Solar Cabin

Solar electricity, supplemented with a generator, could be the ideal power solution for an Idaho homesteader already planning to build a passive solar cabin.
By Joel Davidson
May/June 1983
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In a remote location far from power lines, a solar cabin with active and passive elements is a practical alternative.
Illustration by Fotolia/stefan1179

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Q: I'm planning to build a 1,150 square foot passive solar cabin in northern Idaho. One of the problems I've encountered is determining where my power will come from. A source of “juice” is imperative, both for convenience (at a young 60 years of age I no longer want to “rough it”) and because I hope to operate a small business on the land. However, the local power company quoted me a price of from $5,000 to $6,000 to run a line the 900 yards to my site. For that kind of money, I'd rather arrange my own source of electricity!

There's no stream on my place, so water power isn't the answer and the site is hidden between two mountain ranges and protected by a mature cedar forest, making wind power a questionable alternative. We'll be operating a refrigerator, a water heater, lights, a washing machine, power tools and a water pump.

Can you suggest a solution to my energy crisis? Any alternative to the power company must, of course, be economically feasible or there's little point in doing this.

A photovoltaic or photovoltaic/generator system could be an ideal solution to your power problem. You'll want to size the generator to handle your large loads (the power tools and washing machine, for instance) and when the generator is running, you can use it to charge your battery bank. Also install a small- or medium- sized photovoltaic array. Now you may wonder why, if the generator can produce all your power and charge your batteries, photovoltaic cells are necessary at all. However, there are several excellent reasons for investing in such a setup: [1] Tax credits for the entire system (installation, design, PV equipment, battery charger, generator and inverter, etc.) can reduce the system's cost by at least 40 percent, [2] noisy, nonrenewable fuel generators require maintenance, have “down time”, and can sometimes be sources of aggravation as well as power, and [3] the combination PV/generator system is an attractive way to make the transition into renewable energy production while also keeping initial costs low. Later on, you can add to the photovoltaic array and phase out the fuel guzzler.

Solar technology consultant Joel Davidson puts out the PV Network News.

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