Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Solar Roof in Fishtown

A few years ago, my parents moved from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia. Selling their house at the height of the real estate boom enabled them to buy a small house in Fishtown, and still have money left over, and they wanted to invest the money in something that would give back to their community. Their decision has brought both neighbors and complete strangers to their house with cameras, knocking on their door with questions.

Their investment was to install solar panels on the roof of their row home. Most solar panel installation in Philadelphia has been on institutions, like the Friends Center at 15th and Cherry St. or new construction projects built by the “green building” team of architect/developers Tim and Patrick McDonald.

But adding solar panels to an existing row home is still rare in this city, and it presents some unique challenges. For starters, it often requires replacing your roof first, to ensure that it is sound enough to incorporate the panels, and to reduce the risk of having to remove them for future roof repairs. Then once you have the system installed, you need Peco to hook you up to the power grid, so that you can sell energy back to them when you are not using all of the kilowatts your panels are producing. In my parents' case, this took MANY phone calls, and LOTS of waiting, but they are finally up and running.

Of course, the most daunting obstacle was coming up with the financing. A federal tax rebate and a Pennsylvania Sustainable Development Solar PV Grant brought the cost down from $26,000 to $15,000, but the state grant is no longer available, so unfortunately Solardelphia (, the company who installed the panels, has to tell all new customers that until our state government decides to enact new legislation and funding opportunities, doing what my parents did will be out of the financial reach of most Philadelphia residents. So while my parents have done the pioneering work of showing that it’s possible, here’s a few things we all can do to to try to make it possible for more homeowners in the future:
  • see the action alerts at, including their current campaign to urge Congress to extend the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) by attaching it to the next legislative vehicle that moves. The House and the Senate are at an impasse over inclusion of the Solar ITC in current Iraq War Supplemental legislation, and we are close to the Memorial Day recess. Call the Capitol switchboard at 202/224-3121.
  • call/email/write your PA representatives (if you don’t know who they are, find them at and tell them to enact new residential renewable energy grants.


Libby Tibbitts said...

An investment on hand, indeed. Going solar may directly or indirectly mean increasing the value of your home. It's a great thing to have solar panels at home as a roof. You're saving monthly costs and helping mother nature, all in one blow.

Tiffany Larsen said...

Using the sun helps us to be in tune with the environment and the natural cycles of our planet. Humans need to work with the environment - not against it. When we use roof top panels, our supply grows in line with the demand.