When a Solarponics representative flipped on the solar array at Ed and Irene Rush’s Atascadero home, it fulfilled a dream 35 years in the making.
In the late 1970s, before the two had met, Irene happened on an article in the Los Angeles Times that piqued her interest in solar thermal, a technology that uses the sun’s rays to boil water and generate steam that can then be turned into electricity.
As chance would have it, Irene soon found herself working as the Solar Thermal Technologies editor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The group had just been given a multi-year contract to document all the solar thermal projects in the United States. “It was quite exciting, seeing all the technology developments taking place across the country, and it seemed to hold great promise for bringing clean energy to the public,” she said. Solar seemed to be taking the country by storm, and even the White House roof boasted photovoltaic panels.
However, political tides shifted with the new administration in 1981. Without government funding, Irene’s editorial position was eliminated, and she had to put her solar thoughts on hold.
Meanwhile, Ed was similarly curious about the potential of solar. After poking around in the early 1980s, he discovered that solar panels were far out of his price range. Determined to do something, he chose the next best alternative and installed a solar water heater at his home in Cupertino. While still expensive, he could now help protect the Earth – one shower at a time.
In the 1990s, Ed and Irene met, fell in love, and a year and a day later said “I do.” Over the years, they continued to look into installing solar panels, but there were always obstacles: prices were prohibitive, their roof wasn’t right, the timing was off. So they looked for other ways to do their part to reduce fossil fuel use. When the Toyota Prius hybrids became available in 2000, Irene was among the first in San Luis Obispo County to place an order.
Finally, in 2013, the solar stars aligned for the Rush family. Ed and Irene purchased a new home that had ample space for solar panels. And, nearing retirement, the couple was at a place in life where making a long-term investment made sense. Then, CEC’s Solarize San Luis Obispo County program came to town, giving them the final push they needed to fulfill this life-long dream.
The Solarize team helped navigate every challenge that came up. First, where to place the solar panels? Though the red tile roof on the new house was lovely, it wasn’t a great place to install panels. In addition to being an unnecessary expense, reroofing would change the charming aesthetic of the home. The solution was to clear space on an empty patch of their land to accommodate 22 panels.
Another question was how much energy they needed. When Ed and Irene attended the Solarize workshop, they had not yet moved to their new home, so they had no sense of how much energy they would be consuming on a monthly basis. The Solarize crew helped them estimate their electricity needs using past bills from their previous home, as well as records from the new home.
Just two short months later, the solar panels were turned on and Ed and Irene’s electricity bill plummeted.
In fact, in the summer months, their solar panels produce more electricity than their home consumes. When this happens, the electric company gives credits for this excess generation, which Ed and Irene can then use at nighttime or in the winter when their solar production goes down. Using this virtual “electricity bank” ensures that they capture value for all of their solar energy production.
At this point, their only complaint is that their home is still grid-tied — meaning that during the occasional power outage, their home will be without power, just like any other, non-solar-powered home. However, they recently discovered a small outlet on their inverter that can be used to power essential appliances like a refrigerator during an outage.
Seven months in, the couple is having fun seeking ways to take advantage of all the clean energy at their disposal. Ed picked up a rechargeable electric mower to maintain their two acres of land. They’re also seriously considering a plug-in electric for their next car.
Most importantly, they’re thrilled that a dream that began for each of them in the ‘70s has, at long last, been realized. “We’ve always been invested in the environmental cause,” says Irene, “and it’s nice to know that, after all this time, we are finally getting to move closer to going off the grid.”
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