Green comes in many shades but the green of this story all has to do with nature’s green — helping save the environment by using less man-made electricity and more solar-powered energy. Nick Morales is simply following his dream.
“I’ve wanted to convert to solar energy for some time,” he said. “I had not been able to do it until the last couple of years because it was very expensive. When the oil prices finally went so high, at last it was possible to go green with solar panels and make it worthwhile.”
He began with small steps.
“The most important factor I stress in all my talks, before you can go green, is to make your house energy efficient. You won’t have enough roof space to put solar panels if you’re using up too much electricity on a month to month or a day to day basis.”
The first thing he did, in the summer of 2005 (see chart), was double the insulation of his attic. Part of the decision factor on which type of insulation is to know how it is going to be installed. If it is a do-it-yourself job, find insulation which is easy to install and not detrimental health-wise, with material flying loose in the air. If a company will be doing the installation, blown in material is fine.
“I chose one that is fully enveloped in plastic wrap so there is minimal material released as I install it,” Nick said. “I just rolled it out on top of the existing rafters. It’s specifically for additional insulation in attics — it doesn’t have the vapor barrier. The R-30 factor insulation is basic for a temperate zone. We are not temperate — we are in a hot zone and need more insulation in our attic and also our walls.”
When his air conditioner quit, he put in a new one with a higher efficiency unit sized properly for their house, including all new ductwork. (See 2006 on the chart. Note: the spike was due to a cold winter.)
A few years ago he began the long job of replacing all his single-paned-windows with dual-pane, low-E value windows. Also in 2007, he put in attic fans to remove hot air from the attic and bring in cool air from outside — a feat, indeed, here in the semi-tropical Valley.
“See [in the chart] where I continued to decrease my electrical consumption,” Nick said proudly as he pointed out the yellow line of 2007 mostly below 2006’s line.
“The last year — 2008 — is when I added my first pair of inverters and started powering our refrigerator 24 hours a day with solar energy. Somewhere along that line I was getting all the inverters hooked up, rewiring part of my house and putting up the solar panels,” he said. “Then in February (#6 on the chart) I added a solar water heater which showed a significant drop in electrical usage.”
Nick was like a kid in a candy store showing off his solar array system. However, this certainly was nothing new to him.
“I’ve had 30 years of learning about this,” Nick said. “I have a background in physics and electronics. I’ve also taken a class which was considered geo-physics years ago.”
Not to mention the fact that he’s a network manager in the Division of Information Technology at the University of Texas-Pan American, giving him a keen understanding in his system’s setup.
Talking to Nick, new terms are learned: the solar collectors — collects the heat of the sun and sends it to heat the water; solar panels (a group of solar panels is a solar array) — converts the energy of the sun into electricity; inverters — changing the DC electricity to AC.
At this point, Nick has 3.3 kilowatts (3,300 watts) per hour worth of solar energy coming into his home from 19 panels plus his three solar collectors for his water heater. That’s enough to power 33 100-watt bulbs.
“Just for a reference,” Nick said, “when my refrigerator runs it will consume about 600 watts an hour.”
By the time he is finished adding his last 1.75 kw of energy/solar panels next year, he’ll have about 5.5 kw an hour worth of electricity. That will almost let him come off the grid — the electrical wires coming from the pole to the home. But most importantly, his electrical cost will be almost nil.
The high cost of electricity has made it worth his while, but the government does offer Income Tax Credits up to 30 percent for those going green, which helps as well.
“For the last three years, they have a cap of $2,000,” said Nick. “This year, there is no cap.”
Installing it all himself with occasional help from friends has saved him much in installation costs. As he explains the system, his enthusiasm for this project abounds. Explaining every little detail, he makes sure everything is understood before he goes to the next stage.
When he brought the idea to his wife, she was not as excited.
“She wasn’t very pleased with the prospect of having things on the roof to detract from the attractiveness of the house,” he said. “But, she relented, and almost immediately we had people coming to the door, wanting to know what I was doing. That changed her attitude. She loves people coming over.”
Now, Nick talks to any organization, trying to help others become self-sustainable. Going green isn’t just a hobby — it’s his life.