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Making A Canadian Power Play

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 22 February 2000 00:00

With the rash of winter storms that have hit Canada lately, urban dwellers are experiencing some of the power uncertainty that is part of country living. City folk take electricity for granted. In the country, brown outs, black outs, even week-long power outages are commonplace. Rural property owners may have hydro on their land but that's no guarantee they will have electricity when they need it.

Many of Canada's most beautiful cottage areas are too remote for affordable hydro. Cottagers regularly look for alternatives to electricity.

Ironically, the space race and NASA may provide practical solutions for these energy problems.

Satellites, space shuttles and space stations require cost-effective, efficient solar power. Photovoltaic technology, developed to allow us to use the sun's energy to live in outer space, may make living on earth more comfortable, too.

Solar panels capture sunlight and store this energy in batteries. Inverters convert battery power to alternating current so normal lamps and appliances can be used. The systems run themselves and do not require much technical knowledge. Photovoltaic systems have no moving parts so there is little maintenance and no noise.

Solar systems can solve specific problems. One property uses solar energy to power necessary lights and a cellular telephone. Another has a small unit to run electric smoke detectors. Some homeowners go completely solar.

"This is the beauty of solar power—you can tell hydro right where to go if you wish," said property owner Keith Abbott, a retired business owner from Cambridge, Ontario, who has an energy self-sufficient cottage home on a lake about 20 minutes north of Huntsville, Ontario. In 1993, Abbott got a quote of $25,000 from Ontario Hydro to bring power from the other side of the lake to his cottage.

"I spent approximately $15,000 compared to $25,000 plus hydro bills each month which are constantly increasing," said Mr. Abbott. "I am not at their mercy. I am very pleased I am completely independent of any costs from hydro."

Although photovoltaic technology has come a long way, and promises to go further, solar power can still mean a sizeable initial investment and long-term pay back. Solar system costs range from about $1,000 to run a few lights to more than $50,000 for elaborate high-use designs.

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