Another homeowner benefits from solar electricity

Some government programs do benefit the average taxpayer. Take, for example, Jim Adams of Polo.

Adams has always been interested in technology. He remembers playing with tiny solar cells and D.C. motors as a child. Over the years, he drifted away from electricity, but always retained his interest in technology. He’s now building a plane in his basement.

About four years ago, his interest in solar electricity became rekindled. Then, he heard about the Energy Fair, which he attended in 2005. There, he met Dave Merrill of Byron, who explained a modern photovoltaic system for the home. Adams liked the idea of saving CO2 and receiving a rebate on his investment as well as selling excess power to the grid. He also liked the simple system. “You don’t have to do anything to it. When the sun’s out, it makes power,” he said.

Early in 2006, Adams and his wife, Nancy, decided to have a system installed. It consists of eight 150-watt Isofoton panels and a grid-tied inverter. Merrill directed the project with Adams helping with wires and bolts, learning at his side.

The inverter can handle 1.8 kW so at some point they can add to the current 1.2 kW system. Wiring was also installed with expansion in mind. Available roof space as revealed by a Solar Pathfinder determined the installation’s eventual size.

They’re using less electricity from the grid than before, but are not sure exactly how much of the savings can be attributed to pv. Shortly before installing it, they did an energy audit, eliminated unneeded phantom loads, replaced incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and bought an Energy Star refrigerator. If they had it to do over, they’d make the easy energy conservation changes first, wait a few months, keep a spreadsheet and graph kilowatt hours used, then add the solar panels.

Adams is pleased with the 40-watt cfs (equivalent to 200-watt incandescents) in the basement providing plenty of light for him to build his plane.

They’re also pleased with their reduced electric bill as well as getting some return from ComEd.

The inverter is hooked into a computer that reads D.C. volts from the system, A.C. watts into the home or grid and line voltage. It provides an instantaneous readout and toggles into an Excel spreadsheet which graphs every 5 minutes so they “know exactly what’s going on.” The graph helped when they had their only problem. Adams e-mailed the spreadsheet to Merrill, who immediately detected the cause and fixed it.

Their philosophy? “If you can afford to do it, do it. If a lot of people did it, it would make a big difference. I feel I’m doing my part.”

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity still provides rebates to owners of photovoltaic systems. People in our series of small installations appreciate the state is interested in investing in them—homeowners and small businesses—not only big installations such as wind farms. Their government is willing to assist them in reaching their dreams. Federal tax breaks bring total governmental benefits to slightly more than 50 percent of the cost.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

From the Jan. 10-16, 2007, issue

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