Solar Power (part 2)

Written by peterkienle on January 3, 2009

(continued from part 1)

Alex, my solar assessor – his company is Solar Systems of Indiana – came over one cold winter day early 2008 with his Solar Pathfinder and a device called a Kill-A-Watt. The Solar Pathfinder is used to determine the best place on your property for a solar installation and how much sunlight you can actually harvest taking into consideration stuff like tree line and geographical location. The Kill-A-Watt is such a good investment that I got one myself and it makes the rounds through my friends’ houses. Do you know how much electricity your refrigerator uses in a day? Your computer? (with all attachments such as external drives and scanners etc. on?) How about your waterbed? Or your cell phone charger (which you probably leave plugged in even while you carry your cell phone around with you)? Even though I have been frugal in my power use all my life (and believe me, my wife and kids hate me for being after them all the time to turn the lights off when they leave the room), after Alex had measured the power usage of some stuff in my house I was able to cut back even more. In retrospect, the sheer process of measuring this stuff, and learning as you go, how much it costs to build power plants, etc. makes you very conscious about waste – and that’s a good thing.

Of course being the only Solar Assessor in my state means that this guy is busy. After his visit to my house he prepared a report for me. Pretty detailed. It turned out that my property had potential if we mounted the panels in the front yard on the ground or on a post – not on the roof. There are other considerations with roof mounting, especially penetration and possible weight issues. In the time from the assessment until Alex finally located some free time to start the actual planning of the installation (around June 2008) I went to a seminar at Indiana University dealing with many aspects of home solar technology. I learned a lot and thought for a while that I might actually learn some more, take a weekend seminar in Wisconsin, get certified and become the second Solar Assessor in Indiana. It didn’t go that way.

I spent most of July in Germany and then August, back home, writing down my energy usage to determine the base load to be able to size the system we were going to get. Base load is essentially all your power users which are on all the time such as refrigerator, computers, whatever. In the hot Indiana Fall, with the geothermal doing the AC,  I was able to determine the base load at just around one kilowatt. Then we started to devise a system.

  • 1)  We never had plans to go off the grid. I didn’t want an over sized six kilowatt solar array ($60,000) and a truckload of lead-acid batteries in the basement and then still face the possibility of running out of juice in the middle of February because of lack of sunlight.
  • 2) While utilities in Indiana are required to pay retail for what you overproduce and feed back into the grid our power supplier is a Co-op and they do not have to do that. They pay wholesale rates. So too much overproduction was not feasible. This pretty much sized our system at 1.2KW. Six panels, pole mounted, in the front of the house.

Then, in late September, came the $15,000 shopping list to the supplier. And early October Alex showed up at my house with a shovel and said: “Let’s dig!”

(to be continued)

Copyright © by Peter Kienle