Sunday, July 19, 2009

Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power

Because I often seem to need this.

It's a great paper on the real costs of Nuclear Energy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Unit Idea... PowerPeak-Lifetime25 (or somesuch).

A Solar Cell performance degrades over time. The effective lifetime of Solar Panels are right now considered to be in the area of 25 years.

The rate at which a collection of cells degrades, on average, over the lifetime may not be a nice line.

I can only guess what the curve looks like for a standard Silicon, Wafer-based, Cell but I imagine that it's close to linear. If you have good data, I'd love to see it.

On the other hand, particularly when future cells have their efficiency enhanced by things like coatings, the curve could get alot more complicated. You might have a Silicon Solar Cell that will degrade linearly over 25 years, but the cell might be coated with a product that will increase its initial efficiency by a very significant amount, but which might degrade in effect completely after only 15 years.

Depending on the cost to add the coating, etc, it might very well be financially advantageous to buy this panel with a rapidly degrading initial phase, and a slowly degrading long term component.

The way I see it is that if, for example, a 100W panel were to degrade at 1% per year over its 25 year rated lifetime, then the effective Peak Power is really 87.5W. That's the effective peak power over the panel's lifetime, of PowerPeak-Lifetime25.

In the same way, if you had a panel of the same surface area area that was 160W, but it degraded at 2% per year for 15 years, and then 1% after that till 25 years, it would have an effective PowerPeak-Lifetime25 of 140W.

This would allow the customer to know what they're really buying over 25 years, even if it would take some estimations and tricky modeling on the part of manufacturers. They'd have to try to figure out with great care exactly what the FUTURE degradation curve of their product is going to look like. No worries, they'll appreciate the challenge. :)

In any case, if you're not reflecting rates of lifetime degradation in the cost per Watt, then there is trouble on the horizon for everyone involved.

EDIT: I suppose I spoke prematurely. I assumed that there wasn't a standard name for this. There must be. I ask then, what is it?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

White roofs to fight global warming - Chu


It's a fine article on the potential impact of white roofs.

What gets me is:

This is a marked contrast from previous energy secretaries, who often came from business or political backgrounds and had little experience in the energy industry itself, let alone the scientific community that many now hope will help the country move away from fossil fuels. President Reagan's first energy secretary tried hard to abolish his own department.

It just makes it hard to believe in humanity that this kind of thing is true. Sure, not many people understand Energy, or its real impact on their lives; I wouldn't understand it if I hadn't stumbled into Physics. Aw well, we've got a good Qualified Energy Secretary right now, and so I'll try to just keep looking forward. :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

So, you want to buy a solar plant, part 2.

I thought I'd extend my calculations from So, you want to buy a solar plant, part 1, to make them a bit more realistic. You'll find the basic logic for this post at that location. Here's a recap:

(1) Outgoing$Monthly = TotalPeakPower (kW) * Cost/Wp * C1

(2) Incoming$Monthly = TotalPeakPower (kW) * Rate ($/kWh) * C2

(3) C1 = i / (1 - (1+ i)^-n)

Note: i = .0042, n = 300. Previously, I had set n to 240 for a 20 year loan, but in this case, I'll be setting n to 300 for a 25 year payoff period.

(4) C2 = Insolation Ratio * 1year * 365days/year * 24hours/day / 12months

Note: Insolation Ratio = .1875. Previously I had used .20 for the Solar Plant's local Insolation Ratio. The particular location that's being considered is in the area of Bangalore. I see from this Insolation Map that that area seems to be recieving between 4kWh/day/m2 and 5kWh/day/m2 in Solar Energy. For this estimation's sake, I'll pick the middle, or 4.5kWh/day/m2. Using previous calculations, this works out to an Insolation Ratio of 18.75%.

(5) Setting Outgoing$Monthly = Incoming$Monthly gives the break-even long term average energy price per kWh with respect to the cost per Watt of the Installation:

(6) Cost/kWp ($/Wp) = Rate ($/kWh) * C2/C1

Or conversely:

(7) Cost/kWp ($/Wp) * C1/C2 = Rate ($/kWh)

I want to take this one step further, and take into account degradation of the system over time, as well as various losses like Inverter / Substation losses. I'll try to be aggressive on this correction, to err towards the worse case. So, over the 25 years over which I'm considering, I'll say that the modules lose 1% per year, and Inverter losses are 8%. Averaging the degradation over 25 years gives a loss of 12.5%, plus the 8% Inverter loss, gives a total of a 20.5% loss.

I'll reflect this in my equation by going back to another equation from Part 1 (one of the roots of the (6), above):

(8) TotalPeakPower (kW) * Cost/kWp * C1 = TotalPeakPower (kW) * Rate ($/kWh) * C2 (Hours/Year)

Just prior to (6), I had canceled TotalPeakPower out of my equation. Essentially, these equations should give a rough estimate of the Levelized Cost of Energy irrespective of the total size of the Installation. Of course, there are alot of variables involved when changing scale, and these aren't reflected here. Consider this to be more along the lines of an ideal solar farm. It costs the same per Watt to add a thousand Watts of capacity, or a hundred thousand Watts.

Remember that on the lefthand side of the equation is the initial cost per Watt of the system, while on the righthand side of (8) is the income per unit energy. So, essentially, the "TotalPeakPower" on the left is the ideal TotalPeakPower, while the TotalPeakPower on the right is the effective TotalPeakPower as reflected in the Energy produced over the lifetime of the system, by which income is derived.

So, I'll throw in some subscripts.

(9) TotalPeakPowerideal * Cost/kWp * C1 = TotalPeakPowereffective * Rate ($/kWh) * C2 (Hours/Year)

In the ideal case, TotalPeakPowereffective = TotalPeakPowerideal, but in this case, there's a 20.5% loss, so:

(10) TotalPeakPowereffective = .795 * TotalPeakPowerideal

Plugging (10) back into (9) gives:

(11) TotalPeakPowerideal * Cost/kWp * C1 = TotalPeakPowerideal * .795 * Rate ($/kWh) * C2 (Hours/Year)

So, I can now still cancel out the TotalPeakPowerideal, and I'm left with a correction to the income side of the equation, which reflects system degredation losses and Inverter losses.

The final result is:

(12) Cost/kWp * C1 = (Rate ($/kWh) * C2 (Hours/Year)) * .795

Taking a case, let's say your installation is going to cost $5.25/W, or $5250/kW.

Solving (12) for Rate gives:

(13) Rate ($/kWh) = Cost/kWp * C1/.795C2

C1 = i / (1 - (1+ i)^-n) = .0058 (i = .0042, n = 300 (25 years))

C2 = .1875 * 8760 Hours/Year / 12 Months/Year = 137 Hours/Month

C1/.795C2 = .00005325

Rate ($/kWh) = $5250/kWp * .00005325 = $.28/kWh

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wondering about Intel.

The New york Times told us the other day that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is planning to enter the Solar Cell market.

What I want to know is, where is Intel? These guys know the Silicon Wafer as well as anyone else. Are they passing up an opportunity?

Wait, looking up "Intel Solar" brings up SpectraWatt. SpectraWatt was formed by Intel in June '08. Their plan was to build a manufacturing plant in Oregon to start deliveries in mid-2009. In January of '09, SpecraWatt halted construction of their Oregon plant, and on April 9th of this year they announced their intention to build a headquarters and manufacturing plant in New York.

Ok, so deals went sour in Oregon, I don't know the details, can't say much about that, but still, I gotta say WTF? Come on, INTC. Do you REALLY want into this market? After a year with pretty much nothing to show for it, you are now planning to manufacture 60MW by 2010, and 120MW annually within a couple of years after that. Even if the Implementation had gone flawlessly, this tiny output demonstrates a lack of vision, at the very least. SpectraWatt will have to do better than this if they want to compete in this market.

So, it looks then like Intel has actually moved to enter the Solar Market. They've just done so in a half-assed noncommital sort of way.

Of course, they've got cash. Maybe, like HP, they've discovered that the bottom line doesn't necessarily support building new manufacturing plants in the US. They could buy a heck of alot of Asian production, all in one fell swoop. There won't be too many opportunities to buy into the Asian industry on the cheap, though.

My guess then is that they're not actually idiots; they know what's up, and they're just being sneaky. It's too bad, though, that this Leading US Company is taking so long to get into the game.

Presentation - GT Solar

Here's a newish presentation by GT Solar (dated 6/5/09). Thanks to Parabequ of Yahoo for the find.

Also, here's a nice brief on the process of manufacturing Polysilicon.

It's tough stuff to make. The technology has been kept pretty carefully under wraps for years, but it's breaking out with help from the folk's at GT Solar. Note page 13 of the presentation and the estimated price per Kilogram of $25. If this works out to be true, then it will be a significant step in taking Silicon-based Solar Energy to Grid Parity and below in the mid-term.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Innovalight - Silicon-based Thin Film.

News came up this last week on Innovalight installing "the industry's first high-throughput silicon-ink inkjet printing system."

If there's any thin film competition for wafers in the large-scale installation niche, I suspect that it must be silicon-based, simply because of the whole supply-constraint problem in the rarer materials like Tellurium, and to a lesser extent, Indium. Innovalight looks to be a good potential contender in Silicon-based Thin Film.

It doesn't look like Innovalight is giving out its cell's efficiency, and they also apparently haven't mentioned the capacity of their new production line, but they are talking about $.50/Watt in the long term (cost vs price, unknown). It'll be interesting to see how far they'll have to scale in order to approach $.50/Watt, and how much money it's going to take them to get there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Global Oil Reserves Fell in 2008 on Russia, Norway, Says BP

Global Oil Reserves Fell in 2008 on Russia, Norway, Says BP.

Don't forget Peak Oil.

Take the Crash Course.

Crash Course Chapter 17a: Peak Oil

Crash Course Chapter 17b: Energy Budgeting

Crash Course Chapter 17c: Energy and the Economy

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thoughts on Solar Materials - Thin Film - 6/3/09

I hear the arguments on future domination of the Solar Industry by Thin Film Technologies, but I would suggest that this is far from certain.

What particularly gets me is when people talk about how they're going to come up with solar paint or some such thing, and all of our problems will be solved, just like that; like a snap of the fingers. The argument goes that there's little point in spending all the time and effort on the massive industrialization of Silicon, because some futuristic technology will simply come along to make it obsolete.

Ok, so maybe it's true that some revolution will come along that will completely change how we see Solar Energy. Maybe one day you'll be wearing Solar Clothing to charge your remote devices, and cars and homes will wear coats of Solar Paint to provide for their Energy needs.

Even if this Solar future is to be the case, though, we know that it will have to meet certain requirements, particularly in terms of Scalability / Material Availability, and Cost Efficiency.

Remember that only 1000 Watts of Power strike the surface of the earth per Square Meter on average in the middle of a clear day. That's it. No matter the wonderful technology that you develop, you can't generate more energy than what's available. To generate the incredible amounts of Energy that will be required of the future Solar niche will require a mind-dizzyingly vast array of "panels" distributed around the Planet. That's miles upon miles of glass and aluminum frames housing some kind of protected PV material, whether Wafer-based or Thin Film; or else unhoused, or lightly-housed thin films of various types, even potentially including "painted" Solar surfaces.

The main point that I want to mention at this point is on the value of Cell Longevity.

Note that when you invest in a Solar Panel, you are actually paying upfront for the entire future energy production of that panel. Normally, Solar Panels are rated in Cost per Watt Peak, or Peak Power, which is an indication of the amount of Energy that the Panel would produce at an instantaneous moment of time in ideal midday conditions. Peak Power, however, is no indication of how much Energy that the Panel will actually produce over its lifetime. Two different kinds of panels may cost the same number of Dollars per Watt, but if one lasts only half as long as the other, then ultimately it is twice as costly in terms of its total Energy Production over its lifetime.

This is where the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) comes in. When you Calculate the Levelized Cost of Energy of a Solar System, you are basically determining the overall cost of the System per unit Energy over the Entire expected Life of the System. I did a rough version of this kind of calculation here. Sunpower Corp provides this nice description of the factors involved.

There are a several reasons why a Solar Cell might stop working. One reason that a cell could fail would be from molecular damage to the PV material simply by the bombardment of Solar Energy (including various cosmic rays). This could slowly degrade any kind of Solar Cell. Other types of Solar Cell may be chemically susceptible to degradation, such as today's Organic and Plastic Cells. These materials degrade quickly under common exposed conditions, and at this stage of the game, a lifespan of five years or so seems to be the cutting edge. Finally, of course, smashing a Solar Cell by way of storm debris or a baseball can destroy a panel, and dirt and grime can cover the surface and degrade its performance.

Solidly encasing the PV material in an aluminum and glass (or possibly plastic) module will, in most cases, help to protect the cells from physical damage, but that housing will certainly add to the cost of manufacturing the module. For a thin film product aiming to compete on very low manufacturing cost, this added expense is going to be a killer. In fact, during First Solar's Q1 '09 Conference Call, Jesse Pichel of PJC suggested that Glass was actually FSLR's largest cost. First Solar didn't disagree, and nobody mentioned Tellurium.

Now, if glass is actually even a significant portion of the cost per watt for a thin film, then it sets a kind of a lower limit on the potential cost to manufacture Thin Film Cells housed in glass (adjustable by efficiency). So, to some extent, the decision is whether to go for extreme affordability (or flexibility) and avoid a robust enclosure, but lower the operating lifetime of the cells; or else go for a longer lifespan, but adding significantly to the total cost of the module. First Solar, for example, is targeting a production cost of $.65 per Watt.

Though I'm certain that nanotech of various sorts will be able to make headway in durable exposed thin film cells, I can't help but think that it's going to have its limits. For comparison's sake, a tarp is made of very tough stuff, yet I've seen my share of tarps shredded by fall winds, and a tarp doesn't depend on the same kind of exacting chemical structure that a PV cell does. You can beat the crap out of a tarp, and it will still keep the rain off of your stuff. I'll be very impressed if I see a thin film material that you can roll into a ball, peat with a stick, and still use to generate electricity. I can't wait to see the infomercial.

There are numerous conclusions that I could follow with, but for now, I'm going to leave this with a simple idea for the consumer. Don't just buy solely based on Cost per Watt, or one day you're going to be led astray. Know what you're buying, and make sure that it has a solid warrantee over a time period to assure your expected payback. If you're offered a deal too good to be true on a cost per watt basis, it could simply be that the product you're buying is going to crap out long before it pays itself off.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spire Solar - Nanophotovoltaic Device Patent.

Spire Receives U.S. Patent for Nanophotovoltaic Devices

This patent is for nanophotovoltaic devices formed from silicon or gallium arsenide having sizes in a range of about 50 nanometers to about 5 microns, and method of their fabrication.

Although there are a number of applications, the patent describes one application which is to inject nanophotovoltaic devices into diseased tissue, e.g., cancerous tissue, and activate these cells by the use of suitable radiation. These cells will generate electric fields in the tissue, causing a disruption of the cancerous cells.

Another day, another neat Solar Tech Announcement.

Spire is an interesting company. They don't seem to get much notice, but they've been around for a very long time. The present CEO, Roger G. Little, founded the company in 1969. He's a Physicist / Ironman Triathlete, and is surely tough as nails by the fact that he's stuck with a business like Solar Energy for so long; through so many years of very unfriendly market conditions. In addition to Solar, Spire has several Medical and Semiconductor Technologies that they produce, and so this new patent seems like a nice little fit between the several divisions of the Company.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Calculation Central.

One of the fun things that I have been enjoying doing for this blog is to run various calculations that in some way apply to Solar Energy, or Energy in general. Since these things tend to get lost down the blog history, so I've decided to keep a reference to them here.

Note: I would consider all of these to be rough. Since I am typically looking at very general cases, I make assumptions. As much as possible, I try to point out the assumptions in the detail of the article.

Also, I'm typically choosing some specific variable or variables to focus on, so I am probably not calculating exactly what you are looking to know. However, hopefully that doesn't mean that my work isn't some value in giving direction in possible ways to look at a problem and to work out a reasonable solution.

Selected Calculations:

So, you want to buy a solar plant, part 2.

Description: Extends Part 1 by correcting for panel degradation and inverter losses.

So, you want to buy a solar plant.

Description: A rough start at a look of Calculating a Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) for Solar.

Part II : Percentage Land Area required for 100% Replacement of 2006 Energy Demand.

Description: State-by-State comparison of Total Land Area required in order to replace 100% of that State's Electricity Consumption.

Percentage Land Area required for 100% Replacement of 2006 Energy Demand.

Description: State-by-State comparison of Total Land Area required in order to replace 100% of that State's Energy Consumption.

For the Survivalists: How much gasoline is one Solar Panel worth?

Description: Comparison between the energy output of typical modern Solar Panels to the energy contained in a Gallon of Gas.

How much is 1% in efficiency worth in Solar?

Description: Discussion of Diminishing Returns in Increasing Conversion Efficiency.

Does Solar Tracking make sense?

Description: Comparison between a Stationary and a Tracking Installation, discussion of potential advantage of tracking in Energy Output.

Real World Estimation of Land Use per Watt - Sunpower

Description: Land Use Scenario using Tracked Sunpower Modules. Expands upon Solar vs Coal, Land Area Comparison, below.

Solar vs Coal, Land Area Comparison, below.

Description: Comparison between Kentucky Coal Output to potential Kentyucky Solar Resource. Ideal Situation. Expanded on in Real World Estimation of Land Use per Watt - Sunpower , above.

A Note on Units of Energy and Insolation.

Description: Description of the concept of Insolation, and description of a rough way to use Insolation as a basis for Annual Solar Energy Output.

Looking forward to 2020.

Description: Scenario for 2020 making assumptions based on 15% replacement of Fossils by Renewables by 2020. Assumptions are very optimistic.

Coal / Solar Cost Comparison - Final Draft.

Description: Comparison between Coal and Solar Costs over the long term, assuming various rates of Inflation. Written prior to Economic Crash, so certain Assumptions should be reworked.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Idle Speculation... Counterparties, Derivatives, and Hedging.

I work with a fellow, incredibly sharp, and very well versed on finance with a focus on hedging.

Today we were talking.

He talks about how basically everybody is hedged in all of these ways, so that they'll be assured of returns within some particular range. For instance, a bank doesn't care about whether you pick a fixed or a variable interest rate, because as soon as they make the deal, they're going to hedge it with derivative deals designed to make sure that returns over the period of the loan are within an acceptable percentage range, irrespective of what happens to actual interest rates over that time. Well, it seems that everything works out great as long as none of the hedging Counterparties go under. At that point, you have to have another layer of hedge to insure you against counterparty bankruptcy. Soon enough, it becomes a pretty ugly web of dependent hedging relationships.

Another example would be in the case where you might write, say, 1000 Naked Call Option Contracts on some company. You don't have the shares, but you've just offered to sell 100,000 shares to the Call Buyers IF the price of the stock is above a particular "strike price." At the Option's Expiration Date, if the Calls ended "in the money," then you'd have to buy and deliver a huge number of shares, and you'd take a very large loss on the deal. Well, to protect from losses, you can simply buy a swap from a counterparty, which basically insures you against loss in the case that you had to deliver shares. Having just paid a premium to a counterparty, however, and by putting THEM on the hook for your potential losses, you are giving that counterparty incentive to support your interest in whatever way they can; to keep your calls "out of the money." Of course, your counterparty isn't going to just go on the hook for your losses without a hedge, so they might very well bring another counterparty in on the deal, and so on. In such a way, there could potentially be incredible amounts of money riding on the success or failure of even a small public company, and nobody outside of the loop would have any way of knowing about it. These side deals would all be private arrangements, and they wouldn't leave a tick on a chart.

Well, my first impulse was to suggest that in such a situation, a share price could not move freely because of all the pressure put on it by its associated Derivatives, but my friend corrected me, and suggested that, no, the shares could move to reflect fundamentals IF the Derivatives were in balance in both directions. Of course, normally there would be Financial interests sitting on the other (long) side of the deal. Some of these interests would be the same ones that were placing the original short bets, and long interest could be used as a hedge in and of itself. However, it's not the normal case that I'm worried about. The case that I'd be worried about would be one in which a significant chunk of Wall Street were on one side of a trade, and they eventually had to take their losses and test the fitness of their counterparties. Really, it wouldn't have to be Call Options in particular, it could be the Derivative Hedging of Short Sales, or Naked Short Sales of a target company, that could create a systematic counterparty risk in the case of a big, unexpected price movement.

Last, imagine that you are at a company involved in Investment in the Stock Market, and you are involved with various and sundry counterparties in hedging deals. Imagine that you look at a stock or industry that seems like a promising prospect for future growth. What would you do if you found that your counterparties would take big losses if you went and did something to drive up the price and profit from the long side? Well, at the very least you'd think very carefully about whether it would be worth it to blow up your own counterparties by buying those shares.

I don't know... it's just Idle Speculation.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

FSLR; The Betamax of Solar?

FSLR announced their earnings today. The results were great, particularly considering the overall economy.

I've given FSLR considerable thought in the last couple years, and I remain convinced that they have unspeakable future problems. On their investor relations page, they link to the pdf associated with their Q1 conference call. In it, they mention what they consider to be risks to their business, but nowhere do they mention the risk associated with availability of their critical Tellurium supply. Ok, so maybe they have it all figured out; but nobody's asking, and nobody's telling.

Ok, I don't know, but I want to get an idea of what kind of supply issue they're up against, so I've gathered some info.

Per Greentech Media, FSLR uses 6 grams of Tellurium per square meter. (See.)

Per First Solar, the FS-277 Module is .72m2 and has a peak power of 77.5W. (See.)

77.5W / .72m2 = 107.64W/m2

So, at 6 grams / m2, the amount of Tellurium required per Watt works out to be 6g / 107.64W = .056 g/W.

Well, we know that FSLR is aiming for a bit over a GW in annual production for '09 and '10, so rounding to 1GW gives roughly 55.7 Metric Tons of Tellurium required to produce that GW of modules.

The question, then, is how much Tellurium is out there, and what does it cost?

According to the USGS, the price has ranged from $41,800/MT in 2004 to
$82,000/MT in 2007. The World Supply of Tellurium according to US Geological Survey was 132MT in 2006.

Ah, no problem. If they're using 55MT to produce 1W worth of modules, and they're paying even the high price of $82,000/MT for their supply, then they're only paying a total of $4.5 Million for their entire yearly supply of Tellurium. That's less than a penny per Watt. In fact, during the CC, Jesse Peechel stated, quite possibly accurately, that First Solar's largest cost was glass.

Wait, a problem. Solar is big. A sensible look at the required future scale of Solar Energy puts the annual Global installation rate to be around 30GWp per year by just 2012. What if FSLR wants to maintain a significant share in this market?

Well, as it is today, it appears that over a third of the World's Tellurium supply is required for the production of a single Gigawatt of First Solar modules.
If FSLR were to take 10% of that market, they'd have to produce 3GW of modules, which by today's efficiencies would require 165MT of Tellurium, or more Tellurium than the World produced in 2006! Well, maybe the price of Tellurium is a pittance when the company is demanding only a third of the World supply of material, but I can guarantee that it won't remain so when that company is demanding 33MT MORE than the World's annual supply.

A big part of this problem is that there's no such thing as a Tellurium mine. Tellurium is only produced as a byproduct of mining other commodities, such as Copper. This means that it's very difficult to increase the World Supply independently of the supply of those other materials. If you were to mine Tellurium alone, the cost would be astronomical, and yet if you were to drive up the mining activity in Tellurium's sister elements, then you'd have the affect of driving down the prices of those materials, thus making them into less desirable targets for mining.

What about efficiency gains? Sure, if FSLR is able to pull off a tripling, or even just a doubling of their efficiency, then they could make do with dramatically less material. I can imagine several possible ways that they could do this, but I suspect that it will be a tough path. As it stands, per the CC pdf, FSLR has increased the conversion efficiency of their product by .3% since Q1 of '08. That's simply not going to cut it, particularly if you look out past 2012 when the market gets even larger.

I don't know. They have some very smart people there, and they're working hard in an exciting industry. The particular technology just doesn't seem to stack up to me, though, and like I said, nobody is asking questions and nobody is volunteering answers.

Ah well, in the short term, I'm quite certain that they are going to do great. Wall Street loves them, and they have excellent margins for the time being. They very well might be able to leverage some of that temporary financial advantage in order to open up new technologies to their benefit, so we'll see.

All that said, I'm not short FSLR, and I suspect that to go short FSLR would be a very bad plan.

Also, a final note, it's pretty obvious that I think that the strongest players at this time are out of China, but it's not that I don't like some US Companies. I really like Applied Materials, and Sunpower to name a couple of domestic players.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So, you want to buy a solar plant.

A Scenario.

Note: A follow-up scenario includes accounting for system degradation and inverter losses.

The cost of the install + Interest will equal some amount of money to be paid out per month. I'll call this Outgoing$Monthly.

Power generated per month will be sold on the market for some amount of money. I'll call this Incoming$Monthly.

Set Incoming$Monthly = Outgoing$Monthly.

This would be the point at which your investment broke even on a monthly basis (not including maintenance cost at the moment, this is just to include interest expense into the equation). It's not going to be quite right, because of seasonal variation, as mentioned below, but I'm not looking for anything exact, just a rough way to start gauging cost / benefits.

The end result will be a relationship between the Installation Cost per Watt, Interest Rate, and Required Sales Price of Energy produced in order to break even.

I'll skip to the chase, for those that don't want to read through the whole thing.

Cost/kWp ($/Wp) = Rate ($/kWh) * C2/C1

Note that the assumed interest rate (5%) for purposes of this post has been set and absorbed by C1, and the Insolation Ratio has been absorbed into C2.. Other assumptions are pointed out below.

To give an example of what this tries to point out, let's say you can sell the energy produced by the power plant for $.25/kWh (equal to the low range of this estimate of costs for future nuclear power plants).

Cost/kWp ($/Wp) = $.25/kWh * 146 Hours/Year / .0066 = $5,530/kWp, or $5.53/Wp.

So, if you can sell your power for $.25/kWh, then you break even (roughly) if you can complete the installation for $5.53/Wp or less. Note that the equations below DO NOT include the existing 30% Federal Tax Credit for Solar Installation. That's icing (of course, it also doesn't include lifetime performance degradation or inverter losses).

Fact: this is very much in the range of possibility in TODAY's market. Particularly in the case of mid-large scale installations.

The basis follows.

If there's one thing that I've learned being on the Internet this many years, it's that if you're wrong, somebody will point it out. Have at it with my thanks!

Here goes:

First, find the Monthly Payment required to make the loan payment for an installation of some total cost.

(1) Outgoing$Monthly = (Principle * i) / (1 - (1+ i)^-n) See

This is the Monthly Payment on the loan for the power plant with the below assumptions.

Principle = Total Original Loan amount used to finance the entire plant = the Total Peak Power of the plant * the overall Cost per Watt of the system.
i = periodic interest rate (Monthly. Assume 5% APR, so i = .05 / 12 = .0042).
n = total number of payments (Months. Assume 20 Year Loan, so n = 240).

(2) Principle = TotalPeakPower * Cost/Wp

The Principle is the amount of the loan, where the total cost of the installation is given by the Total Peak Power * Cost per Watt. Substituting for "Principle," from (2) into (1) gives:

(3) Outgoing$Monthly = (TotalPeakPower * Cost/Wp * i) / (1 - (1+ i)^-n)

For simplicity, and ease of double-checking results, I'm going to treat n and i as constants (they are part of the assumptions above), and will pull a constant out of the above equation (3):

(4) Set C1 = i / (1 - (1+ i)^-n) and substitute into (3).

(5) Outgoing$Monthly = TotalPeakPower * Cost/Wp * C1

Now, to figure out what's coming in every month on the sale of the Energy.

This doesn't include seasonal variations. On thinking about it, though, in an Energy market where consumers are paying based on momentary supply and demand, wintertime prices could actually go up based on decreased supply, and so help to balance out the annual cycle for the energy supplier. Then, in the summer where supplies were higher, the prices to the consumer would decrease to offset some winter costs.

In any case, following similar logic to my note on Insolation, the Annual Energy output of the plant can be written as below.

(6) Annual Energy (kWh) = TotalPeakPower (kW) * 20% * 8760 Hours/Year * 1 Year

Start by writing down an equation to relate the Installation's Total Peak Power, to it's Annual Energy Output. I'm plugging in an assumption of a 20% Insolation Ratio, which would include a broad swath of non-sunbelt States. The Insolation Ratio Assumption for this post applies to such shady states as Tennessee, Missouri, and even North Dakota.

(7) Incoming$Yearly = Annual Energy (kWh) * Rate ($/kWh)

Multiplying the Annual Energy Output by the Rate at which it sells for, gives the Total Income for the year. Divide by 12 (below) and you have the Average Monthly Income.

(8) Incoming$Monthly = Incoming$Yearly / 12 Months

(9) Set C2 = .2 * 365 * 24 / 12

Once again, I'm going to pull all of the Constants out of the equation (6) to come up with C2.

(10)Incoming$Monthly = TotalPeakPower (kW) * Rate ($/kWh) * C2

Ok, so now we have the Monthly Outlay required for loan payments, and we have the Monthly Income from energy sales.

To break even - let's set them equal to each other.

(11) Set Outgoing$Monthly = Incoming$Monthly

(12) TotalPeakPower (kW) * Cost/kWp * C1 = TotalPeakPower (kW) * Rate ($/kWh) * C2 (Hours/Year)

(13) Cost/kWp ($/kWp) * C1 = Rate ($/kWh) * C2

Canceling out TotalPeakPower (kW) from both sides of the equation, gives a very simple equation relating the Rate at which the energy is sold, to the Cost/kWp of the initial plant installation.


Ok, so to an example and a factcheck.

First, Calculate out C1 and C2.

(14) C1 = i / (1 - (1+ i)^-n) = .0066 (i = .0042, n = 240)

(15) C2 = .20 * 8760 Hours/Year / 12 Months/Year = 146 Hours/Month

Then, pick a target Sale Price for the power that is produced by the Installation, and solve (13) for Cost/kWp. I'm using $.25 in this case, so:

(16) Cost/kWp = Rate * C2/C1 = $.25/kWh * 146 Hours/Month / .0066 = $5,530/kW

Now to check it, or at least check the Interest Calculations:

Since TotalPeakPower was canceled out of the above equation, I'll pick a value to use for the factcheck, say, 1000kW.

So, using (3), Outgoing$Monthly = (TotalPeakPower * Cost/Wp * i) / (1 - (1+ i)^-n) = 1000kW * $5,530/kW * .0042 / (1 - (1+ .0042)^-240) = $36,617/Month.

Then, using (6), Annual Energy (kWh) = TotalPeakPower (kW) * 20% * 8760 Hours/Year * 1 Year = 1,752,000kWh/Year and Dividing by 12 to get a monthly Energy Output, gives 146,000kWh/Month.

Multiplying this by $.25/kWh gives $36,500/Month

Pretty Close. Exponentials are subject to rounding errors. Another way to check would be to put the total cost, or Principle (in this case, $5,530,000) into any number of online mortgage calculators.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Big news out of Applied Materials!

Applied Materials says value of solar order cut.

'Applied Materials Inc (AMAT.O) said on Monday the value of a sales agreement to supply solar production equipment to a private buyer has been slashed to $250 million from $1.9 billion due a worsening global economy.'

This is almost certainly in relation to AMAT's deal with Best Solar out of China. If so, this dramatically reduces the risk to Mr. Peng of default on this deal, for which he put up a large number of his personal shares of LDK as collateral.

Kudos to ibcnu2nite of Yahoo for the find!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Market - A Bucketshop.

So, a fellow on Bloomberg was talking about Bucketshops this morning.

We modernised ourselves into this ice age.

Wikipedia on the Bucketshop.

Basically, they were businesses on the sidelines that would play bets with customers on the stock market, but were not actually connected to the stock market. It's as if I were to bet someone $50 on LDK to go up, and vice versa, but neither of us would actually ever trade a share of LDK, and certainly we wouldn't be regulated as if we were actually trading in the market. It's very close to what has happened with Derivatives in the last 10 years. A great many of them, Trillions of Dollars had no fundamental basis in any physical ownership of ANYTHING whatsoever. They're side bets, pure and simple, and many of those making the wagers had no ability to pay up in the case of losses. The idea of running bucketshops didn't stop when they were outlawed... it was expressed later by those that led the US Government to deregulate via the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and it was implemented by the "Derivatives Desk."

Of course, the Bucketshop is illegal, but the insideous concept finds its way even into the regulated markets, by way of the DTCC. Is the DTCC just throwing your trades in a bucket in the back room? In some cases, at least, it certainly is; only, we the customers don't ever get to look behind the curtain to see for ourselves. Does the share that my brokerage claims on my account really represent a legitimate link to a physical asset? All I know is what my broker tells me. If my broker were a bucketshop, would it be obvious to me, the customer? Would they admit it?

The DTCC needs to get cracked open. Let's find out what's going on in there. The Investing Public has the RIGHT to know how the DTCC handles their PROPERTY.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Part II : Percentage Land Area required for 100% Replacement of 2006 Energy Demand.

Yesterday I posted a chart showing a rough estimate of how much land area would be required by each State in order for that State to replace 100% of its Energy Demand (per DOE numbers).

I posted it at DailyKos, and on the LDK board for comments.

Apsmith of DailyKos makes a good point that there are generator losses, etc., which should be used to reduce the overall total energy required to be replaced, and China_s2 of Yahoo agrees, and points out a different set of data, which is based on retail electricity use, so should closely represent actual electricity delivered, as opposed to total Energy Input.

So, I copied over the old data to a new sheet, plugged in the new data, and came up with a rough estimate of the total land are required to replace 100% of US 2007 Electricity demand.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Percentage Land Area required for 100% Replacement of 2006 Energy Demand.

The following chart represents the percentage of land for each State, and the USA as a whole (without Alaska), that would be required to replace 100% of that State's Annual Energy Demand.

Make no mistake, the numbers are huge. Then again, nobody is actually talking about 100% replacement by Solar, Ever. This is just to give an idea that it is physically possible, at all.

Assumptions and references follow.

here's the spreadsheet.


State Energy Data.
State Land Area Data.
State Insolation Estimates.
Sunpower Power/Area Claim.

Assumptions / Notes:

The percentages reflected in the Graph are based on a Stationary system, though the value for Power/Area is based on a Sunpower claim related to their tracking system. This should be irrelevant, as Power is independent of whether the system tracks or not. Since these are Sunpower numbers, the Panel's Conversion Efficiency should be around 22%.

The Demand cited is irrespective of source, and so includes existing production of renewables such as Hydropower. Here's a very interesting page from the DOE giving detailed map-based information on US Energy sources. There's a "Select a State" dropdown that will take you to a close-up of the individual State including facts and demographics.

In order to work out an the Area, I used the equation:

Annual Energy Output = 1 Year * Power/UnitArea * Insolation Ratio * TotalSolarArea * 8760.

For more info, see A Note on Units of Energy and Insolation. Solve for TotalSolarArea, and divide by the State's Total Land Area, and you will get the percentage. Most of the trouble here is just in the conversion of units. On a political note, can we just all go metric please?

The Insolation values were eyeballed from the map. If anybody's got some better data on State Average Insolations, I'd love to see!

The base data does not seem to include Transportation Energy, though it didn't specify.

Of course, this assumes nice flat areas of land, on which to set up installations, and it also assumes that each state takes care of its own needs irrespective of local conditions or capacity. It's a brief look from 1000 miles up above. It's not exhaustive, but it's fun, and maybe interesting.

By all means, if my basic math is way off, let me know.

This post is followed by Part II, which calculates the same area percentage, but only for the replacement of Electricity End Use.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chinese Solar Rocking today!

It looks like this is the reason.

LDK up 30% at the moment. STP up 35%+.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

For the Survivalists: How much gasoline is one Solar Panel worth?

Ok, first, what is the Kilowatt*Hour equivalent of a gallon of gas?

A Gallon of gas contains 114,000 BTU/gallon per Wikipedia (and other sources).

So, 1kWh is ideally equal to 3412 BTU, but no Generator is ideal. The generator's conversion efficiency is measured by its "heat rate," and the common range seems to be centered around 8,000-11,000 BTU/kWh. For this estimation I took a very efficient generator and used 8000 BTU/kWh (about 43% Efficiency).

Using these numbers gives a Total Energy Output/Gallon of 114,000 BTU/Gallon * 1kWh/8000BTU, or 14.25 kWh/Gallon.

Cost: $2.50/Gallon. This gives Cost/kWh = $2.5/14.25kWh = $.18/kWh

Now, let's look at a single 200Wp Solar Panel over one year at a 17% Insolation location (like in Massachusetts).

200Wp * .17 * 1Year = 34W*Year = 34W*Year*365Days/Year*24Hours/Day = 297.8kWh
Cost: $800/Panel. This gives Cost / kWh = $800/297.8kWh = $2.68/kWh

Woah! Ok, so obviously the Solar System doesn't pay off in a year. Going out 25 years, though, (assuming 10% average degradation over that time) gives a total of 6700.5kWh produced over that time for a total 25 Year Cost/kWh of $0.12/kWh.
For another comparison, over 25 years this single solar panel will produce the equivalent of 470 Gallons of Gas, or at this rate, 19 Solar Panels (3800Wp) will produce the equivalent of a gallon of gas per day.

Of course, this isn't exhaustive. I didn't compare costs of the generator involved, or of the installation and inverter costs for the Solar (this will at least double the cost for Solar Energy, but Government Incentives will bring it back down quite a bit). The focus here is a comparison between energy output over time. The point being, it's a potentially valid hedge for those that might be worried about future disruptions in such things like the supply of gasoline for generators. Prior to such a time, there are choices to be made, and in the case of a very long term potential outage, Solar Panels will provide much more energy than a person could even safely store in the form of Gas for an extended period of time. I also didn't account for such things as Interest on debt, because a Survivalist isn't necessarily going to care about that. If the time comes that they are preparing for, they know that money just might not worth what it is at the moment, and a working light bulb may be worth alot more.

Of course, remember that if you're one of these people, the neighbors will know that you have Solar Panels (or a Generator), and they'll want in on it. Therefore, the best thing we can all do now, is to do everything possible to make sure that not just "we" have a system, but to make sure that as many of our neighbors have them, too. Desperate people are dangerous.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Converting Energy to Peak Watts.

I put this out on the LDK board today. I figured I'd keep it here for posterity.

The debate starts with a claim that a company's product can put out 500MWh / acre / year, and that this is a good thing.
Well, it may be a good thing, but I can't really compare it to anything without converting it to Peak Power. So, that's what I do.

500MWh is energy, not power. So, we need to convert to Peak Power in order to compare to other systems.

Energy = Power * Time, so Power = Energy / Time.

Average Power per Acre = 500,000kWh/Year/Acre / Time (1 Year) = 500,000kWh*1day/24h*1year/365days*1/acres*1/year.

Do some cancelling and division:

The Average Power required to produce 500,000kWh in a year per acre is 57kW/acre.

Ok, so the company didn't give any idea of what assumed insolation ratio they are using here, but if it were set up in, say Arizona, and was on a dual axis tracker, 33% insolation would be a reasonable guess.

Start with Peak Power * Insolation Ratio = Actual Average Power.

Solve for Peak Power = Actual Average Power / Insolation Ratio = 57kW / .33 = 173kWp

This is the Peak Power Rating of their 500MWh/acre/year system assuming dual axis tracking, and 33% Insolation Ratio.

Comparing to a real world scenario (see).

Per Sunpower Tracker Advertising, their system works out to 161kWp/acre, which is just slightly less peak power than this reflecting system, which makes sense if the reflecting system gets a 28% conversion efficiency.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Great article on Black Silicon.

"Black silicon is between 100 and 500 times more sensitive to light than untreated silicon."

"The company won’t build semiconductors or even semiconductor fabrication equipment, but will instead work with as-yet-unnamed partners to develop specifications for machines that can treat isolated areas of silicon wafers to create black silicon."

They're either going to sell the capacity to produce black silicon to one, or to many companies. This will be fun to see.

Heck of a day today in Solar.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

More Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo.

The other day I pointed out the diminishing retrurns of increasing a Module's Conversion Efficiency. The folks on Daily Kos nicely pointed out how trivial the results really were. Well, I can live with that. I think the post still serves to make very clear that the percentage change in output Energy is, in fact, proportional to the percentage change in Conversion Efficiency (I don't know, I guess I just had to see it for myself).

As usual, if there are errors, please let me have it; though please point out a specific or two rather than just saying "check your math."

So, turned into a simple equation, increasing a module's Conversion Efficiency increases the total energy panel output per unit time and per unit area by (Conversion_Efficiencyfinal / Conversion_Efficiencyinitial - 1) * 100%.

For example, the percentage difference between the Annual Energy Output of a 16% Efficient Panel and a 20% Efficient Panel would be (20/16 - 1) * 100% = 25% (assuming constant Area).

Following from this, I'd like to get a few more bits of information from these variables.

Effects on Surface Area of Improving Conversion Efficiency:

It could be said that PowerPeak (W) = InsolationPeak (W/m2) * Area (m2) * Conversion_Efficiency (%).

Setting PowerPeak and InsolationPeak as Constants, then we can say that C = Area * Conversion_Efficiency.

Take two scenarios, say, Case 1 and Case 2.

C1 = Area1 * Conversion_Efficiency1.

C2 = Area2 * Conversion_Efficiency2.

C1 = C2

Area2 / Area1 = Conversion_Efficiency1/Conversion_Efficiency2

Let's imagine a Solar Manufacturer and set today's average Conversion Efficiency at 16%, and let's say that by 2012 the average Conversion Efficiency will be 22% for some company.

Area2 / Area1 = .16/.22 = .72 = 72%

So, in order to generate the same amount of Peak Power at 22% Conversion Efficiency vs. 16% Conversion Efficiency, the manufacturer need produce only 72% as much area of PV material. Nice.

I'm not sure how "deep" this thought is, but I'm putting it out here, at the very least as a future resource for myself.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How much is 1% in efficiency worth in Solar?

Ok, so say you start with a Solar Panel that's 15% efficient (like today's low-end Crystalline Silicon Panels). For simplicity's sake, lets say that the panel has an area of 1 M^2.

So, at 1000W/m^2 Insolation, the panel will produce 150W, so this would be called its Peak Power Rating.

Let's say that you set that panel in an area with an Insolation Ratio of 20%.

In one year, that panel will produce 30W*Year = 262.8kWh [150W * .20 * 1Year * 365 Days/Year * 24 Hours/Day]

Now, say that the solar panel is 16% efficient.

At 1000W/m^2, the panel will produce 160W, so this is its peak rating.

You set that panel in an area with an Insolation Ratio of 20%.

In one year, that panel will produce 32W*Year = 280.3kWh

What is the percentage difference in the Energy Produced by the two panels in one year?

280.3kWh/262.8kWh = 1.067, so the 16% efficient panel will produce 6.7% more energy in a year than a 15% efficient panel.

Now, say that the solar panel is 22% efficient.

At 1000W/m^2, the panel will produce 220W, so this is its peak rating.

You set that panel in an area with an Insolation Ratio of 20%.

In one year, that panel will produce 44W*Year = 385.44kWh

This panel prouces 46.7% more energy in a year than the 15% panel.

See for a Spreadsheet that shows the interesting, but maybe obvious results.

So, let's say I have a choice between a 14% Module and a 15% Module. Well, the 15% module produces 7.14% more Energy per year than the 14% one. So, I had better look at the prices, and if the 15% module is more that 7.14% more costly, then you're better off sticking with the 14% one. This is assuming that space, quality, etc, aren't factors, of course. This is "all things being the same."

What if I has a choice between a 45% module and a 46% module? Well, the 46% Efficient Panel will produce just 2.22% more Energy per year than the 45% Efficient one. So, once again assuming that space isn't a factor, the 46% efficient panel had better be no more than 2.22% more costly.

I'm thinking that this is something that manufacturers have to be thinking about, too. Of course, there could be marketing reasons why a panel of a higher percentage efficiency might sell for more, and there are certainly applications that put surface area at a premium, but from a basic cost perspective at the very least, if a manufacturer of 50% efficient modules thinks that they have some technology that will take that efficiency up to 51%, then they'd better be able to manufacture those panels for less than 2% more than it costs them to make their 50% Modules. If the additional materials and manufacturing operations are going to add more than 2% to the cost of manufacture, then they very well might not have gained anything by the "breakthough."

As usual, if my thinking is wrong, by all means, let me have it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Does Solar Tracking make sense?

I want to know, so I'm going to try to work out a rough scenario.

Looking at Wattsun Tracker Datasheets, I've decided to use 12 175W Suntech Panels. See

Cost of Tracker Equipment: $6250.

Additional Installation Costs (Rough Guess): $3000-$4000 (lower costs if you can put together an out-of-work electrician, welder, and some laborers).

Panel Total cost at $4.50/W = $9450; Total Peak Watts: 2100W

Inverter Cost: $2500 (small inverter, for just this application).

Cost of Tracking System:

Using these rough estimates, the total cost of the Tracking System with Panels would range from $21,200 - $22,200. Just to assume the worst, I'll stick with $22,200, or $10.57/Watt.

The cost of JUST the Tracker and Installation ($4000), runs $10,250, or $4.88/Watt.

Cost of Stationary System:

Calculating a rough cost of an Installed Stationary System, I'll go with the above Panel Cost of $4.50/Watt, and using the Solarbuzz estimation, which suggests that the total installed cost of the system will be twice the cost of the panels (I believe that this would include the Inverter). So, for comparison purposes, I'll set the Installed Stationary system at a total of $18,900, or $9/Watt.

Insolation Comparison:

In a normal stationary scenario, the Installation would produce energy according to the usual local Insolation values. However, the fact that it's a tracker, leads to an INCREASE in the effective Insolation value. Using a US Government Insolation Reference, it looks safe to say that for at least a very large portion of the US, there's a 2 kWh/M2 difference in Annual Insolation between a "Flat Plate Tilted South at Latitude," and a "Two Axis Tracking Flat Plate." I know from previous calculations that 2 kWh/m2 is equivalent to an insolation ratio of 8.33%.

Let's put this percentage in terms of our original 2.1 kW System. Assume that the Stationary Installation is on a roof angled at latitude, in a region that recieves an average of 20% Insolation over the course of the year. In ideal conditions, this system will produce 2.1 kW*Year * 20% = 0.42 kW*Year = 3679kWh.

Now, let's put that same system on a tracker, thus increasing the effective Insolation Value by 8.33%. This system will produce 2.1 kW*Year * 28.33% = 0.59 kW*Year = 5212kWh.

We can see that an 8.33% increase of in the effective Insolation Ratio has increased the total Annual Energy Output by 29.5%!

Does the Tracker pay off?

To start out with, let's find out how much Energy each system will produce in 25 years. To be a bit more accurate to the real World, I'll take off 25% from each value to reflect Inverter losses, efficiency degredation over the 25 year lifespan, and variation from the Manufacturers Test Conditions that went into the initial rating of the Panels.

Stationary: 3679kWh/Year * 25 Years * .75 = 68,961kWh.

Tracking: 5212kWh/Year * 25 Years * .75 = 97,725kWh.

So, over the course of 25 Years, the Tracking System produces 28764kWh more than the Stationary System.

Since the Tracking System cost $3300 more than the Stationary System, this is our target to beat.

Taking the difference between the two outputs, and multiplying by a reasonable energy selling price ($.12/kWh) gives 28,764kWh * $.12/kWh = $3451, which, compared to the additional cost of the Tracking System ($3300) is a win over 25 Years, just barely.


Yes, the tracker pays off slightly over 25 years, using rough estimations. Much would depend on the specific local conditions, and the Electricity Costs.

Final Comparison:

The Stationary Roof Installation had a Total Cost of $18900, or $9/Wp, and produced 68,961kWh over 25 Years.

$18900 / 68,961kWh = $.27 / kWh.

The Tracking Installation had a Total Cost of $22,200, or $10.57/Wp, and produced 97,725kWh over 25 Years.

$22,200 / 97,725kWh = $.23 / kWh.

From this, we can see quite clearly how, though the price per Peak Watt for a Tracking System is higher than for a Stationary System, the actual cost per unit of Energy of a Tracking System is lower.

Of course, there are many variables unaccounted for in these basic Calculations, including Government Subsidies, Interest on Loans, and Insurance Considerations. More detailed Calculations would have to be done on a specific case-by-case basis. I think this is good for a start.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lots of good news Lately...

Check the left-hand sidebar. Lots of RSS Feeds there. Keep coming back, it's changing all the time.

In louisiana...

Louisiana has one of the better Solar Energy incentives. It's 50%, on top of the 30% provided by the Federal Government.

You could buy a 5KW system that originally will cost around $22,000 for a final price of $2000. It'll totally pay off in 5 years, then the energy is free for the life of the equipment (panels are usually warranteed to 25 years).


For my estimation above, I took the average power used per year (American Residential Rough) of 8000 kWh, converted to power used per month (666 kWh), selected "other" utility, zip code = 70822, and Electricity Offset = 50%.

Spread the word. Movement on these incentives will be beneficial to the local Economy, and Residents.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Following my first Stimulus Post, here's one that's short and sweet. From the Stimulus Package. I'm presently in a class on "ITIL" which is a set of "Best Practices" for IT and Business. One of the basic tenents is "You can't manage what you can't measure." Well, here we see direction for the Energy Department to get some data on the real system that's out there. From this will be found Natural Priorities based on measured results, rather than on Politically Motivated Claims.

I like.



In completing the 2009 National Electric Transmission Congestion Study, the Secretary of Energy shall include—

(1) an analysis of the significant potential sources of renewable energy that are constrained in accessing appropriate market areas by lack of adequate transmission capacity;
(2) an analysis of the reasons for failure to develop the adequate transmission capacity; 20
(3) recommendations for achieving adequate transmission capacity;
(4) an analysis of the extent to which legal challenges filed at the State and Federal level are delaying the construction of transmission necessary to access renewable energy; and
(5) an explanation of assumptions and projections made in the Study, including—

(A) assumptions and projections relating to energy efficiency improvements in each load center;
(B) assumptions and projections regarding the location and type of projected new generation capacity; and 10
(C) assumptions and projections regarding projected deployment of distributed generation infrastructure.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stimulus Bill - First Look - State Energy Grants.

There's alot to digest for Alt-Energy in this Stimulus Package. I looked it up and did some searching around. There are an incredible number of references, and I'm no Lawyer. I've decided that I'll take it a section at a time, and pull together references and resources as I find them. Skipping to the very end, leads me to the first section that I'm going to look at, or, SEC. 7006. ADDITIONAL STATE ENERGY GRANTS. At first look, I think I'd describe this as saying that if the State assures that they will move on setting the standards described in (1),(2), and (3), then they are eligible for direct grants by the Department of Energy for Renewable and Conservation Projects.

My interpretation of (1),(2), and (3) runs along the lines of "Decouple" the Utilities as has been done in California, Set Building Codes and other Standards, and prioritize Renewables and Conservation projects.

Sounds good to me!

My plan is to work on a letter to write to my State Congresspeople and Governor, to request that they begin this process of setting standards, and prepare to take full advantage of these Funds. In particular, I'd like to motivate people in the Southern States to start this process. These states are too often ignored, and yet they have excellent Solar Potential. Many are also Coal States, and so will require extra efforts to move towards Solar.


This section refers back to the earlier content of the Bill described as "paragraph (6) under the heading ‘‘Department of Energy—Energy Programs—Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’’ in title V of division A of this Act."

Here's the referred-to section.

(6) $3,400,000,000 shall be for the State Energy Program authorized under part D of title III of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act ((42 U.S.C. 6321).

Here's the referred-from section.


(a) IN GENERAL.—Amounts appropriated in paragraph (6) under the heading ‘‘Department of Energy—Energy Programs—Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’’ in title V of division A of this Act shall be available to the Secretary of Energy for making additional grants under part D of title III of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (
42 U.S.C. 6321 et seq.). The Secretary shall make grants under this section in excess of the base allocation established for a State under regulations issued pursuant to the authorization provided in section 365(f) of such Act only if the governor of the recipient State notifies the Secretary of Energy that the governor will seek, to the extent of his or her authority, to ensure that each of the following will occur:

(1) The applicable State regulatory authority will implement the following regulatory policies for each electric and gas utility with respect to which the State regulatory authority has ratemaking authority:

(A) Policies that ensure that a utility’s recovery of prudent fixed costs of service is timely and independent of its retail sales, without in the process shifting prudent costs from variable to fixed charges. This cost shifting constraint shall not apply to rate designs adopted prior to the date of enactment of this Act.
(B) Cost recovery for prudent investments by utilities in energy efficiency.
(C) An earnings opportunity for utilities associated with cost-effective energy efficiency savings.

(2) The State, or the applicable units of local government that have authority to adopt building codes, will implement the following:

(A) A building energy code (or codes) for residential buildings that meets or exceeds the most recently published International Energy Conservation Code, or achieves equivalent or greater energy savings.
(B) A building energy code (or codes) for commercial buildings throughout the State that meets or exceeds the ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007, or achieves equivalent or greater energy savings.
(C) A plan for the jurisdiction achieving compliance with the building energy code or codes described in subparagraphs (A) and (B) within 8 years of the date of enactment of this Act in at least 90 percent of new and renovated residential and commercial building space. Such plan shall include active training and enforcement programs and measurement of the rate of compliance each year.

(3) The State will to the extent practicable prioritize the grants toward funding energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including—

(A) the expansion of existing energy efficiency programs approved by the State or the appropriate regulatory authority, including energy efficiency retrofits of buildings and industrial facilities, that are funded—
VerDate 0ct 09 2002 22:48 Jan 23, 2009 Jkt 000000 PO 00000 Frm 00645 Fmt 6652 Sfmt 6201 C:\TEMP\HR1.XML HOLCPC

(i) by the State; or
(ii) through rates under the oversight of the applicable regulatory authority, to the extent applicable;

(B) the expansion of existing programs, approved by the State or the appropriate regulatory authority, to support renewable energy projects and deployment activities, including programs operated by entities which have the authority and capability to manage and distribute grants, loans, performance incentives, and other forms of financial assistance; and
(C) cooperation and joint activities between States to advance more efficient and effective use of this funding to support the priorities described in this paragraph.

(b) STATE MATCH.—The State cost share requirement under the item relating to ‘‘DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY; energy conservation’’ in title II of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1985 (42 U.S.C. 6323a; 98 Stat. 1861) shall not apply to assistance provided under this section.
(c) EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES.—No limitation on the percentage of funding that may be used for the purchase and installation of equipment and materials for energy efficiency measures under grants provided under part D of title III of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6321 et seq.) shall apply to assistance provided under this section.


The limitations in section 399A(f)(2), (3), and (4) of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6371h-1(f)(2), (3), and (4)) shall not apply to grants funded with appropriations provided by this Act, except that such grant funds shall be available for not more than an amount equal to 80 percent of the costs of the project for which the grant is provided.


Friday, February 6, 2009

The Senate Bill, Not Yet Passed.

One source says that they pulled $5 Billion or so (most in planned loan guarantees).

There are Billions left in the Bill, though.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Real World Estimation of Land Use per Watt - Sunpower

Sunpower gives us an idea of a realistic value for Land Area per Watt of 2-3 Hectares per MW.

Convert Units:

2.5 hectare = 6.2 acres per MW.

Determine Total Peak Power Output:

1.5 Million Acres / 6.2 Acres/MWp = 241935 MWp = 241,935,000,000 Wp = 242 GWp

Calculate Average Annual Energy Output:

242 GWp * 18.75% Average Annual Insolation = 45.4 GW*Year = 3974 GWh = 397 Billion kWh

This is about 4 times less than the ideal number calculated in this Ideal Situation. Not a problem at all, IMO, considering that you don't actually want to cover every square inch of a chunk of land with flat panels. Tracking is sure a nice option.

Follows: Solar vs Coal, Land Area Comparison.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Low Cost, High Efficiency Tandem Silicon Solar Cells

Wladek Walukiewicz, Joel Ager, and Kin Man Yu of Berkeley Lab have developed high-efficiency solar cells that leverage the well-established design and manufacturing technology of silicon cells while delivering the performance previously achievable only by far more complex and expensive tandem solar cells.

Solar vs Coal, Land Area Comparison.

Thirty-eight years of Kentucky strip mining have, at one time or another, destroyed 1.5 Million Acres (6,070,284,633 m2) of land, and torn down 470 Mountains.

Let's roughly compare the land impact of Coal to the potential land impact of Solar, with this 1.5 Million Acres as a basis.

First, let's see how much Energy could be produced by all the Coal that was mined in Kentucky in 2007*. Answer: 553 Billion kWh.

Per Salon, 158 Million Tons of Coal were produced in Kentucky 2007. I know from previous calculations that a very efficient coal plant can produce around 3.5 MWh/Ton, so burning the entire 158 Million Tons of coal produced in Kentucky in 2007 gives, 158 Million Tons * 3.5 MWh/Ton = 553 Million MWh, or 553 Billion kWh.

Now lets look at how much Solar Energy is available to an equivalent area of Kentucky. Answer: 10,000 Billion kWh.

Take a look at the US Insolation Map and note that the State of Kentucky is almost entirely bright yellow. Look at the legend, and note the value of 4.5-5.0 kWh/m2/day for this color. This is the Average amount of Solar Energy striking a 1 m2 panel on some single Day of the year (Averaged over the whole Year). Let's take the low estimate, and get the total Solar Energy incoming onto a 1 m2 panel, over an entire year, by multiplying 4.5 kWh/m2/day * 365 days = 1642.5 kWh/m2**. Multiplying this by 6.07 * 109 m2 gives us the total Solar Energy Striking the mined area of Kentucky in 2007, or 10 * 1012 kWh, or 10,000 Billion kWh.

So, how much of this Energy could actually be converted to Electricity using modern Solar Panels? Answer: 1,600 Billion kWh.

Of course, Photovoltaic Panels don't convert all of the Energy Striking them into Electricity. At this time, it would be fair to use 16% as a rough Average Conversion Efficiency***. So, if you were to cover that 1.5 Million Acres with Solar Panels, and each panel was 16% efficient at converting that light to Energy, that installation would produce 10,000 Billion kWh * .16 = 1,600 Billion kWh of electricity.

The Conclusion?

If you covered the 1.5 Million Acre area of Kentucky that has been affected by Strip Mining and Mountaintop Removal with Solar Panels like those commonly manufactured today, then you would produce 2.9 times the energy every year from that Installation than you would from mining the coal. In addition, unlike in coal mining, where once you've mined out an area, you have to move on to another, in the case of Solar, the Installation would produce Energy Year after Year from the same pieces of land. If you just wanted to produce the same amount of Energy as the 2007 Coal Production, you would only have to set up solar panels on 517 Thousand Acres of land. Of course, the Installation doesn't have to be all in one place, the Panels could be distributed among small Installations all across the State (2% of the total land area of Kentucky).

Note that this post does not attempt to address price. Those calculations are elsewhere, and ongoing. However, just in terms of land use, it becomes clear that the energy content of Coal could, in fact, be replaced by an Installation of Solar, while distrupting a Third of the land area of ongoing Coal Mining Operations.

Also note that this does not address the availability of Solar Panels. This will be addressed incrementally by a growing industry.

* Depends on numerous factors, including Coal Chemistry, and Power Plant Design. The values that I used assume very high Energy Content Coal, and highly efficient, state of the art, Power Plants.

** Note that this isn't quite correct, as the Insolation values on the map are not based on a panel laying flat on the ground, but are based on a panel tilted to the South. Within the scope of these calculations, though, this should be negligible.

*** Expect Conversion Efficiencies of low cost Crystalline Silicon Solar Panels to increase significantly within the next 3 years.

1.5 Million Acres = 6,070,284,633 m2
Kentucky total area = 104 658 829 550 m2 = 40409 mile2

For more information on "Insolation," see "A Note on Units of Energy and Insolation".

This article is followed by, which estimates the Solar Output of 1.5 Million Acres of Kentucky Land, using real Land Use data from Sunpower Corporation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Note on CEC Ratings for Modules.

Here's a list of CEC ratings from California.

Here's a description of "derating" of Energy Output. In other words, the panels aren't perfect, here's how to estimate actual output to AC from DC.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bolivia nationalises BP Natural Gas Field.

News from the BBC.

Not good news for Fossils. International Companies will face increased risk of such events when they invest in production capacity in Developing Nations.

PDF on Carbon Sequestration

Carnegie Mellon

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Idea to take up-front cash on long term debt via Solar.

Based on Amendments to the Bailout Bill that Passed in November, there's a 30% Tax Credit for Solar Energy Installation Costs.

Let's see. If you borrow the cost of a Solar Project to be payed back over some number of years, you'll get 30% back all at once around tax-time (if you payed out the equivalent in taxes that year). If you don't owe on taxes, there's still the possibility that the 30% credit will become fully refundable under the upcoming stimulus package.

Do you think that some folks wouldn't like 30% upfront on a long-term loan, particularly on a loan for a product that will pay itself off in the long term?* These guys need all the upfront money they can get, and you can bet that this 30% will look appealing to many. It's like a money machine. Watch Solar Equipment Demand take off over the course of this year.

*Depending on circumstances.

CNBC is a total joke.

Kudlow is an elitist ass, for one thing.

Cramer and many others have been pushing the "bad bank" idea very hard today, which immediately makes me think that it's probably a very bad idea as far as public policy is concerned.

Fast money is entertaining, and I'd say is the best of the bunch, at least there's some free debate.

In any case, for real business news, got to Bloomberg.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What a Market this could be.

Forget Large-scale Energy Production for a moment. Turn your eyes from the rooftops, fields, and deserts where you could put PV or Concentrating Solar. For a moment, look around your house and think of all of the possibilities for very Small-scale Solar.

Somebody at Yahoo joked about giving someone a Solar Powered Flashlight, as if, I suppose, you waited until you needed it before you decided to try and charge it up. Thinking about it, though, who wouldn't want a solar powered flashlight for an emergency (with LED lighting). I have a flashlight sitting at my desk, and for the few hours of actual emergency light it's provided, I've changed the batteries numerous times (my Son likes to play with it). Rather than going hit and miss with a flashlight that may or may not have charge in its batteries for an emergency, why not have a flashlight that is constantly charging, as long as light is present?

Another example that's come up is based on the smoke detector that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter. The Smoke Detector is dependent on the tiniest flow of charge to trigger the alarm, and yet, they come with batteries that just might not be there when you need them. The smallest solar chip or thin-film coating could keep a very small battery charged up for a very very long time.

The list goes on. Remote Controls, MP3 Players, Cell Phones, Game Controllers, ... remote devices in general. Sure, depending on your amount of time talking on the phone, or listening to music, you might need a way to plug in the device to give the batteries a boost, but it seems to me that if you could bake a durable thin film onto the surface, you'd be set for rather a much longer time between charges, at the very least.

BTW: Googling "solar flashlight" does turn up solar flashlights. On the other hand, I just did a bunch of calculations, and I have a hard time believing that the quality of these things, based on today's common batteries, solar collectors, and manufacturing scale, is terribly high. It will take some time, and some good combinations of technological advancement before quality solar remote items become commonplace.

General Comment - 1/19/2009

I haven't been posting much here, though I've still been reading a heck of alot of news, and doing alot of thinking. Other things have been busy, though, and putting words together takes alot of time. As usual, I've been throwing stuff at the Yahoo Board, but those are typically just snippets, and not at a state of preparedness that I'd typically put here.

I'll try to manage a few posts tonight, in part from recent comments on Yahoo.

On another topic, I did do some updating of code at, have set up RSS Feeds off of my semi-automated news reader / link import system, and have linked them to this blog (see left hand side bar) along with some other relevant blogs. If you know of good RSS Feeds that should be added to this sidebar, let me know!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Note on Units of Energy and Insolation.

This post is in reference to my use of units like "Watt*1Year," or "Watt*25Years," etc, in posts such as This, This, and This, and might just be useful in laying out some of the basic math behind Solar Energy Output. Feel free to critique.

In Physics, Power is described in Watts. Energy is described by Power * Time. Typically when we think Electrical Energy, we think in terms of Kilowatt*Hours, but the actual units used for Time are arbitrary, it's just a matter of the increment of time over which you are considering the flow of Power.

The Quantity of Energy streaming down on the planet can be measured in terms of its Insolation. The problem that I'm seeing out there is that it's not firmly decided what units we should be using for Solar Insolation, and there is little way to translate at a glance quantities from one choice of Unit to the next. Now, maybe there's a reason that somebody would want to use "kW·h/(m²·day)" or "kWh/kWp•y" for practical applications to Solar Energy, but the rationale certainly escapes me. What I do know is that a Solar Module is rated in Watts Peak (Wp), which is the Power Generated when the Panel is exposed to an Insolation of 1000W/m2. So, to match this, I want my units to be comparable to W/m2.

Following is a map of US Annual Insolation in kW/m2*.

By taking the given values in terms of kWh/m2/day, converting from KiloWatts to Watts, and multiplying each by 1day/24h to cancel out the elements of time, we get the Annual Average Power, in W/m2. Once we know this Annual Average Power, then by dividing it by the 1000W/m2 rated Peak Power used by the Photovoltaic Industry, we get a very useful percentage.

Example: Looking at the map, let's take a spot on one of the bright yellow areas, like is found in most of Virginia. The legend shows an Insolation Value of 4.5-5kWh/m2/day. Converting to Watts, and taking the range's lowest value of 4500Wh/m2/day, multiplying by 1day/24h, and canceling out the hours and days, gives 187.5W/m2.

So, now that we have the average Rated Insolation for the location, then we divide this number by 1000W/m2 in order to get the Actual Insolation as a percentage of Rated Peak Insolation, in this case, for Virginia, at 18.75%.

I've run this calculation for the various brackets in the map legend, and have added these percentages to the graphic. The spreadsheet is here.

Lets say that you want to know roughly how much actual Energy some Solar Installation will produce over a year. You just take the Peak Power rating of the Installation, and multiply by the Percentage that was calculated above, and then multiply by 1Year in order to get the Energy produced on average over that Year.

Example: You want to know how much Energy is going to be produced over the year by a 5kWp Installation in Virginia where the expected average Insolation is 18.75% as calculated, above. Simply take the Peak Rated Power of the Installation, and multiply by the Percentage and 1Year, in this case, 5kW*18.75%*1Year = 937W*1Year.

This is the Average Energy Produced over a Year for this Installation, even though it's not in the usual units. To convert to kWh, just convert the Year to Hours using the factor of 8760Hours/Year and 1kW/1000W to get 8208kWh.

Now let's say that you want to make a comparison in Cost per Watt between a Solar Installation and a Coal Plant, or a Natural Gas Turbine, or any other conventional Electrical Generator running at a Constant Output over the year. Just remember that the total Energy Produced by a constant generator over a year, in W*1Year (or kW*1Year, or GW*1Year), is roughly it's Rated Output * 1Year, so a 100MW Coal Plant should produce in the area of 100MW*1Year in Energy over the year. We could convert this to kWh just like was done above for the Solar Installation, but there's no need to do so if we're just using it for comparisons-sake.

* This map measures Insolation assuming optimally angled panels, so for flat-roof installations, particularly at higher Latitudes, will over-estimate output. For a European Map and Insolation Values that assume flat placement of Panels, see Lightbucket.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A little bit of Light Activism...

Dear Lowes Representative,

Please pass this email up the line.

I'm a long-time Customer of Lowes. I notice, however, that you have no items under the keywords "Solar Inverter," no items under "Solar Module," and only four items under "Solar Panel."

I completely understand your not stocking these items in all of your stores, but online availability only makes sense, considering the potential future growth in this market*.

I also notice that you have no books on Solar, or Energy Efficiency in your bookshelves. This kind of information will be in increasing demand in the near-term, and should be available ASAP!


* As of 1/1/09, a 30% investment tax credit with no cap has gone into effect for purchases of Solar Systems, and by the end of January, the Federal Government will have passed a bill with particular stimulus of the Solar Industry in mind.

Lowes stands to benefit by these programs, and likewise, Lowes Customers across the country will benefit by access to Solar Equipment from a trusted and convenient Vendor.