By Pat Sherman
Peder Norby is a homeowner with an amazing view-and vision.
His 4,600-square-foot, Prairiestyle estate in Carlsbad , which overlooks Agua Hedionda Lagoon, generates enough solar electricity to power his home and a BMW Mini-E electric car. The San Diego County planning commissioner averages about 17,000 miles per year.
Norby recently drove to H ollywood for the premiere of BMW's new social media documentary series, in which he and his car are featured. The trek, at speeds of up to 80 miles per, was made purely on sunshine.
Each day at about 8 a.m., the electric meter on Norby's home begins to spin backwards, meaning he is generating more power than he is consuming-making the structure what he considers one of the few "net zero homes" in the country.
"We're actually giving the grid the energy when it needs it, during peak hours," he says. "If more people do that, less power plants will be built."
After rebates and federal tax credits, Norby spent about $30,000 on solar panels, an amount that will be paid off in less than three years through the energy he is saving.
Though his home was built before singlefamily residential homes qualified for Leadership in E nergy and E nvironmental D esign (LEED ) certification, he received an award through the California Center for Sustainable Energy, which administers the state's solar rebate program.
Unlike fossil fuel, which requires energy to extract, refine and transport, the sun beats directly down on Norby's home, and is not subject to inflation or market manipulation.
"You're self-reliant and providing your own energy from a renewable source," he says. "It's just much more efficient all the way down the supply chain-and there are no emissions at the tailpipe. It's just a beautiful thing."
Solar panels: 35
Average kilowatts generated per day: 33 (50 in summer, 24 in winter)
Annual utility bills: $450 ($250 electric, $200 gas)
Miles driven on sunshine per year: 17,000
Annual gasoline savings: $2,200
Combined annual energy savings: $6,000-$7,000
Bottles of wine produced per year: 400
Ways to make your home more energy efficient
• Sc hedule an energy audit
• fill-in gaps in the home's insulation
•Replace energy inefficient appliances (newer models consume 30 to 40 percent less energy)
• Seal leaks around windows, doors and electrical outlets
• Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps
• Solar on the cheap: Lease solar panels at solarcity.com; The fixed monthly amount paid to rent the panels is less than a typical energy bill.
Patching the Money Pit
For those who can't afford to install solar panels but want to get in on the green home movement (and stop padding the portfolios of utility company execs), companies such as Evolv Efficiency Solutions offer a three- to five-hour home energy audit.
Evolv's John Schuller says people would be surprised, if not horrified, at the way energy is sucked from their homes, and their pocketbooks.
"Every house, even an absolutely brand new house, leaks air," Schuller says. "We basically want to create a house that is completely sealed and insulated well. Therefore you don't need to use your furnace or your air conditioning as much."
Evolv technicians use infrared photography and a device known as a blower door to determine where air is leaking from doors, the attic and between walls.
"When you turn on your air conditioning or your heater, you'd be amazed at the air that gets sucked right out and into the attic from your recessed lighting, light switches and power outlets," Schuller says.
Simple energy retrofits can save 20 to 30 percent on utility bills, he says.
"For the people that want to do solar it's still a first step. Why not reduce the consumption, because that's less solar panels that you need to buy?"