The Economics of Energy Efficiency and Renewables.

need a bigger propane tank?There's understandably a lot of excitement about photovoltaics, solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and other sources of renewable energy for the home.  We all want to be self-sufficient.  It's part of our national psyche.  And, particularly for the environmentally motivated among us, the desire to reduce our dependence on traditional energy sources is strong.

But when looking at potential energy upgrades for your home, you should keep in mind a few important considerations:  

1) Energy Efficiency is about more than electricity.  Natural Gas and Propane account for a large portion of Californian's utility bills.  Despite our mild climate space conditioning and hot water delivery are some of the biggest consumers of energy in our buildings.  Barring a wholesale conversion to electric heat (which is a good option for some customers), photovoltaics will do nothing to reduce the amount of propane or gas that your home consumes.

2) Should you decide to invest in renewables, the scale of your investment will depend on the amount of energy your home consumes.  If you can cut your home's energy consumption in half through simple, cost-effective measures, and thus reduce the investment necessary to take your home to net zero in half or less (think: 1 solar panel vs. 2), you've made a good investment.  It's not uncommon for typical heating systems and cooling systems to use so much energy that we can switch from natural gas or propane to electric heat source and still save energy while eliminating gas consumption.  Now that is a home run when you're already planning on renewables. 

3) Return on investment.  Air sealing often has one of the highest returns on investment of any measure you could do in your house.  While ROI isn't difficult to calculate it's a rare thing that companies who sell ROI ever go back to confirm if they were achieved or not, oftentimes installing equipment, insulation, or windows that results in no measurable difference.  There is another kind of ROI that we like to talk about and that is all the valuable things that can occur in your house when energy efficiency measures are thoughtfully implemented in your house.  You see there's real value to things like cleaner air, and great control of your indoor enviornment.  We'd say the value of not breathing air from your crawlspace is "priceless".

4) Energy Efficiency is about more than energy efficiency.  Done right, sealing air leaks and upgrading your insulation are both measures that have a high ROI, will reduce your carbon footprint, and will reduce your energy bills.  But they will also reduce drafts, make your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, and potentially increase the health and longevity of your house.  What's more your house will be more impervious to storms, and power outages, that's called passive survivability.  That's a lot of bang for your buck.  So if installing renewable energy sources at your house doesn't have quite the same impact, we won't hold it against renewables: it's a tall order to fill.  In the end, efficiency is the perfect compliment to renewable energy and backup energy sources such as generators.

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