Renewable energy sources to be featured in Saturday open house
By Kris Todd
Daily Reporter Staff
The Paul Rekow and Dr. Stephanie Johnson family lives according to the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra. The stay-at-home father and Physicians Laboratory of Northwest Iowa pathologist also believe in "cleaner sources of electricity," and plan to showcase tomorrow afternoon those they've recently installed to produce renewable energy on their Clay County farm, located at 2110 370th St., Spencer.
"Our goal was to have a zero-energy home," Johnson said. "So we wanted to produce as much electricity as what we used in our home and use that for all of our needs: Heating, refrigerator, washer and dryer. And, I think we're about there. We kind of thought we might have enough extra that we might be able to get an electric car, but I don't know if that will be feasible just yet."
In addition to practicing energy conservation, the two have incorporated a wind turbine and solar panels on their farm to produce a more renewable source of electricity.
The couple, who claimed Nebraska's first grid-tied solar system in their Scottsbluff home, brought 18 110-watt solar electric panels along with them when they relocated to northwest Iowa in January 2007.
"It doesn't take a lot of electrical knowledge to be able to install the solar electric panels," Rekow assured. "They produce about 7 kilowatt-hours a day on average."
Rekow, who belongs to the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, the American Wind Energy Association and its state chapter, attached the panels to a battery-based system that's located inside a former hog barn on their farm. The system has a 30-amp rated inverter which changes the electricity received from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) power, which is usable in their home.
"One thing I would do differently if I was to do anything over with regards to the solar project would be to not have a battery-based system," Rekow said. "It has significant losses even when connected to the grid. Also, the batteries add several thousand dollars to the cost of the project, require the most maintenance of the system and will probably have to be replaced about every five to seven years."
The $21,300 system in their Scottsbluff home, meanwhile, was grid-connected through Nebraska Public Power from June to November 2006. While online and working, it averaged over 10 hours of production per day for 520 days. The system's average daily maximum output was 1,717 watts, with it one day reaching a maximum output of 2,595 watts.
Rekow also mentioned he has had trouble connecting the solar panels to the grid here because of the cost associated with insurance requirements.
"Because of this, I hooked up the PV panels to a separate breaker panel in the basement and powered several of the household circuits off this subpanel," he said. "I had the panels hooked up this way from early March to mid-December 2007, when we installed a wind turbine and grid-connected both systems at once."
The 10-kw Bergey wind turbine Rekow and Johnson installed on their acreage is on a 120-foot guyed lattice tower. It uses an inverter to connect to the electrical grid through Iowa Lakes Rural Electric Cooperative. The electrical wind turbine marks the third installed through the co-op.
Since March 18, Rekow reports the $47,500 system has averaged 62 kwh per day.
"Getting insurance was a major barrier," he added. "Right now, I'm still paying $1,300 a year for the liability insurance to be able to connect to the grid through Iowa Lakes, which was one of the requirements. That just makes it completely unfeasible."
Rekow continued, "From December through March, we used about 5,000 kwh more off the grid than what we produced. But now, in April, we produced almost 1,000 kwh more than we consumed, so we're pushing that back onto the electrical grid.
"Our lowest day so far has been 2.3 kwh, and its highest output so far was 161.1 kwh in one day. But, according to Bergey's performance model, we should be able to expect 58.7 kwh per day, or 22,139 kwh per year. Between the wind and the solar, we are hoping to have enough renewable energy to cover all of our household needs."
Rekow and Johnson, who are currently remodeling their home's second story and plan to put new energy-efficient windows in throughout, have also installed an electric-based ground-source heat pump.
"Your cheapest, most affordable energy is what you can conserve or not use," Rekow said. "That's why we put in the ground-source heat pump: Because the efficiency on it was 350 - 400 times more than a standard air conditioning unit. During the heating season, it's still more efficient; but you still need to have the backup electric heat banks."
The couple, meanwhile, intend to buy a hybrid vehicle this year and are still contemplating purchasing an all-electric vehicle at some point.
* Rekow and Johnson will host an open house showcasing their wind, solar and ground-source heat pump units from 1 - 3 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at their home, located west of U.S. Highway 71 South at 2110 370th St., Spencer. For more information, contact them at 262-0121.