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2006 Media Release

Going solar

Hillside panels generate energy savings for Newcastle family

Date Published: September 1, 2006
By Bob Magnetti
Gold Country Media



Above, Bruce Dodds of Newcastle stands beside one of the solar panels that provides heating and cooling for the family home.

Photo by Ben Furtado/Gold Country Media

Ol' Sol - the sun - is the source of light and life on Earth and Bruce Dodds of Newcastle tapped into that source in an energy- and money-saving move about two-and-a-half years ago.

Dodds generates and pays for most of the electricity used at his rural home from two large solar panels standing on pillars on the hillside behind the family's dwelling.

"(The panels) 'wake up' in the morning and follow the sun all day," Dodds said. The rising sun warms freon in tubes alongside the panels, activating the movement. The panels, Dodds said, will generate about 20 kilowatts on a clear, sunny summer day. "The most ever (generated) was 22 kilowatts," Dodds said. "The bottom was 14 (kilowatts)." His well-insulated house, Dodds said, was designed for passive solar heating. The family of four - wife Marcia, son Neil, 13, and daughter Ali, 10 - keeps warm in the winter months with only a wood-burning stove and cool in the summer with a "swamp cooler." Properly placed trees provide shade against hot summer afternoons.

"People are under the misconception that you roast in the summer," Dodds said. "But that's not true." A properly placed "swamp cooler" will keep the house cool, he explained. The two-story, south-facing home is about 2,500 square feet.

In addition to the electricity-generating panel system, Dodds has also installed panels to heat water to the swimming pool. Dodds, a licensed massage therapist who practices Bowen therapy - an Australian version of acupuncture - at his home business, has lived there for 27 years.
Dodds became interested in the environmentally friendly solar panels when his brother built a solar house. "I just found it fascinating," he said.

The decision to locate the panels on hillside pillars instead of mounting them on the rooftop came after comparison between the two for efficiency. It costs about 10 percent more to install a tracking system, Dodds said. That's because it requires concrete pads to be constructed, as well as trenching work to bring the wiring down to the house. But a tracking solar-panel system is about 70 percent more efficient than a roof-mounted system, he said. Dodds avoided much of the added costs by doing his own trenching work.

Contractor Kevin Hahner of Roseville Solar Electric installed the paneling for Dodds. "Kevin was really great to work with," Dodds said. "He really knows his stuff and gave us a break when we did our own trenching."

The home uses very little electricity during the peak hours of noon to 6 p.m. The family operates utilities, such as dishwashers and laundry appliances, during the off-peak hours. "During the peak hours we get between 3.2 and 3.4 kilowatts," Dodds said. "We can take back 3.3 kilowatts during the off-peak hours." The surplus goes to the utility - in this case, Pacific Gas and Electric - and is credited back to the Dodds' account.

"The first year, our bill was $20 for the entire year," he said. "The second, it was $35. It really makes you wonder why everyone isn't doing this. "It could be done," he said, "if builders want to do it."

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