Memories and Musings

On Sun Worship and Solar Panels

The Aztec sun stone measures 12 feet in diameter and weighs 54,210 lbs. (National Museum of Anthropology and History, Mexico City)

Alexandria, VA – Humans have worshipped the sun for a very long time–at least from the 14th century BCE. According to my online search, a representation of the sun as a deity was used then in Egypt in Atenism1. My quick search revealed that there are sun gods in many traditions, such as the myth of Phaethon and the sun2. An Aztec sunstone measuring 12 feet in diameter and weighing 54,210 pounds is thought to have been carved in the early 1500s.

It could be said that I came by my recently installed solar panels by way of my religion. Mount Vernon Unitarian Church (MVUC) has a long history of acting on our commitment to care for the Earth. Perhaps the first seeds for my “going green” were planted in 2011-12 when MVUC replaced the Meeting House HVAC equipment with a renewable energy system. A geothermal installation for heating and cooling was combined with solar panels to heat and cool the sanctuary and office spaces.

Fast forward to a morning this past fall when I checked out the hammering coming from my next-door neighbor’s roof and saw that solar panels were being installed. I invited those neighbors and neighbors on the other side who had already installed solar panels to come over for coffee. I wanted to learn about their decision.

Simply put, a solar panel generates electricity when particles of sunlight, or photons, knock electrons free from atoms, setting them in motion. This flow of electrons is electricity. Solar panels capture this flow, turning it into a usable electric current.

Solar Panel Design

The company my neighbors selected is one of two vetted to work with Fairfax County’s coop program. Rather than trying to explain it, my neighbors connected me with their solar advisor, who asked me to send him a record of my electricity bills for last year. That was easy. Dominion Energy includes a year’s usage on each bill.

The solar energy company gets annual photographs by drone of the rooftops in locations they serve, which show them roofs and nearby trees that might block the sun. With that image and my electric bill, the solar advisor calculated how many panels my roof would accommodate and the cost.

As I said earlier, my decision to install the panels was partly because I believed that using the sun’s renewable energy was a step I could take in the fight against climate change, and it was the right thing to do. Still, I was not an easy sell.

Panel Installation (Nina Tisara)

I am retired and cautious about spending my limited savings. But I learned that in addition to the increased house value and lower electric bills, there were financial incentives to going solar—tax rebates from Fairfax County where I live and from the Federal government, and a good rate if I chose to finance the cost.

Signing contracts puts me in panic mode. I want to read them carefully; since they’re online, I usually print them out. One ran about 28 pages! And after reading them, I can’t say I completely understand them. I had a lot of questions, some about contractual obligations and some from friends and neighbors, such as what happens if a roof needs to be replaced. Answer: it needs to be replaced before the panels are installed.

I was impressed by the team that installed my panels – two men on the roof, a supervisor, and two (one a woman) working on the electrical connections in the attic. They started at 8 am and were cleaned up by 3 pm. And they left the house and grounds clean.

Are there disadvantages to solar energy? Yes. The most obvious is the initial cost of solar cells and that solar energy can only generate electricity during daylight hours. For around half of each day, more in the winter months, solar panels do not produce energy. Rainy or cloudy days mean no sunlight and no energy is produced.

The good news is that excess power generated in the summer months is credited to your account and given back to you at no charge during low-production winter months. I pay a whole lot more attention to the weather these days.

The pros are that solar power is renewable as long as the sun keeps shining and there are no greenhouse emissions, although some are created in acquiring the materials needed to manufacture solar modules.

In the Coldwell Banker Realty blog, Blue Matter by Lauren Oosterlinck,3 “…Green is the new black. Any form of energy efficiency and conservation in your home will inevitably be a fiscal gain. Whether you install energy-saving window treatments or solar panels, both options can reduce utility expenses for you and any future inhabitants….”

My first electric bill after the installation was $0. The second was $5.20. I am now a 21st century sun worshiper.

Mosaic Artist/Photographer Nina Tisara is founder of Living Legends of Alexandria

1 The religion centered on the cult of the god Aten, depicted as the disc of the Sun and originally an aspect of the traditional solar deity Ra. In the 14th century BC, Atenism was Egypt’s state religion for about 20 years, before subsequent rulers returned to the traditional polytheistic religion and the pharaohs associated with Atenism were erased from Egyptian records.


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