Time rolled on, as it is wont to do. Everyone at Verengo Solar was very communicative during the intervening weeks, and we learned that the next step would be a site assessment to evaluate our roof in preparation for designing our solar panel system.
In the intervening weeks, I had the opportunity to further connect with people working to create a more sustainable world, including the wonderful folks at a company called Farmigo. They are a fascinating startup that connects local farms directly to consumers. Cutting out the middle man of the supermarket allows consumers to buy more affordable local food while simultaneously contributing more of the profits directly to farmers (60 cents on the dollar vs. the typical 20% seen when selling through wholesale). A certified B Corporation, their cofounder and CEO, Benzi Ronen, is a Microsoft veteran and has spent a great deal of effort making Farmigo an innovative company and a great place to work.
Their warehouse space in Gowanus (Brooklyn, New York) is a veritable treehouse playground—an open floor plan in a converted warehouse with hammocks and wooden ladders that lead up to the second level’s meeting rooms. Farmigo is incredibly supportive of the local food communities they organize, and they look after their own staff with equal vigor. The Farmigo team inhabits a workplace whose environment and culture provides consistent reminders and encouragement of their mission. One small example—which I got to experience first-hand—is that every Friday, different members of the team make a healthy lunch with fresh, local produce for the entire workplace to enjoy. They truly practice what they preach, and with over 100 communities getting food from local farmers because of Farmigo, they’re making a serious change in the way consumers and businesses think about food.
Not long after visiting Farmigo, the winter solstice holidays came around. This brought out all the traditions of walking down Fifth Avenue to experience the Christmas Windows, getting candied nuts from street vendors more often than I care to admit, an epic “Latkethon” Chanukah celebration at my coworker’s family’s magnificent apartment, and Amie and I celebrating our first Christmas in our new home with her father, Dan—complete with a decked out balsam fir tree, newly invented holiday cocktails, and folk songs sung around the fire.
Two days after Christmas, two friendly gentlemen from Verengo came to visit our house for a solar site assessment. The one who led the way introduced himself as Fernando. I showed them our electric panel in the basement, walked them upstairs through the house, and listened as they talked about the support beams in our roof. We have no attic, so armed with a flashlight, they peered through a small hole left behind from where they had carefully pulled out a light fixture. Staring up into that space between ceiling and rafters at the very finite pieces of wood that kept our roof from falling in, I had the sudden sensation of all the weight that the solar panels would add and was glad we had a whole team behind us to carefully inspect everything and support this endeavor.
The solar industry brings together a diverse group of skill sets and lifestyles. Increasing photovoltaic efficiency is a sophisticated applied physics and engineering challenge, which draws in the minds of researchers. As a technology that’s disrupting the incumbent energy production system, venture capitalists and startup founders are drawn to it for the massive growth that solar has seen and will continue to have as more people move toward renewables. Policy makers and activists who support a more sustainable lifestyle believe in the cause of renewable energy and will fight to support it as climate change continues to shape our world in increasingly dire ways. Contractors and electricians who were building houses and working on construction projects can apply their skills in this new targeted domain and meet a demand for skilled builders who can plan for and mount the necessary equipment.
All of this means that solar is responsible for an incredible amount of job growth across the globe and in the United States. According to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census, over 31,000 solar energy jobs were created in 2014 and the industry is growing almost twenty times faster than the overall U.S. economy.
Fernando and his colleague went out to the truck to get their ladder. They climbed onto the roof to get the exact measurements of everything, including the dimensions, the shingle material, the pitch, and how much shade is cast on the roof. For this last measurement they used a tool called a SunEye, which uses annual sun path and weather data to project not only how much shade is currently cast on the roof, but how much shade the roof will see throughout the year. The data projection is here done programmatically with GPS and a fisheye camera, but tracking the shadows cast by the sun has an ancient legacy whose remnants can be seen in the great solar alignments of the world (like Abu Simbel, a temple whose construction was ordered by Ramses II, and whose inner chamber is aligned in such a way that twice a year the statues of Ramses, Ra-Horakthy, Amun Ra are lit while Ptah, god of the Underworld, remains in shadow).
As they packed up their gear, Fernando said everything was looking good. They would give their data to the system designer who would map out the system and its technical specifications. We would hear back from them in three weeks or so.
With the final all-clear from the site assessors, we prepared to ring in the new year.