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Wind and solar powered home shows what is possible for eco-conscious homeowners

Kae Shummoogum opened his home on Saturday to curious visitors wanting to learn more about why his is the only home in the Calgary area to be powered by wind.

Although, Shummoogum readily says that is just a small part of the entire power his home generates from ecologically friendly sources.

He installed the wind generator at his home, just outside of Calgary’s city limits near Balzac, nearly 20 years ago.

“It made a statement: I want to be environmentally conscious,” he said.

Two decades later, he is now continuing to educate the public about what is possible in the realm of what he calls solar fuel. His home has 17 solar panels for generating electricity, and a thermal solar panel to heat water for his home, in addition to the wind turbine.

And, said Shummoogum, we live in a city so sunny that we don’t have to worry about solar efficiency. Calgary is famously, and factually, the sunniest city in Canada, and one of the sunniest in North America and internationally.

“We have the best sun compared to Los Angeles, even Germany, which is ahead in solar energy,” he said.

“Today I’m still producing electricity, although it’s been a little bit cloudy, so it makes absolute sense. You see the windmill, it’s a statement I made, but the real money in the payback is in the solar panels.”

The tour was part of the Eco-Scolar June 2022 Home Tours, which saw 35 homeowners with energy efficient and solar powered homes open their doors. The final day for homes near Calgary takes place in Canmore on June 25.

“It does show you what’s possible, and it shows you what’s possible now, because this is stuff that’s already done, already completed,” said Andrew Mills, organizer for Eco-Solar Home Tours.

“It’s not if the government gives me a pot of money I could do this in the future, this is what’s real right now.”

‘Waste of energy wasn’t something I had the luxury for’

Shummoogum said that his desire to be eco-conscious was, in part, because of his upbringing in Mauritius.

He said his main mode of transport was by bicycle. He wasn’t brought up in a family that owned a car, and compared that to the typical Calgary family, which has multiple cars per household.

“The environment was always in my consciousness, and waste of energy was not something I had the luxury for,” said Shummoogum.

“And I always wanted to reproduce the same kind of clean air, and not wasting energy, as we typically born here do,” he said.

Shummoogum is the founder and CEO of Gasonic Group, which performs testing of indoor air quality and environmental exhaust testing from vehicles.

“Climate change is not something that we can get everybody to think about every day, but air pollution is something that’s in your garage, in your parking garage that has 200 cars,” he said.

“I’d like people to look at air pollution and breathing clean air as a way of getting to the same same place.”

Beyond simply showing off the ways he powers his home, Shummoogum also had several electric vehicles on hand and electric bicycles to try out.

Solar solution for the environment, and the pocketbook

Outside of his home, he has a large black thermal solar system that serves to heat the water in his house year round. The system uses flowing glycol, which is pumped through pipes into his home from the thermal solar panels, transferring that heat energy into water.

He has been operating the system for the last 15 years without issue, even in the coldest of winter weather.

“What I found is as long as you have the sun, it doesn’t matter if you have cold temperatures,” he said.

The 17 solar panels he has on his home also serve to power his house, and his electric vehicles. He said that the power generated by a single solar panel serves to power one of his cars for approximately 1,500 km.

With the 17 panels, he is getting more than 25,000 km a year powered by the sun alone.

The newer model panels he uses on the roof of his offices in northeast Calgary each provide up to 2,500 km in power, he said.

“I’ve calculated that my solar panel will give me an equivalent energy costs for my car 25 cents per liter,” said Shummoogum.

As a business owner, the solar panel costs also transform variable costs like those for fuel, into fixed and amortizable capital investments.

Long-term outlook pays dividends

But for homeowners, said Shummoogum, these kinds of installations which could take between 10 and 15 years to show a positive economic return, need to be looked at differently than the way a business would.

“We sometimes think of return on investment and for business, and it’s always ‘oh, return on investment over three years and so on,’ but some of these you’ll have to take a longer term view,” he said.

“You own a house, hopefully you stay in there for 10 to 15 years, and it has a value for the next guy anyways.”

And even for homeowners looking to build a house, he said, putting in things like conduits for eventual use of solar power makes “absolute sense.”

“I didn’t put [solar panels] in at the time I built the house, but I put in the conduit to go up and pick up the wires, and that was worth a lot of money,” he said.

As for the cost of the panels themselves, he said that the components have come down, but this has been offset by the rising cost of labour.

“It’s gone down almost 80 per cent in 20 years, but the cost of labour goes up,” said Shummoogum.

“So installation of a solar panel is roughly $1,000 per solar panel… so that’s pretty economical right now—you’re getting a more efficient solar panel, and the government is giving you some money.”

He said that the difference in that return on investment time has dropped, from 25 years for the panels originally installed at his home, to 10 years for the ones installed more recently at his office.

“It’s pretty incredible,” he said.

Electric vehicles can play role in sustainability at home

Shummoogum said that ultimately Albertans need a made in Alberta solution, and not one-size-fits-all, to be more environmentally friendly.

One of the things he has called for is more hybrid vehicles to be sold, and used by the public. He said that this would also alleviate many of the issues that could potentially be caused by a mass rush to electric vehicles all at once.

“In Calgary, I see four cars per household—four cars plugged in is 40 amps for rush current,” he said.

“Your circuit is probably 200 amps, so we have got challenges. If your neighbour has a [electric] car now you have an issue, but if you go hybrid, you don’t have to worry about anybody.”

He said it was about looking at all of the current solutions available, and taking small concrete steps towards a bigger long-term solution.

In terms of sustainability, he also said that electric vehicles can also provide some stability for homeowners. Most new electric vehicles have the ability to be used as a storage battery, providing electricity back into a home if it’s needed.

“But really speaking we’ve got to have security now, we know about supply chains, we know about black outs in a lot of countries, and this will help us.”

Shummoogum said part of showing off his home was to demonstrate to the public that there is an easy path to take towards cleaner power technology. Whether that is through the installation of solar panels, or encouraging that their next vehicle is a hybrid or electric car.

“I’m here to teach everybody: I teach my clients, I teach students, and I teach the public just to get everybody to move,” he said.

“Nobody has to feel guilty, they just have to make this one move.”