Once a year we have a neighborhood progressive dinner party. Basically you move from home to home for the various courses. Everyone chips in and helps. My wife and I, being of the non-cooking bent, usually take something store bought. I cringe when I hear, always at the last minute that tonight is the neighborhood dinner. But once I’m into the mix it ends up being fun catching up. We live in the country at the end of a ½ mile lane. So we don’t often see or mingle with the distant neighbors.
Topics sometimes turn political. At the time of this years’ gathering alternative energy was the prevailing news. The neighbors all know that I am a plumber with a focus on Solar and radiant heating systems. And they do from time to time cash in on the benefit. Tools, advice, and hands on help from time to time.
Knowing this, my closest neighbor noticed and commented on my multiple solar arrays. Currently I have a system on the remote well house. One is installed on my home, and a third on the shop/ office. The shop typically has an additional “test” array installed. So it’s hard to ignore the love of solar that abounds at our compound.
So Dave and Carol started quizzing me about some solar for their home. I gave them the typical solar “elevator speech.” Pressed for more info, I went into detail about payback, ROI, expected production, life expectancy, etc. Of course, we came around to the big question, “How $$ much?”
I agreed to look over their home and make some suggestions. Driving by their home on an almost daily basis I had a feel for what was possible. Their home has no south facing exposures. I always wanted to try an East/West mounted array and their home presented the ideal “palette” for this. We met; I explained the system, as I had at the party weeks before. We agreed on a price, the neighborhood “blue light special’ of course.
The install was a storybook perfect one. My son Max was in town and helped with the install. Twelve hours later the system was filled and ready for service. The East/West array worked better than I expected. I was surprised to see both collectors operate for several hours around midday.
Carol stopped me on the lane days later as she was mowing their yard. ‘Thanks for the quick service and nice installation”, “Can you stop by sometime and show me where the plugs for the solar are?”
“Plugs?” I repeated with a blank stare.
“Yes,” Carol persisted, “So I can be sure to plug my computer into the solar system.”
Certainly alcohol may have been a factor when we first talked solar at the party. But I was sure I re-explained the concept to both Dave and Carol when I did the site assessment. In both cases I explained the hot water concept and expected LP displacement, etc. Yet somehow Carol’s understanding of solar was electricity…only, and always electricity.
In the end I think Carol understands the Solar Thermal system only provides hot water from the sun’s energy. There is no electricity being generated by the collector array I installed. But I did connect her with a fellow contractor that installs PV systems, and I suspect next year we will see some PV on their roof also. Sort of a “his and hers” system.
The moral of the story for me is the lack of understanding at the consumer level when solar comes up in discussion. It is clear the PV industry has done a much better job communicating solar electric. I understand the various industry associations recognize this confusion. I hope we see more of the consumer marketing aimed not just at solar thermal but explaining the differences and how a dual energy system is another good option to leverage their solar investment.
Typical three factors align to make solar a sellable component for average homeowners. Public awareness fueled by an administration friendly to alternatives, Check. Financial incentives from government entities, Check. Higher fuel costs. Currently this is a largely un-known and moving target. August 2008 presented some of our highest fuel costs, but prices have since dropped. We could add a fourth factor: the economy. Many home and business owners are still sitting pretty tightly on dollars earmarked for renewable energy equipment. There should be a limit as to how much government contributes…and keep the ball rolling. Regardless of the financial incentives, solar is just the right thing to do.
So we continue to spread the solar word far and wide, taking a little more time to explain the various types a features and benefits.
“You can use solar power to harness electricity…and to make water warm for tubs, showers, laundry and heating your home. Let’s talk…”