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My First Year With Solar

One engineer’s experience with switching to solar power at home

12 min read
A crew from REC Solar installs solar panels on the roof of the author’s garage.
Photo: Steven Johnson

I’ve long toyed with the idea of getting solar panels. My house in Boulder, Col., is perfectly situated: It has a south-facing asphalt shingle roof, including the roof over the four-car garage, and being a relatively new house, it has few trees to block the sun. Boulder, located just east of the continental divide and about 50 kilometers from Denver, gets an amazing amount of sun: an average of 157 sunny days and 184 partly sunny days each year, according to the Colorado Climate Center.

But whenever I tried to crunch the numbers—the cost of the equipment, the cost of installation and maintenance, the eventual payback, rebates, and so on—solar never seemed financially viable. In part that’s because electricity rates in Colorado are dirt cheap. Until just recently, rates were a flat US $0.12 per kilowatt-hour. In California, by contrast, tiered rates start at 11.9 cents/kWh and can climb as high as 49.8 cents/kWh. I figured solar would at most save me about $1000 per year in electricity, so how could I justify installing a $40 000 system?

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Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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Computing With Chemicals Makes Faster, Leaner AI

Battery-inspired artificial synapses are gaining ground

5 min read
Array of devices on a chip

This analog electrochemical memory (ECRAM) array provides a prototype for artificial synapses in AI training.

IBM research

How far away could an artificial brain be? Perhaps a very long way off still, but a working analogue to the essential element of the brain’s networks, the synapse, appears closer at hand now.

That’s because a device that draws inspiration from batteries now appears surprisingly well suited to run artificial neural networks. Called electrochemical RAM (ECRAM), it is giving traditional transistor-based AI an unexpected run for its money—and is quickly moving toward the head of the pack in the race to develop the perfect artificial synapse. Researchers recently reported a string of advances at this week’s IEEE International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM 2022) and elsewhere, including ECRAM devices that use less energy, hold memory longer, and take up less space.

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Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Modeling and simulation in Simulink and Simscape

1 min read
Designing Fuel Cell Systems Using System-Level Design

Design and simulate a fuel cell system for electric mobility. See by example how Simulink® and Simscape™ support multidomain physical modeling and simulation of fuel cell systems including thermal, gas, and liquid systems. Learn how to select levels of modeling fidelities to meet your needs at different development stages.