These days, going solar is a no-brainer. Costs are at an all-time low and getting lower and utility companies and state and local governments are offering subsidies to drive down these already low costs to sometimes as much as fifty-percent. On top of this, most states have enacted net metering laws that enable consumers to actually sell the excess electricity generated from their solar panels back to the grid. But if you really want to capitalize on solar, I’m here to tell you to invest in efficiency first.
Your mother may have told you – “you have to eat your vegetables before you get dessert.” Well, this adage applies neatly to investing in a solar photovoltaic system. In this case, energy efficiency is the “vegetables” and solar is the “dessert.” The reason that making your home more energy efficient makes sense before investing in solar is simply that by investing in energy efficiency, you won’t need to purchase as big of a solar PV system.
Energy efficiency is the concept that you can do the same things (i.e. heat and cool your home and use appliances and lighting) with less energy. By making your home more energy efficient, this means that you don’t consume as much electricity and therefore don’t need to purchase a solar PV system with quite as much generating capacity. This in and of itself can save you thousands of dollars right from the get-to.
Making your home more energy efficient is often considered the “low-hanging fruit” in the green energy industry, simply because energy efficiency upgrades are much cheaper and more cost-effective than generating green power. Here are a few easy steps to get your efficiency vegetables before moving onto the solar dessert:
- Get an energy audit – Energy audits give you a diagnostic assessment of your home’s energy performance. They typically cost $100-$200 dollars and tell you the most cost-effective ways to save energy. Be sure to work with qualified professionals with recognized industry credentials.
- Weatherize – Weatherization is about insulating and sealing the home’s “building shell,” or all surfaces of the house that are adjacent to the ambient air, and it’s consider one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce hot air loss from your home. Minimizing leaks in your home means that your furnace and air conditioner don’t have to work over time to keep your home warm or cool, depending on the season.
- Check your HVAC system – Heating and cooling account for the biggest energy consumption within the average home. When it’s time to upgrade your furnace, air conditioner or water heating system, be sure to look for high-efficiency alternatives that can save you hundreds of dollars each year on your utility bill.
- Light it up – Lighting is another energy hog in the home. When your old incandescents burn out, be sure to replace them with more efficient bulbs, like CFLs and LEDs.
- Look for Energy Star – Finally, when shopping for new appliances, like microwaves, televisions, or dishwashers be sure to look for the ENERGY STAR label. The Environmental Protection Agency created the ENERGY STAR labeling system to enable consumers to quickly and conveniently identify which appliances save the most energy.
Finally, be sure to check out your local utility company’s website to see what incentive might be available for making energy efficiency upgrades.