Amish Embrace Solar Power | Rebaptized World

Amish homesteads are instantly recognizable by the stroller in the driveway and the distinctive clothing on the clothesline. Solar panels have joined the list of visual cues and have brought many benefits and concerns to those who have previously lived without electricity.

Over the past few decades, many Amish have embraced solar power, which is allowed because the stand-alone system is “off-grid.” The rules against worldly vices are not meant to ban electricity or prohibit convenience, but rather to avoid connection and dependence on the outside world.

Wellspring Components, an Old Order Amish-owned solar installer near Shipshewana, Indiana, represents the solar movement. Founded in the 1950s as a buggy repair shop, the company still manufactures suspension springs today. The company entered the solar field about 27 years ago, installing single solar panels to power well pumps and refrigerators. As solar power has become more efficient and cheaper, diesel and natural gas-burning generators have become less attractive.

“There’s no question that panels are more efficient and prices are coming down,” said Ryan Rengacher, Wellspring’s Indiana team sales manager. “The same system (one panel and one battery) that he sold 25 years ago was over $1,000. Now the same thing is $150. It was double.”

Northern Indiana has different restrictions. The Old Order Group, which extends southeast into Fort Wayne and Allen counties, has popularized the technology, and some businesses using large generators have also switched to solar power. In the Byrne area south of Fort Wayne, few groups have solar power due to bishopric and district differences.

Rengacher, who works primarily with non-Amish customers, said the regulation would reduce the consumption needs of Amish households, making the switch to solar power economically attractive.

“English [non-Amish] Households average 1,000 kilowatt hours per month. There are 50 people in his Amish household. That’s a big difference,” he said, pointing out that LED lighting and computers are fine for businesses, but fine for homes. “The Amish here still use natural gas and propane for lighting. They run their well pumps, refrigerators and freezers on solar power. It’s not allowed.”

Three rows of solar panels are installed on the roof of Wellspring Components near Shipshewana, Indiana.  — Wellspring Components
Three rows of solar panels are installed on the roof of Wellspring Components near Shipshewana, Indiana. — Wellspring Components

Holmes County, Ohio has more Amish diversity and a patchwork of permitted solar applications. James Mast founded his ARK Battery in Sugar Creek, Ohio to meet the need for improved lithium batteries to accommodate power fluctuations. ARK works to tailor the system to the needs of each group.

“There are about 15 different Amish in Holmes County, and the New Order group I’m from has 15 to 20 churches, and there’s definitely a difference from church to church,” he recently joined the Beechey Amish congregation. Mast said. “But most New Order Amish in Holmes County have no problem lighting their homes.”

When he started installing solar systems eight years ago, it was common to put light switches in closets to hide the electrical trail in the house. A common application today is charging e-bikes that incorporate electric motors.

“There are more limits on load than solar systems,” he said. “Use 12 volts or less DC lighting on the main floor, or no lights,” he said. “There are churches that have limits on everything: air conditioners, microwave ovens, dishwashers.

“The rules apply to home appliances, not solar systems. It’s really hard to draw a clear line on the system.”

Mast, who developed the load-balancing technology for ARK’s battery cells through trial and error and now manufactures it in China, said the Amish’s acceptance of solar technology was a gradual growth over decades. He said it was the body.

“If, like a 10-kilowatt system, it went from nothing to where it is today overnight, it would never have been possible,” he says. “It’s not an exaggeration, but you get the point. It just got bigger.”

Solar gradually came to the Amish in Kansas. King Solar, which provides statewide service, is based near Yoder, and owner Mark Horst has many Amish neighbors.

He estimates that about half of Amish households in the area use solar power, and “we didn’t really see much adoption until 2015 or even after,” he said. “In the last four years it has really taken off, partly because of the local bishops and their interpretation of what is appropriate and what makes sense.

“One of the great things I have learned living in this community over the last 10 years is that I understand what is allowed and what is not allowed. and how can I follow Jesus in my local situation?” ”

The most common use is to power electric fences or water pumps. Many of Holst’s neighbors have lights that run on 12-volt systems that rival car batteries. A local auto parts store used to do a fair amount of business charging these batteries overnight, but things have changed.

“Yoder Hardware now sells a lithium 12-volt battery system that also powers ice cream makers,” he said. “Many Amish people in my neighborhood use lights, sewing machines, washer-extractors, but not the washing machine itself.

“I know a man who installed a wheelchair lift with a 12-volt lithium battery into his buggy. It was probably the most fun solar project I have worked on with the Amish.”

King Solar's project on Amish housing in Kansas is similar to the array the company installed at the Mennonite Central Commission Central States in North Newton.  — Tim Huber/AW
King Solar’s project on Amish housing in Kansas is similar to the array the company installed at the Mennonite Central Commission Central States in North Newton. — Tim Huber/AW

Holst, who sits in the congregation of the South Central Mennonite Conference, sees a variety of motivations for solar power in serving Anabaptist clients. Several members of the US Mennonite Church, wanting to be good stewards of the environment, recently consulted with King Solar. Horst believes financial considerations are important for Beachy Amish and Christ Church (Holdeman) Mennonite households that are already connected to the grid.

“Many of my religiously conservative clients are business owners who apply for rural development grants for energy projects through the USDA,” Horst said. “Basically, any small business that already has a grid in our area can qualify for USDA funding, including Beechey, Holdeman and other Anabaptist business owners, as well as my UK neighbors.”

Wellspring, Indiana’s customer base has yet another priority.

“UK customers are buying this product not for environmental concerns, but for energy independence,” Rengacher said. “They want to have a system that not only protects them in the event of a grid outage for a year or two, but also saves them some money.

“For some of my customers, self-sustainability is paramount.

In Ohio, solar energy is essentially self-sufficient electricity, Mast said.

“They don’t care about the environment, and they probably don’t care too much about independence from government oversight,” he said. “I find it interesting that people on the far left and the far right both want the same thing when you go into the non-Anabaptist world: they want the solar system.

“People want self-sufficiency. They want greenhouses to grow their food. They want their own power. Despite all the “go green” it does, I’m always amazed at how little it does. ”

Amish solar installations are expected to continue as efficiencies increase and prices drop. Due to rising diesel costs, poultry houses and other industries are beginning to shift the way they get most of their electricity.

“At commercial scale, say, poultry houses with feed lines and in-store power tools, 15 years ago the technology just didn’t exist,” Mast says. “We are changing faster than ever before.”

He has heard there are several Amish licensed electricians in Ohio and believes it will be common to see Amish licensed electricians in Holmes County in the future. .

Ironically, the use of technology that the Amish have embraced because of traditional limitations now leads to questions about whether or how they limit new technology.

“We’ve found that if you can afford it, there are very few restrictions,” said Norman Yoder, one of Wellspring’s Amish owners. “This is also why many congregations limit the amount of solar power they have for their homes. We are trying to use technology and we are trying not to be used by technology.”

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