Home sweet home, complete with your own solar energy array? It’s becoming more and more common. In our Green Goes Mainstream series, we meet a Pennsylvania couple on the leading edge of an American clean energy movement.
Bob and Donna Weikert’s home looks like any other quaint homeplace in rural Pennsylvania except for the photovoltaic equipment set up in their yard. They mow the grass around their solar panels and occasionally clean off bird droppings, but mostly they don’t worry about maintenance. They’re not particularly concerned about climate change or about impressing the neighbors with their “green” installation, either. For the Weikerts, it’s about the green they’re saving.
Speaking to FlourSackMama.com in July, Bob Weikert proudly shared, “This is the third month in a row that I haven’t had an electric bill!” From Early spring until late August, the sun is at the perfect angle for the panels to work the most efficiently. Even in winter, the PV array generates some power.
Weikert said installing solar panels is part of a retirement plan that includes adding geothermal heat and ductwork to the 1,700 square foot stone house and having a woodstove in the basement for backup. The professional electrician says he was concerned about not being able to pay electric bills later on a fixed income. Now, he sends in meter readings to an energy broker and keeps 97% of the profits when the power companies pay him. “My solar panels will constantly offset an ever increasing electric bill,” he said.
The first quarter of 2014 is the first time in a dozen years that residential PV installations have surpassed commercial installations, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The SEIA reports the United States has installed 1,330 megawatts of solar PV in early 2014, making it the second biggest quarter ever for solar growth. Demand for residential solar is expected to keep growing at record levels, although that might not necessarily mean individual PV arrays like the Weikers have in their yard. Instead, more areas of the US are looking at industrial-sized solar projects that could serve a mix of residential and commercial customers. The Solar Foundation reports that nearly 143,000 Americans are currently employed by the solar industry after strong job growth last year.
In Pennsylvania, the Weikerts received a $7,500 grant for installing the solar panels, as well as a 30% tax credit. Programs like this vary from state to state and change with time. The Weikert family thinks the project was worth some initial investment because of the peace of mind that their electric bills will never go up. The American Solar Energy Society notes that this concept of personal energy independence is growing in popularity.
The system that credits the Weikert family for energy they produce is called net metering, a process that can vary state by state. Pennsylvania gets a B grade by Freeing the Grid, which advocates for making it easier for energy customers in every state to take part in solar energy production.
Although being green was not his motivation, Weikert can brag that in less than three years his solar array has generated enough energy to power two football stadiums while saving five acres of trees with the offset in carbon. Since he’s creating green power on a small scale, does he think more Americans should follow suit? Weikert thinks renewable energy should be encouraged, but not overregulated.