Sunday, 18 October 2009

Power to the people – solar panels power Brewster home

[Both Budleigh Salterton and Brewster boast sunny climates which are welcomed not just by sunbathers. Here in Devon, our local Lily Farm recently produced the earliest-ripening grapes of any UK vineyard, while across the Atlantic a Brewster-based company is promoting ‘green’ thinking with its development of solar power to help solve the world’s energy crisis.

This map shows that South West USA is the optimal location for reliance on the sun for electricity, but Cape Cod – even though it’s right up in the North East – ranks with Florida in being blessed with 88% of the solar capacity of central Arizona! “Cape Cod is a prime location for a Solar Energy System,” says Luke Hinkle, proprietor of My Generation Energy.
Picture credit: http://www.mygenerationenergy.com/services.htm ]

Fretting about the electric bill is but a faint memory for Rich Wolf of Brewster.

The retired electrician gazes heavenward for his source of energy.

As of last Tuesday all of his electricity is courtesy of the sun. He’s installed 43 solar panels atop his garage and roof at his home alongside quiet Myricks Pond.

“I’ve been interested in alternative energy for several years and that’s something that my wife and I could do to improve pollution and to help with energy independence for the country,” said the ex-AT&T engineer.

Healthy pitch pines shelter the house but Wolf isn’t worried about shadows short-circuiting his solar panels, thanks to state of the art technology.

“On one side the trees still shade some of it,” he conceded, “but Luke (Hinkle) has a special system. The inverter coverts DC to the AC that we use on a panel by panel basis.”

Normally a shadow will shut down all the solar energy production across the system but the panel-by-panel inverter means the other 42 panels keep producing.

“It’s sort of like with the old Christmas lights when one went out they all went out, versus parallel wiring where when one bulb goes out the rest stay burning,” Wolf recalled.

So Wolf didn’t have to lumber his lawn in order to put the panels up. The panels are on the southern side to maximize their exposure to light.

“Ideally it’s (due) south but anything southeast, southwest works almost as well,” Hinkle noted.

Hinkle runs My Generation Energy in Brewster, a solar installation and development company, and he’s done several other local homes. He put 29 panels on the garage and 14 on the house. Each one weighs 34 pounds.

“The system we put up will provide 100 percent of the electricity for the home and it’s an all-electric home with the exception of gas heat and water,” Wolf said.

The panels cover 600 square feet of roof.

“We believe this is the biggest residential installation on the Cape,” Hinkle said.
It has a 9,245-watt capacity and over a year could produce 12,000 to 13,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

“We saved room (on the roof) for a solar hot water heater and Perry Borden will be putting it up next month,” Wolf promised.

Each panel is 3 by 5 feet and produces 215 watts of electricity in full sun. Sanyo manufactures them.

“The (silicon) chips are made in Oregon and the glass is fabricated in Mexico,” Wolf said. “Each solar chip is exposed to the sun and it gives off electrons. The wires connecting the dots collect the electrons and give us the electricity. Electrons moving are called electricity. The inverter collects the electricity the panels produce.”

“There are over 3,000 individual solar cells on the roof,” Hinkle noted.

The energy isn’t stored but pumped into the grid. There are no batteries.

“Right now we are selling electricity back to NStar,” Wolf cheerfully pointed out, “because in the sunlight it makes more than I use. Tonight when it’s dark, we’ll buy electricity back from NStar.”

All of this is recorded by a net meter which can run forward and backward.

“The expectation is that over the year it will be neutral,” Wolf said.

Last Friday, after one day of operation, Wolf had supplied 20 kilowatt hours back to NStar. The panels had generated 42 KW hours. His home uses about 12,500 KW hours a year.

“The average home in the country is 16,000 KW hours,” Wolf observed.

Hinkle handles all the paperwork with NStar, permitting and inspections. Wolf, who is on the town energy committee, noted that Brewster was very helpful.

“As soon as it was installed, Rollie Bassett came out and did the inspection,” he explained.

“Brewster is very alternative energy considerate.”

“When I walk in to the building department, they say, ‘Hi Luke. How can I help you,’” Hinkle reported. “The big advantage of (home installation) is you don’t have to move the electricity far.”
If there is a power outage the solar panels also shut down. NStar doesn’t want independent power sources pumping energy into the grid when it is repairing wires.

“Residential systems start at $15,000 and go up from there,” Hinkle explained. “But they often come with incentives from the state and federal government in the form of rebates and tax credits. The people who can least afford it get the most rebates. Some of my customers will pay no tax this year because they invested in this kind of system.”

There is a 30 percent cash credit on solar and wind power from the federal government that was spread out over time but now is available in the year the system is installed.

“It will pay back itself in approximately 10 years,” said Wolf. “And the system life is 30 plus years. The benefit is a little cleaner air and a little less oil the country has to import. It’s not a quick buck, it’s an investment over time.”
Above: Luke Hinkle, left, with homeowners Ann and Rich Wolf, who are using solar power for all of their electricity needs.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.wickedlocal.com/

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