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Confessions of a renewable energy guy

by Reed White, Colorado Energy Master
HUERFANO — Even though I have been interested in alternative energy for decades, I never did a serious project. Instead I read every “Home Energy” magazine, cover to cover. This gave me a warm feeling while I did nothing of substance.
When the cost of solar electric panels fell to the amazing low of $1.00/watt this winter, I realized I could no longer be an armchair renewable energy guy. I needed to begin the project.
My electrical engineering background fueled my obsession. I could not suppress thoughts about designing a solution for people who cannot afford many thousands of dollars, but who do care about reducing carbon emissions and reducing their energy bill.
But, why a system that is different from the norm? San Isabel Electric charges $200 in startup fees and $27.89/month for the right to do a “grid-tie” hookup. The cost of electrical modifications to house wiring can be even more shocking. Sadly, due to such utility fees, the grid-tie option would be a money-looser for small solar electric generators. Therefore, I decided my prototype would not back-feed the power grid, and it would be useable without modifications to house wiring.
The resulting system cost me $1000 in parts. During the day, the sun powers loads including an entertainment center, computer gear, and selected lighting. When the sun is down or obscured, it automatically switches to using power from the grid. It also functions as an uninterruptible power source. Even if the power grid fails, the system continues to provide power. Furthermore, without missing a beat, it continues providing power from the sun at daybreak.
Is this really practical? Honestly, there are better investments such as an outdoor clothesline or installing insulation over an uninsulated ceiling. That said, renewable energy projects can now have attractive payback times, especially with rebates. And, as energy rates go up, payback time goes down.
A major benefit for me has been personal satisfaction. True, a solar-electric project is not for everyone. But, imagine the benefits to the grand-kids if everyone took action to reduce carbon emissions while saving dollars along the way. Anyone interested in this project can email for more information.