Five Best Practices for the New Energy Consumer

For a long time, consumers haven’t had much of a choice when it comes to energy. That’s changing rapidly. From rooftop solar and community solar gardens to electric vehicles and battery storage, the range of options has expanded dramatically in recent years and will only keep growing. More choice is great, but it also means things can get confusing. Here are a few simple guidelines to help navigate the new energy landscape:

1. Size carefully. We’ve all heard of the car dealership that wants to sell you more car than you really need, but did you know clean energy providers have been known to engage in such behavior too? In the solar industry, there’s even a term for it:  “panel packing.” This is something to be extra careful about because there’s often little-to-no financial benefit to a home solar system that produces lots of excess energy. It’s critical to get the sizing just right. In some highly populated places where the grid is under stress in the summertime, there may be some small financial benefit to producing a bit of extra power during those months, but it’s important to look closely at how a given solar energy system will perform financially for you over a full 12-month period. That’s because your utility will typically only pay you wholesale rates if the system generates more energy than you personally need, so looking at the big picture is key. It all depends on where you’re located, what your unique energy needs are, and the size of the systems/solutions you’re considering. Do a deep dive into the financials and see how each scenario affects the ol’ balance sheet.

2. Always get multiple quotes. Buying solar energy and other clean energy solutions is different from other purchases in that you may not know anyone who has made them yet. When you buy a traditional fossil-fueled car, for instance, you generally will have several people in your life who have already done it and can offer advice. Not knowing anyone who has already gone solar or bought an electric vehicle can make it harder to get context for your decisions. One of the most effective ways of dealing with that is to get multiple quotes from different providers. Each provider will have their own approach and provide a different level of detail on pricing, which can help you gain a fuller picture of the overall landscape. It also helps to remember that in energy, prices are always changing. Sometimes there may be time-sensitive rebates available and those rebates can end, which can have an impact on price. If you’re  considering buying solar or another clean energy solution but have been putting it off, consider what you might miss by doing so: rebates, accumulated savings, net metering credits, and tax deductions that may not last forever.

3. Go back at least one year. While it may seem annoying to have to gather up a year’s worth of power bills just to understand your return on investment for a home solar system, please rest assured: it’s entirely worth it. That’s because the more information your provider has, the more accurately your system can be sized and as we’ve already said, sizing accurately is absolutely critical to not spending more on solar than you should. With electricity, your patterns of energy use can vary pretty dramatically throughout the year, so you wouldn’t want a solar system designed based solely on your July power bill, when the weather is hottest nor your winter bills when it’s coldest. At PowerScout, we’ve even developed ways of calibrating the size and designs of our solar systems to the precise energy signatures of different home types and appliances. This is also why we made it super easy to upload your power bills to our platform. More information is better. This is where getting multiple quotes can really come in handy, too, because that lets you see how different providers interpret your annual energy use and compare their recommendations.

4. Get an energy audit. Getting an energy audit and taking certain basic energy efficiency measures can make a big difference in the long run because they make your home more efficient and reduce the overall amount of energy you need. If you’re purchasing a solar system, that can mean that you don’t have to buy quite as large a system, which can reduce the overall cost of your system and make it pay for itself sooner. After all, you could have the biggest solar array in town but if you’re using the energy it produces inefficiently, you’re essentially lengthening the amount of time that system will take to pay for itself. It helps a lot to make sure you get a solar system that shows your energy use in real time — kind of like a Fitbit for your home. It helps you understand our energy use and consumption patterns instead of waiting 30 days to get that information when your power bill shows up. That can be incredibly helpful in making sure each clean energy solution is working as hard as it can for you. The shorter you can make that payback period, the sooner you’re actually making money on your clean energy investment instead of just saving it.

5. Consider your options thoughtfully. Clean energy is a rapidly growing market and like any rapidly growing market, it’s attracting people and organizations looking to cash in quickly. Even some of the biggest clean energy providers are vulnerable to this phenomenon because their outsized marketing expenses leave them with big end-of-the-month sales quotas. At the consumer level, that can translate to pressure. Always remember that you’re in charge and that energy related decisions are significant ones with with long-lasting impact. Stick to a plan of gathering multiple quotes and comparing them thoughtfully. When in doubt, feel free to give PowerScout a call at 650-999-9900. Our mission is empower you to make intelligent choices about buying clean energy and to reduce the cost of introducing it into your life, so we’re all about helping you figure out exactly what’s right for your needs and which path will truly generate your greatest return on investment. The more  information you have, the more power you have. That’s the way we like it.