by John D. Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist: A rural couple made a successful power play to supply their homestead with clean, affordable energy using home solar power and a grid-tied wind power system…
ince moving to our 5-acre homestead in southwestern Wisconsin more than 20 years ago, our goals have been to maximize self-sufficiency, minimize energy use, and untether ourselves from fossil fuels and the emissions associated with burning them. We quickly realized that getting a house in order first, rather than immediately installing renewable energy systems such as a wind turbine or photovoltaics, would be far more cost-effective with respect to energy use and consumption.
To this end, we switched to energy-efficient lightbulbs and sealed up our old 1,900-square-foot farmhouse as best we could with new windows, caulk, and insulation. Within a few years of buying the homestead, we began using a solar thermal system to meet our domestic hot water needs. We fired up a Lopi Endeavor woodstove for our primary heat source. We also adjusted our behavior, including line-drying our laundry and cooling the house with fans instead of air conditioning. We learned to grow our own food, prepare it in our kitchen, and preserve our garden harvest by canning and freezing. For us, our approach to renewable energy systems matched our approach to food systems, area ecological systems, and, in terms of our livelihood, financial systems: Everything relates to everything else.
After about five years of whittling down our electricity use — from 12,000 kilowatt-hours per year to 9,000 kWh per year — we found that our usage was more manageable for a renewable energy system, and we began exploring options for generating electricity on our homestead.
We have an all-electric property, where we both work as writers, authors, and owners/operators of Inn Serendipity bed-and-breakfast — and John is a photographer. Since our homestead was already connected to the grid when we moved in, simply using the grid for surplus electricity storage made the best economic sense and sidestepped the maintenance and battery disposal aspect of an off-grid backup system. Renewable energy systems didn’t affect how our appliances operated or what appliances we could use; everything electric in our house is an Energy Star certified appliance.
Pivotal to our ability to generate our own affordable energy were the educational resources available from the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Equally important, however, were the financial incentives — both federal and state — available at the time for the installation of new renewable energy systems.
Home Solar Power
In 2002, we added grid-tied home solar power in the form of a 480-watt photovoltaic (PV) system consisting of four Kyocera KC-120 panels and an Advanced Electronics GC-1000 inverter. It was designed to meet about 2 percent of our electricity needs during summer, the busiest time of year for our farm and B&B. We estimated the system would generate roughly 500 kWh per year. The total cost of the project came to $5,527, with the setup covered as part of an MREA Installation Workshop. Subtract a state grant totaling $3,536, and our net investment cost came to just $1,991.