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Solar Energy in Enumclaw: Low Tech, High Tech

Earth Day Every Day # 10

 

I know you're not supposed to air your dirty linen in public.  But clean linen is OK.  Pretty much.  Unless you live in a neighborhood that expressly forbids it as not aesthetically pleasing.  Not sure if that happens locally, but it does elsewhere, (and can become quite an issue.)

But I do think it's OK here.    At any rate, I have been airing my clean linen (and cotton, polyester, rayon, etc) on my clothes racks in the back yard (and hanging in trees) for a number of years.  I hate turning on the dryer and using kilowatts when there's all that solar energy just waiting to dry my laundry for free.  (If you're interested, by the way, in the cost per load or per year with your electric or gas dryer, you can calculate it on this Saving Electricity website.)  The price tag might sell you on sunshine.  Gentle breezes sometimes assist the sun in this drying task, although Enumclaw winds have occasionally toppled my clothes racks.  I think with an actual clothesline that is not a problem.

Well, that low-tech solar energy is available to most anybody with room for a clothesline or a clothes rack, and more and more people are tapping into it.   We just took a big step and went for high-tech solar energy with the installation of solar panels.  Now, besides drying clothes with solar energy, we bake, compute, light, refrigerate.  No, it doesn't do the whole job.  We will know more after a year's use, but the projection is that our system will produce about 63% of our energy needs.    What happens is that when the panels are producing more than we are using, as they did the past few weeks,  the PSE meter runs backwards.  So we banked some kwh's during our extended summer which got credited for later use.   (And what an extended summer it was--we wish we had gone solar in July!)  But yes, we have a sudden drop in production now that it has clouded over.  Plus days are getting shorter .  The PSE meter is running forwards.   :(

So you might wonder about the effectiveness of solar energy in the Great PNW, given our gray winter days, not to mention the June Gloom.  But over the course of a year, a house in Enumclaw receives about 70% of the sunshine it would get in Los AngelesEven more surprising, it can generate 82% of the solar electricity its L.A. counterpart does.  The reason is that solar panels are more efficient the cooler they are--a panel loses about 1% of its production power for each degree above 70, and likewise gains 1% for each degree below.  Which is to say, briefly, Yes, it works here, and quite well.

You might also wonder about the cost and value of solar energy.  It's definitely a major investment.  Of course, like other home improvements, we figure the value of our house immediately went up as much as the cost of the system.  And we did the math--the eventual return is considerably better than we can get anywhere on savings or CDs.  But payback for the actual outlay will take about seven years, so we'll be hoping for sunny days and carefully watching our kwh production.  Oh, forgot to mention, our system comes with an online Energy Minder (picture above) for monitoring in kilowatts our moment-by-moment solar production and household energy being consumed.  We watched the kilowatt hours and pennies and dollars add up during the sunny weather--it's not as much fun now!  I do suppose the novelty will wear off and we won't watch for all seven years.   Payback is helped, too, by some temporary state and federal incentives, intended to boost the industry.   And low-interest loans are available, so solar installation can also be done with less upfront cash and payments can be made with the proceeds generated.

There are a number of solar companies in Washington.  We chose Puget Sound Solar to install our system, and have been very happy with their expertise, staff, service, and follow-up..  You can see some of the team at work here.   Always thinking LOCAL, we selected panels made in Washington (Marysville) by Silicon Energy.  (Let's keep the jobs here!)

If anyone is considering a solar installation and wants to see our system or get more information, we'll be happy to share what we know and what we learn along the way.  We plan to be involved for at least seven years....

Back to low-tech solar energy:   Clothes-drying in the sun-- been going on for thousands of years.  Seems to me it's still a good idea.  And payback on a clothes rack won't take long.   (Don't forget to check your dryer cost-per-year on that website.)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

dexterjibs October 22, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Doreen, great post. My wife I have been wondering what the cost would be to install this at our house. I am all for using all resources available to us to provide energy at the lowest cost possible.
Ann baker October 22, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Thank you very much for this info. I have been very interested in doing this. I will be in touch.
Doreen Anderson October 23, 2012 at 02:20 AM
Hi Dexter. Thanks for your response. And I appreciate that you read my post, especially realizing (from comments elsewhere) that you've at times had, um, we might say, some reservations about green energy. And certainly some things have happened in that realm NOBODY is happy about. No need to get back into that, but I'll pass on that we do feel good about the WASHINGTON companies we've looked at, and we hope to see the industry do well in our state. That will be a win for the companies themselves and the folks they can employ, for the consumers, and for the taxpayers. (As the person with the Earth blog, I'll throw in that in my opinion it will also be a win for the environment.) (And you don't have to agree --I'm OK with that.) (But three out of four ain't bad....) Of course the cost will have to come down before we see widespread use of solar energy. I admit to sticker shock and backing off the first time we looked into it. But we re-processed and decided for us this is the right time if we want to do it at all. Kind of want to be sure we have those 7+ years left!. If I stay on Patch, I'll report how it goes along the way, good news or bad. Thanks again for keeping in touch.
Doreen Anderson October 23, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Thanks, Anne. I'm glad to hear there is local interest in info on solar energy. Well, TWO responses so far--that's almost a record for me! Maybe not great interest, but some. I do think we'll see more and more solar installations as time goes by--and we'd love to see some of that happen here on the plateau. I saw a youtube clip of widespread alternative energy use in Germany (solar and wind) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkYv3xQ2W3I , and I tried to imagine the sun at work like that here for us someday. We look forward to hearing from you, or stop by to compare solar notes.
dexterjibs October 23, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Doreen, I think you and I agree more than you think. I don't have a problem with "green energy". What I have a problem with is the left, the Democrats, and a President that wants to bankrupt the coal and fossil fuel industry. I think we can have it all- wind, solar, oil, natural gas, coal, hydro-electric and fracking. Having all of these enregy resources will bring down costs for everybody and make us very self sufficient instead of relying on middle east oil. What we have is a President that has given billions of dollars to "green energy companies" that have failed miserably while putting other forms of energy companies out of business. Obama has promised us that he will put the coal industry out of business. Does he and his sycophants realize that almost 50% of our energy comes from coal? We, as a nation, cannot afford to put the coal industry out of business. DOreen, I want all forms of energy. This will bring prices down, and make us a Super Power once again.
Sheerie Slatton October 23, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Very interesting, Doreen. Like Ann, we've been interested for a long time. Perhaps now we'll take the next step and have an assessment done.
Doreen Anderson October 24, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I'm always glad, Dexter, when people find things to agree on, and I appreciate your comments about green energy and including solar/wind with the other energy sources you support. Even if we don't totally agree about coal or fracking, we do agree on the need to find ways to become self-sufficient and not rely on mid-east oil. I really wish more people would look for and acknowledge common ground. Maybe we'd see more productive discussions and fewer personal attacks flowing through that column on the home page of Patch, which I've given up reading--do wish it were just comments from local folks, so people would at least consider that they're talking to their neighbors. Speaking of...I have my Earth flag flying, and my neighbor has a sign up that says Stop Global Whining. Obviously we have areas of disagreement. But he and his wife are great folks. He brings us samples of her wonderful home-baked goods, like fresh rolls made with hand-ground flour. (Not sure I'd share something that much work and that good with ANYBODY.) I try to reciprocate, but I'm not as good a cook, so I sometimes take something easy, like plums right off the tree. The point is, we're neighbors and we share the ordinary things in life. We all care about our grandchildren and all love our country. And yes, we disagree on some important things, based on backgrounds, experiences, friends, sources of information, etc. Understanding why we think differ--Oops, the red-print Tolstoy message, must stop
Doreen Anderson October 25, 2012 at 12:10 AM
That sounds great, Sheerie. If you want to consider Puget Sound Solar for an assessment, we have an extra flyer and fact sheet from them you can have. Keep us posted on anything that develops.
John Locatelli October 29, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Hi Everyone-- The national railroad system was only made possible by the Government (all of us) giving the railroads large tracts of land which were valuable to sell to settlers and to log among other uses. The same is true for the oil industry. We (the government) have always helped develop industries that we see as a good investment for all of us. One thing is certainly true. Oil, gas and coal will eventually run out and then what? In terms of human existence 100 years is just a blip in time.

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