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The Swing to Lower Net-cost Power and Alternative User technologies

Recently, I had a short conversation with a man named Randy, who works for Mariposa Electric, a local electrical contractor.

I started talking with him while an installation was being done at a local home. It was an upgrade to the electrical supply for the house. I was drawn to the goings-on as the Hydro company (Hydro One) had a line of trucks along this residential road and seemed to be engrossed in work. In addition, Mariposa Electric had two trucks in the lane-way of the home.

As we had had a power outage in our area, about a week and a half before, I was a bit concerned for our neighbour, thinking maybe something had happened to their electrical system as a consequence of the storm which caused the outage. I was relieved to find it was much more unremarkable than this, yet worthy of remark in its own way. Instead, I had my conversation with Randy about new energy technologies being installed today.

In our neighbourhood, there have been other homes refitted with new energy-saving technology. Some even generate electricity and can feed the surplus back to the grid. Things such as heat pumps save energy for a home and eliminate fossil fuel particulate pollution, entirely from the heating systems. They replace full furnace and air conditioning systems.

I told Randy of one person's story, and the approximate time to pay off the system, based on their savings. He said, “Yeah, that's a very good ROI. These system's ROIs (Return On Investments) are very encouraging.”

Randy then went on to share about a solar panel installation scenario. I paraphrase, 'The way they have it set up now, is with a Net meter deduction system. Basically, once you purchase a unit from a company to install, for instance, a solar power system, they take a sampling of your power usage, what you actually use, as well as many kw/h's of overflow power you produce through it, then they will use that difference to pay down your initial investment, consequently paying the unit off as you go. That's it, baring any usual maintenance costs, which may eat into that a bit again, but not significantly. The greater the power production, the faster the payoff, and the sooner the customer will be living free of electrical costs.'

One owner of a heat pump shared, “The install cost us, around, $20,000 dollars to install. We were promised a $5000 rebate from the federal government. It's been two years, and we have yet to see it, but they have continually reassured us, the rebate will be coming, so we are cautiously optimistic. However, since the time we have had our heat pump installed, two years ago, our heating fuel bill has been at zero. This previously amounted to around $4500 a year to heat our home.”

I asked about the offset costs of the included central air conditioning function.

“Well, we had two stand-alone air conditioners in our home before, they really strained and still didn't quite do it. Pretty costly on electricity use. From what I understand, the higher gear an appliance has to function in to do its job, the less efficient it is. I guess that's called diminishing returns. I'm not quite sure what the actual costs of running those were, my wife probably knows. But, you know, to run the whole system, our electrical bill averages about $40 more a month, year-round. We added that up, and that's only $480 dollars in additional electric payments a year, compared to $4500 in fuel, plus whatever it costs us to run our air conditioning units. We still had maintenance costs, before, for our furnace, so any costs for this new system are negligible.”

Regarding noise, airflow, temperature, and condition of the air in the home since the change, he shared this. “The quality of the air in our home feels like you're sitting outside on a moderate day, with only the slightest breeze. In the summer, that breeze is a gentle cool temperature, in the winter, it is a soft warmth. The system is about a quarter the sound level of the old furnace, but runs continually, so it's easier to tune it out. It's very comfortable.

All we have to do is change the air filter, like before. It takes the same kind. This system works out to pay itself off in about five years, that's a good ROI.”

I asked whether there were any new things to learn about the system and if that was difficult.

“Only, in so far as how to program the new thermostat, which comes with it. There are standard settings, so that makes it easy. There are also fancy settings, you can use if you want, like different temperatures for different times of day. You know, like a bit cooler or warmer at night, depending on how you like for the time of year, and the opposite changes for daytime. I guess some people may already have a fancy temperature controller with settings like this, but this one can be programmed for holiday energy savings and stuff like that too. There is also a function to just dry out the air in your home for those really humid days, as well. I don't know if it can add moisture, to compensate for the dryness in the winter. Hmm, I'll have to check that out.”

I asked if, in his opinion, there were any drawbacks. “Well, the initial cost to buy and have it installed was a bit of a hit. But we were going to need to change our old system for a new one anyway. They were, however, able to use our existing duct system, and there is no need to purchase or rent a fuel tank. So still, it seemed a reasonable cost, as it saves money in the near future, especially once we eventually get the rebate.”

Anyway, it seems this customer was more than happy and couldn't say enough good things about this choice.

I listened to a series of news interviews on the BBC Canada radio network on Wednesday, April 26th, regarding the swing to alternative energy. This was especially with regard to eliminating greenhouse gasses and the commitment of whole cities officially going in this direction. It seems the momentum in this swing is gathering; on both sides of the border. Here's to fresher air and clearer minds.

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