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Go Solar Now?

For years I’ve been thinking about putting solar panels on my roof. Using sunlight to produce “free” electricity is an idea I like. A presentation by Devon Hartman on whole-house energy retrofits made me aware of the huge savings possible by making homes more energy efficient. Insulating walls and attics, and improving leaky ductwork is relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of solar panels, so why not do these things first? In an energy-efficient home the air conditioning system could be smaller. Fewer solar panels would supply all the electricity needed --- and the home would be more comfortable. So isn’t it best to wait? Maybe, but for many homes “Solar Now” makes sense. Rebates for retrofits are dropping and some homeowners may not need or want a whole-house energy retrofit. For example, in my home there is no attic, the roof is already well-insulated, and the ducts are under a concrete slab where they can’t be changed. So maybe it is time for the solar panels.

Last May, Daniel Snowden-Ifft, Professor of Physics at Occidental College, spoke to Claremont’s Interfaith Committee on Sustainability about Occidental College’s 1,000 kilowatts solar power array, a 50 kilowatt system at his church, and how sensible it would be for others to “go solar’. I wondered if the same would be so for a 3 - 4 kilowatt system for my home. I would like to cut my electricity bill, and the environmental benefits are important to me too. Much of the electricity we use comes from burning coal and oil and this adds to the growing problem of global warming. I don’t like to contribute to that.

Looking into today’s options, there are relatively inexpensive solar panels from China and more expensive ones from Germany, as well as panels made in the United States. These systems need an inverter to make them compatible with the utility power feed, and whole-system inverters are expensive and relatively short-lived. But now there is also an option of a mini-inverter for each solar panel. Which would be best? Could I add a few panels at a time? There is much to consider. Fortunately, Mr. Snowden-Ifft is coming to Claremont again to give us the benefit of his practical experience with solar installations. He will discuss “Solar Now” in Decker Hall at Pilgrim Place on August 22, 7:00-8:30 p.m. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

The Claremont Colleges are sensitive to many environmental issues. Occidental College found it advantageous to install a large solar system. Would it make sense for the Claremont Colleges as well? The Church of the Brethern in LaVerne has gone solar. Should your church, business, or school go solar? The City of Claremont hopes to use grant funds to purchase and install approximately 20 kilowatts on its facilities in September or October. What can the City learn from Mr. Snowden-Ifft? Join in the discussion at Decker Hall on August 22.

By Freeman Allen
Demystifying Sustainability is a project of Sustainable Claremont ( If you would like to work with Sustainable Claremont on solar energy or another issue contact us through the website.