Before investing in a renewable energy system like solar panels, be sure to tackle efficiency improvement projects first. You will get a quicker return on your investment and the amount of energy you need to generate through your renewable energy projects will be reduced. There is an exception to this rule if you live into New Jersey, but I’ll talk about that at the end.
Here are some of the projects you should tackle before you go for solar:
(The links take you to earlier GLC articles on these topics)
- Home Energy Audit
- Programmable Thermostats
- Install Faucet Aerators and Low-flow showers/toilets
- Air Sealing and Insulation
- Use Energy Saving settings on your PC
- Heating/Cooling System Efficiency
- Find what’s using energy when you’re not using it and turn it off (vampire load)
- Lighting upgrades (e.g. CFL in place of incandescent light bulbs)
- Turn down the thermostat on Hot Water Heater
- Energy Efficient Appliances (Energy Star)
If you are unsure what to do, the Home Energy Audit is a good first step because the energy expert who conducts the audit will provide you with a prioritized list of projects to get you started. In most of Massachusetts you can get a free home energy audit through MassSave.com. If you live elsewhere, you can also start with a tool like EnergySavvy.com which will ask you a series of questions about your home and lifestyle and then provide recommendations for next steps to take, provide connections with local contractors and incentive programs that are relevant for you. I have spoken with the developers of EnergySavvy and am impressed with their business plan and tool. We scored an 80, what do you score?
It was when I was exploring EnergySavvy.com that I learned that the new Commonwealth Solar II Rebate Program had begun which caused me to get our solar PV project rolling. You should take a look and find out what sort of programs might be available where you live (unfortunately, at this time, it’s information about contractors and incentive programs is just for the US).
The next segment will describe what happens on a solar site survey in our third post of this series: Going for Solar – Solar Site Survey (Step 3)
Oh, and I almost forgot, the New Jersey exception to maximizing efficiency before pursuing renewable energy projects is that New Jersey photovoltaic incentives are capped by your current electrical usage. So, even if you have the money and desire to be a net electricity producer to take advantage of the very favorable SREC (solar renewable energy credit) market, you cannot get the incentives for systems designed to exceed your current annual electricity usage. Some good friends of mine who are putting in solar in NJ recently ran into this problem. They have the space, the desire and the funding, but had to limit the size of their PV array based on their electrical usage which they already reduced significantly through efficiency and conservation. I’m not too worried though, it is still a great deal and opportunity for them, stay tuned.
To learn more about residential solar installations, check out our series Going for Solar, which details every step from dreaming about installing solar, through picking a contractor and the steps in construction. We provide information and advice for every step of the way, as well as different approaches such as paying for it yourself versus leasing a system. Don’t miss the steps on how much money we saved during our first year of usage!