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Useless 'Renewable Energy' Sources

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 
 On the net you read many articles, some of which are good and useful while others are sometimes silly, have no basis in science or engineering, are just a common scam to try to make money. In some cases it is the equivalent of going to a witch doctor with a broken arm. I thought it might be fun to point out a few of the useless types and make the list grow over time. I nominate:

1. Piezoelectric sidewalks - PowerLeap is developing a flooring material which they hope may generate 1 watt-hour per square foot for a cost of 100 to 200 USD per square foot. They project a dance floor made of the material may generate 10 watt-hours per square ft.

2. Solar panels on anything without the correct orientation - as solar panels can only use direct sunlight anytime they are not in the direct sun the output lowers substantially.  PV panels with their low efficiency need a good location to have any chance of generating useful power. Car surfaces offer a very low area with the correct orientation at any given time. 

Say a typical car takes about 0.8 kW per per km. In Izmir for July 2009 we are averaging about 7.5 kW/m2/day according to my weather station. All this comes to the point that 2 m2 of PV panels on a car roof top (which will be in less than the optimum orientation some if not most of the time) should power the car for approximately 2.8 km - really valuable!

3. Wind turbines that are advertised with a rating of say 1 kW in 25 mph winds but generate maybe 50 watts in the more typical 10 to 12 mph winds that most places receive.

4. Sources that rely on the 'subsidies and incentives' to become even marginally useful. The wind turbine described in item 3 is a case in point.

5. Wind turbines on cars that rely on the wind generated by the cars speed to capture power. That wind is generated by the primary fuel of the car and the turbine generates additional drag which causes the car to use more fuel.

6. 'Green energy' sources that utilize more hydrocarbons in their generation than they return for a net negative energy value. Reforming CH4 (even CH4 from biogas) to make H2 is energy negative (takes more energy to produce the H2 than the H2 produced contains).

Additions or disagreements?
Added detail to #2 & 6 on July 12 09
Edited by Russ - 7/12/2009 at 01:04 pm GMT
post #2 of 38
Haha, you're right. It's kind of like the saying...good intentions paved the road to hell.  But not quite.  You might really think you're doing a good thing by getting solar panels. But unless you know how to tilt them....probably not so useful.  The whole solar panel on the Prius is pretty ridiculous in my book.

What do you think about micro wind turbines?  Ones for residential installations. 
post #3 of 38
Thread Starter 
 Hi Eli,

For residential wind turbines you need to either do a lot of study or deal with a reputable and knowledgeable vendor.

Most of the ratings are useless as they show power generated at approximatley 25 mph wind speeds which are rare. It makes a dog of a turbine look good as the power in 25 mph winds is fantastically more than that in 10 to 12 mph winds which are far more common. The turbines that claim to start generating in 2 or 3 mph winds are trying to use wind with practically zero power which in turn means practically zero power will be generated. Wind turbines only conver wind power into electrical power - if the power ain't in the wind then you sure can't generate electricity!

I have yet to see a roof top unit which will ever pay for it's own carbon footprint.

You need a location with no obstructions such as trees or buildings too close. Roof tops don't fill the bill. There are a lot of flaky ideas out there but science is science and engineering is engineering - if you come up with a new concept that is different but many of the new companies are just dreaming. Betz's law still holds true - years back a German scientist described the maximum amount of available power in the wind quite nicely and it still holds true.

Please look up the following sources on the net:
1. site selection and factors influencing small wind sysyems energy output - pdf
2. Warwick wind trials final report - pdf
3. Apples and Oranges at - these guys tell it like it is and they like wind
4. Wind turbine buyers guide at

I like commercial wind and residential on a tall tower in certain locations can be good.

Most 'home' type of systems are only a method of releiving you of you money and trying to get hands on state/federal incentive/subsidy funds. They have little to do with power generation.

Edited by Russ - 6/24/2009 at 07:21 am GMT
post #4 of 38
Thread Starter 
 This is more 'useless energy sources' rather than renewable.

Power factor correction devices. The following is from

ENERGY STAR does not qualify any Power Factor Correction Devices. Please send us an email at if you see one that claims to be ENERGY STAR certified.

Power Factor Correction Devices claim to reduce residential energy bills and to prolong the productive life cycles of motors and appliances by reducing the reactive power (kVAR) that is needed from the electric utility.

We have not seen any data that proves these types of products for residential use accomplish what they claim. Power factor correction devices improve power quality but do not generally improve energy efficiency (meaning they won't reduce your energy bill). There are several reasons why their energy efficiency claims could be exaggerated. First, residential customers are not charged for KVA-hour usage, but by kilowatt-hour usage. This means that any savings in energy demand will not directly result in lowering a residential user's utility bill. Second, the only potential for real power savings would occur if the product were only put in the circuit while a reactive load (such as a motor) were running, and taken out of the circuit when the motor is not running. This is impractical, given that there are several motors in a typical home that can come on at any time (refrigerator, air conditioner, HVAC blower, vacuum cleaner, etc.), but the unit itself is intended for permanent, unattended connection near the house breaker panel.

For commercial facilities, power factor correction will rarely be cost-effective based on energy savings alone. The bulk of cost savings power factor correction can offer is in the form of avoided utility charges for low power factor. Energy savings are usually below 1% and always below 3% of load, the higher percentage occurring where motors are a large fraction of the overall load of a facility. Energy savings alone do not make an installation cost effective. 

post #5 of 38
Russ, I am new to the green home community. As time goes by there will be more stupid claims. I was wondering are there solar experts in this group? Jim
post #6 of 38
Thread Starter 
 Hi jim386,

As I or anyone else comes across something else to add with some kind of support/documentation (not just opinion) I would love to see them added.

There are many good ways to improve life our styles and how we treat the environment. There are also many shysters out there trying to get into your pocket book. There are also many others trying to get into the government money offered via your pocket book.

The huckster kind of person/company I really don't care for and think we need to highlight. 

As regards solar experts in the group, I would suggest others add their name to this category as they feel appropriate. I am only learning on solar - far from an expert. 
post #7 of 38
I've both owned and installed wind systems and I own and have installed solar systems, but I still don't consider myself an expert. There's always some novel way that somebody finds to screw up house wiring or otherwise sabotage their wind/PV system. I've seen panels installed in the shade and towers not as tall as the surrounding trees, but those are just the most blatant examples. For me it all boils down to thinking that you can just buy a green life without going through the dual processes of trial and error learning (finding what works for you and why/why not) and paying-as-you-can-afford-it.
post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
From Gizmag - Another company, New Energy Technologies, Inc, is trying to use the motion of an automobile to recapture energy. In this case they seem to plan to use a mat on the road surface to capture 'small amounts of kinetic energy'.

The power for the motion of the car comes from your gas tank or newly from the battery. You pay for this energy. The mats or anything else which captures that energy is using your power supply at your cost to capture power to put into their account.

In the event of an area where you need to slow down or with speed bumps there may be some small application but I believe that New Energies is kicking a dead horse with this one. They give no idea about the amount of energy they think to capture but I bet it is not very great. 
post #9 of 38
Russ, The main reason why I have asked the question about solar experts. I am not a young man and I have over 40 years experience in the solar PV industry. So if you or anyone else has any questions I will try my best to answer you. Also years ago before the intranet no one had a clue that solar PV was going to take off like it did. I was in it before solar panels or even silicon we used copper/ carbon and salt to capture the sun's energy.
post #10 of 38
Russ, you gave me some advice on home solar panels about a month ago.  So far, of all the people I've talked to, you're the closest I've come to a solar expert.

As far as these "shysters,"  I share your loathing for the concept, but I find that most of them are just misinformed.  They honestly believe one tiny wind turbine and a solar panel on the roof angled however will produce the ridiculous amounts of power they claim.

Also, some of the alternative energy sources I've read about are only applicable in third world countries and are useless here in the states or in other richer locations.  An example of this is using a clear tarp and water to generate a focal point to heat your water. 
Edited by greengiant123 - 9/13/09 at 8:09am
post #11 of 38
Thread Starter 
I am far from a solar expert but maybe a little better at catching BS parties throw against the wall to see if it will stick. I know from a solar site I follow just how much I don't know and am finding it is more every day.

Renewable energy is interesting and important - however many items offered often do not make sense from an engineering or commercial viewpoint.

Some companies have apparently adjusted their prices upward to take advantage (for themselves) of subsidies and incentives offered. I suppose they think that potential customers have never researched their product at an earlier date.

I would love to find one of the VAWT's (vertical axis wind turbine) that work that I could install at my home. To date nothing is remotely practical. I don't have a good location for a HAWT on a tall tower due to nearby houses but on our hill could manage a VAWT.

I have solar water heating panels and have not used any electricity for water heating since March. I may have to turn on the electric backup in November though. One day coming I will have solar PV panels I hope. 
post #12 of 38
Yeah there's a lot of this kind of thing people get caught up in, like wind turbines in the middle of suburbia where the wind speed is just pathetic, or solar panels at too high latitudes to be worth it.  

What's worse though is the outright scams, "free energy" and so forth.  Just search on YouTube for "overunity" and you'll see some of the painful physics lies.

I actually wrote an article about it (I'm not trying to promote myself, just don't like repeating myself!) here:

I think most people just don't understand the scale of numbers used.  A 5kW wind turbine sounds great, but then you have to factor in that it even during the few times it does spin, it won't spin at that speed! 
post #13 of 38
Originally Posted by Russ View Post

 On the net you read many articles, some of which are good and useful while others are sometimes silly, have no basis in science or engineering, are just a common scam to try to make money. In some cases it is the equivalent of going to a witch doctor with a broken arm. I thought it might be fun to point out a few of the useless types and make the list grow over time. I nominate:

2. Solar panels on anything without the correct orientation - as solar panels can only use direct sunlight anytime they are not in the direct sun the output lowers substantially.  PV panels with their low efficiency need a good location to have any chance of generating useful power. Car surfaces offer a very low area with the correct orientation at any given time. 

Say a typical car takes about 0.8 kW per per km. In Izmir for July 2009 we are averaging about 7.5 kW/m2/day according to my weather station. All this comes to the point that 2 m2 of PV panels on a car roof top (which will be in less than the optimum orientation some if not most of the time) should power the car for approximately 2.8 km - really valuable!

Agreed on motive power but in the case of the Prius with the solar moon roof I think the idea is to allow the car to recirculate air in the car when it's parked in the sun.  This keeps the car cool and so when you get in it you use less gas to power the air-con.  When I've got into a baking car it's taken a good 15 minutes of full blast air-con to get the temperature down because of all the heat stored up in the plastics, etc.
post #14 of 38
Russ, It is a scam. First read what you wrote. One watt per square foot. You can do that with carpet and a leather pair of shoes. So lets look at the math. 1 watt per square foot. When using solar math there are standard test type math. In direct sun one square meter on the earth's surface is 1,000 watts. To make things simple a square meter is 39" by 39". This is 1521 square inches. Now for a square foot. That is 144 square inches. This is about 10% or less the size of a meter. Well in math one watt per square foot is not even 1% efficiency. So this is the problem. Even thin film solar cells are over 6% efficiency.
post #15 of 38
Accord Guy, Years ago I would have to agree with you about solar panel facing directly at the sun. Have you ever seen a solar calculator? Take some time and think about that. You do not even need the sun to produce enough power to operate a small solar calculator. Please just think about that one. And get back to me.
post #16 of 38
Accord Guy, I just want to say I am a expert on solar powered electric motors. One HP= 746 watts without the spike or peak load and that 746 watts is based on the motor being 100% efficient. Most electric motors are at best only 80% efficient and this is without a load. Now the start up spike in electric power draw is at least 5 times the normal run power. One HP; the spike is around 5 KW. AC or DC motors it does not matter. Since there are no standards in time and travel set for your distance. How did you come up with the results? Usually speed X time equals distance. The EPA uses this type of test to measure gas milage of a car or truck. Actually the car or truck is not moving so there is no friction or up hill or down hill movement like in the real world. This is a estimate only. I have no idea why we do that execpt maybe we like to see something to go by. I would like to see a car that gets zero miles per gallon. Think about that.
post #17 of 38
What a great web page. and I liked the movie. As a optical scientist and a husband you can not get something for nothing.
post #18 of 38
Thread Starter 
Hi jim386, - The 'in rush' current is to bring an electric motor to operating speed (1200/1800/3600 RPM) under partial load.

All electric cars will be variable speed drives and the same rules don't apply. I don't have one to play with here to verify this (variable speed motor or electric car for that matter) but in industry we used many of the things. 
post #19 of 38
Power Factor Correction devices. I have one. Never saw the promised difference. After seeing several blogs on the subject, now Home Power magazine, (Issue 133, Oct/Nov pg 35),  addresses the issue. It is and always has been a scam. At least my neighbor can't laugh at me. He bought one too.
post #20 of 38
Thread Starter 
Hi bjnkm - love the part about the neighbor!

Here is a URL someone posted on solar panel talk about the DIY instruction manuals - it is fantastic! The same bunches sell the instructions for DIY wind turbines.

This was posted on a thread showing a roof burned off due to an improper solar panel installation. DIY stuff can not get UL certification - that is fine for solar thermal (air or water) but in dealing with electricity things become much more critical! No UL certification means no insurance coverage so the poor guy just bought a new roof. 
post #21 of 38
Yup.  When I was a kid, I had an electric steam engine.  A 750-watt heater boiled the water, and the little engine could go!  So in my 10-year-old mind, I ran a belt from the flywheel of the engine around a bicycle dynamo, and brought wires back to the 110v plug.  Looking for perpetual motion, I guess.  Every time you convert energy, you lose energy.

Jim386:  The solar calculator works because of the absolute minimal current draw of the LCD display and the processor.  Just look how long a non-solar calc can run on the button cell inside it.  (Mine is 15+ yrs old and has never been replaced.)  Even with the tiny solar cell on the calculator, in direct sun it generates like 87 times the current needed to power up the processor.  My solar, however, takes a few seconds to come on when I light a 25-watt bulb above it, but it is on instantly with a 60.

You can get a car to get zero miles per gallon.  Let it idle in the driveway to burn a gallon - it has done zero miles.  Getting into the 40+ range is a challenge, and the 60+ range is even moreso.  Try a google on "hypermiling."  I do some of these things when I think the fuel saved is more expensive than the wear on the starter, clutch, steering gear, etc from having to shut down and refire the engine.
post #22 of 38
Thread Starter 
Some are very negative on wind power - If you look at Cleantechnica they think it is the best thing around. Probably the truth is somewhere in between.


"There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world’s most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power’s unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).

Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark’s largest energy utilities) tells us that “wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that “Germany’s CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram,” and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character. On the negative side of the environmental ledger are adverse impacts of industrial wind turbines on birdlife and other forms of wildlife, farm animals, wetlands and viewsheds. 
"The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in 2008, on a dollar per MWh basis, the U.S. government subsidizes wind at $23.34 — compared to reliable energy sources: natural gas at 25¢; coal at 44¢; hydro at 67¢; and nuclear at $1.59, leading to what some U.S. commentators call “a huge corporate welfare feeding frenzy.” The Wall Street Journal advises that “wind generation is the prime example of what can go wrong when the government decides to pick winners.”

See the entire article by using the link.
post #23 of 38
Thread Starter 
A poster on another site asked about magniwork - the website that makes the following claim A Long Kept Secret For Generating Free Electricity is Finally On The Open, And You'll Never Have To Pay A Single Dime to the Power Company
 My reply to that was that for only 50% of what these clowns ask for İ would be happy to supply a system that would work at least 100% and possibly 1000% better. İmagine powering the neighborhood from your garage! And getting paid by all parties for the power you supply to them! A money back guarantee is given of course.

For the money back guarantee, just in case you manage to locate me, you have to apply on special forms that İ will be happy to supply for a nominal charge.

Pure scam!

post #24 of 38
ideas usually get perfected over time.
If we shun or laugh off some of those energy producers from the gitgo.
Then the ideas will die.
Solar panels today will be different tomorrow.
Windturbines will use less wind tomorrow and produce more energy.
Heat from the sun say in a driiveway turning it into electricity or a hot water heating,
the possibilities from that idea refind would create less dependency on outsource energy companies.
We need many more ideas and experiments iin creating green energy.
Otherwise we willl be enslaved by outdated and ever polluting energy
post #25 of 38
Thread Starter 
@genaman - İ believe you are misunderstanding what İ am saying or the point İ am making.

There is science and engineering and there is fraud. İn between there is an area where possibly well meaning people or parties are misusing technology and trying to make it do other than what it is capable of.

Solar - On average there is roughly 1000 watts of solar radiation reaching each square meter of the earths surface daily. No more and no less and that will not change. Solar panels are good but their location and orientation is critical if they want to capture some of that 1000 watts. Of that 1000 some 20% is immediately knocked off due to panel considerations. At best with current technology 10 to 20% of the remaining 800 can be turned into electricity meaning 80 to 160 watts per m2 per day. There are additional losses farther downstream as well. Commercial solar is coming nicely. Residential is as well as long as the extensive subsidies are in place.

Wind turbines - How much power is available in the wind is well proven and shown by Betz' law - anyone who gets more than that without doing something new is a shyster. Shrouds, cubes, turbines inside electrical towers are all proposed but all have failed. Commercial wind is coming nicely. Residential will probably only have a niche market.

Solar thermal collects solar energy in the form of warm air or hot water - again there are physical limits unless someone thinks of something new. Solar thermal works fine but the costs make a heat pump hot water generator more cost effective.

An old engineering boss of mine would get frantic when someone said 'İ wish' - not exactly an engineering term! Don's reply was always, 'crap in one hand - wish in the other and let us see which fills up first'.

Energy, whether it is green or brown conforms to laws of science and engineering. New concepts and ideas come along - and they will conform to those same laws. Wishful thinking only benefits those wanting to take advantage of it. too many of the green sites go Oh! Ah! over things that are totally impractical.

İ am the last to argue against innovation - my life was spent in engineering and engineering management in new technology areas. 
Edited by Russ - 1/18/10 at 11:20am
post #26 of 38
If we want new technologies we have to start at the begining .
Dicounting solar or any other green tech for its limitations will only  pump more brown techs onto this earth.
I heard many years anyone could get sunburn under a tree on a cloudy day.
What our solar collecters now are just infants. The same with wind power.
We need to keep experimenting with newer tecniques to increase their output and use what is given to us free .
I keep thinking of those old black and whire pinwheels encased ina smaall globe that that spin even if you shine a  flashlight on  them.
They would spin faster with even a little sunlight.
Immagine one of them on ever house producing energy,which  could be stored for later use.
AC curent is the problem
we lose swo  much in transmission,
We should go back to localized DC. find better ways to store it.
Converting our home electrics could be done much like an ordinarry flashlight switch.
Imagine only using power as needed?
It could be done maybe even at this present time.
Ah but do you believe the electric companies would let us put them out of work?
There are Thomas Edisons right now all  around this  world willing to come  up with new  technologies.
It is bad enough they are stiffles by the powers that be nevefrmind we that care mudying their  waters
Every blasted day new power sucking our introduce by The Powers Thst Be. And yees we the greenies get in line to buy them.
Remember inb  the 70's and 80's solar power was the thing. Then thanks to Reagan it was stopped.
Are not we doingg the same thing again throwing mud? Mu solar flashlight hasn't needed a charge in a year.
My solar radio wiill play in diirect sun forever or give me 30 minute in the complete dark.
I will not be around to see the new generation of clean energy. I do not want to be one to even push it farther into the future.
Lets stand behind green energy however it is propsed.
Ican guarntee you one thing . It wil not stay dormant of new ideas and technoogies like its dirty predesessors.

So  Rush I  guess we will have to agree to disagree. Heey at the very  kleast we  are discussing it.
Thank You
post #27 of 38
Thread Starter 
Hi Mike -  Nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree! We are supposed to be thinking and learning everyday - even the old goats like me!

İ totally believe in the electric grid though - modern power distribution is really great and has allowed much progress to be made plus improved the life of all. Can it be improved? Certainly and that will be done.

Like İ noted before, new ideas and products are great but just wanting something to happen or be true doesn't mean much. Solar is only now coming of age and Regan had nothing to do with it. The technology wasn't there. Even today it is to expensive to attract anyone without subsidies & incentives. İ am all for solar - to think İ am not is incorrect but it is not yet ready for every roof. Same with wind - commercial works today while small residential has it's difficulties.

A conspiracy by the power companies to put down the common man? That one İ don't believe at all. İ am sure there is even 'proof' available on the net but it isn't real. İf there are bucks to be made someone will get the product to market - if not in the US then elsewhere and it will end up in the US anyway.

New tech is just science and engineering mixed up with a new concept. The same basic rules have to be met. There ain't no magic!
post #28 of 38
Thread Starter 
Another point Mike, Many of the 'new ideas & schemes' are little more than a new way to get you to part with your dollars.

One has to be very cautious in buying many of the items off the net and even careful in stores in some cases. The old saying holds! 'İf it seems too good to be true, it probably is!. 
post #29 of 38
Thread Starter 
Presently there is a small (28 watt) solar panel mounted on a luggage carrier about the same size as airline carry on luggage that is promoted as ideal for camping or emergency power outages, the unit is a portable generator that when used to its full potential will pay for itself in less than two years.

İ believe it is actually a very overpriced toy. Say charging for 5.5 hours a day and 300 days per year would provide about 46 kWh of power. But only if you position the unit so it collects maximum sunlight all day. İt sells for 695 USD so divide 695 by the 93 kWh of power possible to collect you end up with a 7.50 USD charge per kWh.

As an emergency item the unit may have a use for a few people. For most of us it is an overpriced toy.

The lead acid battery for the unit must be maintained in a charged state. Let the unit charge run down, dump it in the closet and when you take it out to recharge you likely have a problem. Lead acid batteries require attention and care - other types of batteries are more forgiving but more costly.
post #30 of 38

The cost of allternative energy is expensive-True
Butt It isn't the Power companies spearheading a drive to come up with these new technologies IS IT NOW
Oh you see a TV commercial once in a while about some Energy Corporation talking about how much they are doing iin that field.

But that is it! Jst a 30 second commercial! No research reports printed for the puublic anywhere.

Why don't we wonder how much those energy companies have invested to stop or slow others from exploring,Alternative Energy Solutions?
I read justt this morning that Exon/Mobil spent aa 120 million dollars on stopping Global Warming legislation in 2009 on lobbying alone.
probably there is more spent thatt never gets reported.
on nanother front  Big Coal is still  trying to blow off entire mountaaintops and let the remains fall down and block old stream beds.
Then take the coal out and flatop the mountain.
You statement on the confidense of ouur nation's  power grid?Surely  you must know how much poowweerr is lost in transportation?
Even if whatever is left gets to our outlets, iif it isn;t used it has to be replenished. DC can be turned on aand off by a switch and the power  wates,and will be there as needed' Alll alternattive energies come in DC form. Storing such power Big time is evolving .

Al grids should bet small ones that service close areas. Not importing Power from states away so we can brussh our teeth with electric toothbrushes.
If we are to talk abouut waste,then lets discuss all old power sources first OK
They are  the reason we had to go to new alternative energies in the first place.

I recently rrecieves my new 30 percent more electric billl.Funny that same electric company isn't even venturing in new ideas of alternattive energies. They had to be  dragged kicking and screamiing years ago to buy exsess power generated by wind turbines.
no conspiracies. There are not many people in power tat would dare look to see if there is or isn't.
Myself i just look whatt is going on in my little neck of the woods. Something is happening THAT IS A FACT.
Hey Got To Go
Best Regards


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