Gone Solar!

About a year ago, my wife Gail and I installed 31 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof of our home in Bethesda, MD. We’ve been delighted by the experience.

Our solar system is a 10 kW carbon-free, smog-free, power plant that supplies the bulk of our electricity needs for air-conditioning, appliances, lights, computers, and so on.

We sell any surplus power back to our utility company Pepco, and over this summer, while our meter has been going backwards, Pepco has been giving us a credit on our bill.

We can’t actually disconnect from Pepco because we need it as a backup for those dark, overcast days when the sun is minimal and when we’re using more electricity than our solar panels can produce. But now, that’s mostly what Pepco is—a backup, not our primary energy provider.

Before we installed solar, our electric bill averaged about $200 a month. Since then, our bills have plummeted. After eight years, we should easily recover the up-front cost of installation through these lower bills. And over the next 20 years, we are predicted to save $30,000.

For me, as an environmentalist, the best thing about solar panels is that they are good for the Earth and our health. I hated relying on our utility for the bulk of our electricity, knowing that the power was coming mostly from carbon and mercury-spewing fossil fuels that cause air pollution and climate change.

And I cringed at having all that beautiful sunshine landing on our roof going to waste. Whenever we want, we can go online to view the amount of electricity being produced by hour, day, week, month, or year.

I’ve worked in the environmental and energy field for 40 years and I’ve always promoted renewable energy. We’ve insulated our home, use energy efficient appliances, and about ten years ago, we installed a solar hot water heater. But to install electricity-generating solar panels—that feels like a real achievement. I’m very happy to be doing my part in my home—no longer just talking the talk!

We all can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our dependence on the grid. We all can encourage the shift from centralized plants to decentralized rooftops.

In addition to solar hot water heating and solar panels, smaller scale solar alternatives also help save energy and money. For example, solar powered attic fan are usually feasible and cost effective in reducing air conditioning bills for homes with minimally ventilated attics.

According to a Kelton Research survey in October 2011, nine out of 10 Americans think it is important for the US to develop and use solar energy, yet wherever I look, very few homes have installed panels on their roofs.

If you decide to consider solar panels for your home, you’ll find many different companies to work with. They offer a variety of options, including buying the equipment versus leasing it. You will most likely be able to find a plan that matches your desired level of up-front expense and other considerations you have.

In many communities, solar co-ops help homeowners with the process of evaluating and installing solar systems, providing savings through bulk purchase of panels, offering guidance and hand-holding, etc.

If you value convenience as much as I do, then you can choose a plan that takes the burden off your shoulders. The company we used handled everything, including installation, tax credit, insurance, monitoring the system, repairs, guaranteeing performance, and so on.

I encourage you to think about investing in solar for your home, assuming you don’t have a tree shading your roof. Not only does it help create a cleaner, safer world, but it can save you money.

For the record, I have not been paid, or even asked, to write this essay. I simply feel passionate about the importance of clean, renewable energy.