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Thanks for the great comments folks — and for doing your part! Tell your neighbors and get the momentum moving. I know some of you are already doing that, so thanks! A few comments:

Carolyn Chase wrote: 

A friend of ours in the remodeling business has been hired to remove solar-heat water systems while doing remodels by homeowners who didn’t get the value or didn’t want to pay to maintain them. Many of the systems are still usable. My husband took a few of these solar-thermal panels, refurbished them and they now heat just about all of the hot water for our home. This is both reuse AND renewable energy! 

Fantastic! We’ve heard from many solar hot water contractors that over the last few years that they’ve removed more systems than they install. But this is changing for the better just in the last year as more folks get the clean energy bug! Some installers actually do refurbishments of existing systems, for generally around half the cost of putting in a new system. These systems have really come of age lately — this ain’t your dad’s collector. A solar water heating system is a great way to avoid natural gas combustion ( roughly 95 percent of SD’s residential water heaters are gas-fired), and thus avoid not only the CO2 emissions but also the criteria pollutants that go along with it. NG is clean but it isn’t perfect … Carolyn is absolutely right — the most-effective improvement the typical homeowner or business can make to reduce energy emissions is energy efficiency. 

NOTE: CCSE is rolling out a Solar Water Heating incentive program in our region on July 1. There will be rebates of up to $1500 for homeowners who install these systems. All the info will be on our website so stay tuned for that.

Robert E. Lee wrote:

First, what is the latest on improving compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)? A lot of people have questioned how ‘green’, in the end, CFLs are if they contain the toxin, mercury, to make them work? Second, what are the top one or two best things a homeowner can do to be ‘green’? Finally, as far as solar, I heard a report on KPBS Radio, just this morning, about a new, low-income apartment complex up in Ramona that uses solar power to take care of all of the energy needs of the property. It can even send unneeded power back into the electrical grid system to power other users. How much of a trend is solar really getting to be, both in the public and private sectors?

On the first question, installing a CFL avoids 2-3 times more emissions of mercury from the power plant than the amount of mercury the CFL contains. With the publicity around this issue, manufacturers are trying to reduce mercury content further, down to about 2.5mg per lamp I believe. Check out this on the EPA’s website. We definitely need better recycling options. It’s an important issue, but not so bad that one should not use CFLs! 

On the question of green: Everyone is different so this is a tough question. Clearly efficient lighting is a great first step, but every little bit helps. Technology is coming along, but not all the necessary fixes are hardware — lifestyle matters very much. A big one (tough to swallow for many in SD): drive less! It’s not just energy but materials and toxics as well. I liked the article on Ed Begley Jr. in KPBS’ current edition of their member magazine — lots of big and little things add up. Ed was the keynote speaker at CCSE’s recent StreetSmart kickoff event to promote efficient transportation options, and is quite a good example in his integrated approach to Green.  

As far as growth in solar energy, check out this document put together by the CA Energy Commission. Clearly 2006 was a huge growth year for solar-photovoltaics (PV) in our state. Much of this has to do with the incentives available to help buy down the cost — the project in Ramona surely received some incentives from the state. The PUC’s plan, though, is to have the rebates decline and then sunset entirely in 10 years, after which time the market for PV should be self-sustaining. If prices for PV come down as many expect — and particularly if prices for traditional energy sources increase — then this is a quite realistic goal.

Solar Dreamer wrote:

The State should take a close look at the solar “contractors”…. If we hadn’t done a great deal of reasearch on our own, we would have been stuck with a system, or systems, that did not do the job they were designed to do. Why not provide clinics sponsored by the PUC for solar power?

We already do clinics as part of the PUC’s program — please get on our e-mail blast list and attend our solar workshops! Here’s the calendar of upcoming events, including a commercial solar workshop on June 6.  We have solar sessions for homeowners each month; next one is June 26 — welcome!

CCSE administers the California Solar Initiative in this region of the state. Our helpful staff will help you in any way we can. You can start with our vendor database to find contractors in your area (being an objective third-party non-profit, we don’t push any vendors in particular). Bottom line, we have the authority to remove unethical contractors from the list of those who can participate in the program. So we encourage feedback!

 Alex Hamilton wrote:

As for generation of power, the sun powers a small Stirling in my garage which generates on average 2K watts daily, stored in batteries, and used to power some lights. The Stirling cost me $70; the power costs nothing. With-holding coin from big oil and their Arab allies is good; more people should do it. Go solar!

Alex, that is impressive! Reducing consumption first and then generating what you need is the strategy for having a net-zero energy impact, and you’re doing a ton — spread the word!  I would like more info on your stirling’s performance, too.

ANDREW McALLISTER

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