March 14th, 2007

Ann Vole

solar panels are not the solution (crosspost)

a long post I made in a different forum and cross-posted here

There are several other problems with everyone going solar: the doping materials to make the panels are usually very rare minerals and world supplies will be used up long before a significant portion of society is powered with panels. These doping materials are already in short supply due to the computer industry also needing most of these same doping agents for their computer processors and electronics. Solar panels degrade quickly after being installed so you have to design your system to about twice the size so it will still be supplying the required amount after a decade or two of use. You mentioned batteries being 80% efficient... I think the typical numbers are more like 40% for most battery types (lead-acid, Ni-Cad) and batteries have a short life and a high embedded energy. the embedded energy in most panels made 20 years ago was measured in decades of use (20-30 years) but the best and "greenest" made solar cells are now bragging about 4-5 years of embedded energy (which is higher then your 2-3 years in your post)

now for solutions: people need to use solar cells for every thing that needs batteries now. A very large proportion of electricity use is just transformers that are plugged into AC even if the electronics they are powering is not being used. Most of those things only need power when the room's lights are on so the solar cells used right on the item will be more then 10 times as effective then the same sized panel adding to the grid. People want flat screens, well go LCD instead of plasma simply due to the efficiency. and even with those, use a screen saver if you can. of course efficient lighting is important but even better is to not use lights at all by designing "day lighting". New high intensity white-light LCD lights are coming out that can be used for "task" lighting or just putting the light real close to the things needing light. By using DC items instead of an inverter can net a whole bunch of savings. Inverters are real inefficient when not running at full power so you can drain our battery without using a watt of power if your inverter is still powered but now they have real small and cheep inverters out there so you can supply the item with DC power so an inverter that is dedicated to that item is only on when the item is being used and is running near full capacity. DC supplied florescent lights are also available. Use a laptop instead of a full computer and get a dc charger/supply for it.

Now you were thinking of supplying the full normal lifestyle including heating and cooling using solar generation and here is the point of change that is required for this to work: those so-called "net zero energy" houses use a heat pump which 2-5 times less energy then their electric counterparts for heating and air conditioning and they even have models with "super-heaters" that can also supply all the needed hot water too (with the same efficiencies as the air conditioning or 2-3 times as much hot water for the same electricity when compared to the most efficient electric instant hot water heaters (instant hot water heaters are much more efficient then tank heaters due to not losing heat while waiting for someone to use the hot water... now get 2-3 times more heat then even that). My problem with this idea is it still requires storage of electricity (batteries and inverters and all that inefficiency) so I am proceeding to build prototypes that only run when the sun is shining and store the heat and cool for use later rather then store the electricity. If I get this working, I can provide refrigeration and cooking heat too. These things are just the start if you think of storing heat/cool instead of electricity. My "true zero energy" buildings should have almost no need for electricity (for heating/cooling, hot water, refrigeration, cooking, and most lighting needs) based on their design so the solar area can be freed up for use as greenhouses. They figure 70% of all energy use in the western world (G.B. and USA in particular) is connected to getting food on your table with a good portion of that energy use in the form of transportation (farming, raw food, packaging materials, processed foods, people shopping with their cars, garbage removal, and the extra fuel transportation for the extra fuel use already mentioned). Add the other embedded energies like packaging and processing and fertilizers/pesticides and the energy used to store and cook it and you can see how a simple bit of home grown foods eaten fresh can make a huge difference in energy use so I want greenhouses instead of solar panels on everyone's sunny side of their buildings.

The final thing to consider is why you want to do the low-energy thing in the first place: if you are worried about greenhouse gases, the technology of solar panels, wires, batteries, electronics, and even those compact fluorescent lights is quite harsh in general for the greenhouse gases. If you are doing solar panels to leave a better world for your kids, these things (panels, batteries) do not last very long and at the rate of technological innovation, are likely to be obsolete technology by the time your kids are making decisions, if you are looking for a low-toxin world and healthier home, all these things (panels batteries, bigger wires for the DC, electronics in inverters, compact fluorescent lights) are full of chemicals and many off-gas, if you are doing it for independence, solar panels and batteries can only be made in special factories and the rest of the electronics and electric appliances are generally hard to make yourself and hey, what are you going to do if a little natural disaster damages things (I have had direct lightening hits in at least 9 of the homes I have lived in)? If you are doing it to be more immune to terrorist attacks, their current threat is a man-made nuclear lightening bolt powerful enough to fry most electronics and they got there idea based on the solar flux that would have destroyed all electronics at the turn of the century if we had electronics back then and could happen again with very little notice. As a general rule, I would never rely on solar panels or batteries and definitely not the electrical grid. You have already mentioned the cost, Johnny Electrode will remind you that most people are too stupid to set up and maintain a good solar power system, and I mentioned the potential lack of available resources that could case the price of them to go up if manufacturers start having problems with global supplies of materials running out.

Solutions (to making us not need electronics, the grid system, nor large solar arrays) are many but mostly untested as my previous post mentioned the reluctance of governments to fund research that would have people disconnecting from the grid and there is little financial incentive for any business-funded research in this area. I am going ahead with prototypes including using large underground pressurized air tanks to store "high grade" energy pneumatically that can be used to run pneumatic motors, pneumatically powered technology and controls, or to turn a small alternator at the location where electrical power is needed (like beside your light bulb with the wall switch turning on and off the air flow). Almost ever tool imaginable can be purchased pneumatically powered. My testing will include some direct solar-to-pneumatic energy converters and ways of stepping up pressures in concentric tanks with progressively higher pressures and ways of making these tanks with recycled of cheap materials (and can be made by mentally handicapped children). Most of the solutions though involve not needing this high grade energy in the first place so most of my testing is making high efficiency convective air pumps and vertical heat exchangers that do not have moving parts and the house designs needed to make them work. The heating/cooling system needs to be completely automatic and have no mechanical moving parts and of course never need any maintenance because people never fix things until they are broken so they need to have nothing to break down if they are to be idiot proof and be around for many generations of use, any maintenance because people never fix things until they are broken so they need to have nothing to break down if they are to be idiot proof and be around for many generations of use.
Ann Vole

Avenues greener then streets plus underground advantage

I was looking at the values for building spacing for solar communities and for my latitude, it has to be 9 units apart for one unit of height. You can move them one unit closer by having the peak of the roof to be on the south side and you can shorten the building by going underground and by earth burming the three non-south sides. People still want yards and vehicle access (even if green planners say othewise) so it is best if the houses are aranged in avenues (east-west) instead of streets (north south) so there is a greater distance between the houses. At about 160 feet apart, the houses can peak at 20 feet high on the south side (lots of room) but if you want to double the streets, they will only be about 45 feet apart leaving only 5 feet in height for the south side windows to receive maximum sun in the winter... Still doable. My house is on a street instead (and most are two story buildings) so the usable solar area in the shortest winter day will be about a 3 foot strip. (my house has a short house on the south side so it doubles to about 6 feet). City planners still build subdivisions without any thought to solar and developers do not think dense housing will sell high enough to pay for them because everyone seems to want big yards even if they cost more (when you are getting a mortgage that lasts decades, what's a few more years?)