HARNESSING THE SUN
By Christina Wood
For The Observer
Want to lower your utility bills while living in a comfortable home with a great view? Want to eliminate utility bills altogether?
If so, you may be thinking about homes equipped with solar electric power generated with photovoltaics, or PVs.
The third-annual SolWest Renewable Energy Fair last month in John Day was a great place to explore the possibilities. People from nearly every western state made a pilgrimage to worship the sun and other alternative forms of energy at the Grant County Fairgrounds.
Is the solar home the wave of the future or just the ravings of a bunch of alternative energy advocates? While your point of view may be strongly influenced by your political leanings, even the most diehard conservative may be tempted by solars basic economics.
As electricity rates go up, solar power has a brighter future. Although the costs of installing the systems remain high, especially when retrofitting an older home with photovoltaics, the savings in the long run make the systems very attractive.
The true savings are found when building a new home with the systems designed into the construction and the home itself sited to take full advantage of the suns power.
Before you go out and go solar, your best bet is to go online. Most companies involved in energy conservation and savings have Web sites. You can explore many possibilities without leaving the comfort of your home.
A good basic primer on solar power is available from the Oregon Office of Energy, 625 Marion St., E.S. Suite 1, Salem 97301-3742. Ask for the book, Oregon Solar Electric Guide. The Web site is at www.energy.state.or.us.
The book addresses the issues of both solar-assisted homes, which use solar power to augment electricity from a utility, and off-grid homes, which are totally independent of utility companies.
Solar power can heat your home, provide hot water and power your lights at night through rechargeable batteries. It can also pump water to your animals on the range without requiring the installation of expensive power lines over miles of rough terrain.
HEAT WATER ONLY WHEN YOU NEED IT
In addition to solar power, other energy-saving possibilities exist. According to Sean Kinkaid of Solardyne Corp., the two biggest power eaters in your home are heating the air in winter and heating water year-round.
You can reduce energy costs by using an on-demand tankless water heater, he said.
The heaters are available in both gas and electric models and can heat water at the rate of 200 gallons an hour, enough to furnish two average showers at the same time.
Because no energy is being used except when there is a demand for hot water, the unit eliminates stand-by heat loss. The company claims you can save up to 50 percent on utility costs. You also save space (no bulky hot water tank) and have endless hot water.
Kinkaids company has a Web site at www.solardyne.com.
HEAT YOUR WHOLE PLACE WITH WOOD
Do you have access to unlimited supplies of firewood? Perhaps a wood furnace or water heater would fill the bill. For just the trouble of cutting wood on your own property, you could heat your home, outbuildings and water with a wood furnace that is installed outside.
The outside unit eliminates the fire hazard of burning with a wood stove or fireplace, and the Central Boiler company claims you may save as much as $10,000 to $50,000 in heating costs over a 10-year period.
The companys furnace has a very large door that allows you to burn much larger chunks of wood.
If you can pick it up and throw it in, itll burn, said Danny Amon, a salesman for the company.
Amon Industrial in Milton-Freewater is the nearest authorized dealer for Central Boiler. The business phone number is 541-558-3677. Central Boilers Web site is http://www.centralboiler.com.
MAKE THE WIND WORK FOR YOU
Want to take a lesson from Grandpa? Try wind power.
Some areas are perfect for wind generators, and even a small unit with blades only three feet across may generate hundreds of watts of power.
Chris Worcester of Solar Wind Works has lived off the grid for more than 20 years, and his company provides custom designs tailored to the needs and circumstances of each customer.
For information, visit his Web site at www.SolarWindWorks.com. His company utilizes solar, wind turbines, power centers, batteries, small water-powered units and energy-efficient appliances to reduce or eliminate outside power needs.
NEW APPLIANCES, SMALLER BILLS
Speaking of energy-efficient appliances, many of us could do a lot better. Newer model refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers may use between 35 and 65 percent less energy and water.
If your household appliances are more than 14 years old, you may find noticeable savings on your monthly electric bill by replacing them with new energy-efficient technology.
Maytag, for example, makes washers that use half as much water as older models, and dryers that dry faster while using less energy. The company also makes high-tech refrigerators and dishwashers.
To learn more about clothes washing with the new machines see A Tale of Two Socks online at www.tide.com.
WANT TO START BUILDING?
How do you build one of these solar-powered marvels? Superior Home Builders Corp. of Mount Vernon will be happy to talk to you about that. They provide homes built with six-inch foam cores in the walls.
FINANCIAL INCENTIVES AVAILABLE
Finally, how do you pay for all of this? Rebates, tax credits and technical help are available from the Oregon Office of Energy.
After surfing (another wind-powered activity) through the Internet and learning about the possibilities of living in solar-assisted comfort, or even off the grid, far from nosy neighbors, you may find you agree with those sun worshippers that solar really is the way to go.