Many people dread the arrival of the monthly electric bill. We look forward to receiving it.
A few years ago, we hired Site Gen Solar to install an Enphase solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV), system on our barn roof. Although it’s a small system, when combined with our energy efficiency, monthly bills from Alliant Energy are tiny.
Our PV system does more for us than make electricity. It’s an instant weather scanner. We can access our Enphase app from anywhere and it tells us how much energy our system is producing in kilowatt-hours. One kilowatt-hour is enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours. Our bulbs are LED and on average consume 12 watts.
On clear days our small system produces about 12-kilowatt hours. It powers our refrigerator, furnace fan, computers, and lights. When it produces more than we use, the excess goes out to the grid, subtracting cost from our bill.
The app tells us more. See these photos. When snow covers some panels, we can tell from the app that they weren’t producing much. When all panels are producing poorly, we know it’s a cloudy day or snow is covering all panels. Sometimes when we are traveling we open the app and learn about Cedar Rapids’ weather.
The Enphase app shows which panels are covered with snow.
Production drops when panels are covered with snow or clouds cover the sun.
Only a few years ago few people had heard of lithium. Now almost everyone relies on this odd metal in their phone, laptop, and tools. It’s a world-changing element.
Metal????? Lithium is a truly odd metal. Iron, lead, and other common metals are heavy. Not lithium. It’s near the upper left corner of the periodic chart near hydrogen, the lightest element. Lithium is light, volatile, and scarce. Argentina and Chile, Australia, and China form the “lithium triangle” and hold the world’s greatest reserves. Smaller amounts are mined in the United States and other countries.
Lithium can jump. At least lithium-ion batteries can make a car jump. We experienced it when we drove a Chevy Bolt from Cedar Rapids to Dubuque. It’s an amazing car powered by energy stored in a lithium-ion battery, rather than gas. While driving on four-lane US 151 we stepped on the “gas” pedal and the Bolt jumped forward, swooping us around a sluggish car.
Lithium can also calm people down. For years it’s been an ingredient in drugs used to treat depression and bipolar disorder. The metal that makes a car jump can calm a person.
It’s also added to grease to make it even slicker.
Lithium-ion batteries store plenty of energy, recharge quickly, and are making a huge change in American life. It started in 1991 when Sony used the first lithium-ion battery in camcorders. Since then, phones, tools, electronics, and even cars and trucks are powered by energy stored in these batteries.
We went “lithium-ion” a while back when we purchased Milwaukee Tool brand circular saws and drills. We were needlessly worried they wouldn’t be powerful and would run out of charge quickly. They were false fears. We love our battery tools and now have Milwaukee inflators, (i.e., to pump up tires), fans, and a pole saw. We also have EGO brand battery power lawn mowers, a trimmer, and a snowblower. They’re easy to use, quiet, and powerful. We love our battery-powered tools and can see a battery-energized car in our future.
The battery gives a powerful charge.
Batteries for the EGO snow blower are easy to charge.
The EGO snow blower chews through heavy and light snow.
Pros and Cons
There are environmental and health benefits when using battery, or cordless, tools. They are quiet and don’t emit fumes. No need to pull a starter rope on the mower or blower anymore. Just flip a switch and vrrrooom! they go. Recharging batteries costs less than buying a comparable energy equivalent of gas, and there’s no flammable gas to lug home and store. It’s all good. There are downsides to lithium mining but the environmental positives outweigh them. Mining can be done responsibly.
Care of Lithium Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are expensive but last a long time if given good care. Gerry Barnaby of EGO gave us these tips for battery care:
- Take the battery off the tool when it’s not in use.
- Protect batteries from extreme heat and cold. It’s a good idea to store them inside. EGO batteries are designed to discharge to 30% if not used for a few months at a stretch. It’s called “auto discharge” and light may flash, but this is normal. Just recharge the battery before using it.
- EGO batteries are designed to last for 1000 charges. To calculate the battery life divide 1000 by the times it’s used per year. So, if a battery is used 30 times a year it conceivably could last 33 years. But if you don’t believe it, cut those 33 years in half and cut it in half again and the end result is an eight-year life.
- When a battery is nearing the end of its life the run time will lessen. Then read a label on the side of the battery that gives a phone number. Call to learn where it can be recycled.
We’ll continue to invest in our battery-energized tools that are so easy to use.
Back in October, we took a gamble. We bought an electric snowblower. Our driveway at Winding Pathways is about 440 feet long, and Iowa gets plenty of snow. It’s too much to shovel, so years ago we bought a gas snow blower. It worked for the first winter but then it started throwing belts off the drive wheels. Fixing was tedious and tenuous. So, we sold the beast and bought an EGO battery-powered two-stage snowblower.
We hoped it was a good decision. Would the blower be up to clearing such a long driveway? Would it hold up to hard use?
A heavy wet snowfall on December 28, 2021, gave us a chance to test the new machine. It did just fine. After clearing the entire driveway, the batteries still had charge to them. We could have done more.
It’s our prediction that gasoline-powered lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, blowers, chainsaws, and snow blowers are becoming obsolete. They’ve already been banned in California because they pollute the air more than cars.
Here are aspects of battery tools we like:
- They run quietly and are lightweight.
- No need to risk shoulder injury by pulling a rope to start it up. Just push a switch.
- No need to store gasoline.
- Maintenance is easy. No filters or spark plug to change.
- No fumes.
- Inexpensive to run. It costs less to recharge the battery than to buy an energy equivalent amount of gas.
It looks like our decision will pay off. We’ve now replaced all our gas-burning outdoor equipment with battery equivalents……except for one chainsaw. That may go soon.
Note: Winding Pathways paid the full retail price for this machine.
The EGO snowblower cut through the heavy snow easily.
We knew natural gas prices were way up but our $80+ November bill both surprised and pleased us.
Surprise: That’s a high bill for us.
Pleased: Our efforts at energy efficiency and wise house management kept the bill from being higher.
Nearly everyone can reduce heating costs. Some actions are long-term, like adding insulation, replacing drafty windows, or installing a wood stove. There’s not enough time this year to put these in place this winter.
Here are short term ways to reduce the heating bill at either no, or low, cost:
- Open south-facing window blinds on sunny days. The sun will warm the room and never send a bill. Close the blind when the sun calls it quits and sets for the day.
- Caulk holes and cracks. We bought a spool of “rope caulk”. It’s putty that won’t harden, comes in a roll, and is easy to press into cracks, especially around windows.
- Replace the furnace filter. If it gets clogged with dust the furnace has to work harder, and that costs money. Write on the filter the date you replace it so you know. Then, make a note on your planner to check and replace. Some furnaces also send alerts to change a filter.
- Wear comfy sweaters and socks and set the thermostat down a few degrees. We often nestle under a blanket or throw when watching tv or reading in the evening.
It’s going to be an expensive heating winter, but taking a few simple efficiency steps will remove some of the monthly bill’s sting.
Like many people with a small flock of backyard chickens, we faced a dilemma.
Our birds are housed in a coop built inside a pole barn. There was no electric power in our barn.
The chickens kept on laying eggs.
Fall’s Shortening days signals chickens to slow egg production just as many families need plenty of eggs for the holiday baking season. Placing a timer-controlled light in the coop, set to come on early each morning, gives chickens the optimal 15 hours of combined artificial and natural light they need to keep laying.
Lights and timers need electricity that our barn lacked. So, years ago, we hired an electrician to trench a wire from our house to the barn and add outlets and overhead lights. It works fine but the electrician’s bill was stiff and our chicken lights add to our monthly power bill. Now there’s a less expensive option.
P.S. The Holidays are coming….This might be a great gift for chickens and caregivers!
After trenching the wire was laid down.
We hired a company to install solar panels on the barn roof.
Solar powers our home and the light needed for the coop.
Batteries, light bulbs, and solar collectors have become much more efficient and less expensive. It’s now easy to purchase a solar electric system to power outbuildings that lack electricity.
Alternative Light Options
Big box stores sell security lights that include a solar collector, occupancy sensor, battery, and light bulb. The collector creates electricity during the day that charges the battery. The sensor recognizes when a person approaches in the dark and turns on the light. These are fine for their intended purpose but don’t work to add a few extra hours of timer-controlled light for chickens.
A portable solar kit costs around $400, is easy to install and to light your way. (Courtesy Solar Illuminations)
We recently learned of a company called Solar Illuminations, which can create lighting solutions for chicken coops and other outbuildings. A kit including a solar collector, battery, timer, fixture, and the bulb is just over $400. Sounds expensive but likely is less costly than hiring an electrician to run a wire. And, the sun never sends a bill for electricity generated by a solar panel.
Installing a system is easy and doesn’t require an electrician. Systems can also be designed to power an aquarium aerator that will help keep drinking water unfrozen on cold nights or provide work light in an outbuilding.
We love modern technology’s ability to harness the sun’s energy to give hens a few extra hours of light during winter’s darkness. The result is more eggs without adding a penny to the monthly electric bill.
*Note: Winding Pathways received no special compensation or materials from companies in writing this blog.
Many people dread the arrival of their monthly electric bill. Not us.
We recently received a $13.38 monthly bill from Alliant Energy for electricity used in March. A day later Enphase Energy emailed us our March photovoltaic production. That’s correct. Thirteen dollars and thirty-eight cents.
Our bill is about 1/10th the national average homeowner’s bill and is small thanks to three actions. Here’s what we do:
- Shut “it” off: We are stingy on both money and wasteful appliances being on. If we’re not using lights, computers, the television, toaster, radon machine (that we turn off when we happen to be gone), or other electricity consumers we turn them off. We never leave outside lights on all night. They are wasteful, advertise where you live, and diminish the night sky. The latter we are learning is more important to humans than realized.
- Embrace efficiency: Our house is almost entirely lit by LED bulbs with a few fluorescents and no incandescents. LEDs use only a tiny bit of electricity to provide outstanding light, and when we purchase appliances, we choose those most efficient.
- Installed photovoltaics. We installed a small system four years ago and reaped federal and state tax credits. As soon as the system went active our bills plummeted.
- Of course, in order to do the above, one has to plan and save money by doing the simple acts of turning off electric sources and long-term spend on only what you truly need.
On sunny days solar powers our energy needs.
Every month Enphase Energy emails us a report of our prior months’ electric production. March 2021 was mostly sunny and clear and our system produced 283 kilowatts. February was a dark winter month and our system was blanketed with snow. The system only made 76 KWH. However, as days lengthen our nine solar panels will produce ever more electricity, keeping our monthly bill low.