Solar energy alternative

Posted on November 10th, 2008 – 9:29 AM
By Jason Hammond

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Determining Site location for the panels.

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This device helps to measure solar viability during peak hours.
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The Kill-A-Watt device helps measure phantom consumption in your home.

With the rising costs of energy putting the pinch on many people’s disposable income, the idea of adding a supplementary energy source (that isn’t tied to the world economy) is very intriguing. This is something that we had originally thought about when our project began but based on some initial research appeared to be financially restricting so we decided against it at the time. Looking back at it, this one of he decisions I wished I would have researched more closely before writing it off. Then this past summer while doing a story on the Eco-Experience at the State fair I met Rebecca Lundberg Owner and President from Powerfully Green. They were featuring a few of the products and services they offer on the Eco-house design and I struck up a short conversation with them about what they offer.

What struck me as most intriguing about Powerfully Green was their consultative approach to solar energy installation. Instead of giving me the typical answers about rising energy costs or guilting me with some environmental responsibility statement they offered solutions to home energy consumption as key. Telling me that one of the services that they do is a site inspection and home energy audit to both assess the viability of solar as an option, but additionally to help the home owners to find ways to reduce their home energy needs. This was something I had not heard of before from the various solar installers I had talked to in the past, so I made arrangements to have an audit done for our house.

Solar site survey
Rebecca and Dan from powerfully green showed up in the later afternoon about a week ago to do the energy audit of our house. This was obviously somewhat different than the one we had done for our EnergyStar rating as it was based on our current needs and consumptions and our potential to off-set those with a solar supplement.

We started by making a trip to the roof of our house where Rebecca and Dan where they did an audit of our site. They started by measuring out the surface area of the roof and all the potential objects (vents etc.) that would be obstacles to work around. Then using a couple of different tools they determined the ideal direction for placement (straight south), and measured the solar potential of the roof during the prime between 9am and 3pm. From there we determined where the system would need to come down off the roof and into the electrical connection to provide service. In our case because we face directly south and have almost no obstructions making or house the ideal setting for both a solar water heating system as well as a photovoltaic solar energy system. After doing the solar site assessment we made our move inside to review a few of our latest energy bills and talk about proper system sizing.

Selling us knowledge
What you would normally except at this time was to get a hard sell on the size and type of system that you need, but instead what we got was quite the opposite. Instead of telling us we needed a system that would completely take us off of commercial energy dependence Rebecca and Dan advised us on ways that we could actually reduce our overall need. Using a little devise called a “Kill-a-Watt Meter” we made a trek through our house identifying devices that were carrying phantom loads. These are devices such as most cable or satellite box receivers that appear to be off to you and I, but are actually continually pulling energy into them at al times. The most surprising was our coffee maker which was taking a good 20 watts and hour when off and unbelievable 900+ watts and hour when it was on— and apparently this is quite common as Rebecca new right where to go to show us the main culprits. From there they shared with us a couple of simple tricks to manage your energy waste through the use of simple things like connecting your devices to power strips and turning the entire strip off when not needed. The Average Minnesotan uses about 815 kwh a month. By just implementing a few of these simple techniques you could easily cut that amount in half and potentially even more if you were really diligent about it. This type of awareness helped them reduce their home energy needs from about 600kwh a month to roughly 200kwh meaning a significant reduction in the size of their system and cost of their month bill to the energy company.

Sizing the system
At our house we use slightly less than the monthly average of 815 kWh a month at about 750 kWh a month. this meant that on an average day we used about 25 kWh. Every kWh per day is equal to 5 200 watt solar panels. However Rebecca recommended against installing a system that met 100% of your need. In part because it was easy to reduce your consumption but additionally because as energy becomes more of an issue more and more of your home appliances will become better at energy conservation. This means that in a few years your system would quickly become over sized for your homes needs, and you would have over invested in the technology. Instead she encouraged us to first try and reduce our use through simple conservation methods and then determine what would be a cost effective system to help supplement our energy needs.

Offering up solutions to both supplement my energy needs with a solar energy systems but more importantly to advise us on ways we could actually reduce our demand, lowering the size and cost of the system we would require by decreasing our over-all energy needs. This type genuine interest in helping me to reduce my energy consumption in an effort to decrease my costs and decrease my carbon footprint was proof to me that Powerfully Green were in this for all the right reasons and that I could trust their advisement. I don’t have plans to put in a system right now but maybe in a few years we’ll make an invest in one, for now we are working at trimming our energy needs on a daily basis.

If you’re interested in a site survey like the one we had you can contact powerfully green via their website and for a small fee they will come out and conduct an entire home audit along with generating a report of their findings for you to reference to.

One response to "Solar energy alternative"

Webdigs Blog » Blog Archive » Kill-a-Watt cool says:

November 25th, 2008 at 7:22 pm

[...] just sitting there! If you’re interested in finding out more about this, you can read the Star Tribune blog about building a green house from the ground [...]