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Inventor powers up greener homes

Posted by: Maria Rantanen on Monday Oct 10, 2009
Archie Guvi went back to his native South Africa three years ago and visited the village he grew up in, and the devastation caused by drought that he saw was disheartening -- but in the end inspired him to come up with an invention that might help a little toward making the world a greener, cleaner place.

Guvi, who has called Maple Ridge home since 1987, grew up on a farm in South Africa where his family was able to produce its own food and had a herd of dairy cattle. At that time, although the standard of living wasn't high, people were able to support themselves through subsistence farming.

But after several years of severe droughts in the area as the climate has changed over the years, the animals have died and it's too dry to farm there any more.

"It was very depressing to see people reduced to waiting for aid," he said of his childhood village.

After he came back from his trip to South Africa, he started thinking there must be some way to combat climate change using technology.

Guvi came up with the idea of combining three types of energy-friendly technology into buildings so that they produce their own energy and at times give back energy to the electricity grid.

The Oasis Powerhouse system combines solar energy, geothermal energy and wind energy in a way that at almost any time of the year, the combined technologies will produce enough electricity to power a building. And, from time to time, it will produce more electricity than the home can use, and therefore gets put back into the grid. During those rare times in the year when the three-way power system can't supply enough electricity to power a home and needs to draw from the electricity grid, it is more than compensated by the times when it can give back to the B.C. Hydro.

Under B.C. Hydro's net metering program, if a building produces more electricity for B.C. Hydro than it uses in a year, the utility will compensate the building owner by 8.16 centre per kilowatt hour. (This is subject to signing an agreement with B.C. Hydro.)

The first residential housing project to be fitted with the Oasis system was Solara Homes in Chilliwack, which had its grand opening just over a week ago. Oasis Powerhouse is working on two other projects, in Hope and in Keremeos.

Solar panels and wind turbines have a reputation of being large, unsightly structures, but Guvi said the ones used by Oasis are not an eyesore.

"That was most people's concern," Guvi said. "If anything, I think it looks very attractive." The wind turbines are no higher than a chimney, he added.

Green energy has traditionally had a high price tag but prices are coming down, Guvi said. For example, geothermal technology that cost $35,000 just a year ago can now be purchased for $20,000.

"(The cost) scares a lot of people," Guvi said. "But it has really gotten a lot better."

Solar energy systems also used to be "out of reach" for most consumers, Guvi said, but they are also getting more competitive as more people are demanding the technology.

The warrantee on the solar technology that Oasis uses is for 25 years and the technology itself is much more efficient than it used to be, and can even produce energy on a cloudy day.

Oasis Powerhouse decided to use local manufacturers of solar, geothermal and wind technology, mainly for philosophical reasons because their reason for developing the system was to help conserve energy - importing the technology from far-off countries like China would defeat the purpose, Guvi said.

While the problems associated with climate change are big, Guvi believes that if everyone, including homeowners and developers contribute their small part, "we can make a difference," he said. "This is my way of making a difference."

The Oasis Powerhouse system is available in three different packages: for buildings in remote areas, residential buildings and commercial buildings. It can also be retrofitted into older buildings.