The Delight, and the Silliness, of Solar Power, 23 May 2014

One of the great successful additions to turn Fetchin’ Ketch into a self sufficient long range cruising boat has been that addition of a pair of solar panels. They were a bit of a pain to install, taking a bit of clever engineering to have something that was secure, able to be easily folded down in case of bad weather, while still having good exposure to full sun. For several weeks all of the boat’s 12 volt supply needs have been met by the panels. In a typical day the batteries are drawn down about 4 or 5 percent in the early morning, and they are fully recharged by noon. Most of the load comes from the refrigerator. The LED lighting that I have installed throughout the boat uses almost no power at all. Everything works great… and who could complain about free power? It is an ideal solution for the boat where other sources of power are expensive, a hassle, or both.

Lets look a bit closer for other applications… Optimistically, on a bright sunny day my panels can make about 1.5 kilowatt-hours of power. Here in northern California I pay $0.14 per kilowatt-hour. So the panels have the potential of making about $0.21 worth of power per day. $6.30 per month. $75.60 per year. Free money!

Oh… wait… the panels and controller are not free. The panels cost about $700, the controller another $300. Wiring and other miscellaneous costs add another $150. I won’t count the cost of the batteries, because I need them anyway. Total installation cost: Roughly $1150. I’ll make my money back in 15 years. A staggering 6.5% investment return. Unfortunately, I am not eligible for the various tax credits and subsidies that make solar a more lucrative investment. I have to pay the full economic cost of the installation.

So remember when you hear your neighbor bragging about what a great investment his solar panels were, your tax dollars are making it so.

In other news, today was a two steps forward, one step back kind of day. I got several projects in the head complete, toilet plumbing, shower sump pump, and other such fun projects. Then what started out to be a simple adjustment of the drive belt for the auto pilot, turned into a major rebuild of the steering system as I discovered a broken bearing on the shaft of the steering wheel. Sigh. Oh well. Progress over all.

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