Posted on November 14th, 2012 22 comments
I’ve been hearing an ad on the radio lately about a discovery that the power company doesn’t want you to know about from a guy named Frank Bates. He mentions that he could get in a lot of trouble for talking about it and calls the power companies and the government “incompetent, lying crooks who are counting on your ignorance and fear to keep your electric bills and heating bills criminally high.” OK, I’m intrigued, so what’s this guy selling?
He wants to show you the secret of how he beat ‘em, and how you can beat ‘em too. It’s described as a “weird” trick on the website. It sounds almost too good to be true. You can hear the commercial along with a video at the Power4Patriots website.
Upon looking further into what Mr. Bates is selling, I discovered it’s a CDROM and downloadable access to a series of pdf ebooks (about 300 pages total) and videos covering the topics of solar and wind energy. Much of it involves DIY information on how to build your own solar panels, wind turbines, and solar water heaters from components you can find in local hardware stores and online for less than you can buy equivalent off-the-shelf products. The value of this ‘package’ is $297, but with the 90% discount, the CD and downloads can be yours for only $27 + 2.99 S&H. After purchasing it, you’ll find that if you pay $67 more, you get a physical spiral bound book along with 3 DVDs that also cover solar and wind DIY projects which is basically the same material, just in a format that might be more convenient for you. If you turn that down, you’ll be offered the printed book for another $27. After that, you’ll be offered heirloom seeds for another $67 to help you through any upcoming societal collapse. So there’s a lot of upselling going on after the initial $27 investment. I’m also now on the email list and I suspect I’ll be hearing a lot more from the company in the future.
How do I know this? I know this because I invested the $29.99 in the ebook/CDROM product. After all, what kind of blogger would review a product he didn’t own? I gotta tell you, this guy’s good. I’m surprised I got out without spending another $134 for the physical book/DVDs and heirloom seeds.
You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard all the fuss about how Chinese solar panels are coming down in price so fast that they are putting companies out of business that were trying to manufacture solar panels in the U.S. Witness what happened with Solyndra and Abound Solar.
One of the ebooks and 6 of the videos are related to making your own solar panels. I was curious to see just how cheap these homemade panels would be and the book shows a bill of materials of $175 for a 65 watt panel. That’s almost $3/watt not including your labor, and the amount of labor looks quite substantial. I’d estimate the labor at 10 hours per panel or more. That’s not cheap, especially now that you can get manufactured panels that are $1/watt that are already assembled and guaranteed. The manufactured panels are designed to last 25 years, are safety agency-approved, and can withstand all kinds of weather, including hail up to 1 inch in diameter. So trying to roll your own solar panels would be a waste of time and money. And the cost of a solar system doesn’t just depend just on the panel cost. The inverter costs about $.50/watt which is quite expensive in the grand scheme of things, or about half of what you’d be paying for the panels.
And then there’s the installation cost. Of course, you can do the installation yourself if you’re capable and comfortable working on roofs. Once you add in the other ancillary parts and equipment, you can put together a solar system for about $2/watt these days using off-the-shelf components. That’s about half of what they cost just 4 years ago, thanks primarily to the drop in panel costs.
A typical house in the U.S. uses about 730 kWh in electricity per month. To satisfy this need, you are looking at approximately a 5 kW system. That system would cost about $10,000 for materials even if you’re handy and can do the installation yourself. With U.S. electricity rates now at an average at $.12/kWh, it would take about 10 years to pay for itself. That’s not too bad, considering most things you buy for your home will just depreciate over time and not save you a dime, let alone break even or start making you money in the long run. My grid-tied solar system is 5.6 kW and I haven’t purchased any electricity since it was installed nearly 4 years ago but I do get charged about $8/month to be connected to the grid. I have accumulated a surplus (about 5000 KWh) on the meter that could run an electric car for more than 20,000 miles.
The radio commercials imply that you could slash your energy bills and live free of these greedy utility companies but you cannot do that if you install a grid-tied solar system with net metering, which is the most common kind. To disconnect from your utility company, you’d need to have a battery storage system, a charge controller, and a backup generator for those times that you may have a few cloudy days in a row. A set of batteries that would hold a day’s charge of 24 kWh would cost at least another $4K and generator would add another $1K to it. So you’re looking at a much bigger expense when you talk about completely disconnecting from the power grid, I’d say at least $5K more. And those batteries would need to be replaced every 6 years or so. That makes the whole payback period kind of a moot point because of this extra recurring expense so unless you live in an area where there is no grid power, or you believe we are on the verge of complete societal collapse, it’s hard to justify an off-grid system when you can get away with the less expensive grid-tied solar system.
There are some other books included in the package related to making and installing a wind turbine (probably good for 5-10% of the average household energy needs), and some simple solar hot water and solar hot air DIY projects. Bonus materials include ebooks on surviving disasters, storing emergency water, and building a solar cooker.
So for $27, you get 10 ebooks all of which contain some useful information, especially if you’re into renewable energy or worrying about Armageddon. I didn’t feel ripped off afterwards, although the quality of some of the graphic images in the pdf files was pretty poor. I don’t know what the printed materials might look like, but the numbers on many of the charts were unreadable like the image shown below.
I’m always intrigued when I hear an over-the-top advertisement for an energy product. Most of the time they turn out to be truly worthless and horrible investments. But this one is harmless enough, and you might even find a few good ideas for your $27. But don’t get your hopes up that you’ll take your electric and heating bills down to nothing without a significant investment in time and money even if you follow all of the DIY information in the ebooks.
Posted on August 6th, 2008 No comments
A few weeks ago I visited the National Renewable Energy Lab open house in Golden, CO with a few other members of the Northern Colorado Clean Energy Network. I’d wanted to see this facility for some time, and figured that an open house on a Saturday would allow some of our members who normally are unable to attend our energy tours during the week to join us. As it turned out, we only had 4 members of our group show up. Despite the low turnout, we had a good time carpooling there and back because we got to chat for a few hours about renewable energy topics.
The NREL has a visitor’s center and there was a presentation in progress when we arrived about how to do an energy audit on one’s home. Several of us had just been to an NCRES presentation on this topic recently so we did not sit down to listen to the presentation. The presentation took up much of the visitor’s center display area, making it impossible to talk without disrupting the presentation so our ability to wander around inside was a bit limited.
The exhibits were very nicely constructed and a docent explained the various renewable energy programs underway and the purpose of the various buildings on the campus. There are numerous projects going on all over the facility, but unfortunately they are off-limits for visitors. Only the visitor’s center is accessible. I had expected this to be the case, and so I tried to gather some information about what would be necessary to get a tour of the actual laboratories in the hope that some future visit would allow us to get better access to what’s going on in the labs. I can see that it will be a challenge as they are not set up to handle tours of the actual labs.
The docent who was our guide had spent most of his career in the power field, and I had a long discussion with him about transmission of power over high voltage DC lines. Transmitting power over DC lines is counter-intuitive for most engineers who were taught that you can only transmit utility scale power on AC lines. But thanks to advances in high power semiconductor components to handle utility scale power, DC power transmission lines are becoming more common to deliver electrical power long distances and to help isolate grids through interties. This method of transmitting power will become more important in the future as some of the best potential sources of renewable power generation such as wind and solar tend to be far removed from population centers. HVDC power transmission has the advantage of being able to isolate the grids so that the need to control the phase of the AC power over long distances is not required. The largest DC line in the U.S. is the Pacific DC Intertie which takes hydroelectric power from the Columbia River in Washington State and delivers it to customers in the Los Angeles area.
My favorite Visitor’s Center exhibit was the section of the GE 37-meter wind turbine blade. I’ve seen these blades up close during our Ponnequin Wind Farm tour, but was curious about the materials of construction. With the section exposed, I saw that the materials looked identical to those used in my LongEZ and Cozy. They consisted of wood, foam, fiberglass, and epoxy albeit on a much larger scale that what is used in my planes.You can see that the spar and caps are very thick on these blades.The NREL visitor’s center is open from 9-5 Monday through Friday and I’d highly recommend that if you ever find yourself in the vicinity of I-70 at exit 263, you should stop by for a short visit and self-guided tour.
Posted on May 11th, 2008 3 comments
I’ve written before about Vestas, a Danish wind turbine manufacturer that built a blade facility in Windsor, CO about 10 miles from where I live. I was out flying around the other day and took an aerial photo of the plant and found that they had more than 70 blades on their property. I was impressed because they hadn’t even broken ground at this time last year and they are already up and producing blades. They had started out with a planned capacity of 1200 blades per year, but announced a 50% expansion while the plant was still under construction. They feel as if the U.S. will continue forward with wind development, despite our government’s reluctance to commit to a long-term strategy when it comes to renewable energy.
The amount of energy that this blade plant produces annually will generate enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes. I computed this by de-rating the 600 sets of blades to 1/3 of their 2 MW nameplate capacity. This is similar to the amount of power generated annually from a conventional coal-fired power plant.
I subscribe to a Google Alert for news on Vestas, and on Friday morning I found out that Vestas will be building a new facility in Colorado to manufacture steel towers for their turbines. The facility will employ 400 people and be capable of producing 900 towers per year. They didn’t specify a location, but according to the Northern Colorado Business Report, it appears that several communities in Northern Colorado are under consideration.
Posted on January 30th, 2008 1 comment
One person’s eyesore can be another person’s art. Modern wind turbines fascinate me. I find them to be graceful and stately works art. I do realize that not everyone feels the same way, for example, a small yet powerful group of people living around Cape Cod.
I was visiting my home town near Wilkes-Barre, PA last September and was gratified to see 12 wind turbines up on the eastern ridge of the Wyoming Valley spinning slowly while generating clean and renewable energy. When operating at their full capacity, the turbines collectively provide enough electricity to power about 24,000 homes. I had to get up close to them for a better look. I wrote a blog article about it last October.
I received an email the other day from someone in Australia asking for permission to use one of the images from that article to promote an arts festival. It’s the image of me standing with 3 wind turbines in the forest behind me. They plan to print it on 30,000 brochures and 2000 posters. I think that’s an appropriate use for that image, to promote an arts festival. Something tells me the organizers must have good artistic taste.