A solar epiphany

Energy Smarts article coverLooks like we spoke too soon. Financing is taking longer than expected, so we probably won’t close for another two weeks.

In the meantime, I’m reading up on electrical work and solar panels. Electricity is so cheap in Indiana that it’s hard to justify the expense of solar panels, especially given the other things we could be spending money on (like an electric scooter or a metal roof). There also aren’t any local subsidies for photovoltaics, although the federal subsidy is nice.

I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that it’ll be best for us to start small and work our way up. Maybe put some solar panels on the garage to run the lights and stuff there. Of course, even that’ll need a pricey connection to the grid or an equally pricey battery system. If we do eventually get an electric scooter, it might be worth it to set up a solar system to charge that, since we’ll already have the batteries.

Even so, I still like to read about whole-house solar conversions. That particular article, about a couple in Vancouver who set up a whole-house system, was interesting and even inspirational! It lays out the steps they took and the cost of all of the components (in Canadian and US dollars). Their overall cost was about $10,000 (US), which seemed low compared to the systems I’ve priced before.

After getting curious and reading the article, rather than skimming the tables and pictures, I realized that it’s because getting solar panels wasn’t their first step. The first thing they did was to reduce their electrical usage to 3kW/day. That’s a little less than 1100kW a YEAR. At our electric prices, that would be about $80 a year. We spend more than that per month!

Okay, that’s not quite a fair comparison since our current place is heated by an electric furnace. Even in the summer, we spend about $60, which amounts to about 12kW/day. In addition to the energy saving techniques that we use (CFLs, air drying clothes, etc.), this couple replaced their old appliances. replacing those appliances reduced their electrical needs by 78%! If we could manage that kind of reduction, we’d be using less than 3kW a day as well.

While we’re still in the apartment, we can’t change appliances. It’s hard to know what to expect when we move into the house. Many of the appliances seem pretty old, so we might be able to cut our usage down to 3kW or less. On the other hand, it’s a lot more space to heat and cool and I’m not sure the ceilings are high enough to install ceiling fans.

In any case, I’ve decided to shift my focus from solar panels to efficient appliances. Reducing our consumption is a lot easier than trying to power it all with solar!

And I fully expect frequent commenter Andy to chip in with an I-told-you-so. He’s been saying the same thing for a while and it just hadn’t clicked for me. I may be slow, but I do get there in the end, Andy! 🙂

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andy said,

    June 27, 2008 @ 8:11 am

    Ha, I’m glad you had an epiphany! Let me tell you about a few other things…
    Photovoltaics are actually a lot less efficient in terms of money spent for non-renewable resources saved than many other steps you can take. Depending on the house, there are many renovations (especially with attic space) that can make heating and cooling much less energy hogging.
    Solar thermal water preheaters are four times more efficient than photovoltaics by the price. Depending on how much hot water you use, and if you make a solar shower anyway, this would be something to consider. I know many states have great rebates for about half the cost, and you can check the dsire website to find details. http://www.findsolar.com is a great resource for pricing systems for either solar type for specific locations too.
    Using less energy should always be the first step though! My first electric bill came to 6kWh/day average for the two of us, which apparently is 18% of the NY average. I still thought that was a lot, but this apartment has electric everything. I think one of our major energy savers is leaving the water heater off, and then using it for about 45 minutes will give enough hot water for 2 showers and then we turn it off again. Otherwise the thing is making water hot even if we aren’t using it! So using less water doesn’t help much if we still heated it.

    I’m trying to catch up on blogs… my company just launched Wednesday and it has been amazingly hectic! One member called me yesterday and said I was in a short video clip which was played on nation CNN coverage the other day!

    Good luck on closing on the house. No matter which green steps you run with, I think you’ll find that having a place that is yours will make all of those much much much easier to accomplish!


  2. 2

    Will said,

    June 27, 2008 @ 6:35 pm

    Good point about PV, Andy. Here in IN, I think the most practical heating/cooling technology is a geothermal heat pump, especially with the state rebates. Once we have this house, it’s something we’ll look into more closely.

    Congrats on your company’s launch! I look forward to hearing how it goes now that you’re public!

    Yeah, we’re looking forward to being able to do things like turn off the water heater (it’s hard-wired here)!

  3. 3

    Andy said,

    June 27, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

    It’s hard wired here too, I flip the switch in the breaker box which I can access easily though.

    Forgot about geothermal! oops. There are so many solutions isn’t it wonderful?

  4. 4

    Creating an electrical budget | GreenCouple.com said,

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