ElectriFair: A Blast of Fresh Air - TribPapers

ElectriFair: A Blast of Fresh Air

This carbon fiber e-bike conversion is street-legal and was driven to the event. Credit: Colin Bristow.

Asheville – The first ever ElectriFair was held on June 8 at the A-B Tech Mission Conference Center. About 180 people pre-registered for the open house, and an estimated 100 were present at any given moment. The event, designed to “offer valuable information on energy efficiency and new technologies,” was hosted by Electrify Asheville-Buncombe.

Electrify is a marketplace connecting buyers and sellers of electric household technologies through their website, letsgoelectric.com, and various promotions. Development partner for the project, Ken Haldin, realizes that a lot of solutions to today’s problems have already been invented. The problems lie in making them accessible.

Today, installing green upfits is usually a mix of getting hooked up with government incentives and grants and then enjoying the returns accrued from going off the grid. Let’s Go Electric claims that, using the techniques they’re promulgating, homeowners can save $1,500 to $2,000 a year on utility bills.

Of interest at the fair was a mobile tiny home powered entirely by green technologies from Sugar Hollow Solar. Nobody lives in it. It’s just a showcase demonstrating available technologies. Johanna Hagarty described Sugar Hollow, a newly-certified B-corp, as sticking to what it does best: solar. It’s vertically integrated and full-service, covering design, installation, service, and maintenance for solar panels, batteries, and EV chargers.

Solar panels have come a long way. They’re no longer the gawdy arrays of rectangles full of polka dots. A hot new idea that didn’t go as far as expected is the Tesla Solar Roof. Made with solar shingles, the finished product is sleek and sophisticated. The downside is that it would cost about $100,000 for the average house, with returns over its 25-year life of only $36,500.

If the goal is accessibility for all, ordinary solar panels hold more potential. These remain rigidly rectangular, but Haldin says a good installer will make the rectangles look good. There are even “dummy triangles” that match the solar panels to make a roof’s surface aesthetically uniform. Whether standalone or rooftop, panels can usually pay for themselves.

To save the electricity generated by solar panels for nights and rainy days, instead of buying a bulky battery, people nowadays might buy Tesla powerwalls. They’re 45 inches tall and have a slim profile, so they fit in with fuse boxes or utility meters, indoors or out. One 11.5kW Tesla Powerwall will cost $11,500, but discounts are available when buying more. Three or four powerwalls are typically needed to live comfortably off the grid. They last about 20 years, but are only warranted for ten. The estimated payback period is 38 years.

Smart technology controls when powerwalls will store charge. Even without solar power, they can be used to keep things running in the event of a power failure. They can also lower electricity bills by charging off-peak for use during peak hours.

Let’s Go Electric is promoting heat pumps with special emphasis. They’re still more expensive than conventional HVAC systems, and they have a bad reputation for not working outside the 40–100 degree Fahrenheit range when they’re needed most. The scientifically careful Rocky Mountain Institute chalks that up to “bad experiences with outdated technology.”

Don Moreland, founder and CEO of Let’s Go Electric, said high-end heat pumps can operate in temperatures as low as 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Ordinary heat pumps can be made to work on cold days with a resistance or gas backup activated by the “emergency heat” button on thermostats. Because heat pump water heaters work inside, they work even on the coldest days.

Those seeking true energy independence are likely interested in driving EVs. While these may be charged in a standard wall outlet, this can take two to four hours per mile of range. Sugar Hollow is certified to install Tesla charging stations, but their technicians can install charging stations for any EV. 

The hardest part is paying for it all. Money is available, but Moreland said even contractors have trouble keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of government grants and deals offered by Duke Energy. That’s why the folks at Rhino Renewables, another presenter, do keep up.

Haldin added, “The city and county and our non-profit partners are the catalysts for everything we have developed exclusively for our area. And it’s the only platform of its kind in North Carolina. That’s real leadership on their part.”

Let’s Go’s co-presenters included GreenBuilt Alliance, the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, Blue Horizons, the North Carolina Clean Energy Fund, and Self-Help Credit Union. Sponsors included Duke Energy, Sugar Hollow Solar, Rhino Renewables, the Building Science Detectives, Self-Help Credit Union, and Blue Ridge Appliance and Hearth.