Drs. Thomas and Tracey Sherry of New Orleans recently made tremendous improvements to their home in order to reduce energy costs and fossil fuel use. They agreed to speak with us about the transition. Here are the highlights:
Residential photovoltaic (or solar) power systems have many advantages:
• They save the homeowner money and, with current incentives, have a short payback time.
• They protect homeowners from rising energy rates.
• They reduce your dependence upon foreign fossil fuel.
• They are more efficient in that they have minimal line-transmission losses.
• They are a source of clean, non-polluting power.
• They reduce solar heat gain to your home.
• They increase the value of your home.
• Most systems are maintenance free!
• Most systems carry a warranty of 20-30 years or more and have a life span of 30-40 years.
How much of your energy comes from solar power?
We expect close to 100% of our household energy to come from solar power: The twenty six photovoltaic (PV) panels that we installed recently are projected to produce about as much energy on an annual basis as we use.
What prompted your switch to solar power? What factors affected the decision?
Aware of the high long-term environmental costs of fossil fuel use (e.g., climate change) and the more valuable uses for fossil fuels (such as plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc), we have wanted to reduce our carbon-footprints by “going solar” for a long time.
We gradually made highly cost-effective energy improvements to our home. We began by working with an energy auditor to identify sources of air leakage in our home and other ways we could reduce our energy consumption.We sealed off and heavily insulated our attic and crawl space. We then tightly sealed all HVAC ductwork with mastic (most homes waste an enormous amounts of energy to duct leakage) and, when our aged HVAC system failed, we replaced it with a highly energy-efficient ground-source heat pump. We weather-stripped doors and windows, and sealed off our chimney to further reduce air exchange with the outdoors. These improvements alone cut our annual energy bill by around two thirds! Last, but not least, we gradually converted our lightbulbs first to CFLs and more recently, to LEDs. When our refrigerator and dishwasher died, we replaced them with Energy-Star models.
After having “picked” all the easy,“low-hanging fruit,” we were ready to go solar!
Was there a financial advantage or disadvantage to the switch?
There was a huge financial advantage: the improvements will save us ~$900/year in electric costs and have a payback time of 6-7 years. Most installations will have a payback time of around 8 years—still a great return on investment!
When Louisiana created a 50% rebate for residential photovoltaic system installations (up to a maximum of 50% of $25,000) that complemented the 30% Federal tax credit, it became a totally no-brainer decision. We were able to make a $25,000 improvement to our home for $5,000 (we expect to receive a 50% state rebate of $12,500 plus a 30% federal tax credit of $7,500).
Wonderfully, Louisiana has one of the most progressive incentive programs in the country for installing PV systems.
How long did the entire process take?
Almost all solar installations can be completed in a few days to a week. Our particular situation took a couple of weeks in part because we decided it would be foolish to install the PV panels on top of an aging shingle roof. Also, because of a peculiar, but highly efficient roof construction (another of our energy efficiency improvements), our particular PV system installation was more challenging than most.
Has switching to solar made any significant changes in your daily life?
Aside from the incredible satisfaction of knowing that our home’s energy is supplied by our rooftop “sun farm,” it has made few significant changes in our daily lives. It has made us even more energy conscious, however: We’re even more careful about turning out lights when we leave a room and have become more conscious about sources that use “phantom power.”
Do you think switching to solar energy is a practical option for other New Orleans residents?
Yes. Homeowners with appropriate unobstructed roof exposure who don’t take advantage of the current rebates and tax credit incentives to install solar energy systems are missing out on a huge financial opportunity: Making a $25,000 improvement to their home for only $5,000.
Until recently, homeowners faced the obstacle of having to front the entire cost of the system installation until they received the rebate and tax credits. Recently, however, the bigger companies have developed extremely low-cost financing plans.
What advice or suggestions would you give to other New Orleans residents who are considering making the switch to solar power?
- With the help of an energy auditor, figure out the easy ways to reduce your home’s energy consumption. Such improvements have a very short payback time.
- If you are a homeowner, don’t wait to investigate installing a PV system on your home. The massive 50% Louisiana state rebate program will expire at the end of 2017. This is a simply incredible deal.
- Choose your solar installer very carefully. As in all trades, the few that engage in arguably predatory practices or do sloppy installations give the many reputable solar installers a bad name.
- Don’t install solar panels over a roof that will need to be replaced soon, or is not in good condition. Although the panels will protect and extend the life of your roof’s shingles, they will have to be removed and re-installed by a licensed professional before shingles can be replaced.
For more information, read the Sherry’s full answers here: Going Solar – Full Interview. LifeCity has several members that can help you decrease your home’s carbon footprint and make the switch to renewable energy. Check out the Energy page of our Impact Directory for more information!