Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Own a Piece of the Sun

Tensions are rising in the Middle East as oil-powered dictatorships unravel. Gas prices at the pump are the highest they have ever been this time of year. The new coal-fired Edwardsport power plant may drive up electric rates by double digits over the next five years. Extraction, refining, shipping and combustion of fossil fuels degrade our health and the regenerative capacity of the natural systems that keep us alive. If only we had an alternative to our deadly addiction to fossil fuels.

Enter the sun, a fusion nuclear reactor safely parked 93 million miles away that each hour bathes the earth in enough free energy to equal all the energy used by man in a year. The amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet each year is about twice as much as will ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources of coal, oil, natural gas and mined uranium combined.

You can grab your piece of this free energy bonanza with off-the-shelf hardware to power your home and electric automobile. For about the cost of an in-ground pool or cinema room or speedboat bobbing at the marina, your home and car can become your own power plant and vehicle fueling station.

Solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity with no moving parts and they are typically guaranteed for at least 25 years. Electricity from a solar array can be used in the home and any excess can be sold back to the utility company at the same price you pay for it. Your utility provides a credit for excess power you produce that can be applied to months when the meter is spinning in their favor. Lincoln Heritage Public Library’s 2400-square-foot Chrisney branch library, in Spencer County, is completely powered by the sun and it produces about 1800 kilowatt-hours more electricity than it uses each year with its 8.9-kilowatt solar array. They have never paid an electric bill. The all-electric building is heated and cooled using a ground-source heat pump with two vertical wells.

A well-insulated, energy efficient three-bedroom home with ground-source heat pump can be designed in Bloomington to be net-zero-energy with an 8.5-kilowatt solar array with enough extra juice to charge an electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf, for 12,000 miles per year.

The electric car would require about three 200-watt panels, which would add about $2000 to the system. Compare this investment to the cost of fuel for a conventional compact car driven an average 12,000 miles per year getting 30 miles-per-gallon at $3-per-gallon and you get an annual fuel cost of $1200 for a conventional vehicle, not including oil changes. In other words, sometime during the second year, you would break even and your fuel is free for the next 23 plus years of the guaranteed life of the solar panels. If gas stays at $3 per gallon for the next 25 years, you would realize $30,000 in fuels savings and smile past the gas pump over 1000 times.

Net cost for a net-zero-energy home and car solar power system described above would be about $47,600 after the 30% federal tax credit. This example would allow you to sell approximately $2200 worth of solar renewable energy certificates and keep about 14,500 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere each year.

Solar panels may not be as sexy as that swimming pool, cinema room or speedboat, but the payback on investment is much greater and the peace of mind you will experience for the next 25 years of energy independence will be priceless.

1 comment:

Woodie Bessler said...

Really well summarized and said!!!
I could not agree more.
I would only add that for between $2500 to $12000, a person can convert a 2004 (or newer) Prius into a plug-in Prius, and for local driving, be nearly 100% electric too, without having to buy a new Leaf...
Woodie Bessler
EE, and SIREN volunteer