We finally got a solar energy guy to come out and see if our house was suitable for rooftop panels. But the result wasn't what we'd hoped.
When Chet of RS Energy (who works with Solarize Salem, the group I'd contacted for an assessment) pulled into our driveway, I told him, "Look, we've got two hybrid cars and a Kitzhaber sticker on our Highlander Hybrid. We're ripe for solar."
I also said that we were appreciative of him being here, since I'd contacted quite a few solar energy companies and had only gotten a few responses -- with no one being interested in actually checking out our house.
Probably, I surmised, they take a look at a Google Maps satellite image of our address and rule us out of solar, sight unseen, given the woodsy nature of our surroundings.
But I'd wondered how anyone could tell how tall the trees around the house were from an overhead view. Chet told me that at first glance our house looked fairly suitable for solar panels, but he needed to check out the sunability with his gadget.
After he did, his first words said it all: "The naysayers were right."
The main reason was these damnably tall and wide firs at the end of our driveway. That round white glow in the left of the photo is the sun, a view of which is what solar panels need to do their energy-generating thing.
Chet said that we got a "70" (whatever that means), while the incentives needed to make solar panels financially feasible kick in at "75."
Given how much my wife loves trees, and how many she's planted on our property, I was surprised to hear her ask Chet which trees would need to be cut down to get up to 75.
He pointed at the firs, but immediately said that it wouldn't make any sense to get rid of them. "They shade your house in the summer," he pointed out. "Plus, it would cost a lot to cut the firs down. Almost always it's better both environmentally and economically to keep trees than to cut them just to qualify for a solar incentive."
That made sense. The notion of eliminating some beautiful large greenhouse gas-reducing firs in order to do something positive for the environment is unduly paradoxical.
So we'll put our solar panel dreams on hold for now. Maybe eventually the technology will evolve, and/or the cost will come down, to make our "70" score a go rather than a no for solar energy.
Chet did say that we'd be a good candidate for a solar hot water heater. However, our utility room, where our current water heater is located, is two floors down from the roof, so quite a bit of piping would be required.
A hybrid hot water heater probably would be a better idea. I've seen these advertised in The Oregonian newspaper recently. They work on the heat pump principle, sucking heat from the surrounding air and using it to help warm water.
They cost about $2,000, but there's a 30% federal tax credit through December 31. However, Energy Trust of Oregon hasn't given a stamp of approval for hybrid hot water heaters yet, so there's no state tax credit.
Delving into a footnote on the Energy Trust hot water heater page, I found:
Note 2: Heat pump water heaters remain an emerging technology in the Pacific Northwest. While heat pump water heaters in theory surpass the Energy Factor eligibility requirements for an Energy Trust cash incentive, there are technical concerns about the design of some models for cool climates. None has demonstrated proven performance in our climate zone to be eligible for an Energy Trust water heater incentive.
So I guess we'll hold off on saving the Earth more than we are now until there's more evidence that a hybrid hot water heater will work well in western Oregon.