Solar party: neighbors make learning fun

New take on Tupperware parties: Get the information with your community, over wine and cheese

Solar party
Photo: Emily Nathan

Serendipitously, I received an online Evite to a solar party, hosted by a couple in our neighborhood who'd recently had a system installed. (Forget Tupperware parties ― although bringing your lunch in reusable Tupperware, rather than disposable containers, is very PC.

The solar party promised the opportunity to talk to people who'd gone solar, inspect their system, and have one's questions answered by their solar representative. I sent my RSVP right away.

Now, I'm not usually one for home-repair workshops or drip-irrigation tutorials. That's why the solar party concept is so great: You can get rather technical information in a way that feels less like a lecture and more like a night out.

It was much like any casual cocktail party ― a little wine, a little cheese, a lovely cake. I joined 12 of my neighbors at our hosts' home, where we were introduced to Chris from SolarCity, who was encyclopedic in his knowledge not just of solar systems and their pricing and installation, but also of the most up-to-date info on ever-changing solar policy.

I was sold. Eager to do my part against global warming, I scheduled a time for Chris to evaluate our home.

But this next part is bittersweet. Before climbing on the roof ― before even looking at it ― Chris asked to see our utility bill, and laughed a little before telling us that we'd billed only 223 kilowatt-hours of electricity for the month. (Some people use 50 times that much.) With the cost of leasing photovoltaic panels, our electricity would cost us [I {twice}] as much with solar than it would without. We were stunned; I think we even asked how we might use [I {more}] electricity to validate our moving forward as planned.

It turns out that many of the largest electricity eaters are things we don't have: air-conditioning or, more surprising, recessed lighting systems (you flip one switch, and 10 lightbulbs go on).

We'd purchased highly energy-efficient appliances when we bought our house, so even though we seem to do the laundry continuously to fuel our preschooler's outfit changes, our monthly energy bill was still far below the $120 to $150 range the company cites as the break-even point for making solar cost-efficient.

Chris saw that we were disappointed (weird, right?) and had a suggestion: How about solar panels instead of gas to heat our water? Great idea.


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