Power of the Sun, Part 2: Homes and solar power

By: Mike Hoffman Email
By: Mike Hoffman Email

The power of the sun has been used in home designs for centuries. The Ancient Greeks used passive solar techniques to build cities in 400 BC and Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House roof in 1979.

The White House panels were removed 24 years ago, but around the country, solar panel installation is growing as the technology improves and the cost decreases. Government incentives are encouraging more home and business owners to go green on their rooftops.

Heather Reser and her family live in Bristol. Ten months ago, they built a home that confirms their passion for conserving energy.

“We are on the south side of the house and we have our active solar, which is our 26 solar panels produces about 5.5 kilowatts per day and the two that look different are evacuated tubes that's actually solar hot water. It circulates a glycol mixture and it gets heated by the sun and that mixture comes through the pipes, comes through the hot water heater, dumps the heat into he hot water heater,” Reser explains.

"The passive solar design of the house…has a lot of windows, as well as the overhangs are deeper than normal. Our main floor is all dark tile so it absorbs the sun. We have ceiling fans. There are windows on east and west sides for cross ventilation,” she says.

The Reser's had help building their home. They found a passive solar architect and a builder who uses green technology.

The solar panels were installed by Leon Bontrager's company Home Energy. He talked to Elkhart County leaders recently contradicting the thought that northern Indiana does not have enough sunshine to make solar a good power source.

"There's a 1,000 watt meter squared rating on our solar panels is based at about 70 degrees. When you go over 70 degrees, it starts de-rating itself. The colder it gets, it actually up rates itself,” says Bontrager. "Now, yes, Florida has more sunshine and will produce more in the winter months, but during the summer months we produce more because our days are just as long or longer plus we're cooler, so therefore we're more efficient on our solar site."

But currently, the tax incentives for solar power in Indiana and Michigan come mainly from the federal government.

“Ohio also has the incentive of rebates and grants within the state, so residential can get up to a 25,000 and commercial can get up to 250,000,” says Bontrager.

At McCormick Motors in Nappanee, Gordon Moore's passion for conserving energy pushed him to apply and receive a $24,300 grant from the Indiana Office of Energy Development and they installed a six kilowatt solar array with a structure to handle four additional sections.

"We looked at the age of our roof systems and we knew within the next five to ten years we were probably going to have to do some repair work on them,” says Moore.

Generating electricity is just part of the plan of being an efficient company. Over the past 10 years, McCormick Motors has reduced it's energy consumption by 20 percent, and offers an incentive for it's employees.

"We reimburse our employees 25 cents on the dollar up to a maximum of $500 for anything they do at their home that improves efficiency or conserves energy,” says Moore.

Reducing the use of electricity by using the power of the sun is growing with the next generation of energy consumers.

“My son who is almost 11 talks about environmental issues and seems pretty proud to have a green house and solar,” says Reser.

Experts say with the 30-percent federal tax rebate a solar system will pay itself in around 12 to 15 years.

You can also look into energy credits from other states.


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