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Solar power...
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Laurence Daniels
(GNR) - F

Locale: Boston
Solar power... on 03/02/2006 15:39:48 MST Print View

I'm looking to get into partially or fully powering my home with either wind or solar power...although the net has lots of companies to choose from, does anyone here have any experience with one or more companies who make solar panels or windmills for individual homes? Thanks.

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Solar power... on 03/02/2006 22:51:54 MST Print View


You might consider looking into "Home Power Magazine". Its all about solar, wind, and microhydro electricity.

You might also want to look into and

Considering this is the subforum for "Unrelated to any of the forums above. No rules regarding the topic. Opinions, politics... you name it." I hope no one blows a gasket that someone responded to you.

Good luck.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 09:00:19 MST Print View

Interesting post. I didn't expect to see this on a backpacking forum.

Ironically, I found it interesting. I'm looking into the same thing.

Sometimes the "ultralight" philosophy permeates other aspects of life application, this may be a case in point.

What I need to do is move my house 30 degrees so one of my rooflines faces south.

Jason Shaffer
(PA_Jay) - F

Locale: on the move....
Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 09:23:47 MST Print View

Hey guys,
I've been poking around at sustainable housing topics for a while. Montana residents may have already heard of Thomas J. Elpel, a resident expert and author. My interest has been in more low-tech / passive solar designs, integrated heat and hot water, also slipform masonry, etc. But all are applicable to some fairly upscale architecture as well. Not exactly solar cell technology, moreso integrated-design concepts, but worth a good look. Check out every book and article listed here, many are superb:

Edited by PA_Jay on 03/03/2006 09:29:00 MST.

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 11:46:29 MST Print View

My wife and I have plans to one day build a small cabin in the woods, probably up around Rocky Mtn National Park.

Ive found Thosmas Elpels book on home building to be very educational, and most of the cabin floorplans Ive sketched out have made use of many of his ideas.

Some other authors/books that have some interesting thoughts on the subject of Low-E home design are Rob Roy (cordwood homes, big proponenet of thermal mass), James Kachadorian who wrote "the passive solar home", Daniel D. Chiras who authored "The Solar House: Passive Heating and Cooling" and "The Natural House: A Complete Guide to Healthy, Energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes".

Using some of the ideas from the above authors Ive come up with a design that produces a house roughly 1000sq ft, Is earth bermable and super insulated (with haybales and rockwool). Has extremely high thermal mass. Integrates "winter greenhouses" in all south and east facing windows, and has an integrated radiant heating system embedded into the Elpel-esqe masonry stove.

If prices stay roughly the same in 5 years as they are currently, the above house should cost less than $15,000 to complete, owner built.

Until the time comes that we can get that cabin built, our state has a system in place where if we install a natural energy production system (like Solar) we can tie that directly into the grid and sell excess energy to the power company. The grid becomes a power redundancy so we arnt bound only to the power we produce, but if we use less than we produce, the meter runs backward - reducing or even eleminating our electric bill. If we got REALLY lucky, the power company would cut US a check on the 1st of the month... but Im not holding my breath there LOL. has the "low down" on tie-in electricity.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 11:51:58 MST Print View

Joe, just curious, why not west for the greenhouses too? Is the afternoon sun less important for the plants that you would grow, or are there trees and mountains reducing the amount afternoon sunlight where your cabin will be situated?

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 12:30:27 MST Print View

I'm speaking from experience here -- I spent a year living off the grid.

The first thing I'd say, is you had better be willing to make substantial lifestyle changes. Unless you are willing to spend a lot of money, you are likely going to be using a propane refrigerator, a propane dryer (or the nearest coin-op laundry), and good luck on a toaster too. That isn't to say it can't be done, but a lot of conventional appliances aren't exactly compatible with solar.

Cooking on propane is better anyway, so that isn't as big a sacrifice.

Inverters produce very clean electric power, which is great for computers. Small backup generators, though, produce outrageously dirty power. The bigger four-cylinder ones that can run off of propane are way more expensive but also a much better choice (also lower maintenance).

I'd wire your house so a lot of lights are twelve volt (mostly because the inverter has a noticable efficiency cost), and have dial-timers instead of actual switches on most lights, especially those in closets or the bathroom. Leaving two or three lights on in closets can drain your batteries surprisingly fast. Also you will quickly discover that a lot of things draw electricity even when they shouldn't -- probably the most guilty parties these days are battery chargers -- between cell phones, cameras, laptop computers, and the like you can expect to draw a lot of power just for those. The best bet is to have a separate circuit with outlets that are only on when the sun is shining and the batteries are fully charged -- you can program most inverters to do this.

Batteries are a whole other topic. For most people that is the highest-maintenance part of the system (usuallly at least once a month, and depending on how well you baby them complete replacement from every three to every ten years.

Intertie systems are a good compromise. However, you need to really really read the fine print on the contract with the power company. Most are written in such a way that it is almost impossible for them to ever write a check to you.

At northern latitudes like Montana and here in washington, you also have to deal with the fact that days are quite a bit shorter in the winter. I found that after three cloudy days in a row I had to run the generator for a couple of hours to charge up the batteries (it didn't help that it was way more likely to be cloudy in December and January than it was in July).

You need to be mechanically inclined and a bit of a tinkerer to make these systems work. Generators have pretty substantial maintenance requirements, as do batteries. Expect to futz around programming the inverter to get things just right, and you'lll probably end up with a different optimum setting for winter months than summer.

Oh, and never fall asleep with your tv on...

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 12:33:21 MST Print View

Paul, In that area, theres only a SE exposure if you want any sort of sunlight at all. With the design Ive got, a person COULD run a 360 greenhouse. In fact, by running some of the radiant heating lines ouside into a north facing section of the hypothetical 360 greenhouse, a person COULD have a low light hot box for starting seeds or growing shade plants year round.

Edited by RavenUL on 03/05/2006 17:26:03 MST.

(RavenUL) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 12:36:57 MST Print View

"The first thing I'd say, is you had better be willing to make substantial lifestyle changes."

At least for me.... thats the point.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 12:54:50 MST Print View

Go for it Joe. I'm envious of you already.

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
Re: Re: Re: Solar power... on 03/03/2006 18:41:23 MST Print View

Ryan, you can mount your panels away from the house for the correct of the things I do is retrofit forest service campsites with grundfos solar powered pumps for water, we do mount them on raised stands for snow clearance.

Robert Cooley
(robert.cooley) - F
Solar Power Is Great! on 03/04/2006 10:15:07 MST Print View

David Bonn is coorrect if we were living 10 tears ago. I have done the propane refrigerator and generator power system. It works very well and settling into my remote 10 acres was wone of the best times ikn my life.

Today I generate more power than I consume using photovoltaic panels on my roof. I have had no down time in the past 3 years. If you choose to use a battery backup be sure to use Saft flooded NiCd's. Where regular deep cycle systems have a 350 cycle life Saft batteries have in exccess if 2200 cycle lives.

Good Luck...

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Solar Power Is Great! on 03/04/2006 12:18:41 MST Print View

You are right. It was about seven years ago and the system was then about ten years old.

Out of curiousity, where were you located? I'm in North Central Washington about thirty miles from the Canadian Border.

Robert Cooley
(robert.cooley) - F
Solar Power on 03/05/2006 02:23:48 MST Print View

I am sorry about the hurried reply to your post earlier today. I was headed out the door.

The time I was referring to was more than 10 years ago on the Columbia River Gorge in Washington state. I live in Pleasanton California now (45 miles east of San Francisco). I own 3 electric cars one of which is driven by my oldest daughter to High School. We make more power than we consume using a 6kw grid-tie PV system. I am now a High School teacher.

One of my major goals is to help end our nations excessive dependance on oil. Some of the lessons I learned in the woods apply more now than ever.

larry savage
(pyeyo) - F

Locale: pacific northwest
Re: Re: Solar Power Is Great! on 03/05/2006 13:28:14 MST Print View

David, gotta head up Mon. & Tues. to Curlew to work on bid and do a little troubleshooting, wave or throw a rock if you see a guy looking a little lost up your way in a white electrical contracting van. Peace, Larry.

Bill Fornshell
(bfornshell) - MLife

Locale: Southern Texas
Solar Power is Great on 03/05/2006 13:59:23 MST Print View

I lived in Puerto Rico for 4 years from 1982 to 1986. I had a Solar water heater on my roof. During the 4 years I lived in my house I never had the first problem with the unit. I had great hot water and never ran out.

I moved to San Antonio a place that was perfict for solar. I found almost none. Electric was still very cheap and solar water heaters were very high$$.

I bought a house and went to passive solar. Trees large bushes, arbors with thick vines for more shade on and around my house. We really have no winter here so keeping my house cool was/is more important than keeping it warm. We have a type of Oak that keeps part of their leaves during the winter months. I still get shade from them with our strong winter sun. Twenty years later and my gas and electric bills are so low I was called and asked if anyone was living in my house.

Solar is getting more popular all the time but still costs to much.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Solar Power Is Great! on 03/05/2006 20:55:24 MST Print View

I live on the other side of the Okanogan River from Curlew. That is real deliverance country over there.

Right now it is snowing lightly here and -1C. Probably warmer and drier there.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Solar Power is Great on 03/06/2006 02:05:31 MST Print View

Bill, I couldn't help but chuckle at your local utility co. calling and asking if anyone still lived there. Good for you.

I partially heat with coal or wood (some from my own land). Statistics, supposedly show that less than 1% of homes do so, so they say the environmental impact is not too great (no "scrubbers" on the chimney, but I'm set up to burn hot and relatively clean - often no burning wood odor outside; now, my neighbor, that's another story - needs more O2 to his stove).

Now get this...

Up this way they have just this year introduced a conflicting set of values. For years they've been telling us to conserve, conserve, conserve... and given us advice on how to do so.

Conserving is NOT bad advice by any means. Well,... just this year they convinced the State legislature to make some changes, amongst which are a rate hike (understandable), and, now...get this... a higher rate for those who are conserving and don't use their fair share of electricity!!! Yes, you heard me right! So, those conserving, and also small inner city apartments (largely occupied by lower income individuals and families) are going to be getting, I think it was up to a 33% overall increase (don't quote me on the numbers, but it was quite a bit higher than the VOLUME discount users of electricity). Those who can afford it least are getting hit the most, IMHO. Talk about an incentive to not conserve electricity. There is actually a "cut-off", NOT a continuum. So, if someone possibly can use just a little more, they get into the next "bracket" and save. I just had to call the local elec. co. and talk to them b/c I couldn't believe what I was reading in the mailing they sent us. Unlike my writings, the mailing was well worded and yes, a conflicting set of values concerning conservation now exists.

Got to hand it to the utility co. Still scratching my head about our elected officials and the voters who unknowingly elected these geniuses to public office.

Well, that's my rant for the day.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Solar Power is Great on 03/06/2006 09:49:34 MST Print View

There are a lot of perverse incentives in utilities.

Where I live, part-time (e.g. vacation) homes outnumber full-time homes by almost three to one. One of the interesting problems that this has generated is that the local electric utility calculated hookup fees on the basis of full-time residential usage, and as a result in recent years began losing money hand over fist. Finally what came up was a minimum usage charge, and after that everything gets billed incrementally.