Published on October 4th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan
Save Energy & Save Money Using The Sun Intelligently In These 10 Ways
October 4th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan
Originally published on Cost of Solar.
One of the best ways to save money is also one of the greenest decisions we can make: that decision is the decision to save more energy. We waste a tremendous amount of energy in the US. Recent studies have found that we waste 61% to 84% of our energy in the US, and that we use 11 times more energy than the UK despite having only 5 times the population.
Energy is a huge portion of most people’s expenses. Cutting back just a bit on our energy usage could save money (tons of money) for all sorts of better things.
So, with all that on the table, what are the most effective ways to save money using the sun? I think all of the solar-related ways to save money (by saving energy) listed below are excellent solutions for the average American, but you can decide for yourself by evaluating the option as it applies to your own home or business.
Ways To Save Money With Solar Energy
Of course, as I’ve written several times here on Cost of Solar, putting solar PV panels on your roof is a pretty sure way to save tens of thousands of dollars (yep, tens of thousands). This should really be one of the first ways to save money that you should look into, especially considering that you can go solar for $0 or close to $0 down in many or most places (either through a solar leasing/PPA arrangement or through a $0 down solar loan from a bank).
But rooftop solar PV panels aren’t the only way to save energy using the sun. The below solar infographic from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) shows 7 more solar-related energy saving solutions. In case you prefer text format with a bit more commentary, here’s that first:
Use Solar Light Tubes For Daylighting: Solar light tubes allow you to bring in a lot more light (cutting the need for artificial lighting, which sucks up electricity) without the installation of big windows (which leak heat in the winter and cool air from your electricity-needy air conditioner in the summer). RMI notes that the average financial payback on solar light tubes is 5 to 7 years. In itself, that’s awesome, but that doesn’t even account for the improved quality of life that comes with more daylight in your home or office.
Use Skylights: Skylights are very similar to solar light tubes, but as you can see in a basic way in the infographic, the design is a bit different. (RMI notes that the financial payback time is highly variable, so it doesn’t list a range).
Dry Your Clothes In The Sun: Here’s an old-school money-saving solution that a lot of people are moving back to. Electric dryers are energy hogs. Why suck money out of your wallet using them when you can simply let the sun dry your clothes? I’ve been using this method for the past 5 years+, but wish I had started even sooner. (Note: I started using this method when I moved to Europe, where it’s commonplace. Even in a small apartment, like mine, it’s common to set up a drying rack when you’ve got wet clothes and either set it out on the balcony or next to the window.) Of course, if you decide to jump in on this energy- and money-saving solution, the financial savings are immediate. And if you want to see how much money you’re saving, you can try comparing your electric bill to your electric bills from previous months and from the same month in previous years. I think you’ll find this is one of the most effective ways to save money (a huge chunk of it) by using the energy of the sun.
Use A Pool Cover/Blanket: If you’ve got a swimming pool, this seems like an obvious one. Get a pool blanket/cover that uses the heat from the sun to warm your pool. The financial payback time is under 1 year according to RMI.
Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Pool: If you want a more high-tech and low-effort solution for heating your pool, solar hot water panels for the pool are a logical solution. Incentives for such solar panels are available in several states, and RMI projects that average financial payback time on such solar panel systems is 1.5 to 4 years. That’s an excellent payback time. And remember that you’re then saving money for decades to come (the same as making money, essentially, except you don’t have to pay taxes on financial savings!). Again, this is a “duh!” way to save money and energy that uses the tremendous energy resource of the sun rather than inefficient and harmful electricity generation from fossil fuels or heating from natural gas.
Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Home: Naturally, if solar hot water panels (aka solar thermal panels) can heat your pool, they can also heat the water you use in your home. In some places I’ve visited (e.g., Malta and Crete, Greece), these solar hot water panels are on practically every roof. Again, in many states, you can get government incentives to help you purchase solar thermal panels. As the infographic below shows, solar thermal panels make a great supplement to solar PV panels. RMI notes that solar hot water panels cut 50–80% off of hot water bills, on average, and have a financial payback time of 6–10 years.
Use Solar Landscape And Patio Lighting: I’m sure you’ve seen these in home & garden shops and on many people’s lawns. You probably even have some yourself. They are one of the most logical ways to save money and energy with little initial investment. Not only do they save you money and cut your energy-related emissions, but they are also easier to relocate as your lighting needs change. You can even move them to a new home if you make a move, which is quite common these days. RMI estimates an average financial payback time of 2 years for switching to solar landscape and patio lighting.
Here’s RMI’s full infographic, Going Solar: Options For Homeowners, which also extends a bit beyond using solar energy into actually blocking solar energy in order to save money:
Yep, there are a lot of ways to save money and fossil fuel energy using the sun than RMI listed. I’m sure there are actually more than the ones above. For example, if you are a person who uses tanning beds to get a crispy tan (solariums, as they are called over here), stop throwing your money away on that and get outside to get a tan. Go to the beach, go to the bark, lay on your balcony, play a sport, go for a walk, go for a bike ride, garden, read outside… do more outside in order to stop throwing your money at a tanning salon. All of this is also better for your health, so it’s a good way to save money on healthcare and to avoid spending time at the hospital!
One more energy- and money-saving solution that comes to mind is using the sun to grow your own food. That saves tremendously on energy used to transport food around the world and to your local shop, and it also saves a good deal on the energy used to transport you to the shop to buy some food. Also, it’s a good way to save money since you aren’t putting money towards the profits grocery chains and corporate agriculture or agrindustry. Furthermore, your food will be fresher, tastier, and probably much more appreciated!
Have more ideas for ways to save money using the sun? Share them in the comments below! I’d love to be reminded of more or even learn about new ones. 😀
Tags:daylighting, energy conservation, energy efficiency, hot water panels, hot water solar panels, RMI, rocky mountain institute, save energy, skylighting, skylights, solar hot water panels, solar landscape lighting, solar landscaping, solar light tubes, solar lighting, solar lights, solar patio lighting, solar pool covers, solar pool heating, solar ROI, solar thermal panels, solar tubes, ways to save energy, ways to save money
About the Author
Zachary Shahan Zach is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.
“There is nothing so horrible in nature as to see a beautiful theory murdered by an ugly gang of facts.” – Benjamin Franklin
How do you really save money on your utility bill? Americans have been trying to lower their energy consumptions for decades. Yet the data shows an average American spends 2.5 times more energy compare to a British. In the internet age people are reading and studying about this subject more than ever, but the results are getting worse by the day.
That’s why we decided to set the record straight about energy savings at home. We will talk about reality vs predictions, why models by scientist don’t work. Why people are not lowering their energy consumption when they follow advice. Who really needs more energy saving advice? We will give you some solid advice how to really save money on your electric bill.
Who needs more energy saving advice?
There are lots of advice out there, newspapers, utility bill staffers, magazines, and the internet. Green group websites and literature telling you about weatherstripping and caulking, the amazing savings from furnace tune-ups. Washington Post has an article saying “replacing filters monthly can each save $100/yr or more!”. If you google, “How to save energy”, the first result is a slide of bankrate.com and it tells you to “paint your roof white” on the first slide.
But it’s often bad advice, most of the information out there is myth and conjecture more than data. There not many studies of measured energy savings. The whole “Top 10 lists” craze lacks prioritization. The little data we have never gets cited or mentioned anywhere.
First of all, you have to qualify for energy saving advice. Do you really need energy saving advice?
Weatherization Program Evaluation Results
Here is some real data about weatherization programs evaluations. You can clearly see that Low Users are Low Savers. The bulk of the savings is from the High energy Users.
The more energy consumed, the more savings is possible. When you spend an average amount on your electric bill, your savings will be will lower as well.
This is why High users need more energy saving advice if we want to lower our energy spending. Nobody mentions this fact when giving advice about energy savings. Perhaps it won’t generate enough attention if the articles started with this fact.
But we don’t care if you stop reading here. We wanted to put the truth out there, if you are not a high user, energy saving advice has low savings for you.
Why did we fail saving energy?
More often than not, we end up doing something to lower our electric bill without tangible results. Why is that? How come the real saving we see on our electric bill is way off compare to predicted energy savings? Studies of actual energy use show retrofit savings are often 50%-70% of projections and sometimes much less.
Is it the occupant’s fault? Maybe a little, it’s an easy scapegoat, but there is not much evidence of big takeback. Is it the contractors? Again maybe a little, because the work quality can be a factor for skilled measures. But there is not much evidence of that either.
Are the models wrong? Yes, and by a lot. It starts with poor assumptions and biased inputs at first. It continues the trend with bad algorithms that never get tested or fixed ever.
Most common modeling flaw is assuming low existing efficiency, for example, the models assume that the current furnace is at 60% efficiency, therefore it should save you a lot by replacing it. But this is rarely true. Other wrong assumptions are R-3.5 walls and attics, 4 gal/min showers etc. the list goes on and on. Current models make biased simplifications, for example ignoring interactions and regain effects. They measure what’s easily measured (with too much detail).
The most important flaw is, they don’t bother with a “reality check”. They don’t look at actual usage, don’t make adjustments based on research and evaluation results.
Why are predictions are so wrong?
The main reason why models are wrong is because houses are complicated. There are a lot of variables that goes into calculating predictable energy savings you see on “Top 10” lists. When they tell you that you will save 100$ if you replaced your furnace filter every month, they have no idea what kinda house you have. This is the main reason why these predictions are wrong.
Models collect data on what’s easy to measure and model, but key factors often unknown. The key factors are the most important part for calculating the real savings.
Some of these unknown key factors are:
- Foundation heat loss: How is the soil conductivity; what is the waste heat from ducts, appliances, etc; What’s the stack effect?; How is crawlspace ventilation?
- Air Leakage: Known errors remain from foundation heat loss; the wind speeds unknown; Are all homes “well shielded”?; What is the leak distribution?
- Wall and Attic Heat Loss: framing factors; insulation quality; air leakage interactions
- Window Loss/Gain: shading, screens; old storm windows, air film R values?
- HVAC Performance: duct efficiency and regain, AC charge and air flow impacts
If you have no idea about these factors, your predictions will be way off.
How to really save energy?
Here is a list real recipe for energy savings at home.
- First of all, if your house lack efficiency measures, install them. Insulate your attics and walls. This will save you the most energy in the real world.
- Second, if you have inefficient stuff at home, replace or improve them. Old furnaces, refrigerators, washers and lights.
- Third, unplug/remove/turn off/control extra stuff at home, 2nd fridges, freezers, 24×7 computers, TVs, stereos; all night security lighting
- Fourth, if you have defects at home find and fix them. Air seal, dense-pack cellulose, hot water leaks.
- And lastly, change your behavior, learn and educate. Prioritize this after dealing with “Extra Stuff” at home.
- Stay away from bad advice.
How much are the real savings?
The following data is for Boston weather, we modeled an old house with gas heat and hot water.
We used the following data to calculate the energy savings and CO2 savings.
Boston energy prices/costs: single family home
- Gas ~ $1.90/therm (current prices are lower)
- Heating 400-1200 th/yr, average ~$1500/yr, annual use typically 0.20–0.60 th/ft²
- Hot water, dryer, stove 150-250 th/yr, $400/yr, monthly use ~5 + 3-6 therms/person (compare to summer bills)
- Electric ~ $0.20 /kWh monthly use 300–900 kWh for lights, appliances, etc $1500/yr
- Approximate CO2: 1.3 lbs/kWh, 12 lbs/therm
No Cost Actions that works
Here is a list of actions you can take in order to save energy at home.
Bad advice about energy savings
Here are some of the bad advice about saving money an on electric bill we found during our modeling. These actions will save you little or no money in the process. Do not waste time doing these.
At the end, you should be very skeptical about free energy saving advice you get off the internet. We can only win the fight against climate change, and save money on the electric bill if we work together. Please share this article with your friends. Help them better understand how to save energy at home.
What is life after all? A global unity movement.
Here is a list Energy savings $/yr, it was asked by a commenter on our Most efficient way to save energy and money article.
- EPA’s Energy Star site http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_index
- Affordable Comfort Inc. national & regional conferences for efficiency contractors, researchers, and policymakers
www.affordablecomfort.org many handouts from conferences available free
- Home Energy Magazine www.homeenergy.org good archive of older articles on wide variety of topics
look up your refrigerator’s rated usage at http://www.homeenergy.org/consumerinfo/refrigeration2/refmods.php
- ACEEE (American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy) Technical resource and advocacy group
- Advanced Energy (North Carolina) good building science knowledge library, but the southern orientation
- Building Science Corporation (Westford, MA) Extensive info about how houses work, how they fail, how they should be built, etc..
Berkeley CoolClimate Calculator – CoolClimate Network http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/calculator
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory https://emp.lbl.gov