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Energy Independence at Home

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Sandy Lawrence's picture
retired MD I write and lecture on energy, climate, grid, and epidemiology

I post almost daily on science topics, dealing with energy systems, the climate system, the electric grid and epidemiology. Background is in academic medicine, but I have also been teaching in...

  • Member since 2021
  • 23 items added with 3,298 views
  • Jun 14, 2022
  • 504 views

Immodestly, let me suggest our northwest Washington home as a model for energy independence. The building on the left is the shop I built in 2003, with a 9 kilowatt solar array I installed the next year. To the right is our all-electric home constructed by professionals 4 yrs ago — superinsulated, with heating + cooling provided by a ground source heat pump. The more central portion is the main house, furthest to the right is our guesthouse; notice both have dedicated photovoltaic arrays. We share our electricity back + forth with Puget Sound Electric's grid, + have batteries instead of a generator for grid outages. The sharing takes place with inverters for the main + guest house. I drive a BEV or battery electric car, + my wife a PHEV or plug-in hybrid EV, with her first hour of driving purely by battery on almost all days. Our lawn tools are electric, too, including the mower + chain saw, with the exception of the pressure washer. The major caveat is the V-8 panel van which I use about every 5 wks, + put half a tank of gas in maybe 3 times a yr. We generate more electricity than we use on an annualized basis. There is an irreducible $7.49 monthly charge for connection fees with PSE. The upshot? Aside from the truck, I don't use fuel mined from the tar sands of Alberta or pumped from underneath the sands of Saudi Arabia. Everything we do at home + everywhere I drive my car [except charging along the highway outside of state], sets us back $90 a yr. That's right, ninety bucks a year. Our wifi cost more than that every month. #climatechange#electrification #electricvehicles

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 14, 2022

Great to see the results of taking that initiative!

What do you think the biggest hurdle is for others to do the same? Upfront costs, know-how, or something else? 

Sandy Lawrence's picture
Sandy Lawrence on Jun 16, 2022

Matt, efficiency always comes first, as you know. Building upgrades like additional insulation, weather-stripping, LED lights + so on. We had the huge advantage of an architected, now PassivHaus-certified building process 4 yrs ago, with walls insulated to R50, the lid to about R80, blower-door testing for tightness to infiltation in or out through the envelope, a constantly operating HRV for indoor air quality, 50 amp dedicated circuits in each of the garages for installation of level 2 EV chargers. Triple-glazed windows + other details.

Where possible, a long east-west axis with appropriate, southern exposure, standing-seam metal roof with no shading. We even established in Whatcom County probably the first solar easement on the property to the south, since we owned that also at the time. 

A solar array facing within 45 degrees of true south + tilted to within 20 degrees of latitude will still usually receive 85 percent of maximum feasible energy.  One study with satellite data on all the homes within the U.S. found some 79% could host solar modules.

But shading, roof orientation, short tenure in the home, or rental status may dictate an alternative commitment to a nearby community solar project instead, still with an individual monthly credit on electric bills.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jun 15, 2022

Sandy, We have done the same since 2001. We also don't have any gas powered vehicles and our modest home makes more than we use. Others can't seem to do that now since our local not for profit Government run SRP Utility has added fees and changed rates that killed Solar. The rates should be going the other way but they aren't. 

     The same with electric vehicles. Arizona like many states has been increasing and adding fees on Electric Vehicles to make up for their lack of gas tax increases and less use. They are taking away any special deals for electrics and have not even adopted the clean car rules. It seems they don't want to encourage Electric vehicles yet we have 3 large EV auto makers and 2 battery companies as well as a Lithium recycling company in the state. 

Sandy Lawrence's picture
Sandy Lawrence on Jun 16, 2022

Jim, I'm more than sympathetic, instead sympatico. Our first custom home was in Napa, built in 1992 with 56 PV solar modules + a pair of 8' diameter wind turbines. Off-grid for the first 2 yrs, as California at the time didn't require utilities to offer an intertie via inverter, allowing homeowners to use the grid as their first battery backup [Pb-acid battery bank back then]. I've suppressed the memory of what those PV panels must have set us back.

Electric utilities share information about how to deal with distributed solar, distributed storage + other challenges to their historic control of generation, transmission + distribution. They would love to get away from the net metering concept; tacking on connection fees is one way for them to do this. They actually love solar as well, as long as it's a solar farm they own. 

If AZ has EV manufacturers + battery companies + [hurrah] a Li recycling operation, then their interests as well as grassroots pressure on the legislature + the state utility commission are the solution. This is a perfect demonstration of the idea that it is't enough to decarbonize only a personal level, we must organize at the local, regional, + state level. 

Mother Jones said, "Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts." But once you have accomplished that [+ obviously you have], we all need to get out there and go pugilistic.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 19, 2022

Wonderful article about a skilled accomplishment.

Perhaps such skilled solar enthusiasts would share their thoughts on additional solar energy concepts in need of momentum?? The following two online links are a little dated, but reflective;

 

https://www.solarpaces.org/designing-solar-furnaces-to-make-biochars-wit...

 

 

 

https://solarbiochar.blogspot.com/#!

 

These articles pertain to agriculture and fuels solar applications. Internet searches yield a lot of interesting work around the world with very few actual completions.

 

Thanks.

 

 

 

 

Sandy Lawrence's picture
Sandy Lawrence on Jun 22, 2022

No particular expertise on biochar, though I appreciate that it may be used to simultaneously store carbon + enrich soil. Suspect lots of people much more knowledgable here.

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