This summer’s weather is perfect now in the Hudson Valley: warm, sunny days for primping the garden and cool nights that invite deep sleep. Zucchini and cukes are coming on, along with currants, gooseberries, blueberries. Unseen underground, the potatoes swell. The chickens range happily over their daily smorgasbord of bugs. At midnight, fireflies blink in the orchard. On the human side, though — commerce, culture, and politics — nothing works. At least not here in America. Sigh….
The solar electric I installed on the house nine years ago is down. It’s supposed to feed that monster called the grid. Since April, I noticed that the electric bill is creeping up way beyond the usual seventeen bucks that the electric company charges home solar producers for the privilege of feeding their system — which, let’s face it, has a downside for them because the intermittency of so-called alt-energy disorders their operations.
It’s counter-intuitive. Many people, I’m sure, assume that the more solar units feeding the grid, the better. Strangely, not so. Electric companies work much better when the production and flow of current is absolutely predictable and under their control — like, when they decide to fire up the natgas on generator number three or tune down the hydro turbines. It’s much harder to run the system with little dribs and drabs of electricity trickling in from hither and yon. But alt-energy is good PR for the government, so they do whatever they can to promote or even compel its use.
I got a whopping folio of tax breaks and subsidies from the state and federal government when I decided to put solar electric on my house in 2013, though it finally still cost a lot: $35-K. I had intimations of living through a chaotic period of history, and the decision was consistent with my general theory of history, which is that things happen because they seem like a good idea at the time. Getting a home solar electric rig seemed like a good idea.
So, last week, after considerable hassle with my solar company setting up an appointment for a techie to visit and evaluate the problem here, the guy came up (at $150-an-hour) and informed me that my charge controller was shot. The charge controller processes all those chaotic watts coming from the solar panels on the roof into an orderly parade of electrons. He also told me that my back-up batteries — for running critical loads like the well-pump during grid outages — were at the end of their design life. Subtext: you have to get new batteries.
There are four big ones in a cabinet under the blown charge controller and the inverter (for turning direct current into alternating current that is the standard for running things). The techie had some bad news, though. New building codes forbid his company from replacing the kind of batteries I have, which are standard “sealed cell” lead-acid batteries. Some bullshit about off-gassing flammable fumes. Now the government requires lithium batteries, which would cost me sixteen-thousand dollars ($16-K) more to replace than new lead-acid batteries.
Now, it’s theoretically possible for me to replace the less-expensive lead-acid batteries — they’re still manufactured and sold — but the catch is: I’m on my own getting them and installing them. I’m in the middle of that learning-curve right now. These particular batteries cost about $850-each for the four of them, plus a hefty charge for “drop-shipping” about three hundred pounds of lead and plastic. I will almost certainly go that way, though. A new charge controller will run about $2-K. All together, replacing these components represents a big chunk of change.
At the risk of sounding like some kind of pussy, I confess that this whole business of repairing my solar electric system has put me into a welter of anxiety and fury. I am trapped in the cage of sunk costs, a.k.a. the psychology of previous investment. Not only do I have $35-K (in higher-value 2013 dollars!) tied up in all this equipment — the solar panels themselves, the wall of electronic devices, the conduit, control panels, and digital read-outs — but now I have to dump thousands more into it after only nine years. It pisses me off because I should have known better. I walked with eyes wide shut into the pit of techno-narcissism.
All I can think to say is, better you than me, Bill. Ahh, but bad as that surely is, his pain only gets worse from there.
In a low-grade epiphany while going through this ordeal last week, I realized that back in 2013, instead of getting the solar electric system, I could have bought the Rolls Royce of home generators and buried a 500-gallon fuel tank outside the garage, and had a manual water pump piggy-backed onto the well, and maybe even purchased a fine, wood-fired cookstove — and had enough money left over for a two-week vacation in the South-of-France. Silly me.
Heh. Good to see Kunstler still has some semblance of a sense of humor left after all that suffering and horror, I suppose.
Kuntsler is da man
Yea, a stupid or ignorant man.
I had friends that created a solar company. Even with their pricing and the goobermint cheese, it would’ve been $15K for my house. That’s years of electric bills before any ROI is realized. And, like in poor Kuntslers post, doesn’t take into account maintenance and repair. One of them told me that after a hail storm, the panels they installed were ok. They had to remove them so the roof could be fixed, and then put them back. An extra expense.
I got into an argument with two shitheels that came to my door trying to sell me solar. Dudes actually flexed on me when I told them that 1) the house isn’t positioned to get 100% sunlight on panels, 2) I’m not cuttin down two huge pecan trees that shade my house during the heat of the day and 3) you need batteries, otherwise the whole system is useless.
I used to install PBX systems (phones) in big businesses. I’m intimately familiar with backup power systems that can run the show when the juice is cut.
I bought a 6000 watt dual fuel generator for under $400. Wired into my house, it can run everything but the AC.
Fun fact: I used to work as a NW engineer at a medical lab. They had two diesel generators the size of a locomotive each. In the hot summer, they ran 24×7. The power company paid them to do it.
Something these greenie laptopbois don’t understand – every datacenter on the interwebs has the same thing. Solar doesn’t save crap.
The current price of solar means that for the vast majority of people it’s a loser $$$ wise. Exceptions for those that have to pay very high electric prices and can do what is a simple design and installation theirselves.
There are other reasons for solar however. Gas generators require, gasp, gasoline/propane/diesel, and lots of it. For short term they are great, for long term not so great.
What is it you need power for? Refrigeration. That’s it. The ability to freeze the deer you just killed is pretty nice compared to other methods of preservation. Fortunately a very small solar setup can easily keep your refrigeration and freezers running.
Kuntsler sounds like a very ignorant person. His lead acid batteries, even though “deep cycle”, can not give up more than half their electrons lest their lifespan be reduced drastically. Current lifepo4 batteries can be deeply discharged, down to near zero with little lifespan loss. Typical is going to 10%. You have to double the capacity of lead acid to get the same real yield of lifepo4. Kuntlser doesn’t give you any data, PV watts, battery watts, etc. We’ll use the standard of $.15 per watt for lead acid and assume he has about 20K watts of battery backup. He would only need 10K of lifepo4 for the same effective yield and I can get that for $3000, same or less than he is paying for lead acid. And lifepo4 will last 10 times longer than any lead acid battery.
$2K for a charge controller, at retail. I’d guess the replacement then is one I would get for $7-800.
OK, stupid has a price. Stupid doesn’t mean there is not a place foe solar power generation.
You can be 100% opposed to electric cars and solar/wind power and still recognize the value of being able to generate power from the sun. Don’t be fooled by the fools.