Friday, April 01, 2005

Living With Solar Energy

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I bought a slice of a mountain and proceeded to live there even though there was no house. We lived in a tent. What was supposed to be temporary became a strange, ten year long oddesy and a fight to survive. The first year, though, we decided to install one panel of a solar array because we were far from the nearest electrical pole.

It was 80 Watts and cost $250. We then put in increasingly better inverters and other components that translate the raw DC energy into useable electicity. The panel stood on the hillside on a simple pole and I built a box from discarded wood pallets to keep the ox team from knocking it over or rubbing their horns on the panel. Periodically, the horse would spin it around and then run away. But that didn't happen too often.

As the inverters improved, our ability to tap the sun rose. We used minimal lights and such, this was back before wonderful lap top computers so I had to fire up a generator to run the computer array. Vacuming the tent also required firing up the generator. Before the energy efficient bulbs came into the market, we had to be very careful about energy use. It ran the TV and the few lights and a small refrigerator. Some things were DC and some were AC.

We found that, despite living in NY, in winter, even on cloudy days, energy was produced. This gave us hope. We also discovered that pitching the panels so absorb energy at winter and then keeping it this way all year was adequet. It wasn't necessary to have the panels track the sun unless it was only one panel, this meant I would go outside and manually move it during the winter. In summer, this wasn't necessary.

In NY state today, the state will loan money and give out grants to install solar panels. I hope to access this money and finish the work on my own system by the end of next year. Even if they don't offer this next year, I will still be able to do the work, anyway. Visit this site to see how the system works. I don't know if other states do this. I hear, California is trying something similar.

These efforts to encourage the use of solar energy are fine but rather late and pretty haphazard. This is what should have happened back in the 1980-1990's decades. Now we need to go full steam ahead, this means laws mandating several energy saving things. Regional laws concerning positioning of windows to take advantage of/reduce the effects of solar radiation. This means, in the cold northern states, large windows on the south and small ones on the north side of all buildings. In the south, the reverse. 8" insulation in all walls and R 45+ in all roofs. NY is approaching this standard step by step and will be there in another few years. All buildings should be built with solar arrays. No exceptions.

These draconian measures won't happen because of the marketplace alone. If you can afford it, people tend to say, "I would rather spend the money on a bigger house". If you are poor, then dealers will deliver only the barest minimum so no one is going to extend it to be energy efficient.

This is why building codes have to be established to insure houses built today will be liveable in twenty years. The curious habit of putting the largest windows facing the street, a habit that makes very little sense, by the way, is evident where ever I go. When you face the street, all you get is street noise and light.

Living in my tent with solar energy for ten years was quite an experience. We were struck by lightning one night. It blew up the electric fence, draping it high in the forest, it blew out all our electronics, but this came into the house via the street because the lightning struck the transformer and it ran up our telephone line and jumped to the solar energy electrical fence charger. The solar array, itself, was not harmed at all. We suffered because we were on the grid.

A funny thing that night. I could still feel the negative charges around me and I told my husband not to touch anything. So he went to the inverter which was fried and unplugged it. "Here, take this," he said as he tried to hand it to me. A huge lightning bolt struck and it jumped out of the electric socket, into the inverter and shot out of the front of the inverter and struck my hands which I then slapped it sideways where it hit the floor, setting the rug smoldering. One branch of the lightning came out of the phone to my back and knocked me down. So..don't hand your wife the inverter during a thunderstorm. OK? By the way, when lightning visits, I always wear rubber boots and a rubber suit. I kid you not. Indoors.

The point is, like all things, solar energy has side effects that are pretty amazing, this is the basic energy of the universe, star power, and thus, has dangers. Putting in lightning sinks prevents these problems. I use a pretty sophisticate system built by the people. It is very good and has intercepted more than one surge since installation.

We have also had severe hail storms. Since the array is tilted, this caused no damage, the shielding in the panels even back 15 years ago, is pretty strong. The internet has a great deal of information about who sells and installs solar panels. The installer should know how to do this specialized form of electrical wiring. Questions about whether one wants to be part of the grid (NOOOOO! Not me!) or not has to be taken into consideration. I, personally, don't want the power grid people having some say in my life right now, I don't trust them.

Batteries: as news comes out concerning this vital matter, I will publish it here on my blog. Exciting research in this field means new possible products are coming our way. I can't wait! I use rechargeable batteries a lot over the years, back in the old days of 1990, they were awfully poor. Eventually, I hope to have an electric car, a subject all by itself here at Culture of Life News II.

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