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Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Book on PA Solar Energy - Review by Bob Flatley

If you are a Pennsylvania homeowner with an interest in solar power Vera Cole's new book is for you. This hands-on, practical book is written to introduce solar power to the homeowner. It is not a technical manual on how to do an installation, instead it covers every aspect of the decision making process from concept to budgeting to the steps involved in arranging an installation.

The strength of the book lies in her simple yet clear advice guiding the homeowner through the decision making process. The book begins by describing how solar works then goes step by step through all the considerations a homeowner will need to make to decide whether solar might be a good choice for their property.

Of particular interest to Pennsylvanians is Cole's thorough explanation of the new federal and state incentives that can substantially reduce the final cost of a solar installation. She estimates that the average homeowner could save as much as 50% of the total cost of an installation. She covers the implications of state tax and rebate policy, including the latest changes in the law.

One question that people often ask is "How much can a homeowner save with solar electric or solar hot water?" This question is tricky to answer since the cost of fossil fuel-generated electricity can’t be predicted, nor can the future tax and rebate policies be foreseen. Nevertheless, Cole provides homeowners with some quick and easy calculations that can provide a rough answer to this crucial question. Another fuzzy area that the book makes clearer is Renewable Energy Credits. The market for RECs is in its infancy so there is no sure way to determine how homeowners might benefit. The author explains how RECs work and what a homeowner might expect to get from selling them.

The focus of the book is on the payback period for investment in solar. She seeks to answer the question: As an investment, does solar make sense for you? The book provides a way for readers to come to their own decision. If the answer is yes, the book includes advice and a checklist for homeowners to review; useful before, during, and after the installation.

The book itself is a statement of sustainability. It was written, designed, produced and printed in Pennsylvania on 100% post-consumer waste paper, produced at a plant powered by biogas. The book is published by the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association (MAREA), the sponsor of Pennsylvania's largest green festival - the PA Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival held every year in Berks County, PA. The author serves as MAREA’s Director of Local Power and holds degrees in mechanical and industrial engineering.

The book is a short and useful introduction and reference to a confusing area for many homeowners. It includes a very useful companion web site that provides more information in critical areas and the “SunnyMoney” online calculator that easily and quickly generates many of the figures a homeowner will need as they consider going solar. You can learn more about the book and try out the SunnyMoney calculator at


This review will be published in the Sylvanian, the magazine of the PA Sierra Club. Bob Flatley is the chair of the Kittatinny Group. He served on the original planning committee that started the PA Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Festival and continues to volunteer at the event.

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