Homegrown power!

IMG_0184Last fall, Richard and I decided that we’d get a better return on investing a portion of our savings in a photovoltaic array for our roof to generate our own electricity than in the stock market. (Who know we’d be so right.) We called up Tim Klco of Peak Solar Designs, the top contractor for photovoltaic systems in our area. He came out to our house, looked at the long expanse of steeply pitched roof facing just east of south, the perfect exposure for collecting solar energy at our latitude, and got excited. We talked about how much and when we use electricity, and he made some measurements of the roof and took away a year’s worth of our electric bills to figure out what size array we needed.
Pretty soon he came back with a system configuration, and after we talked it over, we decided to enlarge the array he’d proposed in order to generate enough power not only for the house and its attached guest apartment, but also for Richard’s shop/studio with its big woodworking machines and stone carving tools. We settled on a system that would generate a maximum of 5.4 KW of electricity, slightly over 100 percent of our current use.

Then we got the bottom line: $39,000 for the system and installation. But we’d get a hefty chunk of that (about $24,000) back as a rebate from our electric utlity, leaving us just $15,000 out of pocket. Fifteen thousand dollars is still a large chunk of change, however. We swallowed and Richard did some calculating, and in the end we decided to go for it. So we signed a contract, and Tim started the paperwork for the rebate program.

IMG_1090And then we waited. And waited. It took weeks for the electric utility to confirm that we were in the rebate program, and months for Tim to have time in his busy project schedule. Finally, last week, Tim and his installer, Edric, began attaching the racks that would hold our 24 photovoltaic panels on our steeply slanting roof. The noise overhead as they drilled through the metal roofing was heck-a-cious–I work at home–but the results were worth it: Tuesday they were back to start putting the panels on the roof.

Here they are, Edric balancing on the racks, and Tim handing up a panel. (These are the latest all-black panels from Sun Power. They’re more efficient than older panels for reasons I cannot honestly say I understand.)

Next there’s Edric doing the ballet of getting the panels
spaced properly without falling off the roof. And the two working to attach IMG_1107the wiring that carries that solar-generated power to the inverter in our garage, where it feeds into the electric grid.

 Here’s the new array itself, up on our just-east-of-south facing living room roof.

IMG_1113And best of all, when the system was turned on to test it (we’re waiting for our electric utility to sprinkle their version of holy water on the system and change out our old analog meter before we can flip the switch and finally get our power from the sun), there’s the read-out on the inverter: after just a few minutes, we were already saving CO2.

For those interested in the details, our house and guest apartment
total just under 2,400 square feet, and are heated mainly by the cement floors absorbing the low-slanting sun’s heat and a
woodstove in winter, and cooled by down-valley
breezes and ceiling fans in summer. Our appliances are
energy-efficient, and our lights all have compact fluorescent blubs.
Richard’s historic brick shop building, built in 1902 and about 1,500
square feet in size, isn’t nearly as energy efficient, but we’re
working on that.

IMG_1124Our system includes 24 Sun Power 225 black photovoltaic panels, a Sun Power 5000 inverter, a couple of lightening arrestors, the channels that hold the panels and wiring on the roof, a wireless indoor monitor that will show how much power the modules are producing at any given time–better than television for this data-head!, and all the wiring and such to connect photovoltaic modules to our house electric panel and the inverter, as well as to the power company’s meter.

So we may be poorer in terms of cash, but we’re infinitely richer in terms of our energy footprint. Thank you Tim and Edric and Sun Power, and Xcel Energy. Hooray for homegrown, local, green power!