Solar Evaluation

One of the projects I had planned for the summer was to investigate installing solar panels on my new garage.  I had this vision that I could come home, plug-in my car in (plug-in car required), and have it powered cleanly from the sun (sun required).

The proposed location:

I thought I had the perfect spot…at least it appeared that way all winter.  What I forgot about, and what became obvious over the summer, is that my neighbor has a perfectly lovely tree in their yard that is shading my solar spot….and the tree is still growing!

The company giving me the quote ran what they call a Solar Access (the ability of one property to continue to receive sunlight across property lines without obstruction from another’s property) estimate for my location (tree shade growth not factored).  For you geeks out there here are the results:

Without the tree the numbers aren’t bad, an average of 86% over the year.  Who says Portland doesn’t get sun????  The estimated energy savings if I could achieve this level of solar access would be 2,482KW per year.  This would offset ~20% of my current usage.

The Cost:  This is where the rubber met the road….a 3kW system would cost me $17k.  The incentives are signifcant, over a 4 year period the total cost to install would end up closer to 5k.

The Final Analysis: Although this was never about the ROI, I had to crunch the numbers anyway.  Using the offset estimate, an esitmate of future electric rates, and the cost of the system after incentives…it would take 10years to pay for itself….which I found to be a bit depressing.

The Reality:  I don’t have 17k to spend right now (you will see why later) on what would essentially be a “statement” that I care about my footprint.  I have not ruled out solar (smaller system…bigger than a light and smaller than 3kW) for perhaps another spot in the yard but for now this project is “Closed”.

I’m still following the Solarize NE activities and am thrilled I live in a city with opportunities and groups like this one.

Starting in My Own Backyard

In the spirit and practice of breaking things down into manageable next steps, I thought I would focus very locally for my initial biophilic design research.  Throughout the years I’ve collected books, magazines, URL’s on environmental/sustainable topics that interest me that I would read later – when I had more time.  Well, based on what I learned writing my Time, Brain Damage and Choices post, I can’t really expect to have more time in the future than I have right now.

I have a fairly large space in my backyard, so why not use it to run some experiments?  I can use these little mini-projects to focus my research and put what I learn into practice.

  • Solar Electricity – I have a south-facing roof on my garage that I think would be perfect for a few solar panels.  This is a timely project since there is currently a “solarize” initiative in my neighborhood!
  • Eco-Roofing – I’m planning to modify my existing deck and add shelter, why not eco-roofing?  I’m passionate about this subject and would love to get my hands dirty on a project.
  • Rainwater Collection – I already have 3 large rain barrels, but I have new area in back of my new garage where I could build an elevated system and use drip irrigation into my new garden.
  • Food Production– I’m planning to devote most of the backyard to raised beds for growing food most of the year.  This is already a very engaging project!  Some of the mini-projects will include:
    • Irrigation Planning & Building
    • Raised Bed Design & Building
    • Plant Selection & Companion Planting
    • Starting Seeds (Inside & Outside)
    • Seed Saving & Sharing
    • Hoop Housing
    • Cold Boxes
    • Canning & Preserving (assuming anything grows)
  • Composting –  I’m lucky enough to live in a city that has weekly curbside composting, but given my big plans for the food production part of my yard, I will need to spend more time composting.
  • Bird, Bee & Butterfly Habitat – This has been a long-time interest of mine, I want all non-veggie plant selections to encourage local habitat.

Overall, I want to include principles like running water, re-use, and recycling throughout all the projects.  I want to try to keep my new materials purchase down, take advantage of sources like the Rebuilding Center, Scrap, and, my own backyard.  I have a deck I’m going to deconstruct, about a million red bricks (not kidding) from some old paths, and thousands upon thousands of good size rocks.

OK – I have my rough plan – now it’s time to get to work!