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Air Quality Image Credit: Solar Options for Homeowners via RMI

Published on October 4th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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Save Energy & Save Money Using The Sun Intelligently In These 10 Ways

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October 4th, 2013 by Zachary Shahan 

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

One of the best ways to save money is also one of the greenest decisions we can make: that decision is the decision to save more energy. We waste a tremendous amount of energy in the US. Recent studies have found that we waste 61% to 84% of our energy in the US, and that we use 11 times more energy than the UK despite having only 5 times the population.

Energy is a huge portion of most people’s expenses. Cutting back just a bit on our energy usage could save money (tons of money) for all sorts of better things.

So, with all that on the table, what are the most effective ways to save money using the sun? I think all of the solar-related ways to save money (by saving energy) listed below are excellent solutions for the average American, but you can decide for yourself by evaluating the option as it applies to your own home or business.

Ways To Save Money With Solar Energy

Of course, as I’ve written several times here on Cost of Solar, putting solar PV panels on your roof is a pretty sure way to save tens of thousands of dollars (yep, tens of thousands). This should really be one of the first ways to save money that you should look into, especially considering that you can go solar for $0 or close to $0 down in many or most places (either through a solar leasing/PPA arrangement or through a $0 down solar loan from a bank).

But rooftop solar PV panels aren’t the only way to save energy using the sun. The below solar infographic from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) shows 7 more solar-related energy saving solutions. In case you prefer text format with a bit more commentary, here’s that first:

Use Solar Light Tubes For Daylighting: Solar light tubes allow you to bring in a lot more light (cutting the need for artificial lighting, which sucks up electricity) without the installation of big windows (which leak heat in the winter and cool air from your electricity-needy air conditioner in the summer). RMI notes that the average financial payback on solar light tubes is 5 to 7 years. In itself, that’s awesome, but that doesn’t even account for the improved quality of life that comes with more daylight in your home or office.

Use Skylights: Skylights are very similar to solar light tubes, but as you can see in a basic way in the infographic, the design is a bit different. (RMI notes that the financial payback time is highly variable, so it doesn’t list a range).

Dry Your Clothes In The Sun: Here’s an old-school money-saving solution that a lot of people are moving back to. Electric dryers are energy hogs. Why suck money out of your wallet using them when you can simply let the sun dry your clothes? I’ve been using this method for the past 5 years+, but wish I had started even sooner. (Note: I started using this method when I moved to Europe, where it’s commonplace. Even in a small apartment, like mine, it’s common to set up a drying rack when you’ve got wet clothes and either set it out on the balcony or next to the window.) Of course, if you decide to jump in on this energy- and money-saving solution, the financial savings are immediate. And if you want to see how much money you’re saving, you can try comparing your electric bill to your electric bills from previous months and from the same month in previous years. I think you’ll find this is one of the most effective ways to save money (a huge chunk of it) by using the energy of the sun.

Use A Pool Cover/Blanket: If you’ve got a swimming pool, this seems like an obvious one. Get a pool blanket/cover that uses the heat from the sun to warm your pool. The financial payback time is under 1 year according to RMI.

Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Pool: If you want a more high-tech and low-effort solution for heating your pool, solar hot water panels for the pool are a logical solution. Incentives for such solar panels are available in several states, and RMI projects that average financial payback time on such solar panel systems is 1.5 to 4 years. That’s an excellent payback time. And remember that you’re then saving money for decades to come (the same as making money, essentially, except you don’t have to pay taxes on financial savings!). Again, this is a “duh!” way to save money and energy that uses the tremendous energy resource of the sun rather than inefficient and harmful electricity generation from fossil fuels or heating from natural gas.

Buy Solar Hot Water Panels For Your Home: Naturally, if solar hot water panels (aka solar thermal panels) can heat your pool, they can also heat the water you use in your home. In some places I’ve visited (e.g., Malta and Crete, Greece), these solar hot water panels are on practically every roof. Again, in many states, you can get government incentives to help you purchase solar thermal panels. As the infographic below shows, solar thermal panels make a great supplement to solar PV panels. RMI notes that solar hot water panels cut 50–80% off of hot water bills, on average, and have a financial payback time of 6–10 years.

Use Solar Landscape And Patio Lighting: I’m sure you’ve seen these in home & garden shops and on many people’s lawns. You probably even have some yourself. They are one of the most logical ways to save money and energy with little initial investment. Not only do they save you money and cut your energy-related emissions, but they are also easier to relocate as your lighting needs change. You can even move them to a new home if you make a move, which is quite common these days. RMI estimates an average financial payback time of 2 years for switching to solar landscape and patio lighting.

Here’s RMI’s full infographic, Going Solar: Options For Homeowners, which also extends a bit beyond using solar energy into actually blocking solar energy in order to save money:

Ways To Save Money Using The Sun

Yep, there are a lot of ways to save money and fossil fuel energy using the sun than RMI listed. I’m sure there are actually more than the ones above. For example, if you are a person who uses tanning beds to get a crispy tan (solariums, as they are called over here), stop throwing your money away on that and get outside to get a tan. Go to the beach, go to the bark, lay on your balcony, play a sport, go for a walk, go for a bike ride, garden, read outside… do more outside in order to stop throwing your money at a tanning salon. All of this is also better for your health, so it’s a good way to save money on healthcare and to avoid spending time at the hospital!

One more energy- and money-saving solution that comes to mind is using the sun to grow your own food. That saves tremendously on energy used to transport food around the world and to your local shop, and it also saves a good deal on the energy used to transport you to the shop to buy some food. Also, it’s a good way to save money since you aren’t putting money towards the profits grocery chains and corporate agriculture or agrindustry. Furthermore, your food will be fresher, tastier, and probably much more appreciated!

Have more ideas for ways to save money using the sun? Share them in the comments below! I’d love to be reminded of more or even learn about new ones. :D

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About the Author

spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as the director/chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of Solar Love, EV Obsession, Planetsave, or Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media. You can connect with Zach on any popular social networking site you like. Links to all of his main social media profiles are on ZacharyShahan.com.



  • mike

    Thanks to energy deregulation, you can save money on your energy bill. You have the power to choose your gas and electricity provider. North American Power offers very competitive rates and gives a $50-$100 Visa gift card as a new customer. Also,the company will pay you to refer people. no contracts, no fees, just savings! Check it out for yourself: http://napower.com/611058.

  • Adam Grant

    In the not-too-distant future, it’s reasonable to expect to see small solar-powered robots that spend all day slowly moving around a garden picking weeds, lasering insect pests, clipping dead leaves, injecting fertilizer near each plant, etc. The basic model might be a six-legged body with solar panels that could be customized with various different sensors and tools. The user could also download a selection of software apps to achieve different goals, which could later be upgraded to deal with new pests and use the physical tools more effectively.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Several years ago a guy I knew who made a good living as an inventor designed a multi-purpose farm robot for “stoop labor”. Problem was, back then, the cost would have been prohibitive. This was before CPUs and digital cameras had become affordable but manufacturing should be inexpensive to build with today’s technology.

      His version used track drive and pulled a ‘wagon’ along behind. It could identify asparagus spears which were mature enough to cut, grasp, cut and place in the wagon. Then switch tools for strawberries or green beans.

      With today’s technology it would be possible to spot diseases or non-productive plants and record their location.

      If you’ve ever picked crops commercially you’ll know that these are very tough jobs and ones probably best turned over to machines.

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