We hope that you had a chance to participate in the National Solar Tour over the weekend. Communities throughout the United States showcased their solar homes, mostly those with PV panels or solar thermal collectors. It was quite an opportunity to see some of the solar homes and talk with the homeowners who have embarked on their own solar journeys. My son and I had an opportunity to see many of the homes in the Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas.
Our hosts were gracious as they showed off their solar panels and collectors. To the uninitiated, if you’ve seen one solar panel array, you have seen them all. As the solar home tour showed, there are as many different applications as there are roofs. And for every house, there is a different shading pattern that has to be considered. One brand of solar panel does not fit all applications.
We were fortunate to be able to see a large breadth of applications. We saw some solar small solar arrays, as few as six panels (a 1kW array), all the way up to 36 panels (over 7 kW array). One homeowner proudly showed his array with a tracking system and another was pleased to show how the new mini-inverters attached to her solar panels work.
We live in the city and city installations can be particularly challenging as roof access can be limited. And if you are on a solar home tour, you aren’t going to see the solar panels from the street. One homeowner allowed us to climb up a ladder to get on his roof and see his 9 panel array.
We were able to see some particularly challenging roofs such as this Victorian house and also went out to the Washington suburbs to see some larger homes with large arrays of solar panels. One major advantage of living in this area is that the countryside is not far away. We were able to visit a farmhouse built in 1868. With so much property, the owner-architect placed his two arrays beyond the barns. His two dogs seemed eager to prevent what has happened in California to some wineries that have lost their solar panels to thieves.
Almost all of the homeowners with whom we met were recent adopters of solar energy, spurred by their desire to reduce to carbon imprint, and not unimportantly, by the spate of significant economic incentives. One of the homeowners turned on her new solar PV system just three weeks ago. Many of the homeowners were particularly keen to make the economic case for solar panel, bringing out charts and graphs showing substantial savings or quick payback periods. Of course, there were a couple of hardcore alternative energy enthusiasts, but for most, the government incentives tipped the balance in favor of going solar.
Some of the homeowners did not minimize the frustrations in being the first —first on their block or first in their neighborhood, and first to deal with the arcane net metering procedures set up by the local utility. But no worse for the wear, these homeowners are early adopters of solar technology. We are at the beginning of a wave of using renewable energy, and now can only hope that a solar home tour for the next generation will seem as quaint as going over to the neighbor’s to watch their new television.