Solar panels are generally installed with the goal of reducing power bills in homes and businesses. However, even better results are possible when a solar power system is combined with other sensible energy efficiency measures. In this case, there are two amounts that get subtracted from your bill: the kilowatt-hour savings achieved by efficient appliances, and the clean power produced by solar panels.
Keep in mind that solar panels don’t reduce the amount of electricity consumed by your property. They reduce the net consumption measured by the power meter, but your total energy usage remains the same.
For example, if a home uses 15,000 kWh per year and a rooftop solar system generates 9,000 kWh, the power meter will only register 6,000 kWh of net consumption. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the home is using 15,000 kWh.
There are three main strategies to reduce energy consumption in homes and businesses, and they can be combined with a solar power system for even greater savings:
- Replacing your appliances and equipment with higher efficiency units.
- Reducing energy consumption with automatic controls or by changing your usage habits.
- Improving your building envelope: You can reduce the energy consumption of space heaters and air conditioners by improving insulation and sealing air leaks.
Solar panels are a quick and simple solution when you need to reduce your power bills, and they can last for more than 25 years when you look for high-quality modules from top brands. However, inefficient appliances can end up wasting a lot of the electricity produced by solar panels. You can achieve even greater savings on your power bill if you also upgrade these devices.
ENERGY STAR Label: An Easy Way to Find Efficient Appliances
Comparing solar panels is relatively simple once you get familiarized with their specifications, which are the same among all manufacturers. Individual wattages and efficiency ratings vary depending on the brand and model, as well as their warranty conditions. However, you’re comparing all products based on the same performance metrics.
When it comes to energy efficiency measures, there are more devices to compare, and each has different features and technical specifications. To help homeowners and businesses with their purchase decisions, the US Environmental Protection Agency created the ENERGY STAR program in 1992.
- When you see products with the blue ENERGY STAR label, it means they have been tested successfully according to US EPA requirements.
- According to the program website, the label is now recognized by 90% of US homes.
- The laboratories in charge of these performance tests must be approved by the US EPA, and they are independent from manufacturers.
- In other words, manufacturers cannot add ENERGY STAR labels on their own.
Instead of having to check different technical specifications for each type of home device, you can simply look for the ENERGY STAR label before your purchase. If you want to make sure a label is original, you can look for the manufacturer and model on the program website.
The ENERGY STAR program achievements over time have been remarkable, with more than 7 billion labeled products sold. Thanks to the program, US electricity consumers have saved over five trillion kilowatt-hours and more than $450 billion in energy bills.
The environmental benefit has also been significant, with more than four billion metric tons of emissions avoided so far. If you want to make your home greener, you can achieve excellent results by combining rooftop solar panels with ENERGY STAR devices.
How Energy Efficient Devices Make Solar Power More Valuable
When you upgrade any home device to a more efficient version, it accomplishes the same work with less energy. The following are some examples:
- An LED bulb consumes 80-90% less electricity than an incandescent bulb of the same lighting capacity.
- Assuming the same electricity input, an air-source heat pump produces 2-4 times more heating output than a traditional resistance heater. Geothermal heat pumps are even more efficient, although their price is also higher.
- When you replace a window-type air conditioner with a ductless mini-split unit, you can expect energy savings of over 50%.
In these three examples, the newer and more efficient device achieves the same function as the unit replaced, with only a fraction of its electricity consumption. This means the electricity produced by solar panels will be capable of powering more devices, making your energy bills even lower.
As a quick example, let’s assume you have an electric water heater that runs during the day, when your solar panels are generating power. With a traditional resistance heater, one kilowatt-hour of electricity only gives you one kilowatt-hour of heat. On the other hand, a heat pump gives you 2 kWh of heat or more, for every kWh of solar electricity.
In places with hot summers, space cooling costs can be greatly reduced by combining a high-efficiency air conditioner with a solar panel system. The total consumption is reduced directly thanks to the high efficiency of the AC unit, and solar panels will then subtract even more kilowatt-hours from your bill. In these cases, the abundant sunshine results in higher cooling costs, but it also makes solar panels more productive.
Solar panels can also help you save heating oil or gas if you upgrade from combustion-based heating to electric heat pumps. Running a traditional resistance heater with electricity from the grid is too expensive in most cases but using an efficient heat pump with solar power is viable.
Saving with Solar Panels During the Day, and with Energy Efficient Devices at Night
Solar panels are durable and reliable, but keep in mind they only generate electricity during daytime hours, and most of their production is concentrated around noon. Some electric companies offer the benefit of net metering: they will purchase your surplus energy during the day and subtract it from your nighttime consumption.
However, net metering is not available everywhere, and in some cases, you only get partial credit for surplus solar energy exported to the grid.
That said, energy efficient appliances can help you save electricity at night when solar panels are not productive. With a solar system of the right capacity, the combination of net metering credits and direct savings can decrease your nighttime electricity costs to zero.
Many modern appliances are not only efficient but also programmable, which means you can configure them to operate when there is solar power available.
Having energy saving appliances is also convenient when you use a home battery to store surplus electricity from solar panels. Since your devices use less electricity overall, the energy stored in your battery also lasts longer. As a result, you can cover your nighttime electricity needs with a smaller and less expensive solar battery.
The Importance of a Professional Energy Assessment
For both solar panels and energy efficiency measures, a professional assessment is the best starting point. Every home and business have a unique energy consumption pattern, which means the same measures can have very different results.
- With a professional energy audit, you can identify the energy efficiency measures that offer the highest savings, along with an estimate of their costs and ROI.
- On the other hand, when energy upgrades are picked randomly, some of them might offer little or no savings.
Energy consultants can also identify issues that are almost impossible to detect when you’re not an expert on the topic. For example, they can tell if your building walls or attic have deficient insulation or air leakage issues, which increase heating and cooling costs. Without knowing this, you could upgrade your space heater and air conditioner to more efficient units, and your home would still be wasting energy.
In the case of solar panels, a professional assessment will help you identify the most suitable areas of your roof. There are many “solar providers” who offer generic designs and low-quality systems, and they don’t care if your solar panels are installed under the shade.
On the other hand, a qualified solar installer will determine the optimal system layout and capacity, avoiding shaded areas or your roof.
Financing a Combined Energy Efficiency and Solar Power Project
The total cost of installing solar panels and upgrading home appliances can be high, but you can often find low-financing options for these types of projects.
- Many states have PACE financing programs (Property Assessed Clean Energy), which focus on these types of building improvements.
- PACE loans generally have a low interest rate and a long repayment period. This means they can be paid overtime with the savings achieved by solar panels and energy efficient devices.
Depending on where you live, you may find energy incentive programs from local governments or utility companies. Several programs offer cash rebates for energy efficiency measures and solar panels, reducing the total cost of your home upgrade. Also keep in mind that the US has a 26% federal tax credit for solar power, which will remain available until the end of 2022.
When using a loan to purchase solar panels or energy-efficient appliances, make sure you look for quality products with solid warranties. This ensures long-term savings that can be used to pay off the loan, and your out-of-pocket cost is reduced to zero.