Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Solar Thoughts About Incremental Progress

Here on the Beaver Creek homestead, our electricity has been made since 1988 using solar photovoltaic panels, or a generator when the sun is hidden by clouds.  We live off the grid so our electricity goes into batteries for use day and night, or is used directly when produced.  We make enough electricity for needs (2 kilowatts per day) between March and November.  The rest of the time a generator is run one or two hours per day to charge the batteries.  Only about 15% of our total annual residential energy needs are in the form of electricity.  The other 85% is supplied from propane, firewood, and gasoline.  Does this mean that we should not be using solar panels on the Oregon coast?  No, we need some electricity to run appliances and pumps. More importantly, we have learned how to be the power company and conservation consultants.  This knowledge has done wonders for our comprehension of energy budgets and the possibilities for rational energy use in this country.  We would not have learned this if we  had not used incremental thinking.  We also got many ideas for power systems from a magazine called Home Power.

In the new age of solar electricity, many are excited by the ‘green buzz’ about solar electricity and putting enough panels on their house to power the home.  Their systems are designed to be grid-tied and planned to push excess power into the grid during the day and get power from the grid during the night.  These systems are noble, efficient, and help the power companies avoid building new generator plants.  The home systems help their users learn about energy production, use, and conservation.  But one important ingredient is often missing in thinking and planning for them.  That is the idea that grid-tied systems can be incremental.  The whole-house systems are expensive ($20,000-50,000) and people look to tax credits to finance them.  Many systems do not leave planning stages because people think that they will not have payback, or that payback will take too long, or that they just don’t have the money.  So a stirling opportunity for learning and doing the right thing is lost.   

Instead of the whole hog approach, try the incremental approach to thinking.  Maybe you can buy one or two panels, or whatever you can afford, and grid-tie them on the house.  This is easy to do with the technology that is available today, especially if an electrician is hired to help.  The components are modular, so with proper planning more panels can be added as financing becomes available, until eventually you may be powering the whole house and some of the neighborhood.  The power company will probably buy your surplus power.    

With the installed incremental system, you can begin to monitor the balance between energy production from the sun and use in the house.  You can begin to play with energy numbers and learn what is going on with electricity in the house.  This knowledge is priceless, as it stimulates imagination, proposes new and more efficient production and use of energy, and steers onto the path of knowledgeable energy use.  We can all appreciate smart energy use these days!  Join the club and be the first on the block with some of those beautiful blue panels pumping electricity into the house and grid, one step at a time.  Don’t be afraid to take a step.  The journey of a house filled with solar power begins with one step, one panel, not necessarily the whole journey.  Even if you don’t take the first step of a solar panel, get an energy (watt) meter and monitor your uses in the house.  Start thinking about what you are doing with energy instead of sleeping through the dark night of blind energy use.  Its fun to be awake!

Posted by michael   

No comments: