The 11th annual DFW Solar Tour will be held online Oct. 3. Above, Paul Westbrook gives a video tour of his rooftop in Fairview. Courtesy of DFW Solar Tour.
Sept. 29, 2020
You may not be able to tug on wires or tap on glass, but one of the area’s most informative events on how to get started with renewable energy is going forward this year despite COVID-19.
For the first year, the 11th annual DFW Solar Tour will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct.3 - totally online.
The live event conducted by the nonprofit North Texas Renewable Energy Group is free and offers participants a chance to learn the basics of renewable energy and get their questions answered on the topic of implementing their own clean energy adoption strategy.
“Well, just like everybody else, we have had to go virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Rosa Orenstein, NTREG chair and tour coordinator. ”We're going for quality this year instead of quantity, so we now have eight sites, with for example, the Plano Environmental Center, which has interactive activities, to our most highly visited homes and businesses over the last few years.”
Orenstein says online participants can tour the featured locations via a series of professional videos uploaded to the tour site that present the details of each solar energy installation and its capabilities. Additionally, the organization’s Solar PV101 seminar has been prerecorded and made available for viewing.
Mike Renner shows off his off-grid home in Parker County. Courtesy of the DFW Solar Tour.
“We have an interactive map so that people can see not only where the location of the site is, but they can watch the virtual tour on the website as well. And then on the day of the tour, we are hosting through Zoom, a live questions-and-answers session for the public,” Orentstein says. “And so we will have all of our sites scheduled throughout the day so that the public can dial in, login, meet the homeowner, meet the business owner, and get a flavor for what they went through as well as ask any questions they might have of that particular site.”
SCHOOLING ON SOLAR
The tour presents a wide range of learning opportunities through the host site, with a range of topics to help the public understand the basics of solar energy and storage, energy efficiency and sustainable practices, Orenstein adds.
Orenstein says thousands of visitors have visited sustainable homes, schools, libraries and other energy efficient buildings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the 10 years that the organization has conducted tours. Visitors from as far as Houston, El Paso and Hot Springs, Arkansas have come to see what forward-thinking people in North Texas have done to build a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle.
Last year, the tour was honored with the Coke Buchanan Volunteer of the Year award at the Green Source DFW Awards for its outstanding public outreach.
Orenstein says that the DFW Solar Tour helps people learn how local homeowners and business owners are using solar energy, wind energy, energy efficiency, and other sustainable technologies to lower their energy expenses and reduce their carbon footprint, even approaching net-zero emissions by generating as much energy as they consume - sometimes even more.
“It's primarily to educate the public and to dispel myths that may be out there about solar energy - what it does, what it doesn't do,” Orenstein says. “We're a nonprofit organization. We don't charge anything for it. [It’s] just an educational opportunity for anybody who is interested in knowing how solar energy works, how to protect themselves, how to look for a good solar installer, so that they have a good experience and not an unpleasant one ... so that we can move people to a cleaner form of energy than the one we have right now.”
Watch a primer on solar energy. Courtesy of the DFW Solar Tour.
Orenstein says she’s excited by recent developments in renewable power adoption, such as the falling costs of energy storage and changes that will benefit people who want to adopt clean energy but don’t have a huge disposable income.
“As a matter of fact, one of the beauties that has occurred is ... now the barriers to entry for having solar energy are quite low because there are entities that will fund it and basically lease your roof, and you still get the benefit of a reduced electricity bill without ever having to actually put out any money as an investment for your home,” Orenstein says.
“One of the most exciting things that's happening with solar in particular, renewables in general, is that it is becoming much more mainstream. That's one thing. The other thing is the battery storage - the technology has increased tremendously. When that gets a little bit lower priced. I think it will be a game changer,” she adds.
DITCHING FOSSIL FUELS
Texas currently produces 20 percent of the nation’s domestic energy according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The bulk of that is from fossil fuels, but about 20 percent of the electricity produced in the state comes from wind power. High levels of solar radiation, also known as sunlight, put the state, especially the Western region, in a prime position for solar power generation.
Orenstein says that with the overwhelming portion of the calendar that Texas basks in bright sunshiny days, it only makes sense that homeowners and business owners take more advantage of solar power to lower utility bills and soften our collective footprint on the planet.
Indeed, motivations among renewable energy adopters range from simply saving money or wanting a reliable power source after heavy storms, to a strong desire to reduce carbon emissions in a world growing hotter each year because of anthropogenic global warming.
Orenstein, an attorney, says her own motivation came after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 woke her up as to how the nation’s fossil fuel energy dependency exacerbates international tensions.
“I was so angry that day, I actually thought of quitting being a lawyer and I wanted to volunteer for the military,” she says.
Eventually, she explored the issue and concluded that the nation simply must find a way to become energy independent and free of entanglements over oil in foreign countries, so she looked into a variety of ways such a transition could occur and felt that the power from the sun offered the best opportunity for unlimited and nearly free energy to power our quality of life here at home.
“Also I’ve been extremely concerned about climate change. I have kids and I have grandkids and I want to leave this world a much better place than the mess that we have created. I want them to survive. I want them to live and enjoy life,” Orenstein says.
As to the challenges presented by a virtual event rather than an in-person tour, she says there have been some pluses and minuses in creating a comparable experience to the group’s past tours. On the one hand, more people may participate online because it won't require driving from site to site. On the other hand, they’re stuck viewing what the videographer has anticipated they may want to see, and sometimes it’s small, often overlooked details that become major elements of interest when people actually see an installation in front of them.
“I have to admit that it is not the same as being there and being hands on and touching and seeing up close,” she says. “We hope that next year, we will be back to our usual open homes and open businesses, and people can do the touchy feely portion of the tour.”
DFW Solar Tour
About: 11th annual tour is hosted by the North Texas Renewable Energy Group, a nonprofit renewable energy advocacy group. This year's tour, held virtually due to the coronavirus, features eight examples of homes, schools and municipal buildings with renewable energy.
Tour: There are virtual tours of the locations and educational videos available for viewing online now. The day of the tour, watch live Q&As with homeowners and solar experts. See schedule.
When: The interactive events will be held Saturday, Oct. 3, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Videos of sites are currently posted.
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