I’m a master electrician, and in the fall of 2000 one of my agricultural customers inquired about wind power. Using the wind to generate electricity was new to me, so I began to do some research. I quickly realized that the information I was after wouldn’t be found in the phone book—wind power was not listed in the Yellow Pages. After some phone calls to my regular wholesalers, I got in touch with Soltek, a major Canadian supplier of solar and wind equipment. The customer did not proceed, but the research did pique my interest.
Today, just a handful of years later, my entire home and shop are off grid—powered by the sun and wind. Since I’m now in the business of designing and installing renewable energy (RE) systems, I feel that it’s important for me to have firsthand experience with the products I’ll be installing for customers. The system I’ve built up allows me to test a variety of system components—from wind generators to inverters to charge controllers. It’s much, much more complex than a typical system used to power an individual home, but it gives me the data I need to choose the right component for the right application when I’m working in the field.
When my wife Renée and I decided to build a new house in 1999, we wanted to make it as energy efficient and maintenance free as practical. We built it behind our existing 1942 farmhouse, which was not very efficient. The new house has an insulated concrete foundation frost wall and double-wall construction, with a total of R-44 insulation in the walls. The attic has R-80, the floor has R-5, and the windows are triple-pane, argon gas-filled to minimize heat loss.
As Renée and I talked about our energy situation, we considered several factors about our future. I would not be able to make as much money as I got older, especially since I am taking care of Renée (she was diagnosed with MS). Utility prices would continue to escalate, and I didn’t trust the electrical grid to be there all the time because of infrastructure deterioration, weather, and sabotage vulnerability. Investing in on-site renewable energy production made a lot of sense to us.
I had the tools and knew enough about electricity to determine our loads and daily energy consumption. We started by taking meter readings once a week from the utility meter on our house, and found that our electricity use averaged between 7.5 and 8.5 KWH per day. We got a catalogue from Brian at Soltek and started to go through the information in it, including a good little chart that gave us an approximate output on solar-electric panels for our location.
As we browsed through the catalogue, we also looked at the wind generators. After getting some more information from Brian, we settled on a Southwest Windpower H80 wind generator and eight Shell SR100 solar-electric panels. We ordered a Trace (Xantrex) SW5548 inverter and some 2-volt Deka batteries, since industrial 2-volt cells have the longest life. I started putting the system together using the electrical equipment that I normally use in my trade.