I recently attended two events produced by the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (Metro CERT) to educate community members on Community Solar Gardens, which are the large solar panel installations that people subscribe to in order to offset their energy use. While I think Community Solar Gardens are a wonderful way to support clean energy, I’m especially interested in the fact that these presentations begin with a discussion of ways to conserve energy in your home. At first I thought, “why are we talking about conserving energy when we can just power it all by solar anyway?” Energy efficiency seems trivial compared to switching to solar power. But I was very wrong about that! Here’s what I’ve realized about the significance of energy efficiency:
- It saves money – by a lot.
According to Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), a typical, non-certified Minnesotan spends anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 each year on energy. However, this cost can be reduced by $250 to $400 if a home undergoes upgrades that make it an “Energy Fit Home.” An Energy Fit Home is a certification that a household can receive by meeting energy efficiency criteria outlined by CEE. Houses are scored on a 100-point scale, and scores over 95 qualify the house for an Energy Fit Certification. A few examples of cost savings from minor fixes in the home are programmable thermostats, which save up to $180 a year, and replacing the furnace filter, which can save $35 a year by making the heating mechanism more efficient. These cost-savings sound great, right? Imagine just how significant they are to low-income families typically spending up to 20 percent of their money on energy, compared to just 4 percent for the average household.
Efficiency updates are especially important for Minnesota homeowners, who spend (and waste) the most money and energy on heating and air conditioning. Despite the fact that home temperature is typically the greatest aspect of energy use, it is also typically the least efficient aspect of home energy use. According to the National Resources Defense Council, in the United States all of the gaps and leaks around windows and doors in the average American home add up to the equivalent of a 3-foot by 3-foot hole in the wall.
- Money saved can be invested in renewable energy, for even more savings!When Minnesota residents subscribe to a Community Solar Garden they agree to a monthly fee to pay for the amount of energy they have chosen to receive from that solar garden. This monthly fee eventually saves the resident money because their energy bill is offset, or credited, by the amount of energy they receive from the solar garden. Lowering the resident’s energy use in the first place will put hundreds of dollars back into their pocket which can then be used to pay that monthly subscription fee. This is an additive benefit when you update home energy efficiency before subscribing to a solar garden.
- Energy efficiency can be the gateway to additional, important energy actions.
As a Community Coordinator, this aspect is the most important to me. Home energy use is a direct and regular experience for most people, whereas many of the environmental problems that stem from generating electricity are somewhat abstract. My hope is that when people begin to connect the dots and see how their household decisions can have significant impacts on energy consumption, a pathway is opened to allow them to visualize additional energy investments that have far-reaching benefits. Even the concept that we are connected to a grid with a finite amount of energy can be eye-opening and motivating to some. Plus, the questions I’ve heard from audience members during the energy presentations I attended really show how confusing and complicated energy use and alternative energy sources can be to many people. Presentations like these from Neighborhood Energy Connection and Metro CERT demystify a little bit of the energy world and empower people to take energy actions!
I see now that energy efficiency information and upgrades are incredibly valuable to consumers, and I’m appreciative that the Metro CERT presentations address that aspect of energy consumption. If you have the opportunity to attend a Community Solar Garden presentation put on by the Metro CERT, I hope you choose to go!