By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
The first personal computers were anything but portable. And they were slow, in comparison to Smart phones, tablets or any kind of computer today. The same technological advances apply today with solar collectors and windpower. They’re getting smaller and doing more, and it’s just the beginning of their evolution.
Local residents Candy and Charlie Hunt said they probably made some premature judgments 10 years ago, when they were first choosing solar and wind alternatives for their home and barns.
Then, “green” was just a color in most vocabularies. Today, the Hunts are fully equipped with solar and wind power and satisfied to have a surplus of power they can sell back to the electric company.
Charlie Hunt doesn’t lament over the couple’s $69,000 investment, but said, “I wouldn’t do that again.”
He said early on there were numerous breakdowns with the installation.
The Hunts put in the wind power in 2007 and the tracker solar power in 2008.
The trackers on which solar panels are installed move automatically throughout the day to absorb optimum sunlight. Their “room heater” is actually a panel installed outside the room to be heated, and connected to a circulating device on the inside. Warmth courtesy of the sun.
Candy Hunt said, “There are no downsides to all we’ve installed. We get credit for power collected that’s more than what we use for the house and barn. We warm our home with a pellet stove that warms 1800 square feet of dwelling. Only our shop is on the grid, and our electric bill is zero.”
The couple got a return check from NV Energy for $1,100 for selling energy back to that company, and they watch their carbon emissions produced by their home and barn. It is so reduced as to be negligible.
While the Hunts’ original investment has not entirely paid for itself, it is satisfying enough, they say, to be actually making money on their solar collectors. Gel batteries housed in the garage store energy collected by the solar panels. Their water comes from a well, but electric fees for the well pump are covered by the solar equipment.
The Hunts once discussed a move into a “modern new housing area in Pahrump,” but said, “The covenants and restrictions don’t allow for what we now have on our property. Some people even reject the appearance of solar panels.”
“It seems typical of people who are doing all they can, to do also the simplest things,” said Charlie Hunt. Hunt is referring to an “Accent LED” light bulb installed at all indoor and outdoor locations in their home. Such bulbs use 92 percent less energy, and have a 20,000 hour lifespan.
One Pahrump business was recently startled by a visit from VEA when their electricity bill had dropped by 30 percent. That company had just changed out all their old lights for LED lights throughout. Just that saved them a large chunk on their electric bill.
“Our whole enterprise (to solar and wind), started with a simple CFL light bulb, and we went from there,” said Charlie Hunt of the family’s move to reducing their carbon emissions and savings of all electrical outlay.
At Joe Opatik’s home, also in Pahrump, there is a portable solar panel, with batteries, that powers the family well. This one is a 240-Volt system but they are custom-made and can be produced in larger or smaller sizes.
Opatik sells the portable systems but they are custom-made by LaHaye Electric who also installs them. The one Opatik owns costs $10,000 and can be moved to any location, including the back woods, for people who want to take it to a family cabin, or second home. With this single system, a home electric bill can be reduced to zero, according to Opatik. “The usual requirements for state and local approval aren’t required because nothing is connected to the grid.”
There is an increase in portable system purchases over installed systems, especially for people who are retiring, or on a fixed income, but want to reduce their expenses.
Portable units include a generator that can power your refrigerator and freezer, which are large electricity users in a home, to a portable solar generator 2,500-watt kit that can power most of your home and/or outbuildings, to the portable system.
Nevada’s population is the fastest growing in the country, according to Natural Resources Defense Council and also consumes the most energy per capita. But the state has 250 days of full sunshine annually, and that’s a plus that is in part driving the emergence of solar power into every community in the state.
Knowing that, Nevada enacted its first renewable portfolio standard in 1997, and has raised the bar several times since. The current standard requires utilities to generate 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025, with 6 percent to come from solar energy by 2016. It appears that Nevada will not only make that requirement, but exceed it, if the growth of solar and wind energy being employed by citizens as well as electric companies continues at the present pace.
The Hunts and others acknowledge going green is addicting. “Seeing that carbon footprint so significantly reduced is a real feel-good experience,” said Charlie Hunt. And so are the thousands of dollars of annual savings, according to Candy Hunt, who keeps intricate records of outlay and savings.
But there is always more to do. Next on the “green” horizon is means to process all water used in a household, but provisions by state and local governments do not presently allow this activity in the city limits.
What are the drawbacks to any of this exciting new science and national and international choices to “go green”?
It’s a new science, and caution on the side of being informed is paramount according to all those interviewed for this series. It’s easy to overspend or jump in without enough good advice from people who have learned the hard way.