Interested in generating your own power and selling some back to the national grid?
A two-hour Reap Marlborough workshop is being held for people wanting to empower themselves and make their own electricity. Co-ordinator Rick Rawlings and his wife Trish have been doing it for the past 23 years and people attending the Reap workshop will have a chance to visit the Rawlings' property to see how it works.
Micro hydro systems are the most cost-effective form of alternative energy, and operate 24 hours a day. Other alternative energy forms include solar panels and wind power. All can be used for being off grid or grid tie, when electricity is sold back to the national grid.
The November 16 Grid-Tie workshop is an introduction to alternative energy options and people wanting to take the idea further will need to learn more, Rick says.
"They [will] own the ‘power station,' they have to look after it."
He describes himself as a "hands-on person" but his life at Koromiko is a world-away from how he was living 30 years ago. Home then was in downtown London.
"My youth was on concrete . . . I'm a 1980 [New Zealand] import. This is so different to what I was brought up in . . . it's incredible, it's fantastic."
He is a qualified technician, mechanic, auto marine electrician and engineer. An interest in alternative energy was sparked in 1988 when he and Trish built a house beside Tory Channel. Getting power lines to it was going to cost $42,000 so Rick built a hydro system.
Twelve years later they moved to Koromiko and kept the house they built there off the national grid, too. There was no creek to build a micro hydro dam so solar panels were fitted to a north-nor'west facing shed roof. Power from them is inverted to 230 volt electricity, the voltage a conventional home runs at, and stored in 12 large batteries. They are worth about $9000 but Rick says they will last for more than 12 years.
A wood-burner in the Rawlings' home has a wetback connection to heat the water. It passes through a gas califont with a thermostat. Gas then heats the water if the fire has not been lit.
A back-up generator charges the solar-powered batteries when required, too.
"If you have three days of absolutely bad weather there won't be much electricity generated but your freezer is still full of food and needs to be kept cool."
An LED light circuit board records the battery bank's power levels. Five green lights mean everything is fine; three yellow lights indicate non-essential appliances should be switched off; two red lights are an alert to "turn on the generator".
The Rawlings' generator switches on when the batteries lose 50 per cent power. After 90 minutes the batteries will be charged for another 24 hours.
When the sun is shining, its journey across the sky is followed by the Rawlings' solar panels which are fitted to a timer. That generates 30 per cent more power than if the panels were fixed, Rick says.
He runs an alternative energy business, Link Systems, and gives clients a form to help them identify how much electricity they use in their homes. Wattage use soars when anything with a heating element is switched on so gas-powered stoves and ovens are recommended to people wanting to live off the grid.
For those still connected to it, any excess electricity they generate can be sold back to the grid.
"You need to balance the amount invested in solar panels with the likely returns."
● Contact Reap Marlborough 03 578-7848 to register for the November 16 Grid-Tie course ($40).
- The Marlborough Express