Shapiro's Pyramid House Goes Solar
by David Shapiro/ Nrsimhananda das
Posted December 16, 2002



David Shapiro is generating power to the electricity grid with his new solar energy system.

As the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa struggled to agree upon a final declaration, the happy installers from SoCal Solar Energy were putting the finishing touches on my 6 kilowatt solar electric system, now pumping clean energy into the ubiquitous "grid." I sighed with relief as I witnesses Southern California Edison's meter spinning backwards, deducting kilowatts from my bill. During the five-day installation, my neighbors gawked at the array of solar panels on my roof, and then quickly made their commitment in the form on a $1,000 deposit to get their reservation into the state's rebate system. Although Topanga is anything but a "keeping up with the Jones's" community, when it comes to saving the environment, I think we welcome friendly one-upsmanship.

Our state will pay you half the cost of a system--and give you a 15 percent tax credit that you can deduct dollar for dollar off your tax bill for up to three years. Such a deal! The program has been around for a while, but, like a rolling snowball, it has gained momentum exponentially. The fund that was established for the rebates had been replenished. The economic returns of the system are sensible and a far more secure investment than the stock market. You can expect anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent net return including the cost of the loan.

My own dalliances with solar energy began when I first built the Pyramid House in 1979. I had solar water/heating panels and a self-designed system. It was a complete failure but a pillar of the present success. My commitment to renewable energy has roots in my spiritual practice. I have been a Hare Krishna devotee since 1971. Two of my fellow devotees wrote a book, Divine Nature--A Spiritual Perspective on the Environmental Crisis, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in 1995. The book distills the root cause of resource abuse: a polluted environment comes out of a polluted consciousness.

I see the waste in my own life everyday: I am constantly amazed at the amount of garbage one father and son can produce in a week--even with the recycling container overflowing. When I listen to the news, I realize how our foreign policy is so tied to oil production. There is no national resolve to make cleaner energy the norm. We complain about a water crisis, but 80 percent of it is spent on animal production, including animal grains and slaughter. Of the other 20 percent, we flush perfectly clean, healthy, drinkable water down the toilet. Doesn't that sound stupid? We've got the technology to install hygienic, trouble-free compost toilets in every home and apartment, but we prefer to pollute potable water and swirl the unmentionables out of sight. Then the government warns us to ration our water due to a drought. Go figure.

Many commentators have noted that the world's environmental problems will not be solved until people reduce their desire for material consumption. This is possible only if people gain tangible experience of superior forms of happiness and satisfaction. Some of my devotee friends have established farm communities where oxen, not tractors, till the earth. Cows give milk and are protected, not killed for their meat. Others have established medical clinics and hospitals where natural medicines and remedies are given where appropriate. Some have worked with the World Wildlife Fund for the purpose of planting trees in deforested environments. Hare Krishna is sometimes called the "kitchen religion" because devotees feed so many people. This "Food for Life" program uses only vegetarian products that are produced with minimal environmental impact. These attempts to nurture the earth and its inhabitants is an expression of love--for Krishna (God) and for all God's parts and parcels. This love, or bhakti as it is called in the Vaisnava tradition, is a product of developing Krishna or God consciousness. When a person becomes a true lover of God, he or she can only act in ways that are spiritually beneficial to all living entities. My meager attempt to kick in a few watts onto the grid is my way of saying that I want to be counted among those who are contributing to the welfare of all. I hope that you will look into the possibility of a solar system for your home so that we can all make a conscious difference from our special home here in sunny Topanga.

Shapiro built his Pyramid house in 1979 and now he's added a 6 kilowatt solar energy system with the state paying half the cost.

David Shapiro is a 27-year resident of Topanga who built a Pyramid house where there have been countless spiritual gatherings and free vegetarian feasts. He has produced numerous spiritual documentaries, PBS programs and instructional videos and is currently writing feature film scripts for For Real Films, Inc. The book, Divine Nature, can be obtained from ITV, P. O. Box 556, Topanga, CA 90290 for $5 including postage. You can also see David expend a lot of his own energy every year at the Tough Topanga 10K. He can be contacted at nrs@charter.net.