Fig harvest

We have a turkey fig tree in our yard.  We get delicious figs every year, but I can never remember precisely when they ripen.  I will keep track of how many ripe figs I remove from the tree this summer:

Week of         # Figs
July 16               3
July 23               51
July 30               54
Aug 6                 4
Aug 13               3
Aug 20               3
Aug 27               0
Sept 3                11
Sept 10              9
Sept 17              9
Sept 24              0

So, it appears we get two rounds of figs.  The first round tasted much better than the second round.  I suspect more sugar is formed when the figs ripen in the heat of mid summer compared to late summer (when days and evenings are cooler).

Solar carport

It’s official.  We will be getting a solar carport!  We have been working with someone at Southern Energy (http://www.southern-energy.com/) and finalized the details.  Our builder will build the structure so that it matches our house architecture.  Lumos LSX 180W panels will go on top (http://www.lumossolar.com/).  These panels are really neat.  They are frameless and have a clear backsheet, thus allowing light to penetrate beneath the structure.  The light penetration will be a nice touch and keep the underside light, airy and inviting, while still providing shade.

This will be the first time our solar installer uses these panels.  They arrived at their warehouse last week and everyone has been checking them out.  It sounds like everyone thinks they look nice.  We’ll have to wait a little longer to see for ourselves (waiting for building permits to be issued).

We had also looked into using Sanyo/Panasonic 195HIT bifacial panels.  They also allow light through but cost about four times as much.  So, we didn’t go with them.

Here are the details of what we’ll be getting:

  • 24 Lumos LSX 180W clear panels
  • Mounted at 5° tilt, due south
  • DC rating:  4.32 kW
  • SMA Sunny Boy 4000 Grid-tie inverter, with monitoring

This system will generate slightly more (106%) electric power than we use in a year, so we will be net energy producers (although if/when we get a plug-in car, we’ll likely break even).

I have been keeping track of how much electricity we use in our Green-built home for the past four years:

On average, we use 4,876 kWh / year.

Based on the PV Watts calculator, our solar photovoltaic system will generate 5,155 kWh / year (hence the 106% figure).

Our electric rate is currently 12.8¢/kWh, so this system will generate $660 in electric savings per year.

Plug-in Possibilities

Our goal is to power our house and at least one car with inexpensive, renewable solar.  State and Federal tax credits, combined with record low photovoltaic solar panel prices, make now an ideal time to go solar.

Ford C-MAX Energi

The auto industry sees the writing on the wall.  Demand for alternatives to the ICE (internal combustion engine) is increasing.  The cost of gas may fluctuate from season to season, but there is no denying the inevitable direction prices go.  Up with inflation.  Up now that the world is at or near peak oil.

The big automakers and revolutionaries like Tesla are all rolling out a diversity of new cars, some of which run on electricity only (plug-ins) and others are electric-gas hybrids (plug-in hybrids).  From my own musings, it is clear that plug-in hybrids make more sense economically and from a practical perspective, at least at the present time.  You get all the benefits of driving purely electric for short commutes, like to/from work, while having gas as backup for longer drives.

Sales of existing plug-in hybrids, like the Volt and Prius plug-in, suggest I’m not alone in my thinking.  Sales of mass market plug-in hybrids are soaring while all-electric car sales are stagnating (for recent report, see: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-cmax-plugin-hybird-20120719,0,6576690.story).  Sorry Leaf.  Drop your prices substantially and do it soon or you are compost.

To achieve our goals, we’ve been keeping our eyes out for the ideal plug-in hybrid car.  I test drove a Volt.  While the technology is impressive and the car looks great, I was struck by how poor the visibility was while driving.  The bulky A-pillar blocks side-to-side visibility.  The small window in the back, plus the protruding rear headrests, makes rear visibility poor.  It also felt cramped (and I’m not a big guy; 5′ 9″).  So, the Volt is off my list.

Prius plug-in is off the list too.  All electric range is too low (11-13 mi) and it looks like….well…. a Prius.  No offense to those who have one.  It’s a great car.  I just don’t like the way it looks.

However, I can’t help but be drawn to the new Ford Focus every time I see one.  It’s almost as sexy and aggressive as a BMW, but not priced like a BMW.  Ford makes a Focus (all) Electric, but its too damn expensive (~$40,000).  Way too much given it’s limited (~100 mi) range.

If Ford can find a way to make a Focus “Energi” (gas/plug-in hybrid) and hit the ~$20k price point, they will sell briskly.  Yes, this will stunt sales of the gas-only Focus.  But that’s the point.  Ford (and all automakers for that matter) could then make more money by selling accessories for such cars (like chargers, solar panel packages, etc).  They can’t sell big-ticket items like that to people who buy their gas-only version.

In the meantime, I really like what I’ve read so far on the upcoming Ford C-MAX Energi (shown above).

It looks like a Focus, but it is somewhat larger (perfect for our family w/ soon to be 2 kids).  It outcompetes the Prius V on virtually ever spec and, just announced today, the Energi will get 95 MPGe and an all electric range of 20 miles.  This is more than enough for my 13 mi round-trip commute to and from work+daycare and should allow me to avoid using gas for most of my driving.

I’m looking forward to finding out how much it will cost, what it looks like in person and if it is fun to drive.

Perhaps most importantly, going electric with the car and solar with the house will save significant money in the long run.  Solar electricity is free once the system is paid off.

My daily round-trip commute is 13 mi, my current 1988 vintage car gets 25 mpg and gas is currently $3.50 / gallon.  Thus, I would save $436 per year in gas alone (3120 miles / year / 25 mpg x $3.50 / gal).

Not to mention, we will save about $660 / year on our electric bill when our 4.3 kW photovoltaic system is operational.

Bottom line, we could save $1100 / year by switching to solar and by using a plug-in car.  That’s real money for something else.  A college fund, 10 romantic dinners for two at a fancy restaurant, etc.  And, that money will no longer be going to the Middle East and to King Coal.

Now, imagine how much you could save if you did the same.  And if 10% of all Americans did the same (that’s 31 million people), we would collectively save $34 billion.

Inspiration

It happened in the 1980’s when I was young. My family and I occasionally drove past the BP Solar facility in Frederick Maryland (now closed), with its shiny panels gleaming in the sun, beckoning a future where energy was produced locally, high-tech and clean. Houses of the future would all have solar, so I dreamt. Thus the seed of inspiration was planted.  I knew that some day, in the distant future, I would incorporate solar into my future home.

Well, for me, the future is now. We bought a new “green-built” home and painted it blue. The blue green house. Not a greenhouse that is blue, but a place we call home.

The immediate goal of this blog is to describe our journey to go solar and generate as much electricity as we consume (if not slightly more, to power a plug-in car we hope to have some day). In discussing this idea for a blog with my wife, she reminded me that many people want to know what exactly a “green” house is.  I will attempt to answer this question from our perspective, now that we’ve lived in this house for about 5 yrs.

On a broader level, I hope this blog serves to inspire others, from young to old. The future is what we make of it. We influence it every day. At the very least, I hope our efforts serve as an example to our kids, so their future home, the blue-green one we call Earth, is just as beautiful, unpredictably pleasant and life-sustaining as it is now.