Solar power gives homes a boost of energy

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Think we don’t get enough sun for solar power here in the frozen north? Think again.

“Germany is one of the number one users of solar energy,” says Kevin Moore, founder, owner and president of Midwest Wind and Solar in Merrillville. “They get five less solar hours than we do so I tell people who say you can’t do solar in Northwest Indiana, oh yes you can.”

Moore, who says he’s living his dream by selling solar electric, solar thermal and wind systems for the residential, commercial, municipal, educational, and agricultural sectors, notes that home installation has increased in popularity over the last decade.

“People haven’t been exposed to it like refrigerators and hot water heaters, but the more they learn the more interested they are,” he says. “When they find out renewable energy isn’t only good for the environment, it’s good for your property and your budget, they want to find out more.”

One of the reasons people don’t consider renewable energy as an alternative for their homes is that they think it’s too complicated says Kathy Luther, Director of Environmental Programs for Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC), a multi-purpose, sub-state, area-wide planning agency serving the citizens of Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties in Northwest Indiana.

“We offer workshops raising awareness about what it takes to go solar and to reduce the fear of the unknown throughout the region,” says Luther, noting that NIRPC has partnered with the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), Meister Consultants Group, the Council of State Governments, and eight regional councils on the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge. “The more people who use solar, the more the price will decrease.”

Luther says that home owners (as well as businesses) can sign up for a free evaluation which looks at how much renewable energy solar would generate, how much it would cost and how much it would save.

Midwest Wind and Solar also offers free evaluations. When a potential customer calls, Moore says they Google their address to determine if their location and building structure is amenable to renewable energy products.

“We give them all the pros and cons,” he says. “We ask the potential candidate for the last 12 months of their electric bills. We have special software and we enter the information we have and collect all the data a person would need to make a good solid estimation. We approach all of this from a highly educational aspect as we’re convinced people really need to know what we can provide.”

Currently, Moore says, the federal government is offering a 30% tax credit on renewable energy installations.

“So if this installation is, say, $10,000, you get $3000 back,” he says noting that this offer is good until the end of 2016.

Many of their initial phone calls are about wind power says Moore. But solar is getting less and less expensive, with the price dropping about 50% over the last few years.

Their energy solutions include products for solar electric which creates and stores electricity, solar water heating—a system using evacuated tubes that allows hot water generation in cold, rainy and cloudy climates, solar space heating—designed to reduce home heating costs by integrating directly into an existing heating system, wind power—those wind turbines that look like whirling wind mills on tall poles and even solar pool heating.

To harness the sun, solar panels, which can be installed on a home or in the yard, gather the particles of sunlight known as photons. Solar panels are designed to convert photons into direct current electricity. How we use the electricity and get charged for it is a concept that Moore describes as net energy metering. The meter keeps a record of the power produced by the solar panels.

“Your NIPSCO meter builds credits,” says Moore. “Any solar energy that you do not use simultaneous with production will go back into the electrical grid through the meter.”

As an example, he says that on a sunny day when parents are at work and kids in school, the solar products gather energy. Then when the family returns, turning on the TVs, computers, stoves, upping the heat or air conditioning and everything else that consumes energy or on cloudy days, they draw electricity from the grid as usual.

The difference is that NIPSCO only bills for the home’s net consumption, providing credit for any excess.

“We call this a net zero home,” says Moore. “People often ask where the batteries go, there are no batteries because you push it back out to the grid.”

It’s also an easy installation process, Moore continues. “All we do is add one addition to the breaker.”

Luther recommends using a certified solar installer.

“There’s a lot of information out there showing that solar creates jobs as well as energy diversity,” she says. “We estimate payback to residents in eight to nine years.”

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