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November 12, 2008


Wil Bettinger

Welcome back Jim. I've missed your blog. Best regards and full recovery.



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I think it's going to be critically important for all of us to keep the pressure on Washington.

With the bailout of Companies too numerous to list, I believe it will be increasingly difficult for the Obama Administration to honor campaign promises. Simply put, resources may not be available to adequately fund incentives and more importantly research. Additionally, with petrol at almost a 27 month low, there will undoubtedly be an enthusiasm deficit for the proliferation of alternative energy solutions.

Keep the pressure on by contacting your local elected leaders to let them know that we want energy independence and we want it now. Wind, Solar, Bio, Geo, Nuke, Clean Coal, More Drilling.....we need it all and we need it now.

Thanks, Nick

P.S. Jim: It's been a while... Good to have you back.


You got it Nick. Should be part of their jobs creation program.

Some math:
Cost $1.00 per peak Watt.
Assume we can get install down to $1.00 per peak Watt.
Result is $2.00 per Wp installed.
Financed at 10% per year.
(10/100) x $2.00 = 20 cents per Wp per year.
2,500 peak Watt hours per year in TX and CA.
2,500 Wh = 2.5 kWh per year
20 cents / 2.5 kWh = 8 cents / kWh

Electricity in Southern CA is closer to 20 cents per kWh. Less than half the cost is taught in business schools as the requirement for disruptive growth.

(The math approach taken from 1995 writting by Paul Maycock in "Advances in Solar Energy" published by ASES.)


That's funny financing, interest-only loans... paying only interest and never paying off the principal. It reminds me of what caused the housing bubble which burst and took down Lehman Bros, etc. Is any one willing to give you that kind of loan these days?

What is the actual total system installed cost? Reducing the panels to $1/W does not reduce the cost of inverters. Aren't inverters almost $1/W by themselves? That doesn't leave much room for balance-of-system and labor.

Still, reducing the cost of the panels by a couple of dollars per watt is a good thing, even if we aren't yet at grid parity.

Rafael Formisano

Welcome back Jim!!. I've really missed your blog. Best regards and full recovery. Continue with your GREAT job.


With the active layer of thin film solar being 1/20 to 1/30 the thickness of the tried and true solution, there appears to be potential concerns regarding durability of the new technology. Have there been published results addressing this, or is it something that will have to be proven over time?

Anne Noble

Again, I am so glad to see you blogging!! Be sure and take it easy -- but thanks for again contributing to my energy industry education -- I sure need it!

Ben Levi

Re: Cost of inverters... I just upgraded my old C-40 charge controller for a new Outback Multi-Power-Point-Tracking (MPPT) for about $600 installed... they're key to optimizing volt-amp output from solar arrays. Add another $3K for a 4kW inverter (though those prices may be going down). The key, of course, is tax credits and RECs which bring the installation cost down significantly.


Who said it was interest only? Besides wouldn't $200 Billion 0% interest 10% per year payback on principle be a bargain for the USA compared to $200 Billion spent in Iraq to degrade our military resources and get our soldiers killed?

$1W for inverters? OK, I admit I'm no expert and was taking a quick hack at this. $1W panels + $1W install + $1W inverters = $3 per peak Watt. Still works out to 12 cents per kWh, a very good deal in CA!

I stand by $1W install. There is three ways to do that (actually it's high):
1. BIPV, so install costs are only a small per W increase in price over normal install of roof or house siding.
2. Plunk it in the ground like those big old TV antennas.
3. Same as 2, but on small utility scale. See Martin Roscheisen's blog entry on this at www.nanosolar.com

Solar, now cost effective in large markets, and still dropping in price.


Next week I'm selling Ginsu knives ;-)


Aside from First Solar, does anyone know who takes the thin film products from other thin film suppliers like Miasole, Nanosolar?

Dan B

I am very new at solar and need someone to help me with what I perceive as a viable project for my home. I live in northern Alabama, building a new log home. I would like to install a geothermal system, and would like to know the feasibility of installing thin film solar panels to provide as much minimal cost electricity as possible. What size are the typical panels, what can be expected in power output and how should that be measured. Lastly, how do I determine the power required by the various components of the geothermal system? I am not looking for an overblown critique, rather some real help in lay terms. Thank you


Clee, had mds been more rigorous and done a proper levelized cost accounting, it wouldn't have made much difference. For 10year ten percent the discounted cost of paying off the principal is reduced by a factor of e (2.7..), for twenty tears it would be reduced by e squared roughly 8. His error is only 10-25%, and that doesn't affect his argument.

I suspect, due to some costs that don't scale down well, such as inverters, site prep, maintenence, licensing fees, etc, that scaling down to single household size seriously erodes the cost effectiveness. You probably want to do build utility scale sources instead. The thing that makes me less than excited, is the supply of materials. A few GW/year of production capability may make this a good business opportunity, but it is more than a order of magnitude less than what is needed to make solar a major player in the overall energy market.


Okay Tom, I'll buy that mds is only 10-25% off in his calculations. So instead of 8 cents/kWh, it would be 10 cents/kWh, which is not bad for a small utility-scale installation competing with wholesale prices. And for a homeowner with $3/W installed cost, instead of 12 cents/kWh it would be 15 cents/kWh, which would be not bad competing against retail Time-of-Use rates in California.

Angus Campbell

Here's an Idea for financing small scale renewable energy projects tied into the electrical grid. The consumer(person who buys the energy producing unit) has a monthly capital cost payment just like any other loan but instead of financing the project with interest rates, the profit from online grid sales is taken in leu of interest on the loan. When the initial loan is paid of through a combination of montly payments and online sales, the entire online sale of electricity reverts back to the owner. This will give the owner an incentive to seek out the best possible deal to repay the loan early and gain an early return on investment instead of at a fixed date.


Welcome back. For some reason, I decided to see if by some chance you had returned. And you have. I'm delighted and many of your readers will be too.

Take care of yourself and thanks for all your good work.


I need to know when we talk about grid parity, what is the ball path figure such as cost of electrical energy in US$ per kWH. I assume this cost is based on using coal as the fuel which I believe is still the lowest cost fuel used in electricity generation.

Most important of all is I need to know if a 3,000 watts peak solar system is installed and with a solar insolation/flux at 4 kWH/sq. m/day, how much electrical energy will be produced by the solar system in a year, assuming that the insolation is constant daily?

Laurent GUERBY

OTBB: an easy rule of thumb is that 1 W peak of PV will produce a total 1 kWh of electricity in one year.

Of course monthly production will follow a curve with peak in summer.

If you live in a really sunny region it will be more, otherwise less.

In France we have a community web site where people having installed PV systems put up their real monthly production, such sites probably exist for the US as well


Kit P


Thanks for the link, I have found no sites that show performance on US houses.
Tucson Electric Power (Springerville Generating Station: http://www.greenwatts.com/pages/SolarOutput.asp

I do not recommend putting PV on the roofs of individual houses. It is a waste of PV resources.


Here's the PV performance site for a residence in the US. It's doing okay, not great.


Could you give us a quote if you have those details. So that the readers will be most benefited.

MyInvestorsPlace - trading, value, investing, forex, stock, market, technical, analysis, systems

Kit P

Nice link Clee, this system looks like it is performance is very close to the expected optimum. Do you still have the link the solar panels on the roof Google's headquarters? When that link was working, it was interesting to observe how a short distance could affect the performance.


Two questions:

1. Can anyone share a reference to the operating costs of a mid-size commercial (say, 100 kW) install? This would including maintenance, insurance, monitoring, but NOT finance costs.

2. What's the plan for end-of life for CdTe? Certainly not a deal-killer, but Cadmium isn't exactly the friendliest metal around...


Kit P, I can't find the link for the Google headquarters PV.

2. First Solar takes back their CdTe panels for recycling.

Kit P

We have discussed the LCA of cadmium in PV panels before here and I am satisfied as an environmental engineer that it is not an issue.





Here's a site with some data for solar installations on homes, schools, and businesses: http://www.soltrex.com/systems.cfm


Thanks, BCC,
Nice to see at least one of them has production data for 8 years.

Rick L.

I am very excited to see the ability what thin film solar can do. Just imagine all of the great possibilities that exist from this. Excellent article and great comments, I learned a lot. Thanks a bunch Rick L.


Kit P-

Thanks. I'm an Env. Eng. too (or at least that's what the degree says; I've moved on).

The Fthenakis paper (http://www.firstsolar.com/pdf/lifestyle_analysis.pdf) is pretty thorough; I was interested to learn that the supply of Cd, as a byproduct of zinc production, is in excess of (current) demand, so using it in PV constitutes reuse in the first place.


wouldn't want to bet on first solar's future selling cadmium thin-film cells. Cadmium is one of the 6 hazardous substances the world is supposedly banning from all products. At least, they take it seriously in Europe so from a strictly business point of view First Solar would likely face a difficult barrier reaching a major market and therefore would have limited upside potential.

Kit P

I am 100% for regulating hazardous material based on environmental impact and 100 % against banning stuff. When do gooders make my work place more more dangerous, I do not think they are doing a good thing. Many owe their lives to PCBs, DDT, and asbestos. I would rather have my child contaminated than killed in a fire.

On humorous example is the dihydrogen oxide web site that listed the hazards of water. Some loons in a California did not understand the humor and tired to ban water from the city.

Anyhow, if I recall correctly, cadmium is wear product of tires. Since biomass involves transportation, thing like road wear and tire wear need to be considered. However, the cadmium in PV panels to not leach out. If the panel are recycled, disposal is controlled.

Cyril R.

Safely storing cadmium in CdTe PV panels, and guaranteed recycling at the end of the panel lifetime, seems to me like a great way of turning a toxic heavy metal into a product with intrinsic economic value.

I'm worried a lot about the tellurium resource though. Doesn't look like more than a couple percent of global electricity needs can be met with this PV technology.

One wonders how much more tellurium will be recoverable with much higher tellurium prices; the cost of tellurium per Watt of capacity is very low at this point, so could increase severalfold without too big an effect on price per Watt.

Cyril R.

For calculating levelised cost of a distributed solar system, I just use a simple rule of thumb, assuming a good location and reasonable financing: 5 cents/kWh for every dollar/Watt peak.


$10/Wp system is 10*5 = 50 cents/kWh.
$9 /Wp system is 9*5 = 45 cents/kWh.
$8 /Wp system is 8*5 = 40 cents/kWh.
$7 /Wp system is 7*5 = 35 cents/kWh.
$6 /Wp system is 6*5 = 30 cents/kWh.
$5 /Wp system is 5*5 = 25 cents/kWh.
$4 /Wp system is 4*5 = 20 cents/kWh.
$3 /Wp system is 3*5 = 15 cents/kWh.
$2 /Wp system is 2*5 = 10 cents/kWh.
$1 /Wp system is 1*5 = 5 cents/kWh.

Crude, but works good enough as a rough indicator.

Cyril R.

Keep in mind, when in a poor solar resource location, it could be more than double that. They're called solar panels for a reason you know.

Derek D

Kit P

The reason to put PV on individual houses is to avoid transmission costs. I pay about 11 cents per kWhour in Michigan of which only 5.3 cent is for actual electricity. Also our grid has a maximum capacity, PV on homes uses no transmission capacity if the system is sized for the house where it is located.

Cyril R.

Here is a more comprehensive formula for calculating levelised cost in cents/kWh for a solar or wind system:

(1/capacity factor)*($/Watt-peak total investment)+(variable cost in cents/kWh) = levelised cost in cents/kWh

Kit P

Derek, you are kidding? Right!! What is the temperature today, about 40 below?

Derek lives in Michigan. I grew up in those parts and worked at a power plant there for a couple of years. I had an all electric house. Those transmission lines come in handy on those long cold winters nights.

PV does not reduce transmission cost because they do not make electricity when it is needed. This true even in California (I lived and worked there too). If anything they make the cost of the grid higher. If your system feeds back into the grid that requires more expensive equipment.

There is no economic benefit for society with PV. There is also no environmental benefit. At best PV is a harmless way for rich people to engage in hobby.

Cyril R.

Derek, just ignore Kit P. He's just the village idiot, best left to himself. He can get aggressive if you give him too much attention. I think he's had a difficult childhood.


Plymouth Rock Studios in Plymouth Massachusetts, the soon to be movie studio(a.k.a. Hollywood east) is going to be incorporating solar energy into their plan to be the most energy efficient movie studio in America. They'll be the first ever LEED certified movie studio, and it's all going on in America's Hometown, Plymouth Massachusetts. To learn more about the creative ways PRS is going to be going green and giving back, please vivit Plymouthrockstudios.com.

Derek D


Who said PV was practical in Michigan? I don't expect to see the sun again until April. I was trying to make the point that a large part of your electric bill is for transmission. While it may make sense for somebody who lives where it is sunny to have his AC system run off PV it may not make sense to have your utility company buy that power and try to send it over transmission lines that are already overloaded. And if nobody needs electricity during daylight hours most people can figure out how to program a new dishwasher or washing machine to run when the power is free or cheap

Kit P

You are correct Derek you did not state PV was practical in Michigan. Everything else you said was wrong however. Solar PV is not practical anyplace. There are some people who sell and install PV who will tell differently. Let the buyer beware.


Not enough credit is being given to the high gas prices this past year and it's serious damage on our economy and society. That one factor alone has caused serious stress in both individuals and businesses. A record number of homes and jobs have been lost as a direct result. And, while we are doing the happy dance around the lower prices at the pumps OPEC is announcing cuts to manipulate the prices upward again. We must get on with becoming energy independent.We can't take another year like this past. There is a wonderful new book out about the energy crisis and what it would take for America to become energy independent. It covers every aspect of oil, what it's uses are besides gasoline, our reserves, our depletion of it. Every type of alternative energy is covered and it's potential to replace oil. He even has proposed legislative agenda's that would be necessary to implement these changes along with time frames. This book is profoundly informative and our country needs to become more informed and move forward with becoming energy independent. Green technology would not only provide clean cheap energy it would create millions of badly needed new jobs. The Book is called The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence NOW. Our politicians all need to read this book. www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com

Derek D

Kit P

I'm wondering if you can reconcile some of your seemingly contradictory statements.
"I do not recommend putting PV on the roofs of individual houses. It is a waste of PV resources"
- Does this mean you believe there IS a good use for these resources?
"PV is a harmless way for rich people to engage in a hobby"
- Presumably by putting it on their houses?
"Solar PV is not practical anywhere"
- Does ANYWHERE cover residential, utilities, and even those road construction signs that no longer have a generator running 24/7 on the side of the freeway?

I'm sure somebody smart enough to live in an all electric house in Michigan can make sense of this. Me, I'm dumb enough that when ice storms took out all the power lines in this area last winter I had to live with hot water and a stove that can pull 100,000 BTU's of gas to keep my house warm while my neighbors had pipes freezing and a few even froze to death. (And yes by the way, I did take in friends and neighbors. My house was like a three day frat party that allowed kids and dogs but no keg.)

Kit P


My statements are not contradictory. Simple declaration sentences. I suspect Derek's issue is based on never bothering to check the performance of PV.

It could also be that Derek does understand what practical is. The other morning I had toast and coffee. I used a toaster and a coffee maker. Does Derek feel compelled to debate other ways of making toast and coffee?

Derek you made a statement about PV supplying electrician to the grid 'to avoid transmission costs.'

My investigation has not found anyplace where PV is practical solution to transmission costs. In fact I have found no practical uses for PV whatsoever as an energy source.

There are two kinds of PV systems. Impractical electricity generating systems and broken systems that produce no electricity. Since PV is expensive it should be operated by those who will produce the most electricity and not just for photo opportunities.

I am one of those 'all of the above' people. We should continue to build wind and solar as fast as we can. We also need to build keep building practical sources of electricity like coal and nukes.

Derek D

@Kit P

I think you misinterpreted what a meant by a system appropriately sized for a home. That system need only be big enough to provide baseline daylight power to the home. If it isn't big enough to feed power back to the grid then production cost = retail cost. At the utility level production cost + transmission cost = retail cost. Distributed PV can help lower transmission costs because IT ISN'T TRANSMITTED THROUGH THE GRID. That's the whole point of being distributed.

Kit P

“Distributed PV can help lower transmission costs because IT ISN'T TRANSMITTED THROUGH THE GRID.”

Shouting does not make it right. Derek you are just wrong. Making electricity when it is not needed does not lower the cost of operating the grid.

“That's the whole point of being distributed.”

Again that is not correct. Derek is over simplifying complex issues.

The grid is mind boggling complex. It is massive and all tied together. I suspect you are thinking of the grid like it is a water main or a highway. Try understanding this way. If our highway system was like the grid, from the moment you entered the grid you would be traveling at the same speed as everyone else. For the rotating equipment, the mechanical forces that occur with a mismatch in speed result in fatigue cycles for very small changes and almost instantaneous catastrophic destruction for large changes.

Then there are the electromagnetic forces. If all the load were resistant heating loads it would be very easy. Some load have capacitance and some are inductive. The voltage and power factor must regulated both at the generator and closer to the load.

If you are producing distributed electricity at your house you could save a maximum of the 10% of the electricity is being generated far away. A very marginal gain.

When considering distributed electricity on a larger scale (5 MWe) using CHP, the generator can be used for local regulation if it has more expensive control system.

In the end it is a matter of philosophy. People feel safer driving their own car because they are in control but feel insecure when flying. You can control the grid with billions of device regulated by FERC and OSHA, or you can let the utility do it for you.

The problem with Derek's approach is have to find a million folks in each large city who are both rich enough to afford PV and at the same time choose an impractical way of making electricity.


Billions of dollars continue to be invested by the private sector in scaling up PV production, in spite of the worst recession since the depression of the 1930s. GW+ production levels are being reached by some companies and are planned by more. aSi production has reached $1.50/WP cost in some cases, CdTe is close to $1.00/Wp (First Solar, above), and CIGS is already below $1.00/Wp (Nanosolar). All are competing to get their costs below $1.00/Wp. (This is where the competition for market dominance will begin next decade, i.e. in two years.) When production quantities catch up with demand the price of PV will drop closer to these levels ...and continue to drop. Many users will not need assistance from the utilities to partake in this PV revolution. They won't need an increase in transmission line capability for this power. In fact, they'll need less. You don't have to distribute this power to others. (That's just a bonus for all involved.) PV customers can use the power directly, which removes the power line maintenance fees the power company tacks on, as Derek correctly points out. On average this is very roughly 50% of your electricity bill, i.e. roughly 50% of cost per kWh (ref. Travis Bradford "the Solar Revolution"). Further, they can use this during daylight hours when demand is greatest and can cool down water or rocks (thermal mass) for use in lower cost cooling even at night. This is all very analogous to the cellphone revolution. It is going to happen just as fast and it will effect the USA sun-belt so completely that peak power rates will occur at night instead of during the day. I would not put my money into any solar thermal power plant without a plan for thermal storage and use at night. PV will be too common and effective during the day for solar thermal, or anything else, to compete there.

Cyril R.

I don't think that will be the case, mds. Global clean electricity needs are so vast that it'll take decades for the market to shake out the less competitive technologies, even with some, like PV, having continued exponential growth. Slightly more expensive power is a whole lot better than no power. Plus more diversity won't hurt the economy. Our strong dependency on petroleum is extremely dangerous. Let's not repeat that mistake in the electric sector since things are going better there now (we've already gotten rid of most oil use there, which is great).


You're right, power generation will continue to be mixed. I can point to examples where new technologies in wind, tidal, wave, geothermal, and nuclear may help reduce those prices, as well. My point is rather that PV will become one of the larger contributors and it will happen faster than most can believe. I agree diversity is good. In fact, I'm pro-nuke partially because of this. I'm just really excited to see solar will be there as well.

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