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Want to Go Solar? Cut Your Energy Use First

Want to Go Solar? Cut Your Energy Use First

By Deep Patel, Intent

One of the most common complaints about “going solar” is that the upfront cost is just too high. The primary reason a solar power system can be a high ticket purchase for many solar power shoppers is because of the customers’ bad energy usage habits. The majority of solar power shoppers don’t realize they are energy hogs until they start shopping for solar power, when they are forced to understand and analyze their electric consumption.

So how can solar power shoppers instantly get a deep discount on their solar power system? The answer is simple, “reduce then produce.” Focusing on energy efficiency, and implementing lifestyle and product changes can greatly reduce the upfront cost of a solar power system. It is always more cost-effective to reduce your consumption through efficiency than it is to produce your own power.

Think of it this way, the more you can save through energy efficiency, the fewer solar panels you need to cover your electric usage. Itís that simple. But most solar power consumers get frustrated seeing high upfront costs of going solar and think there are no alternatives to bring the cost down.

How do you reduce your energy consumption?

1. Change all your light bulbs to LEDs. Lighting can contribute up to 10 to 20 percent of your electrical load. Want to minimize that load? LEDs (light emitting diodes) consume a fraction of the electricity that incandescent bulbs and even CFL light bulbs consume. While LED bulbs cost more than their counterparts, they last over 11 years, and LEDs differ from CFLs in that they contain no mercury, a very toxic element. LED bulbs can fit in standard lighting sockets and only cost a dollar or two per year to run a standard household light bulb. Since LED bulbs operate cooler, the decrease in temperature can also keep your home cooler during summer months.

2. Invest in insulation. Drafty windows and gaps under doors can significantly raise your heating and cooling costs. These costs usually comprise over half of all energy outlays made by homeowners. By investing in insulation, you can lower your energy costs by as much as 30%.

3. Get rid of old appliances. These tend to be less energy efficient. For example, an old coffee maker can consume power equivalent to the output of four solar panels! Purchase Energy Star appliances.

4. If youíre not using it, turn it off! Unplug unused items (they draw energy even if they are plugged in, but not in use). These sneaky loads are called “vampire loads”, and they cost U.S. consumers 3 billion dollars per year! How much are these loads costing you? Smart power strips can help you fight vampire loads by shutting off power draw when the appliance is not in use. Remember to set your computers to automatically hibernate (power saving mode) when they are idle for more than 5 minutes. And most importantly, turn off the lights when you leave a room!

Changing the way you consume energy can have a significant impact on the overall price of a solar energy system. Reducing energy consumption can shave off thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars from the final cost of a system.

It seems like today, everyone wants to produce their own watts through solar panels and wind turbines. But we need to first produce “negawatts.” Negawatt power is a term promoted and introduced by Amory Lovins of The Rocky Mountain Institute; essentially, the term means that by saving energy, we create a “virtual power plant,” thus not having to create a new power plant to increase electrical supply. The direct reduction in electrical demand through energy efficiency is called a Negawatt.

Energy efficiency and solar power fit very well with each other. When considering solar power, think about easy ways you can reduce your consumption first Ė that way you’ll save tons of cash, making the solar investment that much more attainable.

Are you doing anything to save energy that I haven’t covered? Please share!

Get More 30 Days to a Greener You Ideas

Deep Patel is the Founder & CEO of GoGreenSolar.com, a leading solar and wind power internet retailer and online community.

Intent.com provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.

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26 comments

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2:35AM PDT on Oct 1, 2013

good to know

7:28AM PDT on Mar 24, 2013

Guess this is another example of "think big and ignore the little things". While we're waiting till we can afford to build or retrofit to a green home, there are a million things we each can do to lower consumption and cost on the one we have. Thanks for calling that to our attention.

5:52PM PST on Jan 20, 2011

good stuff.

3:25PM PST on Jan 19, 2011

Good ideas, thanks.

7:07AM PDT on Aug 16, 2010

thank you!

7:06AM PDT on Jul 23, 2010

I save all the hydro I can. The delivery charges are more than consumption. Really sucks.

2:04AM PST on Dec 19, 2009

We had to design a "passive solar home"..No solar panels, wind turbines or fancy gadgets..Instead, we used southern exposure windows for light and warmth, planting decidious trees to the south for warmth in the winter, shade in the summer, pellet stoves, proper insulation, using heat retention methods and natural cooling, even painting interior walls for heat absorbtion and light reflection. Of course you need alternative energy sources for total energy efficiency. These homes are inexpensive and attractive..When did we stop considering "Passive Solar Energy"?
vitamin d

6:56PM PDT on Jul 2, 2009

This is so old hat. repeating the same suggestions that one hears year in and year out. The truth of the matter is, you cannot reduce your electric costs significantly for very long.As soon as enough people reduce their usage, electric companies complain they arn't making money,so beg the state for an increase in rates(and guess what? 8 times out of 10 will get a bigger increase than they asked for). So your now paying more than you did just a year ago, when you weatherized your home.
Just do it, even though the up front costs might be a bit high, in the long run switching to solar or wind or whatever, will make you better off in the long run.

8:25AM PDT on Jun 1, 2009

I agree with Anna about the mercury. You may think you have cleaned it all up with your broom, but if you had someone come into your house and test for mercury, the levels after a single bulb breaking would be astronomical. And your really can't get rid of it. This substance is STILL used in vaccines, and now (and for some time) in light bulbs? This should be outlawed. There are very evidently better ways to conserve energy. LED is a good place to start, as a designer, I wish the light output and color were better.

12:49PM PDT on May 15, 2009

PT3. We use hand powered can opener(tho mostly we put our own food up in jars so an opener is not necessary), hand mix cakes, and hand masher for smash taters.
We also are installing a whole house fan to cut ac use.
I got a coffee maker that has a thermal carafe so does not have a burner to keep coffee warm, it only runs 5 minutes then shuts itself off, it is plugged into a strip I turn off after, same for cell phone chargers, microwave, tv in the bedroom. I take advantage of sunlight instead of lights during the day.
I did not learn all this or implement over one day or even a year. I have been doing it over the last 10 years. Learning and making new habits over time, get used to and add to the regime. We hang clothes to dry, in the unused den in the winter where we have tropical plants to keep the humidity up. It gets really dry here and saves the power and maint on humidifiers , we have extremely hard water, and it does a number on water using appliances. I go thru a lot of white vinegar (no poisonous phosphorus)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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