- Ian Thompson
Powered by the Eye of God
In the Choctaw language, the sun is called "hvshi". The Choctaw ancestors understood the sun as being God's eye watching the earth. They believed that if the sun was shining on a person, he or she would prosper. These ancient people were observant. Without a word for chlorophyll or the concept of ATP, they knew that the sun provides the energy for life.
The industrial revolution was fueled by fossil fuels like coal, petroleum, and natural gas, which contain the energy collected by plants from the sun over millions of years. Burning these fuels makes huge amounts of concentrated energy available, but it also releases ancient carbon in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). Over the past 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels has released 1.5 trillion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The planet's climate is changing as the earth's natural systems shift to maintain balance with this extra amount of CO2. Human-caused climate change is the single greatest threat to the long-term success of our farm, the continuance of traditional cultures around the world, and the future well-being of humanity.
As Americans, our lifeway is as closely tied to fossil fuels as the lifeways of the Plains Indians were once tied to the bison. We are born into a system where we rely on fossil fuels not just for energy, but also for the plastics, fertilizer, medicines, road construction, home construction, clothing, and many other things that support our lives. The consequence of continuing this reliance is an unlivable future. (To watch an impassioned plea from a member of the next generation who understands very well what the score is on climate change, see here).
In a previous post, we admitted that our household releases about 10 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, just from the energy we use to power our home. (I began writing this post on a 100-degree September day, listening to our air conditioner, refrigerator, and freezer all running at the same time. When you internalize that the noise of those appliances running is really the sound of you personally running out the clock on humanity's future, it motivates you to do something).
We've wanted to take our home solar for years. Building our Green Home on the Range provided the opportunity. We'd like to share a little bit of the experience in hopes that many others might be interested. We learned that the first step in going solar was to cut down on our household's energy use by improving its efficiency. This can benefit any household, by drastically reducing monthly energy bills, regardless of whether solar is in the works or not. For new home construction, energy efficiency is pretty straightforward. We've installed a white-colored heat-reflecting roof, super insulated our roof and exterior walls, put in insulated exterior doors and windows, limited the number of windows on the western side of the house, reduced our number of appliances, and switched to more energy-efficient ones (like replacing our old water heater with a tankless electric one). For already occupied homes, improving energy efficiency may be a bit more complicated, but there is an added advantage in that it can be done incrementally over time instead of having to happen all at once. The next step is to estimate how much energy your household uses in order to figure out how many solar panels you'll need. For an existing home, simply look at your power bill. For our new home, we added up the yearly energy use ratings for all of our appliances and tried to estimate our HVAC energy usage. We then double checked our figures with two knowledgeable people. If our calculations are right, the above efforts will cut our energy need down to less that half of what it was in our old home.
Home solar setups can either be tied into the electrical grid, or be off the grid. We wanted to go completely off the grid, but doing so would have involved buying some really expensive batteries to keep the house household running at night and on cloudy weeks. We had no choice but to hook into the grid, which comes with its own costs and challenges. Our new home is connected to the grid through a two-way electric meter. Any energy that our house uses runs the meter forward. Any energy that our solar panels produce will run the meter backwards. The electric company nets out the usage annually.
In many regions of the country, state and local regulations are designed to make it easy for homeowners to switch to solar. On the other hand, in places where the fossil fuel industry has a lot of influence on government, regulations are set up to make home solar difficult. Oklahoma ranks among the least supportive states for home solar in the country. Fortunately, rapidly improving technologies should make it financially easier for homeowners, even in Oklahoma, to go solar and completely off the grid in the next few years.
To pick out our panels and the rest of the solar equipment, we just sent our power usage specs to a wholesale solar provider, who put together a package for us of the panels and hardware that our home will need. The process was piloted by Ian's Uncle Steve, who is president of his neighborhood solar group in Florida. Installing solar panels on a home's roof isn't that complicated, but we definitely recommend working with someone who has done it before. Installation of our panels took two days on a slippery tin roof with Uncle Steve, Ryan, and Ian working together. We are grateful to everyone who was involved. It would have taken us years longer to go solar if it were not for your help and generosity. Thank you!
Using new technology that continues an ancient concept, our home is now powered by The Eye of God.