A flexible way to use sun's rays

Sep 02, 2011 By Susan Carpenter

Carl Harberger's 6,000-square-foot house in the Chatsworth neighborhood of Los Angeles is equipped with six refrigerators, five TVs, a smattering of computers and a pool, among other things - enough to draw the wagging finger of the eco-minded if it were not for what Harberger has on his roof.

By the end of the month, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power is expected to flip the switch on the home's 24-kilowatt installation of thin-film , bringing to life what is believed to be the largest residential installation of its kind in the country.

The thin-film panels generate about 50 percent less electricity per square foot and cost about 10 percent more than traditional photovoltaic panels, but the flexible film can handle curved surfaces and integrate less obtrusively into a home's silhouette. It's also lighter weight - an advantage in earthquake country - and unlike bulky bracketed panels, thin-film doesn't need to be drilled into the roof, reducing the risk of leaks.

Harberger's installation will power not only his lighting, electronics and air conditioning, but also systems that would traditionally be juiced with natural gas. The thin film will heat all the water for the home and run the forced-air heating system as well as the clothes dryer and oven.

"There are so many advantages to going all electric with very little natural gas," Harberger said.

Outside, natural gas powers a barbecue grill and an auxiliary heater for a shallow pool that is otherwise warmed by the sun or an electric heater. Inside, natural gas is used only for the kitchen cook top and a living room fireplace.

Less indoors means fewer vents to shuttle carbon monoxide outside, resulting in a less cluttered exterior.

Harberger, 49, designed the house, which sits on a quiet street frequented by trotting horses. He has been living in it for two years with his wife, two children and three dogs while planning the solar installation, which cost $160,000 before a DWP rebate of about $50,000. A federal tax credit will be about $30,000. The panels are made by Uni-Solar, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and were installed by ADR Solar Solutions, a Woodland Hills, Calif., firm that specializes in thin-film solar.

Like most homeowners who go solar, Harberger considered the bulkier panels that are commonplace across the country. But the metal-sheet construction and curvature of his roof led him to Uni-Solar thin film.

Mounted on the southern- and western-facing sections of the roof, the thin film can better handle seasonal differences in the sun's patterns and maximize electricity generation. The uppermost portion of the panels will perform better in the summer; the lowermost panels will do better in the winter.

"Right now, our electricity use is balanced," Harberger said, adding that his family will use as much electricity as it generates, on one condition. "If I can control my kids," he said. "I tell them to watch the smallest TV possible."

Explore further: Intel wireless charging in a bowl coming sooner than later

2.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Californians bask in solar energy

Jan 04, 2007

Soaring energy costs, environmental consciousness and financial incentives have combined to make solar panels part of the California housing landscape.

Harnessing the sun

Oct 05, 2009

The American Solar Energy Society's 2009 National Solar Tour took place Oct. 3 in 3,000 communities.

Honda to Mass Produce Next-Generation Thin Film Solar Cell

Dec 19, 2005

Honda announced its plan to begin mass production in 2007, of an independently developed thin film solar cell composed of non-silicon compound materials, which requires 50% less energy, and thus generate 50% less CO2, during ...

Recommended for you

Team improves solar-cell efficiency

Sep 19, 2014

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers, thanks to a collaboration between scientists in the University of Chicago's chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular ...

Calif. teachers fund to boost clean energy bets

Sep 19, 2014

The California State Teachers' Retirement System says it plans to increase its investments in clean energy and technology to $3.7 billion, from $1.4 billion, over the next five years.

Idealistic Norwegian sun trappers

Sep 19, 2014

The typical Norwegian owner of a solar heating system is a resourceful man in his mid-fifties. He is technically skilled, interested in energy systems, and wants to save money and protect the environment.

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gimpypoet
2 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2011
The governent should pay for solar panels and installation instead of the war machine of the military.
SteveL
5 / 5 (2) Sep 02, 2011
You know of course, by "The government" you mean everyone else in your county, state or country through tax revenue. There are real people behind those taxes. In a way I agree with you that the government should provide incentives - but only for proven, reliable and long-term solutions. At least with incentives, the end-user bears the lion's share of the expense.
SteveL
5 / 5 (1) Sep 02, 2011
One thing I would like to see the government help out on is the ability to include solar installations on initial and refinanced mortgages. Presently this option is inconsistant where it exists at all. The ability to include solar installations coupled with a government-backed interest rate break that depends on verifiable reductions in energy usage from the power network would go far in helping with energy independence initiatives. These proven reductions in energy from the grid should be easily verifiable through the "smart power grids" our various governemtens keep talking about. But then, this likely won't happen as future tax revenue would be diminished.
krwhite
not rated yet Sep 02, 2011
I for one would like to actually see printed solar cell technology (such as First Solar's) actually sold to the consumer.
hard2grep
not rated yet Sep 02, 2011
I would say that geothermal is the best over-all decision. It does not take energy from the sun. I point this out because every square foot of environment that does not receive sunlight adds up to an altered environment. Drilling holes is cheaper than buying solar cells.
SteveL
not rated yet Sep 06, 2011
Although it's great where it's available, geothermal is a very geographically limited resource. And realistically, any method we use to acquire, harness or generate energy will have some effect on the environment. No one really knows the long term effects of crust cooling via geothermal. Nor is there much published concerning water leakage from hot rock areas back up into the aquafiers. This water leakage is likely to bring heavy or caustic minerals up into the aquafiers. There is always a price for anything we do. Often we simply don't know what that price is until some damage has been done.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 06, 2011
You know of course, by "The government" you mean everyone else in your county, state or country through tax revenue.

And wars are financed by what? Right. Taxes.

If I were in a country like that I'd rather my taxes go to government sponsored solar panels than war. But that's just me and my silly ways.

I point this out because every square foot of environment that does not receive sunlight adds up to an altered environment.

Then be careful that you don't cast a shadow when you go outside.
Seriously: Can't we afford a little shade in the desert? Or is that sand so worthy of protection that we can't take 1% of it and shade it a bit? I bet there would be all kinds of animals willing and happy to adapt to such a niche.

I would say that geothermal

Geothermal has its own problems (the test powerplant near Basel was shut down after it caused several earthquakes. Pumping water down into rock - surprise, surprise - makes it slippery)
SteveL
not rated yet Sep 06, 2011
If I were in a country like that I'd rather my taxes go to government sponsored solar panels than war. But that's just me and my silly ways.
I think that likely includes all of us. But we seem to exist in a world where some seem to love the pain, suffering and death of others more than they love peace or even their own lives. "It's a mixed up muddled up shook up world." - The Kinks.
Magnette
not rated yet Sep 09, 2011
PV is good and getting better, geothermal is good and also getting better.
When taken in isolation each powersource has it's uses and it's limitations but once you start combining solar, wind, geothermal etc into one package then it all becomes worthwhile using.....as long as the cost is kept viable to, for example, a 5 year return on investment.