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Solar or Conservation: Which Comes First?

solar energy and conservation“Solar is sexy. Weatherstripping is not.”

The statement elicited a few laughs from the crowd when the Long Island Power Authority’s director of commercial programs, John Franceschina, P.E., shared it at the sixth annual Sustainable Long Island conference, which took place June 1 at Carlyle on the Green in Bethpage State Park.

The discussion was, in part, about the “loading order” for Long Island homes to “go green.” Franceschina’s sound byte came a little while after Quad State Solar’s Jonathan Lane talked about the one-inch gap he saw in the doors of the conference room at the upscale venue.

The fact is, when we’re talking about reducing energy bills, residential customers as well as businesses often neglect the basics: EnergyStar windows and appliances, weatherstripping, wall and attic insulation, a “cool” roof, and taking advantage of passive solar by using window coverings wisely.

As our own Raina Russo replied in response to Franceschina’s comment: “Solar is sexy, but so is a net-zero electric bill.” Her unspoken conclusion? Energy efficient improvements in your home should go hand-in-hand with a solar PV installation.

The experts on the panel believe that easy, often-inexpensive improvements like better insulation should come before your solar PV installation. That’s why an energy audit is required prior to a solar PV installation.

But, often, homeowners only have so much to spend on home improvements, and, solar, with or without these other improvements, promises fast, tangible results that can be easily documented. Plus, it appeals to the early-adopter technology-lovers in us all. It’s the new iPod. It’s sexy.

Or as Franceschina eloquently noted: “Nobody is showing off their weatherstripping at their Fourth of July barbecue. It’s not what you talk about with your neighbors.”

Even so, the panelists felt strongly about taking energy efficiency measures before considering renewable energy. David Smith, the moderator for the discussion and Director of Business Development for Lime Energy—New York and Mid-Atlantic Region, said, “Efficiency comes first and solar is next in line.”

Mark Wyman, the project manager of the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), agreed: “The greenest energy is that which you don’t use. Efficiency is the most sustainable action you can take.”

In Raina’s case, her solar installation drove additional “green” home improvements, such as installing new windows that provided more insulation and were better suited to her homes orientation. “With every improvement we made, it became like a game for our whole family,” she says. “How low can our electric bill go?”

We’re going to take a somewhat controversial stand: It doesn’t really matter whether you go solar first or take advantage of a free energy audit and begin making other green improvements to your home. Just take action. NYSERDA’s Wyman wants to let people know: “The money is there. You just have to ask,” adding that a home energy audit in New York State is typically available for free.

Whatever steps you take toward sustainability, you’ll enjoy lower electric bills, greater comfort in your home, better health and that great feeling you get knowing you are doing something good for our planet and for future generations.

Post Written by
A full-time freelance writer, Dawn frequently covers energy efficiency, green living, and topics like LED lighting and whole home control systems for a number of blogs and technology trade magazines. Dawn is proud to live in New York as the state vies to beat out New Jersey as the East coast top dog of solar energy and is waiting for the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate legislation to pass before installing solar panels on her Long Island home.

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