For years my wife and I put off that Solar Array for our roof. We’d checked into it several times, but the cost always seemed too great to pull the trigger. Then 3/11/11 brought massive destruction and unthinkable death and suffering for the people of Japan. It was a wakeup call to me, seeing the Fukushima Daiichi plant in a state of complete disarray. The earthquake and tsunami left them completely crippled and unable to stop hydrogen explosions in the containment, and unprecidented, three separate reactor core meltdowns. I immediately started looking for how I could learn more about our local nuclear plant. I found people who had been actively concerned about the safety of nuclear power for more than 35 years. As I attended activism rallies and NRC meetings, there were a few voices who seemed to be a little off message at first. That message was, “If you live in Southern California, and you don’t have solar on your rooftop, then you are part of the problem. You need to get solar!” As that sunk in over the next few months, I also was reflecting on the fact that shutting down our unsafe plant would create a new void in our local grid. After all, one seemingly strong argument Southern California Edison kept making was, “Like it or not, you need our nuclear plant to keep your lights on.” So 14 months after the Japanese disaster and following the surprise SCRAMming of San Onofre, an act that would eventually become a permanent shutdown, we switched on our 36 panel, 11.5 kW system for the first time.
How did we make the numbers work? We’re lucky to be pretty well off, but very few of us have $35-$70,000 set aside for ecological feel good renovations. The truth is, in addition to San Onofre activists encouraging us, there was a solar wave hitting our coast. Our electric bill had been rising alarmingly for years, now accentuated with 4th tier penalty rates. Having a koi pond and a swimming pool meant no amount of cutting back on air conditioning on our inland home in Fallbrook was putting a dent in our excessive $400/month bill. The economy is still pretty weak, and an entire generation of children is asking the question, “What’s an interest rate on a savings account?” I saw the immense rebates being offered that assured a 30% return on our investment, via a federal solar credit, plus $2500 from California. Viewed from that perspective, solar was a great initial investment and also one we knew would keep paying us back. Top it off with the knowledge that we’re now part of the climate change solution, rather than continuing to be part of the problem, and the EcoShaming that a few folks planted in my mind was now a blessing in disguise. We withdrew a big portion of our rainy day money and took the plunge.
In two and a half years, we’ve generated 44 MegaWatt hours, an average of around 48kWh per day. Last year, we replaced our original pool pump with a high efficiency variable speed run four times as long at 1/4 the flow rate, resulting in ~75% electric savings on that electric pig. With that electricity freed up, and because we overbuilt our system as much as we could, we hope to buy an electric vehicle soon, and really start helping to solve climate change, and a whole host of other problems oil dependance has caused. Notice we put the solar first and the EV car next, making sure that we don’t increase electricity demand from power companies who seem unable to ride the solar wave thus far. Their loss. It’s my dream that rooftop solar is adopted by every homeowner and every business nationwide. Power companies will still be needed to maintain the grid. They will also need to build and operate hydraulic pump storage to meet our nighttime power needs, including charging electric vehicles. If you research it a little, you’ll see that pump-storage hydro is now excess power is stored for later usage the world over, even at Helms east of Fresno (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pumped-storage_hydroelectric_power_stations). I hope our personal story might help encourage you, or someone you know, to ride the solar wave, perhaps with a productive bit of EcoShaming. Now about that Diablo Canyon…
By Karl Aldinger