Living off the grid: What you need to know - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Living off the grid: What you need to know

(Source: Nichole Cartmell/KFVS) (Source: Nichole Cartmell/KFVS)
ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - There is no denying that the price of electricity is on the rise.

According to Edison Electric Institute, prices went up 2.5 percent annually from 2000 to 2006.

That is one of the main reasons more and more people are looking at alternative energy sources.

In the U.S. alone, nearly 600,000 homes and businesses have gone solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

But is going "off the grid" or using solar panels right for you?

"Off the Grid"

Ten years ago, Jim and Mary Maginel unplugged.

Fundamentally environmentalists, they decided to rely on the sun for power.

In fact, you won't even find them on an electric grid.

"... What we are doing is putting energy in the batteries and right now those batteries are being charged," Jim Imagine said.

Instead of paying an electric company, Jim and his wife Mary store energy from the sun using solar panels.

That energy then powers every appliance, to every light switch, even their lawn mower.

They call it a mindful, nature-centric lifestyle.

The Imagine's only use energy star appliances, so they can get the most bang for their buck.

"Anytime you flip a switch or plug something in you just think about 'Are we on a third day in a row of cloudy weather, or have I been by to look at that meter and see is stored in the batteries,'" Jim said.

For example, when the couple built their home they made a strategic decision to place a lamp above every work area.

This allows them to only use one light at a time, instead of relying on one big light that must be used all the time.

"Everything has to be conscientiously chosen," Mary said. "We know how much energy we have to make in the course of the day to run the refrigerator and the freezer. The other things are optional."

But are they saving any money?

Jim said it is a break-even proposition.

"There is no free lunch when it comes to energy," Jim said. "So rather than pay Ameren UE we pay for replacement of batteries and when you do the math on that for the amount of electricity we actually use in a year's time it comes out about the same."

For them, it is not so much about the money as it is about their footprint.

"The idea that we can live pretty much like everyone else and do it from the sun rather from burning fossil fuels," Jim said.

"There's just so much less of an impact we're making on our resources so it is very satisfying to be able to think that we are making a difference, even if it's is a small difference," Mary said.

Going Solar

Some residents in Cape Girardeau have elected to use solar panels for most of their energy consumption.

However, they are still tied to an electric company.

According to David Alcorn, with Alcorn Electric LLC, this is called a grid-tied system.

"You're just storing up your electric by turning the meter backwards," Alcorn said. "You're selling the power back to the electric company. And then when you need it, you get it back from them."

For some homeowners, these systems have allowed their entire electric bill to be knocked out.

"This customer here, the last time I talked with them, in the month I was here particularly they said their electric bill was three dollars that month," Alcorn said.

However, Alcorn warns solar panels are not a cheap investment.

"This particular system here is a 16 kW or 16,000 watt system and it is roughly in the ballpark of $40,000, which is very expensive," Alcorn said.

The key is understanding your usage.

Alcorn said that will determine how many panels you will need to meet your typical energy consumption.

The amount you pay for a kilowatt hour of electricity is the biggest factor affecting the return on investment of a home solar system.

The price of these systems can be reduced thanks to tax credits.

The federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit that would be used as a write off on your taxes.

Alcorn said there is new technology coming out to meet the needs of someone who doesn't want to break their bank.

"You don't have to get a system to knock out your electric bill totally. You can get a system that will cut your bill in half or a quarter or three-quarters, whatever your pocket book, budget allows for," Alcorn said.

Home Remedies for the Air Conditioner Blues

Here are some tips to cut down on energy costs during the summer months.

  • replace incandescent light with compact fluorescent bulbs,
  • use energy star appliances,
  • install a programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust your home's temperature when you are not there,
  • an energy monitor can help determine which appliances are actually worth keeping plugged in.
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