The Daily Green has partnered with the American Solar Energy Society to provide regular updates from the society's annual National Solar Tour. Look for updates each Tuesday.
It wasn’t the variable of available sunshine in their suburban Chicago neighborhood that inhibited Sarah and Kiril Lozanov from going solar. Rather, it was the challenge of cost – and of earning homeowner’s association approval for the new construction solar would warrant on their condominium rooftop.
Just how was a couple in their early thirties going to afford a solar system to power their 800 sq. ft. condominium? The idea came to them when they sat down to plan the gift registry for their September 2007 wedding.
“As we curled up to create our gift registry, we talked about the kind of life we wished to lead,” recalled Sarah Lozanova, (sic) a renewable energy specialist at Solar Service Inc. in Illinois. “We thought about the clean, healthy world we value, and concluded that the only thing really wanted was a solar system,” she said.
Instead of being intimidated by the price tag of the $12,300 system they calculated they would need, the Lozanovs embarked upon an energetic campaign to educate family and friends about the benefits of going solar – and how a contribution to the 1.7-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system they wanted to install on their condominium rooftop would empower them to create the sustainable lifestyle they yearned to live.
The creative financing they conceived of, the construction commitments they made to their homeowner’s association and the conservation efforts they employ to realize surplus power reserves often shared by their neighbors will be featured during the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Tour, the largest annual grassroots solar event in the U.S. Tour dates for thousands of communities across the U.S. are scheduled for the month of October and can be found at www.nationalsolartour.org.
Here’s how the Lozanovs achieved their heart’s desire: First, they created a wedding registry through a blog site where they described in detail the solar system they wished to acquire, along with the economic and environmental benefits it would reap for them on an ongoing basis.
“The blog and wedding registry afforded us a terrific opportunity to educate our wedding guests on solar energy, its recurring impact on the environment – and how it would reduce our monthly electric bills and improve the value of our home,” noted Sarah. "And it allowed us to share the additional work we were doing to make this dream a reality,” she added.
After reading of the Losanov’s plans, the majority of their 75 wedding guests enthusiastically contributed to their solar fund. Sarah and Kiril identified government incentives to cover the balance of their project. A State of Illinois solar rebate check defrayed 30% of the system cost and a federal tax credit yielded $2,000. The two incentives offset the solar system cost by about 50 percent.
Paying for this rooftop solar system was only one of the Losanov’s hurdles. Commensurate with all of this was the need to win homeowner’s association approval to install it.
“Although the roof had plenty of space for solar panels and good solar exposure, as condo owners, we didn’t have exclusive roof rights,” said Kiril. “We were going to have to construct a compelling case to win support for this project.”
And construct a compelling case they did. In about as much time as it takes to plan a wedding – one calendar year – the Lozanovs have addressed all concerns and are virtually beaming about their new solar system. “We learned that there were no plans to use the roof other than for mounting satellite dishes – and our neighbors welcomed the idea” said Sarah.
To help deter further concerns about the solar system, Sarah and husband Kiril made several promises:
- no penetrations of the roof membrane,
- keep wiring out of sight and
- contain system components (the AC disconnect, for example) within their respective condominium unit.
Their system often generates surplus electricity during the day. It is not equipped with batteries, so electricity they don’t consume flows to the power grid.
“Our neighbors like knowing that a portion of their daytime electricity may be solar-generated. And the credits we receive for surplus power generation will reduce our low electric bills even further,” Sarah enthusiastically reports.
The State of Illinois is one of 40 states in the nation with net-metering legislation, which requires large utilities to purchase surplus electricity generated from solar systems and credit the generator’s utility bill.
Chicago has moderate sunshine, with blue skies about 55 percent of the time. A combination of modest electric rates and sunshine make the payback period of their system longer than if the same system were located in an area with higher rates, good sun and more favorable incentives, like, say, California.
But the way the Lozanovs see it, the price stability, environmental and security benefits of their new solar system far exceed the bonuses of utility bill payback…or even improved property value.
“For many people, solar energy is an exciting technology they’ve read about yet have little personal experience with. We enjoy showing our system to visitors and demonstrating that what may seem a futuristic technology is available and easy to live with right now,” says Sarah. “I like coming home to see how much energy the system generated throughout the day and knowing that we’re part of the renewable energy solution.”It’s a sustainable lifestyle that the newlywed Lozanovs – and their neighbors – will enjoy for decades to come. That’s something that should register with all of us.
– Terri Steele