Can solar help me, not raccoons?

As days get longer, I’m increasingly enticed by ads for solar lamps. My yard already looks like a runway, but that doesn’t really matter. I want more even though the lamps rarely last all night and sometimes don’t turn on on cloudy days.

I’m always on the lookout for something that makes me think solar’s finally going to live up to the predictions it’s gotten over the past couple decades. After examining the solar portion of the IPC APEX EXPO program, which includes a solar pavilion, I scoured the newswires for the latest signs of progress.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District in Calif. expects to save $8 million now that a 2.1-megawatt solar project is finished.  Florida Power & Light Co. recently completed a 500-acre hybrid facility that uses 190,000 solar thermal mirrors and an existing combined-cycle natural gas power plant. Butte College in Oroville, Calif., long a leader in solar, is nearly finished with a 2.7 MW installation that will let the university produce more energy than it consumes.

That last tidbit, producing more than you need, is a very positive point. Among other things, the college covered walkways to generate power and improve its environment. Used cleverly, solar can bring some nice savings. It’s still not cost effective for the average homeowner, but those days are coming. I’m optimistic – I’d like to do something more beneficial than lighting the way for the raccoons that traipse through my yard.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 14, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    One of the cost drivers for solar is the conversion of DC to AC, then stepping the voltage to 120v. The conversion not only requires device cost (inverter) but also results in some energy loss. While camping a few years back it occurred to me that I could eliminate the need for power inverters for home-based solar power simply by switching over to 12v. appliances. And, thanks to America’s large RV industry, there’s a wide range of appliances already designed for 12vdc operation. Last year all of my holiday lighting was solar powered, and my patio and parking areas now have 12v lighting. While I’m only augmenting my home’s principle 120vac service, I am considering larger capacity arrays for higher consumption 12vdc devices (electric fridge, fans, etc.).

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