By installing solar systems, you reduce your consumption of carbonemitting fossil fuel-based energy. And while they're most effective when it's sunny, solar panels can still generate power (though not as much) when it's cloudy. And rain can increase efficiency by washing away dust and dirt.
While the upfront investment in solar panels isn't cheap, there are ways to reduce the cost.
Sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) with your local solar provider. This can eliminate most or all of your upfront costs. Here's how it works: The provider will arrange for the system's financing and installation, and then sell you the power at a reduced rate per kilowatt hour for 10 to 25 years.7 The rate typically is lower than the local utility's charge. After that, you can extend the agreement — that's what happens most often — or you can buy the system for yourself. If you don't want either of those options, then the provider will simply remove the system and take it away.
Lease a solar panel system. This also prevents you from having a large cash outlay upfront. You'll pay a fixed fee each month, much as you would if you were leasing a car. That payment will be less than your previous utility bill was; the amount depends on your location, the installer, and the system size.
Investigate tax credits. No matter where you live in the U.S., you can take advantage of a federal tax credit8 of up to 26% of a residential or commercial system's cost if you buy it outright. Together with cash rebates, which you may be able to get from your state, municipality, utility company, or other organizations promoting solar energy, and other financial incentives they can reduce solar system installation cost by as much as 50%.9
If you buy a system outright (rather than leasing or signing a PPA), you can expect the purchase and installation costs to pay for themselves in electricity savings in three to seven years.10 After that, you'll basically have a free supply of electricity for the system's lifetime.
Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, require significantly less wattage than an incandescent lightbulb. They're energy efficient and have an average life expectancy of 25,000 to 35,000 hours.11 And at an average cost of $3 to $20 per bulb, they save money over the long term. A single 10- watt LED emitting 800 lumens of light can pay for itself in a matter of months, and last for up to a decade afterwards.
You can slash your water usage, as well as your water bill, by making some changes to plumbing fixtures. Here are some simple strategies:
Install a low-flow or ultra-low-flow toilet. These require half the amount of water used by traditional toilets.
Install a newer, more efficient sink faucet. These waste considerably less water — and money — than older models.
Of course, an even simpler and cheaper solution is to detect and fix leaks regularly. A dripping faucet can waste 20 gallons of water per day.13 Some signs of a leaking pipe include corrosion on supply line fittings and valves or moisture at the joints underneath sinks.
Cutting down on your use of paper may be one of the easiest and cheapest environmentally-friendly steps you can take. Here are some ways to do that:
- Set up computers to print two-sided copies.
- Use the unused side of paper to print document drafts.
- Opt for single spacing and narrower margins when possible.
- Replace disposable plates and mugs with reusable ones.