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Xavier Belvemont

TEDCRED 30+

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Solar Panel efficiency: Its not the panels fault, its ours.

A common argument in relation to solar panels is that they don't provide enough of a percentage of electricity to make them financially viable investments.

Where as I do agree that solar power needs additional research and development investment to both increase their efficiency and their price, a little research found the possibility that the low percentage of energy that is generated from panels (in relation to our household energy expenditure) may infact be our fault due to high energy wastage.

I took a dozen commonly owned household products for household usage such as a fridge, freezer, desktop pc, oven, light bulbs, tv's etc etc; All typical slightly dated appliances with no regard for their energy consumption when purchased.

I then searched for replacements and alternatives such as:
A+++ energy rated fridge-freezers
Slimline laptop instead of the desktop
Eco bulbs instead of 60watt bulbs
LED Television instead of a large tube televsion
Halogen desktop oven instead of traditional oven, etc etc

(and then I went a little further, such as replacing the tv with a projector, the laptop with a mobile, replacing the eco bulbs with LED's and replacing the fridges and freezers with ones 50% of the size)

The end result was that I was able to cut average household energy usage by upto 50% just by replacing appliances with energy efficient alternatives and upto 60% with going the extra step.

Essentially, the solar panel system that could only provide 15% of the requirement initially can now provide 30%+

Perhaps when it comes to renewable energy we can do our part by lightening the load, thus making (even modern limited technology) seem more plausible.

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    Mar 6 2013: It's true. So much energy (?) is put into 'greening up' power generation technology without much thought or incentive given to our own power consumption.

    Also the likes of A+++ fridges and LED lighting are still way out of the price range of many who really would like to improve their consumption efficiency - so I don't think it is 100% our fault.

    I'm not sure why all this big money is being poured into power generation and not consumption efficiency. Surely it would be better to insulate a few roof spaces instead of wrecking what little wild land we have left with useless wind farms? Also what on earth is all this street lighting doing on in the dead of night?

    I think if houses are built up to the efficiency standard of "Passivhaus", then solar panel efficiency would be an important part of the whole (ie a house completely sealed with air/heat exchangers, underfloor heating from groundsource heat pumps, top-of-the-range insulation etc). Many houses built this way actually generate more power than they consume.
    • Mar 7 2013: My electric company is pushing efficient power consumption in every way it can imagine. I think it is trying to avoid building another power plant.

      Every serious planner of electric power includes efficiency improvements in the plan; I have seen figures ranging from a low of 25% to a high of 60%.

      A big problem is the transition. The energy efficient devices must be adapted into current buildings by the building owners. It is very difficult to make that transition cost effective for the owners. For example, the last time I checked, an LED replacement for the standard 60 watt light bulb cost about $15. It is difficult for a home owner to see how that will be saving him money, especially if the house is crowded with kids who sometimes break light bulbs.

      Street lighting is on in the dead of night to keep criminals away. There were studies done decades ago when street lighting was new to many areas. Street lighting was THE most effective means to reduce crime, and was extremely cost effective. Now that street lighting is everywhere, it may not be so effective. I have not read of any recent studies.
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        Mar 7 2013: Hi Barry, Excellent that your electric company is doing that.

        The UK has a generally laggardly attitude towards power efficiency at point of use. The housing stock is often very old and way, way outdated as far as efficiency goes. Planning restrictions on very old listed buildings actively prohibit very many efficiency measures from taking place, despite such measures having been developed to be sensitive to aesthetic considerations (such as solar panels that look like ordinary roof tiles). It means much higher consumption of power generally where there are more older buildings. Of course these buildings need preserving, but the process of preserving them should include making them as efficient as they can possibly be. Which emphasises your point about transition.

        I understand your point about street lighting and crime in built-up areas, but what's the point of lighting vast stretches of road in rural areas? Why are lights left on in secure urban buildings overnight? If these areas have to be lit, why not switch to LEDs for the hours when most people are asleep? Also the wider use of motion sensors on street lighting might actually be even more effective in reducing crime.
        • Mar 7 2013: I agree with all of your points. There is a lot of work to be done in these mundane but important areas. Updating our infrastructure might be the most effective way to protect our environment.
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    Mar 6 2013: okay so the logic is the following. we have a business that runs at a net loss because the cost surpasses the revenue. the proposed solution is to cut the business activity by half. anyone not seeing the problem here?
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      Mar 6 2013: What are you talking about? I think you're posting on the wrong board.
      Otherwise how do you read 'use an appliance that requires less energy' and turn it into 'if a company is in debt, cut business activity in half'?..
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        Mar 6 2013: if you don't understand that parallel, i recommend you not to come up with proposals about energy economy.
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          Mar 6 2013: Krisztian,
          All you ever do is wander around ted writing idiotic, unnecessarily kryptic, inane nonsense which brings absolutely nothing to the subject, and all around a centralized theme of laughably failed political libertarian ideologies on the level of George bush' standards of financial sector de-regulation.

          Then you act disheartened/high and mighty/scorned when no one knows what the hell you're talking about or doesn't care enough to reply (because afterall, what exactly would anyone expect to achieve from replying, besides getting more of the same..)

          Edit/
          Actually don't make your point or move on because I really couldn't care less what your point was..
          I was under the impression that TED was 'Ideas worth sharing', not 'obscurity that provides nothing' thus your position on the subject isn't necessary.
  • Mar 6 2013: The basic problem with solar panel efficiency is that low efficiency results in a high price per kilowatt. Solar panel efficiency continues to improve. The last time I saw figures for them, solar panels were catching up with mirror arrays in the race for the lowest price.

    Regardless of which alternative energy source becomes cheapest, we can all expect to be doing more with less electricity in the future. The power grid is becoming a major issue, and the only way to minimize the grid is to minimize the amount of electricity it carries.
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    Gail . 50+

    • +1
    Mar 5 2013: Back in 2005, we sold our home and bought a motorhome. How much easier life was in it.

    My hot water heater was 15 gallons. It was exceedingly well insulated. I could turn it off 15 minutes after breakfast dishes and the water would still be hot for lunch and dinner dishes plus whatever cleaning needed it. It only took 20 minutes to heat in the morning - and less time if I used both the propane and electric. We never ever ran out of hot water.

    No big oven. Instead I had a convection microwave. Convection ovens cook in less time, as do microwaves.

    A small super-energy efficient freezer came in handy - cutting down trips to the grocery store.

    The washer was super water-efficient, as was the toilet, that did not have a tank. (I stepped on a pedal to release water into the bowl and there was a spray nozzle beside it (attached to the wall) in case more water force was needed).

    I had an energy-saving panel. If my electricity draw was too much for the 50-AMP coach to handle, it would automatically shut off non-essential things - like the 2nd air compressor (air conditioned bedroom), hot water heater (that was I kept off anyhow, but it would have shut it off until enough power was available), and refrigerator. I think that all homes should have this wonderful feature that reduces energy consumption without inconveniencing me at all. I'd even like to program other energy saving things into the panel.

    Probably most important was how much easier it is to live in much smaller spaces (at least for those with no children). Cleaning took about 20 minutes for a thorough clean. Everything had to be put away right away, and there is no place to store excesses that aren't necessary. Everything I needed was at my fingertips. Simplicity!

    We recently bought another house. It's not big, but we have decided that it's way too big. It requires much more upkeep, electricity, water, and time. It's a burden more than a joy.

    I miss the joy of simplicity.