I'll ask the question again. Solar energy vs. natural gas.

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by r.h. in okla., Mar 13, 2005.

  1. A few months ago I and a couple of cuz of mine pondered about opening our own business up installing solar panels and windmills for residents. We all have electrical experience and have thought about going into partnership. Well I asked on here if this would be a good ideal since it seems to be the future.

    I was shot down by many on board here saying it just isn't feasible enough, etc., etc. So now I'm asking again since pump prices have gone up to $2.00 a gallon and they say that by the end of the coming summer the prices will probably be around $3.-3.50 per gallon. Plus they're saying the prices will probably never go back down, only up. With the increase at the pumps it will make the cost of living go up for everyone.

    What's your input now? Should we get into the business of installing solar and wind power to residents as well as general lighting for commercial business such as resturants, convenient stores, schools, churches, etc.?

    I just think it would be a great business to get into. Specializing in the installation. With the rise of oil prices solar and wind is bound to start getting more popular and start becoming more affordable.
     
  2. Darren

    Darren Still an :censored:

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    My guess is that electric rates won't be influenced that much by oil prices with the possible exception of natural gas fueled power plants. Few power plants are fueled by oil. The other point is gas drillers at least in WV are punching wells everywhere they can. There are at least six to ten wells that have been drilled within ten minutes of my house since the summer. Greed will insure that the supply of natural gas on the market will grow at a rate not seen for some years. That will affect prices (drive them down) sooner than later. If electric rates don't climb dramatically, folks don't have any reason to invest in an expensive solar power system.

    My guess is that they'll buy a new car that gets much higher mileage to save on fuel costs before they go for a solar power system. That's what happened in the early 70's. Since one of the major costs of a system is the batteries I'd keep checking

    http://www.beaconpower.com/products/EnergyStorageSystems/SmartEnergy25kWh.htm

    or companies with similar offerings.

    If there's a breakthrough in flywheel storage systems (FSS) such that they replace batteries, a solar power system will be much more attractive to homeowners. Because material science continues to advance, it's only a matter of time before an FSS can store much more power. Given the higher expected life of an FSS, they'll rapidly replace batteries once that happens. With economies of scale from higher production rates the FSS will make solar power systems much more affordable.

    Demand for solar will skyrocket when that happens. That's when you want to get in the business.
     

  3. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I think about the same advise would apply, but you won't really know unless you try. None of us really know...... :)

    Solar has big issues with reliability as to the sotrage of electricity; and it just costs so darn much for that storage.

    Wind has such a large up-front cost for an efficient (big enough) system that it prevents most from getting into it.

    If I were looking to build a solar or wind system, here is what I would be doing:

    Solar I would build & maintain myself. I'd buy the components from the cheapest source most of the time, which rarely would be a small local shop.....

    Wind I would get into big system that took $300,000 - 600,000 and I would look to the exsisting companies that have successful intalls from the surrounding 500 miles.

    In either case I would call & bug you & take up your time picking your brain, but I'll bet I would look for my bottom line & not order from you. I've seen falled over windmills & unused (because they didn't work) solar setups around me, and I would shop very carefully from proven vendors - distance is not an issue with such specialized & spendy systems.

    Now, if you are on a way different scale than I am thinking, & have several million bankroll for this and will partner up with the big operators in this field, well then never mind.

    If you are a $100,000 outfit operationg out of a rented storefront....

    It will be a tough road for you.

    I think.

    But, I don't _know_. :)

    Good luck in whatever direction you go with this.

    --->Paul
     
  4. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    Not really,1200 bucks will get you 1800 amphours of storage at 12 volts.BIL has 10 years on his L-16s offgrid,my backups at home have 5 years.Proper care and maintenance are key for sure.You will need a backup genny in most cases of solar i know of.

    No one knows what will succeed or fail,but we have a store up here thats on the net,and they just moved to larger quarters,so its working for them anyhow.

    BooBoo
     
  5. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    Im a bargain builder too.But BIL went with Mom and Pop outfit,paid more for panels,but they cut him a break on cables.He went with them for the after sale service,which was valuable for him starting out.Since it went well with them,now that he knows what he is doing,he still buys panels from them,at a 10-15% premium.They earned his loyalty with service.

    Good luck too,as Paul says.

    BooBoo
     
  6. peahigirl

    peahigirl Well-Known Member

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    It seems that you are determined to go this route anyway and are looking for a reason to do so. I wish you well on your venture.

    However, the problem is that it is so much more involved than just the initial installation. That's only the tip of the iceburg and the start of a major commitment.

    Maintaining and monitoring your off grid electrical system is like breathing. Got to do it all the time, and a lot of times you get pneumonia. (ie batteries become sulfated, equalizing charges must be done along with a backup gennie that is big enough to amp it up to the level required for equalization, unless you have a very costly and huge solar array or wind generator. Oh, and don't forget your inverter that will shut off all power when your voltage gets too low to save the batteries, etc.) Not to mention that mechanical beasties have a bad habit of breaking down at the least opportune moments.

    Not trying to take the wind out of your sails or shoot you down. It's just not something that the average Joe Blow is going to want to deal with, no matter what the price.

    BTW, I live off the grid and have done so for 30+ years. Believe me, there are many times that I would gladly pay an electric bill and leave the hassles to someone else. (Ha, usually when trying to fix something when it is pitch black out during a torrential rain, holding a flash light in my teeth)

    However, you could make a bundle on systems already installed, with repairs and troubleshooting!!
     
  7. BCR

    BCR Well-Known Member

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    Just asking us won't tell you anything. You need to do a market survey in your area. What would help is a business plan. You can make mistakes on paper in the planning and not with real cash. One of the very real benefits of a business plan is that you can assess its viability without spending tons of money. Go to SCORE.org for free business counseling and business plan templates.

    Also, don't do anything with a partner without a specific partnership contract. Read about it in "The Partnership Book" with CDROM. Without it you are sure to have regrets.
     
  8. mysticokra

    mysticokra Well-Known Member

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    I had the good fortune to see a home that is "off the grid" this weekend.
    It was a large (4,000 sq feet) multi-story home with many energy efficient features, such as an envelope roof, etc. When I asked the owner about the electrical system he told me that he has a series of "30-year batteries" that are guaranteed for 10 years. They flow through a DC to AC converter that feeds the house. In addition to solar, he has a small, stream run generator that provies 750 Watts to recharge the batteries. As backup, there are generators that will run on fuel oil, when all else fails.

    Total cost was $12,000. At an average monthly electrical bill of $200, it looks like his break even point is at about 6 years. That may be closer to 10 years, once you factor in battery replacement and opportunity costs.
     
  9. Mike in Ohio

    Mike in Ohio Well-Known Member

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    R.H.,

    You need to develop a business plan. I would also suggest that you do your own "test" installation. You need to go to one (some) of those solar energy fairs we see advertised in the various publications. Try to find people in your general climate/conditions and listen to their stories.

    I'd also look into solar hot water in addition to solar electric.

    I don't know if it is feasible or not. You won't know until you do more investigating.

    As usual, just my 2 cents.

    Mike
     
  10. BCR

    BCR Well-Known Member

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    I am following the MILLION SOLAR ROOF initiative in my state which hasn't amounted to much action. In pricing a moderate usage system through their links, the cost was $50,000. Hahaha. Cut that in half or more for do-it-yourselfers or lessening usage and it is still alot. In other words, it is still too costly to pay off for the average household. Plus there is the maintenance factor.

    We have our own natural gas well, but there was a real learning curve on my part. When the gas stops coming into the house, there is no one to call that will check it for free like the utility company. I am my own utility company in that case, so I better know what I am doing. Frankly, I don't want to know that much about electricity when it is still so cheap for me to buy it. When it gets expensive, I will most likely use much less first before going solar.

    What matters is your market there in OK. Have you done a survey, tracked your competition? You have competition even if it is the mail order companies. All of this would be part of your business plan.
     
  11. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

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    You might do well if, rather than stocking and selling the equipment, you limit yourselves to installation and repair. Many of the companies that sell the equipment will list installers somewhere on a website or newsletter. You would want to get on a variety of those listings. You would need to be willing to travel to some remote locations in your general area. You might want to expand to cover installing solar heat and water heaters. And you would not need a storefront with the overhead involved, just a good work vehicle with tools etc and maybe a storage shed/workshop out back of your house. You might even put together a maintenance pkg deal. I've known people on alternative energy systems that would rather pay someone to put it together, install it and do the maintaining than do it themselves.
     
  12. jgbndaudio

    jgbndaudio Well-Known Member

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    Hello,

    I am working on starting an alternative energy company in NY. I've had a lot of interest from people. Some don't seem to mind when I talk about $25,000 systems and others are wondering what they can do with a two thousand or less. The key is to find out what people have in mind. Not until the **** really hits the fan will a lot of people consider going completely off grid. I saw someone below said wait until then to get in to the business. Bad idea. Get in now and get established and then when the business picks up (and it will) you'll be in better position to compete with all the Johnny come latelys. One thing I’ve done is I have sold quite a few of my friends simple systems like the one below for all kinds of usage. It's their choice to spend some of their 'disposable income' on a small system that helps lower their electric bill. Granted it’s usually only a little, but it does add up. It is a system that when properly used will eventually pay for itself with savings.

    My latest investment:
    I have an on demand propane hot water heater that heats the water for our baseboard system. Then there is a small circulator (75watt) to move the water around the BB loop. Until recently it used to be connected to the grid power. This was fine except that twice during the last six months we couldn't have heat because the grid power was out. Once was only 6-8 hours but the other time was almost a whole 24 hours. That day it was about zero outside and it got down to 45 in the house, I was not happy!

    Well, last month I bought a solar panel (80watt), 2 batteries (6v 220ah), a battery charge controller and a small inverter (500watt). I now have a system that will run whenever I want it to. It's capable of running almost two weeks straight without a recharge but even in NY we don't usually have that many cloudy days in a row. The whole system cost me under $700. It will save my roughly $9 in electricity during a heating month. Since we end up heating about six months a year, it will pay for itself at the very least in about 10 years. This payback period will only get shorter as electricity prices go up. I will further shorten the payback period by using the system to run a fan or two during the summer when the circulator is not being used. This could really add up and could reduce the payback to about five years. The life expectancy of the solar panel is 25+ years. The battery could last 10+ years if I take good care of it.

    As far as figuring a rate of return it doesn't matter to me on this investment because the most important thing is that I now have the added convenience of never having to worry about whether my house will be warm. As long as I don't run my propane tank empty - I'm golden!

    As a secondary note:
    I have invested in all compact florescent lights for my house. I see that they've already paid for themselves and have only had one burnout so far in almost 3 years. I highly recommend them. They can cut 10-25% a month of your electric bill.

    Scotty
     
  13. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    Back when I had 2 cents to rub together, I looked into a mini-solar system. I couldn't understand the diagrams.

    So, I did a bit of reading, and I STILL could not understand the diagrams!

    Personally, I think that I would LIKE a minor source of power at my 5 acres in another county, and it really WOULD be awsome to lower my bills at home.

    Alas, it will not be. I cannot undertand even the watered-down instructions. "Attach the something or other to the whatzit. " Fine, but how do I attach it and where? And, which of the boxes in the diagram are the whatzit? :eek: The one with 1 cord leading to it or the one with 2?

    If you had mini-systems to sell I might have bought one......back when I had 2 cents to rub together.

    Alas, the old pickup died, I now have payments, and I am now broke again. So I am no longer in the market for solar systems.

    Still, it WOULD be lovely to be able to have a solar system at my property in another county. When I am ready I envision a workroom with lights, a radio, and a fan.

    Why don't you give it a try with computer -based sales and Saturday sales? Keeping in mind, of course, that most of us do NOT know what a "whatzit" is, so the diagrams would have to be AWSOME!
     
  14. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    We figure that a solar domestic (not home heating) hot water system will pay for itself in energy savings in 5 to 10 years, and makes sense for anyone with exposure to the sun for most of the day. A solar electric (PV) system makes sense if you get a good tax rebate or similar assistance to pay for it, or if you are off grid and connection to the grid would be expensive, or you are like me and want the independence that a solar or wind system can give you. A wind system is much more dependent on the specific site, and is hard to generalize its effectiveness.
    I would assume that you would plan to get certified as solar installers and wind installers and maintainers, which is becoming more and more of a requirement for state funding or rebates for systems. I am thinking of taking the classes and tests, even though I installed my first PV system in 1982 or so, and my first wind system in 1977, and have done quite a few since then.
    The coming market in PVs will be grid-tied systems used to reduce peak electric bills, and wind generators used to supplement income after reducing electric bills. These would probably be 1 to 3 kilowatt PV systems, and Windgenerators of 10 to 50 kilowatts or more.
    There is a good article about this (making money with your wind generator) in the latest issue of Home Power magazine, which should be available on-line at http://www.homepower.com

    Jim
     
  15. jgbndaudio and terri, you both are on the track that I'm getting at. When I was still doing electrical work we didn't always go out to every job and do a complete new wiring job. We had probably 20 small jobs for every new house we wired up. And that is where I think installing all types of solar panels would come into play. They could call us if they only wanted their lighting on solar, or only their hot water heater on solar, or a electric fence, or if they are building a brand new house and want the whole house off grid then we would be the ones to call. And as terri said she couldn't understand the directions and that is where professionals would come in.

    wisjim just reminded me of a problem we have around here also. On some of our 220 appliances the electric company have remote controled disconnects on them. During the hot summer time when peak power is in demand the electric company will turn your appliances off whether you like it or not. You might be washing dishes or drying clothes when all of a sudden the power to them shuts off. If people have these appliances on solar energy then they shouldn't have to worry about the electric company turning them off when you need them the most.

    Thanks everyone for your input. It is much appreciated.
     
  16. tkrabec

    tkrabec Well-Known Member

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    I am and have been a fan of their technology for a few years now. However I've not seen any pricing for the device. Have you been able to find any?

    -- TIm
     
  17. Phantomfyre

    Phantomfyre Black Cat Farm Supporter

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    I can't tell you what the market for your business would be like, but I can tell you that I personally am interested in looking into at least a small system that could reduce our electric bill some, and provide lights and maybe power to the electronic ignition on the furnace and such when the power goes out. Something like jgbndaudio was talking about to start off. Like Terri, I have read some articles about how to get started in solar, and it's all Greek to me! Whosits and whatchmacallits and dealyhoppers - what?! So if somebody put together a "Solar for Dummies" guide or something that was actually in English so I could research if it was realistic for us or not, and I decided it would be feasible, I would love to have someone who could come out and install everything correctly. I like to try to do things myself, but electricity is not something I am willing to mess around with. So yes, I would be willing to pay a pro to install it. But that's just me, and since I'm here on this forum, I'm probably not a very good representative of the general public. :haha:

    Diana
     
  18. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    This is why I keep referring people to Home Power magazine. If you don't want to buy the hard copy, download the current magazine. Also check out the solar for beginners at http://homepower.com/files/beginner/104_72_SolarElectricBasics.pdf and see if that helps understand the components a little better.
    As solar power becomes better known, ther will be lots more people with money instead of time or knowledge who will want to buy an installed working system. I am not in the business anymore, but am thinking about getting back into it, because of all the requests and questions that I get.

    Jim
     
  19. patarini

    patarini Well-Known Member

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    WOW Good thing I didnt realize it was goiong to cost me so much! I aim to do my house for 4 to 5k == 600 watts solar, one small wind turbine, one stream turbine, batteries charger all included! Would gladly deal with a local person who could answer dumb questions! Go for it!
     
  20. Leay

    Leay Well-Known Member

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    There's a really interesting article in the October/November 2004 Mother Earth News that covers this topic. Apparently a new solar energy business has sprung up on the Hopi and Navajo reservations. The name of the company is Native Sun and they supply solar energy systems to people on the reservation. You might get some ideas on how Doran Dalton started this business in the article. He did receive grants to get started but I would think any small business can get government help in starting up. I tried to find an internet link in the article but couldn't find one.
    There is also a 1998 handbook called Native Power that was produced at Berkeley that showcases alternative energy projects on some reservations.
    Good luck in your venture.
    Leay