Pure Energy

A Manhattan Beach family turns up the solar power and reaps the benefits.

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  • Written by
    Stefan Slater

Jim and Lisa Schlager have no regrets when it comes to their decision to install a solar system on the roof of their Manhattan Beach home. “It’s one of the best investments that I’ve ever made,” says Jim, who works locally with Moss Adams, LLP. “For where we are, it makes a lot of sense.”

Jim and his family are one of many households in California who invest in solar. In 2013 state residents invested $7.1 billion to install solar systems for their homes, businesses and utility use, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That investment represents an 83% increase from 2012, and that overall growth is expected to continue.

Southern California receives a great deal of sunlight throughout the year, making solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) systems an excellent option when it comes to pursuing clean, renewable energy.

“Imagine if you could buy a milking cow that you didn’t have to feed, and it could generate all the milk you need for the rest of your life,” says Ben Lochtenberg, president of Xero Solar in Manhattan Beach. “Buying a solar system is kind of that for electricity.”

Though PV technology has existed nationally since the 1950s, the technology has gradually improved over the last few decades, making the installation, cost and use of solar far simpler, cost-effective and more efficient. The Solar Energy Industries Association notes that national prices for installation of residential and commercial PV systems have dropped 39% from 2010. Furthermore, solar has become especially relevant recently, as the state government has continued to encourage the growth of clean, renewable energy in California.

“We have saltwater fish tanks, plus we have kids that seem to leave the lights on all the time,” says Jim. “Our electrical bill is probably higher than a lot of homes.”

Solar systems can certainly help South Bay residents reduce their monthly electric bill, and depending on availability and eligibility, there are also tax credits and rebates available that help with the overall system cost.

In Jim and Lisa’s case, they were looking to cut down on their monthly electric bill while also doing their part to help the environment. (They’re also in the process of getting an electrical car.) After doing some research on local contractors and picking the one that worked best for him, Jim made the decision to purchase a solar system for his home (rather than leasing) and went ahead with the installation.

“We have a flat roof,” says Jim, “which is very conducive to solar.” The total system cost of the project was around $39,000, but Jim qualified for a state rebate of $2,000 and was also eligible for a federal tax credit of 30%.

Currently, Jim is saving roughly $400 a month on his electric bill. “It’s an internal rate of return of over 20% with about a 5½-, six-year breakeven,” says Jim.

In addition, the system utilizes something called Net Energy Metering (NEM). This option allows a resident to receive a credit for any surplus electricity that the solar system might supply back to the electric utility grid. This credit can then be applied to the resident’s electric bill to help with the costs that may occur for any energy that’s consumed (say, for instance, when the system isn’t operating because it’s nighttime or cloudy).

Pleased with his solar so far, Jim notes that there’s little maintenance, and because there are no moving parts, the system can last for years.

Other South Bay residents are also recognizing the potent effectiveness of solar power, albeit in different forms. Sarah Akin is the founder and CEO of Zon Technology, which produces the Powersol™—a system that combines solar technology, an umbrella and a charging station to power a wide range of mobile devices.

Two years ago, Sarah was vacationing in Las Vegas. While she was relaxing by the pool, her iPad kept dying. She didn’t have a readily available way to charge her device either, which gave her an idea.

“They’re doing solar on houses and solar for businesses and corporations,” says Sarah. “So why don’t they have solar on an umbrella when you see everyone around a pool on their mobile devices?”

Together with her co-founders, Cameron Welborn-Wilson and her husband, Robert, Sarah worked to create a device that could solve her particular mobile power dilemma. She worked with Coupage Design to create the Powersol™: it utilizes a number of solar panels on an umbrella, which charges a hub at user-level. This unit is completely solar-powered, featuring a lithium ion battery and three charging ports.

Sarah notes, “With three mobile phones connected to it, with no sun, will still charge for 16½ hours.”

Currently the device is a business-to-business item, with retail being a possibility in the near future. A variety of local businesses, country clubs and schools, such as Loyola Marymount University and Windward School, will have the units available for use in the near future. Furthermore, local South Bay residents will soon be able to test a Powersol™ at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.  
With such a plentiful resource so readily available, it makes sense for South Bay residents to turn to the sun for their energy needs. Jim adds that he takes pride in knowing he’s doing his part to help the environment by relying on clean, renewable energy.

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