Energy Efficiency  |  Buyer's Guide  |  Energy Efficiency or Solar First?

Solar and energy efficiency: a match made in utility bill savings heaven

You may not know off the top of your head how much electricity you use in a month or a year. Luckily, utility companies track your usage for billing purposes, so they typically have records about your past consumption. Your monthly electricity consumption depends on a lot of factors, including but not limited to the size of your home, the number of people in your household, and the quality of your home appliances.

When a solar installation company designs a solar panel system for your property, they take into account two major factors: the characteristics of the roof (in terms of size, obstructions such as vents, dormers, chimneys, shade) and your overall energy usage. In most areas of the country, common practice is to size a solar panel system to cover as close to 100 percent of your energy consumption as possible so that you can maximize your electricity production to decrease, or even eliminate, your electricity bill.

While practically everyone can save money on their electric bills by going solar, households and other properties that use a significant amount of electricity and pay high rates for it will see the highest financial savings. That being said, what if your electricity usage is so high that you can’t cover a large portion of your electricity bill with your available roof space, even with high efficiency panels? Or, what if your roof is small in the first place and, even if your consumption is relatively low, you still can’t fit enough panels to really eliminate your monthly electricity bills? Have you just moved into a new home, and aren’t sure of what your energy consumption is going to look like in the future? If you fit into one of these categories, you might want to consider getting an energy audit for your property.

What comes first: an audit, or going solar?

Getting an energy audit before you install solar on your property is never a bad idea. In addition to giving you a clearer picture of how much energy you use on a monthly basis, it can also help you get more out of your solar energy investment. If an energy auditor determines that there is room for improvement in your home’s efficiency and you conduct the measures necessary to reduce your consumption, you can decrease your electricity load and, therefore, cover a higher portion of your electricity bill with solar panels.

Even if you have enough roof space to cover 100 percent of your usage, conducting an energy audit beforehand to make your home more efficient can result in lower electricity usage in the future, which could equate to a smaller solar panel system for your home and lower upfront costs.

Solar and energy efficiency measures can also be done simultaneously. There are some solar loan products that make it possible for you to bundle financing for your solar panel system and energy efficiency measures in one package. In many cases, these financing options offer lower interest rates, a higher maximum loan amount, or other incentives to make it easier for you to do both.

Keep in mind, too, that while it’s not common, some solar incentive programs offer bonuses for decreasing your electricity load prior to going solar (such as the National Grid RE Growth program in Rhode Island). It’s a good idea to check with the solar company you’re planning to move forward with to see if they’re aware of additional rebates or performance based incentives you could be eligible for by doing energy efficiency and solar at the same time.

All that being said, if you’ve already gone solar, or want to do so first, there are benefits to taking on energy efficiency measures post-installation of your solar panel system. Solar is often thought of as a catalyst for energy efficiency measures – once you’re producing your own electricity for your home, you’ll likely pay more attention to how you’re using that electricity so you can maximize the savings for your property.

Consider, too, that your solar panel system is going to degrade (as would all technologies), and produce less energy over time. Getting an energy audit done down the line can be useful for ensuring that you continue to eliminate your electricity bill with the amount of power that your solar panel system generates.

In short, regardless of the timeline, an energy audit is going to save you money on energy costs, as will going solar. Combining the two measures means you’re maximizing your financial benefit in the long run.

Can your solar installer perform an audit?

A lot of solar installation companies stick strictly to solar, whether that be PV or thermal. However, there are companies out there known for being a “jack of all trades” that can perform additional services (including roofing, tree removal, and energy efficiency). It’s worth asking any company you’re in contact with whether or not they perform these measures and can assist. If they don’t perform energy audits, there’s a good chance that they can recommend a reputable company in your area to do so.

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