All my electricity, hot water, and fuel for transportation are supplied by the sunshine that falls on my roof. This is easily done with off the shelf technology and has a good return on investment. Let me speak about living with solar electricity and choices and lifestyle and abundance.
First, there are two types of commonly used systems. Both use photovoltaic panels on the roof. Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight to electricity. The other type of solar panel heats water. Photovoltaic panels produce DC (direct current), which is the type of electricity that batteries, electronics, and our bodies use. But the appliances in our homes run on AC (alternating current) because it is possible to send it long distances with less power loss.
There is an appliance that converts the DC the photovoltaic panels produce to the AC that the house uses called an “inverter.” There are two types of inverter systems. One connects to the grid and uses the grid as a backup. If you need more power than your panels produce, the grid supplies it. The grid also powers your house at night. If you make more power than you use, FPL cuts you a check.
The other inverter system uses batteries. In the day the batteries are charged; at night the batteries power your house. If your batteries run low you must conserve until they are charged or charge them using the grid or a generator. The system you choose usually is based on your readiness to change your lifestyle.
Lifestyle change? How much of your current lifestyle (meaning comfort and convenience) are you willing to give up to reduce your contribution to global warming? One end of the spectrum is those who will not change anything. They must have AC all night and must always have very hot water. They must use an electric dryer, a dishwasher, and drive a car everywhere. The other end is those who would gladly walk everywhere and live in a tent without electricity to save their Planet. Most of us, including me, fall somewhere in between.
If you are closer to the no change side you should use a grid tie system. It allows you to keep all the conveniences which we westerners take for granted; electric clothes dryer, electric oven, central AC, unlimited energy consumption any time of day or night.
I was more concerned about not using any fossil fuel and a grid tie system uses fossil fuel at night. It may have a net zero energy use, but it still uses fossil fuel. So I chose a battery powered system and learned to sail my house on the solar energy stream.
What’s it like? My lifestyle changed. My electric oven became propane, my electric water heater became solar, and the dryer became a clothesline. Disliking gas powered stink I bought a push mower and electric weed eater. So far, not bad! And my partner Leslie was more than willing to adapt.
But the changes went deeper. I have limited batteries and they are expensive. So we also store the day’s energy in the form of ice, pressure, and heat. In the evening after the sun sets, to minimize battery discharge, we move two liter jugs of frozen water from the freezer to the fridge, then turn off the fridge. In the morning when the sun comes up, we wait until the system is waking up and producing a few hundred watts, then move the jugs back up to the freezer. We are on a well and turn off the pump at night, using just the pressure in the tank. Our water heater tank is filled with the days hot water and is not heated at night, so the early evening is the right time to take a hot shower.
So there are conservation lifestyle changes – that was to be expected. But wait, there are also abundance lifestyle changes!
When the sun is up, the system produces 4,000 watts an hour. Now the goal is to use all the power the panels make. We come up with creative ways to burn the free clean energy. I weld and run my shop tools. We water the garden, running the well pump. I charge my electric bicycle which has replaced my car.
I realize that I have still more power to burn! So I bake bread in the toaster oven, find things to dehydrate in the electric dehydrator, run the window AC’s, leave lights and fans on, use all the free hot water. On a sunny day I am truly wealthy in free, non polluting power.
On cloudy days we must reign in our consumption. I watch the power being generated and limit my welding and bread baking. But what has surprised me is how much power we get even then. Even on dark rainy days the panels are making electricity, enough for the fridge, to run the lights, and charge the batteries.
If you perceive living this way to be annoying, you should choose a grid tie system. If being connected to the days energy flows and sailing your house on the solar wind appeals to you, choose a battery system.
The most interesting change for me is switching between a lifestyle of conservation at night to one of almost unlimited energy consumption during the day. If I was on a grid tie system, I would always be conserving, hoping to generate more than I used. That would feel very different. Personally I like the connectedness of observing the changing sunlight and matching my consumption. I like how power wealthy I become each day and then battening down the hatches at night.
These lifestyle changes bring me face to face with my sense of entitlement. Entitlement is the feeling that all these things, comforts, and conveniences in our lives are our birthrights. Despite living with more comforts and conveniences than kings of old, most of us aspire to more abundance. To most, generating one’s own power, heating one’s own water, using a vehicle powered by the sun, and attempting to raise your own food is a lifestyle of poverty and hassle.
But surprise! Abundance awaits here. I feel abundance from using profligately that which is free and environmentally benign. Like having more fresh tomatoes and mangoes and greens than I can eat, relaxing in a 72 degree bedroom while the Florida sun is blazing, and taking a very long hot shower because the water is heated by the sun. My abundance is not taxed, I have no environmental guilt over my excesses, and my neighbors feel sorry for me, not jealous!
Creating a more sustainable lifestyle gives you Stealth Wealth!