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Meet our computer wizard here in Rapallo, Andrea Canessa:

Andrea Canessa

This year when Speedy’s home-built computer finally got tired and decided not to cooperate with us any more we paid a visit to Andrea. Speedy, who makes limited demands on his computer, had the brilliant idea that Andrea could build us a machine from bits and pieces for much less than a new one would cost. And he was right! We got exactly what Speedy wants for about half what a spanking new machine would have cost.

While we were with Andrea we admired his new electric car:


Cute, isn’t it?

Then Andrea started bending our ears about alternative forms of energy. We’ve been admiring our friend Leo’s extensive work of that sort at his house in Piemonte – he’s put in photovoltaic panels for electricity and solar panels for hot water – so we were pretty well up on what Andrea was speaking about. What we didn’t know, and what he soon told us, is that he has become an agent for NWG, a company that installs alternative energy systems all through Italy.

Andrea’s a man we trust, and someone who has a firm grasp of technology. To make a long story short, we decided to install a photovoltaic system for our house.  We have enough space for 10 panels which should produce about 2.5 KW of electricity when the sun is shining brightly.  Since our regular electrical service is 3 KW, and we never seem to exceed that, it seemed enough. Besides, if we need more current than the sun is giving us at any particular moment, Enel kicks in to give us the extra that we need. The project was not cheap, but there were several factors (aside from the 80% financing offered by NWG) which made it seem timely and The Right Thing To Do.

First, the Italian government has a scheme in place that will refund 50% of the cost of the project with tax credits over a 10-year period.  No, we may not live (or live here) long enough to collect it all, but the rebate is attached to the project, not to us; it can be transferred if someone else lives in our house within the time period.  The government’s incentive program is not just for photovoltaic cells. It covers other energy-saving projects as well. Why is the government being so generous?  Well, (aside from it being The Right Thing To Do) it is an effort to stimulate the economy – for the manufacturers of green energy systems and for those who install and maintain them.  This tax incentive has been increased to 65% for some systems this year.  Lots of projects are covered in whole or part – restructuring a house to make it more energy-efficient; energy-efficient windows; hot water heaters and heating systems; even  some kinds of furniture for the newly done-up house are covered.

Second, the electric company cooperates by buying from us any energy we produce which we don’t use.  We buy energy from them for .32/KWH; they buy it from us for .16/KWH, which seems fair to me.  We get a certain amount of black-hearted glee from knowing that it is our neighbors who are buying our excess, heh heh heh.  We don’t have the capability to store what we don’t use, so when the sun sets, or when it decides not shine at all, we are once again at the mercy of Enel.

This leads to an interesting case of teaching old dogs new tricks.  We’ve tried for decades to use energy during the low-cost hours, which are usually after dark.  Now we have to school ourselves to do our energy-intensive chores, such as laundry, dish-washing by machine, and oven use, during the brightest parts of the day.  Turns out it’s not so hard to adjust.

The first step of the project was to get all signed up – which in Italy of course means many, many signatures.  To our amazement, though, everything was done with great efficiency and relative speed, and a month after an acceptable engineering study and our subsequent agreement to go forward, it was time for the installation.  It was done in two steps in one day.

A very jolly crew of five men from AMS, based in Lucca, arrived shortly after 8 a.m.  The first step was to prepare for the panels.  This involved some amount of wiring inside the house and placing frames on the roof to accept the panels.

Wiring done up in the attic

Wiring done up in the attic


Here’s what our indoor electric panels looked like before the installation:

electric boxes before

Here’s what they looked like at the end of the day:

electrical plant

The jolly lads from Lucca sang as they worked; it was so cheerful:

up on the roof-011

Once upon a time I would have climbed up on the roof myself to photograph progress, but I couldn’t do that this year. The photos taken from the roof itself are courtesy of the gents who did the work. The frames are not massive at all:

braces for panels

The panels were supposed to arrive at mid-day, which was about the time the electrical work was done. The men went to lunch. They came back from lunch. They tidied up some. Along about 3 p.m. they were finally able to track down the panels which had left Prato, near Florence, and mysteriously bypassed Rapallo on their way to Genova, where they now sat (a thoroughly Italian route). Our expectation was that everyone would shrug and say, ‘Well, see you tomorrow.’ Not this outfit. Two of them hopped in their panel van, drove to Genova, retrieved the panels and at 5:30 the roof was crawling with activity.

The panels arrive!

The panels arrive!

Getting the panels to the roof was not easy.

Getting the panels to the roof was not easy.

up on the roof-007

It was still hot in the late afternoon

Solving a small problem

Solving a small problem

By 7:30 the work was done and the connections had been tested successfully.


It was time for a bit of refreshment (and a few more signatures):

The ccrew

The crew didn’t linger however; they had a two-hour drive to get back to Lucca, and another system to install the next day.

Here are a few more pictures from installation day:

They had the most appealing backpacks.

They had the most appealing backpacks.

It takes a panolply of tools to effect this sort of installation, but they kept everything neat and tidy (tools, house, everything).


tools on parcheggio

My favorite collection of gizmos - I want a box like this!

My favorite collection of gizmos – I want a box like this!

So, everything was in place… now we had to wait for the men from Enel to come and make the connection. This also was done in two parts. There was the outside team:

Enel men

They swapped out our one-way meter, which measured only what we used, for a two-way meter for what we use AND what we sell them. (ha!) Then another technician came and checked the indoor wiring and turned it all on:

final connection

Ta-Dah! We are now using old Sol to run our day-time appliances, and it makes us feel just great. Our first reading:

Our very first 'free' energy!

Our very first ‘free’ energy!

Everything is working as it should with but one little wrinkle. NWG keeps track of all the power coming in and going out. They like to do it using the Vodaphone cell-phone system, but our hill-side coverage is not good enough to send the data. Their technician will return in a week or two to attach everything to our ADSL line to transmit the reports. Then we should be able to see daily graphs of what we are producing and what we are using. I can’t wait!!

Are we off the grid? Not by a long shot, but we’ve taken our first baby steps. Next year, who knows? Maybe solar panels for hot water. Stay tuned…