Geothermal working well in Mississippi homes

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Published: March 30,2009

Three Mississippi homes with wind and solar systems paid for with state grants are living testimonies to the practical applications of these eco-friendly systems. Located in Booneville, Madison County and Gulfport, the homes use different combinations of the systems that were financed by a grant through the Mississippi Alternative Energy Enterprise (MAEE). MAEE was funded by the state Land Water Timber Resources Board and was in operation from 2002 to 2004. It was discontinued due to lack of funding.

The work was managed by the Mississippi Technology Alliance with Sumesh Arora as project development engineer for the program. Although the project was discontinued, he considers it successful.

“These homes served as very good demonstration sites and there were several lessons learned as well as some unique accomplishments,” he said.

The Booneville home was the first home in Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) seven-state service region to be a solar-wind hybrid home, which was connected to the utility grid and sells power back to the grid under its Generation Partners Program.

“We were able to show that solar hot water heaters are very effective in Mississippi, too, both technically and financially,” he added. “They can pay for themselves in just a few years even without any grant support.”

The project has also demonstrated that wind is not the best renewable energy technology for Mississippi because the state has low average wind speeds. It also learned that batteries in the solar PV systems are the weak link even though the panels themselves will last 30-plus years. The 150-pound batteries have a life span of 10 to 12 years.

MAEE installed solar photovoltaic PV panels to produce electricity, solar thermal systems to produce hot water and wind turbines in the existing homes in Booneville and Madison County where the homeowners already had geothermal heat pump systems. In the Gulfport home, built by Mercy Housing and Human Development, MAEE installed only the PV and solar thermal system as a city ordinance did not allow the placement of a wind turbine.

Ernie Dorrill, a retired architect who lives in the Madison County home with his wife, Mary, agrees that wind power is not the best choice for Mississippi. They have a hybrid wind and solar system to power the home. The turbine can produce and store energy in sustained wind of 24 miles per hour. The state has wind at 10 miles per hour about 30 percent of the time.

“What we do have in Mississippi is sunshine,” he said. “The sun is the most powerful nuclear reactor. Solar energy gives us a fantastic opportunity to move in a new direction and I’m glad to be part of it.”

The Dorrills are happy with their system which was installed more than four years ago. He considers the flat plate collector on the roof for heating hot water the most effective and efficient thing a homeowner can do to save energy. Of a home’s annual energy use, 20 percent is used to heat water.

“It can be added to any existing house and is easy to retro-fit,” he said. “It costs $3,500 to $4,000, but the savings pay for it in three to four years. It’s being recommended to architect and landscape architect students at Mississippi State University.”

As new technology continues to be developed, Dorill says the costs will come down for alternative forms of energy. “Down the road our options will be much less with the non-renewable energy we’re now using. Re-newable forms are the sensible way to go,”

Willie and Nellie Hatfield built their Booneville home 11 years ago. He drew the plans and helped build it, wanting plenty of space to entertain their large family. Their geothermal air and heating system uses circulating water in 2,000 feet of pipe placed six feet in the ground where the temperature is a constant 50 degrees.

“There’s nothing outside you can see,” he said. “This system can be placed in ditches, a pond or a well. I was looking for the most economic way to do it because I knew I would be on a fixed income.”

The retired farmer says the system is quiet, clean and works well. He recommends it.

“The way the economy is, we need all the help we can get. I’d go again with this system,” he added. “I did the insulation and made sure it was good all around the house.”

During one of North Mississippi’s ice storms, power went out in the area where the Hatfields live, but they still had power. They also enjoy the agreement they have with TVA to sell any energy not used in their home.

Gulfport homeowner Donald Hawthorne was fortunate to have power following Hurricane Katrina when no one in a large part of the state had it.

“Thanks to the solar PV, the Gulfport home was one of the few homes to have power after Katrina hit,” Arora said. “The homeowner made a special attempt to contact me by phone within days of the storm to inform me of this. I could just feel the sense of pride in his voice for having this system in his house.”

Arora encourages homeowners to seriously consider renewable technologies for their homes. “It just makes sense once the homeowners have either built the house to be energy efficient or have made the necessary improvements which enables them to size the renewable energy system properly, thereby saving a sizeable amount of money.”

Dorrill estimates they have had 500 people come to look at their home. He is always happy to share information from his experience with alternative home energy. The 2,400-square-foot home looks like a regular home, he points out.

“People ask me if I think the solar panels look ugly,” he said. “I don’t think they should be hidden the way air-conditioning units are hidden. I want them to be seen so I will get questions about them.

“As we become more environmentally sensitive, these panels will be a status symbol showing that sensitivity. They will take the place of such status symbols as Jaguars and BMWs.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at lynn@lynnsdesk.com.

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