SEN Hero

Solar Pioneers

While most people recognize that the sun and wind are ideal energy sources, few consider them practical or affordable. But a growing number of rural people throughout Saskatchewan are proving that solar and wind power are now both viable and cost effective.

Early users of solar and wind are paving the way for the eventual widespread application of sustainable energy systems, according to leading solar consultant Ken Kelln of Lumsden. Kelln predicts that people in Saskatchewan will eventually be able to produce most of their own power at a reasonable cost while significantly lowering their impact on the environment.

Some people are already doing it. For example, two families in the Nipawin area have installed solar and wind systems. Don Happner and Dawn Schumilas live on the northern fringe of the farming zone near White Fox. When they realized it would cost $25,000 or more to connect their remote acreage to the provincial power grid, they decided to harness the sun and wind.

At less than one third of the cost of connecting to the electrical grid, the couple were able to purchase solar panels, a wind turbine and deep cycle storage batteries to supply most of their electrical needs. Since their home is entirely heated with wood, they have achieved near self-reliance in energy. This has allowed them to eliminate monthly energy bills, making it easier to live comfortably while devoting time to their musical careers.

Their neighbours Scott Edwards and Roseanne Kirkpatrick are also tapping into the sun and wind on their remote acreage. Their impressive owner-built log house relies on passive solar gain from large south windows and an efficient, in-floor radiant heating system that uses natural gas as an energy source. Electricity is supplied from an array of 12, 64-watt solar panels and a 500-watt wind charger. The total cost of their power system was considerably less than hooking up to the electrical grid, and of course there are no monthly power bills.

Don Happner's power supply comes from four 64-watt solar panels and a 400-watt wind turbine. Energy is stored in eight, 6-volt, deep-cycle golf cart batteries, which make it possible to use power when it is not sunny or windy. A 1500-watt inverter changes DC power to the AC power commonly used for lighting and appliances.

Solar and wind power allows Happner and Schumilas to operate lights, a TV/VCR, a sound system, small kitchen appliances, and small tools like electric drills. With home power systems it is still important to conserve energy, so compact florescent bulbs and other energy saving applications are used throughout the house. This is especially true in winter, when bright sunlight is limited to four hours per day and the demand for lighting is high. On the other hand, summertime allows for more liberal use of energy and it is possible to use appliances such as a microwave oven and toaster, which draw a lot of power.

Edwards and Kirkpatrick have installed a considerably larger system, which allows them to operate appliances like a refrigerator. The couple makes every effort to conserve energy and reduce waste and resource use, including the use of highly efficient lighting units, an energy efficient refrigerator, quadruple-pane windows and a composting toilet. Clothes are washed in a front-loading, low water-use machine and dried on the line. Televisions and computers are plugged into power bars that can be turned off to prevent energy losses from "phantom" loads.