Sustainable Energy: Phase I – Sun Farming – One Month Later

Before we turn our attention to supplying the energy needed to heat our home and hot water, let’s recap and update an earlier blog Sustainable Energy: Phase I. where we outline our personal sustainability plan. There we described a newly installed roof-mounted photovoltaic solar system that allows us to harvest some of the Sunlight illuminating a little piece of the Earth’s surface here in Colorado and convert the Sunlight into electrical power that supports our personal residential electrical needs. The Sunlight we are now harvesting was formerly energy that was just being converted into heat by the garage roof and not being used mindfully. So a month ago (June 15, 2011), we became official Sun farmers (gardeners) by simply installing photovoltaic solar panels on a portion of our roof (about 400 square feet – about 20 ft by 20 ft – that’s about 0.01 acres – a small garden).

SolarPanelsAfter one month of Sun farming, we can report that the solar panels are indeed harvesting Sunlight and converting it into all the electrical power we need to sustain our current life style. We have not had to revert to the Amish way of life, but continue to use/operate all our electrical appliances in a clean sustainable manner.
Although it may be considered obscene by global standards, we continue to live a relatively typical life style of someone in the U.S. Our way of life includes the following electrical appliances (all of which are now powered by a small portion of the Sun that shines on our home):

Food storage and preparation (stove top, microwave oven, standard and convection oven, refrigerator with freezer and ice maker, dish washer, coffee grinder, coffee maker, toaster, mixer, waffle iron, juicer, bread maker, George Foreman grill, …),
Clothing maintenance (washing machine, clothes dryer, sewing machine, iron,…)
Environment Control (General Lighting: electric lights, lamps, chandeliers,…; Sound: stereo, radios…; Temperature Control: central air conditioning, central heating furnace fans (natural gas for heat),box fans, …; Safety: smoke and CO detectors )
Consciousness Raising / Education / Communication (multiple computers, printers/scanners/fax, wireless phones, two TVs , a DVD and VHS player, several clocks, … )
Home maintenance / Hobby (vacuum cleaner, rug steamer, power tools (drill, table saw, welder, sanders, lathe, circular saw), lawn edger,… (Note to self: replace gas powered lawn mower with an electric version in phase III)
Entertainment (see TV, stereo, etc.)
Other ( hair dyer, electric pencil sharpener, …to name a few)

[Unfortunately the initial manufacturing and production of these appliances consumed non-renewable Ancient Sunlight. More on that issue in a later blog. Nevertheless, there is hope that in the future, that by using the “cradle-to-cradle” philosophy, we can “borrow” basic elements from Mother Earth (like borrowing library books), use energy from the Sun to fashion these elements into a stove top, microwave oven, etc., and then after an appropriate time period of usage, disassemble and recycle every atom of that stove top, microwave oven, etc. (like returning our library books so someone else can check them out) and re-form the raw materials into new “products”]

Since our appliances are now powered by the Sun’s energy – energy that we harvest, Xcel Energy is no longer required to burn coal, natural gas, oil or use nuclear energy to provide our residential electrical energy needs. We are just two more of the growing number of people who are finding it possible to take individual responsibility for providing their own energy for residential use by harvesting current sunlight that falls onto their roof or into their yard.

Note that we are still “on the grid” but roles have changed. Our local regulated for-profit provider of energy (natural gas and electric), Xcel Energy Company, is no longer our supplier of electrical power, but only our energy “bank.” As Sun farmers, we harvest current sunlight during daylight hours and store it in the bank (grid) so we are able to withdraw our energy after sunset (and on rainy days).

Xcel Energy Company dutifully meets the demands of the Colorado Legislation that forces them to allow homeowners to install residential photovoltaic solar panels on their roof and generate their own power. What understandably upsets Xcel is that as a for-profit company, they can no longer include us Sun farmers in their revenue stream (and bottom line profit) for electrical power because we only use them as an energy bank. What is important to us (and the planet) however is that Xcel no longer has to burn coal and spew carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury compounds etc. into the atmosphere just to make electrical power for our household. Ideally as more and more people harvest their own Sunlight, the “utility companies” will morph from coal and natural gas burners and nuclear power plant operators to energy “elevators” that focus on storing energy to accommodate the ever growing millions of Sun farmers.

As it turned out, July 15, 2011 marked the end of our first month of Sun farming. It was a great Sun harvesting day as illustrated in the graph below.

The solar panels appear to wake up around 7:00 am (daylight savings time) at this time of year. Around 11:00 am, they provide their peak output (in our case around 4000 watts), then taper off after lunch and shut down for the day just after 7:00 pm. We harvested around 32 kilowatt hours (kWh) today – a good day. If it is overcast or rains all day, the output can be reduced to half this amount, but like all farmers, you learn to accept the weather.

As indicated in the graphic below, during this first month of harvesting Sunlight, we generated 762 kWh of clean sustainable energy. As a result, Xcel Energy did not have to burn 838 lbs of coal nor did they have to dump 1714 lbs of CO2, 10 lbs of sulfur dioxide, and 5 lbs of nitrogen oxides into our atmosphere just to give the two of us electrical power for the month. The solar panel performance monitor indicated we received a 1,161 lbs of carbon credit equivalent to 14 trees for our first month of operation/Sun farming.


Sunlight is the only sustainable source of energy in the solar system.   This energy has been coming to us daily for the past 4.5 billion years – and we expect it to continue for several billion more.    Living off current sunlight rather than Ancient Sunlight (fossil fuel) is a sustainable way of life all living creatures (that have preceded us in the evolutionary tree of life) have learned to do (and we humans did until just several hundred years ago,)  so we “modern” humans can and must re-learn to do the same.

After 68 years on this planet, I’ve come to realize deep down just how important the Sun’s daily energy really is – after all, it is the fundamental basis of all life on Planet Earth. As highly evolved heterotrophs, we humans must take in (consume/eat) the energy from other heterotrophs (animals) and autotrophs (plants and algae) that naturally harvest Sunlight directly. So as fossil energy reserves (stored Ancient Sunlight that has been stored in the form of coal, oil, natural gas, tars sands, oil shale, etc. ) are being consumed at an every increasing rate by the exploding human population on our planet, we have become conscious of the fact that “we must soon re-learn to live sustainably just from the Sun’s current energy.” Since we are now aware of this fact that transcends all political, social, personal and religious belief systems, we might ask ourselves, why not start living sustainably now?

Interested in learning more about Solar Energy? more….

Time to move on to Phase II.  The plan for Phase II is to install a geothermal heat pump that exchanges energy with Mother Earth instead of fracing her to extract her non-renewable reserve of natural gas we currently burn in our furnace to keep us warm at the northern latitudes.   With a geothermal heat pump system, small electric motors (driven by power from the solar PV system) will be used to operate the heating / cooling system – but no fossil energy (i.e. natural gas) is required.

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