By Julio Santana
Happy Earth Week! One of our goals is to live gently on our acre, recognizing the impacts that our choices have on the environment around us. This past year, Julio has worked hard to take on the effect of the energy we use to power everything from our cars to the deicer for animal waterers. This is the first in a two-part series he has written about clean energy at Sol Homestead. -Kasey
Since Sol Homestead’s solar panels powered on in late October, we’ve observed a significant dip in our electric costs month to month relative to previous years. This is in spite of fueling one of our cars with electricity, which increases our electric consumption significantly. It was quite nice to see a reduction in after-tax dollars spent both on powering our homestead’s electric needs and in fueling one of our vehicles – especially since it’s been an extra cold winter in Colorado, natural gas prices have been high (dollars towards natural gas consumption have increased).
Recently, our power bill posted for February 24th through March 27th; the electric portion is $3.83. Those are just the fixed infrastructure costs to have electric service. We generated a surplus of 40 kWh relative to our usage over that span (~1.5 days’ worth of winter/spring time electricity inclusive of car battery charging).
Given that we’re hitting the long days of the year and that we are banking electricity credit from excess solar generation with our power company, I expect that we will only pay for the fixed infrastructure costs (ie, the service line drop, ~$5/month) for the rest of our time at this location. The cost of fueling one of our cars and of all of our home’s electric needs is accounted for in the solar panel installation (breakeven in about 8 years, depending on actual electric usage and unit cost of electricity).
The trajectory of renewable energy cost to households echoes the rapid commoditization of consumer-grade electronics and personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s. “By the time a statistic is written down, it’s already out of date. That’s how fast renewables and other clean technologies are becoming more affordable.” summarizes Leah Cardamore Stokes in her essay “From Destruction to Abundance” in Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story From Despair to Possibility.
Outside of the economic considerations, I am reminded of this Wired article Kasey sent to me last year that describes the abundance, the lax attitude around power consumption, the freedom, and the fun that comes with moving towards renewable energy sources. I don’t think this is mentioned enough. I get it; I don’t know how to put a cost on not having to think about our electric usage ever again. When I have a lot of inputs into my decision-making faculties, I find joy in letting that constraint (how much electricity are we using? How much is running the AC in July going to cost with service provider rates going up?!) go. This feels similar to not having to worry about car gas prices when I moved to driving an electric vehicle.
People are strange. Motivation – for me, for others, perhaps for you – is often illogical, and grave, heavy consequences of mundane decision-making (like rendering parts of our planet uninhabitable for our children because we couldn’t be bothered to make changes that were mildly inconvenient) often aren’t given the urgent attention they warrant. I suspect, as the article I linked states, that emphasizing the thrill that comes with copiously using as much electricity as it takes for your comfort no matter what the temperature is outside and no matter how expensive electricity is will resonate with some people deeply. If it was better understood that making renewable energy choices was not depriving, but freeing, I believe the emotional impact would change the behavior of many. And for the long-term specter of climate change – as Joëlle Gergis describes a conclusion from the IPCC report, “every single metric ton of carbon dioxide we prevent from entering the atmosphere lessens the severity of the impacts we bake into the system” (“A Climate Scientist’s Take on Hope”). Emotional appeal, argument, and justification all matter as they improve the future we will have.
There are challenges and nuances with a solar panel project for your home that were unintuitive to me. If you have questions or want to chat about our solar project, let me know. I’ll be over here blissfully leaving every light in the house on, running the air conditioning with the windows open all summer long.