Shine On – How DIY Solar Power Pays Off
While Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are sending rockets to explore space and make Mars habitable for humans, there’s a strong argument to be made for housekeeping changes on Earth, especially if you can’t afford to relocate to the Red Planet.
And as Sascha Deri, Co-founder and CEO of altE Store, sees it, “It’s far easier and more affordable for us to take care of our own planet than trying to force some other planet to be hospitable to humans.”
True to his word, Deri is doing his part. At altE, a Massachusetts-based company that designs and sells DIY solar power systems and renewable energy products, Deri is committed to a greener future. His team is making clean energy generation more accessible and affordable for homeowners and businesses.
A world together
With his ideals he is in good company. In a pretty-well unanimous push by global leaders to be good to our home planet, practically every country on earth has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change to achieve carbon neutrality – or “net zero” emissions – by 2050.
Those greenhouse gas emissions will continue, but they’ll be balanced by absorbing an equal amount from the atmosphere. This way, climate change won’t see temperatures rise to levels that threaten people’s lives and livelihoods, and to the point of no return.
As it is, India, one of the world’s most populous countries, is already facing rising sea levels, melting glaciers and extreme weather events. Climate refugees may soon be a reality.
A greener world is a mindset Deri embraced early on, growing up in a remote cabin in Maine without running water or electricity, completely off the grid. He remembers his dad building a solar air heater to help heat the cabin that relied on a wood stove, and his parents bringing in water from a nearby spring in the forest to heat up for his bath.
(Now he’s in a suburban house where he says he prefers hot showers and won’t go back to compostable toilets.)
The absence of video games and lack of screen time didn’t have a negative impact on his youth. Instead, the challenges of self-sufficiency fired him up in a good way.
“I have a real passion and curiosity for the universe and how it works,” he says. His second business is a rocket company that develops launch vehicles powered by bio-derived, non-toxic fuel.
“Growing up, I developed an appreciation for nature and it put a heavy bias on how I conduct my own life and what I see as responsible.”
It’s that sense of responsibility he wants to see others adopt, with ease and with the right tools for powering everything from their home appliances and electronics to business computers and the office HVAC.
Bringing the right tools
“I wanted to find a way in which technology could benefit humanity and our planet,” he says. With degrees in physics and electrical engineering, he co-founded altE in 1999 and saw the company grow 50 to 70 percent in the first few years (head cheerleader and first salesperson was his father.)
Back then, solar and wind power weren’t widely understood and he had to tackle a lot of myths in bringing the message of how clean, alternative power can be stored and why it makes sense. Today, he’s still producing popular how-to videos on YouTube for the company’s customers and wholesale clients around the world.
“The cost of solar panels and the systems have come way down,” he says of the numerous benefits for the pocketbook and the environment.
In the early 2000s, you would need to spend $50,000 to $60,000 on an independent system and live very frugally off the energy. Whereas today, you could spend $20,000 or $30,000 and almost do nothing differently in terms of your power consumption, although Deri would like to see people reduce demand and live more sustainably.
“So if you look at it as a way of making a future purchase on your electricity, at a certain point it’s paid for itself and it really becomes close to free electricity, except for maintenance costs of the system. It’s a great way to invest in your future. You’re going to need electricity down the road. Whereas, when you buy a property or a car, you don’t know if you’re going to need it and you don’t know what the return on investment is going to be.”
A few months ago Deri installed solar panels on his own house, which now cover 80 to 90 percent of his family’s power needs – a significant boon when you consider that residential electricity rates in the U.S. are expected to rise by 1.3 percent between 2021 and 2022.
On that note, his altE team has had a hand in introducing products like the KiloVault range that uses lithium iron phosphate battery technology for energy storage. These unique systems provide higher current and peak power ratings for demanding applications like clothes dryers and electric water heaters and will charge your electric car. Bonus!
The company also offers portable energy-storage units and handy wall-mount units like the popular KiloVault HAB series that offers a 7.5 kilowatt-hour battery in a single unit along with built-in WiFi for smart performance monitoring.
The advantage here is that instead of sending solar power produced during daylight hours to the electrical grid, these hybrid systems can easily store the energy produced for flexible use.
“We’re finding more and more customers are choosing to have their own lithium storage-battery bank in their home. So they’re able to store any excess energy and use the electrical grid as their backup power system.”
Banking on batteries
Some customers have moved completely off-grid and rely on renewable energy power and storage, a move that’s gained momentum during the pandemic. In fact, altE has seen business thrive as people re-evaluate their lifestyles and become more environmentally aware.
And as power blackouts become more common – through the knock-on effect of climate change, more destructive storms, and toppling trees taking out power lines – having a battery bank makes a difference.
“When my neighbors have to go start up noisy, smelly generators to get the power back on, we don’t even notice it because there’s just a flicker of light for a second,” Deri says. “Sometimes we don’t even know that a blackout has occurred.”
Another evolution in renewable-energy systems that makes them even more cost-effective is that you don’t have to start with a battery-based system that adds to the cost. You can begin with solar panels and add batteries later when battery system prices drop further, as they likely will.
All in all, Deri feels his company is an integral part of helping people navigate the future of power generation – which may look a whole lot different from today’s.
The cloud in our future
“Eventually we will see the electric utility grid go the way of the internet or computers to cloud computing,” he says. “I think the way forward is a distributed network where we’ll see people producing power independently, getting to the point where everybody has an intelligent enough system where we are like a gigantic cloud computer.”
He envisions a day where every home is generating electricity and is interconnected. When a home requires power to do the daily chores, like vacuuming or dish washing, it would draw on its own smart systems. Then when additional power is needed for high-demand things like air conditioning or swimming pools, it would seamlessly draw from a home around the block, for example.
This system would be intelligent, efficient and far less prone to the system-wide outages experienced by grids conceived and developed in the early 1900s.
“We have these gigantic central sources of power that are very expensive and where half the power is lost in transmission as it is being transmitted halfway across the country or even halfway across the state,” he says. “So not only does a home-based system reduce the waste, it creates an incredibly robust network.”