Author Topic: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?  (Read 3786 times)

V

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Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« on: June 10, 2015, 07:54:10 AM »
My husband and I just bought a house.  We've been working on it a little bit and will move in soon.  Right after we closed on the house the half acre lot in front of us came up for sale.  Before we bought the house, we had already discussed the possibility of getting solar panels.  When we were at the house the other day the idea of buying the plot of land and turning it into a solar field came up.  I've talked with our power company and they do buy back power if you produce more than you use.  Plus you get a rebate from them for buying solar panels in addition to the 30% rebate from the federal government come tax time.  I''m trying to figure out if this idea is crazy or something that just might work.  Do any of you have any thoughts?

nereo

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2015, 08:04:37 AM »
My thoughts are that your return on investment (ROI) will be extremely dependent on where you live.  First, there's the average solar irradiance to consider (e.g. how much sun does your area get over the course of a year).  Second, the value of rebates and power-company's buy-back programs vary incredibly, and they can change year-to-year.  I would be hesitant to count on your local utility buying back power for decades-to-come; I have a feeling as more people put up solar and the infrastructure (powerlines, powerplants) get older they will be less inclined/able to give subsidies for people generating surplus power.

Come back with hard(er) numbers for what your power costs, what an installation costs, and what anticipated subsidies would be and we can offer you better opinions.

That said, I love the idea of generating at least as much power as you consume, and selling the surplus can be a way of making your installation more economical in the short term. G'luck!

PS check out sol's thread on his experience installing 24 panels in the foggy PNW. 
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/welcome-to-the-forum/solar-panel-installation/

Bob W

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2015, 11:16:27 AM »
You need lots more numbers.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2015, 12:22:51 PM »
I'm not sure we need numbers.

If the lot costs $50,000, which is pretty cheap for a level half-acre where I am, you're talking about an enormous additional cost that isn't in most solar calculators. On top of that, I strongly suspect that there are limits on how much electricity the company has to buy back from you, which is why people aren't just building solar power plants on their properties.

Gumbo1978

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2015, 12:48:17 PM »
Is the lot zoned for a solar farm?

Bob W

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2015, 12:49:30 PM »
So the answer is "crazy."   Move on with your life. 

nereo

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2015, 12:54:55 PM »
I'm not sure we need numbers.

If the lot costs $50,000, which is pretty cheap for a level half-acre where I am, you're talking about an enormous additional cost that isn't in most solar calculators. On top of that, I strongly suspect that there are limits on how much electricity the company has to buy back from you, which is why people aren't just building solar power plants on their properties.
... isn't this just using numbers?  A half-acre of land can be $50k in some areas, or less than $1k in others. The beauty of ground-based panels is that you save on installation costs, and you can use solar trackers to increase the amount of light collected relative to those fixed on a roof with a high pitch, so if the land is cheap enough it is possible for the decrease in installation costs and increase in panel output to offset the land prices.  Annual solar irradiance can vary by almost a factor of 2 depending on where the OP lives in the US, as well as electricity rates.

so yeah... we need numbers.

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2015, 01:04:35 PM »
I'm not sure we need numbers.

If the lot costs $50,000, which is pretty cheap for a level half-acre where I am, you're talking about an enormous additional cost that isn't in most solar calculators. On top of that, I strongly suspect that there are limits on how much electricity the company has to buy back from you, which is why people aren't just building solar power plants on their properties.
... isn't this just using numbers?  A half-acre of land can be $50k in some areas, or less than $1k in others. The beauty of ground-based panels is that you save on installation costs, and you can use solar trackers to increase the amount of light collected relative to those fixed on a roof with a high pitch, so if the land is cheap enough it is possible for the decrease in installation costs and increase in panel output to offset the land prices.  Annual solar irradiance can vary by almost a factor of 2 depending on where the OP lives in the US, as well as electricity rates.

so yeah... we need numbers.

That was more Fermi estimation than using hard numbers. But there are lots of non-numeric reasons this is a bad idea, some of which have already been mentioned in this thread.
  • electricity company almost certainly won't buy back a half-acre field's generation
  • municipal approval is unlikely to happen
  • creating a giant heat island will not be popular with neighbors
  • creating a giant field of glare will be extremely unpopular with neighbors and depending on placement in relationship to a road may actually be dangerous
  • nobody is successfully running a small solar power plant on their personal property

Maybe I'm wrong about the last one, but I really doubt it.

nereo

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2015, 02:15:26 PM »

That was more Fermi estimation than using hard numbers. But there are lots of non-numeric reasons this is a bad idea, some of which have already been mentioned in this thread.
  • electricity company almost certainly won't buy back a half-acre field's generation
  • municipal approval is unlikely to happen
  • creating a giant heat island will not be popular with neighbors
  • creating a giant field of glare will be extremely unpopular with neighbors and depending on placement in relationship to a road may actually be dangerous
  • nobody is successfully running a small solar power plant on their personal property
Maybe I'm wrong about the last one, but I really doubt it.
ok...
1) you don't need half-an-acre of solar panels. You could install 30 panel grid on about 25' x 25' of space, with room between panels for solar actuators.  That would be in line with other people's solar installations.
that's < 5% of a half-acre lot, leaving the rest of it available for other purposes, like an epic garden, an open-space buffer, whatever. 
2) muni codes vary place to place.  In many less developed places I've lived there's no problem installing PV arrays in a field.
3) No idea how it would be dangerous to a road, given how PV arrays are already popping up alongside roads throughout California. As long as it's a safe and legal distance from the road why woudl this be a problem (see #1) Whether or not it would be unpopular with the neighbors depends on where and who the neighbors are. 
4) Not a 'small solar power plant' - an array of panels to power a home with some surplus.

I'm guessing you are coming at this from a strictly urban/suburban mindset where there's a house on every lot and distances between houses is very small.  That's fine. Perhaps that's where the OP is too (but since it was an 'empty lot' - maybe not).
But in less developed parts of the US it's already common to see a bunch of PVs in a field powering a nearby home.  It's cheaper and often more efficient than mounting on a roof.  The big question is 'what's the land cost' and (in the case of the OP) whether they would get additional benefit(s) from owning that extra half-acre.

sol

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2015, 02:19:24 PM »
Just like every other solar project I've ever analyzed, it's unlikely to be economically competitive with investing in the stock/bond markets.  But people don't generally do this kind of thing purely for the financial rewards.

If you're going to buy the lot anyway, like for privacy reasons, it's possible that a solar field could help defray the costs a little.  You would be personally contributing to the development of renewable energy in a way that few people can.  It might be an enjoyable hobby. It would certainly be a conversation starter.

On the finance side, profitability all comes down to local incentives.  Five to six years seems to be the payback period right now, in most places.  Places with less sun tend to offer better financial incentives, so it works out about the same.  You get better rebates buying more expensive equipment, so it works out about the same.

Having just recently been through this, I'd be happy to help you estimate costs and returns if you provide me with a zip code and some information about the lot.

electriceagle

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Re: Making your own Solar Field, Worth it or just crazy?
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2015, 10:18:29 PM »
Is the lot zoned for a solar farm?

I believe that there is a federal regulation that prevents state/local zoning and other regulations from limiting solar farms which are sized below 2000 kW.

The real problem here is that power companies are fighting tooth and nail against solar. The laws which govern how the power company buys your electricity may change during your payback period.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2015, 10:21:11 PM by electriceagle »