Our Experiment with Renewable Energy: Solar and Wind

With the gasoline prices at an all-time high and electricity and natural gas expected to go up more, it is time to start looking at alternative energy sources for home use. So, we decided to try out a combination of wind and solar energy.

An Air X wind turbine sits high above the roof and could generate as much as 400W of power, if the wind would blow. It does from late Fall to early Spring, but no longer once Summer arrives. Essentially, there is no energy to be had from wind in our location during the warmer part of the year. The high trees surrounding our house don't make things easier, but we sure won't cut them down.

So we decided to try out solar panels. What a difference this made ! Four 30W solar panels, pointing south (1pm) and south-west (3pm), catch the noon and afternoon sun and work surprisingly well during our sunny Summer days. A daily charge of up to 7 Amps for 6 to 8 hours keeps three deep-cycle spiral-type 12V batteries (a total of 165Ah) well charged and ready for supplying enough energy to a 12VDC/115VAC sine wave type inverter of 1000W capacity for all the floor lamps in the house, and occasionally the TV in the evening. We were able to extend the supply of renewable energy to more lights in our house by replacing all incandscent and compact fluorescent lamps by now affordable 115V LED lamps (2.5...12.5W), which require an average of about 15% of the energy of the former lamps.

Last year we reaped our first benefits in an unexpected way from the investment in solar and wind energy. When the remainder of hurricane Katrina moved along the Canadian east coast, we were hit with a 14 hour power blackout. It was eerie, pitch black in our subdivision, except our house where we had light and TV for the entire blackout period. Even though the investment doesn't pay for the saving of energy, it does give peace of mind in emergency situations. We are again in the midst of the hurricane season, and we are prepared for the next one to move over Eastern Canada.

In order to monitor our electric energy consumption and record the energy provided by our renewable energy sources, we installed an electric energy monitoring system, TED5000. It tells us what we consume daily, weekly, monthly and on an annual basis. With Internet access, we can even interrogate the system from anywhere in the world. This simple beginning of our "smart" home was recently expanded by building a home automation system, which is centered around MiCasaVerde's VeraLite home automation controller, and integrating the TED5000, room thermostats, room lights, IR motion sensors, water/flood sensors, door locks and Internet webcams. Visit our Home Automation web page for more details.

In summary, the combination of wind and solar energy generation is a very unbalanced one, at least during one half of the year. We can't get off the grid yet. But it sure helps us in emergency situations - and there seem to be more and more of them.

Update late Summer 2014: Hurricane Arthur moved along the Bay of Fundy as a post-hurricane storm, but still uprooted several thousands of trees in our city, and we lost electric power for one full week. Our wind and solar energy, complemented by a small gasoline-powered electric generator during night time helped us to survive the black-out period in camping-style comfort with continous lighting, refrigerator/freezer power, telephone and internet access, whereas most of our neighbors lost all of their coveniences.

Update Summer 2015: During the last two years we installed two Fujitsu heat pumps on the main floor and the basement of our house. Although this is not directly related to renewable energy, it helped us to eliminate the use of our original electric hot water heating system almost entirely and reduce our heating costs significantly. Close daily monitoring (see our Home Automation web page) of our electricity consumption for heating over a 3-year period (July-June each year) revealed the economical value and efficiency of our heat pumps. The total yearly power consumption dropped by 46% even though the last two heating seasons were colder than in earlier years and we maintained a more comfortable temperature of 21C versus 19C in earlier years and used the heat pumps' cooling capacity during the summer periods. Even more objectively significant is the measure "kWh per HDD" (20C Base)which dropped by 49%. This measure indicates the heating requirement per Heat Degree Day, i.e. independent of the temperature fluctuations over the years. The conclusion: heat pumps are economical and efficient and work well down to -26C!:

2012/2013 only original electric central hot water heat,
2013/2014 one heat pump upstairs & electric hot water
                  heat downstairs,
2014/2015 2nd heat pump downstairs.
Yearly Heating Usage kWh per HDD

Air X turbine Air X Air and Solar
Wind turbine and solar panels on top of our house generate some renewable energy.
Click here to see the wind turbine operate during a strong wind in Fall
Control Panel/
Solar Volts and Amps
Solar Outlet
TED5000 Control unit
The control center and battery bank in the basement of our house
A second circuit runs through the
entire house distributing the
renewable electric energy
The TED5000 control unit monitors
our electric energy consumption

Also visit our web page Home Automation: Making our Home Smarter
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Last updated: 2 July 2015 by Bernd