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This past weekend, homeowners opened their solar homes to those wanting to catch a glimpse of the future of home energy. We hope that you were able to attend one of the 648 tours throughout the country.  I took my kids to visit some of the solar homes in Washington, DC and Virginia and enjoyed the display of solar electric, solar thermal and even passive solar. My kids especially enjoyed the solar cookies from the solar ovens. The solar home tour showed just how far solar applications have come and how new technology is reshaping the world around us.

Passive Solar Home in Virginia

Passive Solar Home in Virginia

Talented Homeowners Showcase their Solar Energy Systems

It is a given that solar homeowners are early adopters and if they are going to open up their homes to strangers, they probably know something about solar energy. We expected that the homeowners would know something about the solar energy systems on their roofs, but my kids and I were wowed by the almost encyclopedic knowledge of some of the homeowners we met.  By pure chance, one of the homeowners on our tour is the head of the leading solar trade association in the country, so of course he should know something about solar. Even the other homeowners we met—and they have nothing to do professionally with solar—were incredibly conversant in solar energy systems, utility rates, incentives and how we can all adopt solar energy in our lives.

I think some kids may have tuned out if any of the homeowners would have started talking about photons converting light into electricity, but we all listened with great interest as we heard about how one passive solar home collected and distributed the sun’s rays—without any solar panels on the roof at all. We heard how some homeowners are getting more out of their already existing arrays with new technologies and we got a full computer demonstration of how the micro-inverters are performing on one homeowner’s roof.
Baking Cookies in Solar Oven

Baking Cookies in Solar Oven

Solar Cookies for All

I do not think I would have been able to keep the interest of my kids unless there was some carrot out there to maintain their interest. I hesitate to say it, but if you are a kid, maybe all solar panels look alike and after a few homes, interest may begin to fade.  But the mind is clearly concentrated if your kids are waiting for the solar chocolate chip cookies baking in the solar oven.  My kids weren’t going to go anywhere until the solar ovens gave up those delectable morsels. Solar energy to bake cookies definitely kept their interest!

Incentives Loom Large in Buying Process

Incentives continue to be a major driver in going solar. One of the homeowners reported that after all of the incentives, he actually made $500 on the purchase of his solar water heater, and that was in Virginia, which is one of the stingiest states around.  And that is the future of solar energy in this country; the incentives will continue to play the singular most important role in helping homeowners install solar energy systems. Most of the homeowners who call SolarTown to find out about our solar energy systems, the incentives loom large in their buying process. That is as it should be, because without the incentives, only the very rich would be able to contribute to the solution for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. As we clearly saw on the tour, with home solar panels on some large homes, and some not so large homes, solar does not necessarily have to be the sole province of the well-to-do.

Solar Home on Solar Home Tour

Solar Home on Solar Home Tour

New Solar Energy Products Shine on the Solar Tour

Solar products are evolving quickly. The wattage in solar modules is going up so we are seeing larger wattage arrays on the tour. And we are also seeing new products.  What has pestered solar homeowners in the past is that when one of the solar panels in your array is covered with shade, then the entire array, even those panels not covered in shade, would experience a huge reduction in output. We saw the new Enphase micro-inverter in action. The inverters are attached to each solar panel and convert the DC to AC right on the module. We also saw the SolarMagic power optimization system created to minimize the effects of shading, clouds, dirt and debris. We only hope that next year we will see more innovations and more homes on the solar home tours, and we hope that we’ll get an invite to the White House to see Obama’s new solar energy system.

Related: Solar Home Tours 2010: The Movie

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