Does Solar Power Make Sense In Vermont?

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High fuel prices are causing many people to take a new look
at using solar panels for domestic hot water. And new incentives for
generating electricity from the sun are sparking greater interest in
photovoltaics. But does solar power really work in Vermont?
And does it make sense for your home or business? With our guest Jim Grundy, owner of Elemental
Energy, Inc. and a founding member of Renewable Energy Vermont,
we explore the economics and the practicality of using solar power in our region.
And we hear from Vermonters on and off the grid, about what it’s like
to live with solar power. (Listen)

Also, Adam Silverman of the Burlington Free Press fills us
in on the first degree murder trial of Christopher Williams for the
2006 Essex school shooting. Silverman has been blogging
the trial directly from the courtroom as well as filing daily reports. (Listen)

Finally, we cruise Southern Vermont’s
Harriman Reservoir in an audio postcard from the town of Wilmington.(Listen)



Donna writes from South Burlington:

It’s a bright sunny day and I expect to more than cover
my electrical and hot water use for the day with my solar electric and hot
water system. I had it installed last year and have so far reaped about 1,800 kilowatt/hours
of electricity from a small system. On a good day in the summer, I gather about
eight kilowatt hours.. I was surprised that in the winter, I can also
collect up to six kilowatt/hours on a sunny clear day.

Many people ask me about cost effectiveness of solar. I generally answer that the system cost less than a car, and actually does save me money– – something you cannot say about most other discretionary purchasesMy solar system should last 25 years, and probably will pay for itself in less than that.
Here is an important issue that you should bring up. Many houses in Vermont are still being built without good solar access from the roof or other areas close to the house. This ignorance of the value of good solar access is really going to hurt the people who buy these homes. In Boulder Colorado (with some of the best solar potential in the country, but also a lot of snow) homes over a certain size are required to install renewable energy systems to offset their higher usage. I think this is a great idea, since people who build and buy larger homes can more easily afford solar.

Question from Sally in Westford:

How far away from the home can a solar PV panel be to still work? My house isin the leafy woods, but full sun meadows are very close by. In the winter thePV panels on the roof could work, but in summer, they probably would notbecause of the leaves. I’m just wondering if a more distant system could work for peoplewho live in wooded areas like mine.

Guest Jim Grundy’s response:

If the system is a grid connected solar system, the solar panel array can be quite distant from the house, up to 500 feet is possible without huge additional cost. For off-grid electric power systems, the panels should be closer. Up to 200 feet is possible with some extra expense. Solar hot water is best if it is installed on the house, or near to the house. Usually we would not want hot water collectors further than 20 feet away if possible. Deborah from Shoreham writes: One cheap and easy method to save a lot of money is to install a solar hot water pre-heater in which the incoming water would be warmed by as much as conditions allow, saving the pre-existing hot water heater from having to start with the frigid supply.


Doug from Underhill

My wife and I built a passive solar home in Underhill in the 1970s. We heat with wood and solar and have done so comfortably for 30 years. Our passive system simply means facing the house south, maximizing the amount of south-facing glass and making the house relatively tall and open to allow for efficient warm air distribution.

Because of the significant changes in sun angles here in Vermont our solar heat is self-moderating. In the winter the low sun angles brings the maximum heat. Cold January-February are the warmest for the house. We often don’t need wood heat on these days. In the summer, the south-facing windows do not get any direct sun and so the house does not over heat.

The large number of windows allow a small room to look and feel much bigger. This allows for comfort in a smaller house, which saves on everything.

Peter from South Burlington writes:

I live in what could be called a typical suburban house. Four years ago, we decided to add solar to our energy mix. We already had a high efficiency wood stove. Before installing the solar systems — both domestic hot water and grid tiedPhotovoltaics — we tightened up our electrical and hot water use. Now we generate on average 80% of our electricity from the sun and save between 150 and 200 gallons of heating fuel per year! We are a family of 4 and our house is approx. 2100 square feet. Green Mountain Power, our electrical provider, gives us full credit for each kilowatt hour we send back to them over the grid, and recently, they informed us that they will give us an additional six cents for each kilowatt we generate and give back to them. Soour payback will be even quicker than first estimated. We paid for it by not replacing an aging second car ($14,000 out of pocket after incentives.) In a nutshell solar energy has worked incredibly well for our family.


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