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'Powerfully UnPlugged': NZ Herald. Saturday June 4th 1994


Graham White, an engineer at the authority, says houses or holiday homes resorting to solar, wind or microhydro power tend to be a long way from power lines. (In the jargon these are known as RAPS, Remote Area Power Supply.)


The transparent costing favoured by our power and phone companies ensures that owners have little option when faced with the prohibitive cast of laying in power. Cope had two motives: he installs alternative energy systems for a living and he was also curious. "It was time to put my money where my mouth was."


The house, which Cope designed and built himself, takes advantage of passive solar design. Large windows opening from the living areas and bedrooms face north, making the most of the sun. Insulation ensures the heat stays in the house.


ELECTRICITY comes from 12 photovoltaic cells, silicon sandwiches that produce electricity from sunlight. From these the household generates 2kW of power a day. This electricity is stored in eight batteries, normally used for golf carts. An inverter transforms the direct-current electricity from the batteries into the alternating-current power household appliances require.


There has been no household rewiring, says Cope. They feed from the inverter wires straight into the fusebox.


A household like Cope's, with three adults, could be expected to use about 10kW of power a day. The trick, says Cope, is to eliminate the power guzzlers from the equation.


Typically about 45 per cent of a household power bill is soaked up by water heating. Cope relies on a solar water heater which has a back-up LPG burner. After three months he has only had to fire up the burner once.


The other big power users are typically the cooling and heating related appliances: fridge, stove and heater. Each of these runs off the two 27kg LPG bottles under the deck. All the light bulbs in the house have been replaced by low-watt fluorescent bulbs that put out much the same light for less power.


Cope has also had to eliminate phantom loads. Nobody in the house has a plug-in 230VAC electric digital alarm clock (use a battery powered LCD version). When not in use the television and stereo are shut off at the wall, because even when OFF the appliances still use a tiny trickle of power.


When fully charged the batteries store enough electricity to keep the household running for five days. Cope says weather records, even for winter, Indicate that the house has a good margin of safety.


"Even in deep winter, five days without sufficient sunshine would be very rare."

A power meter strategically placed in the toilet lets Cope and his flatmates keep a regular eye on their usage. "We don't get obsessed by it. We're not always looking at it."


The analogy Cope makes Is with the petrol gauge of a car. As the batteries run down the household can be more careful with power use. With houses in remote rural areas the cost of alternative energy devices can be set against the price of laying power lines. Cope can claim no such benefit.


The cost of the LPG appliances and solar cells and devices to convert the electricity they produce set him back $16,000. His bank fronted up with the loan.


Spread over a 20-year term, the cost is affordable and will almost certainly be more so as electricity prices inevitably climb. "Once it's paid off I will own by own power station," says Cope. Because the house has not been rewired, should he need to sell up and move he can unbolt the solar cells and other equipment and re-install them in his new house.


The immediate thing he has noticed is that his old $80 a month electricity bill has been replaced by a $15 charge to refill his LPG bottles.


Cope did not include the $3500 cost of the solar water heater. "Everyone should have one of those anyway."


He estimates that the cost of the solar water heater will be returned after six years or so. After that his hot water will be free.


Figures from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority point to electric hot water cylinders taking up about 20 per cent of ECNZ's total annual production of power. In New Zealand's hot water bill amounts to S500 million a year.


There is the added satisfaction that his house is not adding to the green house gases, emitted by oil-fired power stations like Huntly.


Cope admits that he will need to run the system for at least a year to determine how reliable it is through the winter. But right now he is more than a little exultant over his freedom from the power company. "The next time we have one of those one-in-a-100-year dry spells that we seem to have every 2-3 years...and the hydro lakes empty, I'll be sitting pretty."


COPE might be a forerunner in New Zealand. In Japan, a nation always concerned about its dependence on imported oil, the government New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) has fitted. 700 government buildings and private homes with photovoltaic cells.


Wired to the mains, the solar cells feed power back to the grid, spinning back the electricity meter as they do so. Individuals make savings but, the agency plans, so will the nation. By the year 2010 the Japanese agency aims to have enough solar cells feeding power back into the grid to shave back the  demand for electricity during summer, when Japan switches on its air- conditioning.


This, hopes the agency, will forestall the projected and expensive upgrading of power lines needed to, cope with the rising demand for electricity.


Which only emphasises that alternative may be the wrong adjective. Hybrid, complementary energy does not have the some ring but could be a better description.

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 4th March 1994.

12 x Siemens 48 watt single crystal modules

{Peak wattage of 576 Watt-hours, which generates —3kW in summer per day, and ~2kW in winter per day.}


1 x Morningstar 30A @ 24VDC controller


8x 6v (220AH) lead-acid batteries

{Available capacity of 440AH [10,560 watts of stored power, which is approx. 5 days worth of daily power usage].


1 x Siemens pure sinewave inverter {1500 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!).


1 x Consul LPG fridge & separate freezer. {Replaced by electric models very quickly!}



The LPG fridge & freezer consumed too much gas. All we had done was replace the power bill with a gas bill! Therefore, we quickly purchased the most energy efficient made electric fridge & freezers available on the planet (Editors note: And still are as of 2009!). LPG gas bill was ~$35 per month, immediately reduced to ~$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}

After completing his 9000 hour apprenticeship as an electrician, Simon Cope a number of years later found himself in the perfect job: selling solar electric modules to hundreds of clients throughout NZ - from NZ Police, Dept of Conservation, M&I (maintained the Lighthouses around NZ), Transit NZ, OEM manufacturers like Gallaghers, PEL, Stafix, Oscmar etc, to tens of hundreds of domestic customers wanting to power their electric fences to their entire homes.


Simon Cope was challenged by Jon Eisen - publisher - to power his own home by solar electric modules in the heart of Auckland City - at 60 Ernie Pinches Street, Mt Roskill. Taking up the challenge, Simon installed the modules and disconnected himself from the National Power Grid in March 2004....

Read What The NZ Herald Had to Report on Saturday June 4th 1994...

IN MARCH Mercury Energy fielded an unusual call. Simon Cope of Mt Roskill wanted his power disconnected and his electricity meter taken away.


Cope grins at the memory: "The problem was they had nobody there who dealt with that kind of thing."


Finally an obliging faults repairman did the deed. The national grid would bypass this Iittle pocket of suburban Auckland.


Judging from the interior, the house could be a thousand others. The stereo plays, a laptop sits on the dining room table plugged into a wall socket. The kitchen sports a fridge, stove, microwave and toaster. The laundry has a Gentle Annie.

The house might be unplugged but life carries on.


"If we had three parties In a row we could be in trouble, but who does that?" he asks.

Cope copes courtesy of alternative energy, including a hefty flow of solar power. On his roof perches an array of photovoltaic cells and a solar water heater. Underneath the deck at the back of the house nestles an array of batteries and two LPG bottles.


The technology is not new but the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority has not heard of anyone else unplugging from the grid in suburban Auckland.



An Aucklander who has disconnected himself from the national grid talks to

GILBERT WONG about his home power station.

Simon & Kristina's house in 1994 (for awhile there we had a wind turbine as shown, then one in the front lawn... and then NONE... apart from being noisy they are NOT suited for suburban use due to wind turbulence.


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?


Who else wants to come and visit their NEW solar house in Meadowbank, Auckland? 550m2 home where you get a professional tour of the house - answer those questions you might have prior to building or renovating your home....


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