Making Solar Power Accessible

Rising natural gas and electric rates are bringing with them a risinginterest in alternative energy. The result is that powering your homewith solar energy is no longer a project for the experimenter. Thetechnology can now be bought off the shelf, as the Great Lakes RadioConsortium’s Bud Lowell reports:


Rising natural gas and electric rates are bringing with them a rising interest in
alternative energy. The result is that powering your home with solar energy is no
longer a project for the experimenter. The technology can now be bought off the
shelf, as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bud Lowell reports.

Just five years ago, Nancy Allinger and Duane Basch built a home heated and powered
by the sun.

It was a lot of work. They had to get it designed and find a builder who’d tackle it. They
searched high and low to find equipment that would let them achieve their vision of generating
their own electricity. And they had to deal with skeptics, who said solar power wouldn’t work in
the Great Lakes snow belt.

“My mother, the first year we moved in the house, was calling me every morning to ask me If I was warm –
and it was yes mom – we’re warm.”

Today, Nancy Allinger’s friends and neighbors are no longer skeptical about the house,
which gets its electricity from photo-voltaic panels on the roof and from a windmill.
And something else has changed. If Allinger and Basch were to build their solar house
today, they could buy the solar-electric system off the shelf.

The solar power industry is still small. But in the last five years, household solar electric
systems have gone from something cobbled together by experimenters to something you buy
from a dealer. And there are options that didn’t exist five years ago.
Doctor Gay Canough is President of the New York Solar Industry Association.

“Most of the solar homes have been stand-alone systems, but that’s rapidly changing. In California there are
entire housing developments that are putting in solar electric systems and doing net metering. So the numnbers are
starting to really grow, now”

When Nancy Allinger and Duane Basch built their house in Mendon, New York, stand-
alone solar energy systems were state of the art.

They use solar or windmill power to charge a number of car batteries, usually housed in
the basement or garage. The batteries store power for night and for cloudy days, and a device
called an inverter turns the 12-volt D.C. battery current into standard house current.

The latest household solar technology is net metering. It goes a step farther, by making
the homeowner a partner in the energy grid. With a net metering system, you buy power from
the utility company at night and on cloudy days. But when the sun is bright, your electric meter
runs backwards as you feed current back to the power company.

Bill LaBine of Avon, New York installs stand-alone electric systems. Today, he’s gearing
up to sell net metering equipment.

“Well, net metering really means you can sell the electricity for the same cost that the utility company’s
charging you for the electricity.”

Not all states in the region have net metering yet. Some of them still need to change
state laws so that small-scale producers can sell back to the electric companies.

Gay Canough of the New York Solar Industry Association says this has the potential to
make solar-electric panels a common household accessory…..

“The reason why we’re pushing the net metering system is because it’s essentially a no maintenance kind of
system. You put ’em up, they feed your house load. You don’t have to have any special wiring, you don’t have to worry
about your load – although you should try to be energy-efficient – and they just sit there and they work.

You don’t have to do anything to them. So those kinds of systems are taking us into the mainstream where we
can get a lot of people using solar energy.”

Most of today’s solar electric users took up the idea because they’re environmentalists.
But solar equipment dealers are beginning to stress the cost savings of combining home solar
electric with home energy conservation.
They say for the cost of a new small car, you can outfit your home with a stand-alone or
a net metering solar electric system, and essentially free yourself from monthly electric bills.
Finding out about solar power can be as easy as checking “solar energy systems” in the
yellow pages. On the Internet, the American Solar Energy Society supplies basic information, and
can help locate a solar energy dealer in your area.
Some states – like New York – offer tax credits and other incentives to buy solar
generating equipment. Your state utilities commission should be able to tell you if any are
available in your area, and how to proceed.
I’m Bud Lowell for the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.