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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Living Off Solar Credits

Log home build by author provides enough solar energy and solar gain to live off during the summer and bank credits for winter use. Courtesy photos.

Alan Phenix

In 1978, the Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH) was charging customers for the construction of the Seabrook Nuclear Plant. I lived thirty miles from the plant and was very much opposed to its construction and imposition of costs on consumers. I put anti-nuke and pro-solar stickers on all my checks to PSNH. Two years later I decided to move 85 miles north to Tamworth, N.H. to get away from the plant before it went on line. I built myself a two story, 24’x32’ log home on some family land. In an effort to be as self-sufficient as possible, I added double insulation to the roof and put in large south facing windows to maximize passive solar gain. I heated with a wood stove and small propane heater in the basement. I cut three cords of wood off my property every year to keep warm, for 30 years!

Three years ago, I decided I needed a new plan to save my aging body and also to become more environmentally responsible. I contracted with Frase Electric of Sandwich, N.H. to install nineteen solar panels on my roof. It was a big decision, but one of the best I have ever made. My electric bill dropped from $40/month to basically zero, having to pay only delivery charges of $11.41/month. A whole new world of energy opportunity had opened up for me. I replaced my gas hot water heater with an electric one, having it installed with a power switch conveniently located, so I could control my usage. I quit using my propane heater. I purchased a couple of oil-filled electric radiators for night time heat upstairs, and put a small hot water tank on top of my new, more efficient wood stove. The tank was tied into my electric hot water heater. Through thermodynamics this provides tepid water for hand washing in the winter saving me from turning on the electric hot water heater. When I need to do dishes or take a shower, I turn it on for 15 or 20 minutes, and I am all set. Since I now generate my own electricity, I take longer, much more enjoyable showers, too.

A thirty-gallon water tank sitting in the sun on a summer day provides enough water for a quick shower, saving solar energy for winter use.

They say a penny saved is a penny earned. This also applies to kilowatt hours as well. During the summer months, my panels generate the power I need for heat in winter. Through net metering, I currently have 3553kWh in the bank. On October 15th, I reached a high of 4128kWh thanks to a sunny summer and outside solar showers. Let me explain. When I built my house in 1985, I planned to put a thirty-gallon solar hot water tank in my roof under a skylight, but never did. The tank sat unused for many years until last year. I installed it on a rack outside and hooked it up to my outside faucet and added a hose and shower head to the outlet end of the tank. I then mounted the head on a pole so I could take solar-heated showers. On a typical summer day, the tank would give me enough hot water for a three to four-minute shower, thus, saving me valuable electricity I would need for winter heat. My electric oil-filled radiators are nice and quiet and use about 20kWh per night, and I only use them at night, or possibly if I am away for the day. The house is always about 65-68 degrees. In the winter, the roof panels generate about 15kWh per sunny day which almost equals my radiator usage currently. At the end of last winter, on March 16, 2019, I still had 1350kWh in the bank, so I could have used my radiators more and will do so this winter as it gets colder.

Shower

So, I was told back in the beginning that it would not be possible to heat my house with my solar panels. Well, I am not convinced that is the case. I still am burning wood to stay warm, and I did buy a new, more efficient stove but having electric radiators and a good supply of electricity in the bank has made winter a lot less stressful money wise and heat wise. I say yes you CAN heat your house using solar panels.

Solar is the only way to go if you have the exposure or can hook into a group array. I see so many residential and commercial buildings with great solar exposure but no panels. What are they thinking? To me it is a no brainer. The environmental and financial benefits are indisputable. As I said, putting up solar panels was one of the best decisions I ever made. And now I see an electric car in my future, which was unthinkable before.

Alan Phenix is a self-employed craftsman and public television videographer living in Tamworth, NH. Alan is a volunteer distributor of G.E.T. in the Mt. Washington Valley for the past four years.

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