Rising above the flood

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Driving home from work on a chilly night, Kandace Donovan sees that the power has gone down again in her Lyons, Colorado neighborhood. She passes the darkened homes and then there is her house – lit up like a Christmas tree! It is with a sense of satisfaction that she opens the door to her home and steps into the cheery interior greeting her noisy children.

Provost-Kandace-Donovan

In December 2013 Independent Power Systems installed a grid-tied solar electric system complete with battery backup at Kandace’s home. When the power goes down, there is a seamless switchover from the grid-tied solar system to the battery backup system.

I decided to have a chat with Kandace about her system to get the information straight from the source. Here’s how it went:

What initially motivated you to consider a solar electric system for your home?

Getting a home solar PV system has long been of interest to me. I’m pretty environmentally conscious and wanted to cut back on my use of fossil fuels. I’m well aware of what the intensive use of fossil fuels is doing to our planet. There is also that I didn’t want to throw money away. I’d rather rely on the steadiness of the sun than on the volatility – in price and geopolitics – of fossil fuels. I knew that going solar was fundamentally the right thing to do.

When we had the huge rains and flood here on the Front Range – in September 2013 – many people, including us, had to leave their flooded homes. We were out of our home for three months as there was no water or utilities for over two months. We got our sys-tem installed the December after the flood, right after power came back on in Lyons.

During that time away from our home, we were concerned about looters as security sys-tems were not functioning.

What allowed you to move forward on deciding to invest in a PV system?

With the federal rebate – which was the only rebate available to us here in Lyons – we were able to get a third of the cost of the system back. The flood was the real factor in our deciding to go for the solar and battery backup system. If we’d had this system be-fore the flood, we would not have had to leave our house. We could have put a compost toilet in the back yard and used electric heaters. The flood destroyed the infrastructure of this town.

Your system has a battery backup component. In your words, could you explain how it works and what it has done for you?

We have two inverters. We can program them; the IPS system designers set it up this way. We have it set up so that there’s automatic switchover to the battery system. Nor-mally, the solar energy generated via the grid-tie inverter feeds our house and extra goes out to the grid. When the power fails, the battery inverter immediately takes over power-ing the house and then the grid tie inverter’s extra energy goes into charging the battery. We can manually shut if off if we want. We’re not yet in a position where we make more electrical energy than we use over the year – we’re currently supplementing about 75% of our energy from the solar panels – but when we’re producing more than we’re using at any given moment, the excess electricity generation gets pushed back to the grid and earns us credit with the utility at the retail rate. This arrangement is called net-metering. We have room on our roof to add more pan-els later.

Has your system worked as you expected it to?

It has worked better than expected. We didn’t really understand at first how seamless it would be – that is, the battery-power switchover. It’s instantaneous. We don’t even notice it except for maybe a flicker of light. In those months after the flood, power surges were going on in the neighborhood. Some neighbors had to have all their appliances replaces. As I said earlier, we never even knew when the power went off in the neighborhood since our inverter flips immediately over to battery backup. We had people coming over to our house to charge their cell phones.

If you had to put a value on never losing electrical power, what would that be? Do you feel you have or will get your ‘money’s worth’ from the battery backup system?

$35,000 – the cost of my system. Yes, I do feel I’ve got my money’s worth. Obviously, the system has not paid off financially yet. But I can tell you, the peace of mind is invalu-able. I get tremendous emotional satisfaction from our significantly reduced electric bill; it rarely pushes $100 now.

Are you happy with IPS’s performance in working with you and delivering as you expected? 

Yes, super happy. The company delivered as expected on time. When the electrical in-spector showed up, we were a little worried as we’d heard he was a hard ass. But he had former experience with IPS installations; he said he knew he’d have no problems with a system installed by IPS. His exact words: “You guys are dealing with a class act.”

What would you say to someone considering going solar? 

Do it!! And if you can’t do it big, start small. You don’t need to go for a full off-grid sys-tem right away. Just waking up in the morning knowing you’ve done the right thing, that you’ve made the responsible choice … your day will be better. It’s easier than you think. It’s not a lot of work at all.

Anything more you want to say?

Just that I’m proud to be a solar system owner. There’s room on our roof to expand the PV array – and I expect we’ll eventually do that. I’d like for my family to get even more self-sufficient. I’ve considered getting an electric car. Like I said, it has been tremendous-ly emotionally gratifying knowing that my house is powered by the sun. And I know we are far less likely to be negatively impacted by future floods and power outages.

System Specifications:

•   4.9kW SunPower PV array
•   6.0kW battery inverter power
•   20kWh battery capacity
•   Grid-tied and instantly battery backed upon grid failure
•   Absolutely maintenance-free

This post originally appeared on Independent Power Systems’ blog and is republished with their permission.

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Independent Power Systems
Independent Power Systems is a solar installer based in Boulder, Colorado who has been helping residents and businesses in Montana, Colorado, and Massachusetts save money by designing and installing the most economical and self-sustaining renewable energy systems.

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