Every other day, it feels like I have to search for another power outlet to keep some gadget charged and ready to go. Power generation & home heating are significant issues that need to be addressed swiftly. Sooner, rather than later if we’re to have any chance at preventing a global temperature increase over 1.5 C. According to Carbon Brief’s interactive map, Sudbury has already warmed by 1.8 C, with moderate (RCP 6.0) predictions pushing that consistently over 2 C by 2030.
Like most Canadians, my largest contribution to the climate crisis is from energy & heating. Although Sudbury may no longer see -40 C or even -30 C with regularity, it’s cold in the winter. Additionally, as temperatures increase, the demand for air conditioning in the summer months increases with it.
I purchased my home in 2018. Constructed in 1937, methane-heated, and about as insulated as a newborn. To limit methane, I added insulation in the unused attic, sealed the door, and laid a panel loaded with insulation above the attic stairs. Every fall, I seal windows with fresh weatherproofing and I caulk all the windows & doors. This season, I’ve added a couple of electric heaters and foam-filled a poorly constructed 3rd exit.
With only 1 or 2 outlets per room (and some with none at all), we’re limited in the number of things that can be plugged in at once. This challenge is currently overcome with surge protectors and extension cables, many of which use smart plugs & timers to limit power vampirism (more on this in a future article). With the additional outlets, and with both hydroponic & traditional indoor gardening, our electrical usage has increased substantially, from 8.5 MWh in 2019 to 10.85 MWh in 2021. However, the addition of electric space heaters decreased our methane use from 2,996 m3 to 2,592 m3.
Solar or Wind Power Generation?
Although Sudbury has net metering at par, the current service to our home is only 100 A. The minimum for a solar installation would be 200 A. But, with an EV on the horizon, we need a 400 A service to accommodate a fast charger. Additionally, our ageing roof can’t handle the additional weight of solar panels. This makes relying on solar for power generation impossible without significant renovations.
I don’t think Greater Sudbury Utilities currently allows small wind turbines to connect to the grid.
With larger power generation conversions not possible without significant growth in real income, it’s time to get creative.
Getting creative with power generation
Outdoor lighting was the easy first step. I mounted a solar light by the front door, another by the back, and four along the side.
Next, I converted our security cameras from disposable batteries to solar using four very small, low-wattage solar panels mounted right near the cameras. A few more small panels charge cell phones, tablets, headphones, and anything else that uses a USB cable for charging. It isn’t much, and it barely made a dent in electrical usage, but every bit counts.
The bigger project comes this spring, as I aim to add two 250W panels atop my shed. These panels will feed emergency backup batteries that I can haul into the house in case of a blackout. It will also keep various construction & maintenance batteries charged. I plan to also add some outdoor lights through the garden & a pump for my water barrels. An additional mesh networking node would be a very neighbourly addition.
Although not planned for 2022, I will one day set up a 4-season greenhouse, and if the heater, pumps, and lights could all be powered via this small solar setup, that would be a great bonus.
I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to improving my home’s power generation. As, by far, the largest contributor to my carbon footprint, heating & electricity generation & consumption are areas that require extensive examination. The handful of small, consumer-purposed solar panels I have around my home is just the beginning. More change will come. Perhaps more importantly,
I look forward to being able to help others on board, one small panel at a time.