Case Study: Starting Over in the Lower Ninth Ward

 

“Pierre Moses pulls out a smart phone and taps an app that displays the real-time performance of every solar array in the neighborhood. That capability allows him to verify and document the conversion rate of the cells, which helps the systems qualify for the state and federal tax credits that combined to offset purchasing and installation costs up to 80%.

“Earlier that morning, the program also alerted him to a ground fault glitch on one of the arrays before it even made a blip on anyone else’s radar. “We can identify and fix problems before they show up on someone’s bill,” he says.

“Moses also shares that information with the legion of solar panel, inverter, and supporting component suppliers and installers he manages through Make It Right Solar, a for-profit spin-off of the foundation created to gain tax credits and other subsidies (non-profits are exempt) and serve as a separate knowledge and profit center for a burgeoning local solar industry.

“Homeowners also get a peek at the solar monitoring program. “If you give them access to data, it always reduces energy use,” he says, noting that some have installed their own energy monitoring systems. “The more you show them, the more they want to improve.”

Though no MIR homes are specifically designed to achieve a net-zero energy balance, a few residents have adjusted their lifestyle habits enough to meet that mark. “We have some people paying only the monthly connection fee for electricity,” says Rodriguez. The average bill hovers around $50 a month, a 75% reduction from what most were paying pre-Katrina.

Make It Right sources its solar panels from a wide range of manufacturers through local distribution channels, in part to spread the wealth but also to effectively test systems and report results back to the suppliers and the local utility. The foundation also established a for-profit solar division to optimize state and federal tax credits and other financial incentives and act as a knowledge base and liaison for other builders and developers. Credit: Sara Essex Bradley

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