So you want to install solar to reduce your energy costs. But did you know there are many ways to save money with energy conservation before generation? If you conserve using the tips described here, solar may not ultimately pencil out—and even if it still makes sense for your home or business, a smaller system may suffice. If you cut your power needs, you also cut the price of your future solar installation, because it won’t need to be as big.
First, do a detailed review of your energy use. For an accurate picture, you’ll need to average a year’s worth of utility bills. Some companies will do a comprehensive evaluation of the specific ways you can conserve energy, and the costs for such consultations are minimal and will be recovered fairly quickly once your bill drops. Remember, with PG&E’s tiered rate system, the less you use, the less per kilowatt hour you pay.
Start with the easy stuff
Take a look at the conservation list here and pick one or two things you can do right away. For example, changing out incandescent lightbulbs to compact fluorescents will make a nice difference; it’s easy to do and, best of all, you can do it by yourself for a very small amount of money. You can also change out T-12 fluorescents to T-8 (rebates for this are still available to offset the cost). And what about putting outdoor lights on either photo cells, motion sensors or both? No need for lights in the daylight, right?
Likewise, consider putting your electronics on a power strip—a quality power strip with surge protection (some have power conditioners that take in power and modify it based on the requirements of the machinery to which they’re connected) so you can turn the whole power strip off, thereby reducing the amount of “phantom energy” used. Phantom energy is the energy household devices use energy in standby mode. The best-known example is a computer, but TVs also consume electricity while plugged in but not turned on. Generally it’s just a couple watts, but some HD models use more than 40 watts on standby.
If you want to take it farther, hire an electrician to install occupancy sensors that turn lights off automatically after an amount of time that you choose. As long as there’s activity in the room, the lights will stay on.
After you’ve made these easy changes, check your bills again in three to six months. Be sure to compare against the same time span a year earlier to ensure a close approximation of savings. Continue conserving until your bills are low but you don’t feel you’re sacrificing your lifestyle. Then get a quote for a photovoltaic system from a certified professional. Don’t forget to ask for advice about additional conservation methods you may not have thought of.
More basic changes
Here are some ways to conserve energy:
Keep the outdoors, out and the indoors, in. Insulate your ceiling, sub floor and ductwork. Caulk around all windows and doors (and weather strip exterior doors). Replace single-pane and older double-pane windows withnewer, energy efficient windows. And consider window coverings to keep heat in during winter and out during summer.
Electricity. Unplug small appliances when not in use and replace old ones with Energy Star appliances. (One of my employees recently replaced an electric water heater that was 10 years old. Not too old, right? It cut her electric bill from $129 per month to $68 per month because her decreased use put her in a lower PG&Etier, so she was paying less per kwh.)
Heating and cooling (HVAC). Turn down your thermostat in winter and up in summer(by turning your thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours per day, you can save 5 to 15 percent on your energy bills) and upgrade to an energy-efficient furnace. Replace HVAC filters as recommended. Plant shade trees on the south and west sides of your home. (If you think you’re going to go solar eventually, be careful not to plant a tree so large it will reduce your future solar array’s exposure to sunlight.
Water. Turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater and wrap it in an insulating blanket—or install an on-demand (tankless) one. Use low-flow faucets and take five-minute showers. Replace old toilets with low-flush or dual flush models. Buy a front-loading washing machine, which will use much less water and energy. Wash clothes in cold water and dry them on a clothesline or racks. Catch rainwater for irrigation, install drip irrigation in your garden and landscape with native plants and grasses.
Now it’s time for solar
Save money twice by cutting back on your energy use and installing a solar photovoltaic system that will put you in the “energy sweet spot.” The idea isn’t to eliminate your PG&E bill (although that is possible), but to get you down to the lowest usage tier so you’re paying much less per kwh. There are solar leases (even zero down programs) to help with financing, and residential and commercial rebates and tax incentives still exist.
Larry Dashiell is CEO of Summit Technology Group (www.summit-e.com) in Santa Rosa. Contact him at (707) 542-4776 or (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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