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Apple's North Carolina solar, fuel cell plants will be largest of their kind

post #1 of 41
Thread Starter 
Apple's solar farm in North Carolina will be a 20-megawatt, 100-acre facility that is the largest end-user-owned onsite solar array in the country. It and a previously undisclosed fuel cell installation will power a data center that is the only in its class to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

More details on the company's forthcoming solar project were revealed in an update to the company's website on green initiatives and environmental impacts, along with a new Facilities Environmental Report. The updated report, first noticed by CNet, reveals that the company's data center in Maiden, N.C., is the largest in its class with LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Our goal is to run the Maiden facility with high percentage renewable energy mix, and we have major projects under way to achieve this -- including building the nation's largest end user-owned solar array and building the largest nonutility fuel cell installation in the United States," the site reads.

Appel's 100-acre solar facility will supply 42 million kWh of clean, renewable energy annually, the company's report states.

It also gives details on a new 5-megawatt fuel cell installation that is scheduled to open later this year. When it does, it will be the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country.

The fuel cell installation will be powered by 100 percent biogas, Apple revealed, and it will provide more than 40 million kWh of 24x7 baseload renewable energy annually.

Apple first announced plans to build its massive $1 billion server farm in Maiden in 2009. The facility opened last spring, and only months after, Apple's plans to build a solar farm on an adjacent property were revealed.




The Maiden data center helps to power Apple's online operations, including the iCloud umbrella of Web applications and services, and the iTunes Store that serves up applications, music, movies, books and more.

Apple's environmental website reveals that the company estimates 98 percent of its carbon emissions come from manufacturing, transportation, use and recycling of its products. Just 2 percent is estimated to come from its facilities.

The company also boasts that it has reduced carbon emissions on a number of its products, most notably the Apple TV set-top box. From 2007 to 2011, carbon emissions with the Apple TV were reduced by 90 percent. The iMac has also seen a 50 percent reduction from 1998 to 2011, while the Mac mini has dropped 52 percent.

Apple has also reduced the packaging associated with the iPhone by 42 percent from 2007 to 2011. That allows the company to ship 80 percent more boxes in each airline shipping container, saving one 747 flight for every 371,250 boxes Apple ships.

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 41
Yeah, all well and good.

Until the NYT runs with the story about trees that had to be razed to build the building.
post #3 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

Yeah, all well and good.

Until the NYT runs with the story about trees that had to be razed to build the building.

Or how many squirrels jumped to their deaths from those trees.
post #4 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Napoleon_PhoneApart View Post

Or how many squirrels jumped to their deaths from those trees.

Hey, those squirrels had it a lot better than other squirrels. Would you rather those squirrels be unemployed?
post #5 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pendergast View Post

Hey, those squirrels had it a lot better than other squirrels. Would you rather those squirrels be unemployed?

And they still jumped?! They musta been nuts.
post #6 of 41
While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.
post #7 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.

I am sure they are using they are using it as well, but it hardly makes a dent in comparison.

This really is huge. I am impressed. Surprised that if this was their plan they chose NC though. Biggest incentive there is cheap power.
post #8 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.

And I don't understand why you're not using rags instead of toilet paper, so you can rinse them out and reuse them. As to the squirrels, Apple chartered LP gas-fueled buses to transport them to another woodlot and then paid them relocation assistance until they settled in.

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post #9 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.

Likely that would have been more expensive. It is unlikely that they will make any money on this as it is, compared to buying the juice from the local utility.
post #10 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.

I think there are multiple questions here, and none of the answers are obvious (at least, not obvious to me):

1. Is it better to have the solar panels on the roof or not?

Right now, it's a white roof. White roofs are great at reflecting sunlight and heat. Cooling is a major issue for data centers. Solar panels are not white -- in fact they are intentionally black so as to absorb rather than reflect light. So solar panels on the roof might generate electricity, but they might also result in a hotter building that needs more electricity to cool. What's the right tradeoff? The fact that Apple hasn't put solar panels on the roof makes me think that the white roof is better. But who knows...

2. Is it better to replace trees with solar panels from a CO2 perspective?

Trees suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, so that's an argument in favor of trees. But solar panels generate electricity without creating CO2 (unlike fossil fuels), so that's an argument in favor of solar panels. Which of these two factors is bigger? In this case it's harder to infer the answer just by looking at Apple's actions, because the carbon-sink properties of trees probably are not internalized by Apple (whereas the light-reflecting property of a white roof is internalized by Apple). Given the relatively low efficiency of solar panels, my guess is that cutting down the trees is a net loser in terms of CO2. But that's just a guess.

Would be interesting to see some answers from someone who knows what they're talking about.
post #11 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

Likely that would have been more expensive. It is unlikely that they will make any money on this as it is, compared to buying the juice from the local utility.

They don't have to make money. They only have to not lose money, and then they are ahead of the game.
My folks had solar installed on the roof of their house; haven't had to pay an electric bill in two years. (other than the fixed "service supply" portion of their bill)
post #12 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by isaidso View Post

They don't have to make money. They only have to not lose money, and then they are ahead of the game.
My folks had solar installed on the roof of their house; haven't had to pay an electric bill in two years. (other than the fixed "service supply" portion of their bill)

How much capital is invested? What is the payback time period? Will the panels last that long?

From what I hear, from a purely economic perspective, photovoltaic cells do not pay for themselves.

And interestingly, Apple installed a fuel cell too, further adding to capital costs.
post #13 of 41
This is interesting:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_roof

It sounds like a roof covered in grass has two benefits -- carbon sink and keeps the building cool. I wonder how that compares to either a white roof or a roof with solar panels in terms of overall CO2 impact. And what if instead of grass you cover the roof with, say, a big algae pond? And then use the algae as either animal feed or as a biofuel?

Lots of options... would be neat to hear an expert comment on these tradeoffs...
post #14 of 41
Clearly the stockholders will be outraged by this. After all, the ONLY purpose for a public company to exist is to make the shareholders money. At least, that's what many claim. And according to some, Apple's wasteful use of it's capital in in this manner is illegal because they aren't maximizing profits for the sole benefit of the shareholders.

It's only a matter for time before the shareholders get rid of the current board and replaces them with people who have a clue how to run a business.

</s>
post #15 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

I think there are multiple questions here, and none of the answers are obvious (at least, not obvious to me):

1. Is it better to have the solar panels on the roof or not?

Right now, it's a white roof. White roofs are great at reflecting sunlight and heat. Cooling is a major issue for data centers. Solar panels are not white -- in fact they are intentionally black so as to absorb rather than reflect light. So solar panels on the roof might generate electricity, but they might also result in a hotter building that needs more electricity to cool. What's the right tradeoff? The fact that Apple hasn't put solar panels on the roof makes me think that the white roof is better. But who knows...

2. Is it better to replace trees with solar panels from a CO2 perspective?

Trees suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, so that's an argument in favor of trees. But solar panels generate electricity without creating CO2 (unlike fossil fuels), so that's an argument in favor of solar panels. Which of these two factors is bigger? In this case it's harder to infer the answer just by looking at Apple's actions, because the carbon-sink properties of trees probably are not internalized by Apple (whereas the light-reflecting property of a white roof is internalized by Apple). Given the relatively low efficiency of solar panels, my guess is that cutting down the trees is a net loser in terms of CO2. But that's just a guess.

Would be interesting to see some answers from someone who knows what they're talking about.

Not that I know what I'm talking about, but it would seem that an airspace under the solar panels would take care of that heat-absorption problem, and lead to a roof even cooler than a white one.
post #16 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiggin View Post

Clearly the stockholders will be outraged by this. After all, the ONLY purpose for a public company to exist is to make the shareholders money. At least, that's what many claim. And according to some, Apple's wasteful use of it's capital in in this manner is illegal because they aren't maximizing profits for the sole benefit of the shareholders.

It's only a matter for time before the shareholders get rid of the current board and replaces them with people who have a clue how to run a business.

</s>

The PR will be well worth the money spent.

Apple is Green, m'kay?
post #17 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flaneur View Post

Not that I know what I'm talking about, but it would seem that an airspace under the solar panels would take care of that heat-absorption problem, and lead to a roof even cooler than a white one.

Sounds like we need Mythbusters to figure this one out for us
post #18 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiggin View Post

Clearly the stockholders will be outraged by this. After all, the ONLY purpose for a public company to exist is to make the shareholders money. At least, that's what many claim. And according to some, Apple's wasteful use of it's capital in in this manner is illegal because they aren't maximizing profits for the sole benefit of the shareholders.

It's only a matter for time before the shareholders get rid of the current board and replaces them with people who have a clue how to run a business.

</s>

Heh, yeah...

I know you're kidding, but I feel like making a serious response anyway (speaking as someone who has a large portion of my small amount of money in Apple stock).

Seems to me that so long as Apple is earning 0.00% on their cash hoard, then there are a lot of things that become attractive ways to spend money that normally wouldn't be that attractive. If nothing else, one can think of this sort of thing as a form of brand-building advertising, similar to the Think Different ad campaign. Unlike TV ads and billboards, though, this is a form of advertising that has the extra bonus of generating electricity, which Apple needs anyway.
post #19 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Heh, yeah...

I know you're kidding, but I feel like making a serious response anyway (speaking as someone who has a large portion of my small amount of money in Apple stock).

Seems to me that so long as Apple is earning 0.00% on their cash hoard, then there are a lot of things that become attractive ways to spend money that normally wouldn't be that attractive. If nothing else, one can think of this sort of thing as a form of brand-building advertising, similar to the Think Different ad campaign. Unlike TV ads and billboards, though, this is a form of advertising that has the extra bonus of generating electricity, which Apple needs anyway.

I agree this is good for many reasons ... but I thought a lot of that $100B, so called cash, is indeed earning money in a mix of ways, some long term some short, where did you get the 0% number from?
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post #20 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

The PR will be well worth the money spent.

Apple is Green, m'kay?

I really hope that with both a sarcasm tag and a grin that you didn't think I was taking my own comments seriously!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Heh, yeah...

I know you're kidding, but I feel like making a serious response anyway (speaking as someone who has a large portion of my small amount of money in Apple stock).

Seems to me that so long as Apple is earning 0.00% on their cash hoard, then there are a lot of things that become attractive ways to spend money that normally wouldn't be that attractive. If nothing else, one can think of this sort of thing as a form of brand-building advertising, similar to the Think Different ad campaign. Unlike TV ads and billboards, though, this is a form of advertising that has the extra bonus of generating electricity, which Apple needs anyway.

Yeah, I agree. I just couldn't resist poking a bit of fun at the expense of those who think the sole purpose in being for a company is to make stockholders money (with a usual focus on the short term). I just think Apple truly enjoys what it's doing as a company and doesn't overly concern itself with the stockholders or managing it's share price.
post #21 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

I think there are multiple questions here, and none of the answers are obvious (at least, not obvious to me):

1. Is it better to have the solar panels on the roof or not?

Right now, it's a white roof. White roofs are great at reflecting sunlight and heat. Cooling is a major issue for data centers. Solar panels are not white -- in fact they are intentionally black so as to absorb rather than reflect light. So solar panels on the roof might generate electricity, but they might also result in a hotter building that needs more electricity to cool. What's the right tradeoff? The fact that Apple hasn't put solar panels on the roof makes me think that the white roof is better. But who knows...

2. Is it better to replace trees with solar panels from a CO2 perspective?

Trees suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, so that's an argument in favor of trees. But solar panels generate electricity without creating CO2 (unlike fossil fuels), so that's an argument in favor of solar panels. Which of these two factors is bigger? In this case it's harder to infer the answer just by looking at Apple's actions, because the carbon-sink properties of trees probably are not internalized by Apple (whereas the light-reflecting property of a white roof is internalized by Apple). Given the relatively low efficiency of solar panels, my guess is that cutting down the trees is a net loser in terms of CO2. But that's just a guess.

Would be interesting to see some answers from someone who knows what they're talking about.

I'm no expert, but I have some experience with a couple of these, FWIW.

My employer has offices in Charlotte, and I have kin in Memphis, so I get a chance to take the rental car out from time to (long) time. Maiden is between here and there, which means the middle of nowhere, but it's pretty country to drive through. Anyway, one good reason for not mounting a lot of big flat panels atop those roofs might be the occasional but not unheard of tornado that comes through. Being anchored to the ground instead of the roof will minimize structural damage. Also, don't worry so much about those trees. Piney woods grow fast; my uncle actually harvests trees on his land every now and then to sell the wood to the mill and makes a tidy sum on it.

A few years ago I put solar panels on my own home as part of a larger renovation. I did my cost/payback plotting and all that shtuff. In the end I figured I would get the money I spent back in 9 years but I don't think that is common. In the end, you stand your best chance of breaking even by making changes in how you use the power in your home/facility, and how much of the power you can store, if that is possible. Building from the ground up is the best bet for maximizng your return. I also had the benefit of federal and local tax credits, plus a break on the cost because it was a group buy. Your mileage will definitely vary.

My arborists tells me over the long ruin my panels are CO2 positive, but I don't contribute any free oxygen to the world so I don't get a free pass.
post #22 of 41
"And what if instead of grass you cover the roof with, say, a big algae pond? And then use the algae as either animal feed or as a biofuel?"


I am a dreamer, too. However, installing any electronics under any water tank is asking for trouble. Possible freezing, cracking, leaking, short circuiting could be a disaster.
post #23 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by greenwire View Post

"And what if instead of grass you cover the roof with, say, a big algae pond? And then use the algae as either animal feed or as a biofuel?"


I am a dreamer, too. However, installing any electronics under any water tank is asking for trouble. Possible freezing, cracking, leaking, short circuiting could be a disaster.

Or AOL CDs. You can't more reflective than that for a free.

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post #24 of 41
God bless you, Steve. God bless you.
post #25 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by greenwire View Post

"And what if instead of grass you cover the roof with, say, a big algae pond? And then use the algae as either animal feed or as a biofuel?"

I am a dreamer, too. However, installing any electronics under any water tank is asking for trouble. Possible freezing, cracking, leaking, short circuiting could be a disaster.

There's actually been a lot of work on green roofs and green walls. I'm sure we're getting closer. But I think in terms of environmental priorities reducing carbon emissions, IMO, is the first hurdle to get over. Solar is really the simplest and most effective tool to just get people off the grid, get people off fossil fuels/ nuclear, and truly get people into the idea of clean, free, endless energy. That's the first step, and Apple is taking a decent big first step.

Solar has been around for a while but the next 20 years will see some pretty good improvements. Imagine the sun on your face. Now imagine that powers everything in your life, with virtually no electricity bills ever. That's a dream that is very, very close.
post #26 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by CityGuide View Post

A few years ago I put solar panels on my own home as part of a larger renovation. I did my cost/payback plotting and all that shtuff. In the end I figured I would get the money I spent back in 9 years but I don't think that is common. In the end, you stand your best chance of breaking even by making changes in how you use the power in your home/facility, and how much of the power you can store, if that is possible. Building from the ground up is the best bet for maximizng your return. I also had the benefit of federal and local tax credits, plus a break on the cost because it was a group buy. Your mileage will definitely vary.

What ~is~ interesting is that I'd wager much more people will break even within 10 years than one expects
post #27 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays

Where did you read anything about clearing forested land?
How much of that 100 acres is/was actual forest that had to be cleared?
Quote:
when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof.

The building is not 100 acres....
post #28 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Seems to me that so long as Apple is earning 0.00% on their cash hoard.

They are not earning 0% nor is it a "cash hoard".
Cash on hand as reported by corporations is cash as well as short term (less than one year) investments such as:
Money market funds
Mutual funds
U.S. Treasury securities
U.S. agency securities
Non-U.S. government securities
Certificates of deposit and time deposits
Commercial paper
Corporate securities
Municipal securities
Asset-backed securities

(from AAPL 10-Q) -> http://investor.apple.com/





Subtotal
post #29 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flaneur View Post

Not that I know what I'm talking about, but it would seem that an airspace under the solar panels would take care of that heat-absorption problem, and lead to a roof even cooler than a white one.

Airspace does not prevent heat transmission via radiation (i.e. infrared) Radiant gain is where the majority of heat gain in a roof comes from which is why I will be adding a radiant barrier (reflective foil) to my attic before this summer...
post #30 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.


That is a mission critical building and perhaps they did not want to risk the integrity of the roof with solar panels. Since that is a flat roof the panels would have to be mounted in frames and angled up towards the sun. In extreme weather with high winds large solar arrays mounted like that could act like a sail and cause huge stresses on the roof.
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post #31 of 41
For some context, they are consuming 493 million kWh a year. Not a bad first step, but a long way from 100% renewable. 25 percent of the Google's electricity came from renewable sources in 2010, so I think they're ahead, this is just a bigger single source.
post #32 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by tipoo View Post

For some context, they are consuming 493 million kWh a year. Not a bad first step, but a long way from 100% renewable. 25 percent of the Google's electricity came from renewable sources in 2010, so I think they're ahead, this is just a bigger single source.

Its not a competition....

I am happy to see both companies striving to reduce the energy costs of their server farms and sourcing more and more green energy. When you quote Google's numbers, some of that renewable is purchased from the utilities, not generated themselves. We don't know if Apple is purchasing energy from renewable utitilites, we just know they are building a large solar array which is really great to see.

I think it is interesting to see how companies are dealing with the heat generated and energies costs of this large facilities. I know the big G is opening a lot of their new server farms in cold weather climates, and even using available resouces such as a lake/heat exchanger to reduce the cost and even turn some of the heat generated back into energy. Their are so many different strategies to be used and their is no one right answer, but we need companies like Apple and Google to be leaders in green energy.

From a purely economic standpoint, it makes sense also. They are doing it on such a large scale they they it is going to cost a fraction of what it would cost me or you to put up solar panels, and they are locking in their energy costs for the next 25-30 years. And lets be honest, the cost of energy is going to do nothing but go up, so they will save more and more money as time goes on.
post #33 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by DESuserIGN View Post

While I applaud their efforts, I don't understand why they decided to clear forested land for solar arrays when they have a huge, largely empty roof on top of their data center. They could have put a significant portion of their solar cells on that roof, cleared far less land, and made their building less of a heat radiator.

From the photo I wonder if this was not a shot taken prior to completion of the facility. Usually with datacenter design the air conditioners go directly above the area to be cooled for maximum efficiency. Typically the entire roof would be covered with 1000s of tons of cooling equipment, fans electrical enclosures, walkways and the like. Unless Apple has somehow devised a way to remotely locate their cooling systems, this appears to be a photo dated prior to the installation of said equipment. Hence, there would be no room for roof mounted solar equipment in a normal installation.

There does appear to be two towers in the background which could be cooling towers or diesel fuel for emergency generators. I still think that the ac units should be located on the roof which is not the case in this photo.

EDIT: I have just searched on Google images and there are some newer photos showing the AC units on the roof.

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post #34 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Napoleon_PhoneApart View Post

Or how many squirrels jumped to their deaths from those trees.

Good riddance, I abhor the vile little beasts. Besides, they're overpopulating most areas anyway since they have so few natural predators anymore.
post #35 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by sunilraman View Post

What ~is~ interesting is that I'd wager much more people will break even within 10 years than one expects

Actually, there are very low energy costs in the Carolina's due to the 3 Nuclear Power Plants and many Hydroelectric Plants, running the numbers, I've never seen something less than 10 years payback even with tax incentives. The only way is to produce MUCH more than you consume, as the Power companies are Required to buy unused power.

So for the naysayers talking about wasting money, this may be Apple's plan. Produce more than they use and get more revenue from additional power production.
post #36 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Napoleon_PhoneApart View Post

And they still jumped?! They musta been nuts.

Better put some nets up before you cut the trees down.

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post #37 of 41
Hey if we just all killed ourselves, the whole green movement would REALLY have something to celebrate. Course then they would be dead as well.
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post #38 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by MuncyWeb View Post

Hey if we just all killed ourselves, the whole green movement would REALLY have something to celebrate. Course then they would be dead as well.

But then would that be disrupting nature since we evolved too?

I never did understand the whole "Man is changing nature for the worse" when we are part of nature!

It's like Scotty in ST IV - "How do we know he didn't invent the bloody thing?"
post #39 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post

Is it better to have the solar panels on the roof or not?

Search for Brandon Smith's comment in the comments on the Wired story.

Short version - it's not about the roof as much as whats under the roof.

Quote:
2. Is it better to replace trees with solar panels from a CO2 perspective?

Those "trees" are basically weeds. Low value biogas and certainly not the old growth rainforst some are trying to paint it as

Quote:
In this case it's harder to infer the answer just by looking at Apple's actions

No it isn't - their negligible. Will actually be a net-negative.

Quote:
Would be interesting to see some answers from someone who knows what they're talking about.

Ah, but finding someone who really does know and isn't also pushing some sort of quasi-religous agenda is the real kicker, no?
post #40 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

From what I hear, from a purely economic perspective, photovoltaic cells do not pay for themselves.

I guess if you are pretty frugal with power it would pay back allot more quickly.

Even if I barely break even in the long run, the satisfaction of watching my meter run backward would be worth it...
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