“In the heart of Washington, D.C., Keya Chatterjee and her family live off the energy produced from a single solar panel.”

From The Atlantic:

“In the heart of Washington, D.C., Keya Chatterjee and her family live off the energy produced from a single solar panel. It started in 2006, when Chatterjee and her husband had a fight with their electrical company. They were so tired of the astronomical bills that they stopped power to their home and spent the entire winter living without heating or electricity—essentially camping in their own home. After a frigid few months, they installed the solar panel and returned to Pepco, but now they supply energy to the grid rather than using it. Today, Chatterjee’s life runs on solar energy, she takes public transportation everywhere, and she’s figured out how to live with as little consumption as possible.”

54 Comment

  • There’s people and there are bodhisattvas

  • what a dream!

  • I like the idea of the solar panel in the backyard – I’m guessing that a lot of people who have trouble with roof installations don’t consider that.
    Seems to me their problem was mainly caused by a home built with electric heating and cooking, which I think always turns out to be more expensive than other options. The windows in those places may not be as well insulated as some more modern options as well..

    • HaileUnlikely

      Well, their stated problems were not wanting to contribute to global climate change, and not wanting to buy power from Pepco because they simply hated Pepco. Getting all of their juice from that solar panel would be less difficult (still by no stretch easy, but less difficult) with gas heat and appliances, but as far as tackling the problems that they themselves have chosen to tackle, I think they’re doing a mighty impressive job.

  • jim_ed

    Shoutout to them for the ultimate one-upping of people in DC who humblebrag about not owning a TV.
    “Oh, you don’t own a TV? How quaint. We wash our hands with toilet water and sleep like hobos.”

  • I love those houses. Maybe the only good thing in SW (well I guess there’s Cantina Marina.

  • Toward the end of the video, they mention how when you don’t have heat or AC, you go out more and spend more time with friends and in public places. That’s all well and good (and I think what they’re doing is really cool!), but it’s a bit of a stretch to say that nothing is different if they can’t heat their place in January.

    • +1 … thought exactly the same thing. No heat in the winter and no AC in the summer? I wonder if this kind of thing actually works against the environmental movements goals, by suggesting that living an environmental lifestyle can only be done via massively inconveniencing yourself. It is 97 degrees out there today in DC; it is not totally normal to live without AC.

      • In India no one has heat and only the rich have AC. It’s normal in a lot of the world.

        • India’s GDP per capita is like $1500. If you’re trying to convince middle- and upper-middle-class Americans to live less-carbon intensive lifestyles this is an argument that will get you absolutely nowhere.Some environmentalists have this stubborn madness of refusing to even try to say something persuasive to people, and this is a great example.

          • Even people who are middle class by our standards are generally more judicious with their energy usage in other countries. If we set our AC thermostats to a temperature most Western Europeans would find comfortable, instead of chilling our buildings down to 70 degrees, a lot of energy could be saved with minimal discomfort.

          • If we actually impose appropriate costs to the carbon emissions, middle-class as you understand it might become lower-class, and lower-class may not experience much of a change. And there’s no fundamental law of the universe or capitalism that makes that unacceptable; just the fact that people complain when they lose things.

        • Yeah, and a lot of people die from exposure to heat in India, so what’s your point?

          • She’s Indian so maybe she got that idea from her relatives there.

          • It’s statistically accurate to assume her family recently immigrated, since Indian immigration was virtually non-existent before ~1965. But it’s statistically unlikely that someone who made it through the immigration process has especially poor relatives over there.
            So I’ll rate your racial assumptions half-justified, I guess.

          • Right– I’m assuming her relatives back in India are wealthy like mine, yet still shivering in layers of clothing under piles of blankets in the winter like mine (because that’s what everyone does).

    • “If you can’t heat or cool your house, you go over to friends’ houses, or museums more.”
      “We can’t heat or cool our house, but sometimes that’s really unbearable. So, we go to friends’ houses, or public spaces. You see, we’re not interested in completely foregoing those creature comforts, but this way we still have access to those amenities (that someone else pays for), but get to save money (80%!) , have fawning media pieces recorded about us, and can still act self-righteous about our choices. Oh, and by the way, although it has nothing to do with our house or giving up electricity, did I mention we don’t have a car and bike nearly everywhere? Aren’t we admirable?!?!”

      • I also caught on to the money aspect. She was complaining about “astronomical” $300 Pepco bills. Oh, honey, please. Don’t talk to me until you get a $600+ electric bill. I get what they are doing is great, and it works for them, and that’s wonderful. But how is it perfectly ok to utilize fossil fuels in the production of A/C and heating at someone else’s house, and not your own?

        • Holy cow! The highest bill I ever got in our super drafty (like there was an almost inch-size gap in one of our windows) three bedroom apartment was $220.

          • HaileUnlikely

            In an apartment you get the benefit of other units’ conditioned space below and/or above yours as well as the hallways.

          • I live in a three bedroom rowhouse (gas heated but we do run AC in the summer) and our bill has never gotten above $100.

          • We were the top floor of a victorian with a lot of windows. There were only four units, including the basement, and no AC in the hall and stairs, though since there were no windows, they were pretty comfortable. We had a central HVAC system with gas heat, though we often ran space heaters and electric cooling.

          • It was in a house with very poor insulation, windows, and fully electric HVAC. Winters and summers were brutal on my wallet. Having said that though, in my old house in DC, $300 seemed to be the average Pepco in the summer months when the a/c was running all the time. That was a 3bedroom, post-War duplex.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I do get a strong self-congratulatory and self-righteous vibe from them as well, but in all seriousness, just as taking a couple of Uber rides a week does not negate the environmental benefit of not driving daily, the country would use substantially less total energy and consequently pollute much less if we heated and cooled fewer places rather than more places. The way we people of comfort have a habit of heating and cooling entire oversized houses including several empty rooms is extraordinarily wasteful.
          I can think these people are arrogant pricks while still acknowledging that what they are doing is good.

        • It could be a good model for how we design eco-friendly housing. I’m picturing a building where each unit has a panel on the balcony for supplying electricity for lighting and appliances. The units would not be heated or cooled but a common area would. People could go into the common area to cool off or warm up, so instead of heating or cooling all 200 units it would just be one big room.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Or heck, short of that, with a ductless mini-split, or just a window unit if just focusing on the cooling component, just heat/cool one room rather than the whole dang house. I know an outwardly-normal guy who isn’t a self-congratulatory eco-prick who does this and his total utility bill (gas plus electric) is typically in the $25-$50 range.

          • That’s what I was thinking. I’m assuming the 1 kW panel isn’t giving them enough to power even a single heating/cooling unit on top of everything else, but maybe they could sacrifice something else (like I’d be willing to eat all my meals out in January if it meant having heat in one room).

      • Can’t you be passionate about something without being called arrogant or self righteous? I mean for whatever reason, someone sought them out to interview them. Should they have been all “go away, nothing to see here, we do this but we hate it, don’t ask me about those bikes in the corner because it’s not relevant to cooling and heating our home??”

        • +1
          I think what they’re doing is great — a bit extreme for me, but it does make me realize that I can do MORE than what I do now without too much hardship.

          And I appreciate that they’re sharing it with the rest of us. If everyone just picked up ONE more green habit, then wouldn’t we be so much better off?

        • +1 – I’m a self-identifying environmentalist, and I sometimes feel like I’m seen as arrogant when I talk about my own personal habits that I’ve adopted in my efforts to live a more environmentally conscious life.

  • I guess they forgot to mention that they rely heavily on the Pepco infrastructure to provide them with energy storage to get energy when the sun isnt around.

    • Kudos to them for making some hard choices that I certainly haven’t made in my life. That said, I don’t want to wash my hands, hair, body in gray water. I also think it is worth noting just how much they free ride on , but on the grid infrastructure the rest of us pay for.

      • It isn’t actually grey water. The fresh water comes out of faucet used for hand washing and goes into the top of the toilet tank, which is used to fill the bowl after the next flush. So your grey water from your hand washing becomes toilet water for your next use. I used one of these at a restaurant in Denver.

        • HaileUnlikely

          That’s brilliant. It would also save space in a small bathroom. This seriously has me thinking about this design for my too-large first floor bathroom, which I want to make smaller so that I can reclaim a few square feet that is no bathroom for other use.

          • I wonder if they use that sink for things like toothbrushing too. Seems like soap and toothpaste and dirt would clog up mechanisms, but maybe that’s not a problem since there’s no fill valve.

      • Um, unless I missed something in the video, they don’t wash and bathe in gray water. The gray water is only used to flush the toilet. (Old, but great idea) The water coming out of the faucet on top of the toilet is the same water that comes out of the faucets of the entire house.

  • Some questions:
    How are they supplying energy to the grid? I thought you couldn’t sell it back in DC?
    Also not clear from the video or description– I guess they have an energy storage device so they don’t need to rely on the grid for backup?
    Wouldn’t it be considered child abuse to raise a kid in an unheated house in DC?

    • You can net meter in DC; I don’t think you can sell back and get money back, but it can offset your later usage at the retail rate.

      • Yeah, you can net-meter indefinitely and the credits presumably follow you around DC (and maybe even to Pepco-covered Maryland where the law requires payouts instead?). Sucks to have thousands of dollars in Pepco credit if you decide to move to Arlington, though.

  • I wonder if they could switch to a smaller fridge and used the energy saved to power a small space heater. Last winter I stayed at a hotel near the Himalayas that was unheated (totally normal there) but we got someone to give us a space heater and it made a huge difference.

  • My whole 3 bedroom row house doesn’t even get up to $100 in the summer. That central HVAC will get ya. Spot cooling with window AC units is much more efficient. You’re never cooling spaces that aren’t occupied.

    • I have central AC in my 3 bedroom rowhouse. My bill has gotten close to $100 in the summer but never above. I suspect I keep it warmer than most people would, though.

      • HaileUnlikely

        What do you keep yours at? I keep mine at 80, have reasonably good insulation, and pay substantially more than that. (I suspect I may have some leaks in my ductwork hidden behind walls, though…)

        • Our bill was never more than $90 in the summer and we kept ours at 74. I’ll caveat this with the fact that it’s a brand new AC system, but I don’t think we have particularly good insulation.

        • 78. Last month’s bill was $57.03, and the month before that only $37.79! I want to get panels but it hardly seems worth it when my electricity bills are so low already.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Holy cow. You are both making me want to go bust up some drywall and find all of the f*cking leaks that I obviously have.

          • I think some factors that work in my favor is that it’s a center rowhouse facing east and it’s very narrow. So not a lot of windows in general, and no southern windows.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Ah, I have a duplex (basically and end-unit), facing north, with 3 large windows and a sliding glass door facing south, but still, that is an extremely large difference, and I know my ducts leak.

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