Back in 2000 when many were concerned about Y2K, I was learning and using hydrogen powered fuel cells. I was a distributor for H power. The issue as I was seeing, at the time, was that all the fuel cell companies, Ballard, etc. were using fuel cells as power supplies. The problem was that once a fuel cell “crashed” it is very difficult to get it back up and running. If you do a controlled shut down no problem, but a crash is a serious problem… So I went on this in a different direction.
I found out, through much testing that the fuel cells I was working with had a sweet spot. They were best when run at around 57 +/- vdc. So instead of using the fuel cell as a power supply, like everyone else. A power supply with an inverter and a small battery as backup and then get overloaded and crash; I decided to run the fuel cell at the best, most efficient voltage with battery charging circuits we designed for 12, 24 & 48 vdc battery charging. The thought was let the fuel cell run and utilize the power via the charging circuits to charge batteries. Instead of what everyone else was doing, using the fuel cell as a power supply. I had already been designing and installing off grid and actually quite a few grid tied systems for over 20 years. The systems I had out in the field worked very well so I did not want to change the systems design, I just wanted to get away from generators. Fuel cells use hydrogen, the fuel of the universe. (On a side note, during this time, the green meanies, totally chastised me for using this technology. Their beef was the byproduct that is produced by fuel cells. Seems they didn’t understand the technology, since the byproduct is H20). I worked out an agreement with a refinery that I would take their hydrogen, because it was a byproduct of fuel production, and set up a delivery system up the 101 corridor from Ukiah to Eureka. All I had to do was pay for transportation, permits, etc... Then the shit hit the fan. One of our customers was so overwhelmed with the Y2K thing that he totally got stressed out, had a heart attack and died. Crazy shit is what I thought, who in their right mind would even pay attention to such nonsense? Then the so called solar revolution started. The go green, grid tie movement.
For some reason I decided to go with the grid tie solar nonsense and quite doing R&D with hydrogen and fuel cells. Probably one of the worst decisions I have ever made.
In these early days there were a few of us, only a handful in the US, that would purchase Poly Silicon from chip makers like Intel and others in Silicon Valley. The reason we did this was because there were, at that time, only two Poly Silicon manufacturers in the US. Poly Silicon is the bases for solar cells. Computer grade Poly Silicon needs to be purified to be acceptable for PV. So we would purchase the “bad” chips from many of the Silicon Valley companies, send it to China and get it purified to PV quality. We would then grow the ingots, slice them into wafers, make the cells and then make the panels (Once you are involved at this level you realize how much energy is required to manufacture a solar panel. Especially grow the ingots. And most ingot growers use coal as their power source. It’s still a debate if solar panels will ever produce as much power as it takes to make them).
We controlled the process from start to finish. In those days we would not “flash” test the cells. We, as an industry, would just produce cells and then make panels. Problem was that this created a big discrepancy of solar panel output. We no longer do this. We now flash test cells, group them by power and then assemble solar panels based on the same cell power output. This is how micro inverters started. I still have some of the first, 24 vdc nominal. Micro inverters came onto the market because of the discrepancies of individual panel outputs. The scam with them now adays is that solar panels today are very close in power output, there no longer is a discrepancy in solar panel output when you have a reliable well made solar panel. Then the game they play is shading, if some panels get shaded that array no longer produces power. Total BS and anyone who uses that logic has no clue about source circuit sizing. For example, most people today get sold a bill of goods by sales people, not installers or designers. The sales people say something like according to your usage you need ad 5 kW system. And then instead of following through on this based on electrical, source circuit criteria they base the size of the system on the 5kw requirement. So they might come up with a string sizing that is let’s say 300 vdc. When a source circuit for most residential systems can be up to 600 vdc. The difference is the number of panels in series and this is the argument of shading and not working. Because instead of designing the system to 600 vdc, they design it to 5kw having fewer panels in series shading is a potential problem… Micro inverters are very inefficient. Many systems will lose upwards of 1 MW of power over their lifetime. Optimizers are another problem, multiple more components, more things to fail, major increase of costs, that could be mitigated by just using this extra cost to purchase more solar panels. The scam never ends. It is the micro inverter and the optimizer companies that pushed to require these products for roof mounted solar systems. This is basically why we no longer do roof mounts.
But I digress, back in 2000 when the push was to go solar, grid tie, I started doing some very large system quotes for PG&E. Actually, it was three of us. We would get the RFP, submit our proposal and go on from there. The idea was that we would install large, remote PV systems and you could come into Advance Power and pay your utility bill and I’d show you where your solar panels were located. The problem was that every time we submitted a proposal, PG&E would award the project to either Semper or Florida light and power. Both these entities are utility companies that had their own installation crews.
We ended up thinking that they are just using our bids to substantiate their costs so that it would all look good. We always lost, the job got done for more than what we bid it and it looked like the utility companies then split the federal rebate between them and the install subsidiary. So we decided to move on our own. Screw ‘em we’ll build our own plants. At about this time the Enron fiasco happened and all the investor owned utilities in CA declared bankruptcy. And part of the bankruptcy was that a judge ruled that no one could be an energy provider other then the utility companies, because it would infringe on their bankruptcy. So now I can’t build solar power plants even though the rules and the law states that anyone can be an energy provider as long as they follow the rules, the law and the codes. Anyone should be able to be an energy provider, put power on the grid and sell it to whomever.
Remember this was back in early 2000. Fine whatever, I started installing some of the largest grid tie systems in the area. And many, many smaller residential systems. And anyone who is so naive as to think grid tie systems are only for the rich is miserably ill informed and fallen prey to the utility companies dictates. There are many programs and incentives for low income, elderly and people with health issues. Besides you can always get one “free” from the leasing companies. Plus look how totally screwed up this state has become. Most new construction is required to have solar installed. Though the utility companies don’t want it and will eventually charge customers with solar more than people without solar. And then there is the issue of transmission.
Estimates are that well over half the energy put onto the power lines is lost due to transmission losses. So when the utility companies install huge systems in the desert much of this power is totally wasted.
This was one of the original arguments for solar. Local production not centralized production. Even if you are unfortunate to life in an apartment or condominium you can always get a simple inverter/charger, connected to a battery bank, plugged into a wall outlet and this system will stay fully charged and once the power goes out will turn into a power supply… Very simple and very cost effective.
Then along comes Sonoma Water district and I am told they are one of the richest governmental agencies around... I wonder, how does a governmental agency get rich? The water district, from what I hear, then builds a pipe line up to the geysers, to “offload” their wastewater. But from what I was told the geysers are running low on water and the power output is declining. Next thing I hear is they are involved in starting a Pace program. A pace program is a program that loans money, for improvements, such as solar, energy efficiency upgrades, etc...
Hmmm I think, how does a water district turn into a bank? And then it seems like the Pace program morphs into Sonoma Clean power! So how is it that I cannot be an energy provider but Sonoma Water and Sonoma Clean Power seem to be able to be?
The state of California will ultimately take over and control all the utilities. Water, electric, whatever. Just wait and see. Then you’ll see the full force of the green meanies, the carbon credits, the hucksters of control basically controlling you by dictating your “allowed” rations of power based on your going along with the narrative or not. When you live through all this like I have you might begin to wonder if this was not totally planned way back in 2000.
There are hundreds of thousands of Californians like me who live off grid. I have lived off grid for almost 50 years. I wouldn’t have utility power if you gave it to me free, because as I see it, it’s just a control thing. “We can turn you off, whenever we deem it necessary. We can rob your battery stored power that you produced off your solar panels any time we deem it necessary”. Are all of us off grid people now not paying our fair share? Are all the people who put energy, money and time into solar systems the reason for the utility companies so called problems with excess power? Look at your utility bill; do you have a designation of water and power? This is the Enron bill. Most states, once Enron declared bankruptcy canceled their debt, with Enron, which is actually Wall St. But not California. California kept the debt, so then the utilities went into bankruptcy, went into you can’t be an energy provider, etc... And does anyone really even know when this Enron debt will be paid? Or is it just another oversight?
Things might not be what they seem. Maybe I’ve got this all wrong, but I have lived it. I have personally gone through all this. And at this stage I say, screw it, want nothing to with the utility companies, their dictates, their mandates. Because at this point they are back in control… Not like back in 2000 when some of the big boys of PG&E would call me up and say “Pete, do you think anyone will ever go for this solar thing? It seems like it’s way too expensive. Don’t see how anyone would ever go for it’? They got caught with their pants down. We had them by the balls for a while, but now they’re back at their same old game… Control.
(Pete Gregson is the Owner of Advance Power Solar, Hydro & Wind Inc., in Calpella.)