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My Favorite Summer Accessory

By Graham Marema
Clean Water Network, Digital Organizer

A renter’s experience with rooftop solar

Earlier this month, I moved into a new house. It’s an old row house with a faded blue facade and long, thin windows -- the type of house you’ve probably seen if you’ve spent much time in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. I moved into the room with the broken doorknob at the top of the stairs, and I share the rent with three other tenants.

I thought I’d like my new backyard the most when moving into this house in the peak of July heat. I started dreaming about barbeques, cold drinks in the hot sun, planting tomatoes and bell peppers in the garden…

As it turned out, the best part of living in this house during one of the hottest summers on record was a little gray box in the kitchen.

When the landlord gave me a tour of the house, he paused by the back door after showing me the garden and the room with the broken doorknob. 

“This is the smart meter,” he explained. “So you can see how much energy the solar panel is producing.”

If you’re familiar with old houses in Capitol Hill, you know most of them are thin and tall -- so it’s no wonder I didn’t glimpse the solar panel on our roof before moving in. Until the landlord told me what that gray box was, I had no idea the panel was even there. But whether or not it was visible, it was hard at work overhead, turning the hot summer sun into clean, renewable energy -- and even lowering our electricity bill.

As one of my new roommates explained to me, “If we didn’t have the solar panel, our electricity bill would skyrocket at this time of year because of the air conditioning.”

And air conditioning is becoming increasingly more necessary, as we saw last weekend. A heat wave made an already sweltering July even hotter in cities across the United States, including here in Denver.

In that stifling heat, the solar panel on our roof provided clean, renewable energy to power our A.C. Not only was our electricity bill lower, but our old Capitol Hill home also contributed less to the carbon emissions that cause the devastating rise in global temperatures.

Before my landlord introduced me to that gray box in the kitchen, I didn’t know the house had a solar panel, and it didn’t cross my mind to check when looking for new places to live. Now, it’s something I’ll definitely consider every time I’m on the hunt for a new home.

This week, I started planting my tomatoes and bell peppers in the backyard. From my window in the room at the top of the stairs, I can see them drinking up the summer sunlight, inching toward the sky, soon to turn that light into fresh food (or at least that’s the idea). And overhead, I know the solar panel is drinking in that very same sunlight, turning it into clean, renewable energy to power my new home. One panel may not seem like a lot, but in peak summer heat, it has made a real difference.

And if we see more homes soaking up the summer rays with solar panels on their rooftops across the country, it can make a real difference for our planet.


One of my peppers making progress turning sunlight into fresh food