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Solar system supplies all the power for Kanuga home

Keith Metler points to solar panels that supply the power for his 2,400-square-foot home. Keith Metler points to solar panels that supply the power for his 2,400-square-foot home.

When Keith Metler and his wife, Deb, decided to move to Hendersonville from Chicago, they looked for a nice piece of property with a big clearing.

“The punch list was to come here and build a brick ranch and definitely solar because of where we are,” he says. “And we did make that happen.”
That’s a bit of an understatement.
Metler used his mechanical engineering training, decades of home remodeling experience and hands-on approach to end up with a solar system that more than meets the home’s electricity demand.
Semi-retired from a home improvement business in Chicago, Metler and his wife bought six acres of land on Nelson Valley Road from the Jim and Cosy Marshall estate. Then Metler sat down with a sharp pencil and went to work on the home design, driven from the start by the idea of solar power.
“It was really easy because I had built the house,” he says of his solar design. “I knew what my energy requirements were. And being that it was all going to be electric, that even made it more easy because our whole energy envelope was electric. I did basic simple math — the appliances, lighting.
“Everything is very efficient. The heat pump is really super-efficient. It’s like running a lightbulb. The house is a real tight envelope, too.
“The basement is conditioned space even though it’s not improved,” he adds. “We keep that at 70 because it just costs peanuts to keep it cool and heat it in the winter and I don’t have any humidity problem down there.”
He spent $20,000 on the solar equipment, and calculates total cost would have been $65,000 to $70,000 had he not done all the design, engineering and construction himself.
The 2,400-square-foot brick home consumes about 1,200 kilowatt hours a month, which would cost roughly $120 if he paid a light bill. He doesn’t. He pays a base charge of $13.60 a month for being tied into the Duke Energy grid, which supplies power when the sun goes down. But because surplus solar-generated electricity goes into the utility’s grid, Metler stays ahead on the kWh balance sheet. Duke doesn’t pay for the bump, though; it deletes the homeowner’s credit every May 31.

Cadillac of solar systems

Metler’s system is the Cadillac of solar systems — or Prius, he might say — compared with those atop a home or office building.
Standing in bright sunlight on an early fall afternoon, Metler describes the features of the 36-panel system.
“The towers are adjustable,” he says. “They’re right at 35 degrees” so the sun hits them directly. They’re easy to adjust.
“I do it by myself,” he says. “I get up on my ladder, I just take this bolt out and they’re so well balanced I just tilt them myself. If I take this bolt off they just stay there.”
He installed the aluminum towers and poured the concrete piers they’re bolted into. He bought the panels from a solar company in Massachusetts.
“With the hurricane warnings with Irma I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” he says. “I was all set to flatten these out. If I flatten them out they can take 150 (mph) no problem.”
Although people are more accustomed to seeing rooftop solar panels, an adjustable system on the ground is much more efficient.
“I picked up 400 watts just by moving them to the next position,” he says. “So that’s quite a bit of energy just in tweaking the tilt. You can imagine how people sacrifice performance by having them on a pitched roof that’s neither aligned south or doesn’t have optimum pitch. They’re not running at the most efficient manner.”

‘When it’s cloudy we’re making power’

The sun’s power turns out to be even stronger than Metler projected. He’s been tracking it closely since he moved in last March.
“If it’s overcast, we’re basically covering household needs; we’re just not putting any back into the grid,” he says. “When it’s cloudy out we’re making power. It’s amazing. As long as you can see outside — if you can read a newspaper — we’re making power. And at night when the sun is on the horizon and there’s clouds, the sun will reflect off the clouds and I’m still getting power.”
Even without calling up a portal on his laptop, where he can monitor electricity production in real time or look back at past dates, he can look at an arrow on the electric meter. “Toward the woods” means Duke Energy is supplying power, “toward the creek” means his solar panels are.
So if there’s a snowstorm or a car hits a power pole on Kanuga Road, the Metlers will still have lights, right? No, it doesn’t work that way. A solar home can’t feed juice back into the system when power crews are working to repair lines. An automatic shutdown features takes care of that.
“You’re energizing it at 220 volts,” he says. “You just don’t want that. That’s why everything has to go down. You want to make sure there’s safeguards to protect their end of it, too.”
A fit 59-year-old who still does home improvement work part-time, Metler is not prone to proselytize about solar energy.
He took on the project “because I’ve always had an interest in it, especially with my background, and moving here just seemed like an easy fit. This area geographically was just begging for a solar system. We’ve got great sun and enough area to put up panels. It worked out. It was on my bucket list.”