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Three demonstration homes using alternative energy sources

Tired of those high energy bills? The Mississippi Technology Alliance’s Alternative Energy Enterprise is working to find alternative energy techniques to generate power and save homeowners money.

Three showcase sites located in Booneville, Madison County (near Canton) and Gulfport use solar panels, low-speed wind turbines, battery storage and solar hot water heaters in combined technology to supplement other electrical sources. These homes are meant to be developmental sites where energy can be used to supply existing grid power. They will provide sufficient evidence to create a financial model in most typical Mississippi environments, including urban, farm, vegetation cover and sparse vegetation cover. The Alliance is monitoring the energy generated and used by these sites.

“The goal is to make these technologies affordable,” said Sumesh Arora, project development engineer. “Our next step is hopefully to commercialize the use of solar and wind so people can install these systems.”

He says solar makes more sense in Mississippi and wind power is not the best potential. However, wind power is working well in Booneville because of the area’s elevation and topography.

Presently, it costs $20,000 to $25,000 to install wind and solar technology and a solar hot water heater in a home. Arora says some of that cost is for computer monitoring.

“We hope the costs come down in the next few years,” he said. “Without support from the state and federal government, technologies like these are very expensive, but if we were subsidized like other energy, the costs would come down.”

The Booneville home, a rural farm setting, opened last month to celebrate Energy Awareness Month. The equipment has been in place for a few months and will remain there as a demonstration for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). It is the first house in TVA’s seven-state region that is generating energy from solar and wind. Using this hybrid system, the home is connected to TVA’s grid and sells power back to TVA.

The homeowner, Willie Hatfield, owns the equipment that was purchased with a grant from the Mississippi Land, Water and Timber Resources Board. The Mississippi Alternative Energy Enterprise (MAEE) put the whole thing together.

“The homeowner was chosen because he already had a geothermal heatpump,” said Arora. “He is generating 30% to 40% of his home’s needs for energy but it could be as high as 50%.”

Arora said Hatfield is not making any money on the power he sells to TVA but is saving on the cost of power for his 2,000 square-foot home. “There’s just a couple in the home and they’re conscientious about the use of energy. We were fortunate to come across him,” he said. “Any time you do some sort of energy installation at your house, it goes hand in hand with an energy conservation plan.”

A similar home in Madison County — 2,300 square feet — was designed to maximize the use of the sun by homeowner Ernie Dorrill. Arora says it too was part of an energy grant and is open for tours to allow the public to learn more about alternative energy. The Central Mississippi home is located on a lake and is also connected to an energy grid.

“The house on the Coast is totally different and is probably not the best insulated home,” Arora says. “It was built as a Habitat for Humanity house and has 1,500 square feet.”

This house, owned by Donald Hawthorne, also employs a solar panel to generate electricity, a wind turbine and a solar hot water heater. Because a larger family lives there, Arora thinks this home may not make as great an impact on energy savings.

“All of the homes have had a good reception and I think the folks in Madison County have had lots of interest,” he said. “Just passing by, you will see the wind turbines, but otherwise they look like regular houses.”

MAEE provides contact names of companies who install solar panels, wind turbines and solar hot water panels. These installers may be able to provide sources of financing, Arora said.

He says the MAEE will be looking to agriculture — dairy, swine and poultry farms — for alternative energy in the next few years. Experiments in converting manure to gas that can be burned or used to generate electricity are underway.

“In one sense we want to learn from the home demonstration units and use this technology on farms,” he said. “Our overall goal is to create homegrown energy, using Mississippi resources, for every family, small business and farm in the state.”

The MAEE is part of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, a nonprofit organization with the mission to champion science and technology-based economic development in the state.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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