Getting power from the sun… Or how to electrocute yourself & hug trees at the same time…

20 Aug

Okay…

Attention class! Class! I’m, talkin here… So sit your butts down, put your knives and weapons of mass destruction away, and start listening…

Today, we’re gonna learn about making power…

NO! We’re not talking about “Black Power,” “Gray Power,” “Power to the People,” “La Raza,” or the Chicago 7!

(I know what you’re thinking, either this geyser is really old, because we’ve never heard of any of those guys, or he’s got the Chicago 7 confused with the Jackson 5! Everybody knows they were from Gary, Indiana! Sheesh!) LOL!

Cletus! Turn that MP3 player off, or the school nurse is gonna give you a lesson in Proctology!”

Today, we’re gonna learn how to harness the son, er… um… sun, and make it do some work for us, instead of just hanging around drawing attention to itself.

(You know what pisses me off? People who put harnesses on their kids, so that they can go out in public. You know, those “kiddie leash” things. If I was a kid (and I was once, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth) I’d “tase” the crap outta my parents in their sleep, if they made me go out in public shackled to the rest of my dysfunctional siblings…

It always reminds me of a chain gang, working along the side of the highway… That’s just not right! If your kid won’t behave in public, you don’t have to tie him to his sister… You just slap in in the back of his head, and look at him fiercely enough to scare him back out of puberty. Hey, that’s what MY Mom did, and we all turned out okay… mostly.) LOL!

Now, where was I? Oh yeah…

My family is building a house out of shipping containers and old building components, that we recycled from an aircraft hanger.

And, although some people think we’re “tree-huggers,” it’s a big, fat, lie.

First, most of the trees that survived the hurricane (Katrina) are gone. Second, most of the trees still here are those wimpy little “paper pulp pines, and they’re ugly, scratchy, and worthless as building material. And thirdly, I don’t hug nothin! At least not in public. I have a reputation to maintain. It’s hard to be the local “warmongering jerk,” if you display your sensitive side to the peasants. LOL!

We’re not “recyclers,” in the traditional sense, either. We don’t have an old pick-up truck that looks like Fred Sanford’s, we don’t drive around picking through peoples garbage, and we don’t have a big pile of flotsam and jetsam, and other assorted debris, scattered around my front yard, to hack off the neighbors. Now, my landlord does, but that’s another post…

We’re just your average dysfunctional family, trying to get by, after being left in the dust by two, count ’em, two hurricanes back to back. Now, I’ve talked about our “Exodus” to Mississippi before, so I’m not gonna rehash it again. Suffice to say, when the moving van is in our front yard, figure out which way it’s pointing, and then run like the devil was chasing you, in the opposite direction. The life you save, might be your own. LOL!

We’re the ones building “a house of a different color” around here. It’s an “extraordinary house,” one filled with mystery, excitement, and steel. Lots of steel. And that steel comes from really strange places.

We’re using 320 square foot shipping containers as the “primary structure” for our home. By now, you’ve read all about it, so I’m going to stay on track, and get to the meat of this post…

(I know… you’re thinking… “Finally. Gawd! That bastard can go on, huh? Sheesh… If I’d paid for this ticket, I’d have demanded a refund, already!) LOL!

Today we’re gonna talk about making power the “new fashioned way…” Photovoltaics.

Why Photovoltaics?

Well, Virginia… Photovoltaic technology makes use of the energy in the sun by using photovoltaic panels (what did you think they’d use? Bagels?) to harness the suns rays, and convert them to electricity. It’s becoming stable and reliable, and it has little impact on our environment.

We all drive by houses that have “solar panels” installed on them. But, do we know how they work? No. How do I know that? Because you don’t have one on YOUR house, do you? I didn’t think so. If you understood what they are, how they work, and how affordable they’ve become, you’d already be standing in line to get one, or even three…

So, have you ever wondered how electricity is produced by a photovoltaic system? It’s your lucky day! I’m gonna do my best over the next few posts (I know, that’s not a very hopeful prospect, is it? Well, too bad!) to help you understand the basics of photovoltaic technology, and even some physics, so that you can impress all your friends and neighbors, by becoming “the village genius.”

Hey, it’s a lot better than being the “village idiot,” let me tell you. I know from experience… LOL!

And, I’m also gonna show you how photovoltaic devices are designed and how they integrate themselves into fully functional systems, so that you can see how easy it is to get one for your own house.

Ready? Here we go…

Photovoltaics (PV) gained our attention, because PV is an important energy technology. There are many reasons for this;

It’s a “solar” energy technology, and it has numerous environmental benefits. There are no pollutants created in the production of this kind of power. Can you name any other type of power-generation technologies that have as little impact on the environment as photovoltaics?

I’m thinking… windmill generators, and water wheels… that’s about it… LOL! As a photovoltaic panel quietly generates electricity from light, it produces no air pollution or hazardous waste. It doesn’t require liquid or gaseous fuels to be transported or combusted. And because its energy source – sunlight – is free and abundant, photovoltaic systems can guarantee access to electric power.

(I know… I know what you’re thinking… because I’m a psychic… er… um… psycho… You’re thinking that panels “might” work, except for at night and in really bad weather… Keep thinking that.)

As a domestic source of electricity, it contributes to the nation’s energy security.

And, your wife will be happier, because you’ll have more money to spend “domestically,” on shoes.

As a young, motivated, high-tech industry, it helps to create jobs and strengthens our economy.

In “plainspeak,” that translates to “It’ll put geeks to work.” Nothing is worse than having a geek hanging around your house, laying on your couch, eating all your pizza, and drinking your refrigerator dry, because he has nothing to do…

And as it costs increasingly less to produce and use, it becomes more affordable and available. And cheap power is happy power! At least, that’s what I say!

Why doesn’t anybody listen to what I say? I mean, I’m talkin here, and everything… I’m not writing all this stuff for my health you know… LOL!

And, once I get it working, I can give my local meter reader the boot, and propel his sorry butt off my property. For good.

So, to recap… “Photovoltaics are your friend…”

And there’s one or two more benefits worth thinking about;

Heavy weather often interrupts power. Sometimes it interrupts it for days, or even weeks. Anybody who lived through the last couple of hurricanes in the South, knows that. Photovoltaic panels don’t stop working. Sure, you have to protect them from the storm, and that takes some careful consideration when you put them up in the first place, but they go right back up, and your power keeps flowing. Can your neighbors say that?

And, remember August 14, 2003? That’s the day when more than 50 million people in eight U.S. states and parts of Canada were left in the dark in the biggest blackout in the history of North America. 50 million people. As I recall, it all started because a tree hit a powerline. How crazy is that? And if you’d had photovoltaics installed, you’d have kept humming along, while your neighbors found their flashlights, using the Braille method…

Depending on where you live, natural disasters could include every element of Mother Nature’s wrath. Conditions like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, blizzards, ice storms, or earthquakes come to mind. Nobody can predict these events (my local weather channel can’t even figure out if it’s sunny outside!). But, these storms can cripple our local and national energy infrastructures.

And let’s not forget about “human error.” If Johnny spent all night arguing with his wife, he might not do a good job at his console, at the station today. His failure to monitor and maintain the proper pressure within pipeline systems used for oil, natural gas, or water, might damage components like valves and gauges, requiring shutdowns that disrupt your ability to use your appliances.

And, it’s an unfortunate fact of life that disasters can be “on purpose.” These threats range from the juvenile delinquents next door vandalizing your house, to criminal mischief committed by some idiot, and even reach to include well-planned terrorist attacks aimed at wreaking large-scale political, social, or economic havoc.

I will never forget 911. You shouldn’t either. In some countries, this violence happens every single day.

But we didn’t assemble here to get all depressed, did we? Nope. We came here to learn how to kick the “Power Guy” outta our lives, for good.

So, what else do we need to know?

Everybody is talking about “global warming.” That accursed Al Gore is running around, spouting off about how the world is coming to an end, and the sky is falling… Oh wait… That’s “Chicken Little…”

(Is it just me, or does Al Gore remind you of “Chicken Little?” The resemblance… is probably influenced by the DVD my son watches over and over again…) LOL!

Okay… So, as much as I hate to admit it, I actually agree with Al Gore “a little bit.”

ARGH! I said that out loud! Now I gotta go wash my mind out with soap… Dammit!

Anyway… I’m back… Did you know that “melon scented soap” tastes nothing like melons?” Blaaah!

If you believe the science that is getting bandied about (some scientists don’t), Global Warming is causing a rise in sea levels, leading to a loss of coastal wetlands, the erosion of our shorelines, and increased flooding in some coastal areas.

If it goes so far as to influence local and regional climate shifts, that could also have severe impacts on our ecosystem and even disrupt our agriculture.

Well, solar power produces no greenhouse gases, so it does not contribute to global warming.

But, we have to be objective, right? Solar power isn’t just a “walk amongst the roses.” There are some environmental concerns to consider.

Solar power panels are manufactured using a variety of chemicals. And some systems use small amounts of toxic chemicals, like cadmium and selenium, to name a few. So, it’s obvious that small amounts of hazardous waste are created in the process of manufacturing the panels. This waste gets disposed of in accordance with local, state, and federal environmental laws. Now, anything regulated by those guys makes me nervous, but I’m hoping they do a good job of policing the factories involved in this process. But when you measure this against the waste created by other types of power generation, it’s minimal, at best.

And, you can’t just throw an old panel in the garbage when it lives out it’s life expectancy. Because toxic chemicals are used in solar panels, it’s important to know that disposal at the end of their useful life is another potential environmental issue.

Right now that doesn’t seem like a big deal, because we’re not throwing away a lot of them… yet. But the industry is already looking forward, trying to establish recycling methods to insure that PV panels get disposed of safely.

And yes, just like anything else, the raw materials for PV systems must be shipped to factories so they can be assembled.

Remember what your Science teacher told you, in the eighth grade? “Pay attention, you insufferable bastards!” Wait… that wasn’t it… Well, it was, but it’s not the memory I was trying to rekindle. Work with me folks, I’m trying to teach ya something here! LOL!

Oh yeah… “There is no free lunch.” And obviously, the completed panels must be shipped from factories to consumers, because teleportation hasn’t been invented yet.

I bet when it does, you’re gonna “poo-poo” that too, huh? Man, talk about a tough crowd…

So, the production of the panels will use some energy, and produce some pollution. But so does eating those “red beans and rice” you had for supper last night… Talk about “outgassing…” Oy Vay!

So, here’s your first “test question;”

(You’ve been paying attention all this time, right?)

What’s the value of your electricity when it’s unavailable to you?”

Think back to the last time your power went out. Everything stopped, right? No burnt microwave popcorn stinking up the house, no MTV on the tube, no RAP music blaring in the background… Hey… Wait a minute. Having power ain’t so bad! I could get used to this… LOL!

You can live without power, for a minute or two. But big businesses need power, like people need air. Amazon.com loses $1 million per minute when their Internet site goes down, from a power outage. A million dollars a minute. It’s easy to see that reliability is key, whether you’re feeding your family or fueling all the book readers in the world.

PV systems were originally developed for use in space, nobody debates that. They were developed because repairs in space are extremely expensive, if not impossible, unless you use trained monkeys, or a space shuttle. PV still powers nearly every single satellite that circles the Earth, because it operates reliably for long periods of time and needs virtually no maintenance. Some satellites have a nuclear power source, but they are augmented by solar panels in almost every occurrence.

There are some “PV myths” we should probably get out of the way. PV systems can generate power in all types of weather.

(Oh shut up! They can too!)

On partly cloudy days, they turn out as much as 80% of their potential energy. Even on extremely overcast days, they can still produce about 25% of their maximum output.

(Smarty pants…)

And, PV systems aren’t very fragile, and they’re easy to maintain. Solar panels don’t have any moving parts, so visual checks and battery servicing are enough to keep systems up and running. BTW: The most common use of batteries in this type of system is to save power for complete isolation from a power gird. More on that later…

And manufacturers test solar panels for all kinds of conditions and weather. After all, it’s no good if it’s broken, right? Panels get pummeled with hail, high wind, and freeze-thaw cycles representing year-round weather conditions, to make sure that weather damage is no greater potential problem for PV systems.

So, we’ve proven that the technology works, it’s stable, and it’s reliable. And we’ve dispelled some myths along the way. In fact, I think we’ve made a case for using them, if I don’t say so myself.

And I do! I do!

Next time, we’ll talk about how they actually work, and how you build a system to power up your house…

Or maybe not… I’m still mulling over that “No MTV blaring… No RAP music screaming… No stinky popcorn smells…” scenario we were talking about earlier… I kinda liked that one…

Stay tuned…

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4 Responses to “Getting power from the sun… Or how to electrocute yourself & hug trees at the same time…”

  1. Adam August 20, 2008 at 7:42 pm #

    Excellent and informative article. I like the line about agreeing with Al Gore “A little bit.” Be careful, the more you listen to the guy, the more he makes sense.

  2. renaissanceronin August 20, 2008 at 8:11 pm #

    Adam, thanks for stopping by!
    As for “Al,” I’ll start covering my ears long before I start openly agreeing with the guy. I just don’t trust him.
    When he “cleans up his own house,” and actually lives up to his words, then… maybe I’ll trust him.
    Until then, he’s just another politician trying to stay in the limelight. I know I’m jaded, but I’ve been watching him a long time… LOL!
    And thanks for the compliment on the post. I’ll try to be as informative and instructional as I can, while we feel our way around the problems we face. The more information we share, the stronger we become.
    And, information, my brother, is true power, not wildly wielded weapons, or acts of rage…
    (That’s my story, and I’m stickin to it!) LOL!
    I hope to see you here, again!

  3. Ashish August 22, 2008 at 2:28 am #

    How come the font size changes everyday? I take it that you are using some sort of external blog editor. If so, may I recommend the excellent ScribeFire plugin for Firefox? 🙂

  4. renaissanceronin August 22, 2008 at 2:36 am #

    Ashish; I suspect it’s the editor. I’m also experimenting, trying to find the right theme/font/size combination, to make my gibberish easier on the readers…
    The only other way to change it is to learn how to write… and we all know that’s not gonna happen…
    LOL!

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