Making the Commitment: Rural Power
I’ve been interested in alternative energy applications for a long time now. Six years ago, in 2005, I started with prototype system and have even taken classes at my local community college to learn about codes and how residential electrical systems are installed.
My first prototype was a modest enterprise, a single wind generator that fed a bank of six volt batteries and generated enough energy to power a single fluorescent fixture and outlet. During this period, the cost of solar panels dropped from $4/watt to $1/watt making solar power competitively priced with wind power. When the federal government began the 30% tax credit as an incentive it seemed to me that it was the perfect time to step up to a new system.
There were plenty of headaches involved – from dealing with vendors to component shortages as many other people seemed to be embarking on similar projects at the same time. By the time I finally had all the components together it was October 2010, and the weather in Virginia was starting to become questionable. I assembled a team of unemployed electricians and started the installation on the roof of my south-facing workshop. I was acting as general contractor and design lead, since this was new territory for most of the crew. The installation went into January 2011, with lots of errors and several re-wirings, but finally we had power flowing through an underground cable into a sub-panel in the main house.
The real proof of the system came in March 2011 when there was an extended power outage of about six hours. I went down to the kitchen to get some coffee and noticed the emergency lights were on (I made sure these were still on the grid power). After checking the service panel for tripped breakers I went and checked the meter and it wasn’t turning. I was using power from the solar power system and hadn’t noticed the outage! Only about half of the circuits in the main panel have been switched over to the sub-panel, but those are what I identified as “critical” circuits that I use regularly. This has happened several times since that incident; don’t you just love rural power?