Many of the best rural home sites in America are a mile or more from commercial electrical power. This prime, unspoiled land has only one real liability- no electricity. Technology has provided the tools to solve this problem. And usually at far less cost than commercial electrical service. Here's the story of a family that lives high in the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon. They live beyond the commercial power lines. They make their electricity on site using sunshine. And they did it at about 1/3 the cost of running the commercial power lines just 4,000 feet.
A view from Roger & Ana's driveway. Ashland, Oregon is fog covered in the Valley below. The diagonal line across the far mountains is Interstate 5. Photo by Brian Green
Roger, Ana and Kirk Murray live on a mountain side some 5 airline miles southeast of the small town of Ashland, Oregon. Of course, airline miles don't mean much in the mountains unless you're a bird. By road, the Murrays are about 18 miles from town. Sixteen of these miles are on serpentine pavement winding up the 6,000 foot bulk of Soda Mountain. At about 4,000 feet altitude, the Murrays leave the blacktop and use a 2 mile stretch of dirt road to reach their homesite.
Their home is located on the 4,600 foot level on Soda Mountain's northwest face. This location has enough altitude to receive heavy snow and other bad weather associated with mountain living. Snow depth can reach over 5 feet during the winter. Transportation in the winter varies from rough going in a 4WD to cross county skis. While Roger and Ana's site may be hard to get to, it's definitely worth the trip. The Pacific Crest Trail runs within a mile of their house. The panoramic vastness of the mountains is stunning.
Roger & Ana's home is located about 4/5ths of a mile from the nearest commercial electrical line. At the local power company's going rate of $5.35 per foot for new service, this adds up to about $21,000. This is the cost of JUST running in the power line. It doesn't include the cost of the electricity (about 7.50 per kWh locally). In addition, because of this site's remote location, the power company also charges a minimum power consumption fee of $50. per month. If Roger & Ana don't use $50 worth of electricity in a month, then the utility bills them for it anyway.
Roger and Ana decided to investigate alternatives to commercial power. They contacted their neighbors at Electron Connection and together we specified and installed a self-contained electrical system. The first step in any renewable energy system is a thorough survey of how much and what kind of electricity is needed. And this is where we started with Roger and Ana.
Roger and Ana Murray decided early on to use only very efficient appliances within their system. And they decided to practice the cardinal rule of energy conservation, "Turn it OFF if you aren't using it." As such, their electrical power consumption is much smaller than the average household. Their choices of appliances represents the same compromises every user of renewable energy faces.
The majority of the electricity required by Roger and Ana was in the form of 120 vac. The appliances requiring this power are detailed in Figure 1. The largest consumers are lighting, a computer and a washing machine. Some of the appliances condensed into the "Misc" category are a food processor, blender, vacuum cleaner, computer printer, and sewing machine. 120 vac power consumption was estimated to be about 1,270 watt-hours per day.
The remainder of the required energy is consumed as 12 VDC directly from the batteries. DC appliances include a 12 Volt refrigerator, lighting, stereo, and TV. These appliances are detailed in Figure 1. We estimate that this system consumes an average of 804 Watt-hours per day directly as low voltage DC from the batteries.
Total electrical power consumption specified for this system is
Top: Roger & Ana's driveway, often this deep in snow. Just getting there was a real adventure for the HP crew. Bottom: Exterior view of Roger & Ana's house showing the solar collector.
Photos by Brian Green
Was this article helpful?