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After disconnecting our house in Mt Roskill in March 1994 from the National Power Grid - we ran the house on 'the smell of an oily rag!'.. Then, Kristina became pregnant with our first beautiful daughter in 1999 and we needed to expand our power system (need more power!)...


Talking with Alice Leny from Greenpeace while looking at the solar system on my house we both realised that an opportunity lay ahead - all around the world people just like me were selling the excess electricity not needed (once the battery bank was full) BACK to their local power company - nobody was doing that with solar generated electricity in New Zealand - so WHY NOT....


Read on....


'Powerful Pioneer' - NZ Herald April 10th, 1999

SIMON COPE invites me to peer into the electricity meter box on the back veranda of his Mt Roskill house. It's like any other, so what am I looking for? Then it clicks.


The disc indicating usage is spinning in reverse. Electricity is going out, not coming in. It's a New Zealand first.


Aucklanders Cope and his wife, Kristina, are generating power from the sun on the roof of their own home and selling it to Mercury Energy.


And while it may amount to only 50c a day at this stage — $180 a year — it's a glimpse into the future of pollution-free, inexhaustible energy production at minimal cost.


"We're an experiment at this stage," enthuses Cope, "just just think of the financial impact if 100,000 households were doing the same and what that portends."


The Copes' power comes from an array of 30 photovoltaic solar modules aligned due north, which are sufficient to meet most of their home needs except cooking. For that they use a liquid petroleum gas-fuelled, four hobcooktop and oven. Near-boiling-point hot water is solar-powered with a gas booster for cold days, which has been turned off since last August.


Technically their latest, system is called "distributed power" and it allows solar-equipped houses or buildings to use the national power grid as a giant storage battery. During the day excess power is fed into the grid allowing power companies to reduce their production while still meeting commercial demands.

Then, when the sun goes down, the solar- powered houses and buildings draw electricity from the grid.


"Its a win-win situation," says Cope, who is an electronics engineer, electrician and renewable energy consultant. "Owners get paid for power they don't need and power companies don't have to spend millions on new power plants to met peak demands - which happen at midday due to airconditioning loads." [NOTE: In the summer of 2008 peak demand in NZ moved from night-time to midday as the installation of airconditioning units in domestic homes & commercial offices has mushroomed over the last decade - this same peak demand is when solar PV performs at it's best]


He says the Japanese are embracing the concept and have set 2020 as the target by when solar-generated power will be their main source of energy. That will be a huge change and saving for a country that depends totally on imported fuels — oil, coal and nuclear — for energy production.


The significance of distributed power for New Zealand power generation and supply companies will be an ability to meet, growth demand without big capital outlay.


"I doubt that under resource and environmental legislation now in place you could ever get away with building another major hydro dam," says Cope. "And who wants to anyway? They're costly and the returns are long term. Today under privatisation a chief executive wants profitability within a year — not 20 years down the track. PV is the answer and the costs are rapidly decreasing."


Cope says the cost of the latest technology and sufficient for average household needs is around $15,000 to $20,000 — about half of what his stand-alone energy system has cost to develop since he started in 1994.


In March that year Cope asked a bemused Mercury Energy to disconnect his power and remove his meter. The company had nobody who dealt with such requests but finally an obliging repairman did the job and the national grid bypassed Cope's little bit of suburbia.


The system he installed at the time included a bank of 12 large storage batteries in his basement and an inverter to give 230 volts mains power. The

battery bank has been expanded over the years to store a significiantly more power for use on consecutive rainy days; week after week like we typically get in August-October in Auckland...


Now, with the Copes reconnected to the Mercury grid, the battery system is redundant. However, they are keeping eight batteries as an emergency standby. Similar systems provided some power in Kobe, Japan, after the disastrous 1995 earthquake, when conventional electricity supplies were destroyed.


Cope says that to get the best results from such systems homes and appliances must be properly insulated. For example, his refrigerator looks like any appliance, except that the interior walls are twice as thick, The deepfreeze is the same. Both are of Danish design and manufacture built to demanding insulation requirements. His German-made dishwasher uses and heats just seven litres of water. Only the washing machine and microwave oven are either New Zealand made or supplied.


When he built his house in Mt Roskill he exceeded minimum insulation requirements and included it, in all interior walls so there is no loss of heat or cold spots such as the hall. The lights in the house are low-watt, fluorescent bulbs, which put out the same light for less power. The television, stereo and computer are turned off at the wall because even when off on the unit, they still use a trickle of power. [Called 'phantom loads' - 2 power stations in the USA are dedicated to just providing the power to run these standby loads on all the appliances in American homes]


"We're not obsessed, but we now automatically switch off everything when its not needed," says Cope. "New Zealanders have never done that, just like manufacturers of appliances don't really insulate their products fully, largely because of cost. Continentals, even Americans, on the other hand are extremely conscious of the need to insulate and save power because their generation methods are so expensive."


"As a result, only twice have we had to call in an outside boost to our system over the past five years. The last time was in October a couple of years ago when we had 14 days' rain on end (the weather office said it was the wettest October since 1962) and the PV panels couldn't charge up our batteries sufficiently."


"So we ran a power cable from the neighbours to recharge, just as someone in the country with a similar self-sufficient system, which our company installs, would start up a small generator in similar circumstances. It cost us about $2 for the recharge. If it had been a generator, say $5 worth of petrol."


"But now, with our metering agreement with Mercury Energy and Power New Zealand, we'll never have to worry. The national grid is our storage system... While what we've got in the basement with batteries is really impractical for a suburban home, our system using a (flat, wall- mounted, 1m by 75cm inverter and PV roof modules is a $20,000, realistic, trouble-free, long- life proposition."


"The other beauty is that as your energy requirements grow you can add PV cells to meet the demand. You can start with just an inverter and a couple of modules for $7000."


"Five years ago we started with only a dozen modules, but then we got more home appliances, the baby came along — Isabella is a beaming seven months old — and so you expand."


Cope believes the Japanese have the technology edge in solar energy. The latest development is lightweight metal roof tiles which include the solar cells. They are also producing inverters a little bigger than a pack of cards attached directly to a solar module and plugged in the same as a home appliance.

[NOTE: In 2006 when Simon & Kristina started to set up their new solar home in Meadowbank, they used these Japanese solar PV modules....]

Cheques From The Power Company, Rather Than The Reverse? It Can Happen, Reports Ron Taylor, But Not Overnight.

Solar Energy House C/- Simon & Kristina Cope | 19 Manapau Street, Meadowbank, Auckland 1072  |  New Zealand  |  Contact us now to arrange your tour

Simon & Kristina's Solar System At Their Mt Roskill Home - As of 27th March 1999.

21 x Siemens 48 watt single crystal modules

6x Canon 32 watt amphorous modules

4x Canon 48 watt ampohorous modules

{Peak wattage of 1,400 Watt-hours, which generates —7kW in summer per day, and ~5kW in winter per day.}


31 x Morningstar 30A @ 24VDC controller

1   x Morningstar 20A @ 12VDC controller


48x 2v (600AH) lead-acid batteries

{Available capacity of 2,400AH [57,600 watts of stored power, which is approx. 2 weeks worth of daily power usage]. This HUGE battery bank was sold after Y2K (year 2000) had passed and was reduced down to emergency backup bank of 8x 6V (220AH) lead-acid batteries if and when grid fails}


1 x Trace SW3024E grid-intertie inverter-charger {3000 watt continuous capacity)


1 x Solahart gas boosted hot water system.

{Completely separate from the electrical side of the house. Only turn the gas booster on for 3-4 months of the year in winter.}


1 x Simpson LPG hob & oven.

{Completely inefficient to use electricity to heat food with resistive elements!).




The inverter pumps the excess power back into the grid, and spins meter backwards (giving us a credit) when we generate more power than the house in currently using. (Uses the grid as the battery bank). At night we draw off the grid and use up the credits. LPG gas bill is ~$5 to $10 per month.


Electric appliances used: Gram fridge, Elcold freezer, microwave, toaster, various kitchen wizzes, stereo, TV, video, computer, Philips compact fluorescent lights, washing machine, workshop tools (drill, skill saw etc), vacuum cleaner, iron.


We also had a ring-loop of 12 volts and 24 volts DC, for running all those 'plugpaks', and obvious l2v appliances off {Eg: cordless phone, lamp in bedroom, doorbell, burglar alarm etc}

Simon & Kristina's house in 1999 (has a little more PV solar electric modules on the roof compared to 1994...)


To read about what happened in 1999, 5 years later - when Simon started to SELL his excess power BACK to the local power company... click here to read on!

What To Ask Simon or Kristina a Question about their Solar House?


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