Athens Couple Use The Sun To Power Their Home

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They are concerned about the effects of global warming, so it might seem a bit odd that William and Carol Beale have a house where an array of electric appliances are in everyday use.

Cooking is done on an electric induction stove, there’s a microwave oven, a computer, an electric heat pump and other appliances — basically what you’d find in many American households.

In fact, the Beales have gone all-electric at their Robinson Ridge Road home east of Athens. The big difference is that their electricity comes from the sun, not a coal-fired power plant.

Their solar panels charge batteries, and for most of the year produce enough electricity to sell the extra to American Electric Power. In 2014, they used a small amount of electricity from AEP in January and December (because it was cloudy), and for the rest of the year sent electricity into the grid each month.

During one 12-month period, they paid AEP $9.27 and received $261.24 from the company, according to Carol Beale.

Prior to going solar, their concern about global warming had caused the Beales to cut back significantly on the amount of electricity they were using from the power company.

“I got us off of AEP as much as I could, because I’m interested in global warming,” William Beale said. But the less-is-better attitude about electricity changed with the installation of solar.

“We went 180 degrees … we went entirely to electricity,” he said. “We haven’t sacrificed anything. We went the other way, we got more luxurious.”

The solar system also produces the electricity used to charge their electric car, a Nissan Leaf.

Carol Beale said they have driven the car nearly 10,000 miles so far, “and we haven’t spent a dime on fuel.” She said the car will go 85 miles on a charge.

“You never stand at a gas station in the freezing wind, you just plug it in,” William Beale said.

Their solar system cost about $14,000.

“I did a lot of it myself,” William Beale said, which reduced the cost. He said someone with the level of knowledge needed to wire a house could install a solar system.

Beale has a technology background — he invented the free-piston Sterling engine and in 1974 founded the Athens company Sunpower Inc. to further develop and commercialize that technology. The company was sold just over two years ago.

Beale was able to buy his solar system outright, but realizes that would not be possible for many people. He said he’d like to see a loan program set up in Athens County in which investors would put up money that could be used by people to install solar systems, with part of the energy savings going to pay back the loans.

Beale has a workshop at his home, and one of the projects being developed is a pyrolyzer stove that cooks rather than burns wood. It produces charcoal, but also fuel gas that can run a standard generator — and charge the solar system batteries to eliminate those January/December periods when electricity is bought from AEP.

Burning of the fuel gas from the pyrolyzer stove does produced CO2 emissions, and the Beales also use a woodburner for heat. They said the CO2 that burning wood releases is CO2 that trees took in during their growth. The Beales differentiate between that and the CO2 released from coal formed millions of years ago and now being reintroduced into the environment by coal-fired power plants.

There are three other people involved in the workshop’s various projects. They are not trained scientists nor engineers, they are what William Beale termed “junk geniuses” — as in people who can do ingenious things with junk.

“They have a tremendous amount of skill I don’t have,” he said.

Converting to solar energy helps the environment and saves on utility bills, but Beale indicated there is another motive for doing that project and the ones undertaken in his workshop — the enjoyment of creativity.

“My motive is to have fun, not make money,” he said. “…This is my hobby, I’m playing games.”