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Sunny Days Bring Energy, Food for the Tran Family – and Cool for their Four-Legged Fashionistas

Stop by the Tran household on most weekends, and you’ll see a confluence of energy. Extended family gathers around a potluck of Vietnamese specialties: steaming phở soup, crunchy egg rolls or bún bò Huế, a lemongrassy concoction of spicy umami flavors and thicker, chewier noodles. Three dogs join the action: Mochi, the family terrier, does chair-to-chair solicitation for a good back scratch, while French bulldog Lumi and dachshund mix Hershey hunt for table scraps.

It’s an atmosphere of joy, an energy nourished by years of savory dishes and familial bonds. Carolyn Tran shares the house with her parents, her sister and her sister’s husband. The sisters enjoy spending the weekend cooking with their mother, a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant.

“Food for me is a lot about passing on culture,” says Carolyn, who works at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “My grandmother taught my mom, and my mom's teaching me and my sister to cook traditional foods. It’s kind of just learning where we come from, where they come from, and keeping it going.”

Her favorite dish is tofu soup, a versatile staple you can kick up with whatever’s in the fridge. Or the garden, in Carolyn’s case. Fresh produce is just past the door, with after-dinner fruit courtesy of a side-yard grapefruit tree – a fond reminder of Carolyn’s late grandfather, who planted it. The plants draw energy from the sun-soaked days around the Tran home located in San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood, celebrated for its rich cultural variety and creating a lively array of traditions, languages, and culinary experiences. And that same sun helps produce more than just fruits and vegetables: It also generates electricity through the Tran family’s new rooftop solar panels.

Thanks to a program from the City of San Diego and SDG&E, which delivers the family’s electricity and gas, Carolyn’s parents received solar panels for some help on their utility budget. The extra electrons come in handy during the hottest parts of the day, when air conditioning can help prevent overheating for Mochi, Lumi and Hershey. Like so many San Diegans, the Tran family – including its canine members – brings energy to all they do, and SDG&E helps enable that energy in the most sustainable way possible.

Mochi & Lumi , two dogs, standing on a bed
Mochi & Lumi 

Rooftop Solutions

Previously, the Tran family would limit air-conditioning usage to off-peak periods, and only when the heat became intolerable – which was starting to happen more often. Carolyn’s brother-in-law, Phuong Nguyen, hatched the idea of solar panels to help manage electricity costs. But that was just before the COVID-19 pandemic, which derailed progress on the plan.

The San Diego Solar Equity Program, which helps income-qualified families gain access to renewable energy, eventually “sped things along for us,” Carolyn says. The family applied for the program, and before long their home had a batch of new rooftop panels – and a way to offset energy costs during the peak heat of the day.

“It gets very hot because our house isn’t as well insulated, so being able to turn on the A/C without having to worry about the energy bill at the end of the day is soothing,” Carolyn says. “The dogs love it. Last year when we didn't have solar, they would just move around on the tile just to try and get cool. Having the A/C for them really gives us peace of mind, that they’re OK when we leave them at home.”

"It gets very hot because our house isn’t as well insulated, so being able to turn on the A/C without having to worry about the energy bill at the end of the day is soothing."

Carolyn Tran

Part of Giving Back

SDG&E shareholders fund the $10 million San Diego Solar Equity Program, disbursed over 10 years, and SDG&E contracts with the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Energy to administer it. The program offsets the cost of solar installations for homeowners in the City of San Diego who earn less than 120% of the federal poverty level. The program aims to cover 100% of solar installation costs for systems up to 6.5 kilowatts, with supplemental funding for homes that need electric-panel upgrades to go solar.

Among those homes was the Tran household, whose eldest members immigrated from Vietnam when they were in their twenties. Their work ethic has left an imprint on the family. With a little help from SDG&E, the Tran family’s younger generation is trying to help their elders enjoy their retirement.

“My parents have always worked – they don’t ever take vacation or any days off,” Carolyn says. “They’ve worked hard to make it here from Vietnam. We’re just trying to find ways to help them save money and get ready for retirement. When we heard about the solar program, we thought it could help. It’s really about doing this for them, so they can enjoy their retirement and not have to worry as much about household bills.”