With the installation of a brand new PG&E solar meter on July 24th, the Zen Center enters the new era of solar energy. The 35-kilowatts Photovoltaic (PV) System employs 223 solar panels and will supply 90% to 100% of Zen Center’s electricity. Our system incorporates ‘micro inverter’, the latest PV system technology, one of the first few in Bay Area. An inverter converts the direct current (DC) output of solar modules into alternating current (AC) power. As opposed to the traditional PV System, the new technology allows one inverter per each module. There is no longer the issue that one broken or shaded panel can cause similar affects on other panels in the same string. This increases the efficiency of the system and can harvest more energy. The new system is not inexpensive and it may take 10 to 15 years to recoup the Zen Center’s investment, but numbers alone cannot measure the cost.
One of the reasons the Zen Center decides to seek alternatives, Abbot JianHu Shifu explains, is the concern for environment. Buddhism has held the idea of “adorning the Buddha’s land” long before the environment issues is raised. Buddhism promotes, from simple act of not stepping on grass unnecessarily, to the principle of taking great care of the land (“behave like the bees, draw nectar from flowers but do not hurt them.”) With the new system, we are doing our part to protect this land.
Every year, our PV system will reduce the unfriendly emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) by about 95,000 lbs. This is equal to the emissions from driving approximately 118,000 miles in a passenger car, or the amount of CO2 that takes 13 acres of trees to absorb. It will also reduce approximately 78 lbs Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and 26 lbs of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) a year. NOx and SO2, when interacting with each other or with other pollutants, can cause breathing problems, induce lung damages, and aggravate existing heart conditions. The worst end product, Acid Rain, damages vegetations, erodes cars, buildings and world landmarks. It contributes greatly to the shortage of clean water by making streams, rivers, and seas acidic, therefore undrinkable, and uninhabitable for plants and animals.
The Zen Center’s attention to the environment does not start today. The members have been encouraged to practice Buddhism tradition of vegetarianism. According to studies, it requires 10 to 50 times of resources to breed one pound of poultry than to grow one pound of vegetables; modern diseases like SARS, Mad Cow, and Bird Flu come from mass breeding of animals for human consumption. The Buddha gets to the root of the solution by saying “if our minds are clean, our world will be clean.” The best way to help the environment, the Abbot elaborates, is to purify our minds, act upon our compassion and understand the “dependent origination” nature of all phenomena.
JianHu Shifu has been promoting many environmental friendly activities among members: carpooling, recycling, starting an organic garden, use reusable utensils etc. Shifus here commute by walking or riding bicycles daily. The Zen Center schedules activities like one-day, 3-day and 7-day retreats. Though the main purpose is to provide occasions for members to meditate and attain enlightenment, the Abbot also asks the members to use these retreat as alternatives to those energy-consuming vacation travels. After the PV System, the Abbot wants to start more environmental friendly projects. Our Center, in his vision, would be the place where Buddha’s words are put into practice and become relevant to everyone’s life and time.