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A major price drop for solar panels

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Posted by Summer Wind on September 19, 2009, 3:08 am

A major price drop for solar panels
Solar power has suddenly become more affordable.

By Mark Clayton  |  Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor/ September
14, 2009 edition


Solar power has hit Bill Mc­Eleney's pocketbook - but in a good way.

Putting solar panels on his roof was an idea that "just rattled around" for
years, says the Cranston, R.I., engineer, until he saw panel prices
plummeting in December and decided to get off the fence.

He got a bid for a rooftop solar power system, but was delayed eight months.
Still, that delay worked to his advantage as solar-electric prices continued
to fall - eventually cutting the cost of his 3.8-kilowatt system by $,000
(from $2,000 to $8,000), which allowed him to install a more powerful

But the deal was even sweeter overall. A newly revamped 30 percent federal
tax credit means that Mr. McEleney's total cash outlay will be only about
$5,000, compared with the $2,000 he was quoted eight months ago, he says.
He will still pay 15.7 cents per kilowatt-hour for any power he buys from
his local power company, but his solar system will replace $50 of utility
company power annually. The system will pay for itself in 15 to 20 years,
while insulating him from rising utility rates.

"It's a good deal and it's maintenance-free; you just watch the meter go
backward," he says. "I'm even kind of rooting for [utility company] rates to
rise now."

Solar photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight directly into
electri­city, have long enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the most
costly form of renewable power. But now, with cheaper raw materials and a
global production overcapacity, solar-panel companies are slashing prices.

It's a tough time to be making solar panels - but a great time to be buying
them: Prices have fallen 40 to 60 percent in the past year. With panels
accounting for about half a system's cost, the overall price tag has fallen
by up to one-third - and is still dropping, says Travis Bradford, president
of the Prometheus Institute, a renewable-energy think tank.

In California, he adds, solar rooftop power is now cheaper than buying
electricity from utilities, when incentives are included.

Geoff Stenrick, who sells solar panels from his SimpleRay website in St.
Paul, Minn., has been pitching "summer blowout" prices and "free shipping"
on orders of more than $,000. A 200-watt panel that was $87 is now $89.
That's $.45 per watt, a 30 percent drop. Just a year ago, $ to $ per watt
was typical.

"We are basically understaffed for the response we're getting from
customers," Mr. Stenrick says. "The phone is jumping."

While California's generous incentives make it the nation's solar-panel
hotbed, cooler parts of the US are seeing a pickup, too.

"We're now at that very important place where, with tax incentives, you can
actually make an economic case for homeowners to put solar on their homes,"
says Bill Kanzer, marketing director for Alteris Renewables, New England's
largest solar installer. "In these key markets solar is moving from the
fringe and early adopters to more of the mainstream."

Rising interest in solar residential electricity has as much to do with a
national mind-set shift as anything else, some say.

"You've got a favorable political climate and about the best financial
incentives I've ever seen," says Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power
magazine. "But the main reason is there's just more public awareness. That's
the key."

Posted by busdweller on September 19, 2009, 11:25 am

The prices seem good but you made no mention of what make panels and
inverters hes offering. This equipment is not all the same by any
stretch of the imagination. Lets be a little more specific about the
brand hes selling. You also didnt mention if this is equipment alone
( at this price I assume it is just equipment, no installation )

Peace along the way
Dennis the bus dweller N.Y.

Posted by AES on September 19, 2009, 4:46 pm

I installed a similar residential system (roughly twice the size and
twice the cost) two years ago, and am thus far equally optimistic  In
fact for various reasons my payback period may even be a bit shorter.

But I'd like to point out that both of us are very, very dependent on
those two crucial words:  ***maintenance free***.

Our systems are indeed made up of essentially passive and hopefully
stable and maintenance-free solid-state components: the panels and the

But if _either_ of those for any reason slowly degrade with time --
perhaps the panels, due to exposure to intense UV, or the inverters due
to long-term operation under fairly warm conditions -- we'll both be in
the soup.

Posted by Randy on September 19, 2009, 5:26 pm
I'm still looking for a maintenance free car with a 25 year warranty
and a quick return of investment:)
As a solar energy hobbyist, I am intrigued to see what the average solar
consumer demands out of a system that no other industry comes close to
matching other than roofing/building materials.
Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of many good people, solar equipment
has become some of the most reliable electronic devices available.
With prices coming down further shows the hard work being done to
satisfy demand.
My hat comes off to those fine people installing solar for the right reasons
and to those who supply the equipment that keeps the lights glowing.
Just my one cent worth.
Take care

Posted by AES on September 20, 2009, 12:03 am

I'll agree with all of the above reply to my post -- except that I'm
really not "demanding" long maintenance-free operating life, so much as
_hoping_ for it.  (And, based on my own 52 years of experience in home
ownership, roofing is not the gold standard I'd look to for reliability!
-- pretty much the opposite in fact.)

But since this group obviously reaches people with more experience in
solar energy than I have, here are two questions:

1)  Can anyone point me to any low-cost hobbyist or "Radio Shack" type
_recording_ sun photometers -- or similar instruments that can talk to a
home WiFi LAN -- so that one can log data from them over time, and
compare this measured solar insolation to solar voltaic output over
time, to see if the solar power system is indeed maintaining its

[The Sept 2009 issue of the Optical Society of America's "Optics and
Photonics News" has a nice article on sun photometry by hobbyist Forrest
M. Mims III, but he doesn't talk about logging data -- and also another
nice article on concentrators for photovoltaics.  I think that
is open to non members.]

2)   Suppose some emergency comes along that shuts down our local
electric grid for multiple days (it's happened here already, even in
Silicon Valley).  My solar system won't provide me with 110 V AC without
the grid (and I understand why, and don't intend to get into a more
complex setup that would).

But if my two 5 kV inverters had some kind of built-in tap that would at
least allow them to DC charge a bunch of small 12 V or 24 V power tool
(or auto?) batteries, I'd be able to use those batteries to do emergency
work and communicating in the day and have a bit of emergency lighting
at night -- and keep on doing that for multiple days.

So, are there any commercial multi-kW inverters that have an add-on
capability or side ability to do at least a small amount of low-volt
battery charging, even when the power grid is down?  Seems like it would
be a useful low-cost addition to the inverters.

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