Up North and Off the Grid: Solar Power – Quiet EnergyViki Mather September 1, 2007
When Allan and I decided to open Kukagami Lodge as a cross-country skiing centre in January 1985, we needed to install a radio-telephone service. This was the best technology at the time for phone service to remote locations. We were responsible for providing the 12 volt energy to power this system. In the first few years, we did this with a small 12 volt battery, which we recharged as required with a gas generator.
In 1988 we bought our first solar panel. This was a wonderful alternative to the noise and pollution of the generator! At that time, our sole need for electricity was to power the radio-telephone.
Over the years, we started to use more electrical items, and expanded our solar system. In 2003, we purchased two new 85 watt panels and support equipment to generate power for our modest kitchen tools, phone, radio, computer, etc.
In January 2006, new satellite communication technology allowed us to replace our 4-party radio-telephone service. We now have a private line in conjunction with high speed internet service. This put a much greater demand on our electrical needs.
In the spring of 2006, we were required to install a pressurized water system in the Lodge kitchen. In addition to this, we were required to include an ultra-violet water treatment system. These things put even greater pressure on our limited electrical power. We found that we would need to use the generator more frequently to boost the batteries. Clearly, we needed to do a major expansion of our solar power generation.
We learned that money was available to small northern businesses to produce ‘green’ energy early in the summer of 2006. The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund assisted us with the solar energy expansion we needed with a $6660 grant.
Six new panels were added to the two panels we had purchased in 2003. We built two new, substantial support structures to hold four panels each. With the technical advice and consultation of our supplier, we installed the required wiring, grounding system, electrical control boxes, and new batteries to store the increased solar energy.
With all components included, we have now invested $25,000 into producing the energy we need. Because we are naturally conservative in our energy usage, the panels provide more than enough electricity for our needs all through the summer. Now the generator mostly gathers dust.
With a little luck, we’re hopeful that we will only have to resort to using the generator to top up the batteries during the dark and cloudy days of November and perhaps a bit in December. Fortunately, the cold days of January are the sunniest – and the panels work very well in the cold of winter.
Will we save money in the long run? Darn right we will! And we’ll not be polluting the air we breathe with fumes from the generator, nor will we fill the air with noise as the solar panels quietly do their job.