Magazine article Sunset

Solar Party: You're Invited

Magazine article Sunset

Solar Party: You're Invited

Article excerpt

It's the new take on Tupperware gatherings. Allison Arieff sends in her RSVP-and busts a few energy-saving myths along the way

LIKE MANY PEOPLE, I'm trying my best to do the right thing for the environment. My husband and I have one car. We live in a walkable San Francisco neighborhood where a quart of milk, dry cleaner, sushi bar, and bistro are just a couple of blocks away. Our house is small (less than 1,200 square feet); our windows are double-pane. We shop at our local farmers' market and buy next to none of what author Michael Pollan calls "edible foodlike substances."

Doing most of this stuff is easy... maybe a little too easy. As a kid in the '70s during a long California drought, I remember having to hop in the shower, get wet, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water back on, and quickly rinse off. There was a looming fear that a continuous shower would alert the water police, who'd storm our suburban home to catch us in the act.

Today, facing an environmental crisis of global proportions, we hear public service announcements suggesting that swapping one incandescent bulb for a compact fluorescent is akin to taking 5 million cars off the road. Or something like that. Still, replacing lightbulbs doesn't seem to go far enough. So my husband and I have begun to think seriously about going solar.

We'd actually considered it a couple of years ago, when the weary 30-year-old roof on ounoo-year-old house needed replacing. But we were under the impression that it would at least double our cost. Plus, we had a new baby and could barely remember our phone number, let alone calculate the return on investment on solar installation. So we took the path of least resistance and opted for a plain asphalt roof.

That decision nagged at us, especially as we started to see photovoltaic panels pop up on roofs throughout our neighborhood. After the octogenarian across the street installed them, we truly began to feel we'd made the wrong decision. I write about this stuff for a living, for goodness' sake!

Serendipitously, I received an online Evite to a solar party, hosted by a couple in our neighborhood who'd recently had a system installed. (Forget Tupperware parties-although bringing your lunch in reusable Tupperware, rather than disposable containers, is very PC.) The solar party promised the opportunity to talk to people who'd gone solar, inspect their system, and have one's questions answered by their solar representative. I sent my RSVP right away.

Now, I'm not usually one for home-repair workshops or dripirrigation tutorials. That's why the solar party concept is so great: You can get rather technical information in a way that feels less like a lecture and more like a night out.

It was much like any casual cocktail party-a little wine, a little cheese, a lovely cake. I joined 12 of my neighbors at our hosts' home, where we were introduced to Chris from SolarCity, who was encyclopedic in his knowledge not just of solar systems and their pricing and installation, but also of the most up-to-date info on ever-changing solar policy. I was sold. Eager to do my part against global warming, I scheduled a time for Chris to evaluate our home.

But this next part is bittersweet. Before climbing on the roof-before even looking at it-Chris asked to see our utility bill, and laughed a little before telling us that we'd billed only 223 kilowatt-hours of electricity for the month. (Some people use 50 times that much.) With the cost of leasing photovoltaic panels, our electricity would cost us twice as much with solar than it would without. …

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