As the extreme weather event such as heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, drought, and rising sea levels is emerging, rooftop solar panels offer an affordable solution to restore natural systems with renewable, carbon-free energy. Distributed solar offers tremendous potential to reduce our nation’s GHG emissions, and large deployments will also reduce sulfur and mercury pollution while saving approximately 60,000 American lives each year.
One remarkable net zero energy project that had a positive impact on the community, the environment, and our company is the Starkey solar project.
Gil (James) Starkey is co-founder of 350 Austin, a nonprofit organization fighting the climate crisis. He has dedicated his energies to inform people about global warming while personally taking on the climate crisis by shifting his reliance away from fossil fuels and moving toward clean energy with rooftop solar, a battery system, and a fully electric vehicle.
Starkey and his wife Roberta Tsurkahara have been interested in solar and energy conservation for a long time. They had solar on the home prior to their move to Texas and were familiar with the benefits when they purchased their new home in the Mueller neighborhood. Installing another rooftop system seemed like the right thing to do. They have owned their current system for three years now and are contributing to a more fossil-fuel-free world.
Since their home was newly built, they were not certain what their energy needs would be, but they wanted a photovoltaic system projected to offset over 90% of their consumption. After some discussion and number crunching, they concluded a 7.5 kW system would be a good fit. The system produces an average of 10,705 kWh yearly by utilizing 25 LG 300W AC modules. However, the Starkey family has managed to consume less electricity than the average home of its size. The result is they produce more electricity than they use and the family has yet to pay an electric bill.
This year, with federal incentives scheduled to decline in 2020, the Starkey’s decided to make their next big investment by purchasing an electric vehicle and a battery system. With two Tesla PowerWall batteries, they can manage their entire home electricity consumption and monitor their usage. Battery storage is another tool that helps the Starkey family deal with climate change and manage their way through blackouts.
I had an opportunity to ask Gil a few questions about his solar journey.
Nafi: What interested you about going solar initially?
Gil: Having lived most of my adult life in the Boston area, we had no real opportunity for solar power, since we lived in urban condominiums. These buildings ranged from 70-110 years old and were difficult at that time to retrofit for solar. I became interested in solar when I moved to Austin in 2000 and built a house. Our interest at the time was to limit, as much as possible, our direct impact on the environment. Generating our own electricity was, therefore, appealing.
We were not able to implement solar before returning to New England, this time to an ecovillage in Maine. We installed solar there for the same reasons we had planned to do so here in Austin. By the way, we were in mid-coast Maine, where wintertime overnight lows are quite frequently below zero, often 10-15 degrees below zero. Our house was designed to approach the Passive standard, so it was extremely well insulated and faced solar-south to maximize passive heating. Because of these factors, our home had to be, and was, 100% electric, even in a frigid climate. Our solar panels enabled us to live very comfortably at nearly net-zero. That experience sold us on solar panels.
By the way, solar panels were cropping up all over Maine on 100 to 150-year-old farmhouses. I was surprised to learn that although Maine receives much precipitation and experiences many cloudy days, it actually receives more sunshine than Germany, where solar panels are ubiquitous. No wonder Mainers, thrifty New Englanders that they are, were installing solar!
Nafi: How did you choose a solar installer?
Gil: Having already decided to go solar once we returned to Austin, I began researching companies as soon as we knew where we were going to live. My research narrowed things down to a few companies and my decision was confirmed when I discovered that our neighborhood had gone through a selection process for a significant solar project a year or so before we moved in.
Nafi: What advice would you give to someone who wants to go solar?
Gil: First of all, it just makes sense from economic, environmental, and climate change perspectives. Texas is absolutely bathed in sunlight. I am baffled that governments and electric utilities do not promote and subsidize solar more strongly. The more solar people install, the fewer utility-grade power generation facilities must be built, and that alone will save utilities hundreds of millions of dollars.
The price continues to plummet. Two years after installing solar in Maine, we purchased a system here that was 40 percent larger, but the net price of the two systems was the same. We (humanity) must move to a zero-carbon economy at warp speed. Global heating is approaching tipping points that once crossed, cannot be reversed. Utilities have traditionally contributed the most greenhouse gases, so widespread solar (and wind) generation is a necessity. It makes sense. Do your research. Find a strong, reputable company, and get a proposal.
Nafi: Do you have any data on your solar system’s performance you found it interesting to share?
Gil: Our system was intentionally over-engineered because we planned at some point to purchase an electric car. We now have our EV, and I am pleased to report that our solar array is supplying all of our home’s electricity, even in summer, plus charging the car. We are effectively off-grid for home and transport. Since installing solar in February 2016, we have not paid any utility bills. That’s right, $0, and we have a substantial credit with Austin Energy.
Without a rooftop solar system, they would have paid approximately $1,243 per year for the electric bill. Moreover, the solar panel system cost will be paid off within 8 years and the total amount of money the household will save within 30 years is estimated at $41,785.
Solar+Storage Data Monitoring: a Strong Tool to Manage Usage
Everyone is familiar with data collection trends and the ways in which information is used and misused; from sabermetrics in baseball to news blasts on Facebook. But when it comes to conserving energy in your home, energy monitoring tools are extremely useful. These tools are available for consumers to monitor the production of their photovoltaic systems and the energy consumption of their home or business.
The ability to see and use consumption data enables the Starkey’s to make informed decisions about their electricity use— knowledge is power when it comes to conserving energy. Online monitoring tools enable customers to access information from their browser or smart phone. After three years of monitoring, the Starkey system has offset 100% of their home electricity consumption. This could change next year with the additional EV home charging load; time will tell.
The United States installed 2.7 gigawatts of solar in the first three months of this year, which set a record for the first quarter of a year. In addition, 25 percent solar growth is predicted this year by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables institute. According to Renewable Energy World Texas holds great potential to increase renewable energy generation and to integrate distributed solar resources in innovative ways while preserving our deregulated market structure. Collective action is all that is required to move and make Texas green.
If you would like to learn more about Lighthouse Solar services or be a part of the green movement, contact us at Lighthouse Solar for a free estimate and consultant.
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– By Nafi Shah & Jay Bramble