While many businesses and individuals have become increasingly focused on their carbon footprint during the past decade, one rarely, if ever, hears about a shop that is completely off the power grid. But, situated here in downtown Canton, @Home Computer Services has achieved that distinction, generating all its own energy with a 16 rooftop solar panels, generating 3,584 watts.
When owner Rob Worth was younger, he was fascinated by technology including alternative energy. For a long time, he has wanted to live a more sustainable life —something that he didn’t think was as attainable in the colder climate of Michigan, where he and his family lived until about a year ago when they transplanted to Haywood County.
Now, Rob and his wife Kelley Worth live in a home, half powered by solar energy, and own a business that is completely off the grid.
“Rob is kind of the passion behind this,” said Kelley, who admitted that at first, she was not nearly as enthusiastic as her husband about living a sustainable lifestyle. “I was the ultimate all consuming (person),” she said.
But, Kelley said the change to solar energy is not nearly as difficult as people think it is, adding that their life is not much different. She and Rob agreed that focusing on power consumption leads people to examine other parts of their lives where they might be overindulging.
“It makes you think about other things in your life that you don’t need to consume,” Rob said. He added that he drives his truck slower to get better gas mileage and does not gun it when the traffic light turns green like he used to.
The Worths purchased American-made solar panels and hired the Waynesville company Appalachian Alternative Energy Solutions to coordinate the project.
In addition to the panels themselves, the store is also equipped with a battery system that stores energy collected by the solar panel array. That way the store will still have power at night, on cloudy days and during power outages.
“When the power does go down, you can continue to run,” said Powell Davis, a contractor with Appalachian Alternative Energy Solutions.
The price of solar panels continues to decline, whereas electric bills keep rising. Solar panel prices have seen large declines during the past decade and are expected to keep falling.
“It’s the cheapest it’s ever been,” said Lucas Brown, a contractor with Appalachian Alternative Energy Solutions.
Overall, the Worths’ system cost $21,500. And, that’s before tax breaks. The state offers a 35 percent tax credit, and the federal government shaves another 30 percent off the cost, making such systems much easier to afford. So after several years of using solar energy, the system will have paid for itself.
Meanwhile, New Meridian Technologies in Waynesville plans to jump on the sunshine express soon as well, hoping to use solar panels to power their daytime operations.
“If we can help mitigate our impact in terms of the environment, then we are keen to do that,” said Jon Feichter, president of New Meridian. “Our goal is to generate all of the electricity that this building uses via the solar panels.”
Feichter owns a large office building beside town hall on Main Street in Waynesville, which is occupied by his own computer business and five others that lease office space. The solar panel installation is part of a larger building renovation and expansion, including a new façade and energy efficiency measures, including skylights to add more natural light.
The business’s electric bill typically runs between $275 and $350 a month.
“We use a lot of power,” Feichter said. The system is definitely worth the investment, he added.
To generate enough energy, Feichter estimates that it will need a 57-kilowatt system installed, a $211,000 cost. Although the state and federal tax breaks are generous, New Meridian will likely take a piecemeal approach to the project, starting with perhaps a smaller 10-kilowatt system for $43,500.
“In a perfect world, we would obviously do the whole nine yards,” Feichter said.
Unlike the system setup at @Home Computer Services, New Meridian’s will not feature a battery storage component, and they will still rely on regular electric power during the night and on cloudy or stormy days.