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Energy Independence Day

2012 July 9

By Steve Donohue

Seventeen years ago when my wife and I went house shopping, we looked for a home with large kitchen windows that would let the sun stream in because I knew this would help heat the house and save energy.

As an environmental scientist in EPA’s Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia, I try to practice what I preach by doing everything I can to save energy at home. Many of my efforts are simple like switching to LED light bulbs and hanging my clothes to dry on the clothes line instead of wasting energy with a power-hogging dryer. Other efforts were a bit more complicated like crawling around in my attic to seal up drafts and add insulation. There were even some unexpected jobs too, like fixing the hole my son made by stepping through the ceiling while he was helping me. I knew these improvements would pay for themselves in no time and they did – reducing our power use by almost 50 percent.

In 2010, we decided to tackle the supply side of the equation by installing photovoltaic solar panels. This was not an easy decision. I wasn’t worried about the technology because I have a solar calculator from 1980 that still works fine, but the return on our investment was supposed to take five years, and by then I knew I would need some cash to replace my aging truck. On the plus side, our roof was new and the slope was just right for installing solar panels. After considering all factors, we decided to take the plunge and get full benefit of tax breaks, financing and rebates offered by Pennsylvania and the federal government. Also, it was nice to know in our own small way we were creating “green jobs” for a local contractor and a factory in Kentucky where the solar panels were manufactured.

A few days after the 4th of July in 2010 we had our own “energy” Independence Day. It has been great! We have had zero maintenance and we get credited for any electricity we don’t use that is sent out to the grid. In 2011, we generated 84 percent of our own electricity, spending less than $260 for power that year. Our goal is to have a net zero energy house in 2012 by swapping out our 17-year old refrigerator.

Sounds good right? Well almost. The market for clean power tanked and our payback is now more like 10 years. So, it looks like I’ll be keeping my old truck a little longer. In the mean time, I tell everyone my new truck is on the roof!

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he is focused on greening EPA and other government facilities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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17 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim Jonas permalink
    July 9, 2012

    So it has been since 1971 I had to turn my truck into a propain running vehicle for oil and gas companies sat there tankers out in the Gulf of Mexico we customers had 3 gallon limit.

    So far what I have tried to do alternatives people have no cash to move in this direction. There were a few of us who wanted to open a Bank to pay to allow products and jobs to be create energy. Oil is stopping it all. They have so much cash. It is time to do something. Help us to help you get Congress on this.

  2. July 10, 2012

    Pithy writing: the author takes us to the highs and lows and leaves us with a cliffhanger. I hope he will be around in ten years to write the follow-up and get his car off the roof.

  3. Pat Bourgeois permalink
    July 10, 2012

    Great article. Is your house ISA 14001? Just joking! Nice job as is all you undertake.

  4. Nick DiNardo permalink
    July 10, 2012

    Enjoyable article. It is helping me to rethink about installing solar panels.

  5. Felipe Cervantes permalink
    July 10, 2012

    What happens to a nation that has being burning gas 24 hours a day in their water heaters for the last 45 years even when you are sleeping ?
    The solution: Put the NASA people to work to invent devices that turn on and off your heating habits to use hot water only when needed, good luck and best wishes,
    pd.-solar pannels are a good idea to storage heat for the winter use

  6. July 11, 2012

    Energy saving is the duty of each & every citizen of the country, One should utilize this source of environment efficiently rather than misusing it

  7. July 12, 2012

    To see the upcoming disaster related to electricity or other sources of energy we should be ready to act as a TROUBLESHOOTER & utilize the resources in proper way rather than misusing

  8. July 15, 2012

    Until varying views agree about the problem and the global policy solutions that would be accessible to all, it is up to individuals like Steve to make small decisions and choose whatever works best for his home and family (also supporting local jobs and sustainable economy).

  9. July 24, 2012

    Energy efficiency delivering the same services for less energy helps protect the environment. When we use less energy, the less energy we need to generate at power plants, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves the quality of our air

  10. August 9, 2012

    Solar panel electricity systems is good for saving electric. Today, the search has been rewarded by the various brands of solar panels that have come into the market from different manufacturers. There are different ways of installing the product such as building it into the roof, building it into the ground or into the walls of a building.

  11. Charlie H permalink
    August 22, 2012

    You should also perform regular maintenance on your appliances to keep them at peak efficiency. Your dryer exhaust needs to be cleaned out once a year and so do your refrigerator coils. Not performing these simple maintenance tasks could end up wasting a significant amount of energy.

  12. Cbazaar permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Promoting energy conservation and renewable sources will help us saving money and nature.

  13. Arina permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Nice post..

  14. Nit permalink
    March 18, 2013

    Put the NASA people to work to invent devices that turn on and off your heating habits to use hot water only when needed, good luck and best wishes,

  15. Ash permalink
    November 18, 2013

    Like the way you think. Very inspirational.
    Everyone should think about conserving renewable resources.



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    March 26, 2014

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  17. Best designer sarees permalink
    April 15, 2015

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