Please Explain: Solar Power

Friday, June 27, 2008

With the price of oil going higher and higher, alternative sources of energy like solar power are becoming much more attractive! Find out how solar power works, and whether it could help solve our energy problems.

Stephen A. Hammer is Director of the Urban Energy Project at Columbia University's Center for Energy, Marine Transportation and Public Policy (CEMTPP). Richard Perez is Senior Research Associate of University at Albany's Atmospheric Sciences Research Center.

We’d like to hear from business or homeowners who have installed solar panels. Are you glad you did it? How has it affected your energy bills? Have you recouped your original investment yet?


Stephen A. Hammer and Richard Perez

Comments [18]


Dan you can start with NREL ( They have a lot of useful information regarding renewable energy. It is broad in scope but it should be a good start.

Jun. 27 2008 10:42 PM
samla from White Plains

Last year I had a solar panel installer look at my house to see if panel installation was feasible. The house abuts a County Park and is surrounded by several large trees. He took one look and said that unless the trees came down the solar paneling would not be effective. He commented that most of the older homes in Westchester were not good candidates, and that it was generally newer construction built on open fields where solar paneling was most effective.

Jun. 27 2008 03:28 PM
Rich from Long Island

Matthew, your referring to sps (soalr power satellite). The Japanes have made some decent progress with it. It takes solar power and converts it to microwaves (other schemes propose laser) where it is then transmitted to a ground based station where it can be converted to DC power. It's gets around some solar power issues as sps is almost independent of the sunlight because the collecters are in space and the solar insolation is about 30% higher in space (~1.3kw/square meter) than in is on earth .

Jun. 27 2008 02:36 PM
Dan Black from Westfield, NJ

I have just been asked to chair a sub-committee on energy and environment for a senior citizens complex. Can you suggest some links and/or documents that would be helpful as background for this assignment? Thank you for your assistance


Jun. 27 2008 02:08 PM
Denise Alvarez from NJ

I'd be interested to see if the guest has any information on installers who install panels in a residential application for a minimum fee, then fix the consumer's electricity cost for a certain contracted period of time (i.e., the installer receives the benefits from the net generation)?

Interesting article in the following link, too:

Jun. 27 2008 01:50 PM
JT from Long Island

If someone is already considering soilar panels are there any advances coming in the next 2-3 years that we should wait for?

Jun. 27 2008 01:47 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Solar panels have been subsidized by the government for a very long time and yet they have still not caught on. You can save all kinds of money down the road but even with government subsidies, it costs an arm and a leg to install. For that reason you really only see them on well to do houses. You have to make the process cheap, really cheap to install. If it could be painted on like paint and cost the same as paint without being subsidized by the government, you’d then have a realistic product that could be applied to all dwellings. Until then, it’s almost like a hobby for the rich since it’s out of everyone else’s short term realistic budget.

Jun. 27 2008 01:47 PM
Michael Minn from UWS

Curious if your guests know anything about the possibility of building pumped storage facilities in NY state to store solar-generated electricity.

Jun. 27 2008 01:44 PM
steveb from NJ

aren't ConEd style utilities PERECT managers
of storage with in Fuel Cells which can make
potable water AND in a future of water
shortages isn't ths a viable way to go
especially in areas like Arizona?

Jun. 27 2008 01:44 PM

what proporation of US electic utilities currently have arrangements for buying electricity from home owner, business owners, etc who install their own solar panels? if many still don't, what's holding things up?

Jun. 27 2008 01:42 PM
Matthew from Brooklyn

I believe I heard of an idea of placing a solar collector above the atmosphere in space, that could then send/beam the converted electrical energy to earth somehow

Jun. 27 2008 01:42 PM
robert from NYC

everybody talks about solar panels. what about batteries accumulating converted energy. we are in middle ages with technology of these things. rs.

Jun. 27 2008 01:41 PM

any comments on solar energy applications that do not make electricity, or do not put electricity directly on the grid, ie, desalinization, distilation, using photovoltaics to power fuel production, etc ?

Jun. 27 2008 01:40 PM

solar panels absorb solar energy. any interesting potential side effects from the resulting shade?

Jun. 27 2008 01:37 PM

PSE&G permits customers to choose their energy providers which may be helping solar.

Jun. 27 2008 01:36 PM
Laura from UWS

Question about government policy.
Please explain, if appropriate to this segment:

"Citing Need for Assessments, U.S. Freezes Solar Energy Projects "
DENVER — Faced with a surge in the number of proposed solar power plants, the federal government has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land until it studies their environmental impact, which is expected to take about two years.

The Bureau of Land Management says an extensive environmental study is needed to determine how large solar plants might affect millions of acres it oversees in six Western states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

. . . . .

Jun. 27 2008 01:03 PM
antonio from park slope

To add to Peter's comment shouldn't we then be able to plaster this everywhere to take advantage of it?

And, has the idea of building one huge panel or a collection of panels somewhere in one of our deserts with a kind of magnifying glass over it?

Jun. 27 2008 12:27 PM
Peter Vaughan from Allamuchy

Copper indium gallium selenide solar cells seem to be the new kid on the block threatening to overtake conventional solar panel production due to it's efficiencies in production of electricity as well as ease of manufacturing.

The solar panels produced by a Silicon Valley start-up company, Nanosolar, are radically different from the kind that European consumers are increasingly buying to generate power from their own roofs.

Printed like a newspaper directly on to aluminium foil, they are flexible, light and, if you believe the company, expected to make it as cheap to produce electricity from sunlight as from coal.

What do your guests know of this new type of panel?

Jun. 27 2008 11:21 AM

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