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Rooftop Solar Leads to Cheaper Bills in More Ways Than You Thought

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Homeowners who install solar have added incentive to conserve energy first. | Photo: Green Energy Futures/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Every once in a while a study reveals something new that makes perfect sense when you think about it. Here's the latest example we've seen: a survey conducted by researchers for the San Diego-based Center for Sustainable Energy found that California homeowners who've shelled out for rooftop solar panels are far more likely to be interested in energy conservation.

Researchers Ria Langheim, Georgina Arreola, and Chad Reese report in the study that of more than 2,000 solar home owners surveyed, more than 80 percent put significant time and effort into household energy efficiency upgrades before installing their solar panels. Those upgrades included everything from more efficient lighting and appliances to improving the insulation in their homes.

The researchers suggest a straightforward reason for the interest in both solar and efficiency: most of the solar homeowners surveyed said saving money was the main reason for installing solar. And cutting down on energy consumption before going solar means you need fewer solar panels to power your home, thus saving even more money on installation.

The survey covered 2,354 homeowners in the San Diego Gas and Electric Service territory who had participated in the California Solar Initiative by installing solar panels before June 2012. The published study was presented at the summer conference of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), held last month.

According to Langheim and her colleagues, 87 percent of solar homeowners surveyed reported they'd made significant investments in energy conservation either before or after installing their solar arrays.

Of those homeowners who front-loaded their conservation projects, 80 percent replaced wasteful fixtures and appliances with more efficient models, including everything from low-flow faucets and shower heads to Energy Star appliances. More than half -- 54 percent -- beefed up insulation in walls, weatherstripped windows and doors, or installed cool roofs. And forty percent upgraded their water heaters, furnaces or air conditioning systems before slapping up those solar panels.

The motivations of the homeowners surveyed for both installing solar and making their homes more efficient were remarkably similar. Asked their two most important reasons for installing solar panels, 74 percent of homeowners cited saving money, while "reducing reliance on nonrenewable energy" and federal incentives were almost precisely tied for the lead in the "second-most important reason" category, at 24.7 and 24.8 percent respectively.

Asked the same question about their energy efficiency investments, 71.8 percent said it was to save money on electricity costs, while "conserving energy and resources" and government incentives again basically tied at 32.3 and 33.8 percent.

Which goes to show that while saving money is uppermost on everyone's minds these days, fostering a little an environmental conscientiousness to promote energy sanity doesn't hurt either.

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