This project has many benefits for our community. The system has been paying for itself from day one. For the 15-year life of the loan, our neighborhood gets more than 50% of our electricity from a local, carbon-free source at utility rates. After the loan is paid, our utility bills will drop by more than half for the system’s lifetime. At no point will we pay extra for having a PV system. In addition, the interest from the loans remains among neighbors, helping community families rather than disappearing into the corporate financial system.
Our residents also have new tools to monitor electricity use, which numerous studies have shown can lead to energy savings approaching 10%. We can also track changes over time, allowing us to evaluate the effects of investments in more-efficient appliances and lighting, or behavioral changes.
There are also less tangible benefits. We learned that everyday people can come together to respond in an active way to the problems of living on a finite planet. We don’t have to wait for others to provide solutions.
Now, when the sun shines, we feel something more than its warmth on our faces. We’re also aware that it’s powering our homes, cooking our food, running our computers, and even spreading over the grid to feed clean energy to others, while putting a little change in our pockets. By tapping the sun’s ongoing daily flow, rather than further drawing down nonrenewable stores, it feels like we’re on a more robust path than before. And that may be the biggest benefit of all.
Jeff Gilmore is a former computer engineer with a long-time interest in renewable energy and community projects. He currently helps manage a variety of technology projects at Ecovillage at Ithaca, where he lives with his wife and three sons.
Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) • dsireusa.org
Ecovillage at Ithaca • ecovillageithaca.org
Hayes Electric • 607-279-6964
PVWatts • nrel.gov/rredc/pvwatts
PV System Components:
EKM Metering • ekmmetering.com • Smart metering
RBI Solar • rbisolar.com • Racking
SMA America • sma-america.com • Inverters
Trina Solar • trinasolar.com • PV modules