Bummer: NY Times Green Learns The “Pleasures And Pitfalls” Of Solar

Mostly, the Times writer, Craig Leisher, learns the pitfalls

For our year living in the woods of Maine, I wanted a place where I could see and hear wildlife. Someplace both quiet and remote.

In our part of Maine, quiet and remote means off the electrical grid. Our summer rental cabin had no electricity except for a small generator to power the water pump and a 20-watt solar panel connected to a 12-volt battery powering our laptop and cellphone. The winter rental cabin where we are now has a diesel generator and a battery bank.

Having a diesel rumbling in the background is not the Maine woods experience I wanted. Too noisy. Too smelly. Too OPEC.

That actually sounds like a good idea, and, as an environmentalist myself, I’d want to hear the sounds of nature, too. I love the early mornings on the back deck near a pond running off the Neuse River here in Raleigh, the quiet punctuated with the calls of wildlife. Anyhow, Craig becomes an Internet expert on ….. solar! And

Once in Maine, I found a local expert on solar, asked for a detailed cost estimate, cross-checked it with people who knew solar and drained $6,000 from our savings to install six modules (panels) totaling 1,410 watts of power.

Then the real learning started.

Well, that $6k drop on panels is a wee bit more than Craig might have spent if the cabin was hooked up to the regular power grid, but, again, I do not think solar is a Bad Idea, and it’s much better, in my opinion, to search for solutions to single homes/small groups of homes than the huge solar farms which require large swaths of clear cut land. Alas

I learned that installed capacity is different from actual energy generated. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that solar power production in the ZIP code for our system over the last four months in an average weather year should be 441 kilowatt hours. Our system produced 305 kilowatt hours in those four months — 31 percent less.


I learned that energy generated is not the same as energy that can be used. When the solar panels convert photons to electrons, it’s DC power, but we need AC power. The DC power is stored in a large battery bank, and an inverter switches it to AC, losing about 23 percent of the power generated in the process.

and finally

The bottom line is that our solar production provides only 46 percent of what we need, and what we need is minimal.

Therefore, Craig runs the diesel generator a bit. Because solar is not ready for prime-time, even if he doubled the number of panels. But, again, he is on to something, namely, aim solar for personal ownership and usage.

Crossed at Right Wing News and Stop The ACLU.

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3 Responses to “Bummer: NY Times Green Learns The “Pleasures And Pitfalls” Of Solar”

  1. Word says:

    I live on 43.5 acres. I have 2 wind turbines and 12 solar panels. I am connected to the grid.

    When all of this was installed I was told that the Electric company would pay me because my excess electricity would be sold to the power company.

    I have a 250 gallon propane tank that we use to heat…..along with 3 wood burning fireplaces as well as a wood pellet stove in the work shop.

    Here in northern Colorado it gets awfully cold and the wind howls coming off the face of the Rocky Mountains.


    With all this…I have to purchase about 2 cords of wood per year. Colorado has burn laws which prohibit the burning of wood if the air quality reaches a certain level. Hence I can not always use my wood burning fireplaces for heat. Same holds true for the pellet stove that I use in the work shop.

    Believe it or not the wind turbines have to be shut down when the wind blows TOO hard and they generate nothing about 30 percent of the time based upon too much or too little wind.

    The solar arrays do not produce anything about 12-14 hours per day because it is night.

    With all of this investment in alternatives….IE about 37k for the two wind turbines and another 16k for the solar panels…….

    I STILL buy propane, Wood and pay the electric company for my heating, cooling and electrical needs.

    Green is not ready to bear the load and I frankly find it quite disconcerting that the GREENIES consist largely of apartment dwellers or academics who believe its all good if ONLY we just installed this stuff.

    To them I say….Green is not ready for prime time and its HUGELY expensive and requires maintaining that electricity and gas does not………..

    It will never be ready for prime time…..as long as we lazy Americans have to do the work because we all struggle just to make a living and what time we have left sure doesnt need to be spent maintaining a 60k GREEN INVESTMENT.


  2. Eventually it will be there, someone will make a big breakthrough. But, for not, it can only help out a bit.

    And that bit about burning wood highlights exactly what is wrong with Government.

  3. gitarcarver says:

    The measurement of actual power output from solar cells being much lower than rated power output from solar cells is not unique to solar cells.

    Wind turbines have the same issue.

    The max rated power generated is always more than the actual power generated.

    Imagine if you will paying to upgrade your circuit breaker box to a 200 amp system only to be told the system is really only able to handle 150 amps.

    No one would accept that but yet that type of deception is typical in the green power industry.

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