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Solar at Home

Solar at Home


The trials, tribulations and rewards of going solar
Solar at Home Home

The solar installation waiting game

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Editor’s Note: Scientific American‘s George Musser will be chronicling his experiences installing solar panels in 60-Second Solar. Read his introduction here and see all posts here.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and here’s why: We’re still waiting on our subsidy paperwork to go through so that the state will sign off on our solar tax breaks. We also had a bit of a delay because the solar installer neglected to mention that we had to apply for the utility’s loan program on our own. (I hope this isn’t a bad sign.) We now expect to get underway next month.

We’re not alone: My friend, solar blogger Greg Feldberg has also experienced some delays. His system was installed a month ago, but his local utility has yet to inspect it and install the new electric meter.

But these holdups don’t mean we’ve been entirely idle. At the suggestion of a commenter on one of my earlier posts, I asked a roofer to check out our roof. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he suggested we replace it.

Initially I was pretty skeptical: he would say that, wouldn’t he? The roof is less than 10 years old and shows no signs of leaking. But the roofer showed me how the shingles were improperly installed and how the built-in gutters have rotted. I’m tempted to plug my ears and sing la-la-la, but the responsible father-figure side of me has been running the numbers on our home-equity line, so we’ll probably end up going through with it.

In other news, we’re also planning to get our energy auditor back out for a second look. Energy audits are getting cheaper all the time and there’s really no excuse not to do one. In New Jersey, they’re subsidized and cost just $125 (makes me wish I had waited, actually), and the government will even foot sme of the bill for the suggested improvements.

To help navigate the maze of subsidies, another solar blogger, Osha Gray Davidson, points out this list of renewable incentives available in different states. Some places even offer feed-in tariffs, which guarantee above-market rates for renewable energy. Another option is a power-purchase agreement, whereby you don’t pay for your panels at all. An outside company will install and maintain them in return for collecting the subsidies. The advantage for you is a cheaper electric rate. These agreements are increasingly common for warehouses and big-box retail stores with wide roofs—the only time that suburban sprawl has some environmental benefit—and at least two companies, Sun Run and SolarCity, offer them to homeowners, though unfortunately not in our area.

One thing I’m still looking for is a good magazine or guidebook for renewable energy and energy conservation. Home Energy magazine isn’t bad, but seems aimed more at contractors than at homeowners. Scientific American’s Earth 3.0 is great—and I’m not just saying that—but it focuses on policy rather than do-it-yourself tips. Any recommendations?

A solar house (not George’s), courtesy of Cameron Christensen





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  1. 1. InquiringConstructivist 2:42 pm 04/6/2009

    Northeast Sun might be the magazine you’re looking for, but may be more science and less application than you want. Solar Today is also decent, and Home Power is the most practical.
    For books, I recommend, well, I don’t know. It all depends on you. Maybe my organization’s bibliography might help (EnergyTeachers.org). How about Solar Living Sourcebook from Gaiam Real Goods? I keep that close by.

    Link to this
  2. 2. SolarPhoenix 10:40 am 04/12/2009

    Before you replace the roof, check to see if it qualifies for a new federal tax credit for energy efficiency. I just discovered the credit while reading the fine print of the Act. http://bit.ly/cxwH

    Link to this

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