Monday, April 24, 2006

Solar power - infeasibility study

The two key resources for the next century, in my opinion, will be information and power. There's not much I can do about information - there is a limit to the rate at which I can produce it or organise it, and Google are doing a much better job! But I would love to be more independent in terms of power.

We are in a valley, sheltered by trees, so wind energy isn't likely to do much for us here - I think the neighbours might not be keen on a 20 metre high windmill. So, since we are having building work done, I spent some time looking at options for solar energy. This falls into two basic categories: solar PV (photovoltaic) (producing electricity using photoelectric plates) and solar water heating. Both have come a long way in the last 20 years or so - but both are still very expensive. Prices seem to be set so that the cost of installation will only be recovered over the expected life of the equipment. To buy a solar PV system which produces up to a kilowatt peak output costs several thousand pounds - and will produce savings of £100 to £300 per year. Water heating systems are cheaper - you can get one from about £1600 - but not as useful anyway, since they only provide hot water - they can't be used to heat the house, so you still need a boiler for central heating.

Basically, the price is such that microgeneration of solar energy is still an ideological luxury for most people. SolarCentury have a vision for every roof in the country being a mini power station. This would generate enough electricity to supply the whole country. It would also provide revenue for the solar PV manufacturers of tens of billions of pounds. The bottom line is: if solar PV were so good, solar PV manufacturers wouldn't bother with selling systems. They'd be buying land to put their systems on and just selling the power.