When you start looking at adding renewable energy to your home or business, be it wind, solar or even just buying renewable power from the utilities, the cost will be determined by the amount of energy you need. The first step therefore should be to reduce your demand for energy before you go shopping for renewable energy.
Imagine if you owned a business or factory that was extremely inefficient. Lets pretend that the factory only produced parts from 6 am to 4pm, but left all of the lights and equipment running 24-7. ( Why you would allow this is beyond me but what I have observed over the years would amaze you). In this case the total electrical requirements for the factory may be several times what is actually needed. If for some reason you then decided to purchase renewable energy from the utility or enter into a power purchase agreement or even add solar to your roof, the costs involved would also be several times what you actually need to spend to run your factory.
So it is easy to see where we first need to put the emphasis right? This applies as well for homeowners who have a limited budget ( most of us anyway) to spend on renewable technology. Lets first make sure that we have done some of the easy things or low hanging fruit before we start to size our proposed renewable energy system.
Here are some examples of low hanging fruits ( in order of the lowest hanging to highest). There are many more options that this but for example:
1- Use it when you need it but shut it off when you don’t. Lights, fans, televisions and computers all consume power when they are running ( or even just plugged in). Sit the family down and go over your last months energy bill and agree that everyone will do their part to shut things off when not needed.
2- Heating and Air-conditioning. HVAC is likely your homes largest energy consumer and there are three things that determine how much power they use.
– The efficiency of the HVAC unit itself. Not all furnaces or air conditioners are created equal. Some of the cheaper or older models use much more power when running that newer ones.
– Run-time. The number of times during the day that the system comes on and how long it runs for each time. ( also known as duty cycle). The equipment is doing what it needs to do to keep the building at the temperature you have it set for. The insulation of the building and volume of the area to be heated impact the ability of the HVAC system to do it’s job.
– Temperature setting. One of the best ways to keep a system at the temperature you want only when you need it is by installing a programmable thermostat. This will let you program a typical week for the HVAC system based on when you are home and when you are sleeping.
3- Lighting. Changing from incandescent or florescent light bulbs to LED will reduce your electricity requirements for lighting by as much as 60%.
4- Hot water. Take a look at when you using hot water and how much you need ( showers and clothes washing) versus the amount of time that your hot-water heater needs to store water waiting for you to use it. If your water heater is more than 10 years old you should consider replacing it with a new unit that is programmable to fit to your needs each day. The smaller the tank you can get away with the better.
This type of thinking also goes for the factory that I talked about earlier. Understanding where the energy is used and by what, will allow you to develop a plan to reduce your energy footprint.
How do you know that your home or factory is energy efficient enough to begin looking at renewable energy?
Good question and it has a relatively easy answer if you are thinking about the cost of investments.
When the cost adding more energy efficient systems is more than adding renewable energy you should start to think about renewables.For example you have made improvements to your home such that the only thing remaining is to switch from a natural gas furnace to a geothermal heat pump which has a payback of say 7 years, it may be time to look at solar pv systems which with government incentives may have a payback of say 5 years. In this way we know when it is time to go renewable.
Well that is probably enough for this article. I would love to know your thoughts so far and please come back to see the next topic. I am adding a weekly newsletter sign up soon for anyone who likes to read emails at work.
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