Get “Off the Grid”

Madison Area CLT Homeowner Opens Renewable Energy Store

By Shirin Kestin

You can go green with Anniversary Court homeowner Rich Fitzgerald’s renewable energy store, O? the Grid.

Located in a small strip mall on Lien Road, Rich’s store welcomes you with earth colors, soft leather chairs, and shelves full of books and magazines (about renewable energy, of course). Those of us with little kids can fully appreciate the plastic toy organizer full of toys for our children to occupy themselves as we read about renewable energy.

Rich explains the many di?erent things we can buy to conserve energy, save money and save the Earth. In the back of the store, a row of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels are displayed. PV solar panels absorb energy from the sun and convert it to DC power (battery power). That power is sent to an inverter, which looks like a fuse box, and converts it to AC power (household current power). When you the inverter box to your fuse box, you can sell the power you produce right back to the utility company – an excellent way to save money and save the earth at the same time.

There are two sizes of solar PV panels. You choose the one that’s right for you depending on a number of factors: the size of your roof, how much energy usage you want to replace with renewable energy, and how much money you want to spend. The smaller one is a starter system, to which you can add more panels to it in the future. Rich also sells a solar PV panel that can be used without being hooked up to a fuse box. This one is for places like a cabin where you may not have a utility connection. To help you make the right choice for your house, O? the Grid gives free onsite assessments of the sun and shade your home gets.

Buying a panel has an upfront cost; however, you are making a great investment in the long run. According to Rich’s estimates, within 10 years a solar PV system will pay for itself. Under current programs, you get 1/3 of the up-front cost back as a tax credit from the federal government. Additionally, you get between 15% to 20% back from Focus On Energy. Between these two sources, Rich says that you can get back 45-50% of the upfront cost back into your pocket relatively quickly!

Rich o?ers other products that help you conserve energy and may be more cost e?ective for you today. One is a solar thermal system for heating domestic hot water. Costing less than solar PV systems, this system uses energy from the sun to heat fluid that circulates through the solar panels. This heated fluid in turn transfers its energy to a solar storage tank, which stores the heated water.

A solar thermal system is a good investment in a high hot water usage home. If you live in a low usage home (such as a two person home or a cabin), it makes sense to buy a tankless hot water system. Here the water is heated at the moment that you use it, without having to use all kinds of energy to keep water heated in a storage tank. Again, you can get the same tax credit and Focus on Energy credit back for these water systems.

For all the gardeners out there, here’s a great system for you! By installing a rain barrel, you can use fresh, free rainwater from the sky. In this system, costing less than a hundred dollars, a tube hooks your downspout to the barrel, collecting rainwater every time it rains. You can then use that fresh, chemical-free water to feed your plants. Because it’s stored in a barrel, the water is warmer and full of oxygen, unlike tap water which tends to shock your plants. Your plants will thank you!

Throughout the store, you can ?nd many useful solar powered items that can help you. From LED ?ashlights to solar powered bags (used to power up your camera, phone, MP3 players from the sun), you can always ?nd something that will help you and our beautiful planet. Off the Grid even sells honey bought from local farms using energy conservation systems!

For all of us MACLT condo homeowners who are wondering if they can set up a solar panel system on top of your house, talk to your association! For more information, check out

Don’t forget, Rich can come to your home and make an onsite assessment to help you determine what your best options are.