Clean energy and efficiency is trending. Homeowners and businesses alike are opting for Energy Star appliances and green energy generation such as solar. The reason changes person to person and company to company. Some have a deep concern for the environment. Others like the idea of self-sustainability. Everyone, though, likes the idea of saving money. And that is exactly what solar energy systems do. They require an initial investment, but the return on that investment will be impressive over the long-term. However, if folks choose to make a few efficiency upgrades along with solar, their Return On Investment (ROI) can be substantially more significant. In addition to the major upgrades discussed below, there are also multiple smaller improvements a homeowner can make to further increase efficiency and savings.
Who is mtvSolar?
Mountain View Solar (mtvSolar) is your local West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania solar and energy storage contractor. Our primary products include solar energy systems and battery backup solutions. In addition, our trained team of professionals can discuss efficiency upgrades that in combination with solar can not only reduce your carbon footprint, but substantially increase the overall ROI for your solar energy system. We can recommend trusted local contractors for your efficiency upgrades.
mtvSolar has always been a leader in green energy initiatives. We started our journey as premier builders of energy efficient homes before making the shift into renewable power generation. We take energy efficiency and green energy initiatives very seriously and will help maximize the impact of your solar installation.
Grid Tied Solar 101
Any amount of solar will directly reduce your electricity bill. Standard grid-tied solar works by offsetting energy consumption, which results in monthly savings. During the day, your meter “spins backwards”, and at night it “spins forward”. This is called net-metering. Think of the utility as a bank account. You deposit and withdraw energy from it each day, and only get billed for what you use. It is possible to produce enough power to essentially eliminate your entire bill; this is called going “net zero”.
The monetary benefits for solar energy come in a few ways. Each month that you are saving money on your bill (avoided cost of electricity) pushes you toward having received your initial investment back (referred to as the Return On Investment, or ROI). Premium solar panels can last well over 40 years, so if you “pay yourself back” in less time than that, you actually earn money on your solar panels for any time after the initial payback. In this area, typical ROI is 10-12 years. It’s important to note that any size grid-tied system up to the maximum required to net-zero your home will have a similar payback period, with larger systems providing a greater reward after full payback is obtained. In fact, solar even works in winter (https://mtvsolar.com/does-solar-work-in-winter/)
Gas Appliance Upgrades
Many homes use gas to power just a handful of heating appliances. Rocky Mountain Institute found that over two-thirds of gas used in a house is for space heating—the rest is split between water heating, clothes drying, and cooking. Water heating, space heating and clothes drying are all available with high-efficiency heat pump technology. If households made this switch, they could reduce their annual carbon emissions by 25% or more.
The financial benefit can be surprisingly large. Because, yes, while getting off gas is great for the environment, it is also fantastic for a homeowner’s bank account. The savings start flowing in as soon as a household discontinues their gas service, as many states levy gas connections. In fact, the monthly fixed charge for a connection can be so high that discontinuing it saves a homeowner more than $300 per year—and that is not including the amount of gas that they actually purchased.
The challenge for households, when they choose to cut off their gas connection, is finding ways to complete all the jobs that gas used to power. While it is pretty straightforward to transition a home to all electric, these upgrades will require the purchase of new appliances. For many households, where old appliances are eating up both gas and electricity, this is a very natural transition as they slowly trade out old appliances for new, Energy Star versions.
About “old-skool” Electric Appliances
Standard resistance water heaters, clothes dryers, and cooktops waste large amounts of energy. That old 1970s refrigerator in the garage? You don’t really want to know! Whereas with heat pump type appliances, you put fewer watts in and get even more BTUs out because they literally transfer heat from one place to another, rather than brute forcing the heating with a wire element. Modern energy star refrigerators, window ACs, dishwashers and more are designed to use less energy and yet, do a better job than the ones of yesteryear. The remainder of this article makes specific recommendations for upgrading your old gas or resistance electric appliances.
Ultrasonic dryers were co-developed through a partnership between the University of Florida, General Electric, and the Department of Energy. Instead of using heat, the dryer vibrates water out of fabric with sound waves, which produces a cool mist and allows fabric to be dried in half the amount of time it takes a traditional dryer. By looking at the market and energy usage, the Department of Energy found that over the course of a decade, if U.S. consumers adopted the ultrasonic dryer, they could save roughly $900 million in energy spending.
Another alternative is a heat pump dryer. This electric dryer option uses heat pump technology to generate the heat used for evaporating the water out of clothes and is ventless, meaning no air or heat is pushed out of the home. The dryer extracts the moisture as condensation via the internal recirculating heat pump technology. Think of it as a big rotating dehumidifier for your clothes.
When it comes to cooking, electricity is a different story. Many consumers will hesitate about switching from gas to electric cooking—gas historically provides more control. And because of this desire to use gas for cooking, they will be reluctant to disconnect their gas. This can then have a snowball effect—if they are still paying for a gas connection, is it really worth it for them to convert their water and space heating systems to electric?
The good news is that there is a good alternative to gas cooking—electric induction cooking. These stoves heat food by creating an electric field with an electric coil. The electric field that these stoves create is unique because it does not heat the actual cooktop and the air around it—it only directly heats the cookware via high frequency electromagnetism. In other words, little energy is wasted, making it about 70% more efficient than both conventional electric and gas stoves. Additionally, because it delivers heat more quickly and it offers the user more control, it provides a cooking experience that is very much like a gas stove.
Heat pump water heaters are one of the best improvements in water heating in a long time. Rather than powering a heating element to heat the water the units use a small heat pump to do so using the same process that a central HVAC heat pump uses to heat your home. In fact, where an ordinary electric water heater can use 5000 watts of power during operation, a heat pump water heater can use less than 500 watts for the same job!
From Energy.gov, “Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. Therefore, they can be two to three times more energy efficient than conventional electric resistance water heaters. To move the heat, heat pumps work like a refrigerator in reverse.”
While a quality electric or gas water heater starts around $500, a heat pump water heater runs around $1300. This price difference can be recuperated in just a few years, but if moving from a gas water heater to a heat pump water heater powered by the sun, the realization of ROI is very short.
The Small Things
Even little things like light bulbs add up. Modern filament LED bulbs give the appearance of an incandescent bulb, but using a small fraction of the amount of energy.
Keeping the central heating turned down just a little, and using a personal space heater can save energy. There are 300w desktop heaters readily available which will keep you toasty without using nearly as much power as cranking the central unit up.
The Elephant in the Room: HVAC
The Rocky Mountain Institute released a study that changes how individuals should invest in solar energy systems. The study looked at four cities across the U.S. Their goal was to analyze home electrification, both in terms of the financial costs and the carbon benefits.
The study found that in three of the four cities, if homes switched to electric heating it could help lower carbon emissions. The reason for this is that the electric grid in those cities is already clean enough. With solar, however, the situation gets far better.
Modern heat pumps are extremely efficient. You can still get a simple single stage unit for not a lot of money and still be better off than with an old model, or you can get a two stage unit or even a variable speed compressor known as an “inverter heat pump”. The variable speed ones are extremely efficient, with the highest SEER/HSPF ratings one can get.
Here is how the numbers break down: The average homeowner will save $24,900 over the course of 15 years, by switching to a high efficiency heat pump with solar —not to mention that carbon emissions can be reduced to zero. This means that even though a solar system and upgraded heat pump can be a $15,000 investment for a homeowner, they will still save nearly $10,000—and this does not include the Federal solar tax credit that homeowners currently get. It also does not include the fact that a solar energy system can power other appliances that used to run on natural gas (i.e. cooking, water heating, etc.).
In short, an all-electric home can create substantial savings when it is done efficiently. The return on investment associated with a solar energy system, especially when combined with energy efficient appliance upgrades, surpasses $10,000 in less than two decades, as well as increasing the value of a home.
In the past, reducing carbon emissions was an expensive feat—dropping it down to zero was simply an impossibility. Now, however, with the advent of new appliances and the affordability of green energy, this goal is not only possible—it is also lucrative.
If you have any questions or are ready to consider going solar, please fill out mtvSolar’s free estimate form here: https://mtvsolar.com/site-evaluation/ or call 540-686-2052 to speak with a live person. We do not sell or lease your personal information. Mountain View Solar focuses on a friendly, local, and professional process to ensure a customized approach to your home or business’s energy solutions. Our highly trained consultants can discuss solar, batteries, and energy efficiency options.