Friday, June 11, 2010

Leading edge

I bought my first solar panels in the late 80's. By today's standards, they were crazy expensive per watt. What was I thinking? Independence? Self reliance? Yeah, that was part of it. I was told they would never pay for themselves, especially in Northern NH. Quite a few people out and out told me they won't work, period.

Now you don't just go out, slap up some solar panels and expect to replicate the grid.

Some things had to go: electric stove, electric hot water, electric dryer and incandescent lights.

Compact florescent were just coming on the scene. They were almost $40 each. The company I bought my solar panels from were doing a special -one free compact florescent for each solar panel bought. I bought eight. Those first lights replaced all my heavy usage bulbs. I've still have one of the original compacts in operation.

Put in propane for hot water, refrigeration, and cooking. (over the years I also eliminated most of the propane usage.) Also bought a wood fired cook stove.

My major remaining power draw was my 1/2 hp well pump. Not much I could do about that except get an inverter big enough to power it.

Between cost increases in grid power and conservation savings, the system paid for itself in 5 years. I had figured it'd take 7, but hadn't thought grid power would go up in price so fast.

This system was put in when gasoline was running about a buck. The Alaskan and North Sea oil were coming on strong. The local utility had built a nuke plant not too many years earlier. It looked like power was going to be cheap and plentiful.

I didn't trust it to last. Living out in the country, I got to see the grid go down on a fairly regular basis. Living with system failure made it easy to see that it could happen on a larger basis, maybe not soon, but someday. Now if that never happens, that's fine. I've benefited by having independent power through many storms and the great Northeast blackout. My life's been better for it.

Unlike the solar panels President Carter put on the White House, mine are still working. I've stayed the course. If the nation had, maybe we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.


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