When Sigurd Brezins gets his bill from Delmarva Power in his mailbox this month, he may find that the company owes him money.
In fact, Delmarva Power pays any homeowner who has solar panels on their home connected to the electric grid. The company buys unused energy and credits it to the homeowner’s electric bill. The monitor gauge actually spins backward when the panels produce more energy than the homeowner is using.
As consumers’ energy bills continue to rise, some homeowners and builders are turning to alternative energy sources, such as solar energy and geothermal heating. The Green Energy Program, in which Delmarva Power and Delaware Electric Cooperative participate, gives grants for half the cost of solar energy, solar heating, wind and geothermal systems, up to a maximum amount.
All municipalities in Delaware will offer the program next year. These systems are meant to supplement, not replace, energy from the power grid. But they can make a big difference on energy bills — and on the environment.
Brezins, a builder who runs ESB Inc., is building an environmentally friendly house in the Ocean View development Ocean Way Estates.
The house has a geothermal pump to heat hot water and it can heat 60 percent to 100 percent of the home’s hot water, depending on the season, Brezins said. The house is insulated with Isynene Foam Insulation — an efficient, water-based product that encases the entire house. Crawl spaces in the house are sealed and conditioned, which helps reduce humidity in summertime. The passive solar design of the house, with many windows facing south, blocks sunlight in summertime and allows sunlight to enter during the winter. The light sockets support low voltage lights, which are as bright as other lights but use a fraction of the energy, Brezins said.
He also uses Energy Star appliances, which are more energy efficient than most products.
“Even the ceiling fans in the bathroom are Energy Star,” he said.
And, of course, the roof is equipped with a 1,500-watt solar panel system connected to the electricity grid. The solar energy also charges a backup battery, which can power the refrigerator, water pump and some lights up to four days if the electricity goes out. With the prevailing high energy prices and environmental concerns, now is the perfect time to start integrating alternative energy into homes, Brezins said.
“The climate’s changing. We can’t keep living the way we’ve been living,” he said. “This puts less pollution into the air.”
The popularity of solar panels has increased in the last few years, said Dale Wolf and Jim Kelley of KW Solar Solutions, who installed the solar panel system on Brezins’ house.
“We get three to five calls a day. We’re out on a daily basis,” Kelley said.
KW installs solar panels on homes and businesses across Delaware, and they’re looking to expand into Maryland, Kelley said. The panel he and Wolf installed on Brezins’s house can generate 1,500 watts per hour on a sunny day. Given the house’s passive solar design, high-quality insulation and efficient appliances, the solar panels should be able to supply about 75 percent of the home’s energy supply, Wolf said.
“We’re interested in doing the right thing,” he said, adding that this happens to be a good time to be in the alternative energy business.
Wolf said all the feedback they’ve received from clients has been positive.
“The only negative for solar panels would be you don’t have enough roof space,” he said. But one hurdle to having solar panels installed is the cost. Over time, the solar panels will save money on electricity bills, but the up-front costs are high.
The Green Energy Program covers about half the cost for a small system. Brezins’s 1,500-watt system costs about $20,000, and he received a grant of $9,000. But $11,000 is still a lot for some people to pay.
“One thing everyone should do is look into water heating panels for roofs,” Brezins said, adding those systems cost only $3,000 to $4,000, and the state will pay half of that.
But the larger solar panel systems are worth the money for homeowners who can afford them, Brezins said. “You’re going to save a lot in the long run.”
The Green Energy Program is mandated by state law for Delmarva Power. The other electric companies chose to participate in the program, said Scott Lynch, an energy program planner who helps oversee the program. Customers who have municipal power will be able to participate in the program starting Jan. 1, 2007, when municipalities finalize a Green Power Program of their own.
But solar panels do not automatically result in a check from the power company.
“If you’re using a smaller system, I would feel comfortable saying in most cases you’re just lowering your electric bill,” Lynch said. “By making a home as efficient as possible, you take greater advantage of solar panels.”