Lets start a solar power collective for next year

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Lets start a solar power collective for next year

Post by Jmarcus » Wed Aug 19, 2009 1:32 am

i've been thinking about this for awhile, I do a little business with chinese manufacturers through alibaba.com, which connects factories in foreign countries with buyers.

one of the most popular products on there are pv solar panels. I love solar, but the cost is just so prohibitive to buy locally or on amazon

However, if we could drum up enough interest, say, a minimum order of 100 panels, there are many, many factories that would do it at a total cost (including shipping to a california port) of about 1.5 dollars/watt. This includes a 10+ year warranty based on specific output levels such as 90% power at 10 years, etc. The absolute BEST I can find on amazon is about 5 dollars/watt, but those are sketchy "1 used available from some guy in Malaysia" deals.

Additionally, most panels on amazon are under 20 or 30 watts, I'm thinking of getting enough people/theme camps in to buy some 100 or 200 watt panels that are ACTUALLY USEFUL for real power.

This pricing begins to put solar in a realistically feasible realm. Of course, its still significantly more expensive than the cost of a generator. For example, the 2000 watt honda eu2000i is about 1000 bucks or so, without gas. 2000 watts in solar is about 3k, mas or menos, plus some additionals, like the cost of the inverter for ac if you need it. But its clean, silent, renewable, doesn't require refilling, etc. If you rent a larger generator, you have to take into account pickup, dropoff, the fact that a "week" is only 40 hours long usually, not to mention the carbon footprint.

I'd say a minimum order would be 100x150 watt panels, for a total output of 15kw. It would cost around 23000 bucks, but a 142 watt panel from solarhome.org is close to 1200 bucks, which would equate to 120000.

What do y'all think? From a purely financial standpoint, it doesn't pays off for years. But I think its safe to say that the benefits of renewable energy tip the scales significantly in our favor. Plus you can use the panels during the rest of the year too, why not replace your prius' sun roof with one :D

I don't know the specifics of what extra work would be required to make these bulk panels operational, maybe someone with more solar experience could help me with that. But if we can knock 80% off the retail price, that's a good start, right? I'd love to see a mass theme camp movement, if we start now we could easily be on our 5th round of orders by bm 2010

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Post by Jmarcus » Wed Aug 19, 2009 1:40 am

oh, I forgot, the general idea I had was to set some sort of goal, say an order of 100 150watt panels.

We have everyone make commitments to purchase whatever number of panels they want, no money exchanged yet. At a certain benchmark, say, 65% of the goal, they pay their money into an escrow account. Hopefully, the fact that real money has been put down helps encourage the final 35% to buy in. At that point, the order is placed, and within (I believe about) 6-8 weeks you'll be able to pick up your panels.

There are a few areas that still need to be worked on, definitely need to order samples from factories and test them, to find out what's ideal, but I'm talking about ordering from multimillion dollar factories, not some weird Chinese fly-by-night. I'm not advocating that I be in charge of this either, I know there are Burners out there with much more business, solar, and electronic experience than I have, I just like the idea.

It seems to me to be a wonderful way to express radical self-reliance, no?

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Post by lemur » Wed Aug 19, 2009 2:43 am

i wouldnt be in on it but i have seen these 'get together and buy shit from china' things work on an internet forum before.. buncha people on a photo forum got together to buy a crapload of chemicals.....

if i remember they had a few regional folks take care of money to give to the main guy who did all the biz... they got delivery sent to the regional ppls who sent out from there and/or dropped off... (it took like 2 years to pull it off from start to finish)
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Post by Dr Dilemma » Wed Aug 19, 2009 12:32 pm

Our camp was looking at solar panels and kept running into the same cost problems ... and there is also something that isn't mentioned here: in order to make solar panels actually usable you need to have some way of storing power because solar power is inconsistent and of course not usable at night at all. If you throw enough storage batteries into the equation, not only have you blown the price back up into the stratosphere, but you've now added so much weight that the amount of fuel you'll need to haul several thousand pounds of batteries out there is actually MORE than the fuel a gas generator would burn to give you the same amount of power. In fact, and I've have to see how much the panels in question weigh, but it is entirely possible that the fuel consumption of just getting the PANELS out to the playa could negate fuel savings on their own.

The fundamental problem here with using solar for playa use is that solar always incurs higher front end costs but gives you long term benefits, but for a week long event you'll never have them set up LONG enough to come close to ever seeing those benefits, ever. If the intent is to set them up on the playa and then donate them to a local school or other community service then they MIGHT negate the cost / carbon footprint. But certainly if you are hauling several thousand pounds of panels to and from the playa each year you'd use so much fuel doing so that it would be cheaper by at least 1/2 and more likely a factor of 10 and have the same or less environmental impact.

But again, we only did very rough figures, I would love to see some one that is better at math than I (with more free time) to sit down and crunch the numbers. It would be interesting to see the numbers for cost and carbon footprint for both panels only and panels with storage. Granted you can pretty much count on sun all day every day there, realistically for the purposes of most camps needing nighttime illumination solar panels without storage are useless. You'd need several thousand pounds of batteries to get you anything past 2 hours.

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Post by stargeezer » Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:17 pm

I would think that wind turbines were a better choice than solar. The wind can blow 24/7, sometimes very hard, and by generating power at night you would reduce your storage requirements. I have never looked at the data regarding consistent wind speed at BRC, a little homework might provide some interesting information.

I agree that solar panels are probably a bad idea if you want a lot of power at night. The proper use of solar panels would be charging up small appliances during the day so you would not need a lot of storage capacity.

If you really want to go green, try setting up some exercise bikes with small generators. If nobody wants to pedal to generate power for light, the party is over for the night.
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Solar would be a bad carbon footprint

Post by bradtem » Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:13 pm

A solar panel is only properly green if it is in use all the time, and all its power is used. A panel that is only used camping is far from green. It takes 1-2 years of its output to make it, so if you only use it one week a year at burning man you have actually wasted electricity, nasty coal-made electricity.

If a panel is connected to batteries you usually want those batteries to get filled up early on a sunny day, slowly on a cloudy one. On those sunny days you just throw away all that extra power once the batteries get more full unless you can do something else with it (pump water, etc.)

If you want to buy a solar panel, the best thing to do is to put it in a place like Arizona, tied to the coal-powered grid there so every watt it can generate takes coal off the grid. Better to do that and to run a nasty diesel generator for the 1 week at burning man, believe it or not!

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Post by Jmarcus » Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:55 pm

people seem to be missing the heart and soul of what I'm proposing here.

I understand the carbon footprint/cost/whatever make it less than perfect, but on the assumption that you'd rather have your camp, and perhaps your home, or car, or mv, or something else, powered by solar, then how do you do it? Starting from "I want solar" and heading towards "how do I get cheap solar," one possible idea is for everyone to get together and place a direct order from the factory.

If its too complicated, and/or no one has more experience in these things, then I suppose it'll die. BUT, if you DID want a few solar panels for your MV, and so does the camp next to you, and your neighbor across the street said he was thinking of putting in a 2 Kw array on his roof, and... then we might have potential. All I was saying is, I'm pretty sure that situation exists, over and over.

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I want solar

Post by bradtem » Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:20 pm

Point is it is silly to say "I want solar."

Surely you mean, "I want to reduce emissions due to my electrical usage as much and as conveniently as possible for my money."

And in that case, solar is sometime very much not what you want. Certainly not solar panels used only for camping.

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Post by theCryptofishist » Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:38 am

Oh! People who can think and trade off pluses and minuses and generally peer though hype to truth!

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Post by Jmarcus » Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:31 pm

well, if you want to think of it that way, you should absolutely look down on any and all solar installations on the playa, as they are without a doubt less cost-effective than a diesel generator. Heck, as you point out, its probably got a larger carbon footprint too, given what goes into the production of the panels AND the batteries, not to mention lugging that stuff out there.

But going along with that, we should also look down on anyone who drives an electric hybrid, because the amount of energy going into mining the lithium/other chemicals for the batteries, transporting it across multiple oceans, using dangerous and caustic chemicals to transform it into something useful totally negates the environmental benefits of the 20 extra mpg you get. Not to mention the disposal of said batteries after 15 years and the damage to the environment of strip mining... And we know that the Prius isn't really financially viable without a government tax credit, which means it really isn't. Hasn't it been proven that the gas savings don't account for the additional cost of the hybrid system for a decade or two?

I'm talking about basic capitalism, wherein creating a demand for something hopefully increases production. And the more production, the cheaper the costs. If everyone at burning man bought a solar array for their HOME, and possibly a few extra panels so they don't need to run a generator to recharge their camp's LEDs, we could cause a serious increase in demand and hopefully spur the industry on a little bit. Doing it collectively seems to be a way to reduce the costs as much as possible given these economic conditions.

but its just a thought. I'm not trying to argue the merits of solar vs your energy source of choice. If you happen to think the idea itself is a bad one, please, let me know. But if you just want to sh*t on solar, I'd better not see you drive up in a Prius to the burn.

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Not crapping on solar per se

Post by bradtem » Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:44 pm

It's just that I think most people want to do the green thing. You suggest they would want to do solar even if it's not the green thing. I've seen the argument about buying non-green things that might be green in the future drives up the market. It's hard to decide if that's true.

If you truly want to be solar whether it's green or not, then go for it, but I will have a hard time figuring out why.

If a Prius really is bad we should not make it just to feel good. We should feel good and do good at the same time. You can't be green at burning man. 95% of your energy usage and carbon footprint will come from just getting there. Creating a temporary city in the middle of nowhere and tearing it down is an inherently environmentally nasty thing. We do it for the art, for our own pleasure.

I want this planet to be cleaner. I want less crap in the air. So I want to see people promoting ways to do that, not ways to feel like they are doing it.

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Post by Dave_techie » Fri Aug 21, 2009 8:10 pm

1. Solar panels for camps. probably a bad idea.
2. Getting a lot of solar panels cheap, to people who care. to be put into applications that will actually help. GOOD idea.

it's a great idea to get inexpensive solar panels to burners, if they live in a place where solar will actually be viable\useful

If they will use their solar panels in a useful way

and if it actually reaches break even in a reasonable amount of time.

So, good FRAME of an idea, it's just the plaster that needs reworking.

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Post by unjonharley » Fri Aug 21, 2009 8:38 pm

how about a list of day time power needs.. i can not think of any..
a array big enough to make ice is cost intensive..

a mv can pump up batteries in the day for lights.. with new led light bulbs a 12$ inverter is good

use two boom box to amp up your tunes..cram them full of rechargable batts. hook in two small HF solar panel(each) and your good to go..use a ipod type or walk man player to feed the boxes.. two solar panels and a battery pack in line runs them non stop..or set up a solar charging station and change batteries.. some thing i don't care to deal with x times a day..

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Panels from Amazon?

Post by photon » Sat Aug 22, 2009 10:46 pm

Before getting to "Gung Ho" on purchasing a bunch of panels from China consider trying to look here in the US. Believe it or not Amazon is not the best place to purchase solar panels. Current prices can be found from internet lowballers in the $2.75-$3.50 a watt range and come from manufacturers that have been around for many years and back them with 25 year warranties. Even well established local solar dealers are selling panels in the 3-$3.50 watt range these days. Also sounds like a skilled solar professional would be very beneficial to help you understand the rest of the equipment and make sure things are designed properly. Going into such a venture only based on saving you 30-40% just on the panels is likely not worth it. I understand where you're coming from but unless a very skilled PV guy (or 20) is on board with you to provide guidance to the mass of people that will need it there may be a lot of extra batteries retired to the transfer station before their time. Panels continue to come down in price and if the present trend continues it's likely you'll find them even more affordable by next years burn.


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