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Achieving Zero: An Evening With Ed Mazria

Achieving Zero

Join us for a presentation by internationally acclaimed architect and thought leader Ed Mazria. Over the past decade, Ed’s seminal…

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Jaysolar

Jay H. soaks up the sun with solar panels

I have quite a bit of experience with solar systems in terms of remote telecommunications facilities where utility power isn't practical. These involve large battery banks and over-engineering to ensure reliable power for radio, microwave, and telephone relay stations that need to be up 24/7.

So, the idea of a solar system in a suburban area with plentiful utility power didn't make sense to me at first. Electricity is readily available at reasonable rates. It would be satisfying but not practical to pull the plug on Edison.

Then, I stumbled across a mention of solar "co-generation" on Southern California Edison’s website. Co-generation is when a customer connects a source of power such as solar or wind into the electric grid. With solar, California supplies a rebate to pay part of the cost, and the federal government provides an additional tax credit.

On further research I found the idea of co-generation kind of exciting. I can use the entire utility grid as my energy storage. I don't need a battery and I don’t need to design the system any bigger than my load.

I was also considering my electric vehicle (Chevy Volt). I decided the convenience of the 240-volt charger was worth it. Rebates cover half the cost of the charger and installation. If I came home from a day trip with a depleted battery I could plug in for a couple of hours and then go out to dinner on electricity. However, the Volt would be away from home when my solar panels would be generating power from the sun.

With co-generation, I just produce more power than I need when the sun shines, feed it to Edison, and then pull power from Edison at night to run my home and charge the car. I also switched to a rate plan that gives me much lower electric rates at night and credits me at higher rates in the daytime when the sun is shining and I'm producing electricity. Some friends were predicting that the Volt would cause my electric bill to skyrocket –ha!

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As luck would have it, I have a great roof for solar. It is south-facing and doesn't have any vents or obstructions. I had enough area to install panels that could generate about 4kW peak power. I'm good with my hands and have a lot of experience with wiring and electrical things. My initial plan was to install the solar as well as the level 2 car charger myself.

I quickly changed my mind about installing the solar because I'm not comfortable with the permit process and roof penetrations kind of scare me. I shopped around and chose Coastal Constructors to provide the hardware, do the mechanical work and take care of the permit paperwork. They did the wiring at the same time as they wired the charger, and everything passed inspection. Modern panels are a lot better looking than the earlier ones. I'm very happy with the appearance as well as the performance.

Another modification I considered was the inverter systems. Most grid-tied systems connect a number of panels in a series string to produce high-voltage DC, and then put in a large wall-mounted inverter to convert this to conventional AC power. I was not excited about this design. A fault in one panel can bring down a whole string. Due to the high DC voltages, the wiring is complicated.

I discovered a company in the Bay Area, Enphase, that does things differently. They manufacture micro-inverters. Each micro-inverter handles the output from one solar panel. One mounts underneath each panel and they connect in parallel. If one panel or inverter goes bad, the rest of the array keeps going. The DC wiring is low-voltage and needs no conduit.

In addition, my solar system has its own website that not only shows real-time and historical data for every panel, but can also alert me if there's ever a problem. If there's debris such as bird droppings on or an electrical problem affecting one panel, the other panels are not affected, and I get an email describing the issue and showing me which panel is in trouble.

It's now been in service for almost 10 months. I've ”banked” a bit over 6 megawatt-hours of electricity with Edison. Carbon offset a bit over 4 tons. Every month since installation I've produced more electricity than I've consumed. Not only am I driving on daylight, I'm powering my house with it and even providing solar energy to my neighbors via the grid-tie.

Kermit was wrong. It's easy being green. Take a look at my solar production >

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Film screening inspired Michel S. to buy a Leaf

Michel Saint-Sulpice is a gentle soul who takes his responsibility for the planet seriously, and always has. Growing up in France, his family was careful with resources, and he has carried forth that strong environmental ethic into his adult life as a Santa Barbara architect.

Michel aspires to be fossil fuel free by the end of 2012, and he’s well on his way. Solar panels provide his home with electricity, and he’s been driving a Toyota Prius since the second generation first hit the market. He completely removed his lawn to make room for a beautiful drought tolerant landscape. Greywater and collected rain water (with back-up well water) will soon irrigate a “food forest.” On the drawing board is a geothermal system that will heat the entire house (with cooling option), all his domestic water and his swimming pool year round. Since Michel produces all his electricity, his carbon footprint will be zero, and he will not be paying electric and gas bills any longer. He has taken these measures to express his deep appreciation for nature and beauty.

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Isabelle G. is green to the core

Isabelle Greene could not have escaped her destiny even if she’d wanted to: it was built right into her family name. Growing up in the wilder, more open-space version of Pasadena and the granddaughter of the notable Arts and Crafts architect Henry Greene, she was exposed early on to both the built environment and the natural world. Today, at the age of 78, she is an energetic champion of “sustainable landscape architecture,” and continues to manage her private practice of 30 years.

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Lindahill

Linda H. got “solarized” this summer and loves it

On August 9th, 2011 I saw the wheel on my electric service meter go backwards for the first time, and it was a wonderful, almost giddy feeling. Finally, my house was using the sun's rays to silently create the electricity I would be using to run the lights, appliances, computers, and other plug-in components of my life. I couldn't be happier.

I've followed the development of solar energy's capability to create electricity commercially for a long time. I was so disappointed in the early days to see that alternatives to oil and gas couldn't get the funding necessary to get started – that petroleum companies couldn't or wouldn't embrace the opportunity of being energy companies and fund the research and development of alternative energy sources themselves.

My life and my jobs kept me moving around from place to place for many years, but finally, 15 years ago, I settled down in Goleta and bought a house. I considered investing in solar panels from time to time through the years since then. The cost was the main obstacle, but I also needed to investigate my alternatives so I could make the best choice. I also had the nagging feeling that if I waited, the technology and therefore the cost would make it more affordable and efficient.

In the meantime, I've done what I could to live my life with the conservation of our natural resources in mind and to limit my contribution to waste and pollution. I drive my car (a Prius) as infrequently as possible, opting for biking and sharing rides and just not going to some events that require driving. I have rain barrels and a compost bin, a worm bin, and a community garden – the garden is shared with friends who can't have gardens of their own. I wash and reuse plastic zipped-locked bags and cut paper towels in half down the middle (something my Mother used to do). I hang my clothes to dry on a line in the backyard and on nifty clothes racks. My light bulbs are the energy efficient kind, of course, and my Christmas lights are LEDs. And I've finally trained myself to keep cloth bags in my car and with my bike and take them with me into the grocery store.

The Community Environmental Council's (CEC) Solarize Santa Barbara program came along at the same time that I decided that it was a good time to get out of one of my mutual fund investments. With the CEC taking on the hard work of choosing particular solar panel contractors to work with and negotiating reasonable costs and a rebate, it was obviously the time for me to get serious about installing solar panels. The process of signing up and getting an initial estimate was so easy. I was able to review the estimated costs and projected savings and talk to a representative from the REC Solar, the company that I was assigned to work with.

During this preliminary step, I pondered seriously whether installing solar panels was worth the cost and whether the projected 13-year payback period was a show-stopper. I was finally convinced that it was the right thing to do – good for the environment, a way to support the solar service companies, and a better investment for my money than the stock market. The immediate rebate and the Federal Tax Credit for solar installations also factored into my decision.

The installation process was trouble-free. Two very nice and experienced REC employees spent about a day and a half installing the racks, inverter unit, the panels, and the electric conduit from the panels to the inverter and then to my fuse box. Even though it was a foggy day when it was finally hooked up, the electric meter was going backward right before my eyes! It was a wonderful thing to see! I'm so glad the CEC's Solarize Santa Barbara program came along at the right time for me and that I was smart enough to take advantage of it.

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Dan E. drives on sunshine instead of oil

Tucked away on a peaceful cul-de-sac that backs up to Elings Park, Dan Emmett's home wouldn't be thought of as an environmental statement at first glance. The solar paneled roof – barely visible except from the upper lawn in the back yard – might even go unnoticed. But Dan and others like him are starting a quiet revolution, built around the idea that solar electricity can power their homes, hot tubs, and even cars.

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The Rodgers completed their energy makeover

Dr. Timothy Rodgers and his wife Pamela live in a 1948 home near Hendry's Beach. Over the years, they've been on a mission to retrofit their home to make more energy efficient. They've replaced single paned windows with double paned, added insulation to the attic, and replaced halogen lights with LEDs. Making a home more efficient is highly recommended before adding solar panels because "you don't want to have to pay for a system that's any larger than you need," Timothy says.

After talking with 6-8 solar contractors and getting several bids, he contracted with REC Solar to install an 8.4 kW solar system on a hillside on his property in 2009. "We went with an 18-year lease – they do all the maintenance, manage any equipment that might break, and will replace the inverter when it dies, which is expected to be after 10 years."

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Waldrop

My road to energy sustainability

Envision a future when your electrical production comes from the "solar garden" on your roof, when you can get around town in a plug-in car powered by clean energy (which the roof system will now support), and when your food production comes from the garden in your back yard. You are guaranteed a reduction in your monthly electrical bills, gasoline bills and food bills.

It's this vision of the future that motivates me on my lifelong journey toward energy sustainability. I have been tapping away at this challenge for more than 40 years and I am on the right path. I visualize my journey in 4 phases:

  • Electricity production – Complete.
    Solar panels and a 10 kW wind generator are all up and running. The electrical portion was quite possibly the most complicated and expensive step. My original estimation was that the monthly savings that I would enjoy, once the system was up and running, would allow me to pay off the initial cost of the system in a little over ten years. With AB 920 becoming available, this time period will be reduced. Check out my bill from April...

  • Transportation – In progress.
    My six year old Prius is a transitional car that has religiously produced a 40 mpg average. I am looking forward to see what the transition to the next generation of electric cars will produce.

  • Food sustainability – In progress.
    My extensive experience with organic gardening and Santa Barbara Heirloom Nursery will greatly assist me in accomplishing this goal.

  • Conservation, awareness, consciousness, education – In progress.
    I remain aware of my energy choices on a daily basis and take action to conserve everywhere I can. We have dual glazed windows and a sod roof in our home; architectural design that maximizes the site location; solar pumps for water well and koi pond. We're also raising children with this energy consciousness as a template.

As food, electricity and gasoline prices continue to go up, I know that my long range plans will be productive and would be productive for anyone. It's really pretty simple and altogether achievable.

Hopefully one day my grandson will look back on all of this and be able to see my vision of the future. He'll know that his family played a small but significant part in promoting sustainability and will do his part to promote it in his own life.

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