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Home / Environment / ‘Scrounger’ laments he’s on the grid (11:43 a.m. 12/17/09)

‘Scrounger’ laments he’s on the grid (11:43 a.m. 12/17/09)

Christopher Born produces 85 percent of his home’s electricity with solar panels, giving him a credit of $20 to $30 with Xcel Energy during sunny months. (Photo by Bill Klotz)

Christopher Born produces 85 percent of his home’s electricity with solar panels, giving him a credit of $20 to $30 with Xcel Energy during sunny months. (Photo by Bill Klotz)

By Bob Geiger
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Christopher Born is a self-proclaimed scrounger with enough solar panels on his north Minneapolis garage to electrify his home at no cost during warm months.

Now he’s on a mission to electrify his Chevrolet S-10 pickup by packing 24 lead-acid batteries.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m not off the grid,” Born said with a hint of embarrassment. “We don’t have a stand-alone system where I can go through the night.”

Born said his solar panel-clad garage takes care of 85 percent of the home’s electrical needs.

During sunny months, Born’s panels build up credit with Xcel Energy — between $20 and $30 each billing period, said Born, a former cabinetmaker for the Minnesota Science Museum.

Born’s electric equipment would have cost $50,000 if not for tax credits and rebates that pared the cost to $35,000.

Born installed 5.9 kilowatts of solar panels in two stages atop his garage, which more than supplements his home electricity demand some months.

“I’m a real scrounger kind of guy,” he said. “I get all of my firewood for free, and get all of my vegetable oil for free. But I wasn’t real satisfied with that and thought if there was a way to get an electric vehicle in the city, I would do that.”

He’s on his way, having removed the gasoline-related machinery from his S-10’s engine compartment.

There’s plenty of room for the electric motor and a half-dozen six-volt lead-acid batteries that Born plans to put under the hood. The rest of the power will come from 18 six-volt batteries in the back of the truck.

“Basically I took this 1998 S-10 pickup with a five-speed transmission, and I took out everything that was gas-related out of it,” said Born.

“What we do is install a big DC electric motor. You can buy a lot of the stuff made for this purpose,” said Born. “It’s comical how small it is in the engine compartment. The [factor] that changes everything is I live in Minneapolis and go to St. Paul once or twice a week. I needed a range of 30 to 40 miles for each [battery] charge.”

Born’s energy savings follow a financial commitment to energy efficiency.

“Anyone will tell you to spend money on energy-saving conservation before installing renewable energy sources,” said Born. “We converted virtually all our light bulbs to some form of compact-fluorescent bulb, ditched the basement freezer, and bought an Energy Star washer and dryer before installing the solar panels.
“And I swapped out all the old Christmas lights for LED lights because of the annual post-Thanksgiving double-whammy” of higher electric demand and shorter, cloudier days.

The light-emitting diode holiday lights help counteract the lower electrical generation during shorter days because they use one-fourth the energy of conventional Christmas lights.

After putting the bulbs and energy-efficient appliances in use, the Borns began saving money in a big way.

After sharply reducing their home’s energy use, “our next-biggest expense was transportation costs,” said Born, explaining his effort to convert his S-10.

Born said he doesn’t expect to recoup his costs of energy-saving equipment through energy savings. He said he and his wife “wanted to do something now with our lives,” and they believed energy efficiency was just the right thing to do.

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