It has become commonplace to hear that technology is ruining America’s sense of community. People will bittersweetly lament about the neighborhood they grew up in, while asking aloud what happened to that cul-de-sac community. One event, held nationwide, is attempting to break this loss in personal connection through technology: the National Solar Tour of Homes.
“We’re all about neighbors connecting to each other,” said Anya Schoolman, the executive director of Solar United Neighbors. The National Solar Tour of Homes was created by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). 2018 will mark the tour’s 23rd year and it’s largest pool of participants to date, as Schoolman shared that over 400 homeowners have signed up to give tours of their solar-powered homes.
The goal of the tours is to create an energy community by having tour guides show neighbors solar’s ability to cut energy costs, create energy independence and protect homes from power outages caused by natural disasters.
2018 also marks the first year that Solar United Neighbors is participating as a partner in the event. Solar United Neighbors is a nonprofit group aimed at helping communities go solar through bulk-purchasing co-ops.
“The National Solar Tour dovetails perfectly with our work and that’s why we’re so thrilled to be collaborating with ASES,” said Schoolman.
One of this year’s tour guides is Charlie Behrens of Orlando, Florida.
“We had originally decided to put solar panels here on our roof for the climate,” said Behrens. “We also have grandchildren and we wanted to make sure that the climate was not going to sabotage their lives and we wanted to have that joy of using less ancient fossils in favor of sunlight.”
While Behrens installed solar with the intent of contributing towards saving the environment, he also experienced firsthand the utility that a system can provide when a disaster strikes.
We went through Hurricane Irma last fall and not only did the solar panels do beautifully, but when we lost power for a couple days, our electric vehicle was able to act as a battery backup. We were able to power all the things we needed to get through a few days of no power from the grid.
The tour is about more than just the hope that your neighbors will see the benefits of renewable energy production. Carly Rixham, Executive Director of ASES outlined that solar has a visually viral effect in neighborhoods, meaning that once one house has a system as a visual reminder, others frequently follow.
Rixham cited this belief with a 2014 Yale study focused on the same phenomenon, saying “The research showed that installation of one additional solar photovoltaic rooftop project in the last 6 months increased the average number of installations within a half mile radius by almost 50%.”
This phenomenon is an idea that Schoolman subscribes to, having worked with her neigbors in the past to set up a solar community.
“My own story starts over a decade ago when my son, who was 12 at the time, asked if we could go solar ourselves,” said Schoolman. ” Back then it was a lot more expensive and complicated, so I said if we’re gonna go solar, we’re gonna take the whole neighborhood. And that’s exactly what we did. It took us two years, but after working with our neighbors, we ended up taking 50 homes solar as a group. That’s really what started our movement.”
The tours are taking place in October in conjunction with energy awareness month, with the primary dates being October 6 and 7. Specific dates across the United States are given on the tour’s interactive map.