First...WARNING!! Noobie present...I know big words and how to use them...be warned!!! I have been doing a huge share of research into solar and wind energy topics for the last few weeks. I've seen some amazing things, seen some pretty not so amazing things. Living in the small town I live in here in northern lower Michigan, costs for just about everything is rather high. I'm at a point where I can buy this home and one of the first things I plan to do is install solar panels to reduce / eliminate that bill and also implement solar water heating to reduce / eliminate that bill also. I have a small boiler with baseboard heat...but an electric hot water heater also in the system too. The inbound water from the well comes to the boiler first and branches to the house and water heater. The outbound hot water line returns to the boiler and branches to the house...a common setup I was told. All this said brings me to this...would it even be worth my time to even build the solar water heater based on the current plumbing configuration? And if so, I know I am going to have a heat exchanger due to my location and harsh winters here. Tips? Ideas? Panels will probably be mounted in a rack in my back yard, my oaks will have to come down. The hot water heater is currently on the south side of the garage (my home is on the north side of the road so anything in the front yard may be thought of as an 'eye sore') and the solar water heater could be mounted closer to the house with the exchanger just inside the garage walls. Help and ideas welcome
Hi, Bill. Sorry about the long reply, but it's a complex subject.
Consider these things first:
1. Even in mild winter areas, if it's sunny in the winter, it's just too cold to collect enough heat to heat a house in an external unit. There are setups with heat pipes down in the earth where it is always 50 Degrees, but condensation and mold have to be eliminated. I do solar heated water, but that's only from March through October. I haven't had good luck with solar heat in my mild winter zone.
2. How many months can you actually use solar power or water heating? In late fall to early spring with early sunsets, the hours the sun could be on the panels or an insulated water tank is fewer and fewer. Keeping the water hot all through the night is not a stable thing throughout the year.
3. How many days of rain and overcast are there the rest of the year? Panels can only really get the maximum wattage between 9:00 and 3:00 in the summer, and 10:00 to 2:00, maybe 3:00 in the winter. If half of those hours is overcast, it's even less.
Leasing Panels: Solar equipment is very expensive. No one is promoting solar as a cheaper way of powering a household. The companies that want you to sign up for a 15 or 20-year lease on panels are tying you down to antiquated panels. Search through these forums on the disadvantages of getting stuck in a long lease.
Power Company Rates: If you plan on selling power back to the power company, it may or may not be able to actually buy it from you. And if they can buy it, they buy it at different rates during different parts of the day. People are extremely frustrated at how the power company pays them practically nothing for the power they generate during the most productive times of the day.
Owning batteries: If you want to do batteries, they are very expensive and require maintenance of keeping the water levels up in them, usually checking them every two weeks. They connections corrode and need cleaning and spraying with a corrosion retardant. Panels need to be cleaned and you have to make sure rodents can't get to the wires connecting them, or the wires running to the shed where the batteries, controller and inverter are.
The batteries need to be in a different shed from the controller and inverter because they off-gas and will eat away at delicate equipment, so we're talking two sheds and a set of panels. It my sound like your total watt hours of batteries is a lot, but you can't take the batteries down below half without them losing some life, which means you really only have half of those watt hours. Applicances like coffeemakers, printers, refrigerators, well pumps, vacuums that suck a lot of power will drop the batteries quickly if there is even one day of overcast.
Passive Solar: I have had good luck with passive solar heating in the house, but that is because the shape of the house is long and narrow, with the longest wall facing south, and a wall of windows facing west towards sunset (northern hemisphere). The windows are very tall with double panes, but not Low E, which is the required code these days, so the heat easily comes through.
The eaves are small so they don't block the sun's rays. Walls, ceilings and floors are thickly insulated. The house is not up on piers, so no cold air is moving quickly underneath. We use thermal curtains with thermal shades, and close them to keep the heat in if the late afternoon is chilly.
The house is painted very dark green, the roof shingles are black. There's no trees or shrubs that can shade the southern and western walls all day long. It's also out of the wind, something I just lucked into.
Stay Skeptical: Be really careful when researching online to stay skeptical about all the solar hype. There's informationn about the pitfalls of leasing solar panels, including a pending lawsuit in Arizona that claims that when individuals lease solar panels they become a business, and lose out on their tax breaks, and actually get charged money as a business. Look out for the kickstart-type products that people are trying to sell there that are just ideas on fancy web pages, and not backed by a long-standing reputable company.
I've owned my own solar panels for 17 years and they are still working well. Leasing is not to our advantage. The new panels work even better than the older ones, and newer technology is happening all the time, so don't get stuck in a long lease. I don't mind keeping track every single day of what the sun has been doing on the panels, and how long the printer has been on, and that there is a timer on the coffeemaker to shut it off, and not just let it sit there and keep the coffee warm, and that it has been overcast for three days and we can't run the vacuum without turning on the generator.
Before you starting taking out valuable landscape trees, start with a small solar setup that will power some lights and a computer on an outlet separate from your house wiring. Consider how the weather and days of sunlight will affect where you are in June and in January. "Sun hours" is a phrase the leasing companies like to use, and it's totally bogus. Panels will get nothing off of sunlight that is at the wrong angle in morning and late afternoon, yet they consider these "sun hours".
Solar is a high-maintenance, high-attention way to power things. Don't think you can just set it up and walk away. But when it works, it's satisfying.
Cristo Balete wrote:
The batteries need to be in a different shed from the controller and inverter because they off-gas and will eat away at delicate equipment, so we're talking two sheds and a set of panels.
I don't get this. My batteries are in the same shed with no problems. They are inside the battery box built into the wall and vent to the outside. Why 2 sheds?
Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work -Peter Drucker
I'll break this into separate responses for ease...so, to understand this posting correctly, because I live so close to the 45th parallel, 1) solar heating is really not an asset to me during the winter months and panels wouldn't be worth my time or energy...even if I were to use an "eco-friendly" substitute instead of water in my system as a heat exchanger? 2) Solar panels not the way to go to try to offset my electric bill??? I do understand that they are a maintenance issue and that may play a small factor as my mom progresses with her dementia, but the less dependence I have on the crooks I have at our power company, the better. Since posting the original post, I received my power bill. This January, they are trying to soak me for over 1000kWh of usage!!! <dirty mean words edited out> Let's just say that the most I have ever used since moving up here in 2009 was 595 kWh in a month (hard winter with many days that month in the -20F's outside with stiff winds out of the north and west). The oaks provide shade in the summer, yes, but to collect the energy would be a trade I would be willing to sacrifice. I cannot speak for my neighbors though. I have a double city lot. The lot to my west is shaded in the front by a pine (50-60 ft) and a mid-sized maple (30 ft). The lot to my east has oaks about the same size as mine and theirs blocks my telescope views to the northeast. The field to my southeast-south-southwest is overgrown with a small tree line at the road (20 ft or less). I see the point about the light angle and think that if this project were feasible enough, I'd spring for motorized units to track as far as I could. 3) If I were to monitor parameters, for a period of time, which solar parameters would I monitor (bear in mind I am an avid amateur astronomer with a vast knowledge of solar websites and also a rookie weather spotter too). Sorry for the long post.
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
Joseph, Deep-cycle batteries put off hydrogen gas and sulfide gas in the process of being used, and it is very corrosive to anything in the room, especially tiny electrical wires and circuits. If you've ever smelled sulfur when the batteries are equalizing, that's where it's coming from. It might take a couple of years to cause problems, but it is always recommended that the batteries be in a separate, well-ventilated large box with a hinged lid with plenty of room around them for all the large connecting wires and airflow so they don't overheat, or a small shed that can be ventilated. I once draped a towel tent about 6 inches over the tops of the batteries and wires while I was planning on their final location, and the sulfide gas ate right through the towel in places.
I prefer a small separate lighted shed because I have to be in there adding water even if it is raining or freezing or windy or dark, and I don't want to be in the rain or have any connections get rained on while I am maintaining them. Same thing for running a generator, BTW, to have its own shed to keep it dry, but to keep me dry as well.
Controllers and inverters are getting more expensive all the time, so buying new ones because of maintenance issues is a real drag.
"The chemical reaction releases gases, as water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. This, in turn, consumes water and creates the need to replace it regularly. Only distilled water should ever be used in batteries, and you should never add any kind of acid solution. "
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
>> This January, they are trying to soak me for over 1000kWh of usage!!! <dirty mean words edited out> Let's just say that the most I have ever used since moving up here in 2009 was 595 kWh in a month
Have they said why they are charging you for more than you use? Are you able to file a complaint and have them come and do an audit on your place?
>>solar heating is really not an asset to me during the winter months
Not sure what kind of system you have in mind, but think of how much heat would have to be generated for it to change the interior temperature. Solar only works between 9:00 and 3:00 anyway, so the rest of the time you'd need some other form of heat. I have been looking into solar heating for years, and I have a mild winter climate, the ground doesn't freeze here, and I haven't seen a collection unit that would do anything but a sporadic supplementation. So far only passive solar has worked for me, and that only works on a sunny day that gives direct sunlight for at least 6 hours between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM. the interior doesn't heat up until about noon even on the sunniest of days, and I can feel the heat coming through the window at 8:30 AM.
A long and narrow solarium with double-paned glass could collect heat. It would need to be open to your interior in the winter, but closed in the summer because of the extreme heat it would generate then. It would have to be kept free of snow on the glass roof of it and have a water-proof, insulated floor. Glass also brings in large amounts of moisture in the form of condensation, as would a big bank of windows, and that can cause mold issues if not taken care of, so it would need ventilation, which, of course, involves freezing air outside. On non-sunny days you'd have to have thermal curtains on the inside of glass windows or a solarium to stop the heat from escaping.
The earth is a constant 50 degrees below frozen ground, and we can tap into that and possibly keep that as a foundational temperature supplement. If "heat" tubes are sunk into the ground and 50 degrees comes into the house (making sure there are no mold and condensation issues) the house can stay at 50 F, but you would need traditional heating at that point when outside temps are near freezing or below.
Shade in the summer is quite valuable, it saves you energy, too, BTW. Trees provide privacy, which can be very desirable on a city lot. And honestly, I don't see how solar heat could even compete with -20F and winds. Air temperature is near freezing in Michigan for a few months, right? How many days a week are there of direct six-hour sunlight? Two, three days? Some weeks don't even have that when a storm shows up. We had a month of cloud cover a couple years back, solar was marginal during that period.
About the panels, owning them is better than leasing them, but they must be in the direct, unobstructed sunlight for at least 6 hours. Some panels, if one part of them is shaded the whole thing doesn't work, so you need to be sure you get the right kind. With that many trees around, there is the risk of broken branches hitting them in a wind storm. If they are installed on the roof, you have to be able to get up on the roof, rain or ice or snow and keep an eye on them. Mine are on the ground for that purpose. In the spring my pine trees blow tons of dense pollen everywhere, and the panels need to be cleaned often for the month or so of that blowing pollen.
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
Bill, also, if you are caring for an elderly parent, they need an extra warm environment that stays stable day and night. They aren't very active, and their immune systems are weakened, they can't be in marginal conditions. This might be a good time to research what you might want to do in the future, but your priorities, I imagine, will change from your annoying electric bill to complicated caretaking. Been there, done that.
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
I just want to toss out one more visual about solar heat. Our most obvious solar heater is our cars. A metal box, somewhat insulated, with windows, that even on a 70 F day can heat up inside over 110 F and kill children and pets. So while we may not be so aware of how much heat can be generated on a 70 F day, we certainly don't get much heat in our cars when the temp is lower than that. So when the outside temps are even slightly lower than a warm day, the interior of that "solar heater" car is not nearly as warm, even if we massively insulated it.
A car or minivan can be 18-20 feet long, and neck high, not quite as tall as a person, and could barely generate enough heat to change the temp in a room in a house, let alone the interior of a house, for six hours at most anyway. That's a way bigger box, or square feet of insulated tubing, than we envision a solar heater being.
The ironic part about solar heat is that when we get enough to heat up the interior of a house, we don't need it.
Unfortunately you have run up to the same problem I have; and that is how do you heat your home in a northern climate? No one wants to hear this I know, but it is the truth and full of wisdom; in the end I have invested heavily in insulation and a high tech heating system, and the return on investment has been really short. I have seen a lot of neighbors spend way more money on far more elaborate systems when really they would have been better off to add insulation to their attics, replace windows and doors, and seal up drafty holes. Think of it like this: imagine your home turned upside down and filled with water. Anyplace where water is leaking out...fill. Its an overstatement, but you get the point.
As for a boiler; mine is a geothermal/radiant heat hybrid heated via propane. The ironic part is, even though I have hundreds of acres of forest, my propane consumption is so low that it actually makes more fiscal sense to cut firewood and sell it, and use the money to buy propane. (I use about $1100 a year in propane to heat my home, and I get $1000 for 10 cord of tree length firewood before trucking).
My suggestion to you would be to simply invest in upgrading your home to radiant heat. Any floor (even an already-poured concrete floor) can be upgraded to radiant heat and it will significantly reduce your boilers consumption. The key is adding mass and upgrading your boiler...or at least boiler system. Mine is a variable speed injection system based on 4 different sensors. It is a complicated system, but extremely efficient! The water that runs through my floors is around 90 degrees because of the mass of the concrete floors makes for a huge radiator transferring heat into my house. So in essence I am only using enough propane to heat water from the 57 degrees that is coming in from the constant ground temperature, to 90 degrees. That is 33 degrees...not much so a small, efficient boiler can heat a fairly big house.
My system cost me about 10 grand, but considering my neighbors are buying $12,000 outdoor wood boilers and burning 16-20 cords of wood to heat their homes...you can be the judge on the better investment.
Sorry to break your heart on solar heat, but it just plain takes X-amount of BTU's for x-amount of degree days for us poor souls in the northern part of the country!
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
Travis, I'm glad to hear your radiant heat is working the way you want it to. On the West Coast there is a style of house that was built in the 1950's called Eichlers, that had radiant heat pipes in a concrete slab, and with all the earthquakes and shaking and jiggling, then the 60-year-old pipes breaking, a lot of the Eichlers had to be refitted with something else. I lived in one once, and having that boiler going in the garage 24/7 was a bit on the expensive side. I guess in the 1950's it was no big deal expense-wise. But it sure was great to have warm floors when it's cold.
Nice that you can offset it with the wood sales. Creating heat is a really specific process, only accomplished in a few ways, so we are, in a sense, stuck with what the corporate world sells us, unless we bury our houses in the hillside or move to someplace warm. But then there are all sorts of odd bugs and humidity and weather issues.
I have never heard of that style house before but it only makes sense. We get earthquakes here of course, but they are minor ones. I do wonder though what those houses you mention had for pipes. I know today we use PEX piping which is a complex linked plastic. I know freezing wise it can expand 3 times its original size without bursting which is why it is used here. I actually gain a little (10%) by not using antifreeze in my system, but with the geothermal system pumping water through the floor, it will never freeze anyway (57 degrees here in Maine @ below frost line)
This thread caught my attention because it is what I want to do. As others have found out when you start purchasing the individual systems pre-built, the return on investment gets crazy. For instance, my Uncle has a windmill that he paid $27,000 for. It saves him on average $65 a month in electrical costs. So that windmill will take 34 years to pay off, by then it will be junk. No return on investment on that, but he's got the money to burn so he did it.
Me; I want to go with solar water heating, but for a different reason. My biggest consumption of propane is getting my concrete slab to temperature in the fall. Here is what happens, and the downside of my system. In the fall when it gets cold at night, the boiler comes on and tries to heat the slab. It is 57 degrees so the boiler runs and runs to get the slab to 90 degrees...what it needs to be to give off enough heat to shut down the thermostats by heating my rooms (zones). BUT during the day, it gets warm out so the rooms heat up and shut the boiler off. Slowly what little bit of heat was pumped into the slab is lost. BUT then the sun goes down, at night it gets chilly and so this vicious cycle starts all over. Ever so slowly the slab reaches temperature, but it burns through some propane to do it. Once the slab is warm though, it maintains the temperature nicely. So here is a potential answer. What if I built a solar collector that helped to heat water, keep it in storage and then through my elaborate heating system, dispensed it into the concrete slab when it was needed? The computer knows what to do, all it needs is hot water and it does not care if it comes from a propane boiler or solar collector. I would in essence be heating my concrete slab via solar at a time when even in Maine it would work (September versus say February).
Another potential I have is compost heat. I grew up on a dairy farm and even though we try everything to keep composting in the haylage and silage piles to a minimal; you can hardly stick your hand in the feed in the dead of winter it is so hot. Today as I pushed over my big pile of sheep manure the heat was sending up a heat haze and smoking and it was only 20 degrees outside. I have researched this a lot and it is possible to mix wood chips and grass (sheep manure) in a pile enough to heat a home. Here is the problem though, by the time you set up all the pex piping, added the water and chipped the wood, you would have more time in it then just going out in the woods and cutting firewood for yourself or to sell. Oh that darn return on on investment issue crops its ugly head again.
BUT this is me and my place; for others it might work. I spent months researching compost heat and while the state planning office swore it would never work, I found people that are doing the very thing. With radiant heat it is pretty easy because you are just pumping water from where heat is (compost pile), to where it is losing it (your home).
Great discussion by the way! I love this kind of thing! In another lifetime I think I would be a boiler tech, but atlas I am just a dumb welder!
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
Travis, I do have a DIY solar hot water heater, but unfortunately it's pretty hopeless in Nov/Dec/Jan, obviously because of all the overcast days, and partly because of the angle of the sun is so low when it is sunny, and that it takes much longer to get the cold water (from sitting overnight in a cold environment, even when insulated) up to even 60 F or 70 F, which isn't much help. It takes hours to get the water temps up, and if the system should pump in cooler water too early in the day (because each sunny day is different) it defeats the purpose. There's only a small window in Oct or Feb when the hot water actually stays hot because it takes so long to get it there, and it cools more quickly as nights are quite cold.
I'm only trying to get enough hot water for a couple showers and dishwashing each day. I keep about 30 gallons in an old 40-gallon hot water tank with the exterior stripped away, sunk in an insulated box with a glass shower door cover and use maybe 20 gallons of that. Even that much water takes hours to heat when nights are cold. You would need many gallons of hot water to flow through a whole house, right? Imagine the size of the container plus insulated box that might only work a couple days a week with an overcast sky?
Yeah, compost is hot, but it cools off, too. Then how do you separate the pipes from the finished compost? How do you move that much manure, etc., into place, then out, then a new load, then out again, it might have to happen a couple times a week. As the pile goes through its paces, the temps would not be consistent. Sure, there's a day when it's up around 150F, but unless it's turned regularly and added to, it doesn't stay that high. It's not how I would look forward to spending my time, week in and week out, shoveling *&^%.
If you do the math, how many gallons of water fit into 2" or 3" pipe, so you'd have to figure that, plus extend the pile well beyond the pipes so they are all completely getting the 150 F heat of the pile. The edges of the pile are never as hot as the center.
I like solar hot water for basic stuff. Water is a little more cooperative at holding heat than air.
But it seems that you've got it going pretty well by offsetting the cost with another type of income. And we're really only talking about part of the year with the high heating bills, it's not an all-year kind of thing.
Hi Bill, first it is great to see so many of us looking into and doing solar projects. I have spent 20+ years in the far north working in oil +gas communications. A good portion we powered by solar or thermal electric (propane or natural gas) Low power 12 to 48 volt systems.
In any solar conversion project you need to know where your power is going. An audit using a P3 P4400 Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor $25 off of Amazon is a good place to start with your items plugged into the wall.
First rule of thumb for going off grid or starting or switching to solar is to take the top 3 electrical loads and see if you can delete them for some alternative. Example my friends top loads are the electric range (220V 40 Amp circuit) , hot water heater(2x3000 Watt elements 220V 40 Amp circuit ), well pump (220V 30 Amp circuit) and clothes dryer (220 volt 30+ Amp circuit). Ask your self what alternatives can I use and second is it cost effective to switch? Natural gas or propane or wood or solar or In Our area power bills range from $250 up to $450/month through the year depending on current power rates (.09 to .15/Kw) and our fixed charges are at least 1/2 the bill. For example I paid under $500 in October for 500 Gallons of propane, I can heat my home and do allot of cooking for the year. Our wood costs in the area went from $240 a cord to $280 this year that is cut, split and delivered. We cut our own it just takes time and effort. Find the alternatives in your area, we also burn clean pallet wood that we pick up for free.
Solar conversion costs grid tied or off grid are not an inexpensive option, Panel costs are half what they were 10 years ago. Do your research, talk to people who have converted visit as many systems as you can. There may be local courses and yes the lease guys are running around doing seminars also. Sign nothing till you have done your homework. I personally do not like some of the whole sale packages that are out there, way too many extras that double the costs of what it should be.
Good luck and welcome to the forum.
My heroes are real people: These are the real Rock Stars: Sepp Holzer, Paul Wheaton, Geoff Lawton, Joel Salatin, Masanobu Fukuoka RIP, Larry korn, Toby Hemenway, Dr. Elaine Ingham, Gabe Brown, Vandana Shiva to name only a few.
There was a guy that was doing compost heat in France and doing seminars on it and stuff, and there was no shoveling and all that, but his answer was in using something I do not have: water. His piles were like 10 feet high and 12 feet in diameter with a 50/50 mixture of grass/wood chips. Here is the secret though, to get it to "cook" for the heating season (whatever that is in France) he dumped 7000 gallons of water on the pile. As I said, maybe for some people it would work, but because I live on a big hill, at best I could have the local fire department come in and dump a tanker load of water on my pile. Still there is the gathering of manure for the grass part, and chipping of the brush...like I said maybe if you lived on the plains with little wood, but in Maine where I live; the most forested state in the nation, an afternoon of cutting firewood would give me just as much BTU's.
So I looked into a wood boiler, but the better ones cost around $7000. because I am burning so little propane now, the return on investment would not even be worth it, and these were words stemming from the guy selling the boiler. My only option was to buy a cheaper boiler to get the ROI down, so I found one locally and paid $700 for it. But it is not really ideal. My heating system is designed for warm water and not hot. With a hand fed wood stove like this, I don't have a lot of ways to control the fire. I can control the draft blower, but that is it, it's still going to simmer along. I can add an emergency dump zone, but oh my, if the power ever goes out and my circulator cannot draw the hot water out of the water jacket, the only line of defense is the relief valve.
But I got a pretty good offer on it to sell it and I am not sure what to do. Its nearly hooked up, but the wife wants it moved now, and it is not ideal at best. Part of me wants to part with it and buy something better, but the ability of heating my home with propane/wood/coal is appealing and I doubt I can find another boiler for that price. So I am not sure what to do, and for another year it has sat. (2 in all)
Electricity from the grid is entering a new phase, and this is coming from Maine that has THE highest electric rates in the entire country. Part of it is due to deregulated power, but there are other factors as well such as archaic rules for the electric companies, rulings by our Public Utilities Commission, etc.
Here is the bottom line; just about any power grid is in a current death spiral. Its not gloom and doom news, its straight forward honest truth based on economics.
Because so many people are investing their money in reducing their electrical costs with such things as more efficient light bulbs, alternative energy water heaters, more efficient appliances, etc; the consumption is going down. This is a problem because up until now, the fee paid to electrical companies has been based on the amount of kilowatts consumed. It would seem great except the costs power companies are facing are INCREASING. Their labor costs are higher, their material costs are higher, and their equipment costs are higher all on power lines customers are paying less for...or would be if the public utility commissions did not increase everyone's rates in order to off-set the difference. As the costs go up, as this thread points out so pointedly, they are enraged and get more drastic to reduce the cost of electrical bills. As that happens the problem of kilowatt's consumed pay fee is even more detrimental.
The problem is this can only go on so long. The only way to beat the system so to speak, is to be completely off-grid and I encourage everyone to be so. That is because this death spiral cannot continue for much longer, and already the PUC of Maine is starting to talk about a flat electrical fee. If you think I am crazy and it will never happen, consider the landline phone. Yes I still have one, but now I pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited calls where as when I was younger we paid for "toll calls", or calls anywhere outside our local area. It was done for the same reason. However if you hate your electric bill now, wait until there is a flat fee to cover all the costs of the electrical company bringing that power to your home, YET you have absolutely no control in the consumption aspect of it. With the phone system it was not so bad because they were not reliant on kilowatts being produced at a hydrodam, gas turbine, coal fired power plant or wind mills; all of which have costs to produce that will most likely go up in the future. Yes hang on to your electric bill; you'll look back upon today with fondness.
No I am not a fan of the PUC because I do not believe they adequately address how much electrical costs truly hurt the families they are supposed to represent.
Am I way off base on this? Maybe, but economics is pretty straight forward and there is no question, electric companies are in a death spiral in the current pay per kilowatt arrangement.
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 4 years ago
Well, you know what they say, Travis, "When mama's happy, everybody's happy." It's a pretty reliable saying
And, hey, a $30,000 skip loader could just pile that *&^% up like nobody's business, while you're out in a snow storm, freezing ice, blowing rain! I don't think that successful off-grid living means beating your brains out trying to keep something going. My rule of thumb is, if it's too labor intensive, it's not the way to go. And don't forget the $20,000 barn to store it in.
So you've got a good supply of firewood of your own? What about a big, efficient wood stove? Is your house in a configuration that a few small fans installed in the upper corner of doorways would pull the heat into a few other rooms? Maybe use a supplemental electrical heater in the bathroom while showering?
There's been a lot of discussion of solar electric and radiant floor heating in this thread so far, but not so much about solar hot water as applied to the OP's situation. You are on the north side of your street; what are the front wall and roof like? A wall-mounted collector may not be acceptable in your neighborhood, but the roof is less constrained. In the northern US, though, a vertical hot water collector may be close to ideal on an annual basis if you can make it large enough. It will generate a reasonable amount of hot water for domestic use in the summer, maybe all you need, and the improved incidence angle in winter will give a decent fraction of your heating needs in shoulder seasons at least.
A drainback system, if you can get your collector higher than the storage tank, can mean that no mass of water or fluid sits exposed to cold temperatures; water is only pumped to and through the collector when it is hot enough to be useful. This also eliminates the need for antifreeze.
Obviously in cold cloudy climates you need another heating system that can take all the load when there is no hot water produced. A system that heats the water reservoir so radiant floors can operate minimizes the alternate infrastructure.
Electric heat and hot water is a good situation to be in, even in michigan as long as the building is thermally efficient. We regularly use a combination of solar thermal and grid tied pv for space heating system installs. This works best when your electric heat comes from geothermal (air, ground or water) heat pumping... but your usage only being 575kwh/mo., would make grid tied pv an excellent choice because you may only require a relatively small pv system to net zero your electric systems without mechanical changes.
Please check with a solar professional on your sites solar availability and your building envelopes thermal efficiency. These are the gauges aside from budget that determine feasability. And disregard negative hype about solar in general and solar thermal specifically. Solar thermal is the underdog because pv seems so techie and gets all the glamour. I hate this idea that if solar thermal cannot produce every single btu on demand, everytime, then its just "garbage that they tried back in the seventies". This is absolutely foolish. Solar thermal systems make gobs of btu in mild overcast and in michigan winter, even without evacuated tubes. Ive been doing it, in michigan for 15 years and pv for the last 7.
In your case, solar hot air may be a good supplement to electric heat because (actually, the other way around, the utility is the back-up and storage for electricity) baseboard heat operates at high temps and is not ideal for most solar thermal situations. Still, a solar thermal storage tank would be installed in series, (well-solar storage-dhw tank-boiler) A combination of pv and thermal for dhw at least,or a straight pv electric grid tie heater looks good on top for you as long as 1000kwh/mo. Winters are not going to be common or is a mistake made by your utility.
Lastly solar thermal takes up less square feet of real estate for production of btu, can be installed with "skylight-good looks" and requires no permission from the utility. The problem becomes budget, space, and storage if you were to depend on solar thermal heat as a sole source and that is why, aside from exotic situations, we use a combination.
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