If you start with a genuine HERS 60 LifeStyle SunSmart℠ home and add a PhotoVoltaic array to its roof, you will get a magic result: a Net Zero Energy (HERS 0) (*) LifeStyle SunSmartPV℠ home that can make as much electricity in a year’s time as the family living in it will use. That’s right! You can enjoy Free Electricity for Life if you live in a LifeStyle SunSmartPV℠ home. (* Slide the orange 100 dot to zero and see what happens!)
How It Works
A PhotoVoltaic array, much like those used on the International Space Station, captures the free power of the Sun and converts it to Direct Current electricity. This happens automatically and silently whenever the Sun is shining. The DC current is routed to a power inverter box, usually mounted on a wall in the garage of a LifeStyle SunSmartPV℠ home. The inverter converts DC it into regular AC household electricity. Again, this happens automatically and silently.
The Result You Get
When the Sun is shining brightly, like on a clear summer’s day, a SunSmartPV℠ home will generate a lot more electricity than it owners can possibly consume. The surplus is automatically routed back to the utility company, which is obligated by law to buy it. When the Sun isn’t shining, like at nighttime, the owners of a SunSmartPV℠ home purchase the power they need from the utility company just like the rest of us do.
On cloudy days, a SunSmartPV℠ home will likely still make more power than it is using, but the margin of surplus will be less. No matter. Whatever surplus there is, moment to moment, will be sold to the utility company, and whenever the home needs more power than it is producing, it will buy what it’s owners need from the utility company. Switching back and forth from selling to buying happens seamlessly and automatically. The residents will never know it is happening. unless they’re watching their real-time energy usage monitor which is included in the LifeStyle SunSmartPV℠ package. Pretty neat, huh?
Net Zero Energy Performance
Now, here’s the best part! The PV system in a LifeStyle SunSmartPV℠ home can be engineered within very close tolerances to produce as much free power over a year’s time as the owners want it to. The goal for many is to shoot for a balance, where the revenue from sold electricity matches the expense of purchased electricity so that true Net Zero Energy performance results. Free Electricity for Life! Or, did we already mention that?
The calculations that go into designing a true net Zero Energy Home, one that tests to be a HERS 0 (zero) home, are quite complicated, so they can be quite accurate. The result is a determination of how many panels of PhotoVoltaic material will be needed to produce Net Zero Energy Home performance in that particular home, given its many unique characteristics. Another approach which often turns out to produce an entirely satisfactory outcome at substantially lower cost is to specify a standard-sized PV system that will produce near Net Zero performance, without the custom engineering a true Net Zero Energy Home requires.
The Florida Solar Energy Center
If this sounds like science fiction to you, we’re right there with you. We would never have dreampt such magic might be possible, let alone that it could be done today. We might never have figured it out without the expert guidance of the building scientists at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, FL. The same people who led us to build HERS 60 SunSmart℠ homes, saw the success we had with them and encouraged us to reach for HERS 0 performance. Their reasoning was that we had already done the hardest work needed to get there by learning how to build our homes so tightly that they were naturally energy efficient.
With their help, we built our first Net Zero Energy Home, our St. Croix sales model home in Tralee Bay Estates, neighborhood of the Capron Ridge master planned community right here in Melbourne. That home has been quite good to us. It sold before we could complete it to a great couple who don’t need it right away, so we have leased it back from them to use for its originally intended purpose, being our Net Zero Energy test bed and furnished model home. You can see that home today.
A Multiple Award-Winning Home
The St. Croix has also been recognized internationally for its excellence. It won the 2011 Aurora Award for Best Solar Energy Home at the SouthEastern Builders Conference in Orlando, this past July. More recently, the St. Croix model home was designated Best Net Zero Energy Home in North America by the Net Zero Home Coalition of Canada. Ours was the only non-Canadian winner in the show, so you can image how tickled we were about that, not to mention being grateful to our new Canadian friends.
The common denominator in both awards was appreciation for our having applied cutting edge technology to a home that is completely conventional in appearance. That’s the whole idea for LifeStyle Homes. Energy efficient/green homes don’t have to be multi-million dollar architectural showpieces. They can, and maybe should be, homes that anyone could aspire to own. That’s how we see it, at least.
As fantastic as the idea of enjoying Free Electricity for Life, seems, in the words of whoever said it, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!” We are just transitioning into the next major technological step forward, using micro-inverter technology. Being made available to us by our good friends at Siemens Industry, Inc., this technology utilizes small power inverters mounted to each PV panel so that the DC to AC conversion takes place right at the place the power is being generated. There are numerous advantages to doing it this way, but the major one is that if the power output of one panel were to become lower, because something shielded part of it from the Sun, only that panel’s power would be reduced. All other panels would continue to produce at full rated capacity. This is a major step forward in efficiency.
What the Future Holds
Moving to micro-inverter technology is indicative of our drive to make PV powered homes truly affordable. Already system component prices are coming down as their quality and performance continue to increase. Because of the success we’ve enjoyed with our SunSmart℠ and SunSmartPV℠ homes, LifeStyle Homes has become recognized throughout the energy efficiency community. We intend to swing our growing bat as hard as we can to get prices down and performance up so we can reach our ultimate goal: providing truly affordable new homes that produce all of their electrical needs with a surplus sufficient to re-charge two electric automobiles overnight at no charge.
No one can do that right now, but you wouldn’t want to bet against LifeStyle Homes being the first to get there. After all, it was our Founding Partner, Larry Hufford who first said, “Until now, home builders have been building homes people live in. In the future, home builders will be building electric generating stations people live in, or they won’t be building at all.”