My wife and I are a few months into our official journey to reduce our carbon footprint through solar by 26% in 5 years.
In reality, we’ve been headed down this path for several years now and our first big “Carbon Purchase” was the solar array that was installed on our roof in early 2018. In this post, I am going to dive into the lessons that I learned since going solar.
Despite working at a solar company and being a solar expert, there are a few things that I would have done differently. Without further adieu, here we go:
Understanding your electricity usage –
One of the first questions any solar installer is going to ask you when start your solar journey is “can you send me your most recent electric bill?” Understanding how much electricity you use is very important. The reality is that solar installers don’t really care what your electricity usage was. What we really care about is what your electricity usage will be next year and in the years to come. Unfortunately, we can’t predict the future so the best information available to us is historical data.
When we went solar, we purchased a system that would produce 2,800 kWh/year and we anticipated that system would offset 2/3 of our electricity usage. Our assumption was that we would use 4,000-5,000 kWh/year, we were wrong about our projected energy usage.
Enough about me, let’s talk about you – Right now, it probably sounds like this is just a story about first-time homeowners not understanding what they are getting in to. Granted, it partially is. However, can you really say that you know what your electric consumption will be in the future?
Here are some questions to ask yourself when thinking about your energy usage in the future:
- Are you going to have more occupants in the house? (kids, parents, pets, etc.)
- Are you going to be changing the functions of rooms or spaces in your home? (adding a home office, nursery, workshop, yoga studio, home theatre)
- Are you going to be home more? (working from home, retiring)
- Are you going to be adding any large electrical loads? (pool, electric vehicle, an addition to your home, granny flat/guest house, medical equipment)
- Are you going to be adding a bunch of small loads? (smart home automation, kitchen appliances, outdoor lighting, new TVs)
- Are you trying to ditch fossil fuels entirely and going all-electric?
- You now have another room in which you are turning on lights.
- You probably also want that room to be a nice temperature, increasing your heating and cooling loads.
Outdoor improvements can add energy usage that you weren’t expecting. Something as simple as adding or improving a deck/patio can add to your energy usage. Will the improvement cause you to spend more time outside? Every time you open your door to go outside, you are letting energy escape your house. Your A/C has to work a little harder every time you go out and enjoy your new deck/patio. And if you are like me, you always forget something and have to open the door again to go get it.
It is easy to look at all of the small improvements that we buy and say “we probably won’t even notice it”, but they do add up. In my case, my solar panels produced 1/3 of my energy usage. Remember, we had planned on solar covering 2/3 of our usage. This was the case even though the solar ended up over-performing and producing more energy than expected.
How we nearly doubled our energy usage after getting solar – While it is uncommon for energy usage to go up as much as ours did, it’s actually quite common for a homeowner to use more electricity after going solar. Think about it, you’ve been dealing with a very annoying bill your entire adult life: the electric bill. You just bought a solar power plant so that you can produce your own power and stop paying that bill. Now that the solar power plant is up and running, is is that unreasonable to think you might be a little more lax with the thermostat? Maybe you don’t police the lights being turned on in empty rooms quite as much. It’s easy to use more energy when you’re not as worried about the impact on your electric bill.
Our energy usage nearly doubled because of three main factors:
- The “New Homeowner Effect” – While we did not buy a big house, we still had a period of time when we were growing into the house. As we grew into the house, our electric usage grew with us. This is somewhat unique to our situation and is the reason that our usage nearly doubled. This effect might not be as applicable to your situation.
- The “Solar Power Plant Effect” – When you make most of your own electricity, you worry less about how much you use.
- Home Improvements – We simply added load. Here is a list of things that we added since going solar:
- Electric Vehicle – as a rule of thumb, an electric vehicle uses the energy produced by 2-3 kW of solar every year.
- Home office – Not only was I plugging in more devices during the day; I was working from home more. On days that I work from home, my nest thermostat does not cycle down to save energy. I also cook when I am home, using my electric range or microwave. Home office = more overall usage.
- New Deck & a Garden – I am opening the back door significantly more often than I was, letting out the cool air in the Summer months.
- Smart Home Gadgets – remember when you had to carry the radio around with you? On my smart speakers, I can play music and podcasts in the entire house. I find myself roaming the home more often as I listen to podcasts and do chores. I am in and out of more rooms, using more lights, and turning more things on.
- General Electrification – While I have not made the move to all-electric, I have been able to eliminate fossil fuel usage around the house. My lawnmower, weed whacker, and other power equipment are all electric now. Outside of natural gas for heating and gasoline for the cars, we have eliminated the oddball fossil fuel usage around the home. While I am using less gasoline, I am using more electricity to replace it.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope this has been helpful. I’d love to hear how your Carbon Footprint journey is going. Tag us on social media https://www.facebook.com/goodenergysolutions and hashtag #CarbonFootprint, or send us an email to let us know what you are doing.