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Solar energy is a hot idea with local scientists, environmentalists

When Charlie and Tracey Muise wanted a roof on their porch, they went all out. It is built with state of the art photovoltaic solar panels that have cut their energy bill by about 30% a month. (video after the jump) The Muises are the first Lamar County customers of George Andrews’ Solar Source of Georgia, which builds solar arrays. They got help from Southern Rivers Energy, which installed a new type of meter. The Muises sell excess electricity generated by the panels to the cooperative. ’It’s a new meter they’d never seen before,’ said Tracey, a teacher. ‘They had to train their staff. It’ll cut down on the time for the next people who install solar.’ The meter shows how much electricity the Muises produce, how much they use and how much is sold to SRE. In the first three weeks they sold 32 kilowatt hours of power. If they need it later they can buy it back at the same rate at which they sold it. The couple read about Solar Source in The Herald-Gazette, discovering green energy is available right here in Lamar County. ’There’s been a lot of talk about green energy,’ said Charlie, a firefighter. ‘A lot of it isn’t much more friendly to the environment than oil. Wind power is loud and you have to clear cut. It kills birds and bats. That’s a tremendous impact.’ He considers biodiesel energy ‘a myth’. It’s increased the cost of food production so it’s more of a problem than anything. There’s no technology for clean coal, either. That’s why solar is the way to go.’ Charlie notes their system ‘Is also a backup system. If the power’s out we can run the house during the day. We can fill the batteries and run it at night.’ Storage batteries are charged before excess electricity starts feeding into the power grid. It runs the well pump, refrigerator and aquarium, plus some lights. It also runs a bathroom and their home office. ’We can’t have every light on and have the air conditioner and dryer going,’ noted Tracey. The decision to have the solar array multitask as a porch roof was new to Andrews, who made the suggestion as a cost saving venture. ’It’s a nice, cool shaded area on the deck,’ said Charlie. ‘It would be a good idea to do a carport using this design, too.’ Saving the Muises money were tax incentives that cover about half the cost. Georgia offers a 35% incentive up to $10,500 for residential solar power. The federal incentive is 30% ‘“ and 2009 incentives will be even more favorable. The Muises, with a little help from some friends, did much of the installation themselves. ’George’s partner David Lively designed the frame,’ said Charlie. ‘David Hughes did a lot of the aluminum work. Southern Fabricators did the welding. It was new to them, too.’ The crew had to pay attention because the frame is not of standard lengths. ’It’s not an out of the box thing,’ he said. Andrews called the array a new template for solar design. ’It’s the first one I know of in Georgia, using bifacial modules, outside of California,’ he said. ‘We use metal unless the homeowner wants wood ‘“ the arrays outlast wood. They’ll never be without that power available.’ The panels collect energy on both sides. Sunlight can shine right through the panels. It uses ambient and ultraviolet light so it works when the sky is overcast. ’It’s the most powerful array per square foot in the world,’ Andrews said. ‘Not only can you run a whole house off it in Georgia, you can do it in Vermont. You just need bigger batteries.’ It allows the Muises to use their deck. With a direct southern exposure, it got so hot the French doors got heat damage. ’They were cooked,’ Charlie said. ‘The heat was unbearable. We had too much sun and decided to use it.’ ’The shade will save us more heating and air conditioning costs,’ added Tracey. The Muises decided not to go completely off the grid. ’You have to do lifestyle management,’ said Andrews. ‘It takes a change of mindset.’ Cost and energy savings ‘“ not to mention independence ‘“ can be worth it. ’Everybody’s talking about national security and lessening our dependence on oil,’ said Charlie. ‘This is the way to do it.’

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