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Posted By Craig Barshinger

To complement the briefing in the Energy section of my Platform, I will share with you the personal side of renewable energy:


What is it  like to live in a Solar House?

My home is solar since 1998. I have a solar hot water heater and photovoltaic panels.

The solar hot water heater is one of the most beneficial renewable energy technologies. Mine holds 80 gallons and I always have hot water unless it is cold and cloudy for more than three days. (This happens so infrequently that I have not even installed the auxiliary heater.) A solar hot water heater pays for itself in 2-3 years in the VI. Then you get free hot water for the life of the unit. Mine has a stainless steel tank; it's worth the extra money. I believe that every Virgin Islands home should have solar hot water. It makes economic and environmental sense, especially with the generous rebates from the VI Energy Office.


The next step in renewable energy is photovolaic electricity.
Photovoltaic systems make electricity from the sun, and store the excess in batteries for use at night or on cloudy days. Photovoltaic systems used to have a 20-year payback. But with electricity @ 50¢ per kilowatt-hour, the payback is now much shorter in the VI. I invested $10,000 in 1998, and my avoided cost for electricity not consumed is $16,000. So I'm $6,000 in the black as of 2008, after ten years.

The cost benefits say nothing of the convenience of having no power outages, and the feeling of gratefully receiving the gift of abundant energy that the sun sends showering down on us! A solar house is a great joy, and a great adventure.


No matter how many panels you have or how big your battery bank is, you will need a generator. Diesel is best. There will be times when the sun doesn't shine for three or more days. When the batteries get low, you just turn on the generator and charge your batteries up in a couple hours. I burn about $100 per year in diesel fuel.


The inverter box that makes the 120 Volt AC current can also be set to automatically turn on the generator when needed. It can even "exercise" the generator weekly, so it is always ready for action.


My life in a solar house is a little different than a WAPA-fed house. I never leave lights burning unattended. I don't use air conditioning except on a sunny day, in my office. All the lights are compact flourescents.


My washer is electric, but I hang my clothes to dry. The clothes last forever, dried in a shaded, breezy spot, with no tumble drying. An electric clothes dryer would be too heavy a load, but a gas dryer could work in a solar house.


I have an electric refrigerator, computer, TV, even a microwave and a waffle iron. If I want to use heavy loads for a long period, I usually turn the generator on to avoid draining the batteries.


That's all I have to say in this first web-log entry. I believe that readers can post comments; feel free to give it a try.






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Craig Barshinger


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