My friends here in the Northeast are all running out to buy backup generators now (i.e., closing the barn doors after the horses are gone). The cheapest that I’ve heard for an installation is about $7,000, complete with electrician’s efforts (I was quoted over $20,000 at my house, partly due to there not being a great location or it near the house). The resulting machine will need to be maintained, run every week for a few minutes (very noisy), and will never recoup any of its costs.
It occurs to me that rooftop solar systems are in the same price ballpark ($7,000 to $30,000?). Supplemented by a snow broom, I would think that a rooftop solar system would make a good backup and, for the 99 percent of the time that the grid was working, could help defray its cost by generating useful electricity.
Obviously the solar panels wouldn’t work at night, but it isn’t usually a big deal to go overnight without power. If the well pump and heating system can be operated during the daylight hours that should be enough to keep pipes from freezing and allow the residents to enjoy a modicum of civilized existence.
Here are some questions for the solar pioneers:
- why isn’t rooftop solar a more common backup power solution?
- what happens when the grid power fails and there isn’t a massive battery pack? Does the inverter trip off when the voltage to the house drops below 105 or so? And then you run around the house turning off appliances and try to bring the inverter back up? Or there is automatic load-shedding somehow?
- how much power does it take to run a forced hot water heating system (ignition for the oil burner plus pumps to move water around the house)?
- what about the roof underneath a rooftop solar system? How would you ever repair shingles? Is it typical to put in a new 30-year roof at the same time that you put in a 30-year solar panel system?
- how big a system does one need in New England to run the essentials within a house? (essential = heat, well pump, fridge, Verizon FiOS box, router, desktop PC)
- how many square feet would that system occupy on the roof?
- is this stuff getting a lot cheaper? Supposedly Solyndra died because conventional panel prices were dropping. Has the price of panels dropped enough to make the overall system substantially cheaper than three years ago?
- what about all of the tax breaks whereby one used to be able to get one’s fellow citizens to pay most of the bill? Are those still in place? [I think government subsidies are bad, except ones that involve mailing a check to my house.]
I’m wary about solar because it seems like too advanced a technology for a U.S. home. It is so painful to get simple stuff fixed that I can’t imagine what would happen with a technician up on the roof with a Fluke voltmeter.