Eco-conscious Leavenworth family combines energy efficiency and solar generation to achieve "net zero"
Meet David Morgan: Watershed coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, electric car owner, energy-conscious consumer, and solar energy producer in the PUD's Sustainable Natural Alternative Power (SNAP) program. To say that David walks the talk is an understatement.
Still, it seems somewhat surprising that in Chelan County, where hydropower is abundant and inexpensive, the solar panels at the Morgan house are producing about as much energy as the family of four consumes. Even with charging a plug-in vehicle.
“We’re weirdos, I guess,” David said.
Not weirdos. Just laser-focused on the future and doing everything possible to prevent climate change.
David and Christine Morgan live with their two children in a 1,300-square-foot home in Aldea Village in Leavenworth. They started with 20 rooftop solar panels two years ago, then added six more last year.
Over the past year, the Morgans have produced as much energy as they have consumed. Their system generates more than enough energy to meet their needs, except during the coldest winter months.
A combination of factors are at work here. The home is small. The solar panels are newer and produce more power – up to 300 watts per module, compared to 165 watts at the small solar structure installed in Aldea Village by the Alcoa Solar Endowment in 2005.
The home uses wall heaters. Up until last winter, the Morgans supplemented the heaters by burning wood. However, since they installed a ductless heat pump last July (and received a $1,000 PUD rebate), the wood stove hasn’t been necessary, David said.
The ductless unit can also provide cooling in the summer, if the Morgans choose to use it. In the past, they have foregone air conditioning.
They’re super-pleased with the ductless heat pump. “We had lived in Denmark for a while where they had these (ductless units). It’s been really good for us.”
One ductless unit keeps the open-floor-plan home cozy. The efficient ductless system is a big improvement over noisy wall heaters and the messy wood stove, David said.
The Morgans also installed an energy-saving heat pump water heater, taking advantage of the PUD’s $500 rebate. It’s a little louder than expected, David said, and it releases cold air. That’s fine in the summer, but creates a need for more ambient heat in the winter. (PUD experts suggest David try setting the water heater to operate in traditional mode when the cool air becomes an issue, then switch back to energy-saving heat pump mode at other times. And David says the water heater – a GE GeoSpring no longer manufactured – is “not perfect but I would still recommend it.” Newer models are quieter, he notes.)
The Morgans line-dry their laundry, too.
But back to the solar panels.
Jim White, senior energy efficiency engineer, said the Morgans are the first SNAP producers – and possibly the first PUD customers in the county – effectively to achieve net zero. At times they use more energy than they produce; at other times they produce more than they consume.
That was the idea, David said.
“This is something we wanted to do for long time,” he said. “We had to save up the money, and with the state program (which incentivizes solar installations and sunsets in 2020), thinking about the math, we knew if we didn’t do it, the payback would be prolonged.
“Although the payback is not that important,” he added. “This was primarily to do something for the environment.
“Every year is the hottest year in history,” he said, adding that he’d like to see faster action to reduce climate impacts on the local, national and global level. But “ultimately you can only be responsible for your own behavior,” he said. “We’re happy to be able to do this and we have made it a priority.”