Thursday, June 2, 2011

Parsing the new blog addresses

Apparently the shift in blog providers re-worked the directory structure in a way that will break past links. I'll try to get a custom 404 page set up, but until I do links of the form

should become

I'm sorry for the inconvenience.

Update: Apparently it's a little more complicated than that. Blogger helpfully appended the day of the month at the end of each filename, too. We've got a redirect in place though: links to posts in the old blog will now send you to the appropriate monthly archive page.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Administrivia: A new place, new look, a new RSS feed?

For those of you actively subscribed to this blog, please note that we've switched blog software and gone to a new address for it: As a side effect of the move and/or new software, we may have broken any RSS feed you had, in which case you will need to resubscribe using the new address.

The good news is the software is easier to use to post, faster for both posting and reading, and less maintenance for the ace IT staff at Thin Film Manufacturing (that's me) as well.

(Not that it will be perfect, for example the service we are now using had a major outage in early May. But we won't personally have to fix any issues.)

As always, report any problems accessing the blog to Katherine, or to me at

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pricing out solar

When people hear I'm involved in the solar industry, they always ask whether they should put solar panels on their house. I don't actually know the answer to that -- I deal with the manufacturing side of things, which is far removed from what retail customers actually see. But a friend of a friend recently installed panels, so I jumped at the chance to find out more.

This particular installation used SolarBlend roofing, with panels by SunTech and installation by Eagle Roofing. It cost about $22,000 for a 4 KW installation. That's about $5.50 per watt, installed, before a 30% federal tax rebate. That's pretty good, and a substantial improvement from just a few years ago.

For the homeowner, though, the key question is how much electricity the array will generate, and how quickly the energy savings will pay back the cost. That's a hard one, because it depends on the climate. It's easy to see that western Washington gets less sunshine than southern Nevada, but even driving a few miles within western Washington will put you in a different microclimate. Fortunately, there's a very helpful resource, Gaisma, which merges astronomical and weather data to give solar insolation charts for many locations around the world. The installation I'm discussing here is located in Pahrump, NV.

Insolation is measured in kilowatt-hours per square meter, per day. That's the amount of light actually hitting a solar panel. Multiply by the area and conversion efficiency of the panel to get the amount of electricity generated:

Generated electricity = Insolation x Area x Conversion Efficiency

Suntech's Just Roof panels claim to produce 125 peak watts per square meter at 1000 Watts/square meter irradiance. So a 4KW installation will include 32 square meters of panels, and the panels are about 12.5% efficient. Plugging all of that into a spreadsheet, we get about 7150 kilowatt-hours per year from this installation. (Probably a bit less in practice, as panels are less efficient in hot weather.) That's probably more than an average household needs, especially if people aren't home during the sunniest part of the day. Which is why net metering -- the ability to sell power back to the grid -- is so important for residential solar installations. Let's assume that all the electricity generated by this array is either used on site or sold back to the grid.

The next step is to figure out how much the electricity is worth. That's difficult because many companies use tiered pricing: the more electricity you use, the more each incremental kilowatt costs. There is a push to implement time-sensitive pricing as well, reducing the cost for electricity use during off-peak hours. All of this is discussed in more detail here. For purposes of this discussion, I'm going to say the electricity generated is worth $0.15 per kilowatt-hour, for a total of $1072 per year, but that's just a back-of-the envelope calculation.

Without the 30% federal rebate, payback time for a $22,000 roof that generates $1072 worth of electricity per year is 20 years. With it, it's 14 years. The warranted panel life is 25 years. (This assumes that all of the $22,000 is for the array. Subtract any costs that would also be incurred by a conventional roof.)

For the sake of simplicity, I'm ignoring both the cost of money for the installation and the likely inflation in electricity costs over its useful life. I'm also ignoring any value that the installation adds to the overall value of the home. If we assume that electricity costs are going to go up over the next 20 years, then the combination of these effects should make a solar array more attractive, reducing the actual payback time.

Just for grins, I ran the same calculation for an installation in Bothell, WA. The relative lack of sun cuts the expected electricity generation to about 4850 kilowatt-hours per year. That's $727 per year at the same $0.15/kilowatt-hour rate.

Disclaimer: These values are estimates, and may not be applicable to any specific installation. If you are considering a solar roof, ask your installer to supply accurate cost and efficiency metrics.

Update: Michael Bluejay, author of the article on electricity costs linked above, emailed a link to the solar installation calculator on his site.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yes, I'm still here

Most of my long form writing has been for clients lately, hence the lack of updates here. Short snippets and such can be found in my Tumblr blog, simply because the software over there is more friendly to snippeting.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

After Deepwater Horizon, we still need drilling

Like just about everyone else who comments on energy, I was mildly embarrassed when one of the worst oil spills in history happened less than a month after this post on offshore drilling. As the Economist points out, though, the spill changes the politics of drilling, but not the underlying dynamics. Exporting drilling to countries with less environmental oversight doesn't help the environment or the long term energy picture.

If there is a silver lining, it is that the spill may help restate the case for clean energy, which has been battered by the combined effects of the recession and falling oil prices. And it will be a long time before anyone dares suggest that safety measures like remotely operated blowout valves are "too expensive." (Although, in fairness, it's not clear that a remote switch would have helped in this case.) If more intense regulation drives up the price of oil, that's one step toward making the price reflect its cost.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fair winds and following seas

I was saddened to learn that Jean LeMoin, founder and president of MCA public relations, passed away early this week. She's been a fixture for as long as I've been in the semiconductor industry, dispensing good humor and wise counsel in equal proportions. I'll miss hearing her laughter from across the room, but also her quiet suggestions.

Traces of her most visible mentoring, of PR folks, can be found in the many marketing departments that are populated with MCA alumni. Just as important though, was her gentle guidance of multitudes of journalists and executives, myself included. She never asked journalists for more than a fair hearing and an open mind, and she always made sure her clients had something useful to say. She worked tirelessly to cultivate an environment where mutual respect is more important than spin. She'll be missed.

My sympathies are with my many friends on the MCA team, who are carrying on as Jean would have expected through what has surely been an impossible week. They've asked that memorial donations be made to the Jean LeMoin Women in PR Scholarship Fund, in care of the agency. Their announcement is after the jump:

Jean LeMoin
1956 - 2010

Dear Colleagues and Friends,
It is with great regret that we announce the loss of MCA's founder and president Jean LeMoin, who passed away suddenly on May 3, 2010. A true trailblazer in the communications field, Jean founded MCA in 1983 as a one-woman shop and grew it into a highly respected boutique agency specializing in the global semiconductor, flat-panel display and microelectronics industries.
Jean launched MCA with an initial focus on semiconductor equipment and materials - one of the first agencies to do so - drawing on her marketing communications experience in the industry to build her client base. Over nearly three decades, Jean and MCA have influenced the industry outlook on many important subjects, launching game-changing technologies and creating new opportunities for outreach and dialogue. In 1994, VLSI Research Inc named her to its Chip Industry Hall of Fame for "pioneering the concept that a PR agency is a mechanism for managing a company's image across a broad front... creating an image that is cohesive with the media, customers, and the financial community." This vision remains a hallmark of MCA's approach.
A believer in giving back to the community, Jean sat on the boards of several industry associations, as well as such non-profits as Ronald McDonald House, the Support Network for Battered Women and Rubicon - organizations to which she also donated agency time in order to help reach those in need.
Those of us who knew and worked with Jean will remember many things about her - her keen mind and technology savvy, her love of the arts and good books, her affinity for Oprah and chocolate, her humorous stories about her exploits with best friend and life partner Kevin McCoy, how she always drank Diet Coke from a wine glass and never put croutons on her salad... Jean was a unique and fascinating personality, and the mark she has left on the communications profession, and our lives, is indelible.
To honor her memory, the Jean LeMoin Women in PR Scholarship has been created to enable a deserving student seeking a career in public relations or communications to pursue her dream. As a respected mentor to young PR professionals throughout her career, Jean's wish was for this effort to continue on. If you are interested in making a donation, please send your contribution, payable to The Jean LeMoin Women in PR Scholarship Fund, to MCA, 2119 Landings Drive, Mountain View, CA 94043.
From the MCA Team

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where are we?

Eek! I just realized that the new template doesn't include a link to the contact page. Better fix that soonest!

In the interim, you can find it at