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Category: Home Improvement

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American Cuisine: Farm to Table, Part 1 of Many

This week we’ll focus on a natural cross-over between what we typically discuss on this blog forum – living sustainably – and those who have lived the “farm to table” lifestyle for generations, and have led this modern movement since the beginning of agriculture in America.

We’ve looked at this topic plenty of times on our blog previously – just check out those posts here:

However, today’s blog post will explore the origins of this lifestyle and their early introduction on and in American soil. I am of course talking about Native Americans.

There are several documented cases of Native American agriculture, however as English writing styles had not been widely adopted until colonization enforced them, there are even more cases that have gone unpublished or lost to history. Thankfully however, some of the ancestral knowledge of this land was passed down through word of mouth, journals and drawings, and eventually made its way into historical texts and non-fiction writing that transports us back to that time and allows us to learn more about what types of agricultural practices people were engaged in during the early days of American life.

Farm to Table: Indigenous CuisineFor example, while doing some research I came across a book called Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation by “nature writer, agrarian activist and ethnobiologist” Gary Paul Nabhan (https://www.garynabhan.com/). In his book, he discusses some of the earliest recorded agricultural findings from North America and how they shaped the diet, culture, and livelihoods of people who lived there at the time. Check out a couple of excerpts below describing the encounter of Native Americans by Cabeza de Vaca’s contingency as they explored what is now Texas (pages 49-50):

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=eIorDQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=native+american+agriculture&ots=Si5Hs39-kj&sig=Cva4MTvaX61ovqB0KrndCqYRXsI#v=onepage&q=native%20american%20agriculture&f=false

The beauty of learning more about learning more about native plant species and practices for cultivating them is that they have a neutral longevity and thus are highly sustainable. So, though this seems to be a current fad sweeping across the globe, the practice of living sustainably has more longevity than any other practice we humans could possibly engage in because it’s how we survived for centuries before modern technology gave way to industrial farming.

As outlined in this Washington Post article – which in my opinion is a fascinating segue between ancient practices and modern technology and trends – the practice of sustainable farming is certainly not new:

“Indigenous peoples have known for millennia to plant under the shade of the mesquite and paloverde trees that mark the Sonoran Desert here, shielding their crops from the intense sun and reducing the amount of water needed.

The modern-day version of this can be seen in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, where a canopy of elevated solar panels helps to protect rows of squash, tomatoes and onions. Even on a November afternoon, with the temperature climbing into the 80s, the air under the panels stays comfortably cool” (“Native Americans’ farming practices may help feed a warming world”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/interactive/2021/native-americans-farming-practices-may-help-feed-warming-world/).

The article goes on to describe the current research being done in the Sonoran Desert on growing native crops that require little water, and the work being done to re-build and preserve the Native American practices that make this practice even possible.

“The Tohono O’odham have farmed in the Sonoran Desert for several thousand years. Like many Indigenous groups, they now are on the front lines of climate change, with food security a paramount concern. Their expansive reservation, nearly the size of Connecticut, has just a few grocery stores. It is a food desert in a desert where conditions are only getting more extreme,” (“Native Americans’ farming practices may help feed a warming world”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/interactive/2021/native-americans-farming-practices-may-help-feed-warming-world/).

If you’re looking for more on the subject, additional sources aren’t hard to find. Just check out the incredible list of North American crops on sciencedirect.com to see what I mean – the article had this to say regarding the varied plant species discovered in North America originally:

“It is estimated that about 60% of the current world food supply originated in North America. When Europeans arrived, the Native Americans had already developed new varieties of corn, beans, and squashes and had an abundant supply of nutritious food. The foods of the Native Americans are widely consumed and their culinary skills still enrich the diets of nearly all people of the world today” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352618116300750).

So, why on earth during Black History Month are we focusing on Native American cuisine? For the simple reason that you cannot fully appreciate American history, and more specifically American cuisine, without a base set of facts regarding what grew here originally, and how Native Americans helped to cultivate the land for modern-day agriculture. Follow along in tomorrow’s blog post to learn about the next phase in American agriculture and beyond.

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Black Inventions We Can’t Live Without: Part 3 of 3

Before finishing out this week’s focus: Black Inventions we Can’t Live Without – and should mention, that if you haven’t already, please do go and check out our prior blogs from this past week on the subject: (https://suntexllc.com/blog-blackinventionswecantlivewithoutrefrigeration/, https://suntexllc.com/black-inventions-we-cant-live-without-part-2-of-3/). However, I would like to take a moment to focus on one element of these posts: author.

I feel it’s important to view history through the cultural and professional lens of those telling it. For that reason, I seek authors that may have a clearer viewpoint than I could have on the subject matter and quote/publish their stories and works instead of highlighting anything I might be able to write. To that end, I’d like to highlight some of the important and gifted writers we’ve featured this month thus far, whose discoveries and/or inventions in Black Content have helped to tell an untold story about U.S. history (to name just a few, in order of appearance within this blog):

Thanks to these influential writers and creators, we were able to learn a lot this month already, however there are a few more folks I would like to call attention to from these sources specifically. During most of the prior year, the focus of the SUNTEX blog has mostly been about environmental sustainability – I mean, we are an environmental home-energy company after-all. However we’ve also done a series on the historical background of lighting, insulation and cooling, and the “invention of electricity” (link here: https://suntexllc.com/historical-figures-from-lightening-to-lighting/). However today’s inventions build a more wholistic picture of early inventions that are critical to today’s home-energy discussion: from computer science and data analysis, to the invention of home security systems.

Home Improvements: Computers and Analytics  

Though we briefly analyzed the start of several key inventions in the field of energy, and outside of it (see if you can find a few here: https://suntexllc.com/blog-standard/), it’s important to highlight Mark Dean, co-creator of the color monitor – something we use daily to work/study/learn/communicate/watch/build.

Black Inventions: Computers and Analytics  

Mark Dean, Inventor and Engineer, Photo Credit: www.blackpast.org/

Mark Dean was born in 1957 and has helped to create some of the most profound changes to our daily lives that we still see today. For a full look at his biography, check out the following link, https://www.biography.com/inventor/mark-dean, which tells us just who he is –

Who Is Mark Dean?

“Computer scientist and engineer Mark Dean helped develop a number of landmark technologies for IBM, including the color PC monitor and the first gigahertz chip. He holds three of the company’s original nine patents. He also invented the Industry Standard Architecture system bus with engineer Dennis Moeller, allowing for computer plug-ins such as disk drives and printers.”

According to BlackPast.org, in their biography titled,

MARK DEAN (1957- ),

“Dr. Mark Dean, an American inventor and computer engineer, is one of the most important figures in the emergence of the personal computer in the late 20th Century. Three of the nine patents on the original personal computer (PC) by International Business Machines (IBM) are registered to Dean, making him a key contributor in the development of the PC.”

[and later within that same article],

“Dean was hired by IBM as a chief engineer on the personal computer project at a time when the PC was just beginning to emerge as a major consumer item. The first IBM personal computer was released in 1981. It began with nine patents including three from Mark Dean.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/dean-mark-1957/

So I think it’s safe to say that given the modern marvel that is the cell phone – and the expectations that this technology not only place calls but also act as a tiny computer – are in large part thanks to the work of Mark Dean and his colleagues, but his accomplishments didn’t stop there.

“Over the course of his career Dean climbed up the ranks at IBM eventually becoming a Vice President and overseeing the corporation’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. He also served as the chief technology officer for IBM Middle East and Africa. Dean is also the John Fisher Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Tennessee. In 2018 he was named interim dean of the university’s Tickle College of Engineering.

Dr. Mark Dean has been honored by numerous organizations, and in 2001 he was elected into the National Academy of Engineering, the most prestigious professional society for engineers in the country. Dr. Dean continues to contribute to the evolution of the personal computer.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/dean-mark-1957/

To say Mark Dean’s career has been impressive is perhaps an egregious understatement, and whatever the right words may be to describe such a man, impressive definitely makes the cut. Why though would we feature his work in a solar blog?

Well, those who are familiar with the solar industry, and to some extent, the research needed to improve it, know that we have a lot to thank Mark Dean for. If not for his accomplishments, how would we be able to measure and improve upon inverter-data efficiency in monitoring and reporting? How might we compare solar companies and solar panels online to determine which were right for our customer, and then communicate that quality and detail to them? Certainly not without color-screen-monitors or higher data processing microchips, and thankfully now, we won’t have to.

Home Improvements: Security Systems

Another important feature of modern-day home improvement is the home security system. At SUNTEX we feature several of them on our ‘Security Products’ page (https://suntexllc.com/security/), and we understand the importance this service holds for our residential customers. However, one thing I’m guessing many readers did not know: this technology was invented by a nurse, and African American woman in the sixties, Marie Van Brittan Brown.

Who is Marie Van Brittan Brown?

For help with this subject, we again turn to the writers at blackpast.org, whom had this to say about her:

Black Inventions: Home Security

Marie Van Brittan Brown, Inventor of Home Security, Photo Credit: https://theblackwallsttimes.com/2022/02/07/before-ring-a-black-woman-invented-the-first-home-security-system/

“Marie Van Brittan Brown was the inventor of the first home security system. She is also credited with the invention of the first closed circuit television.  Brown was born in Queens, New York, on October 22, 1922, and resided there until her death on February 2, 1999, at age seventy-six.

The patent for the invention was filed in 1966, and it later influenced modern home security systems that are still used today. Brown’s invention was inspired by the security risk that her home faced in the neighborhood where she lived. Marie Brown worked as a nurse and her husband, Albert Brown, worked as an electronics technician.

Their work hours were not the standard nine-to-five, and the crime rate in their Queens, New York City neighborhood was very high. Even when the police were contacted in the event of an emergency, the response time tended to be slow. As a result, Brown looked for ways to increase her level of personal security. She needed to create a system that would allow her to know who was at her home and contact relevant authorities as quickly as possible.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brittan-1922-1999/

What did this early home-security technology look like?

“Brown’s security system was the basis for the two-way communication and surveillance features of modern security. Her original invention was comprised of peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone. The final element was an alarm button that could be pressed to contact the police immediately.

Three peepholes were placed on the front door at different height levels. The top one was for tall persons, the bottom one was for children, and the middle one was for anyone of average height. At the opposite side of the door a camera was attached with the ability to slide up and down to allow the person to see through each peephole. The camera picked up images that would reflect on the monitor via a wireless system. The monitor could be placed in any part of the house to allow you to see who was at the door.

There was also a voice component to enable Brown to speak to the person outside. If the person was perceived to be an intruder, the police would be notified with the push of a button. If the person was a welcome or expected visitor, the door could be unlocked via remote control.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brittan-1922-1999/

Sound familiar? My mind immediately thinks of the modern-day phenomenon, the “Ring Doorbell” or the “Google Nest Doorbell,” which are fairly common-place items in houses these days. I personally can think of 3 friends that have them, and several of our customers, and swear by them as being helpful for both security, and communication for example for food deliveries and/or packages. However, that’s not all Brown’s invention contributed to, as the article lays out for us a little further down:

Brown’s invention laid the foundation for later security systems that make use of its features such as video monitoring, remote-controlled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, instant messaging to security providers and police, as well as two-way voice communication. Her invention is still used by small businesses, small offices, single-family homes, and multi-unit dwellings such as apartments and condominiums. The Browns’ patent was later referenced by thirteen other inventors including some as recently as 2013.” https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brittan-1922-1999/

Without the works of Mark Dean or Marie Van Brittan Brown, the home improvement industry overall would look very different today. The technological efficiencies created by the inventions of these two people have made it possible to move away from business-only computers and security systems to cheaper and more sustainable access to personal computers and at-home security systems. They’re technologies that helped to create the home-improvement landscape we see today, and I can say that all those with me at SUNTEX are incredibly grateful to both Mr. Dean and Mrs. Brown for what they did to help us get here!

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Environmentalism for and from Environmentalists: Part 2 of 2

In yesterday’s post we covered just the first half of people highlighted in Greenpeace’s article, “8 Black Environmentalists You Need to Know” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/), and my head is still swimming with ideas on how to help my own community in environmental justice. I hope you’re ready for more, because today’s post will focus on the second half of that list, which is by no means any less impressive than the first half.

Environmentalist Christopher Bradshaw and Dreaming Out Loud

Environment Christopher Bradshaw, Founder & Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud

Christopher Bradshaw, Founder & Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud

First up is Christopher Bradshaw – whom, according to the article, is “a social justice entrepreneur who founded Dreaming Out Loud, Inc., an organization dedicated to creating economic opportunities for the marginalized community in the D.C. metro area” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). Bradshaw does an incredible job in his work in connecting the disparaging parts of Black history – from slavery and sharecropping – to today’s inadequacies in food equality – and addressing both through leadership and economic opportunity. Just take a look at the Dreaming Out Loud homepage, and specifically their journey, to see what I mean:

“DOL began with teaching character and leadership development in DC public charter schools but soon recognized systemic issues around the food system which led to the creation of community farmers markets, with the help of a local church and one farmer.

Chris also recognized that these issues were connected to historical legacies of slavery, sharecropping, and entrenched systemic racism with intersections across the spectrum of social justice issues. As the organization evolved, we expanded into urban agriculture and food system work with a focus on economic empowerment of marginalized communities.

Through economic opportunity, using workforce development and entrepreneurship training, DOL is driving deeper change within the community creating financial stability and food security. DOL aims to use the food system as a powerful tool of resistance, resilience, and advocacy for structural change.”

Link here: http://dreamingoutloud.org/about/.

Similar to the work that Tanya Fields is doing in New York (check out yesterday’s blog post to learn more: https://suntexllc.com/environmentalism-for-and-from-environmentalists/), Mr. Bradshaw helps communities in the DC area familiarize themselves with sustainable farming practices, and even provides a space for people to get their hands dirty working directly with the soil and building community as they go (https://dreamingoutloud.org/farm-food-hub-at-kelly-miller/).

Environmentalist Peggy Shepard and WE ACT

Environment, Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Peggy Shepard, Co-founder of WE ACT

Next up from the Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists: Peggy Shepard. According to the article, “Peggy Shepard is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice and has a long history of organizing and engaging Northern Manhattan residents in community-based planning” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). Just a quick browse of their website and you can tell that you’re dealing with an impressive group of social and environmental justice warriors. WE ACT’s mission is to (https://www.weact.org/):

“build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”

If you check out their laundry list of activities on the “What We Do” page of their website, you’ll see exactly how they work to accomplish this mission, and there is certainly no shortage of reading material outlining their impressive accomplishments.

Environmentalist Jeaninne Kayembe and Urban Creators

Environment, Jeaninne Kayembe and Urban Creators

Jeaninne Kayembe, Founder of Urban Creators

Speaking of talent and hard work, next on our Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists is Jeaninne Kayembe. Given my own personal devotion to composting, I can already tell you that the work she has done to co-create Urban Creators, and in “transforming a 2-acre garbage dump into a farm” has me giddy (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). What does Urban Creators do? Check out the following quote directly from their ‘About Us’ section to learn more (https://urbancreators.org/):

“Since 2010 we have used food, art, and education as tools to nurture resilience and self-determination in our neighborhood. Now, we are supporting the emergence of a new generation of Urban Creators, organizers, artists, growers, and local businesses who are working to build equity and collective liberation in our communities.

Life Do Grow (LDG) is a Neighborhood Creative Commons, situated in the heart of North Central Philadelphia on the ancestral lands of the indigenous Lenni-Lenape. LDG is a dynamic and ever-evolving ecosystem of creative ideas, currently comprised of an urban farm, public park, outdoor classroom, community marketplace, venue for artistic and cultural expression, and co-working/co-creation space for local businesses, artists, organizers, growers, and creators. It is a canvas for ingenuity; a safe-space to explore boundaries, discover passions, and experiment with new ideas; a hub for community to organize, build equity, and foster economic opportunity; and an organic garden where we can all connect more deeply with the earth and one another.”

Because we are a solar company, I can’t help myself in also highlighting that “In 2019 we [Urban Creators] installed a solar energy system with Youth Build Charter School to power Life Do Grow, and were honored by the Bread & Roses Community Fund with their Annual ‘Tribute to Change’ Award” (https://urbancreators.org/mission-history/). It’s safe to say the work they’re doing is transformative and nothing short of phenomenal.

Environmentalist Omar Freilla and Green Worker Cooperatives

Environment, Omar Freilla, Founder of Green Worker Cooperatives

Omar Freilla, Founder of Green Worker Cooperatives

This brings us to the final honoree on the Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists, Omar Freilla. Thanks to the article, we know that “Freilla is the Founder of Green Worker Cooperatives and creator of the academy model of cooperative development. Green Worker Cooperatives is a South-Bronx based organization dedicated to incubating worker-owned green businesses in order to build a strong local economy rooted in democracy and environmental justice” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/). On further inspection of the company website however, we get the full picture of what this means. Check it out for yourself, here: https://www.greenworker.coop/coopacademy, including their partner organizations, here: https://www.greenworker.coop/ourcoops.

While I can’t speak to the future of SUNTEX, I know that these incredible people will be part of the fabric of inspiring stories which carry us forward in our work in Texas, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for all that they do. Huge shoutout to Greenpeace as well for curating this list so that we may learn more about their work and how to help. Please check out the individual links throughout today’s and yesterday’s blog posts to learn more about how you can help support their work directly too!

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Environmentalism for and from Environmentalists: Part 1 of 2

Are you an avid environmentalist? In other words, are you concerned about the protection of the environment? If so, then you may already know the focal points of today’s blog post discussion – however even the most avid environmental heroes need to study up to stay up to date with the latest and greatest people and techniques in their respective field.

For this reason, today we’ll highlight a few people that have really paved the way in recent years for the protection of our planet and are serious advocates for keeping Earth safe and hospitable. For a short-list of people to know in environmental protection, feel free to peruse the following Green Peace article which highlights several excellent environmentalists and the important work they’re doing: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/.

Green Peace is an organization known for its leadership in environmental protection, so it’s only natural that they would come up with an exceptional list of people to follow in the field – literally and figuratively.

Environmentalist Savonala Horne and the Land Loss Prevention Project

Environment, Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project

Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project

Starting with Savonala “Savi” Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, we already know that this list of professionals is no joke. According to their website, their mission statement reads as follows:

“The Land Loss Prevention Project was founded in 1982 by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers to curtail epidemic losses of Black owned land in North Carolina. Land Loss Prevention Project was incorporated in the state of North Carolina in 1983. The organization broadened its mission in 1993 to provide legal support and assistance to all financially distressed and limited resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina.”

Link here: https://www.landloss.org/index.html

Perhaps most importantly, they also help “family farmers and landowners develop sustainable agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly and economically viable for their rural communities” (https://www.landloss.org/index.html), meaning that they’re working on the ground, with Black farmers to not only maintain their properties, but to do so sustainably – which benefits everyone, but is hugely helpful to the families they serve. To learn more about the work they’ve done, check out their ‘Services’ page, here: https://www.landloss.org/services/index.html.

Environmentalist Chantel Johnson and Off Grid in Color

Environment, Chantel Johnson, Founder of Off Grid in Color (OGIC)

Chantel Johnson, Founder of Off Grid in Color (OGIC)

Perhaps more relevant to this year’s Black History Month theme of “Black Health,” and looking to the Greenpeace list, we find Chantel Johnson in spot #2 of Inspiring Environmentalists. If you read the Greenpeace article you’ll find that “Chantel Johnson founded  Off Grid in Color (OGIC) in 2016 to help lead her community, to greater self-sufficiency through farm raised food, birth coaching, and community outreach” (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/8-black-environmentalists-need-know/), however her personal reason for starting this organization is founded in tragedy.

Looking at the very front page of https://offgridincolors.com/, we learn that her brother died from gun violence in 2015 – and while she goes on to describe the insurmountable pain she felt watching his life decline, she herself would continue to live on, honoring his memory, and paving a way for herself, and others like her, to give back to her community working as an environmentalist.

To learn more about her journey and how you can contribute to Off Grid in Color, check out the site directly, where she tells her story about how this foundation came to be – https://offgridincolors.com/. To share just a brief tidbit, please read the following:

“When Richie died, I was lost and depressed. Mother Earth saved me. She showed me how to use the trees for shelter, the sun for light and energy, soil for veggies, wildlife for meat and with a little extra effort, generate an income. My brother’s death created space for me to heal with Mother Earth and birth Off Grid In Color. I’ve been doing this work since 2016: pasture raising animals for meat, providing doula services, and educating the community all while landless and with very little funds.”

The courage it takes to build a company from the ground up, while mourning the loss of a loved one is powerful and is certainly someone worthy of the title “inspirational.” The tough part is that too many of our American neighbors and friends have undergone a similar story, and hopefully through environmental justice we can help to change just that.

Environmentalist Tanya Fields and the Black Feminist Project

Environment Tanya Fields, founder of the Black Feminist Project

Tanya Fields, founder of the Black Feminist Project

Next on our Greenpeace list of inspiring environmentalists is Tanya Fields, who founded the Black Feminist Project, whose focus is “enrich[ing] the lives of, restores agency, justice, joy and health to Black womxn, girls and non-men, often referred to as marginalized genders or MaGes and the children they care for – with an emphasis on mother-led families” (https://www.theblackfeministproject.org/). How does this work coincide with the environmental movement?

I’m glad you asked, because it’s an important part of the story – thanks to the Black Feminist Project, the Black Joy Farm has been established as a “safe, healthy, bold space where MaGes are nurtured to be their full selves, un-policed and judgement free” (https://www.theblackfeministproject.org/blackjoyfarm). Please do read their full story within this link about the seven-year journey to transfer a community green space into a working farm – hosting Youth Employment camps, Family Movie nights, and several other workshops for the community – I can assure you this is one story you don’t want to miss.

Environmentalist Rue Mapp and Outdoor Afro

Environment, Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro

Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro

Going back to our short list from Greenpeace, you’ll find Rue Mapp is next on the list of inspiring environmentalists, and for good reason. Rue Mapp started Outdoor Afro in 2009 as a blog to “build a broader community and leadership in nature” (https://outdoorafro.com/team/rue-mapp/). Since then, she was invited to the White House to participate in America’s Great Outdoors Conference and assist Michelle Obama in her “Let’s Move” initiative; her writing would go on to be featured in several prominent news outlets, and “in 2019 Rue was named a National Geographic fellow and in 2021 selected as an AFAR Travel Vanguard Honoree” (https://outdoorafro.com/team/rue-mapp/).

What does Outdoor Afro do today? Well, look no further than the ‘About Us’ section of their website to learn more (https://outdoorafro.com/about-us/):

“Outdoor Afro has become the nation’s leading, cutting edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. We are a national not for profit organization with leadership networks around the country. With more than 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country, we connect thousands of people to nature experiences, who are changing the face of conservation.”

Only half-way through this list and I feel inspired to build a few raised beds, plant seeds physically and metaphorically, and spread the word within my community on how to do so. The importance of this work cannot be over-stated – because through their works these powerful women have created a space for their communities to be themselves while addressing food shortages and build an inclusive community around food safety and security, as well as environmental justice. Check out tomorrow’s post for highlights including the rest of this short list, and take a look at blog posts all month long to learn more about the important contributions of Black Americans to our ever-diverse country.

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3 Easy Steps to Homestead Home Buying and Preparing for Retirement

Homestead

You’ve worked your whole life toward retirement, and you’re ready to pursue your homesteading dreams. You’ll likely need a bigger home to handle the undertaking and still have room for visiting loved ones. Below I’ve prepared an outline for SUNTEX customers and home-owner-enthusiasts alike, to explain the path to making your homestead dreams a reality, starting with these practical steps.

  1. Figure Out Your Finances

Before you can buy a home, you need to get your finances sorted and get an idea of the kind of funding you have available to you; this includes savings, retirement income, real estate revenue, or other sources. If you have a lot of debt, most experts agree that you should work to eliminate or significantly pay down any outstanding debt.

You don’t have to do this alone. Explore debt management options in your area. These solutions are often determined by factors specific to your situation, such as how much debt you have, your employment status, and how you plan to pay your debt.

Once you have your debt sorted out, start planning how to make your finances work with the type of home you want to buy. Keep in mind that, with proper planning, it is possible to buy and sell your properties at the same time. Start by researching the housing market in your area. Then, begin applying for a loan preapproval.

If you aren’t set on using a specific bank, it can be beneficial to consider a national online bank. This allows you to compare rates not just in your area but from all over, increasing your chances of getting the best rate available. Research online banks to decide which ones are the best fit for you and your family, and then gather your documents to apply online. Typically, lenders require bank statements, pay stubs, driver’s licenses, or other identification. Each bank is different, so check with your potential lender to see what specific documentation you need.

Bear in mind that if you plan to make changes to your new home such as installing solar panels or more energy-efficient windows and systems, you could be eligible for a Conventional Energy Efficient Mortgage, which can boost your purchasing power and help you afford to make sustainable upgrades.

  1. Define What Homesteading Looks Like to You

HomesteadWhen it comes to homesteading setups, they are all unique. Some prioritize raising small animals such as chickens and rabbits. Others focus on vegetable crops and fruit trees. You may want to raise bees or do leatherwork. Make decisions about what you want most out of homesteading.

If you are meat eaters, decide whether you want to raise all the meat you will eat on your own or if you are comfortable supplementing what you raise with meat from outside sources. The same applies to vegetables, fruits, and other goods. Many homesteaders work together with local farmers to trade or purchase goods directly so they can uphold their principles without carrying the whole burden of raising everything they eat themselves. Consider what you are comfortable with so you can choose a home that will facilitate it.

If part of your homesteading efforts are to build a business, there are other particulars you will need to keep in mind as well. This starts with registering your business with the state and choosing a business entity. Registering as an LLC offers tax advantages, easier bookkeeping, and limited liability (click here to learn more about the process).

If you have questions about what ‘homesteading’ is, or how you can qualify, feel free to check out the Texas Comptroller website on Homestead exemptions, here: https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax/exemptions/residence-faq.php.

  1. Decide What Your Dream Home Needs

Now that you know what space you need for homesteading, think about what you need in terms of family. If you have grandchildren over often, for instance, plan on spaces specially dedicated to their use, such as extra bedrooms or playrooms. If you typically host holidays, make sure to prioritize space for entertaining.

Part of your dream home setup will be your outdoor space. Depending on what kind of gardens or animals you are planning to raise, you might need quite a lot of land. Research what works best for your specific homesteading plans so that you know how much land you will need. You may also want to set aside space specifically for the use of grandkids, pets, and perhaps houseplants – making room for a playset and trampoline, or even space to play ball.

Retirement should be a time for pursuing your dreams surrounded by those you love. If you’re not sure how to prepare, I hope these steps will at least help get you started. With your finances sorted, your homesteading plans in hand, and your dream home details finalized, all you need is the right realtor! With your realtor to guide you, you will be well on your way to making those homesteading dreams a reality.

SUNTEX provides sustainable energy solutions to the North Texas area and is happy to discuss your home energy consumption, and potential savings. To find out more about adding innovative energy solutions to your home, reach out today! Our number is: 817-841-9632

 

Note: This article was written for SUNTEX by guest writer, Janet Lovelace. Please reach out directly to SUNTEX if you have any questions regarding this article, or the blog post content.

Blackout Contingency Planning: 2022 Survival Guide

I wasn’t originally planning to write a post about Blackouts in 2022 for several reasons:

  1. I thought that the polar vortex of 2021, and subsequent snow-pocalypse, was in fact a once-every-10-years type of event as climatologists had predicted, and believed that the weather would sort of go back to “normal” – droughts, and only a few days below freezing.
  2. Given last year’s grid debacle, subsequent deaths, and the PTSD we all now face as a result, I didn’t want to contribute to any unnecessary panic.
  3. Perhaps it’s naïve, but I really thought that the state’s leadership would do something – anything – to “fix the grid” as a contingency plan just in case we experienced any more freezes.

Unfortunately however, given what we discussed in previous blogs (https://suntexllc.com/texas-senate-following-the-bills-where-are-we-now/), it seems that we the people of Texas are the first and last lines of defense against the brutal cold we are already experiencing this winter, and there are likely more freezing days to come. Thus, I’d like to provide a few easy steps to winterize your own home prior to experiencing freezing temps, and just in case the grid fails again this year and we experience “rolling blackouts,” so you’re better prepared to handle it.

Blackout Faucet Protector

Snowstorm/Blackout Contingency Planning for the Outdoors 

First, let’s focus on the outside prep – since you’ll want to do this first, preferably before the storm hits. You want to start by covering any outside water spigots with foam covers – you can find these at your local hardware store (assuming they’re in stock), or online if you plan far enough ahead. Check out one example here: https://www.lowes.com/pd/CompanyBox-Styrofoam-Faucet-Cover/1000651583, also featured in the photo on the left.

Of course, if the hardware stores run out (like they did last year when my husband and I finally got around to looking for them), you can always cut up a pool noodle and tape it around the faucet as a cover as we did, and you might even have some left over to give to a neighbor or store for next year.

Now, let’s consider the garden. I wrote a post not too long ago which explained how to prep your garden for freezing temperatures – check it out here: Home Gardens and Cold Fronts. For now I’ll simply sum it up as follows:

  • Plan to bring in any potted plants since you can do so, and likely they’ll be safer inside – plus these tend to be a little more temperamental in the cold.
  • Cover any freeze-intolerant plants such as citrus trees or cacti with tarp – or if you’re a hoarder like me, you can also use old shower liners. Just be sure to secure them with a rock or two so they don’t blow away (the more rocks you add to seal the sides, the better, since you’re trying to create a mini-greenhouse effect.
  • If you’re worried about an icy driveway, add sand instead of salt – it has similar properties, and should keep your driveway ice-free, however sand is much safer on your garden since excessive salt will kill most plants

Snowstorm/Blackout Contingency Planning for Indoors

Now that you’ve prepped the outdoors, it’s time to start looking inward. No, I don’t mean mindful meditation – though it couldn’t hurt – instead I’m referring to winterizing your home. Hopefully you didn’t go to the hardware store without reading the whole blog, because while you’re there picking up foam covers you may also want to grab some weather-stripping for your exterior doors. This product can take on various forms, at varied prices and installation processes, so my recommendation would be to measure the door frame to see how much you might need, and then check out the various types online first to determine your preference.

Weather-stripping is wonderful because it’s a cost-effective way to make sure your door seals properly – trapping heat inside the house and saving you money and energy when heating your home. Similarly, when your home has proper insulation (in the walls, attic, and crawl spaces), you can trap heat more effectively inside (and air-conditioning in the summertime), again saving you money and energy in controlling the temperature indoors.

I’ll only mention this here, and shamelessly plug SUNTEX here since we can help you out and provide a free quote, however the installation process does take more time – so you’ll want to start planning for this project months ahead of a winter storm or a scorching summer day. That said, please do give us a call with any questions on insulating your home!

Blackout Grid WaterIn the direst of circumstances, when a blackout does occur, you’ll want to take a few extra emergency planning steps, and the more you plan ahead, the easier they will be to manage:

  1. Cover your windows with blankets and/or cardboard and/or foil to trap heat inside.
  2. Keep candles and lighters/matches somewhere you can easily locate them in the dark.
  3. If you have a fireplace, make sure you’ve kept enough firewood warm and dry to last until the outdoor temperature rises again – keep in mind that you can experience hypothermia in temperatures above freezing, especially if you get wet, so it’s important to stay warm and dry during a freeze (check out the following Mayo clinic link for symptoms of hypothermia and when to seek medical help: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352682#:~:text=Hypothermia%20is%20a%20medical%20emergency,95%20F%20(35%20C).
  4. Dress in baggy and tight layers, alternating with each layer of clothing, and tucking things in where possible – for example, if you start with leggings and a shirt, then add socks pulled up over them, then a t-shirt tucked into sweatpants, and finally a sweatshirt on top – you will be much warmer than had you just warn the sweats.
  5. If you have a car, don’t forget you can always turn it on and sit in it for a couple of hours while you warm up and charge your phone (assuming you have a full tank of gas of course), however DO NOT sit inside a car in your garage or you will risk carbon monoxide poisoning – which is odorless and colorless, and very hard to detect until it’s too late (here’s what the CDC has to say about it: https://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm).

Now, if there is a burst pipe in your area and the water gets shut off to avoid flooding (as can happen in freezing temperatures if pipes are not properly winterized), don’t panic! There are a few things you can do that don’t include evacuating to a hotel:

  1. Store some potable water ahead of time or pick up a few gallons from the store just in case.
  2. Capture rainwater/snow in a large pot and boil it to ensure you kill any bacteria (if you’re familiar with the SODIS method of water purification then congrats! However, I would not recommend this strategy in the winter, particularly during a storm, since you may not get enough sunlight to purify the water naturally).
  3. Store snow in your bathtub to have on-hand for bucket-baths and cleaning dishes.

Snowstorm/Blackout Contingency Planning for the Over-achievers

Now, if you really want to prepare for a blackout or a water shutoff, there are a few other things you might want to consider doing before the freeze sets in:

  1. Do the laundry! Your washer and dryer require enormous amounts of energy (not to mention the water needed to run your washing machine), so be sure to do this ahead of time so that you’re not using excessive power while trying to keep your heat on. If you don’t get to this before the storm hits, just wait until the temperatures increase again or you might be contributing to unnecessary rolling blackouts.
  2. Do the dishes! This one seems fairly straight forward since you’re already doing this daily, however it’s much better to have a clean sink to work with if the water gets shut off since you’ll need less rainwater/snow to clean dishes during the outage. It’s also a nice mental reprieve for an already beleaguered person who’s trying to survive the cold.
  3. Keep in mind that food in your fridge will go bad if you continually open and close the fridge while the power is out, so if it’s cold enough, you can simply put your refrigerated items outdoors until the power returns, or use a cooler packed with snow.
  4. For pet owners: take your dogs on a long walk the day before the storm hits! This is a real pro-tip since not many people probably think about this until their dogs are running around the house with all their pent-up energy from being indoors. You probably won’t want to drive to the park or go on a long run in the sleet/snow, so if you wear them out ahead of time, chances are they’ll be happy to sleep for a day or two while you’re running around trying to keep the house warm.

While these steps are helpful, you may still need to leave your home and go to a hotel with power (one near a hospital, for example, which is usually prioritized by grid operators during rolling blackouts) if you have medical devices that require power, or if you don’t have a car you can seek refuge in.

You might even be able to call your insurance provider to see if they can help recoup the cost if for example, power lines go down in your neighborhood or the water is shut off for extended periods of time. Just use caution and common sense to decide when to go, since the roadways could be dangerous if you wait too long, or you could end up wasting money if the power does not go out and your water stays on. Do what makes sense to keep yourself safe and warm.

The most important piece of advice I could give you is Don’t Panic! You are far more capable than you think, and if you follow the steps outlined above, while you may not be thriving for a few days, you will survive, and especially in Texas, you’ll be back in hot weather again before you know it. If you have any additional tips, please do feel free to share them in the comments below. In the meantime, stay warm, stay dry, and enjoy the snowy scenery!

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Home Gardens and Cold Fronts don’t Mix

You might be surprised to hear me say that in addition to the doom and gloom climate change undoubtedly brings, there are a couple of areas that will benefit from hotter temps. One thing I was extremely grateful about this year, was that our garden has absolutely Loved the humidity we’ve seen in central Texas! We’ve grown okra into December – see photo on the right of our latest blooms on 12/18/2021 – and you might also see the small green pepper behind it, and basil plant growing strong as well.

Home Garden: Tomatoes

Home Garden: Tomatoes, 6-11-21

I know, I know, this topic is certainly nothing new to this blog – those of you that follow this blog already know, that “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to live on a farm” (https://suntexllc.com/home-gardens-farm-to-table/). Likely you’ve even seen the plethora of other garden blogs we’ve produced, here: https://suntexllc.com/?s=garden. However, most of our previous posts have focused on the excitement of the harvest, whereas today we’ll explore a little more about the entire process itself, and how to keep your garden safe in the winter time.

Now, to be fair, in our own garden this year, the bell pepper, basil, and even the okra plant needed much more water than I gave them. The basil plant specifically, needs more consistent trimming), and while I like to think I’m much less neglectful of plants these days than say in my college years, when I killed a cactus I’d names Mike only a few months prior, they really didn’t get much water from me.

My saving grace was that the weather, while hot, had been plenty humid and we did get a decent amount of rain this year, as compared to years past. Check out the following link to compare rainfall from this past year, as well as 2020, and years prior: https://etweather.tamu.edu/rainhistory/

The only water I provided to my garden this year was from the humble rainwater catchment ‘system’ in my back yard – if you can even call it that – and a few morning waters (waterings?) just after they were planted months ago. So I think it’s safe to say that these plants were mostly on their own for survival! All joking aside however, I did follow a more strategic process this year in growing our garden than in years past, and if you’re interested in learning more about our experience this year, check out the full story below…

Our Home-Garden Process: To be more specific, I planted starter plants from the Natural Gardener (see details below, but the key factor here is that these plants were not started from seeds):

Home Garden: Okra

Home Garden: Okra in October, 10-16-21

In March: strawberries (which, I always struggle with, but love to eat so I keep trying to grow these), mint, oregano, thyme, tomatoes (featured in post), basil, sweet potatoes (from the store, although it is NOT recommended to do that – see why, here: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/potato/can-you-grow-store-bought-potatoes.htm), garlic, okra (featured, right).

Then in September, after the scorching heat ceased: bell pepper, brussel sprouts, a new basil plant (the summer basil unfortunately perished in the August heat), asparagus, arugula, and a new crop of sweet potatoes.

Home Garden: Okra

Home Garden: Okra in December! 12-18-21

Each of these plants grew from small starter plants from either the Natural Gardener (details below) or Lowes, to large, home-garden, veggie-producing plants harvested all summer & fall. In both seasons, we were able to pickle the okra using vinegar and canning jars, and had basil whenever we needed it – making pizza, or one of my personal favorites, bruschetta – without buying a whole bunch at the store just to see it go bad in my fridge a week later.

The other plants did grow and produce, however they weren’t nearly as big of a success in all honesty, and something kept eating the strawberries before we could, though we never really solved that riddle. And, though there are several other recipes that call for okra and basil, I don’t cook with these often, hence my eagerness to plant and use only as-needed.

Beyond the base need for more water, we had built raised beds in the back yard to support the garden. We built 5 boxes in an area with plenty of sun – using a simple, 4 by 3’x4”x1” base design (for more detail: we also added 3 of these squares for additional height, adjoining each layer with a support block inside, screwed into each corner of the interior of the raised beds). We even added a lid with chicken wire so that our dog, Earl, couldn’t eat everything as soon as it started to bear fruit (also helped with the squirrels). 

We filled the 12-16” tall beds with the following:

  • Compost!!! If you’ve seen previous posts on composting, you know that I am a fierce advocate for the breaking down process. Check out more details, here: BLOG 1, 2, 3
  • Organic Top Soil specifically designed for outdoor gardens (check it out here: )
  • Black mulch (to capture moisture longer, and ideally to prevent weeds)
Home Garden: Raised Beds

Home Garden: Raised Beds

Please note, there are much cuter and likely easier to follow designs online, not to mention a more thorough explanation of the need to mix fertile soils together – so be sure to check them out as well if you’d like to learn more about this process: https://joegardener.com/, https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home, https://www.thespruce.com/raised-bed-garden-ideas-4172154

Alas, this design worked for us and still left us with a cute path through the garden, in the sunshine, that we were able to collect from March – July (for the 1st batch), and then again from September – December (mostly for arugula, as several plants in the second batch have not bloomed yet).

I think it’s safe to say at least for this year, climate change helped my Texas garden. So while the most dire effects from climate change can be catastrophic, there are efficient, money-savings means of doing your part to mitigate it, and if you’re lucky, maybe even take advantage of the new tropical summers. 

That said, this winter, we’ll need to make sure we keep the ground as warm as possible when the temperature drops below freezing, and be sure to bring in any potted plants if we want them to survive into next year. For the outdoor garden, I may consider adding some extra tarp and/or sand on top of the outdoor plants in the ground that I want to make sure survive the winter, but we shall see.

I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated from time to time, so check back in a few months to learn more, and please do feel free to share any garden winter-weatherization tips in the comments below!

The Natural Gardener Nursery: Garden Blogger's Fling, Austin

Quick Natural Gardener insider tip –

If you have kids, or even if you don’t, definitely check this place out! They’ve got an expansive outdoor garden, and not to give away too many spoilers but there are also goats and chickens in the back part of the lot that you can check out!

Even if you’re in an apartment there indoor selection – within the greenhouse outdoors – is fantastic, and we have even managed to keep several of these alive and thriving for a few years since we moved in to our current home. The staff is also very knowledgeable about what to grow and when/how, and teaches classes in the summer time. For more details about this place or the types of plants they sell, check out their website here: https://tngaustin.com/.

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Solar Panels in the Winter: Myths and Motivators 101

It may not be surprising to you that when the sun is further away from the earth, ie during the fall and winter months in the northern hemisphere (Nov-Feb), less sunlight reaches the earth’s surface.

So, it would stand to reason that less sunlight is hitting your roof-top during this time-frame than the remainder of the year.

In today’s blog post we’ll explore this phenomenon in more detail, as well as some of the myths about producing solar energy in the winter, as well as a couple of reasons why you might still want to make the purchase anyway, to take advantage all year long of energy savings.

Solar Panels

Myths 

  • Solar panels do not produce energy in the winter.”

False. In fact, solar panels produce on average produce 35% of their overall annual energy production in Texas during the winter time (“On average, 65% of our local solar system’s annual energy output is generated between March 21st and September 21st of each year. The other half of the year, between September 21st and March 21st, accounts for the other 35% of annual solar output.” https://www.lighthousesolarny.com/blog/2017/february/the-seasonality-of-solar-energy-production/).

During the winter storm in February of 2021, Texans learned first-hand just how helpful solar panels can be in an emergency winter storm – check out the following article from Pecan Street’s Chief Technology Officer, Scott Hinson, here: https://www.pecanstreet.org/2021/02/solarstorm/.

  • Solar panels are less efficient in the winter, because of rain and snow.”

This one is partially true, if you live in Seattle or Greenbay, where rain and snow in the winter time should come as no surprise at all. However in Texas, with average rainfall reaching 27.25″ (https://learn.weatherstem.com/modules/learn/lessons/182/19.html#:~:text=The%20average%20annual%20rainfall%20for,climatic%20regions%20of%20the%20state), and average snowfall typically in the ‘none’ range, it’s safe to say that your solar panels will absorb energy as efficiently in the summer months, if the distance of the sun were negligible.

  • The further distance of the sun during the winter months means that your panels will produce less energy than they would in the summer months.”

True, but only if you live in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere the sun is actually closer to the earth, and therefore would produce more solar energy in what American’s would think of as “winter time,” and if you don’t believe me, just check out the following link which explains this exact phenomenon: https://solarcalculator.com.au/solar-panel-orientation/.

Motivators

Winter Solar Panels

Even if you live in the northern hemisphere, where solar production may dip in the winter months, you’re still likely to produce some extra energy – as we saw in myth buster #1.

Additionally, if you were to perhaps accompany your solar system with back-up battery power and/or a generator, you could also keep your heat on should say a winter storm hit and take down the energy grid in your neighborhood for 4-5 days. This is a huge incentive to start looking into solar power generation from your home, because outside of a zombie-apocalypse occurring, you’ll want to start preparing to save money and keep your home well insulated against the negative effects of climate change as well, and having solar energy & energy storage could make a difference if the grid in your area is shut off.

However, if you’re not interested in saving money, or want to save money and carbon emissions in the most effective way possible, going green has really never been easier with solar! Harvesting energy from the sun is renewable and there is a lot of sun to go around, however unlike geothermal heaters or wind turbines, the set up for rooftop solar is fairly simple, and will only require a few months of planning and execution before you’re able to enjoy energy credits on your utility bill from your solar production.

Finally this brings us to the #1 motivator to go solar: Net Metering. If you don’t know what this is, we’ve discussed it on earlier blogs so be sure to check those out (here: https://suntexllc.com/energy-components-electrical-components-smart-meters-net-metering-and-data-monitoring-what-do-they-all-have-in-common/, and https://suntexllc.com/electrical-components-smart-meters-net-metering-and-data-monitoring-what-do-they-all-have-in-common-part-2-of-2/ – to reference just a couple, feel free to uncover more using the search feature).

Net metering is the icing on top of the solar cake that makes this technology feasible in modern every-day life. Net metering works exactly how it sounds: your meter is typically upgraded to a smart meter so that you’re able to measure not only energy consumption, but energy production as well. Therefore, when your solar array produces energy to send to the grid, your utility company can then take the “net” or difference between what energy was consumed and what energy was produced and apply energy production credits to your utility bill. These credits are applied to your energy bill each month and deducted (in simple terms) from your total energy bill, thus making your energy cost more affordable.

So, if emergency planning, saving money, reducing carbon emissions and gaining energy credits on your utility bill haven’t convinced you yet of the benefits of solar, I’m not sure anything will, but feel free to share some additional comments in the section below, and hopefully we can help get those myths busted, and those panels installed!

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Electrical Components: Smart Meters, Net Metering, and Data Monitoring – What Do They All Have in Common? Part 2 of 2

In yesterday’s blog post we explored Smart Meters and Net Metering in some detail (check it out, here: https://suntexllc.com/energy-components-electrical-components-smart-meters-net-metering-and-data-monitoring-what-do-they-all-have-in-common/), however today we’ll get to the heart of why any of this should matter to you. Of course, even if you’re not a data scientist, it doesn’t hurt to explore your curiosity in energy consumption to determine how your energy consumption currently looks and ways to improve upon it and ideally, reduce it.

Sometimes you need more energy (for example, during the holidays when you’re cooking a feast and need to power your electric stove a little longer) and you shouldn’t hold yourself hostage to a certain number of kWh per month. However having a good understanding of your energy data can help you improve your bottom line in numerous ways!

Data Monitoring

Now for my favorite piece of the energy management puzzle: Data Monitoring. While the “what is it?” question may be a little more intuitive to answer for data monitoring, there are a few other questions worth exploring here, such as: “Who has access?” and/or “What are they monitoring?” and perhaps most importantly, “How are they using it?”

Let’s explore these questions one-by-one:

Who has access to energy data? 

Data Monitoring

Typically your Retail Energy Provider (REP) needs access to your energy data for the very obvious reason of calculating how much to bill you each month for your energy usage. However, what might be less obvious but no less common, is that your REP will also send your data to the Electric Grid (managed by ERCOT, in Texas – for a very detailed look at the data ERCOT monitors, check out the Hourly Load Data archives here: https://www.ercot.com/gridinfo/load/load_hist), so that they’re able to forecast how much energy will be needed from the grid at any given time.

Ideally, this would also allow them to forecast additional energy needs from the grid during an emergency, however in Texas we know this isn’t always the case, or at least if they’re able to predict it, ERCOT still might not do anything to avoid energy outages (see an in-depth look at this problem in our prior blog post, here: https://suntexllc.com/texas-senate-following-the-bills-where-are-we-now/).

Beyond these two governing bodies, and particularly if you produce renewable energy on your property, it’s likely that your energy is shared with a third party monitor, such as the solar or wind energy company that installed your system. We’ll get into the nuts and volts of why they monitor your data in the paragraphs below, but it is a good practice to set this up as soon as your system is installed so that if there is any issue in energy production, they’re able to see it and fix it before you get your next energy bill.

What are these energy monitors looking for; and how are they using my data?

Data MonitoringWhile we briefly discussed the answer to this question above, it really depends on whom is doing the monitoring. For example, your energy company will use your energy data in order to bill you for the electric service they provide each month, however what if you have 100% solar offset on your bill, and thus your energy bill is $0 (or close to it)?

Even when your energy bill is offset by renewables, your REP still monitors your monthly consumption and production, and in some cases will also still charge a Grid connection or Transmission fee (so that they’re able to pay for services needed to make sure you’re able to remain connected to the grid).

While I don’t love the idea of paying for something I don’t use, it’s certainly helpful in the winter months or during a rainy week to remain connected to the grid since your solar panels won’t likely produce enough electricity on those days to completely offset your usage, and I certainly don’t want to pay for the total cost of running my own transmission lines to the local power plant!

Our energy grid consists of lots of moving parts. These moving parts must coordinate succinctly in order to function properly, and at a very basic level, ensure that there is enough energy production to meet the energy consumption demand in the marketplace. When they’re not failing miserably at this, which in all fairness is a majority of the time, ERCOT monitors your energy data in order to maintain Grid power and avoid grid failures. What does this look like? Check out their website to learn more about exactly what ERCOT does, and how it helps regulate the energy market in Texas:

https://www.ercot.com/services/client_svcs/acctmgmt

This leaves third party monitors. During my time in the solar energy industry, I’ve had the opportunity to see how this is done first hand, and I can safely say that energy monitoring has drastically improved over the years! Irig would imagine at some point in the past 150 years since public electricity was implemented, particularly since this came before computers were invented, there was some log book of energy consumption and energy production that power plants used to regulate energy distribution in their respective service areas.

Since then however, and in just a few short years, with the invention of computers, smart meters, and smart inverters, energy monitoring has gone from excel spreadsheets to master databases with rigorous privacy regulation.

In order to collect your energy data, third party monitors must obtain your permission, however it’s often in your best interest to grant it. I recognize that working for SUNTEX I may have some bias here, so don’t take my word for it, check out the following links to learn more about why sharing your energy data may be beneficial to you:

Of course, if you decide to go off grid with an energy system, generator, and battery storage option, you can avoid sharing your energy data with anyone, even though it will likely still be accessible online for your periodic review. While some energy monitoring devices are more precise than others, you’re typically looking for the following:

  • Annual consumption: how does the energy consumption for my home stack up against other homes of the same size? Could I save money by offsetting some of that consumption with renewable energy sources?
  • Monthly consumption: how does this stack up month-to-month and why? For example, in Texas we use a lot of air-conditioning in the summer months, so it seems likely that energy consumption during these months would be higher.
  • Hourly consumption: particularly if your Retail Energy Provider (REP) uses peak-hour pricing for your electricity bill, you might analyze your hourly consumption in order to determine whether or not you’re using energy in your home most efficiently, or whether this could be improved. For example, check out the Austin Energy electricity fee schedule here (keep in mind that your REP likely has something similar, so be sure to search “[REP name] + peak hours” if you’re curious to see what this looks like in your area): https://austinenergy.com/wcm/connect/1a559c04-2286-4e22-bd16-1cde50aff0ff/COA-RatesAndFees-FY22.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CVID=nPpTOmF.

While we’re always happy to help if you have any questions about this process, or how to analyze the energy usage in your home, we are experts in this particular field! So give us a call for a free energy consultation, and even if you don’t go solar, we’re eager to teach home owners how to read their energy bill and manage their energy consumption. Give us a call today!

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Electrical Components: Smart Meters, Net Metering, and Data Monitoring – What Do They All Have in Common? Part 1 of 2

Smart Meters

With any new purchase undoubtedly comes new vocabulary, and buying a house or upgrading your home to include a solar-panel system certainly fits this rule. For any new homeowners out there, or for our customers whom are trying to learn more about these products, this week we’ve written a brief explanation of some of the electrical components you see in every home, and how to read these devices. Today’s blog will build upon your foundational knowledge of the electric meter (see blog post from earlier this week, here: https://suntexllc.com/energy-components-the-electric-meter/), and why understanding the difference between an analog electric meter and a newer, smart-meter might be important to you in the near future.

Smart Meters

Smart Meters (photo from Geopal.com – click here for more information)

As we’ve mentioned before, a “smart” component implies that it can not only serve it’s main pupose, whatever that may be, but that it also communicates data and information back to another device. For the direct quote, check out our previous blog on smart home components, here: https://suntexllc.com/product-deep-dive-smart-products/): “the term “Smart technology” implies an important distinction – that the appliance or electrical device can be controlled by an app, remotely.”

However understanding what a Smart Electric Meter is capable of is perhaps one of the most critical pieces of information for someone wishing to ‘Go Solar’ in Texas. Of course, for the expert opinion on the matter, we turn to SmartMeterTexas.com: https://www.smartmetertexas.com/home. Because we’ve already discussed what an Electric Meter does in the previous SUNTEX Blog Post mentioned above, I won’t go into too much detail here on what this equipment does (the short story is that Electric Meters measure your electric consumption, or how much energy you use in the home each month).

While this website mostly applies to those living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and thus some of the information will be irrelevant to you if you live elsewhere, there is a very helpful guide on how to read a smart meter, as well as a couple of important things to look out for, namely the ESID (or the Electric Service Identifier) and meter number (check it out here: https://www.smartmetertexas.com/Smart_Meter_Texas_Residential_User_Guide.pdf). Even just perusing the Glossary of Terms on pages 33 and 34 of this user guide will help you better understand what a Smart Meter is and why you might consider asking your Retail Electric Provider about upgrading your Electric Meter today.

If you’re still having trouble understanding the difference between a traditional Electric Meter and a Smart Electric Meter, don’t worry! Our friends at SmartEnergy.com are here to help with that exact quandry – check out the similarities and differences between these two types of meters, here: https://www.smartenergy.com/what-is-a-smart-meter/ (long story short, according to the article: “They [smart meters] provide up-to-date information and can do many things remotely that required numerous employees to handle in the past”).

Net Metering

Now that we’re experts on Smart Meters, we can move on to the most important question in today’s blog post: why should we even care about Smart Meters?!

If you kept reading beyond the chart within the SmartEnergy.com article, you already know at least part of this answer, for example:

“Shorter interims between energy readings allow you to see how much power you’re using at what time of day and where you’re using it,” AND, “All of the data is collected and analyzed by the provider in order to better understand usage patterns and how to better service their customers” (https://www.smartenergy.com/what-is-a-smart-meter/).

One of the largest advantages to having a Smart Meter however, is Net Metering. What is Net Metering and how does it work? For that question, we turn to our trusty source SEIA.org, who had this to say about it:

“Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on their roof, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods when the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. Customers are only billed for their “net” energy use” (https://www.seia.org/initiatives/net-metering).

Basically, net metering is what allows people to ‘Go Solar’ since they’re able to produce energy during the day when the sun is shining on their panels, even though most of their energy consumption will likely happen at night (think lights, cooking dinner, AC/heat, and the numerous fans you have blowing while you sleep) when the sun is not shining and solar panels are not producing energy for your home. If your retail energy provider does not have a net-metering policy (or a Value-of-Solar policy that is similar to net metering), then solar may not be able to save you money in the long run. See the diagram below for a visual representation of how net metering really works:

What is Net Metering and How Does It Work?

Net Metering (photo from Solaflect.com – click here for more information)

Even if your home doesn’t have solar, net metering policies can help you determine when “peak hours” of energy usage exist and how to mitigate your energy use during those times and reduce your monthly bill. You might also want to review your baseline energy usage to see if there are appliances in your home that are consuming large amount of energy, and explore options for getting more efficient products.

While it’s not typically something you need to look at on a daily basis, it might not hurt to do some analysis and familiarize yourself with your typical energy cycle (especially on an annual basis, since this varies seasonally), since you might just be able to tell whether or not an appliance is broken and is consuming more energy than usual, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars in addressing the problem early!

Do you have energy insights you’d like to share? Add them in the comments below!

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