The “I hate solar panels” edition

Solar_panels_on_a_roofWe got solar panels several years ago.  We did so (a) because certain members of our household are greenies and (b) because we got huge government subsidies.  These subsidies weren’t enough to make the panels affordable for working class households, but they were funded, in part, by those same working class households.  In other words, the working class helped me — the economic upper class — buy something they’ll never be able to afford.

Thanks to the solar panels, we only pay energy bills twice a year.  The rest of the year, although we never get paid a cent, at least our energy bills are a wash.  At this rate, in ten years, the solar panels will have come close to paying for the money we shelled out for them.  (The working class, obviously, will never see a dime’s return on the money they unwittingly gave me.)  Even as some people gloat about their low or non-existent energy bills after installing solar, I’m thinking we’re still out-of-pocket for another “X” years before the damn thing breaks even.

Did I say “damn thing” about those wonderful solar panels?  Yes, I did.  I hate them.  It turns out that the only way to realize a saving on them that’s significant enough to offset their cost over a period of ten years is to use electricity only during “non-peak” hours, which are the hours when the sun doesn’t shine.  That means that, on weekdays during the seven spring and summer months of the year, I can’t run the dishwasher, turn on the washing machine, use the dryer, or engage in any other significant electricity usage unless I want my energy bill to go through the roof.

When we signed up, I thought, “Whatever.”  I wish I’d thought harder.  It turns out that my housekeeping doesn’t conform to the solar timetable.  I work at home and, for years, I’ve been accustomed to turning the dishwasher on when it’s full or putting clothes in the dryer once the washer has done its stuff.  Now, though, my counter is always cluttered with dirty dishes, because the solar window doesn’t match when our dishes get dirty, so I invariably have more dishes on the counter than I can deal with at the particular moment I’m allowed to run a load.  More times than I can count, because the dishwasher is packed too full, or because things have dried on in the 14 hours during which the system was “down”, or because my dishwasher detergent has no phosphates, nothing is clean, so I run a second load.  I’m sure that’s not green.

As for the washing machine, I try run a load in the morning like a good girl.  By evening, after dealing with household matters until ten or eleven at night, I’ve completely forgotten that I ran a load 16 hours before and that the stuff needs to go in the dryer.  Even if I remember, quite often I need to monitor that dryer load so I can recover items that can’t be in for too long, which is not something I want to do at 11:00 p.m.  On a good hot summer’s day, by the next morning the wet laundry will have started to mildew, so I get to wash it again.  And no, that’s not green either.

On weekends and during the five winter months, the only peak time is between five and eight in the evening.  That means that certain people go ballistic when I cook dinner using the oven.

If I were a more organized person, I’m sure this would work out splendidly.  But I’m not a more organized person.  Or rather, I’m not organized around peak and non-peak time.  My household biorhythms are different and, proving that I’m not at all adaptable, despite six or seven years with this damn solar power, I still haven’t gotten the knack of bending my household to the solar clock.

Why this jeremiad about solar power?  Because American Thinker ran an article today about the scam powering solar power — it’s incredibly costly and is affordable only when we hide costs, riding on the backs of the working class.

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  • Ymarsakar

    You know that the taxpayers subsidized the business for this, right? But what’s also true is that the businesses are having you pay them for their energy profits. They turn this profit over, not to the tax payers or the community, but to themselves.
    This is just a more sophisticated ponzi scheme.
    Green energy is just a combination of buying pardons and redistributing money to greedy people.

  • 11B40

    I spent most of my worklife in the printing industry, so a ten-year payback period wouldn’t have been touched with a ten-foot pole.  Three years or less or please don’t waste my time.
    The other bit of tid I can offer offer for your ex-post facto analysis is what is the effect of solar panels on the solar heating of your domicile ???  Mine has some serious southern exposure so most days are Cali comfortable. My bet would be that those somewhat elevated panels provide some serious heat insulation.
    Isn’t Environmentalism fun ???

  • Danny Lemieux

    You may be underestimating your “payback” period, Book. A business calculates payback based on the assumption of added revenues generated by installing new equipment, so inflation and economic cost are already figured into the equation. However, as a homeowner, you probably neglected to calculate “payback” based on future expected electrical power rates, inflation adjustments, or the economic cost of having invested those monies into more productive investments (retirement savings, for example). In addition, there are increasing reports that the lifespan of solar panels is somewhat shorter than predicted, so you would have to factor in an adjusted and properly discounted replacement cost (a de facto depreciation cost) into your expected return-on-investment.
    My point is not to throw financial gobblydegook at you but to underscore 11B40’s point: these usually overlooked considerations based on yet-unknown variables (e.g. energy costs) make any payback calculation beyond a 2 or 3 year period suspect.
    Unfortunately, your situation may be more of a lemon than you even anticipated.

  • jj

    The part I don’t understand is why solar systems can’t just stand alone.  I looked into it once upon a time, and discovered the small print – all of which is designed to benefit you, of course.  The power company puts a meter in, to measure how efficient your system is and tell them how much they in fact may owe you, because your excess power will be sent back to them.  This is cuddlesome in theory, but the fact is it comes with many a string, which seems to be the part that troubles you.  Once you allow them into your system via the new meter, now they get to have a say in how your system is run, and this “peak” BS becomes a matter of some importance.
    Me being me, I asked a few questions, along the lines of: “why would I want you bastards having anything to say about when I do anything in my own home?” (I am a famous diplomat, after all.)  The answers were less than satisfying, and larded in nonsense about how far ahead I’d be with them buying back power I produced.  Them telling me when I can do anything is for my benefit!
    I said, paraphrasing a bit but this is the essence: “here’s what I envisioned.  I build my system, and keep yours in place for rainy days and dark nights.  I put in a switch, which allows me to change between the systems at will.  My bill from you will be cut in half every month, and you won’t even know when I’m using my own system.  Why would you need to?  All you’ll know is that your bill to me is smaller each month.  (Which I could accomplish myself with manic conservation.)  At no point do you and I need to exchange information, and at no point do our systems need to interconnect.  It’ll be just like when the power goes out and I flip the generator on.”  They replied that this isn’t possible, because how would they know what they owed me?  I replied that this being my problem and my loss, I’d live with it.
    Can’t do it.  They have to have a say in my private electrical generation system.  They have to be involved.  And there’s the rub: government “has” to be involved, thereby leading to the absurd life you’re trying to live.  If I could do it and just not tell them about it, I might well – but it ain’t possible.
    So the end result is, here on the cliff-top we often enough in summer let the sun dry the clothes: they smell better and the fabric lasts longer without being superheated every few days.  (I grew up on a farm, and hung clothes out to dry forever, so this is no hardship.)  We use the dishwasher once every few months, just to run it and keep the seals wet so if we ever sell the place it’ll work okay.  But after dinner she washes, I dry.  Or sometimes I do both.  It ain’t hard, takes less time to do dishes for four people than it does for the dishwasher to simply fill itself in order to start the process, and encourages human interaction.  (My mother always refused to have a dishwasher at the farm.  Back in those days they were painfully inefficient, you had to wash the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher, a process in which she evinced little interest.  But every night we’d have a small party in the kitchen washing the dishes: my mother, me, my brother, maybe a nanny, maybe a maid, my father, dogs – all in the kitchen, yapping away.  A warm spot in the spool of memory.)
    So we live fine without a dryer or a dishwasher.  It isn’t hard, either.  They’re both present, have to run them now and then to make sure they’re OK – but don’t really have much use for them.  Not using either would, it seems to me, take care of about 85% of your “peak” and “off-peak” power usage issues.  Try it – with the kids.  Be really green: get out back with a clothesline, shame the neighbors!  Dishwashing?  An opportunity to have a talk, work through homework, find out about the kids and their friends.  You’ll be incredibly well-informed about the neighborhood: the kids know everything and you won’t have to “carve out” time to talk to them: it’ll just be there, naturally occurring, every night.  I assure you: it’s all good!

  • sabawa

    JJ, you sound as if you could be from Australia.  I lived there from 1996-1998, Castle Hill, NSW.  Looked hard for a dryer.  My neighbors thought I was acting like royalty.  They all hung their clothes on the line.  And dishwashers, there are just two ‘old’ people in my home these days….dishes-by-hand is the way to go except once a month I give the machine a go for resale purposes.  If you don’t fire it up once in a while, the motor doesn’t work .  
    Are people still installing solar panels?  I haven’t noticed them in years but I left California a long time ago.

  • jj

    You have to run it every now and again, yes.  It’s not just the motor apparently, it’s the seals around the door.  If they don’t get moistened from time to time they dry out and crack, and then they leak.  The home inspector comes in, turns it on to make sure it works, and precipitates a small flood.  So – about every five weeks or thereabouts we run it through a cycle.  During which time we could have done the dishes fourteen or fifteen times – it requires nearly an hour to cycle!

  • lee

    11B40–I worked in capital improvements, and our ROI was seven years. Depending on the outlay, and the payback. But then you’re in a field where technology changes pretty fast–the technology would be so far out of date by seven years, it would be trash at that point.
    I have RAILED against the subsidies for solar panels for YEARS. They are a waste, and like you said, only help subsidize people/businesses with money. It frosts me even more when states in the north, like New York state, or Vermont, push it. California is one of the few states where the latitude plus the sky state might almost make it work.
    Check out the Inverse Square Law: “The intensity of light observed from a source of constant intrinsic luminosity falls off as the square of the distance from the object.” Once you tilt the plane at an angle to the normal, it really goes down even more signficantly. So, the closer to the equator, the more light that hits an area, the further from the equator, the less. So the further north you get from the Tropic of Cancer (Or the further south from the Tropic of Capricorn) the less efficacious the solar panel. Once you get to the nothern US, or northern Europe (even just as far north as Germany; Scandinavia is pretty useless), your solar panel is crap. Add to that, that outside of a desert, there is often so much particulate in the air (mostly moisture) which also signficantly reduces the amount of light making it to the solar panel. (So even southern climates that have a high degree of humidity are problematic locations for solar panels.)
    There is even more to the solar panel scam: the Chinese take a bath on solar panel production, more or less to force competitors out of the market. So solar panels are actually even MORE expensive than you are allowing for.
    Add to that little tidbit of info that the Gang Green is doing its utmost to make sure that US mining and production of the minerals needed to produce the film is shut down entirely: ‘Tis better we have more trees, and no jobs.
    The only “solar-technology” really worth a rat’s backside is passive heating of water for swimming pools, and possibly for domestic hot water–if a supporting system is available. It basically pumps the water through black piping, and the sun heats it up. In a place like California, especially the Bay Area, that would be quite nice.

  • Matt_SE

    Green [everything] is a lie and a boondoggle.
    It makes me angry seeing people (almost exclusively women) bring reusable bags to the grocery store. They aren’t saving money. They aren’t saving the environment. What they ARE doing is making everyone else wait on them.
    Subsidies for solar infuriate me for the reasons you state. Then, there’s the propaganda and ignorance.

  • Ymarsakar

    There are technologies that can make solar power efficient in terms of power generation. However, that’s not something the politicians will allow. Because start up companies and inventions don’t have the cash reserves to bribe them compared to status quo industry giants that want to keep the competition down. We know how that works.

  • Navy Bob

    Book, I agree the working class is getting screwed by the greenies.  I too have solar but I don’t have any time of use issues, perhaps Marin is ahead of us on the Central Coast in bending to the will of the green lobbies.  I do not have such a negative fiscal outlook on my panels.  I spent ~$25K on a 6KW system and dropped my electric bill from $250/month in the summer and $150 in the winter to $12/month with an annual true up bill of ~$100.  Taking my annual bill from $2,500/yr to $250/yr.  A savings of  $2,250.  That is about a 9% return on that $25K.   To say nothing of the tax savings I got the installation year.  Seems like a good deal to me. 
    JJ is correct you save a lot of money with a clothes line. It takes some discipline but works well, the clothes last a lot longer and they smell better. 
    My big power user is my well, a large orchard and huge garden take a lot of watering but we eat well. 
    Not mentioned in the American Thinker article was the scam perpetrated by the electric car owners.  In my town at the local bank there is a 10 station electrical charging station (across the street from the movie theater) that has half a dozen of those expensive Telsa’s sucking up the free energy every afternoon the poor working class smucks are paying  for.  The bank gave them the land, the local Air Pollution Control District gave them a grant to build the stations and we all pay the monthly electrical bill.  Income redistribution at it’s best,  poor drivers subsidizing the rich ones.

  • Michael Adams

    On the east side of I-35, between Round Rock and Austin, there is a business that sells “eco” stuff, with a great big windmill out front, that looks a bit like a giant egg beater.  Every  morning my wife passes it and wonders aloud, “How much did I pay for that s**t?”
    However, in the light one candle, rather than curse the darkness theory, clotheslines, where they are legal, are great for non- permanent-press clothes, stand-alone wooden racks are even better, in some ways.  The clothes do last longer, especially knits and anything with elastic, smell like sunshine, cost nothing to dry.  OTOH, the  control-everybody crowd may have decided that out door drying is bad, so, until it becomes mandatory, it is forbidden.
    A second candle is bus tubs.  Get nice big ones at the restaurant supply places, and let the dishes soak in them.  Get a local craftsman, the kind who does not use power tools, to build a rolling cart/rack with brackets on the insides to hold the lip of the tubs, and never have dried-on dirty dishes again. When you have time to load and run, the dishes will come out cleaner for having been soaked.  A word of caution, however:  Don’t leave them soaking too long, the water starts to stink.  Never mind how I know that.

  • Karl

    <blockquote>Once you allow them into your system via the new meter, now they get to have a say in how your system is run, and this “peak” BS becomes a matter of some importance.</blockquote>
    Of course the power company (and any government riders) have to spy on your electricity use.  That’s why they keep talking about “peek performance”.  (Not their fault you keep spelling it wrong!)

  • Karl

    I called a solar system company for information and they sent their local rep to my home with his presentation.  I decided against buying in when it became obvious that he was not going to leave me any printed material to peruse at my leisure.  Nevertheless, I sat through his presentation.
    First off, the system was expensive, and a lot of the cost was due to hardware that was needed to interface with the power company.  Since part of their model includes electricity being sold to the DWP during the day, there had to be metering for power flowing both ways.  Also, the system has to have an interrupt in case the city power grid goes down for any reason.  This is a safety device, because otherwise linemen might be working on a hot line, charged by your household system. 
    In order to show in his calculations that the solar system would save me money,  he made some generous assumptions.  I would be eligible for all possible subsidies and incentive programs, and I would realize a hefty tax write-off.  Even so, he had to assume a 5% annual increase in both the power cost and the amount of power I use, as far as the eye can see. Well, I haven’t seen a 5% increase in the electric rates, though I can’t speak for the future. I may increase the numbers of KWH I burn through each year, but then… the system is designed for my current annual KWH usage.  If I increase the amount of electricity I use, the system will not grow to keep pace.
    In the end, I decided not to go solar until the technology is much improved.

  • Call me Lennie

    You know what makes even less sense than solar panels in Marin County?  What about solar panels in Portland, Oregon?  And yet I saw them all over the place when I was up there a week ago — especially in the Hipsterville Old Town.  And I was thinking, “These people do love to preen green don’t they?
    Preen green … greenpreening … Preening Green Weenies —  Ha, I may be in the process of coining 0ne here

  • beefrank

    BW,  Sorry to read about your solar panels.  As other ‘greenie’ projects, you have discovered the scam as it does not provide the promised savings nor  ‘saves the planet’ but I bet you feel good.  Regarding your dishwasher problems, you discovered the non-phosphate soap which was the result of a anti-phosphate agenda in Spokane regarding algae growth in the Spokane River and the industry’s voluntary removal from residential dishwasher soap.  As a result, the phosphate removal did not stop the algae growth and household dishwashers no longer provided spotless cleaning regardless of the price and model of the dishwasher.  Fortunately, industrial dishwasher soaps  still contain phosphates and I purchase my supply from Amazon dot com.  I  love the irony.  Spotless dishes and glasses will again grace your home.  You probably discovered solar panels require cleaning to maintain optimal efficiency.  I use unscented sudsy ammonia to clean my household windows which I learned as a professional window washer during my college era.  Just mix the concentrate with water until the solution is ‘slippery’ between the fingers.  Remove water using window squeegee or just hose off.   It will work great on those panels.  I am thankful for those ghastly chemicals!