Our Man in Arlington

January 9, 2013 6:11 PM1 comment

Arlington sits a mere 93 million miles from a most practical energy source.

So notes Scott Sklar, the solar power luminary whose nonconformist home on Ivy Street may be the county’s most energy-savvy.

The bearded and jovial Sklar, a longtime lobbyist, author and lecturer, is on friendly terms with his neighbors, who are accustomed to his standing on their lawn to afford visitors a view of the photovoltaic panels on his slanted roof.

The house is easy to spot. Out front is a demonstration van laden with solar panels and a wind turbine that, while not strong enough to run the vehicle, power the television and DVD player used at events. The van carries the world’s most powerful batteries.

By day, Sklar runs the Stella Group Ltd. (named for his daughter), a strategic marketing and policy company that leases on-site clean power solutions for commercial customers and government agencies.

He served on Arlington’s Community and Energy Sustainability Task Force, whose 2011 report recommended policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per capita.

Across Quincy Street from Washington-Lee High School rests another Sklar demonstration: a “mobile power station” with photovoltaics and a turbine mounted on a shipping container.

Sklar’s residence—which some might consider cluttered– is 91-year-old-Sears home. He bought it in 1984, before the Clarendon Metro boom, adding a second story by Arlington-based Merrill Contracting. He eventually powered the home off the grid (except in the peak of summer).

The house was eating up 5.2 kilowatts at peak hour, Sklar explains, and he got it down to 3.2 kilowatts. How? He put in efficient R-38 insulation and double-pane windows containing argon gas. He lathered thermal barrier paint on the attic roof aside a solar attic fan. He added compact fluorescents lights (approved by the federal Energy Star program). He bought a Whirlpool washer that consumes only 40 percent of the water and half the electricity of its predecessor. He installed a solar water-heater.

Over his porch, he put in a metal-seamed roof with peel-and-stick photovoltaics. He enclosed his back porch with electro-chromic glass that reduces summer heat. In his yard he dug four 100-foot holes for a geothermal heat pump that cut air conditioning costs cut by 67 percent. Disguised as drainspout, its pipe transfers heat into the ground. He also captures rainwater in barrels.

Along walkways in the back yard he installed geothermal light-emitting diode lights. “You can buy them at Cherrydale Hardware,” Sklar says, “All of this is commercial, not experimental.”

In his separate office, he put in R-50 insulation and solar-daylighting that makes workers more productive and students healthier. Photovoltaic roofing shingles husband electricity. His basement is lined with 24 high-efficiency batteries, and on cloudy days a hydrogen fuel cell augmenter prevents overload that drains batteries. An Internet monitor displays power used and money saved.

Atop his daughter’s old playhouse is a heavy solar panel, and inside sits the first commercially leased fuel panel. Nearby is a solar-powered trailer designed for Third World markets to transport vaccines and for powering schools and irrigation.

“There’s should not be a freedom to waste energy,” says this passionate solar salesman. But Sklar understands why fossil fuel companies prefer the status quo. “It’s not an either/or choice—they can coexist,” he says. “We have to educate people that energy has to change. They shouldn’t be scared.”

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