Efficiency First, Renewables Second … or Vice Versa?

19 Oct

 

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While working on my book on renewable energy over the past year, I’ve repeatedly come across the common argument that while renewables are all well and good, they make little sense without first doing everything we can to make homes, businesses, cars, etc. more energy-efficient. Only then, the reasoning goes, will the average consumer get the most value for their rooftop PV solar panels, or home geothermal system, a small wind turbine.

I see the logic, and I’m sure in many ways the efficiency-before-renewables argument is simply true. But there’s a flip side to that argument …

I put this argument to my friend Alex Jarvis, a solar installer based in Bloomington, Indiana (my home town). And while he agreed that cutting back on energy usage and improving efficiency are important, he wasn’t sold on the notion that efficiency should always come before investing in renewable technology. Sometimes, he said, based on his experience with clients who’ve ponied up for a rooftop solar system, taking the technology plunge spurs efficiency. in other words, pouring several thousands dollars into a solar array or geothermal system or whatever is great incentive to become more efficient in general energy use. In order to squeeze every last ounce of value out of the technology they’ve paid for, Alex said, his clients often become hyper aware of how much energy they use, how and when they use it, and what they can do to use less and consume energy more efficiently. And when they do, they see up close and personal how their solar panels on their roof are offsetting a larger percentage of their overall energy use.

Interesting point, no?

Now, Alex’s experience is limited. He’s just one guy. But I wonder if other solar installers and people who invest on renewables on small or large scales have found something similar. Is there in fact a case to be made for renewable energy technology spurring energy efficiency instead of the other way around?

I plan to look into this in greater depth. Meanwhile, I’m curious to know what you think.

Let me know …

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4 Responses to “Efficiency First, Renewables Second … or Vice Versa?”

  1. Anthony C. Olivas April 2, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    I understand both points of view, however my opinion and experience tends to lead more towards efficiency first. We are an energy consulting company based in Los Angeles, http://www.VertEnergyGroup.com, and we both improve the efficiency of buildings as well as install renewable energy.

    Although we are advocates of reducing consumption first, one important concept was not included in the article: We should first make an attempt to improve the energy efficiency of a building and reduce consumption before renewable, so long as it is ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE.

    As Brad mentioned in his comment some improvements only show seasonable benefits and investing in another technology may prove more beneficial. This is why we recommend having a third-party Energy Auditor fully analyze all feasible energy improvement options.

  2. BPsolar October 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    I would look up Barry Cinnamons article (i think it was on Greentech Media)regarding PACE and Efficiency. Good stuff.

  3. Brad Hunter October 19, 2010 at 6:31 am #

    Hi, I’m a renewable energy designer. Specifically wind power, thus SpinPower.org. I would also like to add that I am the Resource Conservation Coordinator for one of the largest school districts in California.

    I think adding renewable energy to your home or business before efficiencies can make sense fiscally. In some cases, lighting and heating are already relatively efficient and your greatest return on investment may be seasonal. Whereas installing renewables like solar and wind can have fiscal impact all year round. Some renewables can be installed incrementally as you can afford them, like micro scale turbines.

    I also agree with your friend about the effect of purchasing renewables on mindset.

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