Domestic renewables

Combining solar power with hydrogen storage has allowed a US home to be run on batteries.

Do-it-yourself heating

Imagine a house that gets all of its energy for heating, cooling and cooking from batteries. Sounds like a pain changing all of those giant D-cell batteries every year, doesn't it?

Mike Strizki likens the system he uses at his home in Hopewell, New Jersey, United States, to batteries that never go bad. Batteries as reliable as the Sun.

In fact, the Sun is a key player in Strizki's home. Sunlight energises the 56 solar panels that provide energy to Strizki's 280m2 house. About 30 per cent of the energy collected by the panels is converted to hydrogen, the element that makes up about 70 per cent of the Sun's composition. So, while the solar panels provide energy to the house when the Sun is shining, the hydrogen is stored for use in cloudy weather when it is converted back to electricity. Strizki stores enough hydrogen to keep him warm all winter, and to keep his hydrogen-fuelled car running throughout the year. His monthly utility bill? Zero.

The intricate, $500,000 Hopewell Project - Stritzki's home - was almost five years in the making. Stritzki cultivated private and corporate support and cajoled state utilities officials into embracing the idea that renewable energy must be the way of the future, to cut down on pollution.

"Things that people don't understand, they're afraid of," Stritzki said. "Hydrogen is just another gas, and it's safer than all the fossil fuels we know."

Still, Stritzki encountered critics who thought his idea of using solar electricity to extract hydrogen from water was dangerous. Building code officials, he added, weren't prepared for the technology he championed.

"I said, 'I'm not waiting anymore. We're going to work through the existing code, and I'm going to drag them kicking and screaming, but we're going to do it.' And we did," he said. "I convinced enough people to be believers, and the ones I couldn't convince, other people helped me move them aside."

Now he enjoys his big-screen television, his swimming pool, his hot tub, and the other comforts of his home - all powered by hydrogen and the Sun.

The first of many

Strizki's project is the first of its kind - an existing home, retrofitted for selfsufficient solar and hydrogen power - and, he believes, the first of many to come. Everything in the house runs on electricity or hydrogen gas and needs no external power supply.

His goal is to show how renewable energy sources can provide all the power needed to run an average American home. Strizki is chief technology officer of Renewable Energy International and founding member of The Hopewell Project, a New Jersey-based non-profit corporation dedicated to the development and promotion of renewable energy technologies as well as related educational outreach.

Through the success of his Solar-Hydrogen Residence, as it is referred to by the Hopewell Project, he hopes to raise awareness of the fact that clean, safe, reliable, and renewable home energy resources are feasible, and feasible now. That awareness is building: the house was home to a dedication ceremony attended by government officials, environmental activists, energy entrepreneurs and other guests. Renewable Energy International and The Hopewell Project has been covered widely by ABC News, CBS News, CNBC, National Public Radio, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times Magazine and has been talked about across the Internet.

Residential hydrogen power

The Solar-Hydrogen Residence works like this: Photovoltaic solar panels absorb sunlight, converting its energy into electricity. During the sunny months, this energy directly provides heating and air conditioning as well as powering appliances, filling the hot water tank and providing energy to cook.

At the same time, though, 60 per cent of the electricity is diverted to an electrolyser that pulls hydrogen from water. This hydrogen is stored in ten 1,000-gallon tanks and, during the winter months, when energy demands are highest, the solar array only provides about 60 per cent of the home's energy needs.

At this time, when energy from the stored hydrogen is needed, the hydrogen flows to a fuel cell where it is converted back into electricity. This enables Strizki to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer, all without relying on the traditional power grid that nearly every other home in the country depends on.

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