Why did you go solar?
After obtaining a graduate degree in Global Public Heath from George Washington University in 2002, my wife and I worked in Cape Town, South Africa. We had the opportunity to travel through southern Africa and to see how most people on the globe survive on little energy and water compared to Americans. After returning home in 2010, we decided that upgrading an older house would be a useful way of demonstrating that energy savings can be done even in an existing structure without major changes to the walls or roof. We have done this and found that our household energy intensity was cut in half by adding strategically adding insulation, exchanging old leaky windows for eco-windows, exchanging an old gas furnace for an on-demand water heater and other changes including a solar PV system. Our 1955-build ranch is a good example to others who wish to do something about global warming but don't know how.
What tips do you have for someone considering or moving forward with a solar installation?
First, upfront costs to the individual homeowner or renter can be daunting and often scuttle their desire because they simply cannot afford it. That is why many installations are done for upper middle class homeowners.
Secondly, it may not be possible to add a PV system to the roof of an existing house for many reasons.
Thirdly, solar panel installations can be tricky especially in Chicagoland due to its weather: cloudy days for weeks on end especially near the lake, as well as snow, freezing rain, and high winds. We are different from CA and CO where the weather is more benign.
I think that upgrading the energy problems of a residence is more than just adding solar PV. It should be a comprehensive approach that addresses total energy use and starts with an Energy Audit so that energy leaks or a sick building problem (excessively tight) can be corrected first.
Finally, Public-Private Partnership (PPP) neighborhood-based solar PV installations on public buildings, fields or warehouses should be explored so that people who cannot build an individual system can still benefit. I am lucky to have the means, desire and ability to design and build mine but not everyone can do this. Would ISEA be interested in applying for a demonstration grant to build a PPP-PV system in the western suburbs?
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