Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Going Solar

By Dan Scavezze, Project Manager, Information Technology

“How did you decide to get solar panels – in Washington?” That sounds like the type of question I’d hear from my friends in the Eastern half of the country. But lately, I’ve been hearing that question from Washington residents. It all started when… [play the going back in time music here].

When we first moved to Olympia about three years ago, my wife Barbara volunteered to do some work for a group called the Thurston Climate Action Team. I’ve dragged her around the country several times when changing jobs and she’s always found ways to jump right into the new community. One day she was organizing a meeting and she asked me to help with the laptop and projector. That happens to IT people, frequently. Anyway, I wound up listening to a talk about “Solar Power in Washington” by a local installer, South Sound Solar.

The talk was very interesting and went a long way in updating my understanding of solar power technology. In between clicking through PowerPoint slides I learned that advances in solar technology now made a system's lifetime energy production far exceed the energy it took to produce it. And that economic payback times on an investment in solar were getting shorter – even in Washington state. Another factoid was that Washington is at approximately the same latitude as Germany, probably the world leader in solar power use.

So it started to seem like solar panels might be in my future, but maybe the far future. Despite working in technology, I’m not an “early adopter.” On the other hand, I didn’t want to be in the “late majority” or one of the “laggards.” Check out the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore for more detail on that, but you can tell that being late, or a laggard, doesn’t sound good. Also, there was a significant investment required.

I procrastinated and we decided to see if we could save some energy before we thought about generating it. Barb did an “energy audit” on our house. She’s now working for a company Thurston Energy that encourages energy saving measures, including energy audits, but that’s another story. Anyway, our energy audit discovered eight massive wholes in our ceiling. You would think we would have noticed that, but they were disguised with recessed “can” lighting fixtures, and the type that run extremely hot and you can’t put any insulation around them. Your inside air goes almost directly to the outdoors.

Fixing that involved a lot of crawling around in the attic, repairing drywall, and cursing. It was productive, but now I was more receptive to the idea of paying someone else to do the next project. I figured, it’s good for the economy and involves less cursing.

That’s the back story of the solar pergola. If you want to hear from other folks who have done a wide variety of solar projects in the south sound area, check out the Solar Tour on September 25. Maybe solar is for you, or maybe you’ll hear about some other energy saving projects. You can learn about the projects online before you go.

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