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The Home of the Future

Published:6/25/2011 10:37:12 AM    View:2508
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As temperatures reach into the 90s, the idea of powering our homes and businesses with the sun makes a lot of sense. And one company is making full use of this emerging technology to sell homes in south Petaluma.

Lennar, a Miami-based company, is marketing their new Riverview development, at McNear Avenue and Mission Drive as energy efficient, a place where residents can feel good about doing their part to lower dependance on fossil fuels.

The homes start at $600,000 and will have solar panels on the roofs, energy that will be fed directly into their Pacific Gas and Electric meters. In other words, instead of PG&E producing and distributing the energy, it will be the homes that produce and sell energy back to the company.

Solar power is generated through two means - photovoltaic, in which light is converted through the use of panels directly into energy; and solar thermal, in which liquid is first heated by solar energy then utilized.

The Riverview project makes use of standard photovoltaic designs - specifically east and west facing solar panels that can make use of the maxim sunlight available during the day.

In addition to solar panels, the homes have dishwashers that use less water and energy, sealed and insulated ducts that cut down on heating and cooling expenses, low flush toilets and formaldehyde-free insulation that's mold and mildew resistant.

John, an owner of one of the new homes in the development who did not want to give his last name, said the idea of selling back energy to PG&E was a major selling point in his decision to purchase his home.

“It definitely made a difference being able to soak up credits that essentially reduce my energy bill every time the sun is out. If I go out of town for an extended period, I could conceivably come back home and PG&E would owe me money,” he said with a grin.

The development falls in line with federal and California initiatives designed to reach the goal of half of all new homes using solar power by 2020. President Obama has set a goal of 85 percent of all American domestic energy production coming from renewable sources by 2035.

Solar power is an ancient form of energy that has been utilized since the people in ancient Rome first installed glass windows on their buildings as a way of trapping heat. But it has been the recent spike in oil prices - specifically the major oil shortages during the 1970s and the gasoline price increases of the last decade - which have re-emphasized the need to advance renewable energy sources.

One of the biggest reasons people do not make their homes or businesses more efficient is the high up-front costs of major efficiency upgrades, even though they save money in the long run.

But in Sonoma County, residents have long had the ability to fund solar and other energy savings upgrades of their homes through the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program that allows homeowners to finance the costs of switching to solar (which can often cost as much as $35,000) by tacking the bill on to their property taxes.

That's what Jennifer and Pat Cunningham of Rohnert Park did when they decided to add solar power to their home.

"We love it. We took advantage of the Sonoma County program and our plan will pay for itself in nine years. It reduced and stabilized our basic energy costs, and it made us more aware of how much energy we were using. We are more efficient about energy now as a result," said Jennifer Cunningham.

Under Sonoma County's PACE program, property owners are given the option of financing energy, water and renewable energy improvements through a voluntary assessment on their property tax bills. According to the county, property tax assessments are attached to the property, not the property owner.

If the property is sold, the assessment stays with the property. One drawback however is eligible equipment must be permanently attached to existing buildings. New construction does not qualify for this benefit.

Policy experts say local programs such as PACE are making a difference in transitioning the nation away from fossil fuels and towards energy primarily derived from renewable resources.

"These projects represent an important step in the development of solar as an affordable, clean energy resource in this country," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu at a recent press conference. "By investing in the commercial-scale deployment of solar technologies, we can create greater efficiencies that will lower the cost of solar power while creating jobs and increasing our global competitiveness in this key industry."

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