Begley: Solar electric in Philly can be cool

Begley, a well known TV and movie actor, has lately become the walking embodiment of "green living" thanks largely to his hit TV show "Living with Ed" and his earlier book "Living Like Ed."

If there's anyone who's qualified to publish his own Guide to Sustainable Living, it's Ed Begley, Jr., who's done just that in his new release from Clarkson Potter.

Begley, a well known TV and movie actor, has lately become the walking embodiment of "green living" thanks largely to his hit TV show "Living with Ed" and his earlier book "Living Like Ed." But he's no bandwagon-jumper: As he points out in our podcast interview, he's been on this case for close to 40 years. And while it's hip to mock Hollywood actors who have scads of money to throw at problems, Begley stresses that his money-saving / earth-saving tips are for everybody, not just the rich:

"In 1970," he says, "I didn't have a lot of dough, so I bought an electric car for $950, which saved me money right away in the price of fuel and maintenance - very low on that vehicle. I started recycling and composting - very inexpensive obviously - riding my bike more than I already did, taking public transportation more ... so then after a bit of time I could afford something that cost a little bit more - a solar oven, perhaps. I saved a little more money and I could afford a rain barrel to collect my rain water and pretty soon I could afford some good insulation, and I built and built. So all I say to people is, do it no differently than I did. I wasn't a big star in 1970 - I couldn't afford solar for 20 years.  ... Pick the low-hanging fruit first, do the cheap and easy stuff first, and you will save money. I sure did."

Asked about Philly specifically as an area to take advantage of things like solar power, Begley allowed that - a greater number of cloudy days notwithstanding - we may even have some advantages over his home state of California. "Believe it or not, the solar electric panels work better where it's sunny and cold. You just want the photons. If it's freezing cold out, those solar panels will work much better than they will here in hot southern California or anywheer in the southwest. When solar electric panels get hot they lose 15% of their efficiency, so if you have a cool and sunny part of the year, a sunny winter day when it's freezing out those solar panels are still gonna work great."

Begley's no blinkered cheerleader; after discussing a misstep where he overzealously installed a home wind turbine in an area that didn't get enough year-round wind, he cautioned: "Only do it if it makes financial sense. Do that [cheap and easy] stuff first. And nowadays those choices abound: energy-efficient lightbulbs; energy-saving thrermostat; weatherstripping around your doors and windows; bike-riding when weather and fitness permit - and I've ridden around Philadelphia, the beautiful Schuylkill river there, and those great river paths along it - it's just a great bike-riding city - taking public transportation if it's available to you, and it sure is in Philadelphia.

"Cheap and easy," he repeated."Home gardening, home composting, it's dirt cheap - do that stuff first and you will save money, I guarantee." While he advised saving it up for a rain barrel or solar oven, you might first want to put $23 toward Ed Begley, Jr.'s Guide to Sustainable Living and get the complete lowdown.

In the meantime, you can hear the full podcast here.