Solar Power Your Home for Free

“… the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness….” Luke 1:78

It’s about time that we celebrated some good news at Beloved Planet!

Yesterday, our family took a step that will save more than 35 tons of CO2 emissions. Woo-hoo! 35 tons! It won’t cost us any money. It doesn’t involve biking to work, or shivering in the winter, or reading by flashlight. We’re not going vegan, or selling our big old farmhouse.

No cost, no work, no sacrifice, but big carbon savings? You bet. You see, we’re leasing a rooftop solar PV system for our neighbor’s house. And it will save more carbon than the average American emits in two years.

As you know, carbon emissions are serious business.  Earth-heating greenhouse gas concentrations are at their highest levels in hundreds of thousands of years. And not by a small margin, mind you. Earlier this year, atmospheric CO2 concentrations ticked over 400 parts per million. That’s 43% higher than it’s been at any time in human history, and headed much higher still in the next few decades. The main reason is the burning of fossil fuels, with clearing of land a distant second.

Courtesy: Skeptical

Courtesy: Skeptical

On average, humans today emit a total of 4.7 tons of CO2 per capita every year. We drive our cars, and light our streets, and watch TV, and cool our homes. We fly where we want, and eat lots of meat. We import our groceries from around the world: wines from Australia; bottled water from France, flowers from Israel. And all that burns fossil fuels: coal, gas and oil.

It really adds up. 4.7 tons of CO2 every year, for every person on the planet. Much of it gets absorbed by the oceans, which are becoming dangerously acidic from all that carbon. But some remains in the atmosphere, raising concentrations year by year without fail.

Of course, not everyone emits the same amount. Newly-prosperous Brazilians emit only 1.9 tons per person. In the Philippines, it’s less than a ton. For the 35 million people of Uganda, only 0.1 tons apiece.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are the carbon hogs. Tiny Qatar, with all their oil: an almost incomprehensible 44 tons of CO2 emissions per person. Kuwait’s not far behind, at a whopping 30 tons. At #11, there’s the first big country: Australia, at 18.3 tons. That’s four times the global average. What’s wrong with those people?

And #12? Well, that would be the United States. 314 million people, generating 17.2 tons of CO2 emissions per person. 4.5 percent of the world’s people, emitting 16.5 percent of its earth-heating gases.

We’re so far off the charts, that it seems impossible to fix it. But I don’t think that’s true. People everywhere are improving their energy efficiency, and changing their lifestyles for the sake of their call to be earth-keepers. And some people have homes with sunny southern exposures; if you’re one of those lucky ones, today you can cut your electric bill – and possibly eliminate your home’s carbon footprint – for free. Here’s how we did it:

Our neighbor's house will save 35 tons of CO2

Our neighbor’s house will save 35 tons of CO2

Our neighbor has a smaller home next to our old farmhouse. Her average electric bill is $64, and it’s been going up about 6 percent every year. She’s on a fixed income, and doesn’t like the risk of price spikes related to all the storm damage we’ve been having these last few years. And here in New Jersey, none of us like those Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants upwind that foul our air with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and carbon pollution.

So here’s what we did: We found a solar developer, endorsed by the Sierra Club, who will put a complete solar PV system on her roof, pay all the costs, maintain the system year by year, guarantee a minimum amount of electric output, and collect from her a rental stream just about the same as her current dirty electric costs. The system covers about 97 percent of her electricity needs. On cloudy days, she’ll buy electricity from the utility. When it’s sunny, she’ll be selling excess power to them.

The solar rent goes up only 2.9 percent per year, much less than the electric utility inflation rate. In a very few years, she’ll be paying less than the utility company would charge, with a completely predictable cost for electricity 20 years into the future. And after that, the solar power is completely free.

Free electricity! What could be better? Well, how about this: Over the next 25 years, the system will save 35.5 tons of CO2 that would otherwise be spewed into the atmosphere. And for us carbon hogs in America, that’s two years’ worth of emissions for a single person.

John and Barbara with Good Hand Farm's solar array

John and Barbara Elwood with Good Hand Farm’s solar array

That’s good, but we’re not stopping there. We’ve begun working with another neighbor, and their system will save another 24 tons of earth-heating emissions. And our own solar PV system, installed in 2008 (sadly, when the economics were not nearly so compelling) has already saved 14.4 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, on its way to about 60 tons over its life.

And how about you? All you need is your own place (or a landlord willing to listen to a sensible idea), a sunny southern exposure, a relatively new roof surface, and – perhaps – a vision for the healing of an injured Creation.

If you want to know more about how we did it, contact us, and we’ll give you more details, and put you in touch with the folks we chose for our project. You could be closer to carbon-free living than you ever imagined!

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