Near Net-Zero on a Community Scale: Page 3 of 3

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Half the ecovillage
Twenty-two of the 36 high-efficiency homes in the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage already have PV systems that provide most of their energy needs.
The other half of the ecovillage
Twenty-two of the 36 high-efficiency homes in the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage already have PV systems that provide most of their energy needs.
Homes are clustered, leaving much of the property as open space; wide vehicle-free pathways for walking, biking, playing, and socializing connect the houses.
Eco-village community event
Traditional folk music and arts are embraced by many in the community and create lively social gatherings.
New members are eagerly greeted by volunteers to help unload the moving truck.
Through a community effort, paths are being beautified with fruit trees.
Builders from GO Logic erect the 8.25-inch structural insulated panels that form part of the exterior wall.
Interior of SIP wall panel
Inside the SIP wall is a 2-by-4 framed wall filled with blown-in cellulose, bringing the total insulation value to R-45.
One of the ecovillage homes
All of the homes are duplexes and share a common wall, which reduces heat loss through the building envelope. While the styles and details vary slightly from building to building, each was constructed on a strong premise of energy efficiency and livability. This made achieving net-zero-energy achievable, even with relatively small solar-electric systems.
One of the ecovillage homes
All of the homes are duplexes and share a common wall, which reduces heat loss through the building envelope. While the styles and details vary slightly from building to building, each was constructed on a strong premise of energy efficiency and livability. This made achieving net-zero-energy achievable, even with relatively small solar-electric systems.
One of the ecovillage homes
All of the homes are duplexes and share a common wall, which reduces heat loss through the building envelope. While the styles and details vary slightly from building to building, each was constructed on a strong premise of energy efficiency and livability. This made achieving net-zero-energy achievable, even with relatively small solar-electric systems.
All but one of the PV systems installed on BC&E homes use Enphase microinverters, which were mounted on the racking prior to installing the PV modules.
Installing the PV array
BC&E community members and a Capital City Renewable crew member (also a BC&E member) install a 5-kilowatt PV system of Axitec 250-watt PV modules on the author’s home.
Installing the PV array
The first 11 systems at BC&E were installed by ReVision Energy, using Canadian Solar modules (see the schematic above, which reflects a typical system).
PV modules arrived in bulk
Kiril Lozanov organized the bulk PV module purchase to help keep costs down.
Half the ecovillage
The other half of the ecovillage
Eco-village community event
Interior of SIP wall panel
One of the ecovillage homes
One of the ecovillage homes
One of the ecovillage homes
Installing the PV array
Installing the PV array
PV modules arrived in bulk

Maine’s net-metering program allows customers to bank credit for surplus solar electricity for up to one year. Ecovillage homes have no air-conditioning and, in general, low electrical loads—so they usually earn credit from April to October. Once heating season rolls around, they can draw on the credit, as heating with electric baseboards drives up the electricity usage. Residents still pay a monthly fee to the utility for distribution; thus, the lowest electric bills are about $9.74. The energy credit appears on the electricity bill, further motivating homeowners to conserve energy to reach net-zero goals. All of the PV systems include access to MyEnlighten, an online monitor which includes historical and real-time energy production.

Custom Conservation & Efficiency Measures

BC&E homeowner Penny West has numerous ways that she reduces her energy use to achieve her net-zero goal with her 4.3 kW PV system, such as using only a 6-cubic-foot refrigerator with no freezer. “I also take advantage of the fact that the breaker panel is in the entryway. I turn on the water heater in the morning before I take a shower and turn it off when I’m done.”

One ecovillage member placed a bulk order for 400 LED lights, reselling the discounted 3.5 W bulbs to residents who were interested in replacing the 50 W halogen bulbs that came with the original track lighting systems. Some members installed low-flow showerheads that use 1.25 gallons per minute (reducing water use and water-heating loads), forgo a clothes dryer, or put timers on their water heaters to reduce standby loss. When the common house is complete, shared group dinners will reduce individual cooking energy consumption.

Although nobody has moved forward yet, there is interest in installing PV systems on the garage roofs to offset electric-vehicle charging. The garages have moderate solar potential, with orientation up to 30° off of south and some shading from houses. With downtown Belfast just 2.5 miles away, electric vehicles are a viable transportation option for ecovillagers.

Comments (2)

Sarah Lozanova's picture

That's a great question David. We joined Belfast Ecovillage during the development phase, after a core group was established. The community resonated with us because the mission is in line with our values. We visited or met with several communities, both established and forming, and this one seemed to be the best fit for us. I was more interested in joining an established community because it can often take 5 years or more to form an intentional community.

Conflict is inevitable, but I think what is more important is if it can be worked through productively. Belfast Ecovillage is experimenting with the use of dynamic governance, with distributed leadership. This is helping to reduce the time spent in general meetings, while striving to make create more productive meetings.

Before joining Belfast Ecovillage, I read a couple books on intentional communities. I recommend:

Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities by Diana Leafe Christian and Patch Adams

Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community by Diana Leafe Christian

Visiting communities is a great way to get started. IC.org has a directory of forming and existing communities. You can also advertise that you are forming a community, to help attract potential members.

All the best in your endeavor!

david congour's picture

Thanks for the great article on your community, I wish you all success!

I'm starting to think about starting an ecovillage in Colorado, and was wondering how you managed to get together a group of people that would be compatible, and also, how you manage to resolve the inevitable conflicts/disagreements that arise in a community?

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