Island Voices: Going solar? Take it a step at a time

Are you tired of filling up the tank of the family sedan or SUV for more than a buck and a half a litre? I know I can’t get enough of those carbon taxes. What about paying the ever-increasing B.C. Hydro rates?

Maybe it’s time to think about energy independence and an end to the constant bleed of money to a top-heavy Crown corporation and layer upon layer of taxes and foreign profits built into every litre of gasoline or heating oil you buy.

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We started our journey to net-zero eight years ago, when planning our new home in Cobble Hill. We incorporated many energy-saving and sustainable aspects into the house design, including windows, insulation, heating system, roof, floors and appliances. The roofs of the house and shop were angled and pitched to maximize southern exposure for the future installation of solar electric and solar hot water, and both buildings were pre-wired and plumbed to make the installations simple.

Over the following years, we added solar panels as we could afford them. One benefit of this staged approach was that after the first installation, each of the two following sets of solar panels were more efficient and less expensive. The first set had a maximum output of 240 watts per panel, the second set was 260 and the last set, installed this spring, are rated at 305 watts per panel with the cost per panel dropping by almost 50 per cent over five years.

We were pretty close to net-zero without the latest additions, paying B.C. Hydro about $50 to $100 per year for electricity we consumed. We were still driving a hybrid car that required us to buy fuel on occasion, pumping out CO2 when we drove and paying the dreaded carbon tax at the pump. But those days are numbered.

With our latest solar expansion, we have installed an electric car-charging station and plan to purchase an all-electric vehicle in the near future with a reported range of 400 kilometres per charge. Doing the math and based on solar output over the past few weeks, it will take less than two sunny days on my roof to fully charge the car battery from stone dead.

The cost of the electricity if you had to buy it from B.C. Hydro would be about $8, or about $2 per 100 kilometres, which would be pretty cheap fuel, but it will be free sunshine on my solar panels that turns my wheels.

The path to net-zero has not been easy, or cheap, but it can be done incrementally with modest changes adding up to a big difference over time. And while I will not be using fossil fuels to power my car or heat my home, I still have an old pickup truck that I use occasionally around our small organic farm, as well as my little tractor and several gas-powered implements that we use in the yard and garden.

It will be some time, I think, before we can completely divorce ourselves from this toxic relationship with fossil fuels, but the transition of society has to happen in less than 12 years if we are to save our future, according to the latest science.

In order to offset some of the fossil fuels we still burn (I have a gas barbecue, as well) we share our truck with friends and family, and have decided to plant trees and reforest an area of our farm that has been used only for growing hay and grazing pasture over the past 40 years.

To paraphrase some ancient Chinese wisdom: “The best time to start eliminating fossil fuels from your life was 20 years ago, the next best time is now.”

If you are interested in seeing or hearing what we have done, and perhaps benefiting from some of the mistakes we have made on the path to net-zero, feel free to contact me at 250-743-4747 or I would love to have a chat and/or give you a free tour.

David Slade lives in Cobble Hill.

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