Paul Triolo lives in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. After putting solar panels on the home he shares with his wife, Paul has now become an evangelist who helps his neighbors go solar.
His story illustrates that the most powerful form of encouragement, when it comes to spreading solar, is a good example.
The Power of an Example
Paul had been thinking about solar for years. But it was the example of neighbors going solar that helped the Triolos to finally take the plunge.
“A retired couple did it first and was an inspiration for us,” Paul said. “Our street now has four solar installations on the block and in our neighborhood, there are half a dozen, compared to none a couple years ago. The concept of the consortium is catching on, when you can cut the cost. It seems like a good model.”
The Triolos purchased their system through a local coop program run by a non-profit group called MD SUN. Also called Solarize Programs, solar coops are a way for neighbors who want solar to pool their purchases and qualify for a bulk discount.
“We reserved the installation through a consortium in Montgomery County, getting a group 15-20% discount,” Paul explained. “We were a little bit late in the game, but the company still gave us the discount. They were good about that and they wanted the business. They even gave the couple who recommended us two years ago a referral bonus.”
After taking the 30% federal tax credit for solar equipment, the cost to install 32 monocrystalline photovoltaic panels made by Suniva with a total capacity of 8.4 kilowatts on the Triolos’ roof was about $16,000. Paul paid for the system with a combination of a zero-interest loan, a home equity line of credit and an inheritance from Paul’s Uncle Vito.
“My uncle was a big environmentalist and he would have loved this solar system,” Paul said.
Before getting solar, the Triolos made other investments in energy efficiency and clean energy, including installing a geothermal heat pump and buying two green cars — one hybrid and the other electric.
“When you get a solar system you get more conscious about all sorts of extraneous energy use including vampire appliances,” Paul explained. “We’ve also done a lot of energy efficiency upgrades on the house, the basement and the attic. We’re going to replace all the aging windows by winter.”
A Payback that’s More than Financial
The Triolos hope that the solar system will generate 90% of the power they need throughout the year, which will save them $200-$300 a month off both their electricity and gas bills. At that rate, Paul thinks the solar will pay for itself within seven years. And having solar on the roof will add to the resale value of the Triolos’ house. But the payback for Paul isn’t just financial.
“You make your decision to buy based on the whole package, the future of the planet, what kind of system you’re leaving for whoever buys the house.”
That’s one reason why Paul is glad that the company that installed the Triolos’ system offers a referral program for existing customers to help recruit their neighbors as new solar customers.
“The company, Solar Energy World, pays us $500 for referrals. We got our first check this week. We’re expecting another one soon, in DC. Another couple in Maryland we know is also considering it. And then we’re going to have an open house here next month to show off what’s essentially a zero-energy house.”
Since he recently retired as an analyst on China with the State Department to join a private consulting firm that helps multinational corporations deal with risks in doing business abroad, Paul is now free of restrictions against lobbying placed on federal workers.
He plans to use his new freedom to start advocating for better public policy to encourage more homeowners to go solar. He has always supported political candidates who care about the environment and now he wants to help make a difference on climate change.
Paul’s Big Issue
“I travel around a lot. We do a lot of hiking,” Paul said, and he sees the impact of climate change firsthand.
It’s really scary to see what’s happening with tree health, drought, and invasive insects that are taking advantage of the drought. I’m trying to figure out how I help on the tree health issue. We were in California last summer in the big trees area, right in the middle of massive tree death from drought and insect infestation. Even around here in Maryland, you go up to Frederick and the Catoctin Mountains, the tree health is really bad. You see the same kind of thing in Pennsylvania. A lot of that is invasive species also. Climate change has opened the door to beetles and a lot of insects from China unfortunately — green lantern and emerald borer.
For Paul, as for many solar homeowners, advocating for clean energy does begin with setting a good example for others. “I read a lot of Naomi Klein. It’s important to do advocacy at the political level, but I agree with her that change is going to come from the bottom up. You need both of them.”
On the political level, Paul supports public policy that levels the playing field for solar power with traditional energy, helping to make solar more affordable.
“A carbon tax could be the thing if done in a proper way that could help the solar industry take off. Maybe you need a Republican to make something this big happen, someone like [Treasury Secretary Steven] Mnuchin, not a typical pro-environment guy.”
Still, Paul isn’t holding his breath for major climate solutions to come from the top anytime soon. That’s why his main form of solar outreach for the near future will be spreading the word to his neighbors and encouraging them to go solar too.
“I’ve decided to focus at the grassroots level and keep the momentum going. The more neighbors who see and understand the economics are going to help drive it. We’re lucky we live in a sort of rich county where people can afford it.”
— Erik Curren, The Solar Patriot