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 of your past consumption. Your monthly electricity consumption depends on many 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 consider two significant factors: the characteristics of the roof (in terms of size, obstructions such as vents, dormers, chimneys, and shade) and your overall energy usage. In most areas of the country, the standard practice is to size a solar panel system to cover as close to 100 percent of your energy consumption as possible to 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. 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 eliminate your monthly electricity bills? Have you just moved into a new home and aren't sure what your energy consumption will look like in the future? If you fit into one of these categories, you might consider getting an energy audit for your property.
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 every month, it can also help you get more out of your solar energy investment. Suppose 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. In that case, you can decrease your electricity load and 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. Some solar loan products enable 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 that while it's not common, some solar incentive programs offer bonuses for decreasing your electricity load before 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 plan to move forward with to see if they know of additional rebates or performance-based incentives you could be eligible for by doing energy efficiency and solar simultaneously.
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 electricity for your home, you'll likely pay more attention to how you're using that electricity to maximize the savings for your property.
Consider, too, that your solar panel system will degrade (as with all technologies) and produce less energy over time. Getting an energy audit done down the line can help ensure you continue to eliminate your electricity bill with the amount of power your solar panel system generates.
In short, regardless of the timeline, an energy audit will 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.
A lot of solar installation companies stick strictly to solar, whether that be PV or thermal. However, there are companies 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.