A bulletin produced by Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality's
Air Quality Division
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
April 2009
Reducing Your Carbon Footprint One Solar Array at a Time

Phil Hargis, a geologist for NDEQ’s Petroleum Remediation Section, is not just protecting the environment during work time; he’s also doing his part to protect the environment at home. Phil installed a 1.35 kilowatt solar array system for his 1,600 square foot home about five years ago. The solar system is supplemented by a 400 watt wind generator that keeps the batteries full on cloudy days during the winter months. His system can generate six to eight kilowatts per day, if needed. An average home uses approximately three to four kilowatts per day.

This generating system could sustain a family of four, especially if they are mindful of their electrical use. Phil’s home was built twelve years ago with energy conservation in mind, which also helps reduce his energy load. His home features: triple pane windows, compact fluorescent lights throughout; two-by-six wall construction with R42 insulation; 10 inch thick concrete foundation in the basement with two-by-four insulation; R54 insulation in the attic; and a wood burning stove. The house also has a Rinnai "on demand" propane tankless hot water heater, which has no pilot light and does not keep 50 gallons of water hot 24 hours a day.

Phil supplements his electricity use with propane. The biggest daily electrical household user is the refrigerator. Phil’s has replaced his with a highly efficient propane powered refrigerator. The oven, dryer, well pump, furnace, and air conditioner are not connected to the solar array due to their high electrical demand.

The complete system cost around $15,000 and about five months to install. Phil helped with much of the labor and installation. There was an extra cost due to installing a passive tracker system that moves the solar array with the sun, but this utilizes the sun’s energy more efficiently. He recommends doing your homework before you dig into a project like this. You need to know your electric code and have a fundamental understanding of electricity. Phil also qualified for a $2,000 renewable energy tax credit for installing a new zero emissions electrical generator solar system.

Phil’s electric bill for the appliances that aren’t connected to the solar array cost $50 per month on average. If he were to use only solar, his electric bill would be next to nothing at $3.50 per month. While the solar system has a long payback period of 20 years, Phil admits money was not the reason he embarked on this journey. His sole reason for installing the solar/wind system is to reduce his carbon footprint.

He has also adapted his daily habits to be more energy efficient. He monitors his electrical use throughout the day and knows at all times how much energy is coming in and how much is left in the battery banks. Phil has learned how to live within his means by watching less television and reading more. He also tries to use less energy in the morning when the batteries are absorbing and recharging.

Phil continues to find ways to reduce his carbon footprint. One of his energy saving ideas includes switching your extra beer fridge or deep freeze to run off of solar power. DC powered appliances are available, so you wouldn’t need a power inverter to run the appliance off of solar power. Solar-powered appliances cost around $1,000 and a 24-volt solar array system (includes solar panels, charge controller, and batteries) would cost about $1,700. Phil also suggests installing a solar-powered hot water heater in your home. Additionally, it is more effective to mount the solar panels on a pole rather than on your roof because you can direct the panels to get the most efficient use of the sunlight.

For more information on solar-powered appliances, go to www.sundanzer.com. If you are thinking about installing a solar or wind electrical generating system at home, be sure to contact your local electric company and determine if there are any zoning restrictions.

For more information, contact

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 "N" Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
(402) 471-2186 FAX (402) 471-2909