But some rooftop systems end up not delivering as much power as promised because the panels aren't installed properly, or because the electric-conversion equipment malfunctions.

Industry officials, for their part, say the new solar systems generally pay off over the long term. Sharp Corp. of Japan, a major photovoltaic manufacturer, estimate consumers spend as much as $140,000 for conventional power over a lifetime. And that total could rise, since utility rates are soaring around the country because of deregulation. By contrast, a $40,000 photovoltaic system can appear cheap.

For Mr. Hagman, the economics made sense. While he paid $750,000 in cash for his photovoltaic system, he says he got a $320,000 rebate from his utility, Southern California Edison Co. He also slashed his annual power bill from $37,000 to a mere $13. Mr. Hagman says what motivated him to go solar was more his concern over power reliability, following the 2003 blackout in the Northeast.

"I felt if our infrastructure was so delicate, I better look to making my own electricity," Mr. Hagman said in a telephone interview from his farm.

To help make the high costs of solar systems more palatable, companies such as SolarCity Inc. have expanded their offerings to include remote monitoring of customers' solar production. That helps ensure everything is working and that customers are getting the biggest bang for their buck from their solar technology. The consumer can also monitor their own system's performance through a Web site, say officials of the Foster City, Calif., firm.

Another option for homeowners who find the installation cost prohibitive is to lease a solar system. A San Francisco startup called Sun Run Generation LLC launched a program in January under which a homeowner can prepay as much as $8,000 for solar power, a fraction of the cost of a full $40,000 photovoltaic system. The company then installs its own photovoltaic system on the property for the life of a 20-year lease contract.

Posted ImageWorkers for Envision Solar build a model of a solar-powered carport at the 2007 Burning Man festival in Nevada. Consumers who can't afford a full photovoltaic system may also be able to get solar for parts of their home. A San Diego firm called Envision Solar Inc., for instance, says it plans to start selling carports covered with photovoltaic cells to generate power for the home and hybrid cars late next year. The carports are expected to sell for between $5,000 and $8,000.

And there are also new products that use the older solar-thermal technology. Canada's EnerWorks Inc. is marketing a solar thermal water heater called the Space-Saver, which is designed to cut power bills while taking up less room than a traditional heater. Priced at $6,000 -- or about $3,000 after government and utility rebates in some states -- officials of the company say the tank can pay for itself in as little as three years.

The most economical approach of all, industry officials say, is to buy one of the growing number of new homes already equipped with solar. Homebuilding giant Lennar Corp. is building about 2,500 homes in California in a partnership with SunPower Corp. of San Jose, Calif.

Officials of the Miami-based builder say they can sell the homes -- priced at $450,000 to $600,000 in the biggest tracts around Sacramento, Calif. -- without charging extra because of tax credits and the lower costs of installing solar equipment in a new home. In return, Lennar officials say the sales rate for their solar homes is running almost three times greater than conventional ones in a down market.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com

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I think a more efficient way would be wind power and geothermal energy. It would also be more cost effective and look better than those ugly solar panels on the roof, and $39,000! Wow! I can justify the $7,000 for the geothermal heating and cooling source, but not $39,000. You can also build your home with steel reinforced concrete to better insulate it. That costs an extra $4,000-$5,000. Thats still a fraction of the price of the solar. Wow.

It is a good idea though, if you have the money to do it.

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i LOVE PV. and geothermal and wind too. But PV has always been still a bit cost prohibitive. Maybe we will see a point soon where it becomes worth it ona large scale. Then, see it EXPLODE.

Imagine PV on top of a chevy volt. Would reduce how much you plug it in.

My grandma had solar on her house 25 years ago (by a state grant). 25 years later and we're really not much further on it yet.

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Solar power is the future, IMHO. The most abundant power source in our solar system is the sun after all; and the only way to get to a type II civilization is to harness the entire power of our sun. :AH-HA_wink:

As solar panels get better and more mass produced, the price will come down to where even cloudy areas (like Seattle) will benefit from solar power, and it'll be cheap too.

There has been experimental solar powered cars, but nothing really feasible yet. Many automakers have installed solar panels on the rooftops of their factories, which is great considering the sheer acreage of panels they can use (article).

Honda has been researching and developing solar technologies for automobile use for a long time now (article), and has had a prototype home energy station that will refill a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle using just water and solar energy. Not in production phase yet, but it would certainly be the next best step after electric and fuel cell vehicles become mainstream (the power needs to come from somewhere clean too after all).

Posted Image

Honda has their own subsidiary, Honda Soltec, devoted to researching and advancing solar technology.

TOKYO Dec 19, 2005 - Describing itself as “the first automaker to enter into solar cell business,” Honda Motor Co. said on Monday it plans to start mass-producing solar cells in 2007, eyeing growing demand for environmentally friendly energy sources.

Japan’s third-biggest automaker said in a statement it would build a new factory for thin-film solar cells on the site of a car plant in Kumamoto prefecture, on the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu.

The company said it aims to generate annual sales of $40 million to $70 million from solar cells once the factory’s output reaches full annual capacity of 27.5 megawatts, enough to power about 8,000 households.

“The mass production of Honda’s next-generation solar cell became possible with a new mass production process for thin film solar cells developed independently by Honda Engineering,” the company stated.

Honda will be competing with major solar cell manufacturers such as Kyocera, Sharp and Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

Solar for hydrogen?

Honda has been testing the thin-film solar cells at 13 facilities, most in Japan but also in Thailand and Torrance, Calif., where its North American operations are headquartered.

The U.S. project uses solar power to get hydrogen from water, thereby powering vehicles that run on fuel cells. The technology is still prohibitively expensive, but researchers have lowered costs significantly in recent years.

A Honda spokeswoman did not say when the factory would hit full capacity and declined to disclose the size of the investment, which the Nihon Keizai business daily estimated would be just short of $100 million.

Less CO2 in production

Honda said its solar cells would be composed of non-silicon compound materials, consuming half as much energy and generating 50 percent less carbon dioxide during production when compared with conventional solar cells made from silicon.

Many scientists tie manmade carbon dioxide emissions to global warming.

The company aims to sell the solar cells for both residential and industrial use. It will initially target the Japanese market.

Prior to mass production, Honda plans to manufacture and sell solar cells in a limited area in Japan from late 2006.

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I've looked into multiple alternatives for my house and none are really viable at this point. One thing about the "ugly" solar panels on the roof.... there is a company out there now that is making PV cells that look just like slate shingles. I don't know the cost, but you can mix and match these with normal slate so that you're only using the PV shingles on the sides of the house where it's worth it.

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there exists a GREAT BIG OPPORTUNITY for the aesthetics of our house to evolve and change in repsonse to things like PV and climate orientation, etc.

i wish i had time and money to pursue it.

plus the general public is repellant of most things prgoressive in housing anyways.

the planets would need to align where style, cost, and tech all come together at one time.

i mean, how cool would it even be to do even rain water collection, too?

i'm NOT A GREENIE, not a hippie, or a lefty or anything. BUt man, this $h! IS ALL FREE. that's where my interest lies. How do we collect what mother nature and the gods give all of us for free (and equally?)

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I'd love to convert my house to solar. The front of my house faces South. I wouldn't mind the look of the panels since I'd know they're serving a noble purpose. I don't think I could afford to do it though.
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I'd love to convert my house to solar. The front of my house faces South. I wouldn't mind the look of the panels since I'd know they're serving a noble purpose. I don't think I could afford to do it though.

There aren't many subsidy programs here in PA. PECO does have something, but I'm guessing you're not served by them.

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:rolleyes:

Not exactly what I had in mind. :lol:

:hijacked:

I received this invitation a few weeks ago:

This Sunday, September 30, 2007, I will be hosting a Stuffed Cabbage Dinner at the Hungarian Reformed Church of Duquesne, with all proceeds going directly to the church.....Your $8 gets you: 3 stuffed cabbages, apró, homemade mashed potatoes, fresh bread, coffee and iced tea, and dessert.

.....Additional stuffed cabbages will be available for sale, while supplies last, for $2 each. If you know you would like some of these in advance, please let Barb know when you ring her with your dinner reservations.

The person who invited me is a very close friend... as such, I was able to respond thusly:

While I'm in favor of funding alternative fuels, I regret that I won't be able to attend this event.

Drew

Got a phone call full of laughter as a response. :lol: :lol:

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cabbage smells after it is cooked/preconsumption as well as post consumption

Then it is not clean fuel. Greenies will have a field day.

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ew, who farted?
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Something New Under the Sun

The Link

Cheaper Solar Technology

Attracts More Homeowners;

Larry Hagman's Tribulations By JIM CARLTON

October 4, 2007; Page D1

When Bill and Margaret Oliver decided to take the plunge into solar energy earlier this year, the retired Long Beach, Calif., couple searched for months to find someone who could install 35 newfangled solar panels atop their three-bedroom home.

Despite the hassles -- and though the panels cost them $39,000, after government rebates -- the Olivers say they're ecstatic to be escaping power bills that had soared to almost $400 a month. The panels contain a relatively new technology for the home called "photovoltaic cells," which convert direct sunlight into electricity. With the installation complete, their latest monthly bill totaled just $1.34.

"We had a cake party when they finished the job," recalls the 85-year-old Mrs. Oliver.

For decades solar energy use was largely confined to a small fringe of diehard conservationists. And their sole option was typically a "solar thermal" system that stores heat from the sun to warm pools or appliances. But these days, solar power is going mainstream in many more homes, helped along by a proliferation of new solar technology like cheaper photovoltaic cells and new solar-powered gadgets.

Photovoltaic cells, most of which are made from silicon, have exploded in use around the country over the past five years as once-prohibitive costs for home use of the technology have declined. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of new photovoltaic systems installed in U.S. homes nearly tripled to 7,446 from 2,805, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council in Latham, N.Y. Industry officials say that such installations are expected to top 11,000 this year.

Posted ImageThe Sunray SX2, a solar-powered golf cart made by Cruise Car, retails for about $7,000. The number of solar gizmos for the home is skyrocketing as well. At last month's Solar Power Conference 2007 in Long Beach, a record 12,500 attendees -- including luminaries like media mogul Ted Turner -- crowded past aisles crammed with brochures and products, including everything from solar-powered water heaters to carports.

One of the products shown was the Sunray SX2 golf cart. Made by Cruise Car Inc. of Sarasota, Fla., the cart comes equipped with a 48-volt battery that is charged by electricity generated from a sheet of black solar cells on the roof. The cart can travel as long as three days without having to be charged again, the company says, and retails for about $7,000 -- or $6,000 after federal tax credits. That's in line with the average price of an electric golf cart.

Also on display were redesigned heating coils for swimming pools. Heliocol USA Inc., for instance, displayed plastic tubes that collect heat for pools and come battened down with high-strength alligator clamps to withstand winds from hurricanes and severe thunderstorms. For a typical backyard pool in, say, Arizona, the system runs around $6,000, or $5,000 after tax credits. Since it costs as much as $650 a month to heat pools when the weather cools in the Arizona desert, Heliocol vendors say the system can pay for itself in two years.

But as the Olivers discovered when they tried to get their panels installed, the solar industry -- and especially the part centered on the new generation of cheaper photovoltaic cells -- is going through growing pains that can make the experience of going solar a headache. Two installers made appointments to come to the couple's house but never showed up. A third asked the Olivers to fax in their power bills, then dragged its feet. Three months later, the couple finally got a company, Akeena Solar Inc., to install the panels on their roof.

One problem is that there are hundreds of photovoltaic installers to choose from in states such as California and New Jersey, which are among the most aggressive in offering consumer credits to use solar. That makes it difficult to tell who's reliable. Officials with the Solar Energy Industries Association trade group advise consumers to check out installers through their Web site, www.seia.org, as well as to make sure they are certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Posted ImageSolar panels on the San Francisco home of Sun Run Generation CEO and founder Edward Fenster. Former "Dallas" television star Larry Hagman, for one, also had problems with his solar installation. In 2005, he contracted with an installer to put in a $750,000 array of photovoltaic panels at his 42-acre avocado farm in the mountains above Ojai, Calif. But Mr. Hagman says the installer faced the panels away from when afternoon sunlight was strongest. Another installer he hired took so long he had to fire him and hire another. In all, it took a year and a half before a job that was originally estimated to take six months could be finished, Mr. Hagman says.

"Oh my God, I had troubles," says the 76-year-old actor, whose installation of some 560 solar panels ranks as one of the largest on a residential property.

One of the biggest questions for homeowners is whether converting to solar power will really save money. Installers often say you can pay off a photovoltaic roofing system -- which typically costs $30,000 to $40,000, after rebates and other incentives -- in as little as 10 years by saving on the cost of traditional power, which can easily run $300 or more a month. But some rooftop systems end up not delivering as much power as promised because the panels aren't installed properly, or because the electric-conversion equipment malfunctions.

Industry officials, for their part, say the new solar systems generally pay off over the long term. Sharp Corp. of Japan, a major photovoltaic manufacturer, estimate consumers spend as much as $140,000 for conventional power over a lifetime. And that total could rise, since utility rates are soaring around the country because of deregulation. By contrast, a $40,000 photovoltaic system can appear cheap.

For Mr. Hagman, the economics made sense. While he paid $750,000 in cash for his photovoltaic system, he says he got a $320,000 rebate from his utility, Southern California Edison Co. He also slashed his annual power bill from $37,000 to a mere $13. Mr. Hagman says what motivated him to go solar was more his concern over power reliability, following the 2003 blackout in the Northeast.

"I felt if our infrastructure was so delicate, I better look to making my own electricity," Mr. Hagman said in a telephone interview from his farm.

To help make the high costs of solar systems more palatable, companies such as SolarCity Inc. have expanded their offerings to include remote monitoring of customers' solar production. That helps ensure everything is working and that customers are getting the biggest bang for their buck from their solar technology. The consumer can also monitor their own system's performance through a Web site, say officials of the Foster City, Calif., firm.

Another option for homeowners who find the installation cost prohibitive is to lease a solar system. A San Francisco startup called Sun Run Generation LLC launched a program in January under which a homeowner can prepay as much as $8,000 for solar power, a fraction of the cost of a full $40,000 photovoltaic system. The company then installs its own photovoltaic system on the property for the life of a 20-year lease contract.

Posted ImageWorkers for Envision Solar build a model of a solar-powered carport at the 2007 Burning Man festival in Nevada. Consumers who can't afford a full photovoltaic system may also be able to get solar for parts of their home. A San Diego firm called Envision Solar Inc., for instance, says it plans to start selling carports covered with photovoltaic cells to generate power for the home and hybrid cars late next year. The carports are expected to sell for between $5,000 and $8,000.

And there are also new products that use the older solar-thermal technology. Canada's EnerWorks Inc. is marketing a solar thermal water heater called the Space-Saver, which is designed to cut power bills while taking up less room than a traditional heater. Priced at $6,000 -- or about $3,000 after government and utility rebates in some states -- officials of the company say the tank can pay for itself in as little as three years.

The most economical approach of all, industry officials say, is to buy one of the growing number of new homes already equipped with solar. Homebuilding giant Lennar Corp. is building about 2,500 homes in California in a partnership with SunPower Corp. of San Jose, Calif.

Officials of the Miami-based builder say they can sell the homes -- priced at $450,000 to $600,000 in the biggest tracts around Sacramento, Calif. -- without charging extra because of tax credits and the lower costs of installing solar equipment in a new home. In return, Lennar officials say the sales rate for their solar homes is running almost three times greater than conventional ones in a down market.

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton@wsj.com

They need a CAFE proposal for housing. Let's see a mandated reduction of 80% in KWh consumed per annum within 5 years, and a maximum level per occupant, with steady reductions over time. To kick start housing construction and renovation, existing housing must pass a trailing (i.e. the standard set 5 years earlier) energy consumption standard each time it is sold (with certain exemptions for heritage-listed buildings). Of course this means that homes may depreciate over time, bt given housing prices that may be a good thing.

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They need a CAFE proposal for housing. Let's see a mandated reduction of 80% in KWh consumed per annum within 5 years, and a maximum level per occupant, with steady reductions over time. To kick start housing construction and renovation, existing housing must pass a trailing (i.e. the standard set 5 years earlier) energy consumption standard each time it is sold (with certain exemptions for heritage-listed buildings). Of course this means that homes may depreciate over time, bt given housing prices that may be a good thing.

Beware the law of unintended consequences.

In many cases, it may end up that it is more economical to bulldoze the house rather than upgrade it to meet the new regs. The materials required to rebuild the structure would not necessarily be "green".

No, the solution is to place a "carbon tax" on households that don't use green energy and an "electricity guzzler" surcharge for households that use more than their share. This will encourage electricity consumers to 1) use energy saving appliances/lightbulbs and 2)Choose green energy suppliers for their home. 3)Not light up the exterior of their house like it's Shay Stadium using grid power. <low voltage solar is fine>.

Many houses are located in an energy deregulated area. Consumers can choose green alternatives when choosing electricity suppliers. Yes it costs more, but that is because the true cost of carbon based energy isn't passed on to the consumer directly through their utility bills.

The "carbon tax" would go towards building additional green energy sources.

edit: One of the things the carbon tax could be used for would be rebates to consumers who install solar on their houses.

Edited by Oldsmoboi
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The devil is in the details to be sure. But, it is way past time for the lazy politicians to look beyond the automobile for energy savings. There are literally thousands of things that could be done to improve our energy independence without a single new automotive regulation.

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The devil is in the details to be sure. But, it is way past time for the lazy politicians to look beyond the automobile for energy savings. There are literally thousands of things that could be done to improve our energy independence without a single new automotive regulation.

Completely agreed.

You really don't want to get me started on public transportation.

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Completely agreed.

You really don't want to get me started on public transportation.

I have a feeling that we'd agree there too.

and railroads

and energy infrastructure

and commercial/industrial buildings

and traffic control devices

and road design...

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I have a question...maybe I missed this in the thread...but is the electricity converted from the solar panels stored in say, batteries for evening use?

I think it's an excellent idea to use solar energy...it will reduce the use of fossil fuels that electric planets use, and at the same time the price for your energy will never go up...because the sun is free.

On top of all that, if you're buying or building a house, $39,00 isn't that bad when you consider the house will cost well over $100,000 anyway.

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I have a question...maybe I missed this in the thread...but is the electricity converted from the solar panels stored in say, batteries for evening use?

I think it's an excellent idea to use solar energy...it will reduce the use of fossil fuels that electric planets use, and at the same time the price for your energy will never go up...because the sun is free.

On top of all that, if you're buying or building a house, $39,00 isn't that bad when you consider the house will cost well over $100,000 anyway.

No, the electricity is not stored. The technology exists, but generally isn't used. In most PV setups, the house produces so much electricity during the day that it's not a big deal to the owner to run off the grid at night. In fact, the net effect is usually such that the home owner gets a check from the electricity company each month.

There is, however, a new device that takes advantage of the new system of timed metering <electricity costs more at certain times of the day>. The device charges the batteries off the grid during the cheap time and discharges during peak time.

I'm sure this could be modified for solar.

It is substantially more costly to retrofit an existing house than to build a new house with solar. If a new house is designed right, it can be built with both photo voltaic AND solar water heat for ultimate energy savings.

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I have a question...maybe I missed this in the thread...but is the electricity converted from the solar panels stored in say, batteries for evening use?

I think it's an excellent idea to use solar energy...it will reduce the use of fossil fuels that electric planets use, and at the same time the price for your energy will never go up...because the sun is free.

On top of all that, if you're buying or building a house, $39,00 isn't that bad when you consider the house will cost well over 3/400,000 anyway.

why not charge the volt off that extra power?

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