192: Matt’s Newest Solar Panels


Matt and Sean talk about Matt’s most recent solar panel experience and some of the questions it raised. Is solar worth it? 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode Are Solar Panels on a Net Zero Home Worth It? https://youtu.be/TUGRWepCH90?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7FwYRnWkpCSkAeFOzrgh5h

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On today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to be talking about Matt basking in the glow of his new solar array. Hey everybody, welcome to Still to be Determined. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, and I’m just generally curious about technology.

And luckily for me, my brother is that Matt. I’ve undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech. And it’s impact on our lives and with me, as always, is that Matt. Matt, how are you doing today?

I’m doing great. It’s kind of fun. Um, we’re in the middle of like peak fall season here where I am and it’s like the trees are gorgeous.

Trees are, the leaves are fallen. It’s a very kind of beautiful fall weekend. Um, been enjoying that. How about, how about you?

I, I mean, how many miles away am I from you? 130? Yeah. Something like that. Yeah. Something like that. Uh, it was 85 degrees yesterday here in New York City. Everybody was walking around in shorts and covered in, in sunscreen because it was in the sun because at this time of year, we’re actually closer to the sun than we are during the summer.

So the direct sunlight was. It’s noticeably blisteringly hot. It was like you’d step into the sun and walk for a few blocks and you would be like, this is not okay. I can’t stay here. The leaves are literally in a two day period going from green to brown. And so we’re on the verge of them just all falling off the trees and it doesn’t look a thing like fall, so.

You blinked and you missed fall. This is,

yes. I, two days ago, I looked out the window at a tree in our neighbor’s yard that is next to our kitchen window and it was still green. And the next day I went out and looked at it and they were all yellow. And now they’re already falling. So, it’s like, bang, bang, bang.

Um, for all I know, the tree might be dead.

But enough about, uh, fall or the lack thereof, depending on what latitude and longitude you’re living at. Talk about one of our previous episodes. I’ve been jumping into the mailbag, looking around to see what people have to say. And… In our last episode, episode 189, in which I wondered if Matt had coined the term meat space, well, I got some responses.

Like this one from LordDragon, who wrote in to say this compound noun began being used in the early to mid 1990s and is thought to be patterned after the earlier cyberspace, the online world of computer networks, and especially the internet, which dates back to the 1980s. Meet space, update, quick rundown of how and where to internet with the net.

KJ Loves Coffee also joined the conversation to say that it has been a long used cyber security term. Thank you both to Dragon and KJ for jumping in and stealing my t shirt idea.

We can still take credit for it.

There was also a question. About a recent episode we had about humidity batteries and this one came in from Cyber who wrote in to say why is it called a battery when it sounds like a generator? So where does the energy come from? I’ve seen multiple videos and articles about it and I have not found an indication on the type of effect.

Does it cool down the air? Does it condense the water? Or does it have to be heated to get rid of the accumulated water? Just lots of general questions about how is this working and what does it mean? So do you want to go back and revisit a little bit? Why is it a battery as opposed to a generator? It’s not

generating electricity.

It’s taking the, because of the way the electrons are moving around from the humidity into the system, it’s taking the energy that’s already there and just kind of like holding it, capturing it and holding it. So it’s, it’s not really making energy out of nothing. It’s just kind of like transferring it.

It’s, it’s, it’s more akin to a battery than a generator because of that. Um, it does not dehumidify the air from what I understand. So it’s not like dehumidifying and pulling the moisture out. It’s, it’s. It’s a very strange thing that I’m still wrapping my head around completely. Uh, but yeah, it’s, it’s much more akin to a battery because of the way the electricity is kind of being moved from one thing to another.

Um, it’s not making it from, you know, like, you’re not, like a gas generator would be like you’re burning fuel to create the heat, to move the piston to generate electricity. It’s not doing something like that. Mm-Hmm. . So it’s just moving energy from one thing to another.

Seems like it would be akin to saying, well, if you had a lightning rod on your house.

And it gets struck by lightning and then you utilize that electricity. That would not be energy generation. It would be energy capture.

Yeah. Yeah. I guess that you could say that it’s, it’s, yeah, it’s energy capture. You’re not generating the electricity. You’re just capturing it. Yeah.

Right. And it’s just that the mysterious nature of how is energy being captured from humidity, where, as you said, it’s operating on the electron scale, as opposed to the more easily identifiable.

I think it’s easier for us to wrap our heads around Like, oh, lithium ion inside a battery is doing a thing that doesn’t look like a wind turbine. These two things don’t look alike. Or a solar panel. You’re telling me that that isn’t holding energy, it’s capturing energy. Okay, I get it. Because I can feel the heat of the sun.

But humidity, all we know of humidity is… It’s discomforting when it’s high. Right. The idea that you can, that there’s a thing there to actually utilize seems mysterious and, and

made up. You’re basically saying that there’s energy just all around us all the time. Right. And essentially just taking that energy that’s around us and funneling it into something that you can use.

And that’s essentially, in a way, what’s happening. Um, very hand wavy, I love a wave. So it’s like, we’re basically walking around inside a battery, if you want to think of it that way. The humidity around us is the storage device and we’re pulling it out

of that. Suddenly I can’t help but revise Obi Wan’s famous speech from A New Hope.

The humidity is all around us. It permeates us. It binds us all together.


Sean. Ah, yes. Nerd!


There was also a comment from one of Matt’s more recent videos from a few weeks ago, why we need to rethink wind turbines. There was a question from Spanky McFlitch who wrote in to say, does nobody care about the bird kills from wind turbines? Now, before you respond to that. People do care about the Bird Kills.

Our conversation was focused on Matt’s video, and Matt’s video was focused on elements of redesign where it was about energy capture and conversion. Bird kill is also a key aspect of the research that’s being done and a concern around wind turbines in general. And I know that there are environmental impact studies are done around wind turbines with this in mind.

So Matt, I just wanted to give you an opportunity. Do you have anything to add or share around, uh, the environmental impact studies that go into the. Redesign element of these new wind

turbines into the redesign. That’s where things get questionable because it’s, it’s not, it’s like an apples and oranges conversation, because there is lots of research going into how bad is the bird issue in reality?

How can we address it? And there’s a bunch of different things. Like there’s a simple one where you just paint one of the blades black and it dramatically helps because just having that one black blade, birds are able to kind of recognize it and avoid, you know. Going towards the turbine because they see this giant thing sweeping around, they’re going to stay away from it.

Different things we can do that are very effective and simple and doesn’t require a whole retooling when it comes down to the redesign aspects. Like when I talked about the turbine that has the smaller blades and it looks like a giant fly swatter, there was no research or anything we found into how does that impact bird populations because it’s a new design and it’s going to have to be studied before we can find that out.

But one of the assumptions that’s being made is that because It’s a lot smaller things. There’s more of a structure around it to hold all those blades and that additional structure creates a thing that’s much easier to recognize and see. So it’s being assumed that it will have fewer bird strikes and bird issues just because of the nature of how it has to be constructed and what it’s going to look like when it’s done versus a single tower with a gigantic spinning blade on it.

So it’s, Remains to be seen, but that’s kind of like what we found at this point. There’s not a ton um, into it quite yet for those redesigned models we talked about. Right.

It also raises questions about would there be ways of mitigating bird kill based on some of the things that are done where certain silhouettes and certain noises can be used to drive them away.

And so I think there’s, there’s lots of research is still to be done around this, but the short answer to your short question. Mcflitch is, yes, people do care and that is a part of this pretty much, but it wasn’t a key aspect of Matt’s video because he was spending that time trying to talk about why the research is being done up from an energy capacity standpoint as opposed to environmental impact directly.

Now onto Matt’s most recent e episode, which is from October 24th, 2023. Which is, are solar panels on a net zero home worth it? There was a lot of conversation, first of all, there was a lot of conversation just around, like, your… Approach to this, the way you measured your usage, the way you measured your storage, the way you measured how you want to, uh, set goals for yourself.

And I’ve mentioned this to you recently, like the approach for how to understand what goals are important to you and setting those goals for yourself and then how to conduct that research, I think is a really. A very good demonstration of a good practice, so I want to give you kudos for that and encourage you to think about ways of sharing that process with your viewers and others in the future because I think you have a very good goal setting practice that is easy to recognize as useful but hard to emulate.

As a separate person. So, uh, right. Like I, I, I watched the video and I’m like, you’re so good at being able to break down, like, what are my goals? How do I achieve these things? How do I do this research in order to find these, this information so I can do these things? And so a lot of people in the videos, Comments were saying, love the guidelines, I’m using this and your channel in general for my own home development or changing power usage in my home.

People who’ve installed batteries, people who’ve installed solar were commenting along those lines. There was also some commentary around alternatives. , in the home setting, and somebody mentioned that per their calculations, biodiesel, vegetable oil being used as a power source in the home was even more cost effective to the point of being just a few thousand dollars a year.

I wonder, just to talk about biodiesel for a moment. It is utilized, as far as I know, completely within the realm of vehicle usage, as opposed to large scale energy production or home energy production. And my first thought was, would I want to be burning vegetable oil near my home? Like, it just feels like, would there potentially be exhaust?

Even if the exhaust is basically net zero, because plants capture carbon. You burn plant oil and carbon released, but it’s net zero, right? It’s

considered net neutral. It’s like you’re not adding new stuff from underground.

So you’re using what’s in there and then it’s going back up and then another plant is capturing it again and so on and so on.

So we have balance. In theory, we have balance, but Is it clean from the perspective of,

do you want

to have, or do you want to be burning something near your home? And I’m wondering, have you seen other proposals or other ideas in that vein where the key element that makes it not palatable is Well, do you want that near your home?

Because solar, it sits there. And a wind turbine, you know, may not be great near your home because they make noise, right? There’s like a whooshing sound that would be like maybe a permanent train passing by. So you don’t want that near your home. And you could say, well, like hydro. Well, do you want to live right next to a dam or a water wheel?

Like, like the various elements that might just be, but is it nice to live next to? I’m wondering if there were some others that have come across your radar where you’re like, it seems like a great option on paper, but the moment you’d be next to it.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny you bring that up. Cause it’s like, um, one of the things I talked about a while back was like wind power for your home.

And there’s a company called, I think it’s a Ridge Blade. That has a system that goes on the peak of your roof and it’s got a, it generates electricity and it’s on the peak of your roof. It’s like, that’s awesome. And it, and it has a lot of potential, but when you look at it and you see videos of this thing in operation, it’s noisy.

Like it’s, it ain’t, it ain’t silent. It’s, it’s making erk erk erk erk erk. Constantly . And so it’s like if you don’t have good soundproofing on your house. You’d be hearing that all the time, and it would drive you nuts. So depending on how noisy it is and all that kind of stuff, it would be really bad.

And that’s where for me, solar just wins every day of the week, because it’s like, it’s on my roof. I don’t know if it’s there. It doesn’t make noise. It doesn’t take maintenance. It’s like I’m just, it just, it’s there. It just exists. And that’s like the best of like both worlds of all the kind of concepts.

But yeah, biodiesel, I wouldn’t want the fumes near my house. Wind, it’s noisy. It’s also an eyesore. Like if you put a big turbine, like if I tried to do that in my neighborhood, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s regulations that prevent me from doing it where I am. So it’s like there’s all these things that are at play when you’re talking about, uh, for home energy generation that are just, they, they’re very, they seem appealing on paper, but when you put them into practice, it may not be all it’s, uh, cracked out to be.

Cracked up to be.

Putting stuff on paper is easy because paper doesn’t smell bad or make noise. Make noise. Yeah. And as you described the, the mini wind turbine on the home and the noise it makes. I immediately flashed back to look at old, you know, old pictures of farms back in the 19, early 1900s. And when they would have the little windmill on the water pump, where was that located?

It was usually not located near the house. It was usually located as far away as possible because that propeller spinning and that pump working. Nobody wanted that noise. There was also some commentary around costs and I wanted you to be able to revisit the idea of what does it mean to have savings, what does it mean to have Money going out as far as billing and what does it mean as far as tax credit?

Because there were some comments where they were saying you were basically fudging the numbers because a tax credit is not the same as savings. I didn’t get the impression that you were actually even making that claim. So if you want to just talk about like. What is a tax credit doing for you and what is the overall savings from the energy storage or energy production doing for you?

Yeah, tax credits, I can see why people would think it’s fudging the numbers, but it’s not. Um, a tax credit is another thing to be very clear on. Tax credits are not coming from some kind of slush fund where the government is then paying me out 30 percent of what I paid. That’s not how tax credits work.

It reduces my tax burden for a specific year. So let’s say you earn a hundred thousand dollars for a family in a year and you owe, you know, 25 percent of that. So you owe the government 25, 000. You get a solar panel system installed and you can take that 30 percent tax credit on that System you installed.

So whatever that 30 percent is, you can not basically knock off amount off the amount that you owe the government as a tax credit. So it is money back in your pocket. Um, so that’s the thing that people, when they say they’re fudging the numbers, it’s like, no, I’m not fudging the numbers. It’s like, it may not be like I get somebody doesn’t hand me a check of that 30%, but it’s 30.

That’s that money is kind of coming back to me. Because I’m not having to pay it on my taxes. Right. So it is not fudging. It’s a, it’s a legit thing. It’s also not coming from a slush fund. So my neighbors are not paying for my solar panels. It’s, that’s not how tax credits work.

It would also, it was also not what you were including when you were talking about your annual costs of how much you’ll pay for electricity and how much you’ll, you’ll pay for the system itself.

The way I look at the solar panels is it’s like going to Costco and buying. A bulk thing of, you know, whatever the item is. You’re, you’re getting a much cheaper rate because you’re buying in bulk. I am buying electricity for my house, 30 years of electricity in basically one lump sum. I’m just like paying for 30 years of electricity, bam.

And I’m going to reap the benefits of that over that next 30 years because my rates are never going to go up. They’re not going to increase. And I’ve tried to size my system for what I use every single year, which means in theory, if I’m close to that, I will basically have kind of recouped the cost of the system, the return on investment in probably seven or eight years max.

In seven or eight years, I will have earned enough money from the savings of the system to have kind of paid for itself. And then from year eight, nine, 10 and beyond, it’s like free energy to me. It’s essentially, it’s like this, it’s all gravy from that point. So it’s not fudging the numbers. It’s, it’s just.

It’s a simple math. And the other part that I would want to kind of touch on is I don’t look at solar as a financial investment. And some people seem to in the comments, and I get where they’re coming from. Uh, cause I see comments a lot about like, well, if you had invested that money into a A CD. Yeah. A CD or a, say you would have made back this percentage of the thing and you’d make more money.

It’s like, that’s not why I’m doing this. Yeah. So it’s like, if, if that’s why you would do solar, then yeah, it doesn’t make sense for you. Cause you’re only looking at it from the numbers. I’m looking at it from, I have to pay electricity fees. For the rest of my life, I’m gonna have to pay a utility bill just to live.

So why am I not gonna try to save some money on it? Right. It’s not a, I’m not trying to be get rich for my solar panel system. I’m trying to save some money. And so it’s, I don’t look at it as a financial investment. I look at it as how much money can I save each year? And so if, if I’m net zero, that essentially means the only bill I’ll have from a utility are the fees that they charge me for just being a customer, right?

So it’s like there’s like, I don’t know what it’s gonna be yet. It might be like 15 bucks a month, 20 bucks a month. For the fees that they’re going to charge me, and then there will be like, hopefully no electric bill over the course of a year,

which is great for me because then I’ll be able to send you my electric bill, which is usually incredibly high and you can pay that for me.

So thanks. Also, I know you wanted to address some questions that some commenters have about, well, why do you use that much electricity? Some people seem shocked by how much you are using. I, I grew up with Matt. So, you know, I know that he is prone to, he loves to have a lot of light bulbs on in rooms where nobody is.

In fact, he has multiple light bulbs in each room just for that purpose that he doesn’t even use when he’s actually in that room. And he also just likes to have electric fans running in the garage. No reason that I know why, but, but, you know, it makes for a breezy, uh, a breezy room in the, in the home. I joke, of course, I am known in the family as not always, not always right, uh, right in the head.

But Matt, I know you wanted to address this seriously, so did you want to talk a little bit about, like, what is your energy usage based on? And, and explore a little bit about, uh, why people are surprised about

it. Well, I see two basic trends in the people that are like, how do you use that much energy?

That makes no sense. It comes from a place of, I use X amount per month. Like, how can you use 1500 kilowatt hours a month? I only use 500 or I only use 250 or I only use this much a year. How are you using that much? And then the other one, which was, How can you use that much energy? This was supposed to be such an energy efficient house.

How come it’s using more than your old house? So I was getting, I was seeing those two trends in some of the comments that were coming up and I blame myself because I didn’t go into a lot of detail on some of why my energy use is higher. Um, for me, it’s my old house had natural gas heating and cooling.

I mean heating plus water. So That wasn’t electricity use, that was powered by burning gas to create that heat, and now my new house is 100 percent electric, no natural gas, so just ergo, it’s going to use more electricity because my system is now using electricity in place of natural gas. So that’s why the electricity use is higher than my old house, by a small amount.

Um, the other factor is when people make those comments about like, I only use X amount. How can you possibly use that much? You’re making an assumption with zero context because I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know. Where do you live? What’s the size of your house? Do you live in an apartment that’s 500 square feet?

Uh, like How are you heating your house? Is your house heated by natural gas or is it electric? It’s like, there’s so many reasons why your use may be so much lower than mine. Um, and my, my usage is not abnormal for Americans. The average for Americans is 1000 kilowatt hours a month. And it is high. It’s one of the highest in the world.

So yes, we do use a lot of electricity. But for me specifically, um, there’s aspects of my use that are, uh, unusual. And I would not say are… Like, if Sean had a house identical to mine, I guarantee you, I guarantee you, Sean, yours would be way lower than mine. And the reason for that is… I don’t have a

home studio.

I run, my wife and I work from home. We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So there’s always somebody here with lights on, computers on, something happening. So we’re using power way more than somebody who goes to work for 10 hours a day and then comes home. So your house is empty and not using electricity basically for 10 hours.

Our house is using it all the time. Second thing is… I run a business for my house, so I have equipment in my house that most people would not have. And so for me, it’s a cost of doing business. It’s, I have home servers and network attached storage devices and things that are, it’s really kind of funny because in my span, I can see what my always on electricity is per circuit, like in the house.

So I can see what’s like sucking up all the energy. And I have about a 350 watts. Draw all the time, nonstop, and that’s really high, that is extremely high, and it’s because of all the network gear and the servers I have running in my network closet. My network closet is the highest energy use item in my house.

It’s more energy than my HVAC system uses by a large margin. And my old house, that wasn’t the case. My old house was not efficient and the HVAC was the highest energy use for when it was like

in the middle of summer. More often because it was an inefficient home, right? Correct.

And now it’s like, it’s funny because everything’s inverted.

It’s like the HVAC is using virtually nothing and then my, my, my, my network closet, it’s got more gear than it did in my old house. And so it’s like, wow, I did not know it was going to be like over 300 Watts. So I’m trying to figure out ways to get that down. But the good

news is that in the dead of winter, if there’s a sudden crisis where you have to turn off your HVAC, you and your wife can just move into the, uh, closet with the tech gear.

No joke. No, no, no joke. It’s probably 85

degrees in there at all times.

That the net, the hall, the hallway that has that closet, it goes from the, it goes from the garage into like the entryway. It’s this little hallway and it’s got a closet in it. And I had Luford folding doors for that closet because I wanted, I knew it was going to be warm in there.

I wanted air to be able to kind of circulate in and out of that closet with the doors closed. If you close the, the hallway door, so the hallway is completely sealed off from the rest of the house and you leave it closed and then you wait. A few hours and you go walking in there, it’s like a sweat lodge.

You walk in there and it’s so hot. It’s really funny. It’s like, I could probably heat my house off of that. If I could find a way to kind of pipe that heat back into HVAC system and distribute it, I could probably kind of keep the house kind of fairly warm during the winter time. Oh man. Yeah. It’s, I got a lot of gear.

So it’s like when I, when I don’t have a business like this anymore, all that stuff will go away and my energy use would just drop. So it’s, it’s just part of my doing business. So that’s part of the reason why, and I didn’t explain that in my video and without that context, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

So it’s, if you know that it kind of like, okay, I, I was, I, I hope that people, when they’re looking at my videos, when I talk about this stuff. Or looking at it from that kind of high level, that thousand foot view of he’s trying to do this much, his solar is going to achieve that, which means he gets no, you know, no electric bill and all that kind of stuff.

That’s kind of the big picture. But I always find it interesting how people kind of like end up going into the weeds and be like, wait, how are you using that much energy? Why are you using that much energy? Right. Okay. So I should probably explain that a little bit better, but I always find it amusing that people try to make the apples to apples comparisons to what they experience versus me, but they don’t have the context of me and I don’t have the context of them.

So it’s like, this is right, you can’t compare.

It’s a question that can’t be answered. So yeah, it’s a little bit like saying, what color am I thinking of? Yeah.

So thank you everybody for your comments. As you can tell, they really drive the content of the show. And I wanted to share one last comment, which I think is a nice jumping off point for Matt to consider for future episodes. Revisiting some topics from earlier ones, Firefox jumped in to say, I’m really interested to hear more about that company you mentioned in your other video, TerraSonic.

So just a reminder to all of you listeners, if there’s a company or a topic that Matt has covered before and you’d like an update, jump into the comments on any video and let us know what you’re thinking about. We will see it. And Matt is actually very interested. He always wants to know what you find interesting so that he can go back and revisit those topics.

Thank you as always for your comments and for your time watching us. And don’t forget, if you’d like to support the show, you can leave a review. Wherever it was you found this, don’t forget to subscribe. And please do share it with your friends. All of those are great ways to support us. And if you’d like to more directly support us, you can click the join button on YouTube.

Or go to stilltbd. fm and click the become a supporter button there. Both those ways let you throw coins at our heads. We appreciate the welts and bruises. They heal. And then we make the podcast and everybody goes home happy. Thank you everybody for your time and watching or listening. And we’ll talk to you next time.

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