By Roy L Hales
Contrary to what you may have heard, Seattle is not the rainiest city in the US – but it is clouded over around 225 days a year. So it may come as a surprise to learn that a local house utilizing solar-plus-battery was designed to obtain about 96% of its energy from the sun. The real surprise, however, is that it was occupied for two days last February (i.e. in mid-winter) before anyone realized it was not connected to the grid. The owners turned the main breaker off on Saturday, while showing a neighbor the system, and it was not turned back on until Monday. That was not one of “his company’s” houses, but Mark Cerasuolo tells me stories like this are becoming common. He is in charge of Marketing for OutBack Power, a leading supplier for off grid/hybrid Systems
Two of OutBack Power’s users, Chris and Malissa Tack, live in Snohomish, Washington. Their home is disconnected from the grid for weeks to months at a time.
“It feels great to tell people that we only purchase $1 of electricity per day during the winter and produce most (if not all) of our power during the summer months,” said Chris Tack.
“You can generally stay off-grid for an indefinite period,” Cerasuolo said.
A project called the Little Brown Church is Grid/Hybrid and equipped with a diesel generator for the emergency back-up. It is a community center that doubles as a storm center during emergencies.
As we talked about places that are 100% solar powered, Cerasuolo mentioned a pizza shop in Portland.
He added that a number of solar energy system customers are obtaining 80%, rather than 100%. But that’s better than 0%, which is what traditional grid-tied only solar systems are for the half of each day when the sun’s gone.
“Off-grid dwellers are always at 100% of course. For urban and suburban dwellers, newer inverter technology combined with energy storage lets them enjoy a measure of that independence. They can generate and store renewable energy during the day to use at night and during emergencies,” he said. “That’s becoming common in Hawaii and California, where some people set their inverters to never sell back and zero out the grid. They can still draw on the grid as another bank if they need to.”
One of OutBack’s more unusual applications was a condo in Paso Robles, CA. The owner obtained permission to have 12 solar panels installed on the roof of a shed built behind the condo. OutBack’s inverter/charger system ensures that the batteries are always full and sells surplus energy to the grid.
“We sell through distributors in North America; our systems are used on all seven continents, four oceans, and even off the planet in NASA research and simulation projects,” Cerasuolo said.
The pictures used on this page come from Projects in Haiti, the Italian Alps and New Mexico.
Some of OutBack’s customers are clusters of houses in remote African villages. They are in residential compounds, villages and schools throughout the developing world, known as microgrids.
Their products were used in one of India’s first net-zero energy buildings. The cost of the solar installation will be recouped through reduced diesel bills in five years.
Istanbul Energy is another customer. Turkey has a goal of using 30% renewables by 2023. Istanbul Energy is supplying a line of hybrid and solar generators that are taking the place of diesel in remote areas. They are even powering oil fields in Turkmenistan!
“Oil is too precious to use as a fuel,” Cerasuolo added. “We need it for plastics, chemicals, food production, you name it.”
It’s hard to determine exactly how many solar installations use OutBack Power’s products because they are sold through multiple channels and some projects use multiple systems “stacked” to achieve high power output. But a recent Pike Research’s report identified OutBack Power as “by far and away the leading vendor” in the microgrid sector.
The Arlington, WA, based company was founded in 2001.
Asked if he thinks solar will ever be our biggest energy source, Cerasuolo replied, “It’s inevitable. The sun is already the biggest energy source in our little corner of the galaxy. That’s where the plants and every living thing get their energy. The sun is the true people’s power in that it’s free, abundant, and can be used right where it’s harvested instead of requiring complex and expensive transmission paths, and it will ultimately be the source of all our energy.”
“With present solar module technology we could supply the entire United States with all the electricity it needs from a 100 x 100 mile PV/solar complex located in the southwest, likely Nevada,” said Cerasuolo. “That’s not alternative energy, it’s the future mainstream.”
(Image at top of Page: the Rifugio Alimonta project, a visitor/tourist center in the Italian alps – Courtesy Outback Power)