People lifting solar panels
Categories: The Parish Column

Green Home Energy

by Thomas Kerr, Eco-Action Team Member

As you’re reading this article, pay attention to the sounds around you in your home. Do you hear the furnace running, as I do right now? Perhaps you just started a load of clothes and can hear the washer churning in the background. Or you may hear a “ping” from your smartphone or tablet plugged into a nearby socket as a new text message comes in.

Our lives are made more convenient and comfortable by our gadgets; we couldn’t live without them. At the same time, home energy use is a large contributor to climate change in the U.S. – contributing around 1/5 of greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a simple calculation to break this down. Given that many of us get our power from Pepco, I checked their website and found that the mix of fuels used to generate power in the DMV area is about 30% coal, 29% natural gas, 35% nuclear, and just 6% renewable energy (mostly wind and hydroelectric). On average, our home energy use leads to the emission of around 30,000 pounds of carbon pollution each year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 225 trees would need to be planted to offset these emissions.

How can we reduce the impact of our home energy use on the planet? There are great energy-saving options, including buying more efficient LED light bulbs and Energy STAR appliances. We can also use our purchasing power to encourage utilities to source their power from renewable resources like solar and wind.

One great option for green home energy is community solar, which allows multiple people to benefit from a single, shared solar array that can be installed off-site. Costs associated with purchasing and installing a solar energy system are divided among all of the participants, each of which are able to buy into the shared system at a level that best fits their budget. This is a great option for folks who live in apartment complexes or whose roof is not suitable for solar panels. To learn more, read this interview with parishioners Joe and Pat Cascio, who recently joined a community solar effort:

What was your motivation to go solar? 
Pat and I believe that climate change is humanity’s challenge of the 21st century and we wanted to do our part in the collective effort it will require. While the critical factors in that effort include new policies and massive infusions of new technologies and energy transformations, the concerted actions of individuals can be a considerable contributor to them and helps also to create the societal consensus that spurs and supports the advances required.  

What were the key questions you asked?
We were less skeptical than worried about introducing complexities in our electricity bills. For example, we now pay the solar company and we also pay some amount to Pepco- would they coordinate accurately and reliably, we wondered? Does the solar company have the well-tuned administrative system that has to work consistently and reliably day after day, month after month? Would it be strong enough financially to assure continuity? We eventually decided to have faith that the complexities would be worked out. So far, things have gone very smoothly. 

How did you go about switching? Were there helpful websites or other places that you went to for information?
We contacted “Neighborhood Sun,” Pepco’s provider. They made it easy and we were among the first cohort of subscribers. 

What was the final result? Did you save money or have to pay more? 
We expected, as advertised, to receive a 5% discount on 80% of our monthly electric bill including the distribution charges. Surprisingly, our total monthly payments have actually been lower by at least 5% of what they would have been from our normal Pepco bills. We are surprised by this because hardly anything you buy ever seems to be as good as was advertised, but this time it was exactly as promised. The cost reduction was not the main motivator for us but it certainly has not hurt, and has actually been a pleasant experience. 

How do you feel now about the switch?
So far, we feel very good about the switch, particularly knowing that we are contributing to the changeover from fossil to renewable energy. We are now advocates for the community approach to adoption of solar energy. Some buildings are able to take advantage of installing solar panels, but for ours and many others it is too costly and may create vulnerabilities of one type or another. Community solar is safe, painless, and cost effective.   

For more information
To learn about energy-efficient lights and appliances, visit www.energySTAR.gov.
To learn more about community solar options in your neighborhood, visit www.solarunitedneighbors.org.
Another good option to “go green” with your electricity use is CleanChoice Energy, which allows you to keep Pepco as your current provider but switch to 100% renewable energy – all for about the same cost as fossil-based power. Visit www.cleanchoiceenergy.com to find out about the options for your area.