Greener BeeGreen LivingLiving Green: See-through solar is wave of the future

When you look out over the Monterey Bay from the outdoor patio of the Beach House at Lovers Point, you understand exactly why these are the most sought-after seats at the Pacific Grove restaurant. But managing general partner Kevin Phillips had a conundrum: How to make the 30-some patio seats usable on those foggy, drippy days for which Pacific Grove is famous.

“It turned out that there was a very elegant solution with a great side benefit,” said Phillips.

The answer was the installation of innovative solar panels above the patio — a translucent, weatherproof array that allows sunlight to filter through while also shielding patrons from the weather.

The panels, of course, come with a big bonus. They’ll be busily absorbing solar radiation and converting it to electricity to power the restaurant. Installed by Applied Solar Energy of Pacific Grove, the system will supply more than half of the energy for the entire building.

Increasingly, solar is going clear. Several companies are now producing translucent or clear panels that are much thinner and less obvious than the traditional dark panels that come to mind when most of us think of solar systems. Products soon to come are incorporating solar technology into window glass, or fusing it into roof tiles that look just like regular roofing materials.

You do see the Beach House’s panels if you happen to look straight up, although they aren’t immediately obvious. The panels are set on top of a trellis structure over the patio, but because they’re thin and clear, they don’t detract from the surroundings.

Phillips also plans a hanging garden below the panels to take advantage of the filtered light and to complement the view.

Phillips said that he had contemplated building a roof over the patio, which would have involved a lengthy permit process with approval required by the Coastal Commission. But for this solar system, only a city building permit was required.

Restaurants are large energy consumers — Phillips said the Beach House had been spending $3,000 a month for electricity — and the solar system will help considerably with that expense.

It’s just one of many changes that have occurred at the historic restaurant building, formerly the Old Bath House, in recent years. Phillips pointed out the use of bamboo wood throughout the restaurant — a fast-growing renewable resource — and noted that the eatery converted to LED lighting two years ago as well as energy-saving tankless water heaters.

“It makes sense to make these choices,” he said. “We feel good about it.”

The Beach House is not the only local entity turning to solar power. Recently, Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel also took advantage of its south-facing roof and installed a solar system, which since mid-September had already generated more than 6,000 kilowatts, and saved the nonprofit theater company more than $1,500 on its electric bill.

If you haven’t checked out solar systems lately for your home or business, it’s always good to have another look. New products and innovations are making solar ever more feasible for everyone. Call your local solar company and get a free estimate — you have nothing to lose and much to gain.

Do you have questions or tips about sustainable living around the Central Coast? Send them to Kathryn McKenzie at Follow Kathryn McKenzie at

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