When people think of using less energy, they often think of solar PV or wind. In reality, though, those are simply different ways of creating energy, and in this case electricity. But as we talk about reducing our energy imports, and about plug in electric or hybrid cars, we have to think beyond different ways of producing energy and think about how to use less energy, period. If we want to move our transportation fleet increasingly toward electric, we’re going to have to use a lot less energy in our homes and commercial buildings.
You’ll hear a lot of buzz about solar, especially solar PV. And renewable are great—at GreenHomes we even install solar solutions. But we do always try to educate our customers that it makes more sense to make sure they’re not wasting energy before they worry about generating energy. We’re in dozens of homes every day. We know that it’s generally pretty straightforward to save 25% of a home’s energy use. In fact, we guarantee it.
If it’s not energy savings but rather carbon savings to reduce climate change that you’re after, the verdict is the same. McKinsey & Company demonstrate that carbon emissions can be reduced by efficiency measures with a negative cost—in other words a net economic savings. Thus from an economic perspective we should pursue efficiency—including improving the efficiency of our housing stock—even if climate change were shown to be neglibible.
Wind and PV are sexy. And you can see them. Most people won’t see air-sealing, duct-sealing, higher insulation levels, or the difference between advanced windows and windows that are barely legal. But the eye can mislead you in this case. Leading with efficiency not only helps you reduce energy use most cost-effectively, but you also get increased comfort and building durability that renewable just can’t provide. Some areas with PV incentives recognize this and mandate an energy audit before you install PV. But mandate or not, it’s the smart way to go. Don’t stop with an audit, though. Make the recommended improvements.
So go solar if you want. We love solar. But start with energy-efficiency first.