After years of environmentalism, a decision to add solar
Drive through a residential neighborhood these days, and chances are you'll see at least one, if not several, homes with solar panels adorning the roofs. As the cost of solar energy has declined, more and more homeowners, like Arline and Jeff Culp, have added panels to their properties.
"We added them to do something good for the environment, take advantage of the tax benefits and lower our monthly electricity bill," Arline said.
For years, Arline and Jeff had toyed with installing solar panels to their Waterford home, but they hesitated, unsure of the right company to use, the placement of the panels and worried about having to cut down trees. Then in the fall of 2017, they took advantage of a program the town was running that vetted solar companies and helped residents get a group right for the panels.
"They've been great," said Jeff. "We've never had any downtime. Of course there's seasonal fluctuation. It starts producing more in the spring and it peaks a bit before going down for a bit when leaves start coming out, but then the sun gets higher and it goes up again."
Jeff and Arline have long considered themselves environmentalists. Jeff credits reading the works of author Bill McKibben as making him think about the environmental problems the world is facing and how he could play a role in solving them. At the same time, Arline saw firsthand the impact of the choices humans make during her work as a veterinarian in Pennsylvania.
"The turning point for me was treating a dog that kept getting sick. This dog would eat a lot of grass and we were convinced it was probably the lawn chemicals that they were using it," Arline said.
Shortly after moving from Pennsylvania to Waterford with their two school-aged children, the couple began changing their habits to be as sustainable as possible.
"A lot of it kicked in when we first moved here," Jeff said. "We planted native plants. We were getting organic food and we were nurturing our children wanting them to eat healthy and also wanting there to be a world left for them."
There's no way to protect future generations from the worst-case global warming scenarios without divesting from fossil fuels, starting with the energy system. According to a study published in the journal Climatic Change, of the 90 companies worldwide responsible for nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1880 to 2010, 83 produced coal, oil and/or natural gas.
"If you care about justice and our children's future, I am appealing directly to you: demand that renewable energy is introduced now — at speed and at scale; demand an end to coal-fired power; demand an end to all fossil fuel subsidies." Those were the words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres upon the release of the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) April 2022 report: AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which in 2021 laid out a roadmap of what it would require to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, from an energy standpoint wealthy countries would need to shut down virtually all fossil-fuel power plants by 2035, transitioning to using wind, solar or nuclear power.
Renewables made up roughly 20 percent of utility-scale U.S. electricity generation in 2020, the last year for which data is available. The bulk comes from wind power and hydropower, but solar generation, including from distribution, is the fastest-growing electricity source in the U.S.
Once they decided to add solar panels, Arline and Jeff found the installation process relatively smooth. The company evaluated their energy usage to determine how many panels it would need. A representative came out to determine the best placement and check the condition of their roof.
"We did replace part of the roof the panels were going on as part of their recommendation," Jeff said.
Sign-up to complete installation only took a few months, and by December 2017, the panels produced energy. To finance the system, the Culps took advantage of a five-year loan at a 0.99% interest rate, which according to estimates would be paid back within 10 years of using the solar. Of course, that number is a bit complicated by fluctuations in energy rates and the fact that their loan also covered the partial roof replacement and an electric hot water heater.
Because their system is tied to the grid, the Culps do not store energy in batteries. But their design is big enough that it supplies almost all of their needs. Thanks to net metering, which allows power to be sold back to the grid for several years, the couple got money back on their energy bill. They've seen that change this past year with the addition of a plug-in hybrid car, but if they want, they have room to add additional panels. But they say the energy bill wasn't the main reason they installed the panels but rather a commitment to doing better for the planet.
The panels on the roof along the back of their house overlook their garden and beehives. All a bet on the future.
5 five ways to ‘green’ your energy system
1. Research solar energy providers and make the transition for your household electricity.
2. If you can't go solar right now, you can still likely select a renewable energy supplier from your local utility company.
3. Do a home energy audit. You can have a professional energy audit done by Energize Connecticut.
4. Consider your lighting. What type of lightbulbs do you have, and can you replace them with more efficient choices, such as ENERGY STAR light-emitting diodes (LEDs) bulbs.
5. Contact your local, state and federal elected officials and ask them not to support new fossil fuel energy plants and oppose fossil fuel subsidies.