Meet Ian and Emily

Family in front 4_web Behind every great installation, there’s a great story - Meet Ian and Emily

For Emily Yetman and Ian Johnson, having solar on their roof is just another extension of how they live their lives with respect for the environment and their community. As Emily points out, “we already choose to bike, walk and use public transportation, so we can really control our carbon footprint that way and tread lightly on the earth, but this is one more way to really integrate that with our lifestyle. I certainly feel better about our ability to control our impact on the environment, without really having to diminish our quality of life.” Ian agrees, saying “It’s nice to know that we’re doing what we can in a limited way to offset our own impact.”

Ian on roof with panels2When they moved into their new home, Emily and Ian knew that they wanted to install solar. Since their roof and electrical wiring were new, Ian explains, “it was an easy shoe-in to get the solar panels installed. We had just moved into a new house about 6 months before and we expect we'll be staying here a while, so we figured this would be a good time to make that investment.”

From the start they wanted to work with a local company. Ian explains, "We decided it was better to go with a local business so we knew that the money - as much of the money as possible - would stay with the local economy." "TFS is just an awesome business that aligns with our values," says Emily, "I think that TFS walks the walk, so to speak, and does so much more to be energy efficient Family walking 1_weband sustainable both in installation, but also in their practice, it's really encouraging and something that makes us feel good not only about installing solar, but working with these people and this business."

Emily had initially been concerned about potential remodel and expansion options for the house: “We definitely had to weight our options with thinking about how we want to use this house over time, and how it may evolve if we ever want to make any adjustments or additions. What's really great is that this system is so efficient that it still leaves a lot of room on our roof. For example, if we ever wanted to add another room up there - a second story - we've got that option, and that's really great. Solar hasn't limited or confined our ability to modify as we move forward over the years."

Since their solar system was installed, Ian and Emily’s electric bills have been as low as $13 a month, covering the charge of being connected to the electricity grid; their solar system produced 97% of all the power they used last year. “It’s really nice to keep that money – to know we’re paying ourselves back for the investment we made,” says Ian. Apart from the low electric bill, Emily says, “I think the thing that’s Ian and Vern at computer_websurprising to me is just how little I actually think about the solar. You can’t see it, you never have to worry about maintenance, it’s kind of just integrated into our lifestyle, and that’s really convenient - one less thing to worry about.”

Ian on the other hand takes a different view: “I think about it all the time! I go to the monitoring site constantly. It makes me much more aware of how much power we’re actually using because I’m actually paying attention. I’m curious about how much we’re actually making vs. how much we’re using.”

While their main motivation was to offset their environmental footprint, it wasn’t the only reason to go solar. “One thing that I really like about having our solar installed,” says Emily, “is that our son, and any other children that we have down the line will grow Emily_webup with it being the norm. As normal as riding his bike to the store, or walking down the street to a friend's house."

For friends considering going solar, Emily says, “It’s really rewarding and I think it’s a great return on investment over the long term, and like I said, once it’s done you don’t even have to think about it. It’s there, it’s doing its job, it’s efficient, and you’ll be glad you did it for so many reasons.”

Meet Frank and Mona

DSCN0218 - Copy_webBehind every installation is a good story – meet Mona and Frank. Since moving into their home in 2001, Frank and Mona have been thinking about solar.  Their first step was to get a small solar battery system which operates a gate to their property.  “For the most part it works fantastic, and so for years we’ve been talking, trying to figure out if there is any way we can go solar for the house.” At the beginning though, it seemed “too cost-prohibitive,” explained Frank.  “We’re basically a single-income family here, so especially with kids in school and college the cost of solar just seemed to be really out of reach.”

Frank, who works for the City of Tucson, learned about TFS and the SunPower lease through the Solar Benefits Tucson (SBT) program in 2012.  He said, “It was just perfect timing; I saw the notice on the City of Tucson website where they talked about the SBT program, and I thought I would just jump in on that.  We looked at the cost and we figured that it would be about even for us, year long.”  For their home, solar covers 80-90% of what they use annually, and explains Frank, “In the past our The Hand's solar roof.  electric bills always more than doubled in the summer time; it would go over $400 in a month.  So far, with solar I haven’t paid anything this summer.”

Since installing solar, the Hands have become more aware of their electrical usage, and by using their SunPower data monitoring, they can track which activities are using the most electricity.  “There have been a couple of days where we’ve had electric spikes, and you’re looking at it, thinking ‘What did we do that day?’” Frank explained that as a result, “We know that when we use the washer and dryer, especially the dryer, it’s going to really jump.  Since having solar installed we’ve just become more cognizant of our use.”

Frank, who checks in on their system from his phone, tablet and computer says, “I was doing it every day for a while, you know how it is when you first get the system, but now I check every few days to see what’s going on with the usage, and just DSCN0247 - Copy_webmonitor it.  I’ll go on during the day and pull it up and to look at it and just to see what’s going on.”

While their main motivation behind going solar was financial, both Frank and Mona appreciate that their solar is also helping the planet.  “The fact is, going solar does help the environment: we all talk about the big climate changes and we must have some effect on that,” explains Frank.  “So hopefully by doing all of this, by installing solar, it will reduce that effect.”

In addition to installing solar, the Hands are dedicated recyclers: “all the light bulbs in the house are the energy efficient ones, and we’ve actually done that for years,” said Mona.

For the Hands, being environmentally and socially conscious is very important; in fact Mona is the Director and driving force for a 501(c)(3) non-profit they founded in 2002, called Kids Animals Life and Dreams (K.A.L.D.).  In 2009 K.A.L.D. Mona grooms one of their horses, which also works with the K.A.L.D. Program.  added a youth program called “Dreams in Motion”, which helps youth in foster care volunteer in the community to gain work experience.  Mona meets with the youth at a farm where they work with animals, which helps them build beneficial relationships.  As a volunteer, Mona works closely with Child Protective Services, providing transportation for the youth as they go to various locations to volunteer, where she often works with them side by side. By helping these youth learn how to become financially self-sustainable through employment, K.A.L.D. can make a positive impact on their future and our community.

The Hands want to share this advice to others thinking about going solar, “If you can afford it, do it.  Solar is a terrific option.  Going solar saves and it is better on the environment.  We’ve looked at a lot of different options over the years, and it’s just never financially been something do-able, until now.”

Meet Ingrid and Chris

Ingrid and Chris get their power from the sunBehind every great installation, there’s a good story -- meet Ingrid and Chris. Ingrid and Chris live in Oro Valley with their three cats, Quark, Kendall, and Jackson, a beautiful view of the Santa Catalina Mountains and a 5.89 kWh solar electricity (PV) system on their home.  Working at the University of Arizona, they were introduced to Technicians for Sustainability (TFS) through the Solar Benefits Tucson (SBT) Program.

When asked what inspired them to go solar, Ingrid said, “For me it wasn’t anything we had really talked about, but this opportunity came up that was so incredibly simple from our perspective that I just thought, 'well, why not?'  It really was as simple as that.” Chris added, “We’re interest in conserving nature, we enjoy getting outdoors, but the (SBT) program was probably the impetus to actually do something about it.  It started out looking easy, and then it turned out way easier than we thought it was going to be, in terms of the whole process.  That’s one of the things that was just amazing to us; how little we had to do!”

Their yard sign sits proudly in the front yardThey added that at first, they weren’t aware of any financial benefits associated with solar.  Chris and Ingrid decided to go solar with a pre-paid lease option which allows them to pay for all their electricity in advance and lets them see immediate savings on their electric bill.  Ultimately though, Chris said, “I don’t think the financial benefit is what drove the decision.  We’re in Arizona, why aren’t we doing solar?”

Chris, who teaches in a UA South online Master’s program from his solar-powered home office, is a huge fan of the data monitoring app which he checks frequently.  “In terms of looking at consumption and being more conscientious about turning things off now, I’m getting much better at shutting things down.  The joke is if you walk down the hall at night, my study looks like the landing strip at an airport because there’re so many flashing lights.”  The app helps them figure out which appliances are using the most electricity.  “It’s so much fun Picking Grapefruitto watch what is going on in your house and then try to figure out ‘Why did we get that spike at 2:00am?’ And it’s, ‘Oh yeah, we had the dish washer running.’”

In addition to keeping an eye on their electricity consumption, Ingrid and Chris are making other changes to make their home more ‘responsible.’  “In connection with going solar we’re going to have all the windows and doors replaced with double-paned glass to get a better insulating system.  That should help us save even more.”  Chris added, “I would consider solar a nudge now.  We went with solar electric, now we’re doing the windows, then water harvesting would be next.”

Meet Heather

Meet Heather

Meet Heather

Heather Severson is a mom, writer, a professional technology liaison at the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and a sustainability role model.  Her advice to those trying to go solar is pretty simple, “Start small; any step you take is in the right direction. It’ll make you feel good and it will pay for itself. There are so many non-quantifiable benefits to the planet and living right that there are no regrets, and you may find it addictive!” Heather has been interested in solar power since it first became available. She grew up in a home that composted and collected rainwater, and has continued to build on her environmentally conscious roots. As an adult and a homeowner, she was inspired by friends in the sustainability community to research solar. Now she is the inspiration for many others, including her children, neighbors and community members.

Heather was one of the first TFS customers to install solar electric (photovoltaic), solar hot water and rainwater harvesting all at once back in 2006. She recently added to her photovoltaic (PV) system by utilizing the Sun Power Lease and working with TFS through the Solar Benefits Tucson (SBT) Program.  Heather says the TFS mission statement of putting values into action really resonates with her.  She had a “perfect experience” and couldn’t imagine going anyplace else.

Her upgraded system now has data monitoring. “Monitoring is huge!” says Heather, who works for the UA from home and is able to use the data monitoring system as a tool to continually lower her family’s power usage. She has an alarm set for solar peaks and takes these opportunities to do laundry and other high power use activities.

In fact, Heather and her two sons have made their home into a bit of an ecology and energy sciences laboratory. Heather’s boys are growing up in an environment where conserving energy and water and helping the planet are “just normal, it’s what we do. That’s what humans do, take care of the earth.” The Severson brothers are Earth Helpers, a group they founded with their young friends to care for the planet. They make their own signs as reminders to close doors, turn off lights and use less electricity. They have even adjusted their bath times to synchronize with optimal solar thermal hot water availability. The yard is an extension of their experimentation. Right now, they are researching beneficial plants that use less water, starting to grow vegetables and converting their lawn “chunk by chunk” into little gardens.  Heather’s next step will be some gray water support for their gardening.

Heather believes, “We have a big mess to clean up. It wasn’t our fault, we didn’t make it, but we still have to deal with it.” Heather and her Earth Helpers are doing much more than just dealing with it. From the collection of solar powered toys, including a solar-charged scooter, to the fact that working from home means Heather drives less and has a solar powered office, the Seversons are inspiring others to be Earth Helpers.

Meet Tim and J'Fleur

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet Tim and J’Fleur. The Lohmans have turned their home into a working model of sustainability by installing a solar electric (PV) system, solar hot water, and a rainwater harvesting cistern at their home located in Tucson’s Milagro co-housing community.

Preserving the environment has always been important to the Lohmans. They moved to Southern Arizona from Illinois in 1984. After experiencing over 300 days of sunshine, they figured, “We have all of this sun; this must be the most sensible way to produce electricity. Especially when we think about the alternative, coal, which is just awful for us,“ explained J’Fleur. “Why wouldn’t every house here have solar hot water and PV, after all the sun is producing sunshine everyday?”

Tim explained their process in going solar, “We felt that we had to live what we were professing. We didn’t need to be convinced of the benefits of solar. It was just a matter of finding a good company to do the installation. So, I decided to visit TFS during their annual Open House party, and there was a really neat feeling generated with the people that work there. You can tell there’s something unique taking place, and the values of the workplace are wonderful. It’s the type of company I would like to work for, if I were in the position. It’s so unusual to see a company that really is mission driven."

“We installed a 2.07kW solar electric (PV) system. Because of the layout of our roof, we could only install a system that would meet half of our energy needs. However, our PV system works as a motivator for us. We try to find as many different ways as possible to keep our electricity consumption down. We purchased a Kill-A-Watt meter that lets us see how much electricity different appliances use, so we can turn these things off or unplug them when not in use,” said Tim.

“For years, we’ve been conscious of both our electricity and water usage.  It’s important to educate others in our community about conserving and how easy it can be,” Tim explained. Tim and J’Fleur take efforts to conserve water in addition to electricity by only using 50 gallons of water per day.  This is quite a notable effort, considering that the average Tucsonan uses 120 gallons of water per day.

“Another motivator for me to conserve water was my pond, “ said Tim, “I love ponds, but they can be viewed as wasteful, because the water evaporates. I knew that I could make it work even with a tight water budget.  I cut back on my water usage in other areas. So my pond is another motivator for me, to see how I can conserve in other areas. I don’t want to be deprived from what I really enjoy. It’s all about balance. We don’t want to be extreme in our lifestyle; we want to show others that you can live lightly and still maintain a very fulfilling life.“

J’Fleur offered advice to others considering going solar, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to provide electricity for yourself and others, because all of the extra electricity we produce goes back into the system and then to our neighbors. As stewards of the earth, I think that’s our obligation. We receive so much from the earth; solar is something that we can do to give back.

Meet Kate

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet Kate Flax. Kate has turned her home into a working model of sustainability having installed a solar electric system, solar hot water and a significant water harvesting system, which includes two 620 gallon tanks and a 10,000 gallon underground concrete cistern, which feeds into her home’s water supply.

Kate is a busy and very special person, spending her time caring for her mother. For Kate, these renewable energy systems are part of her 10-year financial plan.  “While I knew it was the right thing to do environmentally, it had to work financially for me,” said Kate.

Being environmentally as well as financially minded comes from Kate's childhood. Having spent her childhood  without much money, living in a rented farm house, Kate remembers learning the basics of conservation at a young age -- shutting off the lights and the water when not in use, to save money. She smiles and refers to it as "poverty induced conservation."

For Kate, the process of making her home more sustainable started small. When she moved into her west Tucson home, after leaving the east coast, the first thing she did was plant a container garden, so that her mother could sit in the garden and watch the plants grow.  After the garden’s success, Kate decided to install gutters on one side of her house in order to harvest the rainwater that would pour off of her roof during Tucson’s monsoon storms. It wasn’t long after that, Kate thought, “Why am I doing this half-way? If I’m going to do this, for long term reasons, I want to do it all the way."

Kate wanted to generate clean electricity as well as reduce her daily living expenses to free up cash for things other than utility bills. “I’m looking at 10 years. Then, I’ll be completely self-sustaining. Until then, I’ll be enjoying lower bills.  While taking care of my mother, I need to be living my life to the fullest, not worrying about bills,” adds Kate.

"Most people would invest in stocks and bonds, but to me these systems are real, this is it. This is part of my plan; I’m investing in my future."  Her investment is likely to see an income and savings of over $650 a year, tax free, for 25 years, and this number will continue to increase as utility rates rise.

For every supplemental kilowatt hour that Kate’s solar electric system generates, Tucson Electric Power, will give her credit toward her next months utility bill.  Kate’s solar electric system is made up of sixteen, 230 Watt SunPower solar panels, which are expected to generate, 6408 kilowatt hours annually.

Meet the Trudinger-Smith Family

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet the Trudinger-Smith family. Ash and Lisa Anne, along with their three children, have turned their central Tucson home into a working model of sustainability by installing a 4.73 kW solar electric (PV) system in January 2011.

Their primary goal when deciding to install solar was to generate clean electricity; however, they are also enjoying that the system helps reduce their utility bills to free up funds for things other than paying bills. And, with a young family they see themselves in the house for many years to come. According to Ash, “We had been living in our house for about 11 years and we finally decided that there was no reason to keep waiting. We’re in a great house and neighborhood that we love.”

Although for the Trudinger-Smith family, installing solar was a green statement and an investment in the future of their children, they wanted their actions to serve as a motivator for others in their neighborhood. According to Lisa Anne, “If you live in a place as sunny as Tucson, and if you can afford to have solar it seems like a travesty to not have it.”

“Solar panels are more than just feel good technology, because it requires no coal or water.  Currently, we burn a trainload of coal per day to provide electricity to Tucson. Environmentally, it makes the most sense. All of the labor and materials that it took to manufacture these panels will be recouped in 2 years,” said Ash.

“We wanted to get 100% of our power from solar, I don’t want to use any coal generated electricity. We have 22 SunPower high-efficiency panels. Currently, we’re making more electricity than we’re using.

“Since we installed the system, it’s amazing how many of our neighbors have stopped by to ask questions,” said Lisa Anne. “And, Ash enjoys checking the consumption meter throughout the day. He’s constantly saying ‘Who’s using any electricity’? Then he goes around and turns off lights, which is great.“

Agreeing, Ash laughed and explained, “We have a SunPower performance monitoring account, so I can get on the computer and compare our electricity consumption to our production. The kids have been excited about the solar, but they don’t care about the consumption meter. I’m the only one who cares about the consumption. I find it fascinating to find out how much we are using and which appliances and lifestyle actions tend to use the most electricity. Something I found interesting was that on cleaning day, we have a tendency to use more electricity. I see a spike when I run the vacuum, and I can see a difference in the consumption meter when we watch TV.”

Ash offers simple straightforward advice for others considering going solar, “Get it done sooner than later, you’ll be happy you did,” Ash laughs and says “this also happens to be my advice for having children.”

Meet Mari and Jerry

Meet Mari and Jerry

Mari shows off her solar

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet Mari and Jerry. Mari Sorri and Jerry Gill installed a 3 kW solar electric (PV) system on their home located in Vail, in 2009. After moving from Oro Valley, they purchased a plot of land and built their home. To these self proclaimed “Earth lovers," they felt it was important to disturb the land as little as possible.

Also, for Mari and Jerry conservation is a daily reality. Mari explains, “We live on our own well, and share it with 12 other households, so water becomes a real issue. We only use water for our small garden, and a few potted plants. We try to live as unobtrusively as possible, and solar fits in with this philosophy.”

Mari, who’s originally from Finland and came here for the sun, was the initial driving force behind the plan to go solar.  She explains, "Solar in Arizona is a 'no brainer'. We hardly ever see a cloudy day, so it seemed that if we could possibly manage it, we should do it. To me, the cost was like buying a small car, but unlike a car, solar pays for itself after a few years and offsets your electricity bills for the next 25 years.”

Jerry laughs when he admits that he didn't think solar was a possibility for them at first. He smiles when he says, "I thought Mari was nuts." However, after running the numbers, Mari and Jerry saw that it was not only a possibility, it was a smart financial investment. Jerry adds, "We now have a 3 kW system and that covers our electricity usage. We are planning on getting an electric car, and we’ll charge it with our PV system.  We produce so much electricity, we’ll never have to pay for gas.”

Mari explains the steps she took to find the right solar installer, “I attended 3 or 4 presentations by solar installers at Academy Village, and it didn’t take long to figure out who TFS was. It was such a clear choice to go with TFS. I found out that TFS has a grant program where they donate a solar system to non-profits, and a friend of mine told me that TFS also commutes to their installations by bicycle, I thought ‘wow, they really walk the talk’. Then Kevin from TFS came to our house for a site visit, he was so sensitive to our questions and very articulate. He can translate solar into a language that’s really easy to understand. He listens to your questions, to make sure he understands what you’re asking, without going into a sales pitch. It was a wonderful conversation and we were impressed."

Mari, a multi-faceted artist, enjoys making beautiful pottery and is proud of the fact that their solar electric system offsets the high electricity usage that comes with operating her kiln. To Mari, it feels good to know that she can create solar powered pottery.

Jerry stays quite busy playing basketball whenever possible, sculpting, and working as a professor of environmental ethics at Pima Community College. At the end of the semester, Jerry’s students take a field trip to his home, where he shows them how to live more sustainably. “I look at our home as a demo site to show others how it can be done, simply,” Jerry says.

Mari and Jerry agree that there is one piece of advice they would offer others who were considering going solar, “Just do it. It’s easy to want to do it, and hope to do it in the future, but until you make the intention and put it on your calendar, it will never happen. Make an appointment with yourself and just get the ball rolling, you’ll be so happy that you did.”

Meet Mohyeddin

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet Mohyeddin. Mohyeddin Abdulaziz has turned his home into a working model of sustainability by installing solar electric and solar hot water systems as well as rainwater harvesting cisterns. He is no stranger to renewable energy systems, having installed solar hot water during the Reagan administration.

Mohyeddin explains, "Solar has always been on my mind. We have the sun, how do we make use of it? Many parts of the world use solar energy, so I have been aware of it for a long time. When there was the opportunity for me to install my first solar hot water system 25 years ago, I did it."

As an avid gardener and someone who commutes solely by bike, Mohyeddin says the key to happiness is simple: you must work to positively influence your surroundings. “I am Palestinian and I was raised to appreciate the land, the earth, the plants, sun, and rain, I have always been close to nature, it’s where my heart is. I always saw my father working on the land. And that’s how my appreciation for nature started.“

This nature advocate looks at his solar energy systems, water harvesting, biking, and gardening as pieces to a bigger picture, “Not only do each of these steps compliment one another, but they contribute to a good life both from a health perspective and a financial perspective. The math tells you how beneficial installing these systems is financially. You save money on your electric bill, water bill, gas for the car, and growing your own vegetables saves you money on your groceries.  But what I really enjoy is the amazing feeling that you are not only benefitting as an individual, or only benefitting your family, but you are doing a great thing by helping the environment and humanity, in general. “

Mohyeddin explains his process in going solar, “When we thought about going solar in 2008, we had many people come and give us estimates. We decided to go with TFS, not only because of the competitive price, but the approach was completely different. TFS came and took measurements, spent a lot of time answering all of my questions, and provided a lot of information.  There was no ambiguity about it. It’s important to tell people what they are getting and how it will work for them. TFS told me what they where going to do, and they did exactly that. And, the installers are great people. We are very satisfied."

Mohyeddin offers two bits of advice for others considering going solar, “It’s not as expensive as many people think, when you figure in the utility rebate and the tax credits. But, people need to know that the financial incentives will not be there forever, so it's best to do it sooner rather than later.  Others may also want to know that you can also install solar in stages. You can get a system with a few panels and add to it down the road. This is exactly what we did; we added 1.72 kW onto our 5.15 kW system a year and a half after we first installed it.  The important thing is to just get started, so you can see the advantages."

Meet Bill and Linnea

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet Bill and Linnea. After several years of considering the costs and benefits of solar, Bill and Linnea Boaz, whose background is in finance, installed a solar electric (PV) system in October 2009.  The tax credits and utility rebate made it financially viable for these SaddleBrooke residents to go solar.

Prior to installing a system, Linnea had noticed a number of things that seemed wasteful, and not utilizing the sun in Southern Arizona was one of them. However, Bill was concerned it would not be a sensible investment, but regardless he decided to get quotes from several solar installers in town.

Bill explains,  “I interviewed 4 different companies, and TFS came to the top immediately. When the owner of the company comes out and is knowledgeable and can answer all of your questions, that’s impressive. It’s also great to know that our system was installed by a founding company of the Southern Arizona Solar Standards Board, since it’s hard to tell which company will do good work and which ones won’t," said Bill.

"We’re in a retirement community, and there are a number of people here who have gone solar, but there are also many who have not." When he asks his neighbors if they're considering going solar, "often times I’ll hear someone say in response, 'I’m too old, I’ll never live long enough to recoup my investment.'  And, I explain that they're just not looking at it right. It’s not a recouping of your investment, it’s a yield. You've got money out there today earning a half of one percent and that’s taxable. When you put your money into a solar electric system, you’re going to get about 12% a year and that’s tax free. Where else can you go and get a tax-free return like that in this marketplace?"

Linnea added, " We've also noticed that having a solar powered home is much more attractive to buyers. We’ve already had people tell us that if we ever want to sell our home, they're interested."

Linnea and Bill have encountered something they were not expecting with their system. "We've been pleasantly surprised that the system has produced more power than was expected. We have a 5.16 kW system, and out of the 18 months we’ve had our system it has exceeded the production estimation 15 of these months. We're seeing that each month our electricity consumption is lower than it was during the same month of the previous year.

"Now that we're aware of the usage, we turn the lights off, and use dimmers.  We adjust our thermostat. Even though we have all of this free electricity now, we don’t waste it we are still very careful about how we use it.  We are generating so much supplemental electricity, we can put in a hot tub, and power it for free. It’s funny, I thought we’d go a bit more nuts since we had all of this extra electricity, let’s turn the lights on, let’s turn the AC down to 70, let’s use it. But it’s not in our nature. In general, we're pretty frugal, so we don’t do that," Linnea shared.

Bill shared some advice for others considering solar for their home, "Do your research, talk to others who’ve done it, and get all of your questions answered. Then, be prepared to pay next to nothing for your utility bills."

Meet Leona

Behind every great installation, there's a good story -- meet Leona. Leona Davis has turned her home into a working model of sustainability by installing a solar electric (PV) system as well as a water harvesting system. Leona's background is in plants, the environment and water, which she puts into action in her position at the Tucson Community Food Bank. She sees many pieces to the sustainability puzzle: Southern Arizona's water issues, electricity generation, people and plants. Over 3 million gallons of water are used every day for Southern Arizona's electricity production, which is equivalent to what we use for agricultural purposes. For Leona, it's important to consider the social change that's connected to environmental change, as well as the possibility of attaining environmental justice through social justice. How we get our energy is part of the big picture change.

While studying natural resources at the University of Arizona (UA), Leona worked with several student groups to implement positive environmental change by installing water harvesting cisterns throughout campus and by starting a water harvesting course that is still taught at UA every year. She also had a hand in the solar panel donation that currently helps to power the UA Visitor Center, which was the first UA building to utilize solar power.

Leona purchased her home in 2008 and at any given time has between three and six roommates sharing her central Tucson bungalow.  "Several months after I bought the house, I took out a loan to fund a handful of home improvement projects, which included the PV system. I looked at the solar system as an investment, that would lower our utility bills and save us a lot of money in the long run," explained Leona.

"I had a 2.3 kW system installed in December of 2008. I wanted to put as much solar on my roof as possible; however, space was an issue. In order to deal with the limited roof space, I went with 10 SunPower 230 watt solar panels. Since they are the most efficient panels out there, you get more power out of a smaller space."

"I’m psyched to show off my panels.  That I'm not burning fossil fuels. My goal was to create a demonstration space that would illustrate to people in my community the sustainable steps anyone can take to create an urban homestead, and hopefully inspire them to do something similar, " adds Leona.

"Although, I have hardwired habits, like turning off lights, I’m not fanatical about being conservative. During the spring, we pay nothing for our electricity usage, and sometimes we overproduce, which means we get credit from the utility company. In the winter  and summer we tend to use more electricity, but the bill is still low, in the $10 range."

The only surprise that Leona encountered along the way was how quickly and easily everything came together, with the total installation only taking one day.

Leona offered one bit of advice, "Generally, in our culture, younger people are not geared toward investing. Often times we will see the price of something and think, 'wow, that’s too much, there's no way I'm doing that.' But they don’t think about what that price entails socially, environmentally, as well as financially. Really thinking about the benefits of solar long term isn’t something that many young people do and I think that's important to consider when deciding to forgo fossil fuels and install solar."