On Presidents’ Day, it was 27°F and overcast. The cloudiness was due to falling snow, which not only covered the ground and the roof, but also our 3.3 kilowatt array of nine solar panels. On sunny days, the house is net zero energy for electricity. Then, with the sun’s help, we generate as much energy as we use. The house can use power from the solar panels or draw electricity from the grid. When the solar panels produce more power than our “load”, the amount of electricity we are using, we sell power back to the utility, the “grid”. Net-metering allows excess solar power to return to the power company for credit.
The sun produces a lot of energy as anyone who has jumped into a hot car on a summer day can attest. It would seem fairly easy to convert sun power to usable electricity, however, in our experience, it hasn’t been so easy getting to this stage of green. The installation process lingered over 8 months while trying to get the battery backup system working. Our son had given us good advice about the benefits of battery backup. If a household has solar, you would think the panels would take over if the power went out. But it doesn’t work that way unless your electricity can operate independently. If your house’s electrical system is tied to the power grid, your solar panels may be producing energy in a blackout and power companies can’t risk line technicians getting zapped when they are trying to restore power. During an outage, our system switches “off-grid” so the solar panels plus batteries are a source of emergency power during blackouts.
There are many reasons to think about energy awareness and conservation, but they fall under three categories: future, money and health. Our top three reasons are named Rachel, Allison and Patrick. Our actions are our legacy. We care about the world our grandchildren will inherit. Even if you don’t have progeny, consider your impact on future generations. The steps we take today matter in the short- and long-term.
Putting solar on the roof was a symbolic investment rather than one with an economic payback. With cheap oil, it’s hard to justify based on money alone. While there are federal tax credits available for residential energy efficiency improvements and many states encourage energy efficiency with rebates, conservation incentives don’t seem to be a priority in Virginia. We viewed sustainability as an investment.
The environment affects our health. Clean air, water and soil are human rights as the Flint, MI disaster has brought to the forefront while raising doubts about the safety of water in other municipalities. People try to limit their exposure to toxins, such as lead in water or particulates in air because those substances harm our bodies. Most people would avoid running a car in a closed garage and that level of attention and care needs to extend to our planetary home.
Blah, blah, blah… I have better things to think about and use my money for. Energy efficiency is a yawner for most people. Realizing that, this is a do-it-yourself post. While this features my shade of green, you have to decide what, if any, suggestions will work in your life. If you want specific ideas, I’m happy to share. We can’t create water or air, but we can do our part to keep it clean. Being green is an investment in the future. Our actions today will ensure blue skies and clean water tomorrow.
© Joan S Grey, 19 Feb 2016
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