This Man Can Reduce Your Energy Bill to $0.00
Mike Strizki, an engineer in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, is building up a small business that saves big money on energy costs for his customers. Normally he builds grid-independent systems for celebrities like Johnny Depp, who is having one built on his private island, but now he is starting to build cheaper systems for ordinary people. And he is one of the unsung heroes of the alternative energy movement.
Strizki said he’s been able to make a living for himself selling renewable energy systems to those who can afford the expense. Currently he has about a six projects on the go, including one in the Cayman Islands, which he said brings in enough money to keep his dream alive of making alternative energy available to average homeowners.
“The people I’m selling to now are the early adopters,” he said. ‘They’re the ones who have the Maseratis in their driveways, and start thinking about their children, and wanting to do something for their futures.”
“God bless them, because we’re learning a lot from these guys, about what works, and what doesn’t,” said Mike Muller, a professor at Rutgers University, and director of the school’s Center for Advanced Energy Systems.
But Muller said he doesn’t expect to see the technology spreading fast among average homeowners who must invest in solar panels, pressurized hydrogen storage tanks and the electronics to manage the technology.
Strizki said he made the impressive switch to self-sufficient solar and hydrogen power in October 2006 using a $250,000 grant, $100,000 of his own cash and another $200,000 he raised privately. The system converts sunlight into electricity, and also converts water into hydrogen and oxygen for power. The system’s storage supply can last for up to three months, in the absence of ample sunshine. Strizki said he even has enough electricity left over to sell back to his local power company.
The Strizki’s personal home-energy system consists of 56 solar panels on his garage roof, and housed inside is a small electrolyzer (a device, about the size of a washing machine, that uses electricity to break down water into its component hydrogen and oxygen). There are 100 batteries for nighttime power needs along the garage’s inside wall; just outside are ten propane tanks as well as a Plug Power fuel cell stack (an electrochemical device that mixes hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water) and a hydrogen refueling kit for the car.
On a typical summer day, the solar panels convert sunlight to about 90 kilowatt-hours of electricity. He consumes about 10 kilowatt-hours daily to run the family’s appliances, including a 50-inch plasma television, along with his three computers and stereo equipment, among other modern conveniences.
The remaining 80 kilowatt-hours recharge the batteries—which provide electricity for the house at night—and power the electrolyzer, which splits the molecules of purified tap water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is vented and the hydrogen goes into the tanks where it is stored for use in the cold, dark winter months. From November to March Strizki runs the stored hydrogen through the fuel cell stacks outside his garage or in his car to power his entire house—and the only waste product is water, which can be pumped right back into the system.
“I can make fuel out of sunlight and water—and I don’t even use the water,” he notes. “If it’s raining, it’s fuel. If it’s sunny, it’s fuel. It’s all fuel.”
He claims he now can set up a base system for $80,000 that generates 1 kilowatt, enough to sustain a small home.
However, the systems he usually sells tend to be five and six times that amount, providing more kilowatts and storage capacity. Strizki insists he still gets enough customers doing no promotion.
Instead, he showcases his home and other alternative energy accomplishments through a nonprofit organization, the Hopewell Project, and shows off hydrogen fuel cell cars for automakers. General Motors and Daimler have lent Strizki hydrogen fuel celled vehicles this summer.
The state of New Jersey also heralded Strizki’s company, Renewable Energy International, as one of eight 2008 Clean Energy Leaders in October.
The state Board of Public Utilities names the energy leaders for their leadership and innovations in creating clean energy solutions that save energy and help reduce greenhouse emissions.
Others named were Bristol-Myers Squibb in New Brunswick, Energy Kinetics in Lebanon, Sun Farm Ventures in Flemington, the Hopewell Valley School District, and EarthColor in Parsipanny, Aspen Ice in Randolph, and the Borough of Ocean Gate.
As things stand at the moment with an economy in recession and a rising interest in saving on fuel costs, Strizki said he has high hopes that more big alternative energy contracts will come on line, and further drive down costs. He said he can immediately market to solar energy users, which can add on his technology.
Cash from the utilities, along with state and federal rebates, has allowed Strizki and other renewable energy users to pay off their investments in just a few years.
The New Jersey state Board of Public Utilities alone had paid $92.8 million in rebates to 2,600 residential solar energy users as of Oct. 31.
Two residential wind turbine users in the state had received more than $58,000, according to the board’s New Jersey Clean Energy Program. The board has promised to continue offering the financial incentives to homeowners installing a system generating up to 10 kilowatts, until the year 2012.
One homeowner who is taking advantage of the rebates is Chris Knepper, also an engineer, who’s constructing a French-styled country home about a mile from where Strizki lives in East Amwell. He is spending an extra half-million dollars on top of a million he’s already budgeted to build the house.
Once finished, Knepper hopes to have a home that is completely of-grid, using the solar and hydrogen-based system.
The home will be the second in New Jersey to have the same renewable energy system that Strizki installed on his own home two years ago.
The rebates were a selling point for Knepper, who plans to live with his wife and daughter in the home he is building with Strizki’s renewable energy system in Hopewell Township, Mercer County.
“Doing the math, it appears it’s going to pay for itself in about 8 to 10 years,” he said. “And if not, my children will at least have free energy.”
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