Solar Hot Water!

I took a shower today with water heated by the sun! What a feeling! Our solar heating panels went up on the garage roof last week, and our aging 40-gallon hot water tanks were removed, and replaced by a humongous 119-gallon lifetime stainless steel tank that feeds both apartments in our two-family house. Primary heat is the sun. Secondary heat is an electric heater in the tank. Our expectation is that about 75% of our water heating requirements will come from the sun, annually. More in the summer and less in the winter, obviously. But even in the winter, plenty of heat comes from the sun. The excellent work was done by New England Solar Hot Water.

Remember, back in December, I told you about the trench I was digging? That was for this.

Solar hot water panels on garage

Speaking of home heating efficiency, our ductless AC/heating system was finished a few weeks ago by New England Ductless, and now (in moderate weather) we’re heating more efficiently with electric heat pumps. We’re still figuring out the best way to control them (which we do using our smartphones), or rather to balance them with the legacy steam heat in the colder weather. These condenser units are kind of dominant on the outside of the house, so I guess my home project for this summer will be to build some kind of privacy fence around them.

Ductless condensers outside house

This was all made possible in part by a two-town group discount, various tax credits and rebates for renewable energy installations, and a 0% interest loan program run by a state agency (MassSave) and funded by utilities. All that brought the net cost down considerably. The hot water installation should pay for itself in 4-5 years.


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An Electric Bill Even a Miser Would Like

It finally happened. Our latest electric bill:

    $-35, due on or before April 28 

Yes! The electric company owes us money! This has been our best month so far, generating electricity from the solar panels on our roof. Here’s how it looks so far in April:

Typically I think we use ~22 kWh per day. There were some days this month we generated almost double that amount, and fed the extra to the grid, and only a few days where we fell short. Solar rocks.

Surplus Energy!

Yesterday was our first full day of generating power from our solar panels. It was a pleasant, mostly sunny day. I just checked our energy output for the day, and we seem to have generated a cool 30 kilowatt hours of current total. Here’s the graph, peaking between noon and 3 p.m.:

According to a recent electric bill, last fall we used on average around 20 kilowatt hours per day. I have no way of checking directly, but if that pattern still holds, we generated half again as much electricity yesterday as we used. We sold power to the grid!

Power too cheap to meter! Power from the people!

IT’S ALIVE!!! Bzzzz-t-t-t!

Our solar panels went live today, shooting electricity to to the grid! And to us! Time to celebrate!

Besides saving the Earth, we have a new way to waste time: logging in to see exactly how much power we’re generating (12 kwh for the afternoon, the last time I checked). It’s a cloudy day, and we were already past peak sun when the switch was thrown. I hope we get a sunny day this weekend, so we can stand around and look at the meter.

The switch is ON!

Fun fact: While the technician was showing me the website, a graphic informed me that we had, in effect, charged 4400 AA batteries since he’d switched it on. Or charged 2500 cell phones. Or burned a gallon of gas, but without the carbon emissions.

Solar rocks.

So does this movie.

Solar Panel Installation – Pt. 2

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ve just done my day’s writing, and tomorrow’s and the next day’s, as well…

It’s all done, except for the final inspections—first by the town inspector, and then by Nstar. After that, we throw the big red switch, and electricity starts flowing from the rooftop!

Update Oct. 3 — The inspection is done, and now we’re just waiting for Nstar to sign off on the paperwork. I’m told that can take anywhere from ten minutes to two months, but averages a week or two.

Solar Panel Installation – Pt. 1

For the past three days, a crew of two men from Solar Flair Energy has been working on our house, preparing the installation of rooftop solar panels. So far, they’ve got the framework up on the roof, and part of the wiring in the attic. They should finish off the job by Monday, after which the town inspector and the Nstar inspector have to sign off on the installation. And then, we go live with power from the sun!

Here’s what we’ve got so far.

What makes this feasible is a combination of tax credits and a mind-twisting system of utility rebates (called SRECs) for renewal energy. It’s a substantial upfront investment from us, with a projected payback period of 7-10 years, after which it should start earning us money as we feed electricity into the grid (whatever we generate beyond our own needs). It should lower our energy bills, while reducing our carbon footprint, dependence on fracking and foreign oil, contribution to nuclear waste, and so on.

It’s all part of a program called Solarize Arlington, in which residents and business owners in town joined together with one provider to gain quantity discounts on the solar panels and other equipment. Other towns in Massachusetts are following suit. Our installer told me today that they’ve got jobs ahead of them as far as the eye can see.

Stay tuned!

I Wish I Were a Painter!

Home now from the writing retreat, but I thought I’d leave a last few images from Cape Cod. After leaving my motel, I went further out on the Cape to the National Seashore  and biked part of the Rail Trail out there. At one stop, I sat on the beach for a little while, watching the surfers.

I suddenly wanted a painting of this scene, but different. I wanted a night sky, and the ocean sloping out to the horizon and merging seamlessly into a liquid ocean of stars, with perhaps the spark of a distant starship or two streaking out toward the Galactic center. That thin white hump on the righthand side of the horizon would be undersea cities, perhaps the jumping-off point for intelligent sea beings setting out for the stars. I wish I could paint it myself, but that’s not my skill, alas. Just a dream…

Here are a few more parting images from the Cape:

Tomorrow, the crew comes to start installing solar electric panels on our roof!

The Roof (Part 1) Is Done!

The roofers came as promised on Friday. The whole job, including scraping off three ancient layers of asphalt shingles, took just seven hours, maybe a little less. Here are some pictures I took as they worked.

There was a certain amount of noise inside the house while this was going on. 
There isn’t enough money in a politician’s slush fund to get me up on a roof like that.

This high-wire act involved installing a ridge vent.

And there it is, all done! Well, except for my spending what seemed like forever vacuuming out the attic, and walking the grounds looking for stray nails. The workers have these cool, rolling magnets that get most of the nails. Nevertheless, we found probably a dozen more that they missed. The magnets did find the great little pocket flashlight that I lost in the grass a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, by the time I thought to ask the crew boss to be on the lookout for it, it was already deep in the dumpster.

So one side of the house is done. Next step, putting up the solar panels, sometime in the next few weeks. And after that, we turn our attention to the far side of the house.

Waiting for G/o/d/o/t/ the Roofer

Today was an early riser for me. Roofers were coming to strip and reroof the southwest side of the housethe side you can see in Google Earth, if you know where to look. Those who know me know that early mornings are not my forte. But the contracting boss was here, the cars were moved out of the driveway, and I was drinking coffee, waiting. Then the word came: Called due to rain, and forecast rain. Try again tomorrow. (Sigh.)

We’ve spent a lot of time emptying the attic on that side of the house, knowing that there will be a rain of asphalt and tar-paper debris down through the cracks between boards. This cleanout included getting rid of boxes belonging to long-departed electronics, unearthing boxes of books stashed for safekeeping for a friend (twenty years ago—a good argument for ebooks), and lots more. Well, it’s good we got that done, anyway.

This is all in preparation for the solar-electric panels that will be installed on that side of the house, soon after the roof is done. (Fingers crossed.)

We’re still planning a dormer on the other side of the house, to add a bathroom and guest room. But that’s been put on hold until the solar panel project is finished. Oh, and the loan approved. Heh, heh.