It’s encouraging to see article about solar energy in Grand County
February 20, 2008
To the Editor:
I read the article about solar energy in last Friday’s Grand County Homes and Properties, and as someone who has been involved with the solar energy and alternative energy field since the solar tax credits of Jimmy Carter, it’s very encouraging to see the increasing interest in these things that I’ve had an interest in for so long.
I don’t know that I can take credit for it, but even my kid, who’s getting a chemical engineering degree, is involved in hydrogen power and fuel cell research. There are some very exciting things on the horizon.
Three comments about the article:
1. The five- to 20-year payback period quoted for a solar system isn’t accurate when you’re talking about an off-the-grid home. I’ve had customers that had property at a location where it would cost in excess of $30,000 to bring in normal electric (on the grid) power. The numbers for the specific site and situation would tell the story but, when a photovoltaic system can be provided for under the cost of bringing in utility power, the payback begins immediately since there are no utility bills, just pro-rated maintenance costs on the system with the main cost being the battery storage banks.
2. The article mentions that “solar thermal systems function by collecting heat from the sun in sealed tubes that contain water.” That type of system is generally referred to as a “draindown” or “drainback” system and might be true and recommended in climates that don’t have the consistently low temperatures we have in the mountains. Here it would more likely be an anti-freeze (glycol) system that would transfer the collected heat down into a heat exchanger for the water to be pre-heated for a tankless water heater application or heated for use in other applications.
3. Alpenglow is quoted as saying that “the most cost-effective way to introduce solar into a home is with the installation of a domestic hot water interface heater, a $10-12,000 investment”.
For an existing home, that’s an option. Another is a solar addition to the home that provides heat and has the added benefit of more square footage for the home and therefore increased appreciation and value. That $12,000 spent for a domestic hot water system will have some tax benefits but will not likely return 100 percent dollar-for-dollar value in home appreciation but money spent for a solar room addition will likely return 100 percent of value to the homeowner in the home appraisal with the increased square footage.
The single most cost-effective way to introduce solar into the home is through good design principles so the home benefits from good solar design, energy efficiency and heat storage options. This can cost as little as nothing when designed in from the beginning and it’s a net gain financially for the homeowner since the home’s good energy efficiency and performance reduces the amount of energy usage. As an example, that cedar timber home we designed and built in Grand Lake has averaged $50/month for water heating, cooking and home heating with natural gas.
Good article and I’m glad to see the interest.