The Solar Project – Where It All Began

[This post is part of a series about our net-zero residential solar project – see a list of links to the full series here, a list of frequently asked questions here or click here to bring up all Green-related posts. Next Post in Series / Previous Post in Series.]

I’ll never be able to explain my deep and abiding fascination with photovoltaic cells.  Most kids used big magnifying glasses and bright sun to burn leaves or ants.  I used them to make my solar-powered toys go faster.  Ever since those initial experiments in the early 1970s, my fascination has steadily grown.  Solar calculators.  Solar watches.  Solar chargers.  Given how crude the technology was at the time, and how my expectations always crept forward, every device was inevitably a little short of the performance I had hoped for.

But I never lost interest,…

…and I devoted a fair amount of time in college to energy and energy politics.  I first became deeply concerned about the greenhouse effect way back then in the 1980s.  Even at that point, a geology professor in a liberal arts college could easily muster enough data to demonstrate in a pretty convincing way that human activity was changing the composition of the atmosphere and that those changes were warming the planet.

When I joined the working world, I used some of my free time to stay up-to-date on the subject, reading whatever I could get my hands on about developments in the technology and the nascent PV industry around the globe.  But I didn’t have a chance to do much to indulge the interest until I built a house in 2002.

I’ll jump to the chase: unfortunately, the technology and the regulatory climate conspired against me.  The efficiency was just too low and the cost too high to add a project of that complexity to the already demanding and expensive process of building a house. The net expense would be too great. Decision fatigue and cost over-runs take their toll in any building project, and ours was no different.

By the time we were done, the best I could do was build a “solar-ready” dwelling.  We made it out of the greenest materials we could find, gave it a really tight and really well-insulated envelope, and installed the most efficient appliances and HVAC systems we could. The house project was a lot of fun, and we ended up being particularly proud of the work we did in terms of indoor air quality; we ended up being one of the early-adopters of residential energy recovery ventilation systems in our area.

The solar dream stayed alive.  I made inquiries and ran numbers every once in a while.  When manufacturer-financed residential projects went fairly mainstream in the mid 2000’s, I even had a couple sales people look at our site using their desktop aerial view tools.  None of them seemed to interested in the project, in part because the cost/efficiency curve wasn’t there and in part because there was some mature tree shading on the roof by that point (see the site assessment post for a discussion of our tree work).

So I let it rest until recently…

Story continues…  This is one post in a series – see a list of links to the full series here, a list of frequently asked questions here or click here to bring up all Green-related postsNext Post in Series / Previous Post in Series.

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