Re: I would like to learn all there is to know about solar energy...
In my view, there are several major issues.
One is to keep looking for ways to reduce our energy consumption. It’s typically cheaper to cut use (i.e., buy an Energy Star fridge) than to generate and store the renewable energy required to run an old beast. We also need to do more with solar water heating, especially in the warmer states.
The pros and cons of various sytem architectures is another issue. Grid-interactive systems like Bill’s have their merits. Their (subsidized?) cost per kWh of energy produced is relatively low, and they produce power during the day, when the load on the grid is typically highest, thereby helping to reduce peak load on the grid. That's a good thing.
But, grid-interactive PV energy systems have their drawbacks as well. They don’t produce much power in poor weather, and none at night, so consumers must still have a grid-connection to meet their energy requirements. The cost of installing (burying?) utility lines to low-density homes, farms and ranches is not trivial. And, because of UL 1741 “anti-islanding” requirements, battery-less grid-interactive system produce no power – zero, zilch, nada – during a grid outage, and they typically do not interface with typical generators.
Battery-based PV energy systems do indeed require expensive, nasty, heavy, and potentially dangerous batteries, and their cost per net kWh of energy produced is relatively high. But, a well designed system will continue to supply power when the weather is poor and at night, and they work when the grid is down. Modern quality batteries like those from Rolls/Surrette and GNB have life expectancies of fifteen to twenty years, and AGM batteries are essentially maintenance free.
A battery-based grid-interactive system coupled with time-of-use (TOU) rates may be an interesting hybrid solution. Such a system would power a home and charge the batteries at night when grid power is cheap, power the home from the PV array and/or batteries during the day when grid power is expensive, sell excess PV energy back to the grid during the day, balance the load on the grid (reduce daytime load, increase night time load) and provide a backup energy source for the home when the grid is disrupted.
Jim / crewzer
120618: System off-line for a while...