Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Model for Going Solar

From an interview conducted by JessTrev aka Olive Oyl...

The following is excerpted from a piece I wrote in our neighborhood newsletter about a woman who consciously decided to use her resources to pave the way for more mainstream, affordable solar options for others. One thing I found fascinating about talking to this environmental pioneer was that it was clear her work as a professional organizer and her individual thrift (which might not be readily apparent in the following interview) have been paramount in making her dreams come true. I know from speaking to her over the years that she's extremely careful in budgeting and in setting up financial and household systems to help her to make her goals a reality. It's fascinating to realize how powerful it can be to simply use your existing resources wisely. As my neighbor strode across her post-dinner household, instantly located and flipped a binder open to a section on energy sourcing (I caught a brief glimpse of every household appliance manual), I realized once again how useful it can be to simply be organized. This woman carefully tracks her decisions. She'd conducted her project, start to finish, with the idea that not only could she clean up her own energy, but that she'd be prepared to share her experience with her neighbors. What an inspiration.

PT’s been on a mission since 2006 to install solar panels on her Washington, D.C., rowhouse. “We do a lot to reduce our energy consumption. But I kept thinking about my air conditioning – and I wanted to be able to keep cool using clean energy.” So, the intrepid professional organizer tackled the daunting task of sourcing and installing alternative energy sources for her home. PT readily agreed to speak to the local Gazette about her “two-year relationship” with her renewable energy provider in order to help spread the word about the feasibility of going solar in her neighborhood.

Initially inspired by a good friend who installed solar panels (whose husband is in the solar industry), PT signed on to work with a local company called Standard Solar. She said the application process for a DC grant couldn’t have been easier: “The Standard Solar guys came up with the proposal. They helped us write the grant.” She then added a letter to the boilerplate that outlined her desire to serve as a blueprint for others to follow. PT felt strongly that, since “we could afford it…we could be a model for others in the neighborhood.”

PT's family submitted their application for a DC grant early in 2007. By May of that year, she attended an event at the DC Department of the Environment to publicly honor the recipients.

PT’s roof now has nine solar panels, each roughly the size of a door. She estimates that half of their household power will be generated by their panels when they are up and running. She notes that they were “limited by space” from going totally off-grid. When asked why she wanted solar panels badly enough to devote years of her life and thousands of dollars to the project, she says that going solar is: ”all within my vision of what I want my house to do. My house is already green because it’s so small. I choose to line dry all of my clothes and I use blackout lining curtains on my windows. But we wanted to be pioneers…. I had this dream of making energy in a clean way.”

PT says that the DC Department of the Environment grants are a huge incentive for folks willing to go (partially) off the grid. “There’s no way we would have done this without DC’s grant. It would have been twenty five thousand dollars – ridiculous!” With DC grant money, however, the tab for the household’s nine solar panels will come in well under $10,000. PT’s husband, RB, points out the obvious math: even with DC grant and tax credits, the project would take fifteen years to save them money on their electricity bills. PT felt strongly, though, that being pioneers in adopting solar would help pave the way for more sustainable energy options for the larger community. “The thing that’s exciting is that things have changed even since we started,” she says. PT says she’s heard there is a solar co-op that’s formed in Mt. Pleasant. They’re applying for a group grant from DC and will buy in bulk, using the economies of scale to make the process more economical and eco-friendly (for instance, if they need a crane, they’ll all use it at one time).

PT’s longstanding dream “to be part of the movement of renewable energy” is about to come to fruition. In January of 2009, her household will flip a switch and half of their electricity will come from sunshine instead of our local energy company.

Once the panels are live, in January, PT and Standard Solar plan to present a slide show and info session for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at the local elementary school. PT's kids are pretty excited about the project at their house. The ultimate litmus test? They shared their Halloween candy with the Standard Solar workers.

According to PT, there’s a new tax code coming in 2009 that will make the process even more affordable, and she highly recommends Standard Solar. “I had heard that alternative energy people can be flaky.” But, she says, when she has had questions, the company’s been responsive, and when working on installation, the SS crew “was incredibly respectful.” Thanks to the initial investments of early adopters like PT, the rest of us in the mainstream can more easily start to talk about using solar to generate electricity.

Next up for the green pioneers? The family’s thinking about a tankless water heater, radiant heat, a whole house fan, an expanded container garden, and an outdoor line for clothes drying. Oh, and next summer, when it’s sweltering outside? I will smile when I walk by PT’s place knowing she’ll be having her cake and eating it too: keeping cool using the power of the sun.

Contact Standard Solar at info at standardsolar dot com or the DC Dept. of the Environment at 202/535-2600.


Burbanmom said...

Wow! What an inspiration! Thanks for letting us know about this DC Superhero!

greeen sheeep said...

Nice story! It shows you what determination and a little planning can do.

Joyce said...

I'm so jealous. I've been wanting solar for the longest time, but it's just out of reach for us.

Standard Solar said...

Thanks for the mention! DDOE released the new rebate program this past Friday. Here are the details:

DDOE Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP) - Fiscal Year 2009

* The REIP will be administered by DDOE fiscal year 2009 (October 1) through end of fiscal year 2012;

* Eligible systems must produce or offset energy through the use of solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, wind, biomass, and methane or waste-gas capture technologies;

* DDOE is currently working to define methods and acceptable equipment standards for converting the heating and cooling capacity of solar thermal and geothermal systems to kilowatt equivalents. This will permit such systems to qualify for rebates under this program;

* The Mayor may issue rules to modify the incentive program as market conditions dictate;


*$3 for each of the first 3,000 installed watts or watt equivalents of capacity;

*$2 for each of the next 7,000 installed watts or watt equivalents of capacity;

*$1 for each of the next 10,000 installed watts or watt equivalents of capacity;

* DDOE is to allocate ½ of the funds from Sustainable Energy Trust Fund available annually every 6 months;

Application and Implementation Process

* Applications will be considered and approved/rejected in the order received;

* Rebate payments will be awarded immediately upon receipt of renewable energy generating equipment purchase invoice by DDOE;

* System owner has 6 months from date of approval to complete installation;

* DDOE is to verify project completion and has discretion to allow owner an additional 6 months to complete installation after submission of a written request;

* System owner is to return rebate if installation is not complete in 6 months;

* Owner's failure to return rebate will constitute a lien on all of owner's real and personal property to secure repayment;

* DDOE will be post information on the program to a dedicated website;

* The rebate application form to be substantially the same as the application for the analogous program used in Maryland (see;

* DDOE may pay for the installation of monitoring and communications systems, for collecting generation data from renewable energy systems funded by the rebate program and transmitting it to a designated website provided that the system owner permits DDOE to make the data publicly accessible on the agency's site;

Regulations specific to solar energy systems

* For nonresidential solar heating, cooling, or process heat property systems producing or displacing greater than 10,000 kilowatt hours per year, the solar systems shall be rated and certified by the SRCC and the energy output shall be determined by an onsite energy meter that meets performance standards established by OIML;

* For nonresidential solar heating, cooling, or process heat property systems producing or displacing 10,000 or less than 10,000 kilowatt hours per year, the solar systems shall be rated and certified by the SRCC and the energy output shall be determined by the SRCC OG-300 annual system performance rating protocol applicable to the property, by the SRCC OG-100 solar collector rating protocol, or by an onsite energy meter that meets performance standards established by OIML;

* For residential solar thermal systems, the system shall be certified by the SRCC and the energy output shall be determined by the SRCC OG-300 annual rating protocol or by an onsite energy meter that meets performance standards established by OIML;

Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS or RPS)

* The incentive program is designed in part to help meet District utility suppliers' requirements to, by the year 2020, provide 20% of power from renewable sources, with not less than 0.4% from solar energy;

* Electricity suppliers must meet the solar energy requirement by obtaining the equivalent amount of renewable energy credits from solar energy systems connected to the distribution grid serving D.C.;

* There is a compliance fee increase from two and ½ cents to five cents for each kilowatt-hour of shortfall from required tier one renewable sources;

* A compliance fee increase from thirty cents to eighty cents for each kilowatt-hour of shortfall from required solar energy sources;

Solar and Renewable Home Improvement Financing Proposal

The Public Service Commission is also to open an investigation into mechanisms to make long-term affordable financing available to energy consumers to purchase renewable energy generating systems, including solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems and home and business improvements that increase the energy efficiency of buildings, including weatherizing, adequate insulation, efficient doors and windows, and central air.

Susannah said...

Can I possibly ever be as cool as PT? Very inspiring story with clear action items -- thanks!

JessTrev said...

@joyce - I hear ya, which is why I love ppl like PT even more, for driving the market for the rest of us....

Many thanks to Standard Solar for the stats on DC's '09 incentives!

Green Bean said...

I'd really really like to get solar panels but (1) we keep thinking we'll move and (2) I can't convince my husband. Here, in CA, SolarCity offers panels on some sort of lease so it's only a monthly payment. Still, I've managed to whittle down our electrical usage so much that the price to lease solar panels, while totally reasonable, is more than double the price for electricity through the grid. Ho hum. Maybe I'll have to share this story with my hubby.

BananaBlueberry said...

This is inspirational-
AND I LOVE that this post is practical too-
showing us what exactly to do!

DDOE/Energy Office said...

Thanks for your post. To clarify a bit, DC's new rebate program has not officially begun just yet. We are finalizing the revised application procedures and regulations, and plan to publicize the incentives in January of 2009.

Please visit DDOE and Green DCfor more information. In addition, we welcome the public's thoughts on anything related to renewable energy. Please contact me directly: emil.king(at)

Emil King
Program Manager - Renewables
DDOE/Energy Office


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