Efficiency First, Renewables Second … or Vice Versa?

While working on my book on renewable energy over the past year, I’ve repeatedly come across the common argument that while renewables are all well and good, they make little sense without first doing everything we can to make homes, businesses, cars, etc. more energy efficient. Only then, the reasoning goes, will the average consumer get the most value for their rooftop PV solar panels, or home geothermal system, a small wind turbine.

I see the logic, and I’m sure in many ways the efficiency-before-renewables argument is simply true.  But there’s a flip side to that argument …


I put this argument to my friend Alex Jarvis, a solar installer based in Bloomington, Indiana (my home town).  And while he agreed that cutting back on energy usage and improving efficiency are important, he wasn’t sold on the notion that efficiency should always come before investing in renewable technology. Sometimes, he said, based on his experience with clients who’ve ponied up for a rooftop solar system, taking the technology plunge spurs efficiency. in other words, pouring several thousands dollars into a solar array or geothermal system or whatever is great incentive to become more efficient in general energy use.  In order to squeeze every last ounce of value out of the technology they’ve paid for, Alex said, his clients often become hyper aware of how much energy they use, how and when they use it, and what they can do to use less and consume energy more efficiently. And when they do, they see up close and personal how their solar panels on their roof are offsetting a larger percentage of their overall energy use.

Interesting point, no?  

Now, Alex’s experience is limited. He’s just one guy. But I wonder if other solar installers and people who invest in renewables on small or large scales have found something similar. Is there in fact a case to be made for renewable energy technology spurring energy efficiency instead of the other way around?

I plan to look into this in greater depth. Meanwhile, I’m curious to know what you think.  

Let me know …

You can read more about my thoughts on renewable energy and about my book-in-progress at www.renewablebook.com.



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I'm a writer based in Bloomington, IN. I'm currently writing a book about renewable energy, titled "Renewable: A Reporter's Quest to Make Sense of the Coming Revolution in Alternative Energy," for St. Martin's Press.

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