Boston Globe: A resolution to be green

Jan 03, 2010 No Comments by

Original Article

A resolution to be green
Ipswich engineer works to reach net-zero use of electricity in 2010

By David Rattigan, Globe Correspondent | December 31, 2009

IPSWICH – On a typical morning, Don Bowen unplugs his hybrid and heads to his Beverly office.

When driven at low to moderate speeds (less than 41 miles per hour) and in easy driving conditions, the modified automobile runs entirely on electricity from the battery. On his approximately 15-mile drive to Beverly, Bowen estimates that the engine comes on four times, to push up steep hills or accelerate in traffic.

For the length of that commute, the car gets 95 miles per gallon. (The battery power only lasts for commutes of 30 miles or less before it needs a recharge, and he estimates his mileage on longer trips to be 75 miles per gallon).

A civil engineer consulting in the energy field, Bowen’s goal in 2010 is to become entirely electric-neutral – meaning that he’ll produce almost all of his own electric energy, including the electricity to run his automobile.

“I get that question frequently: ‘What’s the payback?’ ’’ Bowen said. “The payback for me is when our son [age 20] realizes what’s going on in the globe, and the impact that climate change is going to have. That’s the payback for me.’’

In December 2009, Bowen had a solar voltaic array installed on the roof of his house. In January, he’s anticipating the arrival of 4-watt LED lights to replace the existing 50-watt halogen lights in his home.

He projects the new lights will reduce his electric use for lighting 92 percent. Coupled with the solar energy coming from the roof-top panels, he anticipates his use of electricity to be net zero.

And that includes using his battery-powered lawn mower.

“Don’s always looking at new technology, and for me this has been a total learning experience,’’ said Amy Bowen, his wife, who noted that they’ve been renovating their home to save on energy over the past few years. “This is another piece that’s brought it to the next level.’’

In its simplest terms, the solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity for use in the home, and then transmit any excess electricity to the “grid,’’ the larger system that transmits energy to other homes, and businesses. Homeowners are credited for energy that goes into the grid, and those credits are applied to their account as they use electricity.

In this way, it is possible for homeowners to save significantly on their electric bill, or even receive a rebate from the electric company.

Previously, the Bowens had replaced most of their appliances (minus the clothes dryer) with Energy Star models, and the windows with high-efficiency thermal pane models made by Anderson. The home’s standard hot water heater was replaced with a tankless heater that only generates hot water on demand, and a high-efficiency propane gas heater was used to replace the 40-year-old burner.

They also had an energy audit done on their home, to determine where heat was escaping and potential inefficiencies were.

Don Bowen anticipates receiving a federal tax break on the solar panel installation, and he’s also become the first participant in the town’s Muni-Solar Program. Modeled after the Commonwealth Solar Rebate Program, it encourages development of small solar programs in town by offering a rebate of up to $10,000 for installation costs.

“Hopefully these [panels] will work as well as everybody hopes they do, and I look forward to monitoring it,’’ said Tim Henry, Ipswich’s utilities director, noting the Board of Selectmen has made encouraging renewable-energy use one of its goals.

The price tag for the 15-panel photovoltaic project was approximately $22,000, Bowen said.

The anticipated payback period for the solar voltaic array is seven to eight years, he said, but while saving money is important, “in this case, it doesn’t even show up on our radar.’’

Bowen said some of his energy-saving measures will yield no payback at all. Converting his Toyota Prius to an electric plug-in, for example, cost about $10,000, which he termed “a fairly expensive modification.’’

Bowen’s enthusiasm spreads, said Lee Dellicker, president of Windover Development Corp., who has worked on projects with Bowen.

“He got me to buy my Prius,’’ said Dellicker, who six months ago traded in a double-cab pickup that got 11 miles per gallon for a Prius that gets 52 miles per gallon. “Don’s absolutely passionate about this, and it’s contagious when he talks about it.’’

Bowen noted that many components of his solar power system were manufactured in Massachusetts, an indication of the growth of the alternative energy market as well as support for the local economy.

The photovoltaic panels were produced by Evergreen Solar Inc., which is headquartered in Marlborough, and manufactured in Devens. The inverter – which converts the electricity from the solar panels to the type of electric current used in the home – was made by Solectria Renewables LLC in Lawrence. The batteries and entire Hymotion electrical system used in the Prius were manufactured by A123 in Watertown.

The only component not made in Massachusetts is the UniRac mounting system – used to mount the solar panels to the roof – which was made in Albuquerque and distributed by Holliston-based Win Supply. The system was installed by All-Pro Electric Inc., based in Haverhill.

Bowen’s company, Meridian Associates Inc., has consulted on many of the major alternative energy projects north of Boston, including the wind turbine installed last year at Mark Richey Woodworking in Newburyport, and the one being installed in Ipswich for the Ipswich Utilities Department.

Bowen said he is regularly asked about green energy options, both in business situations and socially.

“At a party in Norwell last weekend, I had three people tell me they were going to start doing things differently,’’ he said.

“If it serves as an example of what can be done, it’s worth it to me.’’

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