By Joanne Coons
Historically we controlled the candle, the fireplace, the horse. For a century we have incorporated cleaner on- demand energy to providers and now we are dependent on them. Convenient! Flip the switch! Today with new technology and the Sun providing us with more than enough energy even at our latitude to cover our energy needs, maybe it is time to rethink how electricity is provided to us and to become independent in terms of electricity use. Here are some steps to help you streamline your conversion to sun-powered electricity known as photovoltaics or “PV.”
- Reduce your electrical usage, or “shed load.” Load is the amount of electricity used to operate your home. You’ve probably changed a few light bulbs or bought a new Energy Smart refrigerator. You’ve made a positive step for your pocketbook and for your carbon footprint. The best way to save energy is not to use it. Each watt saved is a “negawatt.” Where to start? New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has a sensible, comprehensive list of steps you can take. Some of these steps require behavior changes and some of them require smart consumer choices when purchasing electrical devices. Here’s the link: bit.ly/NY-energy-saving-tips
After taking action to reduce your load (“load shed”) by yourself, it’s time to get a home energy audit or assessment. This step will be more technical and will dig deeper into how you can save energy. For most this will be a free assessment followed by financial incentives! When completing recommended improvements, a discount covering 50% of the cost of eligible energy efficiency improvements up to $5,000 per project for single-family homes is available. Two-, three- and four-unit homes with income-eligible residents may qualify for a discount of up to $10,000. Every unit with a meter in a condominium gets $5,000. bit.ly/NYSERDA-how-it-works
Now it is time to look for a solar installer. You can approach the solar project a couple of ways. You can try to cover your whole remaining electrical load with the necessary amount of PV, or you can budget a certain amount of money and purchase the maximum amount of PV to offset your load. Please take into consideration here why it is so important to reduce your load. Why would you purchase PV to power extra load? It is really easy to purchase PV because it is up to the installer to size the system, design it, fill out the paperwork to tie the system to the grid, apply for local building permits, install the system and “commission” it.
Buy or lease? When you lease, you will typically save between 10 and 50% of what you would pay the electric utility. When you purchase your annual rate of return, or payback, can range from 10-30% depending on your location, state incentives, and property characteristics, and after the payback period, you will get free electricity for decades.
Understanding the installation process can be mind-boggling and we encouraged you to find out about it but don’t let that get in the way of participating in adding PV to power your home. In fact once you produce your own energy, energy becomes more precious and you may find yourself more conscious of the weather, your energy use and choices. You will also find that living a ‘PV’ lifestyle doesn’t mean you suffer, you just make smarter choices.
Joanne Coons is an adjunct professor at Hudson Valley Community College, TEC-SMART facility teaching Photovoltaic Theory and Design. She has a BS from SUNY Cortland and an MS from SUNY Albany in secondary science education.