The Unexpected Benefits of Going Solar (or, A Hymn to the Autumnal Equinox)

It’s not difficult to find commentary on the many benefits of installing solar panels on your roof. Social, environmental, financial – we’ve got you covered. If you need further incentive to go solar, there are additional benefits that are quite important if less well known.

My good friend Jeff recently had a 5.75 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system installed on his house as part of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Sungevity. His motives were both environmental and financial – he’s glad to help the environment by reducing his carbon footprint, but probably wouldn’t have put panels on his roof if it didn’t also make financial sense. Like many of us, he’s idealistic but practical.

The benefits to Jeff and his family have far exceeded dollars and carbon however, and these benefits have come primarily in the form of increased awareness. As soon as the panels went live (an event surrounded by much anticipation in his household), Jeff became acutely aware of just how much electricity he consumed in his home. He now understands how many kWh he uses on an average day at different times of year and how drastically his usage spikes during warm summer days when the air conditioning is working hard to keep his house comfortable.

Those warm and sunny summer days are a mixed blessing. Although he generates the most electricity from his panels on clear summer days, it’s not usually enough to overcome the energy consumed by the central air conditioner. He still expects to generate more energy than he consumes on an annual basis, but it’s not just electricity generated in the summer that will get him there. He knows this, and is beginning to understand which appliances use the most energy and has started taking actions to minimize his energy use. Prior to the panels, he paid his utility bills and didn’t worry much about consumption since the bills were reasonable. Now it’s become a bit of a game – can he generate more energy than he consumes? How can he reduce his consumption to get him there?

Jeff and his family also now appreciate the patterns of the weather and the sun in a way they never had before. He knows how to calculate solar noon, where solar south is, and how the sun travels over his property. He understands how the length of our days (and the angle of the sun) expand and contract around the solstices. He has become intimately connected to the sun – in much the same way humans were connected to that great star before the advent of artificial lighting and cheap energy.

I like to think that Jeff’s newfound knowledge is not much different from that of farmers and our not-so-distant ancestors – people who knew the sun was life and the study of its patterns life-affirming. Most of us living in modern societies are disconnected from our energy consumption and the simple fact that life is dependent on the sun. Technology has made this knowledge unnecessary, but not unimportant.

The benefits of putting solar on your roof are many. Do it for the environmental reasons. Do it because it makes financial sense. Do it because it makes you feel good. Whatever your reasons, don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a newfound awareness of the energy consumed in your home and your relationship with the sun.

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