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'I want people to … know it's out there and it works'

 

JAMIE KOMARNICKI
From Friday's Globe and Mail
June 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM EDT

 

Top, Jed Goldberg checks how much energy his solar panels are delivering. Below, Solar panels on the roof at 31 Pinewood Ave., one of the homes on the Cedervale tour. (ASHLEY HUTCHESON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
   

People passing by Jed Goldberg's midtown Toronto home tend to do a double-take, craning their necks to see the assorted panels, tubes and other equipment on its roof.

The solar-powered systems heat water and provide electricity to Mr. Goldberg's four-bedroom, three-bathroom detached house near Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue.

"I've rammed as many solar panels on my roof as I could possibly have fit," he says. "There just isn't any more real estate up there."
Last summer, he joined a growing number of Toronto homeowners harnessing the sun when he installed a $22,000 solar photovoltaic system to produce electricity and a $3,000 solar thermal water-heating unit — both at the high end in terms of size and price.

"It's quite comical. People walk by my house [and] they kind of stop and look up at my roof. I guess it's a bit of a novelty," Mr. Goldberg says.

Starting at 11 a.m. tomorrow, however, curious residents will have a chance to talk to Mr. Goldberg, and find out more about what he's done. His residence on Pinewood Avenue is one stop on Toronto's first solar house tour

Organized by the Toronto Renewable Energy Co-operative (TREC), the free, guided 90-minute tour is part of a day-long green festival called "Strawberries and Asparagus" in Cedarvale Park. The tour will cover four residential installations, giving the curious the chance to

chat with homeowners who have taken the solar plunge.

It should help dispel uncertainties that linger around the technology, says Judy Lipp, executive director of TREC. Concerns over cost, appearance and whether a Toronto winter really provides enough sunlight to heat a home are some of the most burning solar queries, she says.

The tour "provides an important reassurance: 'Hey, this stuff works,'" Ms. Lipp adds.
A hydrogen-powered bus will take tour-goers first to the home of Debra Anthony, who lives on Menin Road near Eglinton Avenue and Bathurst. Her residence was the first to have a solar photovoltaic system installed under the West Toronto Initiative for Solar Energy (WISE), a community group launched last year that has ties to TREC.

From there, the group will visit the nearby home of Ms. Anthony's sister to check out two solar thermal systems, for home and pool.

"We want people to see how unobtrusive the solar hot water (unit) is on top of the house," says Marilyn Anthony. "I want people to … know it's out there and it works."

The tour will wind its way to Mr. Goldberg's home, then down Pinewood to Arun Muhkerjee's house, which also has both photovoltaic and solar thermal systems.

Solar thermal systems, which generally cost about $3,000, heat water before transferring it to a tank.
Photovoltaic systems convert sunlight to electricity, powering everything from refrigerator to toaster. Initial costs are high, from $20,000 to $30,000 for substantial systems.

But the units are long-term investments, more a big leap than a baby step toward saving the environment, says Ken Traynor, a member of TREC who organized the solar-home tour.
Green consciousness aside, investing in solar energy can insulate consumers from energy-price fluctuations, Mr. Traynor adds.

Last year, TREC's sister organization, Our Power, installed 71 photovoltaic systems and 54 solar hot-water systems through the WISE project. Mr. Traynor believes that doubling those numbers would roughly reflect how many have been installed by Toronto homeowners in the past couple of years.

Five years ago, "only a handful of mostly small systems" had been installed on Toronto roofs," he adds.
"There's just a lot more focus on renewable energy [today]," Mr. Traynor says. "Energy prices are helping people think differently about how energy is used."

Mr. Goldberg says 75 per cent of his hot water is heated by the sun, and 40 per cent of his electricity is solar-sourced. Right now, he's getting credits on his hydro bills. (He is considered a small energy producer by the Ontario Power Authority, and all energy created must be transferred back to the grid. He's paid 42 cents a kilowatt hour, and buys it back from the grid at seven cents a kilowatt hour.)

He says, however, that his decision to go solar was environmentally, not financially, motivated.
"There's nothing different from my house than anyone else's house aside from the fact we've decided to take ownership of our responsibility to minimize our impact on the environment, specifically with the energy we're using," Mr. Goldberg says.

The first solar house tour starts at 11 a.m. tomorrow from Cedarvale Park, which is at 433 Arlington Ave., south of Eglinton and west of Bathurst. For more information, go to.

 
 
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