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Looking for no carbon man

Courtesy of Kevin Ma and the St. Albert Gazette:

One family's quest for a net-zero life

 

 

Dandelion Renewables - Edmonton's newest solar installation company

Edmonton's newest solar installation company, Dandelion Renewables

My friend Mike has been working for the past year on a new business, and I think that his timing is perfect: there has never been a cheaper time to install solar electric modules on your house.

A mathematician and project feasability modeller by profession, Mike is passionate about making solar work for his clients. He is one of two people whom I've met who truly understands your electricity bill (Gordon Howell is the other one - how is it okay that only the best experts understand a freakin bill?), and he is looking to put that understanding to good use.

The solar electric industry is undergoing an upheaval. Although I don't care to know the details, the result is that the price of PV modules right now is roughly one quarter of what I paid just a few years ago.

Mike tells me that he can achieve rates of return between 3%-5% for his clients on solar installations. That investment is more secure than any stock (the equipment can be covered by home insurance), and it turns you into a green energy producer. How cool is that?

If I didn't already have every square inch of my house covered with PV modules, I would hire Mike of Dandelion Renewables to install solar panels on my house.

Earth’s General Store Cheaper Than Planet Organic

I've written about Earth's General Store before because it's one of my favourite businesses. We get our coffee there because it's the lowest-impact available, but I mostly like it because I can trust it.

What I mean is, I trust that they've done the research for me on any given product. And that there won't be any "surprise" non-organic items in my bag when I get home (virtually everything they carry is organic, and whatever isn't is well-labelled).

Proprietor Michael Kalmanovitch has now written a convincing post about how Earth's General Store beats Planet Organic on price most of the time.

If you don't shop at EGS yet, what exactly is holding you back?

Net Zero Year - Results

We tested our Net Zero home from October 18, 2010 to October 18, 2011. The initial post is here, and these are the questions that we wanted to answer.

The bottom line is that our house did not produce as much energy as it used throughout the course of the year. It was not a net zero energy house during the period indicated. Here are the numbers:

Net energy use: 2518 kWh

We used 2518 kWh more than we produced over the year for all of our energy needs (that's all electricity, as we are not connected to natural gas and we didn't use our wood stove at all). 

Total solar production: 7212 kWh

Our solar modules produced at a decent clip, although at slightly lower-than-average levels for Edmonton.

Total energy consumption:  9730 kWh

So what happened? Well, as I said at the outset, we didn't define Net Zero before we started out. Net Zero every year? On a ten year average? What we do know is that this  year, we didn't hit our goal.

Here's a bit of post mortem analysis.

  • This house is clearly not going to be net zero every year. We missed by a relative long shot. Why?
    • It was almost 14% colder than average in the fourth quarter of 2010 (source).
    • It was overcast for virtually the entire month of March (as evidenced by my whining in this post). In March of 2010, we didn't heat at all, whereas in March 2011 we heated the house every day.
    • Given the year that we had, the HOT 2000 simulation only predicted about half of our heating energy use.
  • Given the two points above, I'm confident that our house will be net zero some years. Whether that's 20% of the time or 50%, it's impossible to say right now.
  • The average house (built between 1990 - 2003) in Edmonton uses 41,665 kWh for space heating and hot water (or 150 GJ -  pdf source) , and another 7800 kWh in general electricity use (pdf source). That's 49,465 kWh in total.
  • So, our house used 19.8% of the energy that a newer Edmonton home uses, and it then turned around and produced 75% of that energy as solar electricity.

It was interesting to watch how the house performed this past year. We're still sworn off of the wood stove, so I'll check in again on December 14  and we'll see how close we'll have got to net zero when measuring Dec 14, 2010 - Dec 14, 2011 (after all, if you're not happy with the data, just change the parameters!).

 

Edit: below are the heating degree numbers for the last 12 months. As you can see, there was a lot more heating required in Edmonton during the last 12 months than during the period of Nov 2009 - Nov 2010. Especially in March!

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