By George Harvey
A visitor to Snow Dragon Solar’s website is immediately presented with a rather interesting statement, “Snow Dragon Solar sets new standards in sustainable building and offers everything from a simple solar array installation to building an energy efficient home.” Clearly, this company, operated by Albert and Donna Ducharme, goes beyond the ordinary.
Donna’s approach to living is based on a simple set of beliefs that could best be described as spiritual, though they are not based on a religion. They include such practices as yoga and meditation, but imply a strong set of ethical values, including environmental and social sustainability. Her ideals include such things as use of natural foods. Not passive about their interests, the Ducharmes came to grow organic food commercially and were certified organic farmers for a time.
Like Donna, Albert has a highly varied background. He was a field engineer in the graphics industry, has been swinging a hammer since he was five, and has been building and designing homes for over 15 years. When they decided to build their own home, he began to concentrate much more in building technologies. One of his areas of greatest focus was solar power, and this included passive solar heating, solar thermal hot water, solar photovoltaics (PVs), and the efficiencies that enhance solar power to make it the best practical choice.
Following a thought that she should take a closer look at the neighborhood where they lived, in Meredith, New Hampshire, Donna visited the top of Snow Dragon Mountain and was taken by what she found. A large parcel of land there was up for sale. The land was also a bit of a wreck, because it had been clear cut. Donna said it was all “slash, debris, and devastation.” Nevertheless, she took Albert to it, and somehow they together could see, with hard work, that they could reclaim the fields and restore the mountain’s beauty.
Building their home, the first of three they built on the mountain, was a valuable experience in off-grid and net-zero living. Their home is entirely powered by PVs, including almost all heat. An 850-gallon tank in the basement, heated with a solar thermal array, supplies heating to the house. A wood boiler was added for those times that the sun does not shine, and this is fired up weekly, but it uses very little wood – about a cord and a half per year. The house is ICF (insulated concrete form), making it super energy efficient and warm.
Naturally, they liked to show their home energy systems off. Visitors were more than impressed; they wanted to have systems like what they saw for themselves. And so, in 2007, Snow Dragon Solar was founded as an offshoot of Snow Dragon Mountain Builders, which was founded in 2002.
Over the past 12 years, Albert went for and got, some very serious professional certification. He is qualified to create a complete system, including new homes, retrofits, and additions. He can create complete building packages to meet the needs of customers. He is a member of the U. S. Green Building Council, participates in the LEED for Homes program, is certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, and is a member of the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association.
When the solar business started up in 2008, they were ready to hit the ground running. The results of their intense interest and involvement show in their work. They are very versatile and can do nearly anything a family might want. For example, instead of specializing in one design, they build photovoltaic systems that are grid-tied, off-grid, or hybrid. This means that they can adapt designs to the specific needs of clients.
A stunning example of their work was a set of systems they recently finished. A family with an existing home wanted to have a separate house on the same property. The existing structure was to be retrofitted for solar PVs, and the new home was to be custom-built.
A 47-kW solar system powers the two large homes. It has 175 Solarworld modules of 270 watts each. There are three Solectria PVI grid-tied inverters, five Schneider XW series hybrid inverters, and nine Schneider MPPT 80 HV charge controllers. Two battery banks include one of 1,700 amp-hour Trojan lead-acid batteries and one of 1,100 amp-hour Aquion salt water batteries. PVs also supply power for two electric vehicles. The house heat is supplied by solar thermal, in-floor radiant heat, supplemented by the outdoor wood boiler.
Snow Dragon Solar is in Meredith, New Hampshire. The website is www.snowdragonsolar.com. The phone number is 603-630-3003.
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