Really Cool Science


Keeping my with environmentally conscious post of a few days ago, I would like to follow up with this article:

Solar power eliminates utility bills in U.S. home

EAST AMWELL, New Jersey (Reuters) – Michael Strizki heats and cools his house year-round and runs a full range of appliances including such power-guzzlers as a hot tub and a wide-screen TV without paying a penny in utility bills.

His conventional-looking family home in the pinewoods of western New Jersey is the first in the United States to show that a combination of solar and hydrogen power can generate all the electricity needed for a home.

The Hopewell Project, named for a nearby town, comes at a time of increasing concern over U.S. energy security and worries over the effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate.

Strizki runs the 3,000-square-foot house with electricity generated by a 1,000-square-foot roof full of photovoltaic cells on a nearby building, an electrolyzer that uses the solar power to generate hydrogen from water, and a number of hydrogen tanks that store the gas until it is needed by the fuel cell.

In the summer, the solar panels generate 60 percent more electricity than the super-insulated house needs. The excess is stored in the form of hydrogen which is used in the winter — when the solar panels can’t meet all the domestic demand — to make electricity in the fuel cell. Strizki also uses the hydrogen to power his fuel-cell driven car, which, like the domestic power plant, is pollution-free.

Solar power currently contributes only 0.1 percent of U.S. energy needs but the number of photovoltaic installations grew by 20 percent in 2006, and the cost of making solar panels is dropping by about 7 percent annually, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The New Jersey project, which opened in October 2006 after four years of planning and building, cost around $500,000, some $225,000 of which was provided by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. The state, a leading supporter of renewable energy, aims to have 20 percent of its energy coming from renewables by 2020, and currently has the largest number of solar-power installations of any U.S. state except California.

The project also got equipment and expertise from a number of commercial sponsors including Exide, which donated some $50,000 worth of batteries, and Swageloc, an Ohio company that provided stainless steel piping costing around $28,000. Strizki kicked in about $100,000 of his own money.

While the cost may deter all but wealthy environmentalists from converting their homes, Strizki and his associates stress the project is designed to be replicated and that the price tag on the prototype is a lot higher than imitators would pay. Now that first-time costs of research and design have been met, the price would be about $100,000, Strizki said.

But for Strizki and his colleagues, the house is about a lot more than the bottom line. It’s about energy security at a time when the federal government is seeking to reduce dependence on fossil fuels from the Middle East, and it’s about sustaining a lifestyle without emitting greenhouse gases.

For the 51-year-old Strizki, the project is his life’s work. “I have dedicated my life to making the planet a better place,” he said.

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