September 12, 2013
Home Solar Installations Rising Sharply

In states with high electric power costs many homebuilders now offer solar options on new construction and sales are booming.

At least six of 10 largest U.S. homebuilders led by KB Home are including the photovoltaic devices in new construction, according to supplier SunPower Corp. (SPWR) Two California towns are mandating installations, and demand for the systems that generate electricity at home will jump 56 percent nationwide this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Costs for solar are about 20% lower when part of original housing construction. Plunging costs for solar cells have helped create the conditions for the new home solar power boom.

Prices tumbled because of excess supply. The cost of a solar cell is about 41 U.S. cents a watt today, down from $1.46 in 2010 and about $3 in 2004 when Germany started offering its incentives, according to BNEF data.

Utilities have to raise prices their other customers to pay for the infrastructural costs that solar home owners cease to pay for in their electric bills. Utilities are going to face much larger fluctuations in demand. The utilities need dynamic pricing to adjust to these changing market conditions.

Large scale adoption of electric cars would make the task of managing changes in solar panel output much easier. Cars could get charged mostly when the sun is shining. But we still several years away from EV batteries cheap enough to enable a large fraction of the populace to travel on electric power.

One problem with the rising wave of solar power on homes and commercial buildings: Firefighters think the electric power on solar panels makes firefighting too dangerous on roofs during the daytime. What's needed: A way to quickly and easily drape dark covers over solar panels.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 September 12 09:10 PM 

dscott said at September 13, 2013 1:49 PM:

Mass adoption at this stage is a very bad development, the fact that residential solar is SUBSIDIZED via government tax credits and mandated utility buy backs of power takes away/ distorts the necessary rational market forces for prudent application of the technology. I get the reason why new home builders are doing this since it gives their product an edge over existing home sales competition in a value added manner.

California rate payers however can not afford mass adoption because they are the ones who will pay for the subsidizes. Ironically, it is the poor and lower middle class who can not afford to install solar panels that will pay via their high rates to install solar panels on well to do and rich people. Ah, nothing like liberal equality of outcome!

Don't get me wrong, there is a place for residential solar where it makes economic sense like in sunny California and the South West. Those considering an installation should think about the connected utility costs. In new construction, especially in new developments or rural settings you may find the first cost of solar a better value coupled with an off the grid battery storage system. Now a days, if your home isn't in an established neighborhood with utility poles in the area, you, the first adopter as it were to the area will bear the full cost of running the electric lines and poles from the nearest power line to your new house. That cost can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Do your due diligence!

BTW- is not just the solar array that costs money, its also the inverters to convert DC to AC, that is a significant cost. Which segways to an unspoken truth, carefully consider the energy type in the appliances you plan to install. Just because it is electric doesn't mean it is efficient or cost effective for your unique situation. IF you plan to have a standby generator or go solar, it behooves you to replace/install non electric appliances where practical to lower the first cost of the size of the generator/solar/battery system and limit the total use of electricity. Use propane or natural gas appliances like clothes dryers, water heaters, heating system and especially cooking stoves. The propane and natural gas appliances are more efficient and cheaper to run than on electricity. Also consider an absorption system instead of the standard air conditioning system.

Joss said at September 13, 2013 4:06 PM:

Solar is the sentimental choice. And it's not bad for off grid uses, if you can get a good deal on batteries and auxiliary gear, and know what you're doing. Most people don't.

For almost everything else, solar is wishful thinking that is just good enough to get you thoroughly trashed and disillusioned, at any price.

Nick G said at September 13, 2013 4:46 PM:

Utilities have to raise prices their other customers to pay for the infrastructural costs that solar home owners cease to pay for in their electric bills.

On the other hand, the cost of pollution isn't in electric bills, either. We'll have to figure out a new business model for utilities, but for the moment this surge of PV is a very, very good thing for all of us.

Kudzu Bob said at September 15, 2013 1:14 PM:

Speaking of the potential downside, if we switch to Green energy sources like this, then we better hope the Global North doesn't have another Little Ice Age, much less the real deal. Power generation would go tits-up just when we need it the most. Remember those Minnesota wind turbines that got frozen stuck a few winters ago? And solar panels buried under the snow ain't gonna keep nobody warm, that's for sure.

James Bowery said at September 16, 2013 9:18 PM:

Atmospheric Vortex Engines will probably relocate civilization to the equatorial oceans anyway. The numbers -- and they are quite incredible not just in pollution free total baseload resource but in cost per kWh -- pretty much dictate the move. The move will begin within 10 years. Nothing comes close -- not even LFTR.

Ronald Brak said at September 19, 2013 7:01 AM:

Rooftop solar now averages around $2.65 a watt before subsidy in Australia. That's about $2.50 US at current exchange rates:

With a 5% discount rate $2.50 a watt solar will produce electricity at about 11 cents a kilowatt-hour or less for many Americans. It is the cheapest source of electricity available to households in Australia and its price continues to drop. Obviously once US installation costs match Australia's, or better yet Germany's, installing rooftop solar becomes a no brainer in a lot of states.

Ronald Brak said at September 19, 2013 7:03 AM:

Oh, by the way, firefighters are not scared of rooftop solar in Australia. If they were in my town they'd have to let about one in five private residences burn down.

Cyril R. said at September 22, 2013 1:33 AM:

Most people would charge their cars at night, like their cellphones. So no, it isn't helpful for solar. Rather the opposite. It's helpful for any baseload powerplant technology, as they tend to have excess production at night.

Randall Parker said at September 22, 2013 8:44 PM:

Cyril R.

It would make sense to charge one's EV while at work. Some companies have electric car chargers at work already. Many more could.

Ronald Brak said at September 22, 2013 10:37 PM:

Australians already have an incentive to use solar power to charge their cars. This is because what they are paid for exporting electricity from rooftop solar to the grid is now often less than a third of what it costs to buy electricity from the grid, so obviously it pays to use home solar whenever possible and while a lot of cars will be away from home during most of the day there will still be plenty that won't be. Also, solar is pushing down the price of electricity during the day and this will give people more of an incentive to charge their cars during the day. Commercial car parks are going to offer charging facilities to attract customers and I'm sure plenty of businesses will charging points. In Europe and Australia there is no need for special chargers to be installed as a normal power point supplies enough juice to drive a car further than any non-insane commute in eight hours. Special chargers won't even be required in the US a lot of the time as while a normal power socket will give a very slow charge, it will still charge a car enough to drive further than most commutes.

Nick G said at September 23, 2013 11:46 AM:

EVs have a nice synergy with both wind and solar, as they'll surely be intelligent enough to choose the lowest-cost charging strategy, which will move demand to those times with the most excess wind/solar production.

EVs will likely be about 20% of total kWh consumption, so that's a big chunk that can move around to where it's needed.

Engineer-Poet said at September 25, 2013 8:14 PM:
for the moment this surge of PV is a very, very good thing for all of us.

Sadly, it's not so.  Both PV and wind have "negative load" characteristics, unlike dispatchable generation.  This reduces the net load for other generators AND increases the variation and ramp rate of that load.  This makes things very difficult for the cleanest dispatchable non-hydro sources on the grid (nukes), while pushing for plants with low capital cost (gas turbines).  It is essentially a way to force the grid to all-gas.

Special chargers won't even be required in the US a lot of the time as while a normal power socket will give a very slow charge, it will still charge a car enough to drive further than most commutes.

That only works if you can charge continuously.  This is incompatible with using the vehicle fleet for demand-side management of PV and wind variability; you need high-power charging for this, since your available power may only appear in short windows.  If your base load generation is nuclear, it works much better:  12 hr/day @1.44 kW = 17.3 kWh/day, enough for 50+ miles in everything on the market except the Tesla Model S.

Nick G said at September 27, 2013 11:13 AM:


Nuclear's current problems appear to be due to high capital and repair costs, combined with most energy markets failure to pay for "firm capacity". Arguably, both are due to bad planning & regulation and nuclear contractor inexperience, but it doesn't really make sense to blame that on wind/solar. Additional clean power is a very good thing.

FWIW, nuclear power isn't really more dispatchable than wind/solar. Both have very low marginal costs, so it only makes sense to run them at maximum output whenever possible. The difference between nuclear and wind/solar is degrees of variance (nuclear has lower but still significant variance, e.g., Ireland can't rely on nuclear because it's too small to handle a single unit tripping), not dispatchability.

Regarding chargers: your point is accurate, but possibly a bit overstated: wind and solar aren't quite as variable as that would suggest. DSM and a desire to maximize use of wind/solar would certainly work with standard power levels, though certainly higher power levels would allow some finetuning and maximizing of both.

Ronald Brak said at September 27, 2013 7:38 PM:

My state, South Australia, gets about a third of its electricity from wind and solar (most of that third is wind). There have been costs to ingrating these intermittent sources ito the grid, but they have been quite low and considerably less than the decline in wholesale electricity prices they have caused. While grid characteristics vary from region to region it's apparently not too difficult to integrate wind and solar capacity in the United States according to the NREL:

Engineer-Poet said at September 29, 2013 6:35 PM:

You don't quite have the full spectrum of disabilities placed on nuclear, Nick.  Those disabilities include discrimination in power contract bidding (Vermont refused to entertain bids from Vermont Yankee, and wound up buying power for more than VY was selling it for!), discrimination in "fuel diversity" payments (again, Vermont is paying $78 million to generators to have power available in winter, including some fired by oil!), and all the ridiculous added costs due to NRC mandates such as site security while other public hazards go unaddressed (and, due to the mis-allocation of resources forced by the NRC and others, unaddressable).

It's insane.

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