About the Author

Rik DeGunther attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and Stanford University as a graduate student, studying both applied physics and engineering economics (some of this education actually stuck ). Over the course of an engineering career, he worked as a project engineer, project manager, and product designer. He holds several United States patents and has designed a wide range of technical equipment, including solar power systems, military radar jammers, weather measurement...

Accounting for anomalies

Not every drop or rise in energy usage reflects changes in your energy habits. Individual years are subject to strange weather patterns or maybe one-time-only events, such as a big wedding. Look at several years' worth of data and if you see any numbers that look out of place, try to figure out why. You may want to plot several years' worth of graphs to get a more comprehensive idea about your energy consumption. Watch out for isolated events on your bills. For example, perhaps one of Bill...

Analyzing Solar Investments

An important factor to consider when deciding how much money to earmark toward each investment is the risk profile. Some investments entail more risk than others. A bank is much safer than the stock market, for example. When an investment entails more risk, it needs to offer more of a chance for gain to offset the increased risk. The following sections outline a system for analyzing solar investments. The goal is to compare different investment options using the same criteria of costs, gains,...

Appliances and utilities

You've got a much better selection of energy-saving devices today than you had just a few years ago. Obviously, you want to install energy-efficient appliances, heating and cooling equipment, lighting, and other active devices. You should use the smallest HVAC system possible for the amount of square footage in your home. And install ceiling fans in the rooms where you spend a lot of time. They save money and look good in the way they break up a ceiling (see Chapter 13). A stove, whether gas,...

Battery types

A wide range of different battery types are available, each with different performance characteristics and varying costs. Battery technology is changing very fast, and new types are constantly coming onto the market. It's impossible to describe the myriad types here. If you need batteries, contact any dealer, such as Real Goods at www.realgoods.com, and ask for technical assistance. By far, lead-acid batteries offer the best performance versus cost for large energy-storage applications. These...

Calculating needs

Table 18-1 shows the sample power load for the California cabin (see Chapter 2 for a list of typical power draws for different household loads). Table 18-1 shows the sample power load for the California cabin (see Chapter 2 for a list of typical power draws for different household loads). Energy Consumption in an Off-Grid Home With this chart, you can do some of the following calculations for your load analysis. To calculate the last column, simply multiply the first two columns. Adjustment for...

Checking out a sample electric bill

The best way to illustrate how to do an energy survey is to use Bill Toomuch as an example. Figure 2-1 shows a typical sample from Bill Toomuch's utility bills. Here's a list of some of his energy costs His utility company is PG& E, in Northern California. He uses 3 gallons of gasoline a month in lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and so on. That's around 8 per month, year round. He uses 15 per month in propane for his barbecue, and because he's in sunny California, the usage is consistent over the...

Contents at a Glance

Part J Playing the Energy Chapter 1 Helping the World through Solar Chapter 2 Surveying Your Household Energy Efficiency and Use 19 Chapter 3 Making Your Home Energy Part JJ Understanding Solar Just the Facts, Ma'am 59 Chapter 4 Working with Solar Chapter 5 Evaluating Your Solar Chapter 6 Calculating Payback on Your Solar Chapter 7 Installing Your Solar and Medium-Sized Chapter 8 Digging In to Landscape Chapter 9 Jumping In to Small Projects with Big Chapter 10 Heating and Purifying Chapter 11...

Creating a Simple Homemade System

A simple homemade solar pool-heating system, as shown in Figure 11-4, performs ideally, and you can build it entirely on your own. You lower the submersible pump into the pool water so it'll always be primed. The pump runs off the 12VDC that the PV module supplies. The amount of water the pump passes through the solar collector panel depends entirely on how much sunlight is incident on the PV module At night, the pump doesn't run at all. On cloudy days, the pump runs slowly. When it's sunniest,...

Diving In to Swimming Pool Projects

Checking out the pros and cons of swimming pool-solar heaters Increasing your pool's energy efficiency Considering simple and complex heating systems and doing some projects lmost everyone wants to conserve energy and help reduce greenhouse gases. Certain energy expenditures, such as driving, heating, and lighting, are just plain necessary for most people (although you can still reduce them). Others, including swimming pool heat, are entirely optional creature comforts. If you adopt the energy...

Effort and upkeep

Making good decisions about solar power can be difficult unless you've done your homework. And not only do you have to do some research, but you also have to work with the equipment itself. Here are some issues to consider You face some dangers. Active systems can shock you if you don't know what you're doing. Water heating systems can scald you. You're much safer sitting in front of your TV than climbing around installing solar equipment. You face equipment challenges...

Energy prices and utility rates

The future outlook of energy prices may be the single biggest factor in how much you choose to invest in a PV system. When a PV system contractor estimates your system needs and the amount of money you'll save, he or she will make an assumption on the increase in energy costs (usually around 7 percent per year, which in this age of political uncertainty seems rather conservative). If you think it's going to be more than that, tell the contractors, and they can use your numbers in their computer...

Erasing your carbon footprint

The worst offender is coal, and the United States gets around 50 percent of its electrical power from coal-fired plants. Your carbon dioxide footprint is a measure of how much carbon dioxide you're releasing into the environment by virtue of your energy-consuming habits. A typical carbon dioxide footprint is around 36,000 pounds (18 tons) per year. That's a lot Solar, however, has no carbon footprint. For each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy-generating capacity...

Evaluating Your Hardware

As with any hardware, you can nitpick the details and dissect the performances of individual components in order to compare operations and efficiencies. But if you purchase your system from a quality contractor, the staff will have chosen the best equipment for you simply because it's in their best interest. (You don't need the technical details, but if you want to study them, get data sheets from the contractors and go for it.) Reliability is of utmost importance, but you can't get this from a...

Exploring home energy ratings

A less-traditional option of financing your major solar project is through an energy-efficient financing program, but your home has to qualify for the program. To qualify, you need to have your home audited and rated by a licensed expert. He or she will do an energy audit (see Chapter 2) and write a report that estimates annual energy use and costs. You can also expect some recommendations for improvements that you'll have to implement as a loan-approval condition. To get the best loan terms,...

Following design and building tips

A do-it-yourselfer can design and build a solar room for a relatively low cost, with relatively low risk. You don't need electrical wiring or plumbing, and you don't need to obey all the building code requirements that are unavoidable inside of a house. You can work through a project without having to apply for building permits or to have the property value reappraised (with the commensurate increase in property taxes). Simply build the room against the house, but don't actually connect it to...

In this part

Although solar energy is responsible W for what grows on trees, it's not money, so you have to look elsewhere. Fortunately, you can find a lot of sources, particularly within government agencies, that are interested in promoting solar power. In this part, I show you how to do Internet research for potential sources of subsidies, tax breaks, rebates, and the like. And I give some good advice on how to work with banks and other financial institutions when the time comes to apply...

Installing a PV System in a Nutshell

You don't want to hurry your decision-making, so expect the entire process of installing a full-scale PV system to take 90 days or more. Too much money is at stake, and you want to make sure that you're doing everything just right. There are also delays inherent in getting building permits, rebate approvals, and so on. One hundred twenty days is more realistic, and if you're truly serious about conserving and altering your energy consumption patterns, you can expect the process to take six...

Location Location Orientation

Everybody's heard the realtor's favorite maxim, Location, location, location. With solar power, this consideration becomes slightly modified, and orientation becomes a critical factor. You're going to have to be a lot more fussy about your lot when you build a solar house. You want a piece of land that allows you to orient your house with a good southern exposure for PV panels and water heating collectors, and also for windows, sunrooms, and living spaces. On some lots, this is very difficult...

Looking for Sustainable Energy

The words renewable and sustainable are being knocked around quite a bit, and both are strongly associated with energy conservation. Renewable forms of energy constantly replenish themselves with little or no human effort. Solar energy is just one example no matter how much you use, the supply will never end (okay, it may end after billions of years, but your using solar power won't make the sun burn out any faster). Other examples of renewables include firewood, water (through hydroelectric...

Making Your Swimming Pool Efficient

Boosting the efficiency of your swimming pool is an important first step. Here's how to make your swimming pool energy efficient so that when you add solar, you get the most bang for your buck 1 Reduce bends in the piping. Sharp bends in the piping slow down the flow and require more power to do the same job. Unfortunately, many pool installers completely fail this simple requirement. If your pipes are all over the place, rebuild the system PVC is a cinch to work with. 1 Make sure that all...

Paying Attention to Your Pocketbook

Solar projects can cost thousands of dollars, but you can find ways to harness sun power on almost any budget. Chapter 6 can help you figure out costs in the long run, and Part VI of this book explains some funding options for the larger projects. Here, I lay out initial costs. Table 7-1 gives you an idea of what you can do, given your budget. Blinds, drapes, ceiling fans, sunscreens Home security system with great comedic potential Automatic awning for a patio, porch, or picture window...

Pursuing energy efficient mortgages

There are two types of energy efficient mortgages (EEMs) those for either new or existing homes. You can obtain one of these loans for a new home, an existing home, or a refinance. The advantage is a lower interest rate, which is subsidized by the federal government. Here's a quick breakdown of who's providing what, but keep in mind that I'm talking about the government, so terms and programs are subject to change at a lawmaker's whim Fannie Mae The Federal National Mortgage Association...

Red tape and aesthetically minded neighbors

You may have to work around building codes. Bureaucrats are a big hassle, and interfacing with government agencies is frustrating. In addition, only qualified contractors should install complex electrical systems. Also, most solar panels are ugly. Nobody wants to look at them. If they're your own and you're benefiting, it's acceptable. If they belong to your neighbors, it's a different story. In some communities, solar panels are forbidden. Many CC& Rs prohibit solar panels altogether, but...

Researching All the Subsidy Options

Things are changing so fast that it's impossible to keep up with all the government programs. I can only point you in the right direction and give you a nudge. Your job is to poke around and get all the details for yourself. Here's how to research the subject further i Talk to your tax preparer. Tax preparers should be versed in the details of solar tax credits, but if not, they can still access the information sources they need to process your rebates and tax credits. Solar is relatively new,...

Smallscale PV systems Using just a modest amount of power

For 1,000, you can get a solar power system big enough to run anything in your house aside from the major appliances. You can power a home office, where you may be able to write off some costs as a business expense. Or use a solar power system in a remote cabin or a boat cabin or an RV. (For info on large-scale PV systems, see Chapter 17.) About 1,000 can get you 500 watt hours, or > 2 kWh, or a 60-watt light bulb for 8 hours. This is plenty of power to run an office or all the equipment...

Starting on the design from the outside

Probably the most important factor for getting the most solar bang when building a house is to orient your house in the right direction on the property. The long axis of the house should run east to west for the greatest southern exposure. The front of the house can face south or north. Up to 20 degrees off true south will work well enough. If you've got a squared-shaped house, then you will want to put the family room and kitchen on the southern front to maximize your solar exposure. The other...

Surveying Your Household Energy Efficiency and

Analyzing your monthly energy costs Comparing your energy use to a typical household Looking into your energy consumption Performing energy audits in your home love moving forward and getting things done because I'm impatient and I want to see some results. I like pounding nails and gluing stuff together (although I don't like pounding my thumb, or gluing my pants to the workbench). But before you start the fun stuff, you need to do a little research first. Why Investing in solar energy is...

Taking advantage of your lots features

When you plan to build a solar house, you want to find the right lot first, and then get busy on the blueprints. You don't want to commit to a particular house design, and then insist on finding a lot that will bear it out. Each lot will support a different style of house with a layout that maximizes views, breezes, landscaping, and so on. So your house design should be a function of the lot. You can take advantage of many of the existing features of your lot as you design your house. When you...

The Different Types of Subsidies

Governments have recognized the value of solar energy, especially in achieving a more pollution-free energy consumption. Plus, solar power has the potential to free North America from reliance on foreign oil, which is desirable from a political stability standpoint. (Getting oil from the Mideast creates a lot of problems.) Governments also recognize the marginal nature of a solar investment, and they've resolved to do something on the cost end of the equation (some politicians may claim to be...

Understanding Why Solar Is King

Solar power has historically been more expensive than other energy options, but that's changing fast because of government investment in technologies, as well as the simple fact that many more people are investing in solar, which results in economies of scale. Solar energy equipment increases your financial standing in basically two ways 1 Savings on your monthly bills. 1 Appreciation of your home's value. The following sections cover reasons why solar is a great investment, both financially...

Up up and away with the chimney effect

When air heats, it becomes lighter in weight. Cold air weighs more, and hence gravity exerts a larger force on it. So the hot air rises, making the air in a room warmer near the ceiling than the floor. The phenomenon is called the chimney effect because of the way smoke goes up a chimney above a burning fire instead of spreading out into the room. Cold air is drawn into the fire, and the hot air rises quickly up the chimney. The air movement is brisk and consistent because the effect is...

Working with different utility rate structures

If you've ever taken a good look at your power bill, you've noticed that utilities don't speak plain language. Most utilities are publicly regulated companies, which means that their rules of operation are essentially determined by legislators. Low-income customers get subsidies farmers get special rates and residential, commercial, and industrial customers all have different rate structures. What this boils down to a very complicated network of rate structures. But in order to understand...

Working with RV appliances

Small appliances for RVs, boats, and camping are widely available, and any of these work with 12VDC solar power systems. You may even be able to run some appliances without batteries, which makes things a lot cheaper and easier. Heaters don't care how the power looks (it can fluctuate, the voltages and currents can change, there can be ripples galore) how much heat you can generate is all that matters. Fans may blow directly from a PV module the more sun, the harder the fan pushes. Water pumps...

Capacity and efficiency

Battery capacity is a measure of how much total energy a battery can hold. Ratings come in amp-hours (Ah). To get the total energy capacity, simply multiply this number by the voltage. Thus, a 100 Ah battery at 12 volts yields 1.2 kilowatt-hours of energy. In general, the larger the battery capacity, the larger and heavier the battery is. However, the faster you pull the charge out of a battery, the lower the capacity, so the capacity is really useful only for comparing different batteries....

Considering higher costs and maintenance

Chapter 17 details PV electrical generating systems connected to the grid (intertie systems). One of the major reasons for installing such a system is that it lets you sell your excess power back to the utility company. The bottom line is that an intertie system operates at 100 percent of its productive capacity because someone is always using energy as it's being created. Off-grid solar power systems provide electrical power, but it's relatively expensive. When you install an off-grid solar PV...

Directing traffic with controllers

A solar blanket for your swimming pool is controlled by applying the blanket or retracting it. You're the controller. Other solar water heaters, however, require temperature controllers that are a little more high-tech. Take a look i A collector connected to your pool pump works whenever the pump is working. The controllers are electric clocks that cycle every 24 hours you adjust the mechanical position of offand on tabs. i Domestic water heater systems often use an electronic controller that...

Solar panels

Climbing around on roofs is statistically the most dangerous part of any installation. Injuries can be severe, maybe even fatal. Do you belong up on a roof Not just climbing around, but pulling heavy weights and tools and going back and forth a lot If you have a flimsy ladder, you're asking for big trouble. After all, solar panels are heavy and awkward. (Imagine hoisting a heavy piece of plywood around in the wind while you're balancing on a roof, and you get the idea.) Solar water heating...

Battery power Charging up your life

PV modules are ideal for charging batteries. The electronics are minimal, and the costs are low because of it. Got an old truck, car, or RV that sits around and doesn't get started very often How about a boat If they've been giving you problems starting, a solar charger may be a very cheap and effective solution. When a vehicle sits around without being started up for a while, its battery grows weak. If the battery is old, it's even worse. For 40, you can get a solar battery charger. A PV...

Battery Chargers

If you use a lot of batteries, you can drastically cut back on battery costs by using rechargeable batteries in conjunction with a solar charger. And I'm not only talking about the standard household batteries, either. You can get solar chargers for vehicle batteries, notebook computer batteries, and small appliances. Using these devices gives you a very good lesson on PV technology because you'll need to locate the PV panel in a good, sunny spot to get the most juice into your battery.

Understanding Off Grid Ramifications

You have choices when you go off-grid. Propane works well for heating and cooking and refrigeration. Wood stoves are popular for remote houses and cabins because there's usually a ready supply of firewood. But at some point, you're going to want to plug in your television, and the choices are more limited. Gas-powered generators are inexpensive and can put out a lot of power when needed. But they're noisy, cumbersome, and smelly, and they pollute quite a bit. If you're out in the middle of...

Plugging In to the Grid with a Full Scale PV System

Understanding the benefits of large-scale PV systems Knowing how net metering works Looking at the components of a large-scale PV system Figuring out payback Contracting and getting the job done properly installing a full-scale intertie system at your home is the king of solar investments. You can offset your entire electric bill, at essentially zero pollution. The cost is high, more than 8,000 anywhere up to 100,000. For some, it's a simple decision because the main goal is to eliminate...