PUBLISHED: 4:39 PM on Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Family relies on wind, solar solution
JUNEAU - As energy costs continue to go sky high, many consumers are looking for ways to reduce the cost of consuming energy. Jay and Eileen Beedle have found that using solar and wind power is feasible way to cut costs in Southeast Alaska.

Jay and Eileen live on Shelter Island with their two children, Jayleen and Jason, and being hooked into Juneau's electric power grid is not an option, nor do they want it to be.

"It's my lifetime dream to live remote," Beedle said.

The family moved to Shelter Island in 1999, but with two small children they wanted modern conveniences. Their home includes a dishwasher, washer, dryer, television, and computer - all power by solar and wind energy.

photos courtesy of Jay Beedle
  Jay Beedle and his daughter, Jayleen, pictured above, secure a solar panel on the roof of their family's Shelter Island home. The Beedle family enjoys the isolation of where they live, but they enjoy modern conveniences, too. At right: a picture of the Beedle's wind generator and another solar panel. The family does have to burn about 220 gallons of diesel each year.
The Beedle's home is powered by ten solar panels that can produce 48 volts of DC electricity. A converter changes the DC current into household AC current and surplus power is stored in eight 6-volt batteries (48 Volt battery bank). The home also has a 400-watt wind generator that Jay installed in 1999 at the cost of $15,000. He read about the idea in Home Power magazine and later attended a class in Washington State.

On a sunny day, the home's solar panels produce 500 percent more energy than the family can use, but on a cloudy day the panels produce 225 watts per hour, enough energy to power two 100-watt light bulbs.

Because of this, the family times their activities around the sun and reduces their electric use accordingly during daytime hours. On a cloudy day, the sun slowly charges a battery bank, creating electricity that can be used in the evening.

During the winter months the family relies on a wind generator to produce electricity. Jay said the house is sheltered from the southeast winds and the 400-watt wind generator only works well on windy days.

photo courtesy of Jay Beedle
Even on the windiest days, the wind generator can only produce enough electricity to meet 70 percent of their household energy needs. Jay is thinking of installing a second wind generator to meet their energy needs in the winter.

On some days the wind doesn't blow, however. During the darkest winter months, when there is no wind or solar power to harness, the family turns to a diesel generator. Jay said they use their generator about four hours per day during the winter, burning about 220 gallons of diesel per year.

Although the solar and wind power system is more cost effective than relying on a diesel generator, it only works because the Beedle home uses very little electricity.

"It's a conscious effort to be more aware of what you are consuming in the world," Jay said. "We have no running hot water in our house. We have running water but no hot water."

The family heats the home with wood and keeps large pots of water on the stove. They pour hot water into their dishwasher and also into a bathtub for bathing.

Cutting down on phantom loads cause by idle appliance is another key to conservation. For example, Jay said that an idle television uses 30-50 watts of electricity while plugged in. He recommends people buy power strips with on/off switches to reduce those phantom loads.

Jay said he did some research into why American appliances are less efficient. He found that companies, like General Electric, which build less-efficient appliances also build dams that provided electricity. In his spare time Jay has taught classes on energy conservation for community schools.

Jay has found that foreign made appliances can be more efficient. His freezer was made in Denmark and runs only 2 hours per day and is 90 percent more efficient then an American-made equivalent. The family also uses a propane dryer and refrigerator and a super efficient Stabler washing machine.

Through his research of appliances, Jay has found some useful tips for others when buying refrigerators.

"You don't want the ice maker or the water dispenser or any of that stuff," he said. "You want to go for the most efficient one there is. Smaller is better. We have to change the way we think a little bit."