When a climate activist friend told me he volunteers for an organization that supports homeowners trying to go solar, and that advances in solar technology make it more feasible than ever, I jumped. He put me in touch with a group called Solarize Delco, and their volunteers promised to help guide us through the solar process if our property was suitable.
My brain leaped straight to the fantasy of buying a solar storage battery and sheltering unfortunate neighbors during power outages. Forget the gas-powered generators many folks turn to for such occasions, we would ride out the storms with the technology of the future.
My solar fantasy was doused pretty quickly. Google has an amazing site in which they've harnessed satellite maps and give property owners an instant assessment on the viability of solar for their location. Just go to the website, enter the address, and see if your roof glows. Ours did not.
We have two mature Ash trees, which manage to make our suburban plot feel like a woodland, but also make it unsuitable for solar. These towering beauties were one of the reasons we bought our home in the first place. One happy solar customer suggested we consider getting rid of the trees because the Emerald Ash Borer has laid waste to so many of their kind, but we've been able to vaccinate them every couple of years, and so far, this has adequately protected our little woodland.
In a competition between the trees and solar, the solar panels would probably be the best investment in terms of limiting carbon and saving money. But the trees are living beings that provide a habitat to wildlife. And I've been a tree hugger since forever, so the trees win out.
Even given the trees, I didn't want to give up on the solar idea; I had some hope that our free-standing garage might work. The Solarize Delco folks sent a contractor around to do a preliminary assessment. Unfortunately, the garage is too small, and even with its setback, it doesn't get adequate sunlight. Solar doesn't work everywhere because not all houses have sufficient roof space or large areas that face south.
This volunteer recommended that we instead purchase renewable energy and said I could contact: email@example.com for help with a “low greenhouse gas” diet that covers everything from eating more plant-based meals to transitioning to an electric vehicle or an E-bike. Well, this isn't quite the solar-battery outage party I had imagined, but it does point us toward another path to electrification.
Going 100% electric is a step in the right direction if you can purchase energy from green providers. For a number of years now, Lee and I have been able to do that, but I hate that our heating system is still powered by gas. I've been reading a lot about the health costs of fracking to frontline communities, and we're concerned that keeping our home warm in the winter is putting children in these communities in danger.
Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health used the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry, along with state data on unconventional oil and gas drill sites, to determine that children born within two kilometers, or 1.24 miles, of an active well site were two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia between the ages of 2 and 7.
Another way to wean ourselves off gas heat would be to install a heat pump. I've been dancing around this issue for some time now, but so far it just seems like a difficult and expensive update. I've reached out for guidance from area businesses and gotten some fairly significant cost estimates, so I would welcome advice from hand-holding volunteers to shepherd us through the transition. (I'll let you all know how that goes.)
Green volunteer groups seem to be a thing these days. I found several of them in our area. So if you would like a little hand-holding to help electrify too, I recommend searching the internet for an organization in your town that can point you toward the best local resources. Here's an example of another one I found in Haverford, PA:
Have you considered going solar or trying to electrify your home? Who did you turn to for guidance? Please share!